Friday, June 30, 2006

Things Heard on the Radio

A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to NPR and I heard reporter Libby Lewis giving a report in which she mentioned Lewis Libby. Not especially interesting, but I thought it was mildly amusing.


Yesterday, I listened live to G.W. Bush's press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi. I believe this was within a couple of hours of the U.S. Supreme Court essentially saying that Bush's plan for his captives (or are we supposed to say "detainees"?) in Guantanamo Bay is unwarranted and illegal. Before he started taking questions, he did some speechifying. During this segment, he said the following (in regards to having spoken with a Japanese woman whose daughter was apparently (from what I gather) abducted from Japan and brought to North Korea in what was surely an illegal act):

It also reminded me about the nature of the regime -- what kind of regime would kidnap people, just take them off offshore, you know[?]

Note: I've copied this quotation directly from the White House web site ( And you can tell it's not been cleaned to make Bush look better. (Note the "sic" in the first paragraph if you choose to visit the transcript.) The question mark is mine. The transcriptionist decided to use a semicolon and follow it with some more rambling that I've omitted in my block quote above.

Of course, he said it with all of the heartfelt sincerity that someone like him can muster. That is, he said it without any indication whatsoever that any sense of irony was warranted. Today, we call that "heartfelt sincerity" where in other--better--times, we might call it "dimwitted numbskullery".

He's "hosting" how many people in Gitmo? With charges having been brought against how few? And how many of them were "persuasively invited" (we don't say "abducted" in this circumstance, of course) within 6,000 miles of where they're being "treated to a little bit of American hospitality"? (Might as well commit to the euphemisms, right?)

I'm not a big fan of the profanity and I like to be kind in speaking of others. But sometimes I just want to scream out: "Schmuck!"

Sunday, June 25, 2006

A Family of Loons

Yesterday, Beth was working and I was not. After I joined her for her lunch break, I swiped her car, loaded it up with my kayak and gear, and went out to Grafton Pond. I spent about an hour and a quarter on the water. As I was heading back to shore, I came across a family of two adult loons and one baby:

Adult loon, swimming.

Adult loon, stretching its wings.

Adult loon and baby loon.

My photographic skills are not quite brilliant, but I'm happy enough with these shots that I'm willing to share them.

I believe these are the first loons I've ever seen in the wild. Awfully pretty birds, they are.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

T-Shirt Designs

Last weekend, we went to MINIs On Top 2006. We went up on Friday and I was wearing a t-shirt of my own design. I got several compliments on it, so I'm taking that as an encouragement to mention my t-shirt designs here. These are available through cafepress, in case you're interested. The two designs I'm offering at the moment couldn't possibly hold much interest for anyone outside of New Hampshire. Perhaps future designs will appeal to a wider audience. I'll be sure to post new designs here as I produce them. As with everything I post, I welcome your feedback.

If you refuse to live free, I may be forced to kill you.

Live free or die. The choice is yours.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Obscure Music (to answer your question)

On Tuesday or Wednesday of last week, I stopped in to the local supermarket. Beth had asked me to pick up some deli meat and as it was being sliced, I found myself in conversation with a couple of the guys who worked there. The younger-looking one (who I'm guessing is somewhere between 14 and 18 years my junior) asked what kind of music I listen to and all I came up with was "a wide variety of stuff".

Then he asked whether I listened to any really obscure bands. I was still kind of in a daze from Monday and I don't think all of my synapses were really firing at full strength, so I just kind of fell into letting him know that my favorite band is Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and that I also really dig Morphine and Pixies.

I think all three are fairly obscure. He was unfamiliar with Nick Cave, but something in his appearance led me to believe that I shouldn't steer him away from investigating. (I did get the impression that he was actually seeking recommendations for what to seek out rather than just making idle conversation.) As much as I love Nick Cave, I simply can't recommend him to everyone. Beth hates him. I'm sure my sister would last about 2 seconds with a Bad Seeds album. Frankly, when I first started listening (to an album called Henry's Dream), I just didn't know what to make of it. There are two things I can say with a fair degree of certainty about this band:
  1. The average music listener simply does not have an appropriate frame of reference in which to put this stuff. Given this, it's certainly disorienting (and frankly, offputting). This was certainly the case with me, initially. But for some reason, I decided to keep listening until I "got it". (I'll freely admit that my first instinct was to simply give up and chalk it up to being "not my taste".)
  2. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are just not for everyone. For some reason, for me, Henry's Dream did click after a day of repeated listening, and I've never looked back. I think that most people could listen and listen and listen some more and still never "get it". That's fine. If you can't "get" Stevie Ray Vaughan, then I think you're missing something fundamental. If you can't "get" The Beatles or Ray Charles or Johnny Cash or Robert Johnson, then I think you're missing something fundamental. But if you can't "get" Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, so be it.
As for Morphine, if you haven't heard them, please make a point of it. Get your hands on a copy of their second album (Cure for Pain) and give it a listen. Will it change your life? Probably not. But it will show you a possibility you probably hadn't ever thought of. If you don't dig it, that's OK. But it's worth a shot. I mean that. It's REALLY worth a shot.

And as for Pixies, here's what I can say: If you're in the 16-24 age range, Pixies should be for you what The Velvet Underground should be for people in the 32-40 age range. What do I mean by that? (a) It's under the radar of lots of folks. (b) It's edgier than its contemporaries. (In the case of the Velvets, edgier, for example, than The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys. In the case of Pixies, edgier than whatever else was happening in the late 80s and very early 90s. (Frankly, I was very out of touch with that pabulum at the time, and I haven't gotten the sense that I was missing much. I was heavy into the classic rock then, and Pixies are what broke through.)) (c) To some degree it's what gave birth to what you probably grew up considering the most meaningful music out there. (Without Pixies, there is no Nirvana. Without Nirvana, some might argue, rock is dead by 1995.)

But I need to get back to what I really started this blog entry for. The question was intriguing. Especially if we rephrase it as follows:

"What music do you know of that's really worth tracking down, for a 20-ish person who's interested in expanding his/her musical horizons?"

I've been pondering this for the better part of a week now. And I have some ideas. I'm hoping others will add to this list with comments of their own, because I think it's a valuable exercise:

So, here's what I've come up with. The degree of obscurity is, I'm sure very variable. But I think overall, this is probably a bunch of stuff that most "kids" these days are pretty much unaware of:

  • Get your hands on anything by Blast Off Country Style. (No, it's not country music!) It's sort of really good bubble-gum pop, believe it or not. Teenage music. (Themes include being a high school nerd looking forward to getting into a top college.) Not angsty, really. Fun. Catchy. Just a good time!
  • Get your hands on Professor Longhair's Rock 'n' Roll Gumbo. It's a spectacularly clean, crisp recording of an old dude playing rock and roll like you've never heard before. There's nothing abrasive about it. It's not making a statement. It's not anti-establishment. It's not cutting-edge. It's just plain perfect. Listen and learn.
  • Find a copy of Candy Machine's A Modest Proposal. Here's where you'll find an edge. It's hard and it's fast, and it might just make you wonder why Soundgarden and Alice in Chains ever got press. Okay, so maybe it was a little late to the party, but it has more of a punk attitude and an altogether better sound than any of that stuff.
  • Listen to Clifton Chenier, especially Bayou Blues. Think the accordion is for polkas? Think again! This record rocks, and you'll be hard pressed to find a more perfectly plaintive vocal than what Clifton laid down on "The Things I Did For You".
  • When I was a kid, I was always aware of Chuck Berry. He was just sort of a part of the landscape. His time had come and gone, but I always knew he was the true King of Rock and Roll (Elvis wasn't even court jester. Elvis wasn't even in the castle. Elvis was just a drunk clown, wishing his money and fame could make him worthy of kissing Chuck Berry's ring.) My fear is that Chuck Berry has dropped out of the collective consciousness of people younger than myself. I really hope not. Whether you think you know Chuck Berry or not, find some really old Chuck Berry and listen to it. My favorite tracks are "Jaguar and Thunderbird", "Anthony Boy" and "Jo Jo Gunne". But it's all good.
  • I happen to like a band called Daisy Chainsaw who had a bit of a hit with "Love Your Money" about 14 years ago. The last I heard, the lead singer, Katie Jane Garside, had decided to pursue a career in opera. I don't know how that worked out (or even whether it's true), but I know it was her girly-girl vocals that really kicked this band into a different orbit. Sonically, I think of them as being really sort of Brit-Grunge. But I don't know whether the Grunge community wanted anything to do with them.
  • Less obscure than lots on my list is Lyle Lovett. The country community seems to have disowned him long before it disowned Dixie Chicks. (Too odd, too quirky, too versatile, too clever?) You may know him more as the former Mr. Julia Roberts than as a musician. (You may also know him from several movie appearances. He has a face that, shall we say(?), isn't easily forgotten.) But the bottom line is: This guy can write a song like nobody's business. He's the only musician who I consider to be a country artist who I thoroughly enjoy listening to.
  • And the best new song I've heard in the last year is a little ditty entitled "slung-lo" by Erin McKeown. I guess the song is actually about three years old, but I just discovered it a few months ago. It goes down really smooth. (This is one I can easily imagine my sister really enjoying.)

Monday, June 19, 2006

On Burying My Uncle

Last week started very badly, with the news that my much beloved uncle, Elie, had succumbed to the cancer he had been fighting since late last year. The burial was on Monday, and so Beth and I drove down to Long Island to be there for that. It was nice seeing family (some of whom I hadn't seen in a couple of decades), although the circumstances for bringing us together were the saddest imaginable.

I am very thankful that we now have a GPS device that gives us on-the-fly directions to where we're going. The trip was estimated at 4 1/2 hours. With the NYC-area traffic thrown in, it took us just 5 hours, which gave us plenty of time to get there early and have some lunch before heading to the cemetery. (This in contrast to a few years ago when we missed my grandfather's funeral because the mapquest directions we had printed were wholly inadequate and got us so very lost that we never did find the cemetery. On that occasion, we ended up heading home thoroughly disheartened just by the fruitless effort. This time, we're strictly devastated by the loss.)

Beth only met Uncle Elie once, at our wedding, but she ended up doing a lot of crying at his burial because (1) it meant the world to her that he came a couple of thousand miles to our wedding when my own father wouldn't even make the trip a couple of dozen miles and (2) she knew how wonderful a person he was, how much he was loved by so many people, and how unfair it was that he should have to die so young.

What I found at Uncle Elie's burial was that I felt compelled to participate quite heartily in the shovelling. For some reason, the possibility of letting the cemetery workers and their machinery put the dirt over him was a bit too unbearable to accept. I felt it needed to be done by people who knew him and who loved him instead of by strangers just doing their job.

Friday, June 2, 2006

Going to Town Meeting or, Rediscovering Direct Democracy

On May 9, Beth and I attended our first town meeting. This seems to be a peculiarity of life in New England. Once a year, the town has a meeting in which residents are welcome to speak their minds on various issues and to vote. It was an interesting process.

I was disappointed by the low turnout. In a town of over 6,000 people, I don't think any of the Articles received more than 325 votes. That's pretty sad, especially to someone who cherishes the idea of democracy and who thinks that direct democracy should be considered a nobler system than representative democracy.

The way things worked is that there were five uncontested elections and two or three other Articles that were voted on by paper ballot without public discussion. The balloting for these issues was open all day, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. At 6 p.m., the town meeting began.

I don't believe that the room had more than 250 people in it at any time during the meeting. For each of the remaining Articles, there was public discussion. Anyone who wanted to say their piece on any particular issue was invited to come forward to speak into the microphone in front of the stage. When everyone who wanted to speak to a particular issue had done so, we voted on the article in question. It was all Yea or Nay. A couple of Articles were voted on by secret ballot (dropping a "Yes" or "No" card into a box), but most were voted on by the raising of voter cards to signify our "Yea" or "Nay". Some results were obvious and were not tallied. Others were less apparent and were tallied.

I went in expecting just to listen, but I ended up going up to the microphone a few times. Much to my surprise, even Beth went up to the microphone once. The issue on the agenda that was of most importance to both of us (and which we felt most strongly compelled to speak out about) was an early item on the agenda. It had to do with whether the town was in favor of moving towards a municipally run curbside trash removal and recycling program.

While this town has very much to be proud of, its current recycling rate should be a source of great shame. I wasn't trying to make anyone feel ashamed, but I did want to make a point of fostering a sense that a much higher recycling rate is very easily attainable and should really be a community goal.

After a while, Beth and I were both pretty famished, as we hadn't eaten before going to the meeting. Beth's legs were also falling asleep from sitting for so long. So when the few issues that seemed most vital had been dispensed with and the next couple of items scheduled were the least interesting to us, we took the opportunity to leave for a dinner break. After eating, Beth wanted to go back home. So she drove us home and I headed back out to catch the tail end of the meeting.

I spoke up on another issue or two towards the end. Beth watched on the TV. (As mentioned before, this town has a lot to be proud of. One such thing is that it has its own television station that broadcasts various meetings (annual town meeting, zoning board meetings, town select board meetings), among other things). I haven't yet caught a rerun of the town meeting. Perhaps I will someday. I would like to. Partly because I think it'd be fun to point and laugh at myself, but more because of the discussion that I missed while we were out to dinner.

In general, I subscribe to the point of view that a single vote is pretty irrelevant in terms of making a real difference. Of course, if you've read my campaign web site, you'll know that I still very strongly believe that the act of voting is extremely important. Saying "here I am and I count" is generally more meaningful than is the content of any individual vote. But here's the thing about what I missed:

We, as a voting body, were somewhere between the size of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. This means that we were really quite a small number of people making our decisions. This was direct democracy, and I hope that someone who didn't attend this year's meeting (either here in Newport or in some other town) will read this blog entry and decide, based on my next sentence, to attend next year's meeting.

If I had been present for the votes I missed, and if I had voted "yea" for one of them, my vote would have been the vote that pushed the balance of the Article from a losing tie to a winning majority.

How's that for a wake up call as to the importance of participation?

As I said, I would like to catch a rerun of the town meeting. I'm very interested now in hearing the debate on that Article that lost by virtue of a tie. I will probably come out of it thinking what I thought going in: I really don't have any strong opinion on it either way. Or I might discover that I would have been opposed to the measure anyway, and not feel at all bad about not breaking the tie. But I might (and here's where the possibility is extremely interesting) end up kicking myself because by missing that vote, I missed out on a chance to do some real good.

Now, it may be woth noting that we really weren't dealing with the world's most weighty issues. We weren't voting to enact or repeal any laws. Basically, we were deciding things like whether we were interested in raising our own taxes in order to better equip our fire department. (I'm proud to say that we pretty overwhelmingly were--and that's the only result that I'm going to report here in this blog entry. (If you want to know what else we voted on and how we decided, I'm sure it's matter of public record...and announcing voting results really isn't my point here))

The point is: When you have a chance to participate in democracy, you should take that chance. Your participation might just be more important than you ever expected.