Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Winter solstice


Jessie the dog awaits Santa Claus
sol·stice (s?l'st?s, s?l'-, sôl'-)
n.
  1. Either of two times of the year when the sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator. The summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere occurs about June 21, when the sun is in the zenith at the tropic of Cancer; the winter solstice occurs about December 21, when the sun is over the tropic of Capricorn. The summer solstice is the longest day of the year and the winter solstice is the shortest.

  2. A highest point or culmination.
fhb has hit its solstice for 2005, and I'll leave you with a short "best of" list before returning in 2006. In no particular order...

Best book read (fiction): Rope Burns : Stories From the Corner by F.X. Toole. A.k.a "Million Dollar Baby" from one of the stories in this collection, which inspired the Clint Eastwood movie. A good movie, but the best thing about it, in my mind, was leading me to this book which was originally published in 2000, but I didn't read until this year. Toole was an ex boxing "cut man" who didn't publish until age 70, and died in 2002.

Best book read (graphic novel): Black Hole by Charles Burns. If I wasn't categorizing, Black Hole would be easily best book read in 2005.

Superficially a semi-sf/horror story about teenagers and
a sexually transmitted disease, the "bug," spreading among them. Those who get the bug develop bizarre mutations—such as a tiny mouth at the base of a neck, which has the disturbing habit of speaking during intimate moments. Black Hole is much, much more than just another horror story though, concerning itself with teenage alienation, love, and death. Partially through the book I began to wonder about the absence of adults and, more particularly, adult influence, in the teenager's world. But when I started remembering, that was how I saw my life as a teenager too. Adults were simply gravitational fields that you did your best to avoid, or orbit as far away from as possible.

I also loved how Burns plots the ever-deepening black hole the protaganists fall into... making the choices that, as our parents always warned us about, "will affect the rest of your life." Choices that seem so right, so logical, so, so... inevitable when you're 16 or 17. Choices that seem so stupid, so reckless, so... needless when seen from an adult perspective.

Read this book. If you have a teen in your life, share Black Hole with them.

Best book read (poetry): The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden by Stanley Kunitz. I've mentioned Kunitz before. What I said then about The Wild Braid still goes, "a book I especially commend to the attention of people who think they don't like poetry."

Best tech toys Fred found in 2005: 3-way tie among the Apple iPod (I'm a late but enthusiastic adopter); Audacity (Ditto on this. Thanks to Iggy and Maudie); and Pandora.

Best CD: Bill Evans, The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961 by The Bill Evans Trio.

"My Foolish Heart" was written by Evans as the title song for a bad movie adaptation of a second-rate J.D. Salinger story, but the music beautifully evoked the bittersweet wistfulness of the best of Salinger and post-war New York, as does every piece of music in this 3-CD set. Worth listening to is
an audio essay for WBUR in Boston, where James Isaacs talks about the day he wandered into the Village Vanguard and, "found solace coming from Bill Evans' piano."

Special mention: Careless Love by Madeleine Peyroux. What the heck, even though it was released in 2004, I probably listened to this CD more than any other in 2005. I liked Peyroux's first, Dreamland. I love Careless Love. Every song is better than the one preceding it. Peyroux's cover of Dylan's "You're going to make me lonesome when you go" is a killer.

Best blog: I read an eclectic group of blogs, some written by professionals, some group-blogged. The ones I visit most often are in the pull-down menu to your right. The one I come back to the most consistently and the one that makes me smile regularly is Poker Perspectives, Maudie's Poker Blog. A nice mix of occasional off-topic personality riffs coupled with a regular focus on poker. Maudie has recently taken up podcasting. Listen to this one, related in a neat Mid-Western buzzsaw twang, and you'll see why I like reading - and listening - to what she has to say.

Best trip of 2005: Nova Scotia, hands down.

Best visits to/from a group of Southerners: Tie, between this and this.

Thanks to you all for reading and commenting. See you next year.

The Boxer


Boxing is a cruel sport, beautiful and ugly at the same time... and one I've always loved since my Dad took me to see the Ali-Liston fight in Lewiston, Maine in 1965.

The famous photo of Ali standing over Sonny Liston is from that fight. A geeky 12-year-old is somewhere in that crowd, standing up by himself. My Dad had gone to get a beer right before the match started and hadn't made it back to his seat within the first minute of the first round when Ali threw the "phantom punch" that may or may not have ever touched Liston.

Peggy bought me a framed reproduction of that shot a few years ago, and it's mounted over my bedroom dresser.

I don't excuse boxing or my love for it, "It's my nature," as friend Scorpion would say. But to love its beauty you have to acknowledge the ugliness too. Leon Spinks took the championship away from Ali on a February night in 1978 in one of the greatest upsets in boxing history. Today, Spinks lives in Columbus, Nebraska, essentially broke, suffering from dementia, working as a janitor in a local Y.

But not broken. Never broken. And that's the beauty. Here's Spink's story.

American Life in Poetry: Column 038

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

I'd guess that many women remember the risks and thrills of their first romantic encounters in much the same way California poet Leslie Monsour does in this poem.


Fifteen

The boys who fled my father's house in fear
Of what his wrath would cost them if he found
Them nibbling slowly at his daughter's ear,
Would vanish out the back without a sound,
And glide just like the shadow of a crow,
To wait beside the elm tree in the snow.
Something quite deadly rumbled in his voice.
He sniffed the air as if he knew the scent
Of teenage boys, and asked, "What was that noise?"
Then I'd pretend to not know what he meant,
Stand mutely by, my heart immense with dread,
As Father set the traps and went to bed.

Reprinted from "The Alarming Beauty of the Sky," published by Red Hen Press, 2005, by permission of the author. Copyright (c) 1998 by Leslie Monsour. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. For information on permissions and usage, or to download a PDF version of the column, visit www.americanlifeinpoetry.org.

I try to teach her caution; she tries to teach me risk.


Father's Song

Yesterday, against admonishment,
my daughter balanced on the couch back,
fell and cut her mouth.
Because I saw it happen I knew
she was not hurt, and yet
a child's blood's so red
it stops a father's heart.
My daughter cried her tears;
I held some ice
against her lip.
That was the end of it.
Round and round; bow and kiss
I try to teach her caution;
she tries to teach me risk.

"Father's Song" by Gregory Orr from The Caged Owl. © Copper Canyon Press.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Dylan & Clapton - Crossroads

As the name says...


At Cute Overload we offer an overwhelming amount of cuteness to fill your daily visual allowance.

Sweet Jesus, "Put it in my pocket, got the ear things on"?

Our Commander-in-Chief speaks, kind of, on what's his iPod these days...


Bush : Beach Boys, Beatles, let's see, Alan Jackson, Alan Jackson, Alejandro, Alison Krauss, the Angels, the Archies, Aretha Franklin, the Beatles, Dan McLean. Remember him?

Hume: Don McLean.

Bush: I mean, Don McLean.

Hume: Does "American Pie," right?

Bush: Great song.

Hume: Yes, yes, great song.

Unidentified male: . . . which ones do you play?

Bush: All of these. I put it on shuffle. Dwight Yoakam. I've got the Shuffle, the, what is it called? The little.

Hume: Shuffle.

Bush: It looks like.

Hume: The Shuffle. That is the name of one of the models.

Bush: Yes, the Shuffle.

Hume: Called the Shuffle.

Bush: Lightweight, and crank it on, and you shuffle the Shuffle.

Hume: So you -- it plays . . .

Bush: Put it in my pocket, got the ear things on.

Hume: So it plays them in a random order.

Bush: Yes.

Hume: So you don't know what you're going to going to get.

Bush: No.

Hume: But you know --

Bush: And if you don't like it, you have got your little advance button. It's pretty high-tech stuff.

Hume: . . . be good to have one of those at home, wouldn't it?

Bush: Oh?

Hume: Yes, hit the button and whatever it is that's in your head -- gone.

Bush: . . . it's a bad day, just say, get out of here.

Hume: Well, that probably is pretty . . .

Bush: That works, too. ( Laughter )

Hume: Yes, right.


via The Washington Post

Thursday, December 15, 2005

mehitabel the cat is still missing

idle thought

paris september
fifth nineteen
twenty three
what i like
about this place
is that it is
such a nice
place to loaf in
and loafing
is the best thing
in life
nature shows
us that
a caterpillar
just eats and
loafs and sleeps
and after a while
without any effort
it turns into
a butterfly
with nothing to do
but flit around
and be beautiful
but consider
the industrious
tumble bug
the tumble bug
toils and plants
and sweats
and worries
pushing its burden
up hill forever
like sisyphus
and pretty soon
some one
comes along
and thinks how
vulgar and ugly
the thing is
and steps on it
and squashes it
idleness
and beauty
are their own
rewards
mehitabel the cat
is still missing

"idle thought" by Don Marquis from Archyology: the long lost tales of archy and mehitabel. © University Press of New England.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

DJ Bob

Mr. D has signed on to serve as host of a weekly one-hour program on XM Satellite Radio, airing hand-picked music, offering commentary, interviewing guests, and answering emailed questions from XM subscribers starting in March. Dylan said in a statement yesterday that "a lot of my own songs have been played on the radio, but this is the first time I've ever been on the other side of the mike."

Dylan's program is to air on XM's Deep Tracks channel, featuring lesser known cuts from classic rock albums and which is also home to a weekly show with Tom Petty as host.

Lee Abrams, XM's chief creative officer, said he had been courting Mr. Dylan for such a program for a year and a half, and that the program would offer fans a close connection to the rock legend. "We want to make it as comfortable for him as possible," Mr. Abrams said, adding that the show would emanate from "a combination of home and hotel rooms and buses. He'll really be in his element."

culled from the NY Times and other sources

Friday, December 09, 2005

Two Virgins


Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the date of John Lennon's death, which I didn't want to pass unacknowledged, albeit late, because I was out-of-town and sans computer.

Coincidentally, the Sun set earlier than at any other time of the year in the northern hemisphere yesterday. The shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, is yet to come on December 21.

But the sun will set later every day now. I think Lennon might have liked that connection.

Photos are from the infamous "Two Virgins" front and back cover. You probably don't want to click on the one to the left for a larger version (which answers the question about whether Lennon was circumcised) if you're offended by full frontal male nudity.

"It was midnight when we started 'Two Virgins,' it was dawn when we finished, and then we made love at dawn. It was very beautiful." - John Lennon

American Life in Poetry: Column 037

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Painful separations, through divorce, through death, through alienation, sometimes cause us to focus on the objects around us, often invested with sentiment. Here's Shirley Buettner, having packed up what's left of a relationship.


The Wind Chimes

Two wind chimes,
one brass and prone to anger,
one with the throat of an angel,
swing from my porch eave,
sing with the storm.
Last year I lived five months
under that shrill choir,
boxing your house, crowding books
into crates, from some pages
your own voice crying.
Some days the chimes raged.
Some days they hung still.
They fretted when I dug up
the lily I gave you in April,
blooming, strangely, in fall.
Together, they scolded me
when I counted pennies you left
in each can, cup, and drawer,
when I rechecked the closets
for remnants of you.
The last day, the house empty,
resonant with space, the two chimes
had nothing to toll for.
I walked out, took them down,
carried our mute spirits home.

From "Thorns," published by Juniper Press, 1995. Copyright (c) 1995 by Shirley Buettner, and reprinted with permission of the author. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. For information on permissions and usage, or to download a PDF version of the column, visit www.americanlifeinpoetry.org.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Coz at Foxwoods


Peggy and I celebrated my birthday early this weekend, taking a overnight trip to Foxwoods to do a little gambling and catch Bill Cosby's late show, Mr & Mrs Saturday Nighters that we are.

It was a spur-of-the-moment sort of thing, albeit requiring more work than "spur-of-the-moment" usually implies. Foxwoods had sent an email ad to me offering low rates over the winter months. While checking it out, I saw that Bonnie Raitt was playing right before my birthday... but her show was/is sold out. I tried eBay and some online brokers, to see if anyone was offering tickets to the show, but no luck.

Cosby was playing on the 3rd... but his two shows were sold out too. Back to eBay, and this time I found a broker who had a block of four seats. A couple of email exchanges, and I had two of the four for what I felt was a pretty good price for a sold-out show.

In the interim, I had emailed Peg at work, soliciting her help to find us a place to stay, since Foxwoods' two hotels and one motel were, as usual, totally booked over the weekend, so much for cheap winter rates. Peg booked us in to the Hilltop Inn, which I highly recommend if you need a place to stay near Foxwoods (they claim three miles, it's closer to five, but who's counting?). Definitely not the Ritz, but a good value, especially if you book over the Web, as Peggy did. Clean, large room, relatively quiet. Complimentary cheap champagne, cheese, chips and salsa and the like in the afternoon, and the standard motel breakfast buffet in the morning, plus free shuttles to/from the casino all included in the price.

So, we got in around 4, dropped our luggage off in the room, and went over to Foxwoods to check out the scene and gamble... which we did and promptly lost. I stayed away from the poker tables this weekend and accompanied Peg to the sluts, as they're known in our circles, which I have no luck with at all, except maybe sometimes the video poker slots, where I've been known to win more than lose at times. But not this trip.

Once the money had made its way out of our fingers into the Foxwood vaults, we went over to the Cedars bar, where we had pretty good martinis, and our best meal of the trip, a bunch of shucked oysters. Because of timing, we ended up doing dinner later that evening at a casino Chinese restaurant, the Golden Dragon, which I don't recommend, with metallic-tasting food and service reminiscent of that infamous slow boat to China.

The Fox Theatre, where Cosby's shows were playing, has weird seating arrangements, or maybe I just don't understand how things work at casino shows. We had so-called "Maitre'd Seating," pricer than "reserved seating," but neither seating had assigned seats. The online explanation says something to the effect that we would be seated at the discretion of the ushers, which I think means you could get a better seat in a certain restricted area if you were willing to slip your guide some moola.

After turning down center seats about 10-12 rows back, we were led to some slightly offside seats eight rows from the stage without any money changing hands. Peggy and I were amused a little later watching someone palm a $50 into an usher's hand in order to get closer seats but with a worse line-of-sight than we had. There was a block of 10 center seats directly across from us that stayed empty for the entire sold-out show, and how one gets seats in the first five rows without resorting to bribery remains a Foxwoods comping mystery that I'll have to solve at another time.

Anyway, I was more than happy with our seats. They were almost equivalent to the great seats we had when we saw Hairspray on Broadway. To digress totally off the point, you want tickets to sold-out Broadway shows, great seats and do good at the same time to boot? Go check out the Damon Runyon Foundation.

Back on subject. I love the Fox Theatre, which according to online sources, only seats 1400. I wish I could have seen Bonnie Raitt there, and I think we'll try to catch Dylan the next time he passes through Foxwoods, especially if they offer those Maitre'd Seats. God, Dylan and gambling in one night. My life would be complete.

A very zaftig singer, Dayna Mendolia, opened the show slightly after 10. According to my sources, Mendolia's day job is as the casino's entertainment coordinator. But she's a good performer in the style of Streisand and Julie Budd. She belted out a short set of four or five songs, but I thought her best number was an impromptu, breathy, a capella version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" which she had been encouraged to sing by Cosby after he brought her back on stage. "I don't think young people even know you can make music without instruments," Cosby said to her. "Sing something a capella." I suspect the show biz-savvy Coz might have felt the same way I did, that Mendolia's talent had been obscured by the theatrical roar she adopted for her "New York, New York!"-style numbers, but in any case, it was a charming, real moment... a woman alone on stage, one spot light, quietly singing the old holiday song with no accompaniment, Cosby watching in the shadows of the stage wing. I'll remember her singing that number long after I've forgotten the rest of her act.

If you've seen any of Cosby's specials, or even The Bill Cosby Show, you know his routine already, a man plagued by children and wife... updated now to reflect the 68-year-old is now also plagued by grandchildren. Cosby sits on stage and performs what first appears to be a rambling monologue, but eventually homes in on some target. He'll play with that subject, pregnant daughters, smelly kids that only a mother could love, the ongoing war between long-married spouses, like a puppy with a slipper, zinging in lines that sometimes made the audience giggle, and sometimes roar with laughter.

The intimacy of the Fox, along with the fact that Cosby does most of the performance simply sitting in a chair, makes you feel sometimes as if you were listening to a very smart, very favorite Uncle teasing the family at dinner. Cosby played back-and-forth with the crowd too, pausing as he came to one punch line long enough for a woman in the audience to shout it out instead - "Because you don't listen!" - and then fixing her with a mock glare. "That's exactly what I'm talking about [that is, women]," he said. "You never let us finish, either."

It was a good show and a good trip. If you like Cosby and get the chance to see his act, go. The man is funny
.


Saturday, December 03, 2005

Pandora box, she gone away

I've retired the animated Pandora gif for the moment, as I was getting tired of having it flashing over to the right each time I called up fhb. I wouldn't even bother to mention it except I don't want anyone getting the impression I've soured on Pandora. I still like it a lot. It's my primary thing to listen to while I'm working on the computer, and I still recommend it highly.

I don't have the ad-supported version, but Peggy does at work, and she notes that at this point in time the ad simply consists of an iTunes graphic and link. I still think they'll be going over to an audio ad model, but who knows, I may be wrong. I'm wrong about lots of things.

And I still think Pandora will be bought by either Apple or Google soon, probably Google, as they continue on their path to become the Microsoft of the millenium years. Or maybe not. While knocking around the blogosphere, I found working instructions on how to extract every piece of music you listen to out of Pandora into MP3 files, which is kind of giant killer for the technology. And no, I'm not going to tell you how to do it, or link to those instructions. If you're cheap enough and evil enough you've probably found it on your own anyway.

"I didn't get rich by being stupid." - Scrooge McDuck

Forbes has come up with a list of the 15 richest fictional characters, admitting to having taken "certain minor liberties with the stories ," to produce their article. While I'm willing to give them a walk on Santa Claus in #1 position, given the season and all, any true Duck fan would have to object to Uncle Scrooge all the way down in 4th place (behind Richie Rich and Daddy Warbucks!!!!).

I guess one of the "certain minor liberties" was arbitraily assigning Unca Scrooge's wealth at $8.2 billion. A little research (shame on you Forbes) would have revealed that in 1956, the richest duck in the world's worth was was already one multiplujillion, nine obsquatumatillion, six hundred and twenty-three dollars, and sixty-two cents. *

That is so many zeros beyond 1,000,000,000 that it gives me a headache just to think about it.

And that was nearly 50 years ago. At some point, the wily duck achieved fantasticillionaire status, so much they don't even bother to write it out as a number any more, as there would certainly be a run on black ink.

So cut your throats, Richie and Daddy. Billions don't make it on this playing field.

via Mark Evanier, who, even while noting that Scrooge could buy and sell Richie on his poorest day, surprisingly doesn't take up the gauntlet past that. I mean, they even spelled Duckburg wrong!

*Figure and art from "The Second Richest Duck", Scrooge's classic battle against Flintheart Glomgold, Uncle $crooge #15, 1956.

UPDATE: Gah! It's even worse! That was an old link to the original 2002 story. Forbes updated it this year, here, now listing Scrooge at #6(!!!) behind Rich, Warbucks, Lex Luthor, and C. Montgomery Burns from The Simpsons. They even have the gall to note that Unca Scrooge has dropped in net worth. I suppose we should be grateful that someone got it right this time that Duckburg isn't spelled with an "e."

Of course you know, Forbes, that this means war.

Friday, December 02, 2005

American Life in Poetry: Column 036

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

In this poem by western New Yorker Judith Slater, we're delivered to a location infamous for brewing American stories--a bar. Like the stories of John Henry, Paul Bunyan, or the crane operator in this poem, tales of work can be extraordinary, heroic and, if they are sad, sometimes leavened by a little light.

In The Black Rock Tavern

The large man in the Budweiser tee
with serpents twining on his arms
has leukemia. It doesn't seem right
but they've told him he won't die for years
if he sticks with the treatment.
He's talking about his years in the foundry,

running a crane on an overhead track in the mill.
Eight hours a day moving ingots into rollers.
Sometimes without a break
because of the bother of getting down.
Never had an accident.
Never hurt anyone. He had that much control.

His problem is that electricity
raced through his body and accumulated.
When he got down at the end of a shift
he could squeeze a forty-watt light bulb
between thumb and finger and make it flare.
All the guys came around to see that.

Judith Slater is a clinical psychologist and her poem first appeared in "Prairie Schooner," Vol 78, No. 3, Fall 2004 by permission of the University of Nebraska Press with the permission of the author. Poem copyright (c) 2004 by The University of Nebraska Press. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. For information on permissions and usage, or to download a PDF version of the column, visit www.americanlifeinpoetry.org.