Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Who Won?

I dig history, I really do. I read a bunch of it on a regular basis; military, political, sociological, all kinds of stuff. The funny thing is that I never hesitate to spout the various facts I glean therefrom when an appropriate conversation comes up.

Oh, I don’t doubt that Historians that write all this stuff research diligently and that the veracity of their facts has passed muster. But then again, no matter how well a subject is researched, we’re still pretty much saddled with human perspective, right? Maybe we should call it Recollection, or Impression, rather than history. Dan Brown said something in The DaVinci Code to the effect that history is written by the winners, so who knows if what we call history is true. I can see that perspective from a military history perspective – After all, if the victors wiped out the looser, burned their cities and sold their survivors into slavery, there might not be anything other than the winning perspective to accept as history.

I don’t think that perspective is literally true in all cases though – After all, a good Historian is going to look at sources from the all sides, as well as any and all of the background stuff they can find, like news from neighboring countries, personal diaries, anything they can to build a consensus perspective, yet still… I know from my days as a cop that you can walk down a row of four eye witnesses to an incident that just occurred and get four totally disparate renditions of what happened. Which one is history? Or if we merge their stories, is that history?

I’ve looked for good religious history, and found some, but not as much as I’d like. God’s Secretaries was amazing, and I found one book about life during biblical times in the Holy Land that was pretty absorbing. Yet there seems to be very little to find of factual occurrences around the time of Jesus, for example. There’s plenty that is referenced as such, but in reality is not. Why is that? Certainly there were not a whole bunch of literate people at that time, and that has bearing on it. It was long ago at a place and time where the materials of written records weren’t all that resilient, so that might have bearing. And it was also a fairly isolated series of events in a fairly isolated time, and that certainly does have bearing.

So, are the New Testament Gospels histories? Consensus says that little, if any of these were written that close to the time of Christ on earth. A very educated guess might posit that these were finally recorded after many generations of the stories being passed on by oral tradition, and if so, the good Lord only knows how much the stories were altered. Of course, it’s also well documented that the primary Gospels of that testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, were chosen via a process that was largely political, and as such, many other gospels were rejected, among them the ‘recently discovered’ Gospel of Judas. There may well have been a Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and quite possibly one by Jesus himself, the so-called X Document.

There have been many, many suppositions that a lot more information in this regard, even raw data, is known and maybe even held secret by the Vatican. Quite possibly, the raw history, such as it is, remains in another yet to be discovered cave, or house, or ruin, or safe deposit box in New York City.

Have we read the last of new information regarding Christ’s time on earth? I hope not. I’d like to see more. Whether or not we ever see these Gospels of Supposition remains to be seen. I hope I’m around to see it. But then again, if not, I can wait for the Big Show, I guess.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Songhunter

Saw a wonderful show on PBS last night, called Lomax, The Songhunter; it was on the POV series and is a documentary well worth watching. It is, of course, about Alan Lomax, the famous, (Or supposedly infamous), recorder of rural, folk, and ‘primitive’ music. Austin, Texas lost this native son in 2002. I’ve long been fond of Alan, since much of the folk, blues and world music that is seminal to my own musical roots were things that he brought to light.

So, let’s deal with the negative first, shall we? I say infamous only because some have castigated Lomax for his claims to have discovered so much of the music he helped make famous. To me, the issue is moot and silly. Alan’s dad, the Musicologist John Lomax, was said to have discovered Huddy Ledbetter, (Ledbelly), in a Texas prison when Alan was young: Sure, I understand the controversy – It’s akin to white explorers discovering native tribes in the Amazon jungle – So, granted, indigenous people were certainly there and weren’t discovered, per se, and Ledbelly was playing music before Lomax father and son heard him. Does this mean Lomax usurped and stole music, and marginalized the real creators thereof, as his detractors have accused? Not for a minute, as far as I’m concerned… All this argument really illustrates is that the man had a whoppin’ ego, which he did: Hell, he was a Texan, born and raised, whataya expect? He was magnetic, charismatic, and larger than life. Frankly, to do what he did, to draw out and record for posterity as much as he was able to, you needed a whopping ego. When you take over the Oral History project at the Library of Congress from your famous dad, are asked your intensions and answer, “Oh, just to record the whole world,” do you think the guy’s not gonna have some major stones? Would players put down their tools and pick up instruments if he hadn’t been such a man? Would the institutions that supported and paid for all this work have done so if he were not such a man? I can pretty much guarantee you that the answer to both questions is a resounding, NO! Heck, Jelly Roll Morton proudly proclaimed himself the “Inventor of Jazz;” does that make him a bad guy? I think not… Did Lomax do what he did to gain personal fame and fortune? He answered that question: He said he recorded the things he did because it was, “Simply the most beautiful music I’d ever heard.”

Enough of that tomfoolery, anyway... The show was poignant, indeed. The creator of the documentary, Rogier Kappers, is a huge Lomax fan, and his fondness is evident throughout. He met with Lomax at his daughter’s home in Florida, after Lomax had a debilitating stroke in 2001. Lomax couldn’t answer questions, but shots of the man’s face, headphones on, listening to his old recordings, is simply beautiful, and very touching. Many of the people Lomax touched are featured, including Folklorist Peter Kennedy, who just passed away this June.

The most amazing facet of the film is Kappers retracing some of Lomax’ travels, in Scotland, and Spain, and Italy. In each place, he finds some of the people Lomax recorded so many years earlier. Not all these people still sing the songs they performed for Lomax, and had he not recorded them, they may well have disappeared forever. In a small Spanish village, Kappers finds some villagers who listen with obvious joy to their voices coming through fifty years of time; one man points fondly at the CD player and says, over and over, “That is me singing!” Eventually, the aged bagpiper who still lives nearby is rounded up, and comes to the local store, where his companions whirl in dance as he plays.

In Italy, the son of a man Lomax recorded long ago blinks and nods instantly at the keening sound of his Father’s voice singing a lament, the song of the hard, hard life of a miner. Holding back tears, he takes a picture of his father from the wall and sets it beside the CD player, looking almost helpless in remembrance.

Lomax appears throughout, younger, articulate, and full of the life energy that leads him around the world in search of song. At one point, speaking to an unseen interviewer, he points out that a fundamental disparity is caused by the fact that “Transmitters are so expensive, they cost a million dollars, so only a few of you can afford them, but receivers only cost a few bucks, so even the poorest can have one.” His point speaks to the heart of why he did what he did – Because he wanted everyone to know what this music was, and to hear it whenever they wanted to. Maybe Pete Seeger said it best:

“Throughout the world, folksong collectors tend to dig up old bones from one graveyard and put them into another graveyard – Their filing cabinets. But Alan Lomax and his father John wanted the American people to once again sing the wonderful old songs of this country which they never heard on the radio. So you who read this should know where you can get them – The American Folklife Center – And they’ll live again.”

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

To Finish or Not to Finish

That is the question… Rats, I’m conflicted!

Ok, this is Luthierspeak, so bear with me – Stream of consciousness can be good sometimes….

Anyway, guitars have been finished with a lot of stuff. In the olden days, they mostly got French Polished varnish like violins and all their cousins. As steel strings replaced gut, and guitars got bigger, Nitrocellulose lacquer began to replace varnish. That remains the status quo pretty much today - Nitro on flat tops, (Or a water-based equivelent), and French Polish on Classicals...

So, why finish at all? Ever seen what raw wood looks like after it’s been pawed, handled, and used for a while? Ever seen working musicians work? It's not pretty - Ever seen the top of Willie Nelson’s go-to guitar? That’s why. Musicians are barbarians, and playing live is like sports – Y’all are gonna get sweat and dirt and dust and grime and grunge all over that guitar, and that’s just playing. Raw wood, especially relatively soft woods like Spruce and Cedar, (Which is what the vast majority of guitar tops are made from), will dent, ding, scratch and crack like nobody’s business. Add to that the fact that we’re not talking about slabs of wood here – We’re talking about stuff that is around .010” in thickness on the sides, back, and top – That’s thin. Hell, you have to be careful about what kind of environment your axes hang out in, let alone what kind of company they keep: Heat and moisture alone could kill an unfinished guitar dead in nothin' flat.

The trade off, of course, is tone – Guitars sound like they do because the wood rings and sings. Finish, any finish, deadens and changes the sound somewhat, and some more than others. Some cheap guitars are finished with polyurethane, just like the crap you buy for your picnic table at Lowe’s: It’s relatively thick, heavy, and, well… It makes guitars sound bad…
Lacquer and Shellac are favored because they make relatively thin, light, hard finishes. Not only that, but if you ding something like polyurethane, you can’t fix it in a way that won’t look terrible – The old stuff doesn’t know the new stuff, chemically speaking, and ne’er the twain shall meet – Whereas Shellac or Lacquer can be repaired such that you wouldn’t even know it’d been dinged – Their old and new chemistries snuggle up together like seal pups…

Then we get into that chemistry thing a bit more, and other pros and cons surface – First and foremost, they don’t call it Nitrocellulose Lacquer for nothing – That means if things go wrong, in the immortal words of Tweety Bird; “Awwww, to poooor Luthier – he fall down go BOOM!” As in explode. It’s also laced with all kinds of volatile esters and whatnot, making it, well… poisonous, actually. If you’ve ever lived with or near a wood worker using the stuff, you know what I’m talking about. And the newer water-based lacquers aren’t much different, really – Just different chemicals, but still nasty – It’s like, choose your poison – Did you want arsenic or strychnine with that? And since this stuff is usually sprayed on, you can’t find a better way for all that nasty crap to get into your system…

And finally, most players have come to know, love and expect that shiny, mirror-like look from quality guitars...

So what’s a Luthier to do? Go with the flow and use very sophisticated equipment to do your best in keeping this stuff away from you and the environment? Brush it on? Or use something different?

I’m leaning toward different. I’m leaning toward less volatile, not so shiny, more user friendly finishes. I’m leaning toward Shellac, and existing oil-based finishes such as are commonly used on hardwood flooring. It makes for a different look – Softer, not so shiny, but in trade off, the wood shines through much more, in my opinion – And after all, isn’t that what it’s all about, the wood? Lighter finishes means better sound transmission – That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it. No, the instruments won’t be as resistant to dings and dents but again, in my opinion, I’ve seen very few guitar lacerations that didn’t happen because of a harder finish. They’re a working thing, meant to be used, so they’re gonna look used, no matter what we put on top of them.

I believe players will come to like the change. I’ve been doing necks in an oil finish for a while now. Players see that and make the same comments over and over again – They love the feel, they love the look, and could you do the whole guitar like that?

Yep, I can!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Fifty Thousand Watts Out of Mexico

I miss radio. Real radio, you know, like there used to be? Back when I first became aware of the medium, it was the 60s. And no, I’m not waxing all nostalgic… No, wait… I guess I am, actually. I used to groove to the killer AM stations in Boston, WRKO being my fave. In a night’s listening, you might hear, in no particular order, a spoof comedy spot a la the Firesign Theater, The Beatles, Captain Beefheart, Nancy Sinatra, Bonnie Raitt, Satchmo, Big Brother & The Holding Company, Jimmy Hendrix, Cream, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Bob Dylan, E.L.P., Peter, Paul, and Mary, and local bands that the DJ heard and dug and somebody recorded and they threw on the platter ‘cause they could. One station, one night… Where’d all that go, y’all? I can guarantee you that WRKO was a popular station: It held some power on what got played and who heard what. D.J.’s were hip and well known. I assume they made money, because it was there for years and years…

The Public Radio F.M. station was where we found other cool stuff – Classical and Jazz – Bebop, cool, big band, Chicago and Delta Blues, Texas Swing, New Orleans and proto-free. “Folkies” like Odetta, Ledbelly, and Mississippi John Hurt.

What happened to that eclecticism? Where did the diversity go? And why did it die? What idiot or idiots decided that homogeneous, single-genre radio is better? Who decided that DJ’s weren’t necessary? Why is better to have ‘local’ radio stations, when there’s nobody there to answer the phone, the company that owns it is in New York or L.A., and they don’t play, do, say, or promote anything local whatsoever? How did we let that happen?

I don’t listen to the radio for music any more, other than what I hear on NPR. Oh, I’ve had in forced on me at various jobs, mind you. And what I found is that in short order, I can come to hate even the Classic Rock station. Why? Because they play maybe 20 songs over and over and over and over again, every day for months on end. They change the play list about quarterly, so you have plenty of time to get totally sick of the next 20 songs coming down the pipe, too. Anybody who could burn me out on Sweet Home Alabama is a jerk, plain out and simple. My current cubicle mate listens to a contemporary R & B station: She puts it on fairly low out of courtesy, because that will drive me batshit in about 2 hours, give or take. I don’t know what the songs are, but I can tell you this: They only play about 15 songs over and over again, AND - The Hook is dead, replaced by random, stupid, really irritating noises repeated behind the vocal tracks ad naseum: I’m talking about stuff like the whistling sound a cartoon bomb makes on the way down, or a two-tone siren sound over and over again. Remember when R & B had hooks? The guitar line in Superstition, the bass line from For The Love Of Money? No more, baby, it’s all jangling, meaningless noise, like having incessant cell phone ring tones forming the backbone of your next hit. Just kill me now, OK?

And of course, every station is neatly regimented and compartmentalized – Top 10 Country, Top 10 Pop, Alt Country, Alt Rock, Heavy Metal, R & B, Soul, Talk, Sports, bla, bla, bla, bla. They all do the same thing: Play 10 to 20 songs over and over, have incessant commercial breaks, (And the commercials are MUCH LOUDER than the music), and they have absolutely nothing to do with the heart and soul of anything. Does Border Radio like the Blasters and ZZ Top sang about still exist? “Fifty thousand watts out of Mexico – This is the border radio.” If so, I gotta find me some. Radio has become just like fast food; same shit, different town. It don’t matter whether you’re in Dallas, or Boston, or Chicago, it’s all Clear Channel crap, and there ain’t nobody home.

It’s sad, really, and probably has a lot to do with the general decay of the music industry, frankly. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but, I think it’s pretty simple really. I remember the first albums I bought myself, and why: I was listening to WRKO, and I heard Carole King, and then Jethro Tull. I liked ‘em. I went down to Stop, Look, and Listen and bought Tapestry and Thick as a Brick. Just like that - Simple, see? When they stopped playing diverse music; when they stopped having any soul, any tie to the local community, why would people listen as much? When they stopped playing a broad enough spectrum of music to pique someone’s interest, why would anybody be moved to buy based on an unsatisfactory listening experience? If it’s all corporate tripe, sanitary, boring, and white-bread-same, why would anyone be loyal to a station? There’s nobody left to be loyal to….

I understand there’s a movement in a few of the country’s larger cities, with stations going back to eclectic play lists, live D.J.’s playing what they feel like on any given shift... I’m looking forward to one coming soon to a town near me, let me tell ya. Maybe then I’ll have something other than NPR to listen to.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Catty Night

My wife claims I’m not a normal male… In the same breath, she tells me that most men are pigs, (True enough), and that for the most part, I am an amazing exception. Now, she rescinds this praise when I belch or fart audibly, but the fall's not long-lived; I regain Sensitive Lout status quickly...

Without a doubt, some part of her approval of me is my willingness to watch Catty TV with her. What is Catty TV? Well, there are many variations, but in general, to qualify as Catty a show must be watchable, (Which instantly discounts most reality TV, thank God.) Next, there must be a genuine exposure of shortcomings, in some way, shape, or form: This does not mean stupid or embarrassing exposure a la America’s Funniest Whatever, it means shining the spotlight on things such as your incredibly horrid wardrobe, complete lack of talent, general cluelessness about social niceties, incredibly slovenly housekeeping, or some endearing combination thereof.

Catty also requires a host or hosts who are fully capable of not only exposing and highlighting shortcomings, but of putting an uppity shortcomer in their place, and/or lifting them above it all in the end.

Fairly simple, really, but that’s the winning formula.

As fate would have it, I’ve come not only to be willing to watch Catty with her, I look forward to each and every approved version available to us. Let’s take a leisurely stroll through the best of Catty TV, shall we?

Now, first off, weekends are not good for Cattiness, unless you’re talking movies. The plastic surgery shows can be OK, but they're often reruns, the Doctors are sleazy, the customers are pathetic, and tummy tucks don’t make for engaging dinnertime fare anyway… Sundays used to be OK, because Flip This House had a fun, dysfunctional but successful company with at least one employee who you could spend weeks trying to figure out what exactly they got paid for; but they’ve switched to a new outfit from San Antone who are so completely obnoxious as to be unwatchable, (How’s that for Catty!?)

Mondays are a treat, because that’s when Anthony Bourdain holds court. Bourdain is urbane, intelligent, and funnier than hell. He is always willing to be a stooge, but still pokes fun at the dumb stuff his TV crew makes him do. He is a fearless eater and a gutsy traveler, and watching him mix with locals is often a riot. He sits cross legged with Hmong villagers in Viet Nam, eating unidentifiable bits and drinking scorching local hooch that leaves everyone woozy by the nights end. From Iceland to China, he does it all with sardonic wit and a cast iron gut – And he’s a better writer than he is a TV host – If you’ve not read Kitchen Confidential or A Cooks Tour, do it, they’re fabulous reads.

Tuesdays brings a real surprise, a sleeper that I’d discounted until a friend told me it was a must see: It’s called Rock Star Supernova and it is a riot. First off, you have a band formed of Dave Navarro, (Jane’s Addiction), Shelby Clark, (Guns & Roses), Tommy Lee, (notorious, period), and Jason Newsted, (Metallica): I heard that group and thought, Gawd, looser ne’er-do-well rockers with half a brain cell and absolutely nothing to say… Wrong, Eben! They’re articulate, brutal, funny, and engaging. The contest takes a bunch of rocker wannabe’s, (Always a good time), and the winner will tour as the band’s lead singer. Each week, they pick a song to do and work up their own arrangements, etc. The House band is kick ass; super talented and locked to the pocket. And the performers? Well, some are painful, some are very talented, and it’s never been boring yet – And they axe one every week in response to voting from the worldwide voting audience!

On Tuesday nights, Its cut night for Rock Star Supernova. The ones who didn’t fare well in the voting have one more chance, and then one of them gets cut – Tommy Lee, (The Tommy Hawk) does the honors; it’s a riot! Later that night comes a stalwart of Cattiness – Queer Eye for the Straight Guy: Yes, the Fab Five are still at it, and Carson still says shit that’ll make you double take if you’re not paying attention. Granted, it’s formulaic and predicable, but they’re so… Catty, how can you say no?

Wednesdays bring The Runway, a bastion of vicious, fur-flying cattiness if there ever was one. Vying for $100k, their own clothing line, and headline status at New York Fashion Week, the show coops up a bunch of designer wannabe’s, gives them something to make every week with a little money and a little time, and throws a few cameras around to see what happens – It is catfight central, I can tell you, and I love it! And I know they’re only leaving that drudge old guy with the stupid glasses in as cannon fodder…

Thursdays are slow, but you gotta have at least one night for Baseball, right?

Fridays are the promised land, cattiwise, ‘cause that’s when you get back to back episodes of What Not To Wear. Stacy and Clinton are brutal, funny, dry, and never over the top. Contestants are nominated by friends or family, and the show secretly tapes them for two weeks prior to springing the big surprise on them. Once confronted, they watch their secret tape and then decide if they want a $5000 Visa card with their name on it – The trade off being they have to bring their wardrobe to New York, shop with Stac and Clinton, and give up whatever those two determine needs to go; and they gotta do the full hair/makeover thing. It’s funny, contentious, and occasionally touching.

So there you have it, my World ‘o Catty Review.

As Crissy Hind once said: Prrrrrtt Nrooowr!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Is THAT Me?!


So, I put together a really good band for a local theater gig we play every year in August. This time, rather than forcing people to listen to me playing all the lead guitar, I decided to make them listen to me sing instead...

I got four real, live professional musicians to join us, too - Lefty Brandon on drums, Bob Hunt on Bass, Joe Spence on Lead Guitar, and Harris Kirby on Mandolin. Those guys are the bomb - Always on time, always tasty, never break a sweat... Then there was me playing rhythm guitar, some very able background singers, and Bob Francis on keyboards - Actually, Bob's a real musician, too, so really that kinda only leaves me in the hack ranks, truth be told...

Anyway, a friend came and videotaped us last Friday night. I watched it last night with Monica.

Arghhh... I was horrible for the first couple of songs, though I will say it got better later. By the last cut, J. J. Cale's Same Old Blues, we were actually pretty locked in the pocket. I even had a decent guitar solo therein, although the close ups of me doing the guitar face were kinda scary - I wouldn't show it to small children, or adult friends who weren't well liquored up, for that matter... Why didn't somebody tell me I have three chins and bug eyes!?

The bummer is that Saturday night's set was much better, all around - There was a house photographer and videographer, so I'm hoping I can snag a copy of that before I have to fess up to the disk I already have...

Dang Friday night sets are always the worst, anyway... Oh, and I'm fat too, even with a guitar hiding the middle of me.

Yeah, I heard the news, it's the same old blues again....

Hi Mom, I'm Home!

Here we are, coming up on the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina...

And, thank God, there have been no repeat performances as yet.

Well, probably no better time to see what’s up in the world of Katrina victims, to assess how well our caring government and institutions have taken care of them.

Our friends in Ground Zero are no better off than they were, and may be worse. Many have had their trailers and relief cut off. Insurance companies continue to spend most of their energy figuring out how not to pay people whose lives and properties were destroyed. Many who would rebuild can’t, because they don’t have the money, can’t find an honest contractor unless they’re filthy rich, have land still covered with piles of debris, poisoned soil, and no jobs. New Orleans lstill looks like a fire sale after a flood. Many feel simply forgotten, now that news bites are aimed elsewhere – Even the post-hurricane follow up stories have trickled to a halt.

And what’s FEMA up to? Well, their latest revelation is this: After putting out 100,000 trailers, they’ve finally figured out that many of them are keyed alike. They figure that in a park of 500 trailers, any one key will open 10 other homes. Neat, huh? They discovered that although there are many companies that build trailers, there are only three that all those folks buy locks from… I’ve been in the trailer business – I coulda told them that… Nobody did? They’re just figuring this out a year later? Well, I’m sure that the media getting ahold of that little gem of knowledge will do nothing but good for those living in them trailers, right?

Saints preserve us…

Friday, August 11, 2006

War, Huh! What is it good for?

Absolutely nothin' - Say it again...

And that includes this so-called War on Terrorism

Ask yourselves, friends and neighbors, where did this so called conflict come from? Got a pat answer? Think you're right on, based on media sound bites and eye candy! Wrong!

Where did it really come from? The desire of a hard core, right wing, politico-religious movement to maintain political control of the United States, that's where! Conspiracy theory? Nope... Liberal tripe? Hardly! Partisan squabbling? I don't think so...

In 2004, when the Shrub's movers and shakers were polling on whether voters were fer or agin war, they got widely differing answers, depending on how the question was asked, (And keep in mind, we're talking about polling done by Carl Rove and Co. so that they could decide which way their wind blows, OK?) Here's how it panned out: 70% of the respondents who said they were not in favor of the war in Iraq voted Democrat. 80% of the people who said they were for the war against terrorism voted Republican. Get the picture? Ever since then, we got a concerted effort to de-emphasize the fucked up mess we made in Iraq and to re-energize the War on Terrorism!!! Neat, huh?

Now, what's wrong with a war on terrorism? Well, how about that the entire concept is fundamentally flawed: How's that strike ya? See, 'war,' according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary means, "A state of open, armed, often prolonged conflict carried on between nations, states, or parties. A concerted effort or campaign to combat or put an end to something considered injurious." So what's wrong with that, you ask? Well, I would submit to you, dear reader, that declaring a War on Terrorism is nothing more than an excuse to commit protracted worldwide conflict, and little else. It's not seeking peace, or the resolution of a given conflict, it's an excuse to start one, then another, and another, and so on. That's what's wrong with that...

Think I'm exaggerating? Do you remember how this shitstorm started? We went into Afghanistan to whack the Taliban, because they were in league with Osama bin Laden and his buddies, and we were going to put a stop to things like 911. Then all of a sudden, we're goin' to Iraq, because those bastards are in league with Bin Laden too, and, they got WMDs!!! It reminds me of a joke: A kid is standing at the chalk board, with the start of an equation written at the top, and in the middle, it read, "Then a tiny miracle occurs," and then at the bottom, there's the answer. The tag line is the Professor saying, "I really think you need to show your work here..."

Problem is, they did show their work as we headed for Iraq, and it turns out that not only did they get the answer wrong, they weren't working on the right question either. Our original intention, the War on Terrorism has gone by the wayside: We never got bin Laden, the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, we've completely fucked up the Middle East, and quite possibly contributed significantly to the start of World War III. The War on Terrorism? Since when do you fight and win a conflict by poking a big stick into several hornet nests at the same time and waggling it around vigorously? And, you're surprised and pissed off when you get stung? Huh??!

War also implies somebody to fight against, a definable enemy, not a nebulous opposition without clear structure: Claiming that this is the case is chickenshit - It's just a way of crying wolf and keeping the populace scared and nervous. It reminds me of the imfamous War on Drugs: Who are you declaring war on, the drugs, the users, or the purveyors? How are you going to successfully prosecute a war on something that will always exist, as long as there's a demand? Are you going to fight people into not wanting to get high? Fight people into not growing poppies? What? It's the same deal here. Al Qaeda? The Taliban? Are they the enemy defined? Ok, let's look at how we did with that, then, shall we?

The Afghan-Soviet conflict from whence they came basically rolled right into the first Gulf War. Bin Laden left Afghanistan and offered his Mujahidin to the Saudi royal family to counter Iraq's threat: The offer was rebuffed, and he headed for Sudan. He was kicked out of there in '96, and returned to Afghanistan, where, to the best of our knowledge, he remains today.

When U.S.-led coalition forces began military operations in Afghanistan in late 2001, Taliban and Al Qaeda forces found themselves in a fight all over again with the many factions that had been suppressed during Taliban rule. As the ground offensive grew in scope, their forces retreated to the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where they pretty much remain to this day.

So, bottom line? Almost five years, thousands and thousands killed, tens of thousands wounded, displaced and disillusioned, and the enemy remains fundamentally as they began. The U.S. military presence is spread perilously thin, and they're running low on personnel and morale. Nothing much of anything has been accomplished. We have spent ourselves into massive deficit, alienated ourselves from most of the world, including most of our former allies and supporters, and accomplished nothing other than destroying the infrastructure of two countries, (And counting..), and earned the burning enmity of many, many people.

Now within that bunch of accolpishments, I just don't honestly see anything resembling a victory anywhere in sight; do you?

How's that War on Terrorism lookin' to you now?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Jesus H. Christ, and other Tales

I think a lot of people like to believe they invented something... Like in the movie Michael, when one character tells another, “You know the little hole in the top of a to-go coffee cup; makes it easier to drink? I was the first one to do that…”

Yuh huh… Anyway, seems the lion’s share of this type of claim comes down to phrases or words more than inventions, and I’m no exception - Except that I really did invent a couple... No, really...

My wife calls them Ebenisms, and uses several regularly. Unfortunately, she has recently watched several classic movies with me, during which she turns to me and says, “Pretty much all this stuff is your shtick, isn’t it? This is where you got all that stuff I thought was original…” Busted… Of course I didn’t really claim to have invented all the phrases, I just made ‘em mine. A friend of mine once said about a moniker I laid on him, (Bitch Kitty), “I like that… The first few times I use it, I’ll give you credit – then it’s mine!” That’s kind of how I worked…

So, what are Ebenisms?

Christ on a Crutch is one, but truth be told, I got it from my Pop, (And it's widely used, of course, in fact there’s even a punk band named that). Using the Risen Lord’s name in vain has been popular for centuries, frankly… Dad also used the derivation Jesus H. Christ frequently, which is also a wildly popular blaspheme.
It is interesting that the middle initial used is always the same, isn’t it?
Fans of the Blues Brothers movie will recall a great Belushi line, “Yes, Yes, Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ, I can see the light!” Or maybe you prefer Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket, who was very fond of the oath…
Now, Dad’s full-bore variation on this, (Used on special occasions like whanging his thumb with a hammer), was Jesus H. Horatio Algiers Christ, (A mouthful, needless to say). He did this, I believe, trying to avoid a full-out DFW during such times, as a courtesy to our young ears… What? What’s a DFW? No, it’s not Dallas-Fort Worth; that’s Dance of the Fuck Warrior - the most common response to smashing your finger with a hammer – You know, when you hop around holding the damaged digit, screaming, “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” at the top of your lungs? That’s a DFW…
So, anyway, what is Christ’s middle name? My favorite explanation is that it’s Harold, (As in, Our Father, who art in Heaven, Harold be Thy name…) Arr, Arr, Arr! (Sorry). A more likely root is the common southern U.S. oath; Jesus Holy Christ. Of course, we can’t discount the New England version, either - Jesus Hebrew Christ, now can we?
Roguish biblical scholars claim the H stems from the Christogram, the IHS symbol found on a whole lot of Christian stuff and representing the Latin, Jesus Hominum Salvator, or Jesus, Savior of Man… By the way, if you’re wondering how one gets IHS from Jesus Hominum Salvator, Jesus' name in the Greek is Iesous, the J is a relatively new development; only a few hundred years old really. Anyway, that’s why you might see the JHS instead of the IHS occassionally.
Others believe the mysterious H stems from the INRH placard placed on Jesus’ cross by sneering Roman Centurions, meaning Jesus Nazarenus, Rex Hebrie – Or Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews. The problem here is that the most common inscription given isn’t INRH, it’s INRI Jesus Nazarenus, Rex Indaerum – Same translation, but no H, eh, so there ya go…
Then there’s the Unbeliever/Science major version – The H stands for Haploid, referring, of course, to the claimed Immaculate Conception… Get it? Having no bio dad, The Risen Lord was only given half the normal number of chromosomes?... No? Never mind…

But enough about that… I also lay claim to Holy Dog Water as an expletive, and a Google search of that yields one website named the same and nothing else. The website is… esoteric – So let’s just say that it was a simultaneous yet not synchronistic discovery of the phrase and leave it at that. Score one for Eben…

Hmm, using simultaneous and synchronistic in the same sentence leads me to one of my favorite words; sesquipedalian. This is, of course, the propensity to overuse big words in a ponderous manner… And the definition does not speak to whether or not there is proper usage. I have, believe it or not, occasionally been accused of sesquipedalianism, an allegation to which I object strenuously and with abject pontification as to the erroneous, incongruous, deleterious, and profound falsehood of said charge…

On we go – I further laim the pejorative term Worm Boy as my own – A Google search here yields one and only one use of the term in said manner, and as such, I maintain my discovery claim thereof – It was a lucky shot, and he probably got it from me anyway.

Next comes Butt Weasel, (And more specifically, the Ronco Butt Weasel, with apologies to Ron Popeil) – It's Mine! Granted, there is the ChickenHawk Butt Weasel Award, http://www.seedsofdoubt.cmo/distressedamerican/Chickenhawk.html, (Which is a great site!), but it’s not a pure use as a singled out depreciatory, so I’m still calling it mine.

And finally, I offer Sell My Clothes, I’ve Gone To Heaven – Yes, mine again. Even though Monterey Jack, the rowdy cartoon mouse, has indeed said exactly that, I said it first and I swear to God, I've been firing that one off since my 20’s….

In other words, they got it from me, the butt weasels...

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Booga Lacka Lacka Lacka

I love Doo-Wop and the early rock and pop songs with killer harmonies workin’ in them. I’ve written a few songs in my day, some good, some bad, and more than a few ugly. So naturally, I got to pondering one of those truly deep questions: Did the song writers actually write out the sound or word or whatever you want to call it that them backup singers sang, or did that happen after they’d sung it? Kind of a chicken and egg question, I guess…

No, really, I wonder: Did somebody think up Booga Lacka Lacka Lacka, or did they do ‘er up phonetically after hearing ‘em sing it?

On Mr. Lee, did somebody write out Um Polly Wolly Whack Em whoa, and then show that to the background singers? “Here, y’all, try this out?"

With title works like Ramma Lamma Ding Dong, can we assume they wrote it?

Ooooooh, Ooooooooh, WAH Oooooooooooooooh, Oooooooooooooooooh, on Teenager in Love is a sure bet - They didn’t need to write that one out.

I have it on good order from my friend Lolita, who sings Gospel professionally, that the Sock it to me’s behind Respect were spontaneous, not scripted.

One of the most famous of these phrases also wasn’t scripted, and that of course is the Ah-Weema Whips behind The Lion Sleeps Tonight: I say that because there’s still debate as to what exactly they’re singing, (There's a camp firmly convinced that it's really A weem ah way…)

Why, I don’t know – It’s clearly Ah-Weema Whip…

Monday, August 07, 2006

Etiquette Shmedicate

Is it just me, or have people gotten incredibly ruder in the last 10 years or so? Are there just so many more of us that we intrude upon one another more often, or are we turning into a nation of insensitive jerks? You make the call…

I’m voting for ruder, by the way...

Now, some of the phenomena I observe regularly and shake my head in disbelief at is technologically induced, I’ll grant; but isn’t it incumbent upon us to use this stuff wisely and decently? Take cell phones, for instance, (One of my great pet peeves…) What kind of person conducts phone calls while using a public toilet? I mean, I can kinda see playing the onboard games while in the shitter, although hearing little beeps and boops while doing one’s business is just a tad disconcerting… When did pooping and talking at the same time become OK: And of course, thereby sharing the whole conversation, as well? Wireless ear pieces for phones are now all the rage, so not only are people holding tacitly personal conversations in pretty much every public place, they appear to be talking to themselves, which cranks the weirdness factor up a tick or two…

I know I’ve said this before, but honestly, I am gonna find one of them PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, HANG UP THE PHONE AND DRIVE bumper stickers and put it on my car. My friend J.B., who is truly a redneck, (He calls himself an Educated Redneck, “Which means Ah’ll tell yoo whut I’m a-gonna do to yoo bah-for ah do it…”), got so mad at one he considered tossing a golf ball out his sunroof in retaliation, (“Woulda bounced twice an’ landed right in the’ middle o’ the hood…”) Yeah, that could be dangerous, but I sure understand how frustration could build to that level…

And for that matter, (Final rant on cell phones for now, I promise), who decided that it was OK to focus entirely on the conversation at hand while doing anything in public? If you can’t walk and chew gum, spit the fuckin’ gum out, OK? I mean really: If you are incapable of talking and walking, shopping, driving, or even being around other humans while maintaining at least a semblance of a clue as to what is going on around you – HANG UP THE FUCKIN’ PHONE, BONEHEAD!

Road rage – This is definitely a fairly recent phenomenon – What changed? What switch in the common psyche got flipped that makes people fight, chase, even kill another human being for a driving faux pas, real or perceived?

Yeah, some parents were assholes to coaches and ref’s when I was a kid playing organized baseball or hockey, but I don’t remember parents shooting coaches, do you? You’re going to kill your kid’s High School football coach ‘cause you don’t think he’s playin’ your kid enough? For that matter, what kind of idiot later describes these criminals as, “Just a nice, normal guy,” when discussing their now incarcerated neighbors? Birds of a feather…

Have people always parked their shopping carts right in front of a rack, then wandered off to contemplate a purchase, and genuinely looked pissed off because you moved the cart, which was in front of what you wanted to buy? Did they always look huffy and say, “How rude!” under their breath after reclaiming their carts?

Have people always moseyed along at a snail’s pace in a store, not even remotely aware of the fact that nobody can get by them because they’ve spread themselves across the entire width of the aisle? Have they always looked pissy when somebody who wants to move faster says “Excuse me?” and tries to get through?

Granted, people have always talked in movies, but have they always been outraged when somebody tells them to shut up? Have they always threatened to kill the poor working sap that gets sent to shush them in response to numerous complaints?

I’ve seen variations of this kind of behavior for a long time now, because I work in sales, and Salespeople are famous for the My Shit Is Infinitely More Important Than Whatever You’re Doing attitude, but it seems to be spreading to the general public. Walking up to the meat counter and telling the guy you need help now, when there’re eight or nine other people in front of you, spread out along the counter, who took numbers and have been patiently waiting their turn… And then being pissy with the butcher when he points that out? When did incredibly rude, vitriolic tirades become mainstream and acceptable behavior?

When the recent story on Mel Gibson’s DUI arrest came out, I checked out the entertainment news network that broke the lead on the missing four pages of the Deputy’s original report. In response to his drunken threats to, “Ruin,” the Deputy because Mel “Owns Malibu,” and his blatantly anti-Semitic tirade, readers who wrote comments on that site were overwhelmingly in favor of Mel; “He’s right, the Jews are the world-wide cause of most problems,” and “Why can’t he go out and have a good time like a normal person and not get hassled?” were pretty typical of the comments I read. Wait... Doing twice the speed limit, having an open fifth of Tequila in the car, impugning the Deputies race and/or faith, and resisting arrest - These are examples of having a good time like a normal person? I was afraid of that...

That, in and of itself, was enough to convince me that we have indeed become a society largely composed of insensitive, self-absorbed clods with the social graces of a fruit fly, (Always in your face and really difficult to swat). I wasn’t raised that way, our kids weren’t raised that way, and neither were our friends. Maybe this kind of thing is why we don’t get out much anymore, but then again, we’re not missing much either, are we?

There, I feel better now – Don’t you?

Working Dreams

I never have working dreams any more... That’s kinda funny, but then again,
There’s not that much about originating mortgages that one would want to relive during REM sleep, is there?

Tell you what though, when I was a Firefighter and a Cop, I had ‘em all the time, and I know that a bunch of my friends did too.

The plain ol’ Workin’ a Shift dream is the most common and least intrusive variety. During one of these, you just dream about driving around, taking regular old calls, interviewing people, writing the report; very normal, mundane activities. Nothing exciting happens, there are no real lapses of reality, you’re just workin’. Actually, these can be exhausting, because they occur when you should be recharging your batteries, but instead, you’re working, so you often wake up just plain tired.

The next variety is the Common Dream Problem version. You go to work and you can’t find your locker, can’t remember the combination, arrive in pajamas, don’t have any uniforms, are late and keep getting later and later, crap like that. It’s an anxiety dream, but fairly mild in the broad scheme of things. I have no idea what the psychology of such things are, but I think they're more of a regular, garden-variety Freudian issue than relative to a specific profession…

Now things start getting weird. The next level is what I call Escalated Real Life Occurrence dreams. This is something like, “Leaving the station light,” a euphemism for heading out on a shift without your gun. Now, there may be cops who have never done this, but there’s way more of ‘em who have and don’t admit it. I did it twice: I discovered the first incident at breakfast, so it was no biggy other than the embarrassment factor. The second time, I had just hopped a six foot, chain link fence looking for an intruder at a silent alarm. I reach for my roscoe and… Now that’s a little scary. Never did it again after that, but sure as hell dreamed about it a bunch. In this kind of dream, you’re in a situation where you or someone else is in immediate danger, under attack, etc, and you reach for your piece and its empty holster time… After that, things get real shitty in this kind of dream, so they’re way more debilitating that the previous varieties… I might dream that my bullets were actually nails, or had fallen apart, or were the wrong caliber and…. You get the picture. When I was a Fire Chief at an airport in Washington State, it was always in the back of my mind that if a jet crashed and burned on either runway approach in the middle of winter (Read really, really wet), there was no way on God’s green earth that we’d be able to get anywhere close with an engine: So what was my recurring dream? Yup, MD-80 with a full passenger load eating it in December on the approach to Runway 1-6… These dreams definitely are professionally motivated and feed on the weirdness and fears only known to those who work in them.

Finally, you have the completely surreal, nothing-to-do-with-reality version of the work dream, and actually, these never bothered me that much. When the reality factor’s removed, it’s just a dream, even if it is work-based in nature.

To me, the worst kind was the Escalated Real Life versions. I still have them, albeit not so often, and I’ve been out of the business for ten years. Is this some kind of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or am I just weird, (Don’t answer that...)

Do doctors, and pilots, and truck drivers that haul gasoline have the same kinds of dreams?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Once upon a time, there was a fine young Police Officer named Tony. Tony went on to become a Mucky Mucky, holding high rank in one of Washington State's largest departments, but at one time, he was but a lowly patrol Officer.

And back then, he invented one of the coolest and most effective graveyard shift tools known to copkind: AutoProwl. And now… The rest of the story.

A lot of cops like graveyard shift, most often for some combination of three primary reasons:

1. It’s a very target rich environment, and
2. You don’t deal with a lot of the bullshit Barking Neighbor calls, and
3. There’s no admin. staff around late at night.

These are all fine reasons to work 10:00 p.m. to 6 a.m., as far as I’m concerned.

Now, the downside, depending on thee size of the city you work in, is that things can get very, very quiet from around 2:00 a.m. to 5:30 a.m., and… You can get really bored, or fight falling asleep, or do dumb stuff, or… You can AutoProwl.

Now, diligent cops will be working during this time period, because, there is shit goin’ on. In the darkest, quietest hours, burglars are plying their trade, and catching people in the act of breaking into places trying to steal stuff is very, very cool – Way up there on the AdrenoMeter.

Some cops like to depend on alarms, but that’s a pretty low ratio catch, frankly. Only a percentage of alarms are silent, and if they’re not, you ain’t gonna catch nobody by the time you get there. I got a couple from silent alarms in my day, but it’s not as much fun as it could be: See, alarm calls at night mean that the K9 Officer and his pooch are gonna be top dogs, and you’re either following them around as they work, or watching the perimeter, something like that… It’s not nearly as much fun as catching them in the act yourself.

Some cops will do the cruise around their areas, looking at businesses and buildings they think are likely targets and checking them through the wee hours, but if you’re driving along shining your spot light on back doors and roof access ladders, all you’re doing is telling the bad guys you’re there. This method also is prone, consciously or not, to pattern building, and that’s not good: If the bad guys want to nail Business X, and they know you go by there between 3:00 and 3:30 pretty much every morning, guess when they’re not going to break in?

So whataya do if you wanna be cool and catch bad guys? You AutoProwl, buddy. Thanks to Officer Tony, you AutoProwl. How does it work? Easy: See, normally, if you’re in a cruiser checking your area, you drive along on the correct side of the road, lights on, using your spot, all the stuff that makes you obvious as hell. What Tony figured out is to use your prowl car and not be obvious as hell and it’s brilliant. AutoProwl works on this wise and proven concept: If you behave, move, and locate yourself in places where people don’t expect to see you, they won’t see you. What, you ask? What’s this semi-mystical bullshit you’re spouting? It’s true gang: Take as a for instance, the point at which we first initiated a bike patrol. Buzz Leake and I were the first two full time bike cops: What we quickly discovered is that we could ride right up to just about anything and the bad guys didn’t see us. Their cop radar did not yet include looking for cops on bicycles, so cops on bicycles were just cyclists, not cops. We drove right up to people selling dope, trying to break into places, etc, and they looked right at us, but they didn’t see us – It didn’t register. That’s how AutoProwl works.

Here’s what you do: Let’s say you’re working a nice office and industrial area with lots of burglary targets. When you AutoProwl, you kill all the lights on your car, (Including brake lights), and you drive on the wrong side of the street, (Maybe even on the sidewalk), and you go real slow, maybe 5 miles an hour, max. Now, you are behaving in a way that folks are not used to seeing cops and cop cars do, and they will not see you.

One of the first times I AutoProwled, I came around the corner, (On the wrong side of the street, dark, going slow), and the guy walking across the street at 3:00 a.m. with a futon over his shoulder, (Coming from the Futon Factory where they make ‘em), looked right at me, and kept walking toward me… He got maybe ten feet away before he registered, dropped the futon and ran. It sucks hiding in a blackberry patch and getting dragged out of it by a pissed off German Shepherd...

Once we had a long, long string of burglaries by the same guy, a serial burglar, who's M.O. was yanking safes out of businesses – he was really racking up a long winning streak… Until my friend Lou was AutoProwling along one night and came upon a running vehicle, a bashed in back door to a contracting business, and a safe halfway between the two. Arrest made the next day.

It's much more fun than playing perimeter: AutoProwl, coming soon to a patrol area near you.