Executive summary: Satan himself created crown molding. Wives love the looks of it and desire it in their rooms - and then husbands go apoplectic installing it. There can be no other explanation. There ought to be a federal law requiring "Made in Hell" be stamped onto the back of every crown molding board.
Part of the problem with installing crown molding is that I can think of three different ways of doing it (coping, compound miter cuts, and cutting at a straight 45 degrees upside down and against the stop), and everybody seems to have his own favorite method. So right away there's an element of political advocacy to it.
Based on observations of the professional we once had come in to do some rooms, I decided to use the simple, non-compound, upside-down-and-against-the-stop method, measuring two or three times and as carefully as I could. (For one wall I was at a 32nd of an inch degree of accuracy.) My pard Chris, however, who came to help, is an advocate of the coping method.
I cut the first piece for the longest wall and realized that I made the corner cuts wrong. There went the usefulness of that piece. Oh, well, we can use it on a less lengthy wall, right?
We got another piece up on the longest wall and cut another for the connecting wall. However, we quickly discovered that it didn't match at the corner. What the heck? How can this be? So there's two pieces out of my four eighteen-foot pieces cut and apparently more or less unusable. Chris attempted a coped angle which didn't really work out. (I couldn't cut a coped angle, either.)
Chris had the good idea to cut a small corner template and we tried matching this with the long piece we had installed - and discovered that the reason why the corners weren't working out was because we had installed the first piece on the wrong place on the wall. So we ripped that one off the wall and reseated it, making twice as many holes in the molding and wall. But the corners made a somewhat better match.
Somewhat. Still unsatisfactory. It's clear that there's still something wrong so, last night at a party I talked to a friend who installs corner molding for a living who agreed to drop by tomorrow to tell me where it is I'm going wrong. Unless I'm greatly mistaken he's about to get the contract awarded to him.
I can do a lot of things - electrical work, plumbing, car repair, most mechanical repairs - but carpentry has never been one of them. It is very hit and miss with me. No matter how often I measure I nearly always screw up my cuts somehow. Carpentry, for me, is a process of taking large usable pieces of wood set aside for a project and turning them into progressively smaller and smaller useless pieces of wood - which is what's happening now with the crown molding.
I remember that back in the junior high wood shop class we had an assignment to build a box. My stock started out the same size as everyone else, but at the end my box was the smallest one in the class. I clearly recall the teaching picking mine up and staring at it and me quizzically.
Oh, well. In compensation did some household molding repairs yesterday that were fully successful and look great. I even managed a proper return on one piece. The difference, of course, is that this molding goes flat against surfaces, not at a weird angle at the intersection of three planes like crown molding. Edge molding, you see, was invented in heaven. Crown molding in hell.
Hey, it's the last day of the year!
Let's review: Yesterday it occurred to me that in 2008 four bad women passed on. (Okay, three bad women and a Peruvian Inca Goddess.)
1. Yma Sumac, the aforesaid Inca Goddess with a celebrated five octave singing range. Her lower register was a deep growl and her upper register was a songbird's trill.
2. Bettie Page, who, to be fair, was only bad prior to 1960 when she became an ardant Christian and gave up nude fetishist modelling.
3. Eartha Kitt, who cooed the best-ever version of the song "Santa Baby." She was always an odd, distinctly off-beat female celebrity. While Lee Meriwether was my favorite Catwoman in the 1966 series, having Kitt (Kitt - Cat) in the role was inspired casting.
4. Ann Savage, noted yesterday. In "Detour," the Hellion from Hell. (Maybe she designed crown molding.)
We shall see what 2009 brings...
We're going to a New Year's Eve party held by some empty-nester friends tonight. In the words of Irving Berlin (as sung by Bing Crosby in "Holiday Inn"):
Let's watch the old year die/With a fond good-bye/And our hopes as high/As a kite/How can our love go wrong/if we start the new year right?
Who? She was one of the nastiest, meanest, most bad-news women in film noir, justly celebrated for her role in a favorite of every noirhead, "Detour" (1945). It's a supremely cheap little movie which totally surpassed its resources due to the direction of Edgar G. Ulmer and Ann Savage.
Really, if you have never seen a film noir this is a great place to start. Since nobody owns the copyright to it, you might find it on DVD for 88 cents at Wal-Mart!
A great film; even my wife liked it after being initially dubious. It sticks with you the next day. But be forewarned, the logic in it is dreamlike and the plot proceeds on a number of odd, unrealistic plot points.
But Savage is great. I can honestly say that I've never seen quite a performance like hers. "She's vicious and predatory. She's been called a harpy from hell, and in the film, too, she's very sexually aggressive, and he's very, very passive. It's very unusual for a '40s film to have a woman come on that strong." - Quite!
Got to go. About to start on crown molding installation!
My wife describes my Christmas behavior. She's not far wrong.
Got to go. My wife is about to have eighteen women over to the house for a bridal shower in another ten minutes, and I just know I'm not going to be allowed to sit at the computer for long...
So - I got an idea - and I haven't seen this in stores anywhere. Manufacture little metal numbers that have tabs or a locking mechanism behind them and small plates that can be hooked to the ornament by the hanger. You take the numbers, date the ornament as you wish, and attach them to the plate, which is hung with the ornament. Instant dated commemorative ornament!
Santa was good to me this year. I got another point and shoot camera to replace the one the TSA ripped off from me. It's a Canon PowerShot SD 1100 IS Digital ELPH (mine is silver). I like it; I think it may be a better camera than last year's Nikon Coolpix. At any rate, it's just the thing to stick in a sack coat pocket at a reenactment, or bring to a restaurant.
My wife Cari baked up a storm... it was groovy. I'm about 150 pouunds overweight right now - at least, that's how I feel.
Speaking of feeling, I am much happier now that Christmas is over. Other than our mailing to my son not getting delivered by UPS (we have to do a tracking request), things didn't go as badly as I had feared. In fact, it was better than I thought. I hope this isn't an annual pattern with me, dreading the holidays. What an emotional maladjustment!
Okay, gotta go. After Christmas sales; this is when we buy our greeting cards. I used to think, all through our married life, that we could consider ourselves rich when we buy our cards for the year before Christmas. Now I know that even if very wealthy we'd probably do it afterwards anyway, habits of thrift and tradition being strong.
Last night my family and I watched Holiday Inn (1942), a traditon. But this time it was with a new, colorized version. My amazon.com review follows:
My family and I have been watching Holiday Inn every Christmas Eve for the past twenty one years! All three kids know the songs by heart. To me, no film has the mixture of sentiment and elegance that this one has. Our discussion all that time, however, has been "Why won't they colorize it?," along with speculation about what colors gowns and other clothing might be. (Okay, my son could care less.) Never has a film's subject matter and production called for colorization more.
We always figured that the unfortunate racial stereotypical material would keep it from ever being released in an improved version. (At one point Bing slaps some blackface makeup on Marjorie Reynolds for the "Abraham" number, which causes her to say "...and here I was hoping to be pretty!" Ouch.) But at long last it's available in a colorized version, and it's like watching the film completely anew.
Details I had never noticed before pop right off the screen in this one (the salads in the foreground of the kitchen shot, the greenery in the "You're Easy To Dance To" number, the log cabin table center-pieces in the Lincoln's birthday number, Fred's star-spangled 4th of July hankie) - it's really surprising what a difference the color makes in the details. And I could swear the sound is improved, as well. I had never before heard a triangle being played in the Washington's Birthday number - but it's there now.
Only one disappointment: We had always thought Marjorie Reynolds' gown in the Valentine's Day number was a deep red or maroon, but here it's rendered as black (with a pink heart pin). Perhaps the documentation exists that indicates that was the actual color of the dress or maybe it was a judgement call from the fashion lady doing the color palette design - but we think it would look better as a deep red.
Whatever... this well-wrought release was a long time coming and perhaps it will cause this wonderful movie musical to finally achieve the fame it deserves. (It is far, far better than the 1954 color "White Christmas.") Get it, and as the Holiday Inn newspaper clipping says, "God Bless America!"
Today my wife and daughter also have the day off, so perhaps we'll cruise around in a store or two on what might be called retail "Black Wednesday." Cari will be baking.
Last night I watched another installment in my trend of documentaries of pop culture obsessives (prior rentals included "Darkon," about live role-playing, and "The King of Kong," about video game players). This was
"Ringers: Lord of the Fans." About ten minutes into it I realized that I had made a mistake.
Gandalf the Gray, Frodo Lives, Aragorn, hairy-footed hobbits, orcs... aaacccckkkkk! I was first exposed to the subject when I saw the Ballantine paperbacks on spinner racks in the late Sixties, when hobbits were inextricably associated with hippies. I distrusted and disliked hippies, and was therefore suspicious of Tolkien's work. Later on I learned that it was derived from Anglo-Saxon literature and Icelandic sagas, which I liked. So, in 1975 when I was stationed at an Air Force base in Texas and bored, I read the Rings trilogy, figuring that sooner or later I'd have to confront them.
They were... okay. But by and large, they didn't move me at all. In fact, I liked Tolkien's little work "Farmer Giles of Ham" a lot better. Easier to swallow, far less ponderous, just simple amusement.
In college, I made the mistake of taking a Tolkien class that later turned out to be a Tolkien/C.S. Lewis class, or vice versa, I forget. (I was the only electrical engineering major I know who minored in English Lit.) Another mistake, as it was the gathering place for every nerd in the English department. I recall one day a visiting professor arrived on the scene and started his lecture by calling Tolkien a "second rate author," which put the class in an uproar. I immediately took the prof's side and asked how anyone could rank Tolkien with Shakespeare, Homer, Dante or Ovid; he is second rate! This and the fact that I was a known EE major caused the rest of the class to mistrust and rather dislike me.
At some point in my life I found a copy of The Silmarillion at a yard sale. I gave up after about 40 pages, finding it absolutely unreadable. The New York Review of Books called The Silmarillion "an empty and pompous bore" and "not a literary event of any magnitude" - I agree.
Fast forward to 2001 with the arrival of the super epic mega multi-million overlong film trilogy, which caused Tolkien nerds - "Ringers" - all over the earth to spend hugely on multiple viewings of the films, celebratory junkets to New Zealand (forget Tolkien - take in some rugby matches!), "replica" swords, coffee mugs, elf pendants, latex hairy feet shoes, iron headbands, neon blue contact lenses, etc. etc. etc.
I rather liked the first installment, the second was so overblown and ponderous so as to cause me doubt as to whether or not I'd bother with the sequel (that scene of Orlando Bloom skateboarding down the stone steps while firing arrows is etched into my brain like a horrible rugby bathroom mishap), and the third was... okay. Overall I was overwhelmed and have not purchased any of the DVDs or even rented them for another viewing.
Let's just say that if surveyed and asked, "Tolkien or Homer?" and "Lord of the Rings or Der Ring des Nibelungen my answer would be HOMER and WAGNER. One describes what writer Mark Steyn calls fancy, the other imagination. The dumbing-down of America is well represented by the obsessive, all-absorbing cultish fandom for works of fancy (Star Trek, Tolkien, Harry Potter, Batman and other super-heroes) over works of imagination.
I recognize that my opinions may draw fire. I don't care. I think J.R.R. Tolkien IS a second rate author!
Now... why didn't I like the documentary "Ringers: Lord of the Fans?" It was a ninety minute homage to the Rings cycle, and I got very tired of hearing the repeated opinion that, as in the world of Star Trek, the works call for us all to embrace our diversity and be one in peace and mutual understanding, blah-blah-blah-yada-yada-yada. I just want to scream when I hear that. (As a Federal employee I get constant doses of it at work.) I do believe that in modern minds it has supplanted a belief in God.
Well. My view is that while diversity is nice, homogeneity is undervalued.
I watched a much more digestible production last night to try to get the taste of Tolkien nerds out of my mouth, the Twilight Zone episode "Passage on the Lady Anne" from 1963. (Ethan: It's #119. You should watch it.) This one features the wonderful British character actors Wilfred Hyde-White, Gladys Cooper (see yesterday's entry), Cecil Kellaway and Alan Napier - whom you may recall as Alfred the butler on the 1966 TV series Batman. It was one of the better 50 minute long TZ episodes. (25 minute episodes were a much better format for the series). In fact, it is one of my favorite episodes - the acting is so good. Hyde-White is wonderful to watch; it's a pity he isn't better known than he is.
Anyway... that satisfies my itch to write for today!
I think this means something, but frankly, I'm not sure... the Internet confuses me. It's a whole lot bigger than I am, that's for sure.
My umbrella site, wesclark.com, has an Alexa page of its own. I suspect there's probably something I can do to make it produce revenue, but I'm not sure what. Clutter up my pages with advertisements, perhaps - which doesn't appeal to me at all.
Thanks to my son I now have all 156 of the Twilight Zone episodes, and have now seen all the season one stories. What a great show! Three more seasons to go. I have read that the show hit its stride in the second season, but the first was pretty good. I have observed that the episodes with Jack Klugman and Gladys Cooper are among the best.
Gladys Cooper? Who's she? The wikipedia entry is here; she was nominated three times for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She's compelling in everything I've seen her in. That is, she has that quality, like Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov and Edward G. Robinson, that when they're on screen you can't ignore them. Anyway, she's one of the Grand Old Ladies of the British Theatre - and Twilight Zone.
Last night I watched A Charlie Brown Christmas with my wife and daughter. I was one of the millions of kids who were tuned in December 9th, 1965, when it was first broadcast. (In fact, half of all the TV sets in the U.S. were tuned in to it that night.) I was nine. It seemed weird; in many ways it still does.
For one thing, there's the music. I am convinced that the score by Vince Guaraldi is now brilliant (I especially like the piece I call "Snowflakes," played when the Peanuts kids catch snowflakes on their tongues), but at the time I was confused by its jazzy, minor key sound. There was nothing else like it in cartoons. And the use of real children for the voice overs was also a surprise... even today I'm struck by the odd delivery of the lines, caused by the fact that some of the younger kids learned their lines phonetically - not knowing what the sentences meant.
The absence of a canned laugh track put me off a bit, too. As a nine year-old it told me what was supposed to be funny - consequently, I didn't immediately see what was supposed to be funny in this production. And some of the humor still strikes me as being cruel and sadistic. For instance, the scene where Charlie Brown is told by the Christmas show cast what an utter oxygen-waster he is. I half expect to see him reenter the school auditorium with an automatic weapon and open fire.
The loops of the Peanuts kids dancing still amuses me; those dance moves are so quirky and strange. Has anyone ever really moved like that on a dance floor? (Without trying to imitate this sequence, that is.)
And then there's the celebrated Biblical speech by Linus, which he sheds his comfort blanket to give. Pure genius, and still unique.
Peter Robbins, the boy who did the voice over for Charlie Brown, was born in 1956, like me. So he's now 52! (Good Grief.)
The child who did the voice over for Lucy, Tracy Stratford, was also the actress on a great Twilight Zone episode, "Living Doll." You remember: "My name is Talky Tina, and I'm going to kill you."
Good Wikipedia article
A Heavy Metal Charlie Brown Christmas
That's it for today - and for a while. I go on vacation tomorrow and will be busy at malls, socializing, watching TV with my daughter, doing home improvement tasks of various kinds and probably cursing at crown molding. Maybe visit a Civil War battlefield or two. (There's one I have never seen at Bristoe Station...)
I'll do some blog updates as I get bored. But in case I don't, have yourselves a merry little Christmas!
But it's really attitudinal, isn't it? I used to work with an engineer who loved Mondays. His attitude was that all of the mistakes of the prior week were washed away and forgiven, and that it was a fresh start. I'd probably be better off if I took that angle.
If I loved my job, I would.
But... it's a fresh start for me as well at work for, effective yesterday, I have given up being an engineering manager. I have been transferred - at my request - from being the manager of a network engineering group to a member of a quality management group (non-supervisory). Every peer I have spoken with agrees with me that management, however favorable and encouraging the working environment, is still a pain. Being responsible for the production and work of others as well as my own, that is. And annual performance appraisals - I won't miss writing those! Really, have they ever motivated anyone?
I give up my larger "prestigious" corner office for a smaller, cozier one. No big deal there as my sense of self-worth is defined by what I am rather than what I have. At a fundamental level I will always be an engineer no matter what I do at work for pay. And... in the winter that corner office is freezing! (The fault of two walls' worth of windows, one of which I keep shuttered to reduce CRT glare.)
My pay? The same. So what's not to like? Besides, nothing is ever permanent. If I'm discontented I can request another change. But after eleven years of being a supervisor I'm willing to try work being responsible for my own work only.
So... it's a fresh start in what has been an rather unpleasant working environment.
I'm getting over that cold I developed Friday. (Actually, it came on the day before.) Sleeping an additional six hours helped. So I'm physically active again, socializing, making plans, etc. And that's all the column space I'll supply for what I call the "organ recital" - that is, obsessing about one's health - which apparently comes with age. Old folks seem to often take great pleasure in it.
My youngest daughter Meredith, a visiting princess, is back at home with us for the holidays. (We took the annual family Christmas photo yesterday - this goes in a 2008 ornament for the tree.) I'm finally feeling some Christmas spirit as a result. Christmas is an odd thing for me. Eating isn't enough. Presents aren't enough. The time off from work is great! But not enough. Socializing isn't enough (we had a major Five Families soiree last night). The tree and home decorations aren't enough. Gathering the family - or parts of it - aren't enough. Holiday musical performances by the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy bands aren't enough.
Like an exotic Harry Potterite magical potion, Christmas is a mixture of all of the above plus... other things. I know what you're thinking: perhaps a spiritual recognition for the reason behind the season? Yeah, that, too. Celebrating Christmas must have been a far, far simpler and more deeply satisfying thing a hundred or two hundred years ago. Or perhaps my expectations are too complex and selfish. I can't help it - I'm a product of the fun but somewhat vacuous American nineteen-sixties.
Well. I mentioned the army band. On Saturday evening (our 28th wedding anniversary) we attended the U.S. Navy's holiday show in the D.A.R. Constitution Hall in D.C. While the show didn't have quite the same Hollywood-style glitz as the Army's show, I enjoyed the music more. The arrangements were more creative - and, at times, featured a banjo - what Mark Twain once called "the world's greatest musical instrument." (My son had the good taste to request one for Christmas - I hope he learns to play it well.) That quickly-picked twangy sound lifts the spirits. I subsequently made a resolution for 2009: to attend a concert or two by the Navy's "Country Current" ensemble. They were excellent, as is the case with all of the armed forces ensembles.
I was also struck by the beauty of a Christmas song they performed which I have never heard before: "Good News." I am not normally a fan of what is usually called Christian music, but this one was extraordinary to me. Could the lyrics be more purely about the meaning of Christmas? No. And the subtle harmonics of the choral sections, beautifully sung by the Sea Chanters, wedged itself into my head, where it still resides. (I am happy to report that it has displaced Neil Young's "A Man Needs a Maid.") Nobody else in my party - my wife, daughter, and a friend of hers - saw anything remarkable about the number, which greatly surprised me. They thought it overlong and tedious. But I am grateful for this personal Christmas blessing.
From my desk calendar: Bethlehem.
I am now half-way through my "Listening to and Understanding Great Music" lectures, in the classical period. The prof analyzed a movement from Mozart's symphony in G minor K. 550 (Number 40). Mozart was incredible, a music-making machine like no other before or since. There are no notes or sketches for his masterpieces - they were fully formed in his brain and simply copied down. That's how Mozart described his writing of music, copying. The prof also shared a rather crude but actual quote from Mozart: "I write music the way cows piss." That is, it simply flows out. Wow.
The prof also pointed out that Mozart's name is properly Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Gottlieb ("beloved of God') Mozart. Wikipedia says that his baptismal record gives his name in Latinized form as Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. Mozart generally called himself "Wolfgang Amadè Mozart" as an adult, but there were many variants. The "Gottlieb" came as a surprise to me...
In addition to extolling Mozart's one-of-a-kind compositional skills, the prof also gave a general key as to how to utterly demolish others in musical snobbery:
Barbarian: "I love dat song by Beethoven, the one wot goes 'Duh-duh-duh-daaaaa.'"
Concert music fan: "Oh, you mean the opening movement of the Fifth Symphony in C minor?"
The Ultimate Snob: "I, too, enjoy re-listening to the Opus 67, but don't you find it somewhat jejune?"
That's it - use the word "re-listen" and memorize the opus numbers of major works. Gak! Too much trouble for me. I have a hard time memorizing telephone numbers these days.
My pard Chris brought his little boy over to the house yesterday; while playing around in the yard he ran afoul of some steps we have and fell, pushing a tooth through his lip. Ow! The poor little guy bled all the way into the house. We now have a couple of drops of blood on our porch. I think I'll leave them there as a reminder of the adventurousness of masculinity. (Boys require trips to hospital emergency centers at a much higher rate than do girls.)
Chris was over to advise me on a daunting task I plan to accomplish over the Christmas break: installing crown molding. I have a compound miter saw that hangs in my garage begging to be used for this. (There's an old saying in the Information Technology field: "If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.") Anyway, I hope to get my adult merit badge in crown molding soon.
Finally, I am now reading J.K. Rowling's "The Tales of Beetle the Bard," a minor work, but a quick, enjoyable read for a couple of days' commutes to and from work. It goes on the shelf alongside our Harry Potter books.
Okay, I just sneezed all over my keyboard. That's it - back to bed. If you're interested in following up on the Bettie Page story, click here. (Warning! Nudity...which is probably the case with most Bettie Page pages.)
The standard by which all Christmas letters are judged, however, is this one (page one, page two), which I dutifully trot out each season like my neighbor's inflatable front yard Homer Simpson in a Santa suit. (I have to look at that damn thing from my kitchen window every morning while I eat my breakfast.) This letter is probably unsurpassable, mentioning as it does divorce-related issues, the phrase "strung up by his balls," a birthday visit to Hooter's, somebody being "pissed" and having to put the cat down.
In fact, the best Christmas letter by far I have gotten this season comes from Pete, a former rugby-player pen pal of mine who is in prison for some pretty heinous crimes. (I used to use his illustrative comments about prison life as cautionary prose to my sixteen year-old Sunday School students.)
He wrote, "You are right, of course, about X-mas cards being a needless expense for someone living on my budget. So, that being said, allow me to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a very merry and happy holiday season. I cannot think you enough for staying in touch with me over the past year; the stories, photos, enlightened repartee and financial help have been priceless and so essential to my recovery and current improved state of mind. To quote some of my more urban acquaintances in here, 'You a Good Dude!'"
That cheered me a good deal.
I'm watching an old and forgotten movie, "Patterns" (1956), a work dealing with the pressures and power struggles of corporate executive life, written by Rod Serling. As the review indicates, it is excellent. The dialogue seems so authentic and engrossing that I feel somewhat tense and apprehensive watching it. (There are workplace themes that mirror my own current situation; I guess that's what pushing my buttons.) In fact, I had unsettled dreams about work last night that I attribute to this film. Wow. That doesn't happen very often.
I always like stumbling upon some little-known (to me, anyway) gem from the 1950's. A few spring to mind:
A Face in the Crowd (1957) - Andy Griffith conclusively proves he can act in this film noir about a hillbilly singer turned media sensation.
Sweet Smell of Success (1957) - Another noir with the most biting and acidic dialogue I have ever heard in a film.
Teenage Doll (1957) - A superior Roger Corman film about juvenile delinquency.
Teenage Big Shot (1959) - Another excellent teenage exploitation movie, a JD/Noir hybrid.
The Fifties were great... overall, there was a much higher standard of craftsmanship in film making then than seen today, I think.
(Wait a minute. Did I say "Patterns" was an old movie? It was made the year I was born...)
A few weeks ago I mentioned Neil Young's sad little song "A Man Needs a Maid." I've been familiar with it ever since 1975, when I bought "Harvest," but now the song is haunting me. Check out this youtube video of Neil at the piano performing it in early 1971. A great performance of a moving song.
I'm at the part in my book "The Life and Death of Classical Music" where CDs are introduced - and the classical recording industry begins to unravel. I agree with the writer: the current state of affairs is pretty bleak. I got some money from my in-laws for Christmas, so last night we went to the local Border's to spend it.
The place used to have a lot more racks of CDs - many of them have been removed. It reminds me of the early Eighties, when CDs began crowding Lps off the sales floor. A browse through the classical section reveals that the great majority of the recordings for sale seem to be reissues from the 1960's, 1970's and before. There are comparatively few new recordings - and those are of what is known as the standard repertoire. (Safe.)
So... I bought a Paul McCartney CD of good repute - "Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard" - and a set of Brahms sextets, a budget reissue of recordings from the early 1960's. And the prices! $17.99 for the McCartney CD - whew. No wonder they're not selling. I don't care what inflation adjustments are taken into account, to me this seems over-priced for a CD.
I wonder. If market forces make the preferred new format for music mp3's downloaded via the Internet, how does one go about obtaining, say, a Mahler symphony lasting more than an hour? Buy each movement at the price of a popular song without liner notes, cover art and a program? (Assuming 30 minutes of music are sold at 99 cents.) This is very unsatisfactory. Or is the new format for classic music a DVD of a concert performance of the work?
The Olsson's Books and Records store in Alexandria, a chain that represented a last bastion of the old brick and mortar retail way of doing things after Tower Records went out of business, closed recently, another victim of the times. The thought of me and a bunch of other middle-aged guys pawing through yard sales, flea markets and libraries looking for classical CDs and Lps is pretty depressing. Next thing you know we'll be dining on Soylant Green.
Perhaps a niche industry for classical music sold on CDs via amazon.com will continue to exist. It seems impossible that classical music, one of the glories of Western Culture, will go away with the dodo bird simply because teenagers want to listen to nasty little misanthropes like Eminem.
I remain hopeful and confidant. I once read an essay about the Greek classics where it was asserted that no matter what the trends appear to be, there will always be a readership for Euripedes, Homer and Sophocles for, after all, intelligent people will always be discontented with second-rate art and seek out the first-rate. The same reasoning applies to Beethoven, Bartok and Stravinsky.
25 years. Wow, tempus fugit. After I left the hospital I drove to a McDonald's, where I got a breakfast and a little silver Hot Wheels matchbox car, Ethan's first gift from me. Later, when Ethan developed teeth, he bit the car and put two tiny toothmarks into the hood. Needless to say, we still have the car. I was also given a blue bubble gum cigar by the hospital. I kept it until it became as hard as a rock and cracked in half - then I threw it out a few years ago.
We named our son "Ethan" because we were looking for a name that was mildly unusual but still traditional. ("Wyatt" was another consideration.) The association between our son's name and Ethan Allen was a plus, given that I like American history. I've always liked the story of Ethan Allen at Ft. Ticonderoga demanding its surrender, yelling "Open in the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!" In fact, here's Ethan at Ft. Ti in 1989, at that very same door.
In 2007 the name Ethan became the 3rd most popular name for boys in the United States.
I saw a moderately good horror/suspense film yesterday, "The Mothman Prophecies" (2001). This in turn caused me to look up info about West Virginia's celebrated Mothman. Eh, I am not impressed. I find the Jersey Devil more interesting. Or even Northern Virginia's own Bunnyman - which is, after all, rooted in actuality.
Speaking of the Jersey Devil, Chris and I were talking to another reenactor on Saturday; a student at Mary Washington University, originally from New Jersey. New Jersey is a very interesting state, when you think about it. The northern part is known for being industrially horrible, the southern part for having beautiful farmland. It's nickname, "The Garden State," always causes amused chuckles. But did you know about 20% of the state is composed of pine barrens?
Alerted by a friend that it was going to have Civil War reenactors in it, last night I watched an episode ("Cloudy With a Chance of Gettysburg") of "Without a Trace" on CBS last night. This was the first hour-long show on broadcast television I've watched in a long time; the medium has certainly gone downhill. Too many commercials, too little substance. I can see why the ratings for shows on the Big Three have dropped over the years.
Anyway, this episode was beyond lame, and it was clear that the writers knew nothing about reenactors or even the Civil War. At one point during a Gettysburg reenactment a Federal reenactor assures a cop that Ulysses S. Grant's tactics will win the day. Grant was half a continent away at Vicksburg during the Gettysburg campaign. The Federal commander at Gettysburg was George Meade. Is wikipedia not available to television writers?
But the real howler was at the end, when a cop surreptitiously fires an unguarded cannon - which happens to be loaded and sends a ball crashing into a car in some unseen parking lot. Riiiight. Reenactment artillerists load cannons with real ammunition for use at reenactments - and them leave them around for anyone to fire.
Suffice to say that last night's viewing experience has illustrated to me what I had not thought possible: broadcast television has become even dumber than it used to be.
I watched a funny documentary yesterday, part of my survey of documentaries about cultural losers that began with "Darkon": "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters" (2007), about people who attempt to win world record scores at classic videogames. The game of interest in this was Donkey Kong. This production pretty much pegs the needle on the Nerd Meter... there doesn't seem to be a moment in it when you aren't wondering, "Don't these people have something better to do than obsessively analyze and play video games?"
But it must be admitted that the hero or protagonist of this documentary has, as we say, a life. A father of two with a home of his own, a nice wife and a career as a teacher - we pull for Steve Wiebe as he attempts to unseat the rather smarmy and arrogant (and hilariously-haired) Billy Mitchell - a guy who sometimes refers to himself in the third person and loudly proclaims his superiority.
I'm told by my son that I also need to check out "Ringers: Lord of the Fans" (2005) about fanatical Lord of the Rings followers. Also, I learned there's a Trekkies sequel.
Can a satirical documentary about Civil War reenactors be long in coming?
I came across a funny quote in that book I'm reading about classical music recordings. Otto Klemperer (the father of Colonel Klink, Werner Klemperer) was a famous German conductor who famously detested recording classical music. From the book: "Klemperer loudly scorned records, which, he said, were a poor substitute for live music. 'Listening to a recording,' he sonorously proclaimed, 'is like going to bed with a photograph of Marilyn Monroe.'" Ha!
Little blue rowhouse. ...and in the desirable historical district of Old Town Alexandria, a bargain at $1.2 million.
Dr. Craik's house. On Princess Street.
Wise's Tavern. I forget what street! (Google it if you're interested.) The same guy - Wise - also owned the more famous Gadsby's Tavern.
Historical attractions nothwithstanding, my personal belief is that the City of Alexandria is run by weenies. I submit Exhibit A: "Virginia city hires professional ethicist to help with budget cuts." That's right, $9K/annually for a "professional ethicist" to help with budget cuts. I'm guessing that, like me, you have never before encountered the phrase "professional ethicist."
Political cynic that I am, I think this fellow was really hired for two reasons, 1.) To provide political coverage ("The ethicist said it was okay to cut your budget") and, 2.) To show that the City Council "cares." After all, in our touchy-feely Oprahcized era it's important for politicians to demonstrate their great love for the electorate.
Hey, give me a red pen and I'll help with Alexandria budget cuts for free. Lop 10% off every agency's budget for the year. There, finished. Not enough? Make it 11%, or 12% then.
Why am I a political cynic? I'll explain why and not even use the name "Blagojevich." The phone rings last night and my wife answers it. "Is Mr. Clark home?" She gets me on the line, and I quickly find out that it's yet another survey. I decide, okay, maybe I'll try taking this one. I hate polls and normally I refuse to take part but it's Christmas and I'm frequently finding myself being a curmudgeon. So I'll say "yes" for once.
I first ask, "Who is commissioning this survey?" The woman says, "Oh, I forget his name. Hang on." (Rustling of papers and silence - she's perhaps hoping I'll say "Never mind" but I remain silent. She then says the name of a guy running for office in a special election whom I'm likely to vote for anyway. Okay, we proceed.) It quickly becomes obvious to me that this is not a survey commissioned to get my opinion. It's what's called a "push poll," designed to direct my opinion by the way the questions are asked.
I tell her, "Look, this is a push poll. We're finished. Good bye and don't call me again." It reminds me of those web site "polls" that ask loaded questions like, "Do you approve of President Bush's Iraq war policies? (Yes/no)" which link to advertisements. There is no real interest in your opinion. In fact, your opinions are being used against you.
Okay, got that off my chest.
I am now reading "The Life and Death of Classical Music" by Norman Lebrecht. Actually, I'm devouring it. Since I've been collecting classical music recordings since I was fifteen it's a subject of interest to me.
The death of classical music? Surely not! I haven't come to it fully formed, yet, but the thesis is that the corporate giants are mandating crossover works - "The Three Tenors Sing ABBA" - that sort of crap, instead of expanding the classical repetoire. Lebrecht includes an amusing list of the twenty worst classical recordings ever made. Since it's Christmas, let's read his review of the worst classical Christmas album ever made.
By the way, getting classical artists to sing popular music songs is a pet peeve of mine. They treat, say, "Maria" from West Side Story like it's an operatic aria. Wrong, wrong, wrong. (In fact, I bought a 1985 recording of Jose Carreras and Kiri Te Kanawa singing West Side Story at a yard sale once. I threw it out. It's horrible.)
Broadway style is one thing, classical is another. Mixing the two is a great mistake. The Broadway-based treatment Judy Garland gives to "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is the right one; it's not an aria from "Aida." In that U.S. Army Holiday Show I attended on Saturday there were a few instances when the classically-trained mezzo-soprano sang a few popular numbers in classical style - ugh.
The funniest Twenty Worst on Lebrecht's list is Number 17 - "Moment of Glory", when a hard rock band met the Berlin Philharmonic in an unlikely and ill-starred pairing. Afterwards the conductor said that this should never be allowed to happen ever again.
And remember our Nazi Party friend Herbert von Karajan? (See entry for 24 November.) Always at the center of controversy, he comes in for some abuse from Lebrecht as well.
The Fredericksburg street skirmish I took part in on Saturday didn't get covered in the local media, but a symbolic handshake did. (Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star article.) A slide show is here. The event was okay, about a 5.5 on the event-o-meter. My pard Chris ranks it higher because during the street battle he dodged into somebody's backyard and captured about five big fat Rebs. Now the Federal army will have to expend vast resources feeding them.
Me at Fredericksburg, Chris at Fredericksburg - that's the Rappahannock River behind us; we're across from Ferry Farm, where George Washington grew up and supposedly threw money across the river - which is a totally bogus story. He and his mother were what we might call the genteel poor; he wasn't throwing money anywhere.
One interesting feature of the event was visiting a site I have never been to - a cobblestone road coming up from the river dating from colonial times. It ends at Caroline Street. Chris and I were deployed as skirmishers up this. It's in a general area known as the City Dock, where General Burnside built a pontoon bridge to accomodate the attack into the city. There's a cool old 1862 image of Reb soldiers posed for the photographer here or near here. (Now that I know the area I'll have to look this one up in one of my books to see where it was taken and what, exactly, it depicts.)
I went to the U.S. Army's holiday show afterwards - it was okay. Frankly, I'm just not feeling the Christmas spirit whatsoever this year.
An interesting article (pointed out to me by a reader) linking Beethoven with the Bavarian Illuminati.
I first learned about the Illuminati via Robert Anton Wilson's loopy, over-the-top trilogy, which I read while in the Marines - which is to say that I read very little of the actual Illuminati at all. I think I recall learning about "Bob" (a 1950's Everyman kind of fellow who smokes a pipe) from this, but I forget. Far more instructive about the historical Illuminati is the wikipedia article.
The other important Bob is Killer Bob (aka BOB), from Twin Peaks. I once had somebody draw him as a Confederate because I encountered a Reb reenactor who looked just like him. (When I mentioned it he said, "Yeah, I've heard that before.") And that's all I'll say about BOB for the present time. I have a great Killer Bob story that I'll save for later.
I took some more Alexandria cell phone photos:
Light Horse Harry Lee's house. On Cameron St. As the plaque states, he's Robert E. Lee's father. The house isn't far from Robert E. Lee's boyhood home on Oronoco St.
My kids have pointed out that the word "Fail" has become a sort of spoken insult. I like this one. If I had that thing tattooed onto my back, I'd... well, it wouldn't be an issue. I'd never have anything like that tattooed onto my back.
My favorite tattoo story is this: A former prop in my rugby club once decided to get a tattoo. Drunk, he went to a tattoo parlor to get a design he came up with himself - a Welsh flag and an Irish flag, with a rugby ball in the middle, illustrative of his heritage and great love for Celtic rugby. Only he drunkenly misdirected the tattoo artist about the colors on the Irish flag and got them backwards, forming the flag of that great Celtic rugby nation The Ivory Coast. (This was later pointed out to him by an Irish rugby player who was on tour in the United States.) FAIL.
As the tale goes, she was created out of the very same ground as Adam, but refused to be submissive to him, claiming equality. (You can see right away she's going to have a modern day feminist fan base.) So, irritated with Adam, she spoke the true name of the Lord and fled out of Eden. Adam was offered a much more amenable package, Eve, who was formed from his rib and therefore couldn't claim equality. Lilith went on to become a demon who blighted the children of Adam and Eve (that would be us), and became responsible for the nocturnal emissions of men. Ya gotta blame somebody, I guess.
Come to think about it, how come no writer has transformed the story above into a modern noir setting? Marie Windsor as Lilith...
The wikipedia article is here. It's worth going to to check out John Collier's rather remarkable painting of 1892. Fascinating article. I see the name "Lulu" has Semitic connotations of lasciviousness; I didn't know this despite being familiar with the Frank Wedekind character played by Louise Brooks in the silent film era. (Louise Brooks and Lulu are deserving of her very own blog entries.)
So... as I sat in my bus this morning getting driven all over Southern Fairfax County by a driver who didn't know his route, I wondered, is there a film noir with a character named Lilith in it? Indeed! There's 1947's "Nightmare Alley." I think that character is a classic noir femme fatale, but I have to watch the movie again. (Of course I have a copy.) But I can find no more - all the other Liliths are associated with horror films. Looks like noir screenwriters missed the boat on an interesting literary allusion.
I am now reading "Fairfax County Stories - 1607-2007," produced in conjunction with the 400th anniversary of Jamestown last year. So far I can't recommend it. It begins with a rather tedious preface from then County Supervisor Gerald Connally (a man who never met a tax hike he didn't like), and a mawkish poem. The first essay is dull and exceedingly poorly-written. The contents of this book were submitted by volunteers and selected by a committee. Apparently no editing was performed.
However, I'm sticking with it because it appears to be a fast read and I like to find out what was once at the location where there now is a Starbucks, a McDonald's or a Safeway.
Tomorrow is an ADHD double-header. In the morning my pard Chris and I travel south with Mister Lincoln's Army to take on the Rebs at the (reenacted) Battle of Fredericksburg. It's not going to be as big a deal as last year; it should be pretty small scale, in fact. But I'm so intrigued with the notion of December events - we didn't used to have them - that I'm looking forward to it.
At 3 PM I'm supposed to be in D.C. (the D.A.R.'s Constitution Hall) with my wife and our pals the "Five Families" for the annual U.S. Army Band Holiday Show. I am hoping that this show, with its professionally-performed music, gives me the Christmas spirit that I am so utterly lacking this year. After the show we go over to the homes of one of the families for food, glorious food.
My son sent me digitized copies of all the Twilight Zone episodes, so I've been enjoying watching the ones I haven't seen - a comparative few. I am especially enjoying the episodes dealing with outer space. Back in 1960, space was an unknown, fearful place - very much the kind of place modern cosmology and physics assure us that it is. ("The universe may not only be stranger than we understand - it may be stranger than we can understand.") This led to classic science-fiction, where two pronounced elements were the fearfulness of space and the Wonder Of It All.
I may have blogged on this before, but my belief is that when outer space became simply a place to work (in the third Star Trek movie Captain Kirk tells a woman that he's really from Iowa, he just works in space) or a matter for trade disagreements (as in Star Wars I), science fiction becomes boring and tedious. In other words, when modern writers stripped the mystery and threat from space, I lost interest. Twilight Zone maintains this in spades.
I remember being intrigued and scared out of my wits as a kid when astronaut Jack Klugman and his crew land on a planet, discover a ship just like their own, and, when investigating, find themselves dead within. ("Death Ship" - 1963.) Or Agnes Moorhead beating off the Invaders (1961). Or Earl Holliman wondering Where Is Everybody (1959)? Great stuff, unsurpassed.
A news link: "Musicians Protest Blistering Music Used in Prisons to 'Break' Inmates." (What, no Rammstein?) For me it would be Hammond organ favorites, barbershop quartet, trombone concerti, Messiah sing-alongs and accordion music. I'd be screaming "Make it stop" and crying like a baby in no time at all.
Have a great weekend!
I also noticed that for a consistent look throughout the production they crud up the images whether the originals are in good condition or not. For instance, here's a DVD capture of an altered image they used of Robert E. Lee (on his porch in Richmond in 1865). Note the crack, as if it's a damaged old glass image. But it doesn't exist in the original! Also, when the image was multi-planed and the camera zoomed into it the crack no longer lines up! Oops. (As I wrote earlier this week, if you want to enjoy a historical production, don't watch it with a reenactor.)
They also used modern images of reenactors and crudded them up to look original. (How do we know they're not original? Well, for one thing, there's no such thing as 1862 action photography.) Also, I notice this credit. Bob Szabo is a guy who goes to events and does original process photography of reenactors. My pard Chris had his likeness struck by Bob earlier this year. (See entry for 5 May.)
So, in general, this production had eye-catching graphics... for instance, this one caught my eye. Note spelling of "Tennessee." Again, oops. As is often the case these days, while the imagery may be enhanced, the grammar is lacking. (I say this because I see misspellings in media all the time. In fact, I found one in that Wilderness battle book I'm now reading, in addition to a line which ends in mid-sentence.)
I see also in the credits that reenactor extras were obtained through an outfit calling itself "Historical Entertainment L.L.C." There's apparently money to be made in brokering the services of hobbyists!
All right! I was watching my history of music video last night - we're in the Baroque period - and the prof said, except for Handel (shown above) and Bach, a lot of music from that period is vapid, boring wallpaper - and that the composers who wrote it, now buried in the ground, know who they are. Ha! I have been bored with Baroque music all my life and was gratified to hear him say this.
In last night's lecture he covered Handel's Messiah. ("Please, not the Messiah. Simply Messiah. That's the name of the work. Messiah.") This time of the year I constantly hear about an activity that I think is incredibly lowbrow and tacky, the so-called Messiah "sing-along." The sing-along part is, of course, the only section of the work that the great unwashed public knows, the Hallelujah Chorus. (The lyrics are pitifully easy to remember.) I would sooner be found dead in my tent at a battle reenactment than be caught taking part in one of these. But that's just me, and I recognize that in some ways I am an insufferable snob...
Speaking of snobbery, the Prof also imparted the secret of being the biggest snob, ever. How to totally outclass people. It goes like this:
Good: "I was listening to the scherzo from Bela Bartok's 'Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta' last night. It really is a marvelous work!"
Better: "I was re-listening to the scherzo from Bela Bartok's 'Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta' last night. It really is a marvelous work!"
(I'd imagine best would be, "I conducted a performance of the scherzo of Bela Bartok's 'Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta' last night. It really is a marvelous work!")
(Or, perhaps, "Hi! I'm Bela Bartok! I wrote the scherzo of my 'Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta' last night. I think it'll really be a marvelous work!")
Oh, by the way, I mentioned blue and red markers in my third grade classroom yesterday and unfortunately reawakened a memory that has been inactive since 1963. As I was falling asleep last night it came to me. My third grade teacher gave merits and demerits; student's names were on a poster board by the classroom door. Merits were represented by a tally by my name in blue marks, demerits were tally marks in red. I had no tally in blue, the only one in the class not to have any, and at least ten in red, the highest in the class. The tenth mark is what got me removed from the Sutter's Mill production.
Great. So glad that one bubbled back up to the surface...
Here's an interesting anecdote in my current Civil War book. I call it "Proffitt's Sneeze."
And here's the most complicated pool trick shot, ever.
That's all for today.
What, you want more? Okay. I also watched a History Channel special called "Banned from the Bible I" (I also have part II) about the books circulating around around 100 A.D. or so that didn't make it into the Bible.
The Gospel of Adam and Eve
The Epistle of Jude
The Book of Jubilees
..and others. It was pretty dry and crumbly, much like the Nag Hammadi texts. I've read a few of these in the past. I tend to view what is called The Apocrypha in the same way I do the deleted scenes section of DVD features. Watching them, it usually becomes evident why they were deleted.
Now that's all for today. I mean it. I have to go.
I've visited Coloma, California, where Sutter's Mill was located. It's a very interesting place, with all sorts of interpretative displays and historic building recreations. But, in general, I have a rather bad taste in my mouth for the whole California Gold Rush because of an incident which happened to me while I was in the third grade.
Third grade is when we got taught California history in the Los Angeles School District, and my class was to put on a play about the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill. I was proud because I got to play John Sutter (depicted above), the plum role, and had all my lines memorized when the teacher had removed me from the play for some behavioral thing I did in class - I do not remember what. I recall vaguely that it had something to do with blue marks, which was one level of offense, and red marks, which was a worse one. I guess I went one red mark over the line. Anyway, I was devastated and ashamed and wished rack and ruin upon the whole production. Today, I don't recall it at all. I remember hearing some other teacher praising it, which caused me to wish that the whole rotten school would burn down.
Thinking about it in retrospect, it seemed that all through my school years from kindergarten to middle school, I was constantly being punished for simply being myself. Well, at least that's what it felt like. Knowing what I know now, however, from observing my own kids and being a longtime youth leader at church, I recognize I was immature for my age and probably had a case of attention deficit disorder. (I recognize that I have it now; in fact, it seems to get worse as I get older!)
What probably also didn't help was the elementary school teaching culture, where young female teachers cope with docile little girls a lot better than they do rowdy little boys, whom they want to tranquilize into submission. I suppose it's worse if they don't have kids themselves.
I vividly recall being sent to the principal ("He's your pal so you spell it ending in 'pal.'" - yeah, right) for some slight when I was about ten by a schoolyard teacher of some kind. Just then, who should walk in but my teacher (an old prune), who said, "Wezley, I was just telling my associate here (another old prune) about how poorly-behaved you are when we find you here, in the Principal's office." I forgot what I said in response - probably nothing - but nowadays I dearly wish it was something along the lines of, "Well, hell, it's a small world, ain't it?"
And yet... I think my early school experience gave me the attitude that I have nowadays, where I follow the path of my interests without regard for conventionality or any one's opinion. When I was in high school the teacher who led my power reading (speed reading) class made a comment that perhaps was the single most important thing I was ever taught in school: "You don't seem to have much regard for authority figures." (Why would I? They treated me badly!) Reflecting upon the truth of her observation probably kept me out of jail for insubordination while I was in the Marines.
I suspect a lot of us wayward, troublesome young males ended up in the United States Marine Corps. When I was in, I was only partly surprised to learn that the other young scofflaw from my especially troubled sixth grade class, John Cuellar, was a USMC boxing champ. He and I both endured an unendurable teacher whom I describe in full here.
Wow! Sorry for that wallow! The gold rush kind of set me off, there - I hadn't expected to fill an entire blog entry about my troubled classroom years. Usually I try keep my blog educational rather than autobiographical. But the wounds one receives when very young persist for a lifetime, it seems, and, as Joni Mitchell suggests, we are really all just aging children.
Oh, the new book I'm reading is about The Wilderness Battle of May, 1864. Lots of photos - should be a quick read. I had checked it out from the library earlier this year, but took it back in favor of the post-London English history craze I was in. More death, gunshot wounds, battlefield injuries, dismemberments and tragedy... Season's Greetings, y'all.
Some Penrod quotes apropros of what I wrote. Never were truer words written - Booth Tarkington truly understood boys:
"To Penrod, school was merely a state of confinement, envenomed by mathematics. For interminable periods he was forced to listen to information concerning matters about which he had no curosity whatever; and he had to read over and over the dullest passages in books that bored him into stupors, while always there overhung the preposterous task of improvising plausible evasions to conceal the fact that he did not know what he had no wish to know. Likewise, he must always be prepared to avoid incriminating replies to questions that he felt nobody had a real and natural right to ask him."
"One of the hardest conditions of boyhood is the almost continuous strain put upon the powers of invention by the constant and harassing necessity for explanations for every natural act."
"The only safe male rebuke to a scornful female is to stay away from her - especially if that is what she desires."
"This is a boy's lot: anything he does, anything whatever, may afterward turn out to have been a crime -- he never knows. And punishment and clemency are alike inexplicable."
- Booth Tarkington, in his book "Penrod"
News story: Men are red-faced, women greenish. You may recall my mention that a professional photographer once assured me that there is a greenish cast to Asian human fleshtones. Green? I didn't really believe him. I guess now I do.
Hanky Panky 2. This is a good one. One of my favorites involves a Starbucks cup and lid (for peppermint hot chocolate, of course). When you've finished the hot chocolate, make sure the lid is firmly attached to the cup and pretend that the contents are hot, blowing on it, sipping carefully, etc. Then suddenly blow air into the cup - the lid will release with a "Pop!" and then pretend that you've gotten scalding hot drink on your face. I used to entertain the high schoolers in my daughters' drama troupe with this one.
I watched a 2007 History Channel documentary last night on Sherman's March (from Georgia to the Sea, in late 1864). The beginning was high-tech and creative: the camera is in space, observing the earth. It moves in as North America revolves into view. Then the camera dips down past cloud cover to hover over the Southeastern part of the United States. Is that a plume of smoke arising from a location in the interior? Indeed it is, and the camera then zips down to the Atlanta suburbs and over to a road bordered with a worm rail fence heading south out of town, where we see a troop of blue-coated soldiers; we hear "John Brown's Body" being sung by them. The camera once again zips down to the face of a middle-aged reenactor in the ranks, and then slowly up to an officer on horseback. The camera holds on the craggy and determined face of red-haired General William Tecumseh Sherman, whose blazing blue eyes survey the scene ahead to his eventual target, Savannah.
Except... does this photo suggest that Sherman was blue-eyed? Indeed not; he was brown-eyed. This documentary must have cost at least hundreds of thousands of dollars. Couldn't they have provided the actor with brown contact lenses?
(Never watch a historical production with a reenactor; we tear it apart for the most minor details...) Actually, this production was quite good, and I can see why it's marketed as the "Best of the History Channel." Very informative and entertaining. The DVD featurette reveals that the actor playing Sherman is, amusingly, from South Carolina! He'll be lucky to get the time of day from anyone in his home town when they learn he portrayed Sherman.
Discussing the eye color goof with my wife, she mentioned that her pet peeve is seeing historical portrayals of women in a kitchen making bread who just sort of shove the lump of dough around, making it clear that the actress hasn't the faintest idea of how to knead bread dough.
On an associated topic, from that book about the Civil War I have now finished: Have some blood with your Johnny Cake?
Oh, I mentioned the possibility of having Civil War reenactors (Yanks, not Rebs!) march in the Inaugural Parade next month - nope. It got turned down by the inaugural committee. Why they would feel any sense of unease at the prospect of 5 cannon and 700 armed men marching in front of the President is beyond me...
(When I was running around in my VW Friday night I had Rammstein playing at a very loud volume - even for me - and forgot to reset the stereo when I parked for the night. The following morning my wife took the car to Jazzercise and had a year of life frightened out of her when she started the car. Her comment was, "Wes, no wonder you're going deaf.")
I also came up with a sensible solution about power drills Friday night. Thinking about what I actually use power drills for, it occurred to me that what I really needed was a corded replacement power drill and a cordless screwdriver. So... I took my faulty $160 Ryobi cordless back and replaced it with a nice corded Rigid with a 6.5 amp motor and a lifetime guarantee for $60 and a 12V Black and Decker cordless drill for setting screws and doing light drilling. I was going to buy a 4 V Ryobi screwdriver for $30, but the model I wanted was sold out. So for an extra $10 I got a cordless drill. Solution solved, and I returned $60 to the household account. I gave my old creaky B&D 2.5 amp motor drill to my friend Chris, who intends to mix paint with it.
Why didn't I buy a DeWalt? Well, I learned that Black and Decker bought DeWalt. That and the fact that the Rigid model had a lock button (the DeWalt at that price didn't) swayed me towards that manufacturer. I use the lock button when I use a buffer wheel.
I saw an excellent chapter in my videotaped great music lectures last night; this one was about baroque fugues. I now like them somehat better than I did before - Robert Greenberg (who taught fugue composition) is one of those instructors who imparts his enthusiam for a subject. Best of all was his treatise about tempering, as in Bach's "well-tempered klavier." He also explained equal tempering and just intonation. J.S. Bach believed in well-temperament; his son mentioned that he was never content with the tunings of harpsichords in his lifetime.
What am I going on about? These are all tuning systems which have arisen through the years which I never really understood before, but do now. Well, at least better than I did. Somebody needs to put together some really good illustrated video about historical tuning and tempering... the subject is difficult to understand and could benefit from the clarity that modern educational technique brings. (I am thinking of computer animation.)
Anyway, my bass teacher used to talk about perfect fifths (and why they don't exist), and I never quite understood what he was getting at despite questioning him. I now know that what he was talking about was musical temperament.
I mentioned Rammstein earlier... in his baroque music lectures, Greenberg also does a good job in explaining how spoken language affects the type of music set to it. For instance, Italian has a lot of vowels, and so the music set to that language typically has long, drawn-out (legato) melodies - the bel canto operatic style. German, a harsher, more gutteral language, is suited to more clipped, "jagged" music. It occurs to me, then, that German is the perfect language for the metal crunch that Rammstein plays. It also just sounds angrier, which is appropriate.
And I may be the only person who has ever connected the phrase "bel canto" with Rammstein in a paragraph.
Here's another interesting excerpt from the Civil War book I'm reading. I have never encountered this story before; at least, not that I recall. An early casebook study of the necessity for press responsibility during wartime.
I watched an interesting documentary last night about H.H. Holmes, America's first serial killer. Never heard of him before this. How many people did he kill? Nobody is sure. The estimate varies from nine to fifty. Wikipedia article here.
I also watched a long History Channel documentary about Freemasonry, very little of which was new information for me.
On this day in 1872 the Marie Celeste was discovered completely abandoned. Why? Read this book!
Another maritime story: I watched a cool episode of the old TV series "One Step Beyond" (which anticipated the Twilight Zone in content, except that OSB was supposed based on true stories): "The Night of April 14." It was about the Titanic disaster, and I learned about an interesting book, written fourteen years prior, "Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan" - many odd and unaccountable similarities.
Here's another cell photo of an Alexandria historic spot - the IOOF building. As it says, it was used as a hospital during the Civil War. (IOOF? Odd Fellows.)
Speaking of the Civil War, here's another excerpt from that Civil War book I'm reading - two battlefield horrors.
I started putting up the Christmas tree last night. Unlike normal people who would put on some festive holiday music as background, I listened to Neil Young's 1972 mainstream magnum opus, "Harvest." (I recently found a CD of it at the library.) Have you ever heard his woebegone song "A Man Needs a Maid?" I've always admired it, but last night it really stuck in my head. As in any Neil Young song there is considerable latitude provided as to what the words could mean; Young is the most imprecise lyricist I know. But it strikes me that the line, "There's a shadow running through my days/Like a beggar going from door to door" fits the mood of the music best. It fits me, lately, too. I thought the whole empty nest thing was over, but every now and then it doubles back.
Perhaps when I put the lights and ornaments on the tree I should select less depressing music, huh?
I discovered Neil Percival Young and the Buffalo Springfield back when I was in the Marines, pulling mess duty, where I'd wake up at 3 AM and trudge back to the barracks, finsihed for the day, at about 7 PM. I appreciate that Neil Young is very much an acquired taste, with his creaky voice and eccentric career moves (my wife hates him); perhaps the lack of sleep in my life at that time that made Young's music more of a possibility for me. I like most of what he's written, but he also wrote a lot of stuff that doesn't move me at all.
Yes, there is a Neil Young/Civil War connection. Why the Confederate uniform? I never figured that one out. After all, Young is a Canadian. The American South holds some kind of fascination for him, despite the fact that he occasionally criticises it in his music. (Last night I heard his song "Alabama"; I can see why Lynyrd Skynyrd hated him.)
I once read a biography of Neil Young, "Shakey." (A nickname he once acquired because of his epilepsy.) In it, I learned the interesting fact that he used to be a minority shareholder in Lionel Trains and helped develop a number of their control device and sound features.
My favorite Neil Young video is "Wonderin'" from 1983. It's just so goofy... and the burger joint at the 2:05 mark used to be on Sunset Blvd. My pal Mike and I used to drive by it on the way to Tower Records.
I am currently undergoing a trial involving cordless drills. I had a cheap one "made" by Coleman (yes, the lantern company) I got from COSTCO that gave out after a couple of years. As Coleman farmed out the production of their cordless drills to China, I couldn't find new 9.6 V batteries for it. So I threw it out and bought another inexpensive, 14.4 V one by Black and Decker, which I returned, feeling that I probably shouldn't cheap out again.
I returned it and got a Ryobi 18 V Lithium Ion model at Home Depot for three times the price of the Black and Decker - only to find out that the torque adjuster didn't work. I'm returning it and simply getting my money back. Any suggestions? I'm considering getting myself a corded DeWalt and an inexpensive cordless screwdriver, which may be what I really need. Or do nothing at all and simply put it off until my ragged old cheap corded Black and Decker finally gives up the ghost. It's making noises which suggest that time is very near.
Have a good weekend.
Also of note on JonahWorld! is my Christmas page. I think the Science vs. Santa article is a classic. Speaking of Christmas, I haven't yet put up the tree. (I normally have it up by now.) It's hard for me to get motivated to do so; the holiday blues are an empty nester thing, I guess. I find myself thinking, "Why bother?" But I have one child coming out for the holidays, so I will get around to it. Zero enthusiasm, however.
From my desk calendar: Nimbus symbolism.
I am at the Baroque era in my videotaped lectures, which beats Italian madrigals, anyway. I don't like Baroque music at all, and what I like even less is the fact that every classical music station I have ever listened to plays Baroque in the morning. (The current area classical station, WETA 90.9, is especially lousy with it. They have a very conservative - and boring - playlist. They seem to rarely play anything written after about 1900.) I first started noticing this phenom back in 1972, listening to the now-defunct KFAC in Los Angeles. Even the late lamented WGMS, broadcasting out of the Maryland suburbs of D.C., used to - with one curious exception.
I always set my clock radio to 6 AM to play the classical station. But for some odd reason at WGMS, they used to play the most bombastic, brass-heavy music they could find to play at that time. The 1812 Overture, massive Beethoven chords, obnoxious band music, The Rite of Spring, etc. I finally wrote them a letter saying, in effect, "Look, dummies, people all around your listening area set their clock radios for 6 AM. Find something less obnoxious to play at that time." The problem seemed to go away.
And while I'm ranting... I like rock music as much as anyone (okay, perhaps somewhat less these days - I've grown rather tired of it), but who wants to listen to AC/DC or Judas Priest in the grocery store? We fled the local Giant because of it (complaining did no good), and it seemed to follow us into the Safeway. Geez.
I mentioned that I attended the Gettysburg parade last month and fell in with the 4th U.S. Regulars, who I am very likely to join next year. They wore an all dark blue dress uniform that I imagine was regulation for standing army (as opposed to state volunteer) troops. Normally they wear the same stuff I do at battle reenactments. A part of me thought, "Hmmm... I ought to look into getting those items so I can fit in with them." Checking the C & D Jarnagin (quality provider of uniform items for Civil War reenactors) online catalog, I get:Navy blue trousers: $94
Frock coat: $265
M1855 Hardee hat: $79.95
Ostrich plume feather for hat: $9
Brass shoulder scales: $55/pair
White gloves: $5
Total: $507.95 (plus shipping). YOW. Pass on that! Guess I'll have to be content with getting stuck at the end of the company in parades, wearing my usual grubby field uniform.
Yesterday I talked to a guy a work who does "Airsoft," a hobby I have never heard of before. It's sort of a cross between paintball and reenacting - here's an image of some WWII guys. The weapons, essentially BB guns, were developed in Asia. They look very much like the real thing. This leads to hazards. Interesting. I also learned a new phrase, "hop up," the technique of imparting a back spin onto a BB in order to flatten its trajectory. This, in turn, led to learning about the "Magnus effect." I at first thought a golf ball had dimples to impart backspin, but no, the club does that.
The wikipedia golf ball article led me to the amusing trick golf ball section - ("...can be amusing in informal play...") - for some reason I find the notion of an exploding golf ball hilarious. Is there a youtube video? Of course.
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