Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Ho'days

Sorry for the minimal bloggifying lately, folks. It's been cold and dark and I've been in a funk, and nobody wants to read about that.

I'm once again hauling my sorry carcass down to North Carolina tomorrow for Xmax with the Fam. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday, and I'll see you next weekend.

The Infinite Kyosaku Project, Part 11

Friday, December 12, 2008

In Memoriam: Bettie Page

The world just got a little less sexy. Alas.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Confessions of a Hazmat Smuggler

So the other day I drove to work, which I don't normally do. My fuel gauge was sitting on empty when I left my house. But I was in a hurry and I figured I could deal with it that afternoon.

When I got ready to go home, of course my car wouldn't start.

I sat there for a minute, thinking of what to do. Where am I? I thought. I am on the third floor of the underground parking deck of the Cosmodemonic Institute for Science Policy's Bhaskara Center, which is in Penn Quarter. I have no idea where the nearest gas station is. It's bound to be far away. And I've got a flute student coming in an hour and a half besides; I can't be walking the streets looking for gasoline. So what am I going to do?

Hm, I continued thinking. What Metro stations do I know of that are near gas stations? Cleveland Park springs to mind. There's an Exxon station right there. It's about 15 minutes away. Ok, this is doable.

Of course, it only occurred to me after I was comfortably seated in the train on my way back to Cosmodemonic that I maybe shouldn't have been so cavalier about bringing two gallons of gasoline in a bright red container on board. Don't they have regulations about these things? I remembered walking right past a Metro police officer too. I remembered smiling at her as I got off the escalator. Damn. I'm good.

Well, I'd made it, anyway. I got to my stop, carefully exited the station at the turnstile furthest from the stationmaster's booth, and walked into the Cosmodemonic Building's lobby, carrying the gas can on the opposite side of my body from the security guard. I debated whether or not to whistle. Would it make me seem less like an enraged cubicle rat coming in to set fire to my files? Or more like one?

I'd almost made it to the inner door when the guard called me. "Sir? Excuse me? Sir!"

I turned. I was SO busted.

"Do you have your ID?" the guard said.

"Oh, right," I said, fishing my laminated badge out of my shirt pocket.

The guard took a look, and said, "Ok, thanks." I went on through to the elevators, rode down to my car, and gassed up and went home.

So how safe does this make you feel? Because the only reason the nation isn't up in arms about another horrific terrorist attack right now is that I'm not a murderous psychopath: I had means and opportunity, but no motive. I'm laughing about this incident, but it does make me go hm.

Heh. You said equus asinus.

Snow falling on the weird little outdoor minimall that Ellsworth Drive has become, falling in those hard little pinpoint flakes that only happen when the air is very, very cold and dry. I'm standing in a small crowd listening to a women's choir in identical shaggy red knit caps and scarves singing Christmas carols. Two resigned-looking donkeys, bedecked with holly and ribbons, are pulling a red-and-gold wagon loaded with hay bales and children up and down the street. As they pass the stage, a guy in front of me says to his friend, "I bet you don't have Clydesdales in New Hampshire!"

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Simplicity Itself

On the Metro home from work tonight, I was reading Bill Buford's book Heat, which is all about his adventures working in the kitchen of Mario Batali's restaurant Babbo, and his description of a mushroom sauce for ravioli rang my bells. So I rode the train a stop further and went to Whole Foods, caught the bus home, and had myself a wonderful little feast for dinner.

Meez: a handful of fresh wild mushrooms, sliced/diced/chunked as necessary (Whole Foods had a special on some huge bright orange chanterelles); a minced shallot; leaves from three or four branches of thyme; olive oil; butter; ravioli (tonight it was actually ricotta tortelloni, but this recipe will shine with some really good pumpkin ravioli).

Start your pasta water in a big pot with plenty of salt. It should taste like the Atlantic.

While your water is coming to boil, heat the pan for your sauce over high heat, then add your olive oil, which should instantly go all runny and maybe start smoking. Add your shrooms. Toss them a little, then leave them alone until you smell the woodsmoky, distinctly autumnal odor that tells you they're starting to caramelize. Add your shallots and the thyme leaves. The leaves will swell and pop in the hot oil, giving up their rich aromatics; Buford tells of the kitchen staff at Babbo staring at him as he puts his face into the pan, eyes closed, and inhales the thyme fumes.

Throw a couple of spoonfuls of water from the pasta pot into the pan to stop the cooking and set it aside. Your pasta water will boil, you'll add your ravioli. Remember you have a lot of flexibility with fresh pasta; al dente isn't an issue. As the ravioli are beginning to rise to the surface of the water, put your sauce pan over low heat and swirl two or three tablespoons of butter in until it's a sauce. Toss this with your cooked pasta, pour yourself a glass of wine, and dig in.

On this cold, dark Tuesday night, it was just about the best thing I could have eaten.

Monday, December 1, 2008

My Problem with Irish Music

If a precious jewel, which all desired, lay out on a frozen lake, where the ice was perilously thin, where death threatened one who went out too far while the ice near the shore was safe, in a passionate age the crowds would cheer the courage of the man who went out on the ice; they would fear for him and with him in his resolute action; they would sorrow over him if he went under; they would consider him divine if he returned with the jewel. In this passionless, reflective age, things would be different. People would think themselves very intelligent in figuring out the foolishness and worthlessness of going out on the ice, indeed, that it would be incomprehensible and laughable; and thereby they would transform passionate daring into a display of skill ... The people would go and watch from safety and the connoisseurs with their discerning tastes would carefully judge the skilled skater, who would go almost to the edge (that is, as far as the ice was safe, and would not go beyond this point) and then swing back. The most skilled skaters would go out the furthest and venture most dangerously, in order to make the crowds gasp and say: "Gods! He is insane, he will kill himself!" But you will see that his skill is so perfected that he will at the right moment swing around while the ice is still safe and his life is not endangered ...

-- Søren Kierkegaard, The Present Age (1846)

Friday, November 28, 2008


Today I learned to play this.

It's much easier than it sounds, and like most of Mastodon's stuff it's a beautiful example of the elegance and logic of the guitar. Much of the piece is built around artful little symmetrical shapes on the fretboard. The bit starting at 0:42 in the video, for example, is simply a three-note pattern played repeatedly, shifting up one fret and down one string each time, making a perfect zigzag line. It ends up as a CM7 chord, but that seems incidental to the geometry that's going on. It's very, very cool.

Today I also made stock using a clever method that Ruhlman recommends and that I haven't tried before: I turned my oven on to 180 degrees, put my chicken carcass in the pot, covered it with water, brought it to a simmer, and stuck it in the oven for four hours. Just a few minutes ago I cut up an onion and a carrot and threw them in, along with some thyme branches and peppercorns. I'll pull the stock out and strain it in an hour or so, and use it to make risotto.

Yep. Wild rock 'n' roll lifestyle I've got going here.

By the way, my friend, the amazing banjo-playing confectioner/budding trapeze artist/personal trainer Mary Duke, who kicks ass in all kinds of ways, has a blog now. Everybody go and leave her interesting comments.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Tone Deafness Writ Large

I had promised myself I wasn't going to post another word about Sarah Palin unless she did something really scary/hilarious/outlandish. Well.

Seriously. You really have to admire a politician who gives a TV interview with turkeys being slaughtered in the background. (A word of warning: that's exactly what's going on in this vid; if you think it might disturb you, it probably will.)

I'm not entirely joking when I say I admire her for this. A lot of hysteria has been raised today over this video vis a vis Palin's insensitivity to the suffering of animals and oh ho ho, she "pardoned" a turkey and then stuck around to see what happened to all the others, etc. But look. If you eat meat, critters die to feed you. More to the point, they get killed to feed you. Either you come to terms with that, or you'd probably better abdicate your spot in the food chain and go veg.

And this is a pretty cool little farm actually, one I'd be pleased to buy a turkey from. You can see that the birds are roaming around inside the coop there and aren't crammed into tiny little cages where they go insane and peck each other to death. And the fact that they get slaughtered on site is a major plus, much better than getting stuffed into a truck for a ride to the meat packing factory. You can read a description of this style of slaughtering in The Omnivore's Dilemma; it's as quick and humane as such a thing can be.

Not that this vid doesn't show a breathtaking, nearly surreal lack of political savvy on Palin's part, of course.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sartorial Outrage Mix

  • Gentlemen do not wear pleated pants.

    "But they're so comfortable!" you will exclaim. Of that there can be no doubt, but they also make you look like you have wide childbearing hips. This destroys any hope you may have of projecting a ruggedly masculine sexual aura. They make you look like a dork. Stick with flat fronts.

  • I just found out that the DC location of Les Halles closed last night. There are a bunch of other excellent frogponds in our fair city, but Les Halles was in a class by itself. I mean, they had free tripe on Beaujolais Nouveau day last year. Free tripe! What a damn shame.

  • Also, if you're wearing a suit, do not wear a shirt with a button-down collar. In fact, button-down collars are best avoided in general. They get all squished down and tubelike in the first hour you wear them. A straight collar (with stays if you're wearing a tie) makes you look cool and worldly. A button-down collar makes you look like a harassed office drone.

  • Thanks to Reuben for turning me onto the best of Craig's List, wherein I found the Best Personals Ad Ever today.
    I cannot stress this enough however, you must play as a ROBOTIC dinosaur. This is very specific, my interest lie entirely in animatronic dinosaurs, not real ones. I thought I should mention this as there have been unfortunate miscommunications in the past, leading to performances that have left me without an orgasm.
    Really, sometimes the immense and inexplicably beautiful variety of human sexual appetites fills me with awe. If I lived in Vancouver, I think I would already have dropped this woman a line. Just to congratulate her, if nothing else.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Wanna know something really cool?

I just read this at Firedoglake:

With 4.5 million members, MoveOn is now bigger than the NRA. Maybe our leaders should think about that for a while.
Holy shit. Dare I hope that our country now stands on the threshold of a new era of progressive politics? One where the preachers of peace and justice and equality are seen as the grownups in the room, and the gun nuts and the racists and the warmongers and the gay bashers and the Christofascists are irrelevant as a political force? Wouldn't that just be something?

After Tuesday night, I'm almost willing to believe it might be so.

Not the end of the story, not by a long shot

As should be obvious to any but the most hunchbrained ignorami, Proposition 8 is a direct violation of equal protection under the law. This was the basis for the California Supreme Court's decision allowing gay marriage in the first place, and I really don't see how the decision can be reversed without undermining one of our basic rights as Americans. Do even the most unreconstructed homophobic knucklewalkers on the Right really want to go there? Of course, if habeas corpus can be thrown out, anything's fair game, but still.

At any rate, it's going to be really interesting to see how the legal battle over this plays out.

I have to say, Obama's failure to come out explicitly in favor of gay marriage is one caveat I have about him. Make no mistake, I think he's going to accomplish great things, and I'm immeasurably proud to call him my president. But this is one point on which the people -- that's us, ladies and gentlemen -- will have to lead our leaders. I'm still optimistic, if for no other reason than the fact that we've got love and compassion and justice on our side. And this issue is never, ever going to go away.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

More About Tonight

So there I was, a little past 11:00 tonight, in a crowd at 14th and U grooving to a bunch of drummers pounding out a perpetual,interweaving jam. (They're at about 5:30 in the video.) The drummers stopped playing for a minute, and one of them shouted "Hey! You people want to hear some news?" The crowd whooped and hollered. The guy said, "Well, the news is... WE WON!" The crowd went crazy. Drums cranked up again. Everybody chanting OBAMA! OBAMA! OBAMA! and YES! WE! CAN! YES! WE! CAN! YES! WE! CAN!

Today I finally started to recognize America again.

Now we begin.

Update. DCist has more pics and videos of the festivities.

About Tonight has a good piece on how to watch the election results:

6 PM EST. Polls close in portions of Indiana and Kentucky.

Traditionally, these are the first states to get called by the networks, spotting the Republicans a quick 19 points in the Electoral College. This year, however, is liable to be a little bit different. Indiana is far more competitive than usual, and is probably the state with the greatest disparity in ground games: the Obama campaign has 42 field offices open there, whereas McCain neglected the state entirely until recently.

The responsible thing to do would be for the networks to hold off until at least 7 PM to project Indiana, when polls have closed in Gary and the northwestern part of the state just across the border from Chicago—where Obama hopes to rack up huge margins among black and working-class voters. If for some reason the state is called before 7 PM for John McCain, that probably means we're in for a long night. If, on the other hand, the state is called for Obama in the first hour after the polls close, that could indicate that the force of Obama's field operation has been underestimated, and that McCain is in for a catastrophically poor evening.
There's more.

I got to my polling place at 8:00 this morning and there were about three hundred people in line in front of me. The process took me a little over two hours, which is much, much longer than it ever has before. I found myself feeling a little awestruck by it all.

Tonight I'll be at Busboys and Poets with some friends, watching history happen. Oui, on peut!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

In case you missed it

Here's Barak Obama's infomercial from last night:

On the one hand, it's pretty damned Reaganesque (there are amber waves of fucking grain, fer chrissake!). But you know, maybe it's just because I'm the kind of dork who would willingly watch an entire season of the West Wing in one sitting, but I find it impossible not to be moved by this thing, even as I know that's exactly the reaction I'm supposed to have.

Man, I can't wait till next Tuesday.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

David Sedaris on Undecided Voters

...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.
There's more.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Post Endorses Obama

The nominating process this year produced two unusually talented and qualified presidential candidates. There are few public figures we have respected more over the years than Sen. John McCain. Yet it is without ambivalence that we endorse Sen. Barack Obama for president.

The choice is made easy in part by Mr. McCain's disappointing campaign, above all his irresponsible selection of a running mate who is not ready to be president. It is made easy in larger part, though, because of our admiration for Mr. Obama and the impressive qualities he has shown during this long race. Yes, we have reservations and concerns, almost inevitably, given Mr. Obama's relatively brief experience in national politics. But we also have enormous hopes.
There's also this:
...[O]utside of his inner circle, Mr. McCain would draw on many of the same policymakers who have brought us to our current state. We believe they have richly earned, and might even benefit from, some years in the political wilderness.

Go read the rest. Home stretch time, ladies and gentlemen.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Another Reminder

If you live in Maryland, you have till 9:00 tonight to register to vote.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Election Flotsam

Just a couple of things you might have missed.

  • First, if you want to see something really bizarre and pathetic, here's a video of one of the most, well, bizarre and pathetic Freudian slips I've ever seen.

    You and I together will confront the ten trillion dollar debt that the federal government has run up and balance the federal budget by the end of my term in office. Across this country this is the agenda I have set before my fellow prisoners and the same standards of clarity and candor must now be applied to my opponent.
    Presumably, he meant to say "my fellow Americans" instead of "my fellow prisoners." But, you know. He's tired and stressed and frazzled with campaigning, he's no doubt painfully aware of the grievous errors he's made (even as the worst of them is standing proudly behind his right shoulder there), and most polls are incontrovertibly showing his ass being kicked by Obama. Any unresolved post-traumatic stress he's got roiling around in his head is bound to start sloshing out. It's not pretty. Not at all.

  • In light of the McCain camp's blatant pandering to the vile drooling knucklewalkers that make up the current Republican base, David Brooks' column on right-wing anti-intellectualism is a mighty interesting read.
    The political effects of this trend have been obvious. Republicans have alienated the highly educated regions — Silicon Valley, northern Virginia, the suburbs outside of New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Raleigh-Durham. The West Coast and the Northeast are mostly gone.

    The Republicans have alienated whole professions. Lawyers now donate to the Democratic Party over the Republican Party at 4-to-1 rates. With doctors, it’s 2-to-1. With tech executives, it’s 5-to-1. With investment bankers, it’s 2-to-1. It took talent for Republicans to lose the banking community.

    ... [Sarah Palin] is another step in the Republican change of personality. Once conservatives admired Churchill and Lincoln above all — men from wildly different backgrounds who prepared for leadership through constant reading, historical understanding and sophisticated thinking. Now those attributes bow down before the common touch.

  • According to, North Carolina is polling blue. North Carolina.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Good News Just Keeps Coming

Via, a site that's a major source of joy to me these days:

John McCain is in deep trouble. In spite of some incremental gains that McCain has made in some of the national tracking polls, the set of state polling that follows is so strong for Obama that he continues to hit record marks in all three of our projection metrics. We are now projecting Obama to win the election 90.5 percent of the time, with an average of 346.8 electoral votes, and a 5.4-point margin in the national popular vote.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Just a quick reminder...

Today is the deadline for voter registration in DC and Virginia. You wouldn't want to miss all the fun, would you?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sonic Circuits

Eh. Let's get that horror off the top of the page. Here's an excerpt from BLK W/BEAR's set Monday at Pyramid Atlantic in Silver Spring. This was part of the DC Sonic Circuits festival, which is running all this week. This is fantastic stuff.

It Just Gets Worse

I'm sorry, everybody, I just can't help myself. This stuff is fascinating like a car crash.

She can't name one newspaper or magazine she reads. She's RUNNING FOR VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, and she can't name ONE NEWSPAPER OR MAGAZINE SHE READS. Oh, and she was a journalism major.

I love how Katie Couric saying "I'm just curious" has taken on such a threatening tone.

As a side note, here's an interesting perspective on what we might see at the debate tomorrow night.

Friday, September 26, 2008

So Very Pathetic

I'm going to quit posting things like this soon, I promise. The point has been made many, many times over that McCain is a cynical, grandstanding schemer whose contempt for the electorate is matched only by his willingness to do or say anything he thinks will get him elected, and that Sarah Palin's qualifications for the job of Vice-President pale in comparison to most cacti. But still.

Alternet has more.

Update. Here's the first conservative pundit calling for SP to bow out: Kathleen Parker, in the National Review. Think she will?

Another Update.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What to Do Today

I normally don't like quoting other people's blog posts verbatim, but this is important. A Tiny Revolution has your to-do list today:

  • Find an action near you saying NO to the Bush bailout.

  • Read and sign Bernie Sanders' petition. Sanders' views on this are nothing radical—just basic common sense. Hence he is twelve million miles outside acceptable political discourse.

  • Call your Senators and Representative at (202) 224-3121 and tell them to say NO to any plan without the strongest possible protections for taxpayers and homeowners. Don't be afraid to tell them how angry you are. Ian Welch is reading the tealeaves and suspects Barney Frank may have already cut a deal with Bush, selling us all out. But if so, it may still be possible to stop it if members, both Democrats and Republicans, keep hearing (as they have for the past few days) how many of their constituents are extremely pissed off.

  • Read Billmon's post from Tuesday about the dire possibilities the US economy now faces. The collapse of the housing bubble would be troublesome by itself, but probably not catastrophic. The danger is that it comes on top of our gigantic foreign debt, itself exacerbated by the trillion-dollar Iraq war and ever-higher oil prices. Getting out of this will require a type of enlightened worldwide leadership (and followership) that humans have displayed approximately zero times in history.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

McCain v. McCain: Golden Parachutes

I have a hard time watching this because I'm afraid his head might explode.

What I've often thought of George W. Bush and his administration clearly applies to McCain, alas. To wit: there are only two possible options about what's going on in his mind. Either (1) he has a mental defect that makes him both completely insensible to irony and dangerously, surreally forgetful; or (2) he's a liar, a weaselly mendacious two-faced deceitful dishonest unscrupulous untrustworthy morally bankrupt evil lying-ass lying liar who lies. There are no other possibilities. It's hard to say which quality would be more alarming in a president.

Friday, September 19, 2008

How my Cats Affect Buddhism in the Electronic Age

If you're doing long periods of formal Zazen (i.e. sitting meditation) in a zendo, you may feel that your focus is starting to wander. This is part of the experience: bereft of stimulation, your consciousness tends to flip out a bit during the first twenty minutes or so of sitting quietly and doing nothing. You wonder if you put enough money in the parking meter. You think about stopping by Starbucks after you leave the zendo. You think about your job, balancing your checkbook, what you'll have for dinner. And of course you beat yourself up for thinking about all this stuff while you should be meditating. The trick is to let your monkeymind do its thing without being totally tossed around by it. You pull back, settle in, watch your breathing, and eventually your mind starts to clear, the way silt settles out of a bowl of river water.

If your inner freakage is really unmanageable, or if on the other hand you find yourself nodding off, one of the duties of the attendant is to restore your focus by hitting your shoulders with a long, narrow paddle called a kyosaku. In the Soto tradition (which is what I've practiced) you request this yourself; in Rinzai Zen, it may be done at the discretion of your teacher. (Soto Zen Buddhists joke that the Rinzai school uses too much grandmotherly kindness.) The blows fall on acupuncture points on your upper trapezius; it really does call every cell in your body to attention.

Like most of the apparatus of the Zendo, the kyosaku has an important symbolic function as well. It's considered to be the direct transmission of the dharma. Sudden, immediate, beyond words. This is what Zen is for: waking you all the way up, jolting you out of your morbid preoccupations, blasting the crap and crud off your mind so you can behold (even if only for a fraction of a second) the ultimate nature of reality.

Which is why I named the freakier and more extroverted of my cats Kyosaku. She wakes me up.

The reason I'm telling you all this? Well, look what you get when you do a Google image search for "kyosaku." I'm so proud.

Not a Story, Just Some Things that Happened

This past May, I was walking to my bank, and I saw a man helping up an elderly woman who had just fallen down. She had a big gash on her temple and was kind of spacey and disoriented. She couldn't tell her name or where she lived. I called 911, and we waited with her till the ambulance came. A guy from a nearby barber shop came out and cleaned up her wound and patched it with styptic. A little crowd started gathering: people coming out of their houses to see if she was ok, if there was anything they could do. The ambulance came in about ten minutes, and I left the woman in the care of the medics. I remember feeling pretty good about the whole thing. Here was a classic example of the reflexive sense of responsibility for the welfare of people around you that makes neighborhoods work. Jane Jacobs writes in The Death and Life of Great American Cities about the uniquely urban feeling of safety and security that comes from living in a healthy neighborhood, not only in spite of but because of the fact that you're surrounded by strangers, and they're looking out for you and you're looking out for them. That's the kind of place I live in. Cool, eh?

So. I started having major problems with my Washington Post subscription about a month ago. I've had to call four or five times about not getting my paper. It seemed pretty strange that the distributor could be so slack.

Then this morning at about 6:30, I had just gotten out of the shower, and I was sitting by an open window in my sunroom, sipping my first steamy-hot cup of tea. And who should I see but the very same woman I helped last spring, shuffling arthritically across my lawn towards where my paper lay in the grass. She stopped, bent slowly and carefully down, picked up my paper, tucked it under her arm, and started picking her way through the grass back to the sidewalk. She was stealing my paper. I'd caught her red-handed.

"Excuse me?" I called through the window. She didn't react, kept on shuffling away. Damn. Running after her wasn't really an option because, well, I had just gotten out of the shower, and the spectacle of a naked, slightly damp man chasing an elderly newspaper thief was a little more entertainment than I wanted to give my neighbors.

I raised my voice. "EXCUSE ME!" She turned and looked at me. "That's my paper you've got there," I said.

"Oh," she said. She dropped it absently in the grass and tottered away.

Yep. That's the kind of place I live in.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

High Excitement

When you're an indoor cat, you have to be on the lookout for whatever thrills you can find. I bet Ishi and Kyosaku will be talking for months about the ladybug that was walking across my bedroom ceiling yesterday morning.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

March of Death

Speaking of Rage Against the Machine, and apropos of my two obsessions today -- music and this election that absolutely must not be won by the Repuglicans -- I just found a couple of things that Zack de la Rocha has been up to. First, March of Death, an awesome, awesome song with DJ Shadow that came out a couple of years ago. And a newer project, One Day as a Lion, a collaboration with former Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore.

If the day ever comes that the American people finally get fed up enough to storm the White House with torches and pitchforks, these songs will be the soundtrack to the movie that gets made about it.

Carrickfergus Redux

Thanks to John, I've been, um, exploring the space at, and damned if my tortured little rendition of Carrickfergus doesn't sound pretty good with more cowbell. See what you think.

 Make your own at 

McCain on the View

McCain probably went on The View expecting nothing more than having to mug for the cameras with all the little ladies and do a nice non-confrontational softball interview. Little did he realize he was going to face some of the toughest questioning of the campaign.

There are more clips on HuffPo and Rebecca Traister has a play-by-play recap here. I especially like when Whoopie Goldberg interrupts his blather about "strict interpretation of the Constitution" to ask "Do I have to worry about becoming a slave again?"

This really shows by comparison what a lame job the MSM in general has been doing in covering this election. McCain and Palin should be pushed this hard by every journalist they meet. So should Obama and Biden, for that matter.

Friday, September 12, 2008

What you say what you say what you say what?

I've been wanting a Digitech Whammy pedal for a long time, and this past week I finally scored one from Ebay. The big brown truck of happiness brought it a couple of hours ago. I'm one happy little guitar slinger.

It's a harmonizer/pitch shifter. It has a variety of applications, including:

  • Harmonizing your melody lines in ways not otherwise possible on the guitar.
  • Creating chorus-like effects by subtly detuning your signal.
  • Transposing your signal one or two octaves in either direction.
  • Swooping wildly one or two octaves in either direction.
  • Mimicking the dive-bomb stuff you can do with a vibrato bridge (very handy if your guitar doesn't have one).
  • Making a lot of unearthly noise.
  • Making a lot of REALLY unearthly noise.

It's going to be a fun weekend. Oh, how my neighbors love me.

One of my favorite guitarists, Tom Morello, has made the Whammy an integral part of his style. Check this out:

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Happy Doomsday!

This may be my last post, as the Large Hadron Collider is getting turned on today, and by the time you read this, the world may already have ended -- sucked into a black hole, or transformed into a cloud of strangelets. In which case, of course, you won't be reading this. It's all very exciting.

Update. Well, from all available evidence, the world didn't end. Does the fact that I feel a little disappointed make me a total ghoul? I was thinking that at least Geneva would get flipped into a parallel universe.

Another update. If you're interested or concerned about the teeny-tiny chance that further LHC experiments might fundamentally alter the nature of reality such that the earth no longer exists, here's a handy website to help you keep track:

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Too Much Coffee Man

I found this on my hard drive today.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Salve, Incitatus

Random observations on the woman from Alaska:

  • Leaving aside the question of the appropriateness of voting for a candidate because you want to bang her, have our tastes sunk so low that this appalling woman is a sex symbol? Then again, since Rachael Ray is so deemed, I shouldn't be surprised. This is a dark age for lust.

  • People in the Irish music community have been telling the pit-bull-in-lipstick joke about feis mothers for at least the last ten years. It's generally not intended as a compliment.

  • Somebody, anybody, please. Explain to me why gun nuts tend to be such rabid Christians. I went to my family's southern Methodist church pretty much every Sunday until I was in my teens, and damned if I can remember Jesus saying anything about the right to bear arms, let alone shooting wolves from aircraft. So what's the deal with the God 'n' Guns? How do Christians justify this?

  • "I think it's a shame that so many people are piling on the GOP VP designee; we are judging her too quickly and harshly and shooting too wildly from the hip, though she DID name her children Gat, Frib, Goop, Prab and Dingus. Also, she seems to think that The Pledge of Allegiance was written by our Founding Fathers." (Gene Weingarten)

  • "One of the great sights of American political life -- a YouTube moment if ever there was one -- was to see the doughboy face of Newt Gingrich as he extolled the virtues of Sarah Palin, a sitcom of a vice presidential choice and a disaster movie if she moves up to the presidency. ... It's a pity Gingrich was not around when the Roman Emperor Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, better known by his nickname Caligula, reputedly named Incitatus as a consul and a priest. Incitatus was his horse." (Richard Cohen, who I've forgiven for his wrongheaded column about tattooing a few weeks back.)

Update. Oo, oo, oo, did you see this? Maybe I should get my cable turned back on after all, just until the election.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Cry For Help

I'll just throw this out: does anyone out there in Blogland know anything about bittorrent? Specifically, can anyone download the torrent here and get the files to play? Because it's a show my old band Roaring Mary played in 2001 at the Prism in Charlottesville, and it was broadcast on WTJU, and none of us ever heard it. I've been trying to get this thing to work -- at one point I let the download go for 48 hours -- and I don't know if it's because of my connection or my slow computer or the fact that I'm just not a good enough person, but it's not happening. I've tried emailing the guy who uploaded the files, but his email address isn't working anymore.

To the clever Vaca Estupenda reader who can open these files, convert them from .flac to a civilian format, and get them to me somehow, whether via FTP or YouSendIt or something else, I will reward a brand new copy of Roaring Mary's cd, which is now out of print and incredibly rare.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


"Classical guitar is an instrument played by socially phobic overachievers under a brutal regime of constant discipline until the results begin to approach what a guitar is truly capable of. But by then, all but the best are broken men and women." (Tim Brookes, Guitar: An American Life)
Which I suppose is why I never really cut it as a classical guitarist. Lucky thing I got out before it was too late.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Humidity Song

Here's a nice cheery tune to help you get through the hot thick nasty dogbreath part of summer. It's based on a sample of ambient noise in my living room: mostly the air conditioner, and me shifting in my chair.

Update. Um, if any of you fifteen people who have downloaded this thing have any strong feelings about it, feel free to leave a comment. That's why I put my stuff up here, to see how people like it. Don't be shy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Music As a Means to Superior Technique, Revisited

Ok, I was smugly condescending about the 58 notes per second guy, but this is pretty awesome. It's Tiego Della Vega setting the Guinness World Record for Extremely Fast Guitar Playing. The fun starts at around 3:40 in the video: he plays "Flight of the Bumblebee" at 170 beats per minute. Then he plays it again, a little faster, and then again, faster still, and eventually he's screaming along at an unearthly 320 bpm.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Ink Matters

Did you see this tragically uninformed rant from Richard Cohen?

Tattoos are the emblems of our age. They bristle from the biceps of men in summer shirts, from the lower backs of women as they ascend stairs, from the shoulders of basketball players as they drive toward the basket, and from every inch of certain celebrities. The tattoo is the battle flag of today in its war with tomorrow. It is carried by sure losers.

About 40 percent of younger Americans (26 to 40) have tattoos. About 100 percent of these have clothes they once loved but now hate. How can anyone who knows how fickle fashion is, how times change, how their own tastes have "improved," decorate their body in a way that's nearly permanent? I don't get it.
Leaving aside the undeniable hey-you-kids-get-out-of-my-yardishness of the column (and really, could he sound any more like a miserable cranky old man?), this is something I hear people say a lot about tattoos. "Ew, I could never put something on my body permanently." But permanent changes happen to your body all the time. Look at that scar on your chin from when you were six and you fell off the swing set; remember how after the doctor stitched it up you stumped around for a week pretending you were Frankenstein's monster? Then there's that other scar on your leg, from when you slipped on the Metro escalator on the day you had your first date with the person you eventually married. If you've had children, look at how radically they've changed the geometry of your breasts and belly. Tattoos are the same kind of thing, only on purpose and more beautiful. They're memories inscribed on the body.

I have a smallish black and grey tat of a jack-in-the-green on my upper arm. I got it about sixteen years ago, when I'd finished grad school and moved in with my girlfriend, and I was enormously, profoundly happy to be alive. It's not a very good tattoo at all--I didn't know any better, so I brought in a photo for the artist to copy instead of having him draw up a more tattoo-friendly version of the image, and he he didn't give me any input about the size or placement. And it's not an image the 43-year-old me would be interested in, and it looks kind of smudgy and murky now because I haven't taken very good care of it. Even so, it's a reminder of an incredibly joyful period of my life, and I'm glad it's there.

A tattoo is permanent, but only insofar as your body is. And time will wrinkle you, turn your hair grey and make it fall out, weaken bones and eyes and ears and internal organs. Your tattoos, being a part of you, will age right along with you: outlines will spread, pigments will darken and change. That's part of the deal. To wear a tattoo, in at least some small measure, is to accept the fact that you're going to grow old and die. Not just accept it, but to loudly proclaim your acceptance, in bright jewellike colors cascading down your arms and across your chest. In a culture that demands we never age past 25, that's bound to make some people uncomfortable. No wonder poor old Cohen gets so squicked out.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Weedly weedly TWANG Mix

  • In the couple of years that I've been rediscovering electricity in my guitar playing, I've come to the understanding that I'm a Telecaster guy. (As opposed to a Les Paul guy or a Stratocaster guy, these being the other two schools of solid-body electric guitar thought.)

    I've had this thing a week, and I can't put it down. It's one of the new Fender Squier "50s Classic Vibe" Teles. It's the most compulsively playable electric guitar I've ever had in my hands.

    The Telecaster was the first mass-produced solid-body electric guitar. It couldn't be more basic: just two pieces of wood screwed together, some magnets, some wires. Leo Fender engineered it so that it would be easy to repair and maintain and replace parts, and priced it so it would be available to the average working musician. In so doing, he created an infinitely versatile, unimprovable workhorse of a guitar.

    It's simple like a violin. A Telecaster will lay bare all your weaknesses and strengths as a player. There's nothing to hide behind. It rings like a bell, responds like a mirror. It's a total blast to play.

    Other Telecaster guys include Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed:

    ...and John 5:

  • That's one reason I'm in a good mood today. Another is that there's a new Simon's Cat video.

  • Murky Coffee is now my favorite coffee shop. Well, it has been for a while, especially back when the Eastern Market location was still open. But really. Read this, and this and this and this.

    This reminds me of Chef Paul Luna (late of the Oval Room, and one of my formative culinary influences). He had a restaurant in Atlanta years ago, and he drew a lot of attention for the fact that he didn't have salt or pepper on his tables. If you asked for it, the waitstaff would ridicule you. The message was very clear: the chef knows how to season your food so as to bring out its flavor perfectly, and you are expected to trust him. If this doesn't suit you, eat somewhere else. May we suggest the Waffle House across the street?

    Much the same thing is going on with Murky. They really know their stuff, and anyone who doesn't think so has a wealth of other options, and good for Nick and his staff for standing up to such a nasty, overentitled jackass.

  • In other news, Vaca Estupenda wishes a happy birthday to Dame Helen Mirren, who turns 63 this week. Yeah.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


Oooh. Watch him squirm. This is pretty bad.

Just look at him stroking his non-existent beard while his mind races, trying desperately to find a way out of the question without discrediting either himself or Cary Fiorina. It's awful to see.

I almost feel sorry for the guy. Hell, I've always kind of liked John McCain. If the batshit crazy wing of the Republican party hates him so much, he can't be all that bad. But I'm very happy that the prospect of him becoming president is so far-fetched. May it continue to be so.

(Not that I'm all that enthusiastic about Obama either, mind you, but that's for another post.)

Friday, July 4, 2008

In Memoriam (again)

As with the late unlamented Jerry Falwell, it's a shame that Jesse Helms died peacefully in a convalescent home at the age of 86 instead of, oh, auto-erotically asphyxiating himself while wearing two wetsuits. But I guess he never was one for style. What's important is that he's dead, and the sun is shining a little brighter today.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

In Which Captain Safety Delivers Two Lectures

The kid comes whizzing past me on his bike as I'm walking home down Houston Avenue from the bus stop. He barrels through a left turn at the four-way stop at Houston and Garland, straight into the path of an ugly brown minivan that's speeding down Garland. He swerves out of the way just in time as the minivan skids to a stop. I meet the driver's eyes, shake my head, and move my hand up and down with the palm pointing towards the ground in the universal "slow down" gesture.

The driver rolls her window down and yells at me. She's wearing big black shades and and a white sun visor. Her voice is a hoarse bark, well suited to yelling at people from minivans. "I KNOW you aren't telling ME to slow down!" she yells.

"Yeah," I say, "I am. There are kids on bikes all over this neighborhood, and cats and dogs, and you can't depend on any of them to be watching out for you all the time. And you were driving too fast. Your tires screeched. You probably would have run that stop sign if you hadn't had to stop for the kid."

She opens her mouth and closes it, then opens it again and turns to look at the stop sign with it still open. She's plainly seeing the sign for the first time. I start walking again. Behind me, I can hear her yelling as she drives off. "Oh, so I'M the one who has to slow down! It's all ME! Little kid comes screaming in out of nowhere!"

It's ok. She's rattled and embarrassed and expressing it as anger. I'd be doing the same thing.

The kid's sitting astride his bike a little further down, clearly scared out of a year's growth, waiting for his heart rate to normalize. He's maybe 12.

"Are you ok?" I say.

"Yeah," he says. "I didn't see that car."

"That's because you ran the stop sign. Some people drive really stupidly around here. You can't depend on them to be watching out for you."

He nods and doesn't look at me as he rides off.

I watch him go, then turn to walk on home, my cape swirling after me in the light breeze.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Ouch, My Head Just Exploded

Quoth a gun-loving bozo from Georgia last night on CNN, apparently without sarcasm:

"It's a great day for the residents of Washington, D.C., who can now enjoy all the rights that other freedom-loving Americans enjoy."
(Note to non-local readers: freedom-loving Americans living in the District of Columbia have no voting representation in Congress. Many of them are highly pissed off about this. Now they can own handguns. I'm just sayin'.)

And this is in E.J. Dionne's column in the Post today:

"In his intemperate dissent in the court's recent Guantanamo decision, Scalia said the defense of constitutional rights embodied in that ruling meant it 'will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.' That consideration apparently does not apply to a law whose precise purpose was to reduce the number of murders in the District of Columbia."

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Scalia: Handguns for everybody!

Why, why, why, why, why would anyone living in the District of Columbia need a handgun? Would someone please explain this to me?

We aren't talking about the right to own a deer rifle here. We're talking about machines for making people die. That's what handguns exist for: killing people. That's what the Supreme Court has guaranteed every citizen of Washington, DC the power to do. Murder may be illegal, but every American is entitled to have the means to do it.

It boggles the mind. Are Americans so hung up on the cowboy archetype that they insist on constitutional protection for their fantasies about wild-west shootouts on K Street?

Are we so fearful that we absolutely have to have legally protected lethal means to defend our homes? Are we so pathetic and idiotic that we feel we need guns to keep the bad guys away?

Home of the brave, my ass.

Expect more V-Techs, more Columbines. Expect more death and mayhem in the streets. Expect more people dying at the hands of family members who mistook them for burglars.

If there is a hell, I hope Antonin Scalia spends a thousand years there for every child, every cop, every innocent passer-by that will be killed by a handgun purchased legally in DC, having his liver perpetually eaten by weasels.

Monday, June 23, 2008

In Memoriam

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Cat Pix: The Last Resort of the Idle Blogger

For lack of other content, here are a few scenes from Kyosaku's action-packed Sunday morning, featuring a catnip mouse and a grocery bag from Giant:

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Drive the Boobs Out of Washington!

I live a sheltered life. I get so used to hanging around beautiful, intelligent, sophisticated people such as yourselves that when I hear about someone who is genuinely an unreflecting knuckledragging asshat, I have a hard time believing that such a person can exist in the same universe.

Take Robert Hurt, a GOP delegate from Texas. Remember when John Ashcroft hung a curtain over the Spirit of Justice sculpture in the DOJ building so he wouldn't have great big cast-aluminum hooters disturbing his gravitas during speeches? This guy Hurt wants to do the same thing on a grand scale. Last week he tried to get the Republican Party platform amended to ban all nudity in art in Washington. No more Dupont Circle fountain, if this guy had gotten his way. The relief scupltures on the front of the National Cathedral would have to be chiseled off. All the nude and partially draped sculpture in the National Gallery would be hauled away for scrap, or else clad in overalls. The twin figures of Valor and Sacrifice on the Memorial Bridge would have to go too; Hurt really doesn't like them.

To the credit of the GOP, Hunt was laughed out of the room. Well, I don't know that for sure, but at least his proposal didn't make it. I hope he was laughed out of the room. Even so, he's a man on a mission, and he's vowed that he won't stop till he succeeds. Really, it just boggles my mind that there are people capable of holding such attitudes. Never mind that they're allowed to drive and vote.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Rob's Thrilling Vacation (So Far)

After a comparatively brutal time at work, I've got this week off. I'm planning to do as little as possible. This morning Kyosaku nudged me awake at 7. I made coffee, ate a banana and a container of Fage Greek-style yogurt with honey (to which I'm now inescapably addicted), and read for a while. It's a little after 11 now. Maybe I'll get dressed and think about lunch soon. The cats are curled up on either side of me. They love it when I stay home.

Yawn. Scratch. Yep. Gonna be a boring week for the ol' blog. I'm not apologizing.

Monday, June 9, 2008


Per A Tiny Revolution, my favorite poli blog: as I type this, Dennis Kucinich is introducing 35 separate articles of impeachment for the president. He's reading them all into the record. As of right now (9:27 pm) he's on number 18: torture. Go watch on C-SPAN.

In other news, today Scott McClellan was invited to testify under oath before the House Judiciary Committee on Friday, June 20th at 10 AM. Better stock up on the popcorn.

Update. Read Kucinich's articles of impeachment here. I feel a little ambiguous about all this. On the one hand, I'd love nothing more than to see Bush & Co. called to account and exposed for the lying, cheating, murdering, immoral, underhanded, opportunistic, corrupt, anti-American, thoroughly evil scumbags they are. I want to see them led from the White House in chains. I want to see them pilloried in Lafayette Park, wearing clown noses and dunce caps, while thousands of jeering onlookers pelt them with raw vegetables.

Um. Where was I?

Oh. Right. I was going to say that two years ago, impeachment would have been worthwhile, but now, while it would certainly be immensely gratifying, it would mainly be a distraction from the big quesiton of what the future is going to look like. With only a half-year of Bush's tenure left, maybe the best thing to do is to focus on who the next president is going to be, and shuffle the little cretin out of office as quickly and efficiently as possible. And we can still hope that the FBI and Interpol will be waiting to arrest him on January 20, at the very second he ceases to be president.

It's still pretty damn gratifying that someone in Congress is speaking out, though, even if it does come to nothing in the end.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Highlights from last week

Airport security is a joke. Old news, but really now. In 2006 a bunch of guys in England had a vague, unformed, and probably unworkable scheme to concoct explosives on board a plane with liquids they smuggled aboard. They all got arrested and shipped off to a secret prison to be tortured, but because they conceived this scheme, you now can't take your bottle of shampoo or baby formula or cup of coffee through security checkpoints in American airports. It's paranoid and overreactive, of course, but you want to know what really makes me walk in tight circles and wave my arms and gibber?

Get this. What do the TSA people do with the shaving cream, baby formula, and PowerAde they confiscate? They throw it in a trashcan! Could there be any more damning evidence that the rules are just for show? Because if anybody actually thought there was a risk of actual liquid explosives getting smuggled onto a plane, they damn sure wouldn't be treating the liquids they confiscate as anything but potential hazmats. But no. Everybody knows there's no danger in what they seize. The policy is nothing but window dressing. It's following rules for the sake of following rules. If it makes you feel safer to shuffle barefoot through airport security carrying your three-ounce bottle of mouthwash in a magic bombproof plastic bag, you're a doofus.

Woods Hole was cold, grey, nasty, and rainy. Of course I didn't take a jacket with me (because it's June! Why would I need a jacket in June?), so I spent most of Wednesday holed up in my hotel room watching the entire fourth-season-so-far of Top Chef. Best season yet. I'm pulling for Stephanie.

Saturday I discovered that a colony of ants has taken up residence in my car. They were scurrying all over my back seat carrying their larvae around. I guess this is what comes of not driving. At least they aren't bees.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Off to the Hole

...Woods Hole, that is, where I'm staffing a meeting for the rest of the week. Blogging will be light for the next few days.

I just found out that before Woods Hole became a center for scientific activity, it was the site of the Pacific Guano Works, a major producer of fertilizer in the late 19th century and a cause of much grief to the residents of the town whenever the wind was from the west. I find this a lot funnier than I probably should.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Little Man with a Gun in His Hand

"'Kick ass!' [Bush] said, echoing Colin Powell's tough talk. 'If somebody tries to stop the march to democracy, we will seek them out and kill them! We must be tougher than hell! This Vietnam stuff, this is not even close. It is a mind-set. We can't send that message. It's an excuse to prepare us for withdrawal.

"There is a series of moments and this is one of them. Our will is being tested, but we are resolute. We have a better way. Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Be confident! Prevail! We are going to wipe them out! We are not blinking!'"

--Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, Wiser in Battle: A Soldier's Story, quoted on TomDispatch

He began with the argument that we whites, from the point of development we had arrived at, 'must necessarily appear to them [savages] in the nature of supernatural beings -- we approach them with the might of a deity,' and so on, and so on. 'By the simple exercise of our will we can exert a power for good practically unbounded,' etc., etc. From that point he soared and took me with him. The peroration was magnificent, though difficult to remember, you know. It gave me the notion of an exotic Immensity ruled by an august Benevolence. It made me tingle with enthusiasm. This was the unbounded power of eloquence -- of words -- of burning noble words. There were no practical hints to interrupt the magic current of phrases, unless a kind of note at the foot of the last page, scrawled evidently much later, in an unsteady hand, may be regarded as the exposition of a method. It was very simple, and at the end of that moving appeal to every altruistic sentiment it blazed at you, luminous and terrifying, like a flash of lightning in a serene sky: 'Exterminate all the brutes!'
--Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Sunday, June 1, 2008


I can't believe I almost forgot! It's National Accordion Awareness Month!

(That's Branko Dzinovic, playing John Zorn's piece "Road Runner.")

Friday, May 30, 2008

A Game

Copied directly from everybody's favorite Irish music hobbyist forum:

The first article title on the page is the name of your band.

The last four words of the very last quote is the title of your album.

The third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

You can actually get some strangely workable results from this. For example, here's the cover of And Those Who Don't, the someday-to-be-released album by my as-yet-unformed band Embroynal Carcinoma:

Update. Oooh. Here's Other Things than Power by Composite Superman:

Thursday, May 29, 2008


So there I am, training Imelda the intern on our mailing system, when I feel an odd slithering sensation down my left leg, followed by a tiny metallic clink on the floor.

We stand there for a minute, the two of us, contemplating the shiny 8-gauge barbell ring that (minus one of the screw-in ball ends) has just fallen out of my pantleg.

"Excuse me," I finally say, bending and scooping it up. "I'll be back in just a minute."

Scott McClellan is still a tool

I mean, good for him for finally coming clean and letting his hair down, and I'm looking forward to reading his book. I hope it does some good in helping Americans understand the reprehensible evil the Bush administration has wrought on this country and the world. I hope it explodes like a bomb in the media, taking out everybody who had anything to do with making this illegal war happen.

But Gods' teeth, he sure took his time about it. Shame he couldn't have blown that whistle before the 2004 election. Or maybe when he finally quit in 2006. Or really anytime before now.

In any event, Robert Wexler wants to haul him up in front of the House Judiciary Committee for a thorough grilling, and wouldn't that be a joy to watch. Damn it, I'm still hoping for impeachment. As I've said before and often, I won't be satisfied until I see Bush and Cheney tarred, feathered, and ridden on a rail across the Memorial Bridge. But I'll settle for Congress growing a pair and doing their duty.

Oh, and 111 nations have agreed to a ban on cluster bombs, and guess what, the United States isn't among them. Because, you know, we need them to further the spread of democracy and stuff. Isn't it depressing how unsurprising this is? Remember when we used to be the good guys?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Olbermann on Clinton's RFK Reference

Laying it on the line in vicious, filed-teeth mode as usual.

To not appreciate, immediately--to still not appreciate tonight--just what you have done is to reveal an incomprehension of the America you seek to lead ... A senator, a politician, a person who can let hang in mid-air the prospect that she might just be sticking around in part just in case the other guy gets shot has no business being, and no capacity to be, the President of the United States.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sometimes I think fast enough

It's early afternoon in Dupont Circle. I see her about twenty yards away, standing in the middle of the sidewalk, waiting for me. She's maybe twenty, cute as a hot fudge taco, wearing Teva sandals, cargo shorts, a few little string bracelets, and a Greenpeace t-shirt. She's carrying a clipboard. Bloody hell.

I glance around. There are people walking near me, but nobody close enough to use as a screen. I'm busted. She's smiling a bright sunny young outdoorsy herbivore kind of smile. She knows she's got me.

Understand, I'm a member of Greenpeace, and I support Maryland PIRG, and I work for a major science policy advisory group that's doing important work to help raise public awareness of climate change. My treehugger cred is pretty well-established. I'm just not in the mood to be hustled. It's a beautiful day and I don't want to waste a second of it explaining to a canvasser why I'm not a bad person if I don't want to give her money.

Inspiration strikes: I remember a story I read once about how Alfred Hitchcock dealt with a similar situation. I wait till she's just taking breath to say "excuse me sir, can you spare a moment for Greenpeace?" and I whip out my cell phone as though it's just rung. I start talking.

"Dude. About fucking time you called me back. Listen, there's blood all over the apartment. I said there's blood all over the fucking apartment. It's all over the bathroom and the living room. We're gonna have to replace the fucking rug. There's even some on the ceiling. What the fuck were you doing in there, man? Look, you're gonna have to clean that shit up. No! Dude. You clean it up. It's not my fucking mess."

I pass the canvasser. Out of the corner of my eye I can see her staring at me as I go by, uncertain of what to say. I snap my phone closed and disappear into the crowd.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Urban Verbs Again

This is where I was last night.

This was my first time seeing a band that changed my life a quarter-century ago. It was an hour and a half of High Awesomeness. I do kind of wish that Roddy had been off-book (music stands have no place in rock & roll), but eh. At this point they have nothing to prove. What a great show.

NPR is going to have the audio of the whole set available here sometime today.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Dance dance dance dance dance to the radio

Oh, my gods, what a beautiful day. What a perfect, gorgeous first-third-of-a-three-day-weekend.

Yep, just puts me in the mood for Joy Division.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Farewell to Anagrams Mix

Just a few things I've been meaning to blog about in the last week...

  • Last Friday, the cocoon that's been hanging by my front door all winter finally hatched.

  • I got my first order from Polyface on Saturday: chickens, bacon, eggs. I thought I had ordered some pork butt too, but it must have slipped off the radar. The bacon is old-school country stuff, meaning chewy and way salty; I love it, but a little is almost too much. I've roasted one of the chickens with some tarragon from Lori's amazing garden, and it went down very well.

  • I installed new pickups in the Squier Jagmaster that I bought a couple of months ago. The Jagmaster is kind of the redheaded stepchild of Fender's Jaguar/Jazzmaster/Mustang family, the main differences being that (1) it lacks the more esoteric electronics of the Fender models, and (2) it's carved by a CNC machine in China instead of one in California. It's a nice comfortable guitar, but the stock pickups seemed to be voiced for metal. Not that that's a bad thing--they sounded great with tons of distortion--but I never got clean tones out of them I was happy with. The pickups I replaced them with are GFS Fat Pats, and they're much more balanced. I can still go out and burn villages with this guitar when the situation requires it, but I can also take it to ice cream socials and tea parties. Very cool.

  • Saturday I bought a new bicycle lock, a new spiffy red-and-black helmet, some chain lube, and a bell. The bike shop I went to had about eight or ten different kinds of bells: some that went brrring, some that went dink, some that went pingping. They had a couple of those absurd rubber-squeeze-bulb horns too. I was tempted, but in the end I opted for a bell that makes a loud authoritative DING. It's glossy black. Very, er, manly. When I got home I realized that in getting all wrapped up in which bell to buy I'd forgotten the main thing I'd wanted to go shopping for: new pedals. Spacey little consumer, I am.

  • Did you see this?

    That's Alex Castellanos, a GOP consultant, saying it's right and proper to call Hillary Clinton a bitch because she's strong and abrasive and aggressive. And women, we all know, aren't allowed to be like that. Classy guy, eh? I bet he's a big hit with the ladies.

    Things are going to get really ugly between now and November. I can't wait to see how McCain's camp courts the ignorant racist vote.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


So Thursday night I'm pushing my cart through my local Giant, and this kid comes running up the aisle, imitating an airplane, or possibly a motorcycle. "Pbpbpbbpbpbpbbpbpbbppp!" he goes. He's about four or five. He stops in front of the bulk coffee bins and grabs a big handful of French roast beans. He munches them down. Then he runs on past me. I hear him tearing down the next aisle. "Pbpbpbpbpbpbpbpbpbbpp!" he goes.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

California rocks.

In contrast to earlier times, our state now recognizes that an individual's capacity to establish a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person and responsibly to care for and raise children does not depend upon the individual's sexual orientation ... [A}n individual's sexual orientation -- like a person's race or gender -- does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights.

... In view of the substance and significance of the fundamental right to form a family relationship, the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples.
Here's the ruling.

As Glenn Greenwald rightly notes, the one issue at stake is whether the provisions of the California State Constitution, in light of how they have been interpreted by that state's Supreme Court in prior decisions, have been violated by the exclusion of same-sex couples from the legal institution of "marriage." It's nothing but cold hard legal reasoning at work: if the state allows straight people the right to marry a person of their choosing, then obviously gay people should be allowed that same right. The key legal issue (quoting Greenwald again, you really should go read his analysis) is "equal treatment by the State as a secular matter, not defining 'marriage' for religious purposes." Which makes this whole thing that much more delicious.

I say this with total confidence: ten or fifteen years from now, this will all be settled and we'll be looking back on this era the way we look back on the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. It's absolutely inevitable.

(Oh, and did you know that six of the seven judges on the California supreme court are Republican appointees? How cool is that?)

Commuting: A Quandary

Would the fitness-promoting and cost-saving benefits of riding my bike to work outweigh the sheer suicidal lunacy? That's the question that's occupying my mind these days.

I live in Takoma Park, Maryland and work at a place I like to call the Cosmodemonic Institute for Science Policy, which is just below Chinatown. It's a ride of some seven-and-three-quarters miles down Piney Branch and 13th St. If I cut across on R St. over to 7th, I can make the whole ride on DDOT-designated bike routes. There's even a handy map that I can wave weakly from my stretcher as I'm being loaded into the ambulance.

Seriously, as long as I get up early enough to beat the worst of rush hour, I can't imagine a more pleasant way to start my workday than pedaling in a leisurely fashion to work as my city wakes up around me. I could get to work, shower, and probably still have time for breakfast and the Post crossword before I have to get down to business.

On the other hand, the seven-and-three-quarter-mile ride back home is almost all uphill.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

My song for today

(From the thoroughly awesome comic/blog Married to the Sea, via A Tiny Revolution.)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Does anyone still fall for this stuff?

Hello Instructor

I'm Mark Will from Paris,France.during my search for a Bagpipe lesson teacher that would always take my Daughter (Sarah) and I found your advert..Your advert looks great and it is very okay to me since you specialize in the area i am seeking for him.
Ok, so this piques my interest for several reasons. Firstly and most importantly, I'm not a bagpipe teacher. I do teach flute and guitar. But bagpipes? I've never claimed to play bagpipes, let alone teach them. As for my "advert," I had one on Craig's List for a while, and I also had a thoroughly lame website advertising my lessons--my flute lessons--but because I'm extremely slack, both of those have long since expired. And all that aside, dude seems to be confused about his child's gender. Yep, this is a scammer.

My Daugther would be coming to USA. Before the end of this month for a period of time and with her friend for 4 Months.She is just 16yr Old and also a beginner, i want you to help me teach lesson during her stay.

So, kindly let me know your charges cost per week's, in order for me to arrange for her payment before she travels down to your side.

I should also like to know if the their is any Text Book you will recomment for her as a beginner so that she will be reading privately at home after the lesson during her stay.

Please Advise back on;
(1). your charges per 1 hour twice a week for 4 Months?
(2).The Day and time you will be available to teach her During the week?
(3).Tuition address?

I will be looking forward to read from you soonest.
Best Regards,
Mark Will
See, the way this works is that I'm supposed to reply and say something like "Sure, I'll happily teach your little hermaphrodite an instrument I've never played for the extremely low price of $4,000. You understand that teachers of my stature normally charge a premium for their services, but I'm giving you a bargain because I admire your prose style."

And he'll reply, "Yes, your price seems perfectly reasonable, and my daughter is very excited to be taking lessons from you, bless his pointy little head. Due to complications resulting from the dismal exchange rate that are too mundane for the conversation of gentlemen such as ourselves, I shall send you a cashier's check for $6,000. Please deposit it and forward the excess $2,000 to my financial adviser, Monsieur Grosse-Putain."

"Certainly," I'll reply. "These arrangements seem entirely sound and logical to me. I see no downside. I shall begin interviewing interpreters at once." Of course the cashier's check will be a forgery, and I'll only discover this after I've sent $2,000 to a stranger.

I've heard of this kind of scam being tried on people selling stuff over the internet, or looking for roommates, but this is the first time I've heard of it being used on music teachers. I want to play this guy. The only thing that keeps me from having some fun with him is that since he knows my email address, he knows my name, which means he could conceivably do me some damage if I piss him off.

It's a shame, really. I'm having such a slow week.