Last night we got a telephonic summons from one of the Five Families to have dinner. (We often get such calls. Dedicated middle-aged restaurateurs, we stand ready for such missions.) So we ate at a Chinese restaurant in Alexandria named "House of Dynasty." This sounds fairly ridiculous, to me, like "Duke of Earl." The two words mean the same thing. But, it's less farcical than a place in Southern California my in-laws liked to go to, King Urien (called, of course, "King Urine"). Or Man Hung Lo, which used to be in Van Nuys.
Anyway, the food was really delicious - just a notch under P.F. Chang, which has gourmet Chinese food at a gourmet price. House of Dynasty was reasonably priced. It's my new favorite local Chinese restaurant!
My fortune cookie fortune, however, was weird: "Learn from how people in the arts react to criticism." Huh? That's not a fortune, that's puzzling advice.
Now, Chinese food as consumed by the Chinese in China is nowhere as fattening as Chinese food consumed by Americans, which is often fried. So my House of Dynasty feed bag put my calorie-counting way off the charts (or Post-it note) last night. But the trend for this week is still down. This morning I weighed 1.4 pounds less than I did on Wednesday morning. I don't count calories on the weekends, but the trick is not to eat like a hog. I shall endeavor to fill my weekend with mentally engrossing activities so as to not eat out of boredom.
I do need to lose some weight; I see my blood pressure is creeping back up. Yesterday I had it checked at the health office at work and it was 132/90 - not so good. In fact, it earned me a dark look from the nurse and questions about what meds I take.
I am now reading John Updike's famous book about middle-class American discontent (well, I think that's what it's about), "Rabbit, Run." I got all four of the series at a yard sale in a "free" box. They don't have covers; they were paperbacks destined for destruction. But I saved them for my edification.
Yesterday was a day of victory for my bride, who got an article published on David Frum's website, newmajority.com. It's entitled "Sexy is the New Pretty." The surprise to me is not so much that it got run, but that it took somebody in the media so long to realize that my wife can write well.
David Frum, a conservative author, is the husband of a woman I call "The Most Dangerous Woman in the Media," Danielle Crittenden. Why dangerous? Because she writes with devastating pointedness but tempers it with the sort of feminine charm etiquette maven Judith Manners employs (unlike, say, political writer Anne Coulter, who just bludgeons). Here, Crittenden blogs about her Kindle. My wife used to get a newsletter called the Independent Women's Forum Newsletter that Crittenden wrote for; I always looked forward to her articles.
But getting back to Cari, I have always admired her review of Hillary Clinton's book, "It Takes A Village." That, too, is an example of an iron fist within a velvet glove.
There's no doubt about it, being able to write well is a real advantage. As Cardinal Richelieu said...
No, wait - he didn't say that at all. That hoariest of Victorian writers, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, out it into his mouth. Say what? "The Pen is Mightier than the Sword." As it turns out, the ultimate source of this saying is Euripides or somebody in the Bible... I didn't know that. I shall henceforth stop crediting Richelieu!
By the way, I know a thing or two about Richelieu. My dreamy gal pal Angela was obsessed with him when we were teenagers. (Likewise, Alexander Hamiliton and Napoleon Bonaparte.) I couldn't have a conversation with her without learning about the Siege of La Rochelle, Marie de Médicis and the Thirty Years War. But, looking back on it, it was fun.
Which is what I hope you have this weekend!
I'm nearly done with "Across Five Aprils" and am happy to say that the book has grown on me. It took a while to get going, but it's a satisfying read.
I am now going through rugbyfootball.com directory by directory, replacing the virus-ridden files with updated ones. Sometimes I feel like Captain James T. Kirk, whose last and best job is starship captain. Mine seems to be updating web sites. The plan is to return it to Elvis once I'm sure that the virus is entirely gone and I've had a chance to go through the site, updating pages, but maybe I'll want to retain webmastery of it.
Speaking of Star Trek, my wife watched the new movie with a gal pal last night; she seemed to like it more than I did. I miss William Shatner. Yes, bombastic, over-emoting William Shatner. I don't have weird Al Yankovic's problem in "White and Nerdy": "Only question I ever thought was hard/Was do I like Kirk or do I like Picard?" I have always preferred Kirk. Flying chest kicks! And, let's face it... rather than give up the ship Kirk would prefer to explode it in his enemy's face. You've got to admire the character's sense of commitment. In the very first episode of Star Trek - The Next Generation, however, Picard separated the Enterprise and surrendered one half and ran away with the other. Paugh.
I did some more video dubbing last night; transfers from VHS tapes to DVD using my new DVD recorder, which makes archive quality copies. I watched a little thing we did in 1995, a home tour of sorts than my eleven year-old son had to do for a Boy Scout requirement. He guided us room by room through our somewhat cramped townhouse, interviewing his cute little sisters. It was a bit heart-wrenching... watching it, I had the sneaking suspicion that life would never again have as much meaning and importance for me as it did when we were raising our kids, and that my best years are now behind me. Empty-nester syndrome rears its head again, I suppose.
But, as we learn from the memorable lines of Savannah Nix in the third Mad Max film ("Beyond Thunderdome"), "Time counts and keeps countin', and we knows now finding the trick of what's been and lost ain't no easy ride. But that's our trek, we gotta' travel it. And there ain't nobody knows where it's gonna' lead. Still in all, every night we does the tell, so that we 'member who we was and where we came from..."
I does the tell by making sure the family video footage isn't lost.
That particular film, by the way, is notable in the entertaining way it treats spoken English... like Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" it's fascinating to listen to. The IMDb quotes page makes an interesting read, as does the one for A Clockwork Orange. Viddy well.
My father took me to see Clockwork Orange in 1972, for my sixteenth birthday. I think it occurred to us mid-way through the rape scene that it may not have been such a suitable choice. I was a bit surprised by the film; given the avant-garde synthesizer music (I had the Lp) and the production stills I was expecting something weird, aggressively modern and alien - or at least foreign. What I observed right away was that A Clockwork Orange is merely a British film, with British actors, dialects, social stance and message. It's a bit surprising, given that Stanley Kubrick was a New Yorker.
In fact, I see parallels between the futuristic visions of A Clockwork Orange and certain Doctor Who episodes - perhaps they mutually influenced one another, perhaps not. In this blog I have commented upon the frequent ugliness of modern British architecture; this seems to be a feature of the world of Clockwork Orange as well. It's almost as if the story is a logical extension of the dreariness of certain cityscapes in London.
A Clockwork Orange also fits into another film genre - the juvenile deliquency film, which I investigated for myself last year. I have a couple of these on tape, uh, DVD, to watch. TCM did a Latino thing recently and I recorded "Walk Proud" (1979) to watch. 1979 was an interesting year for gang films: "The Warriors," "The Wanderers" and "Walk Proud."
I sometimes find myself in a state of needless mental anxiety - do you ever do that? I'll be sitting there, my thoughts wandering, and find myself getting agitated over politics, work situations or some other thing, creating scenarios that haven't happened and may not happen. Then I'll catch myself and go, "Whoa! Stop it! This is ridiculous, this hasn't happened - change the subject!"
Perhaps I should do that Seinfeld thing and bellow SERENITY NOW!!!!
Last night I was watching some 2005 videos in which I appear - part of the big family media archiving project I described yesterday - and thinking, "Geez, I was fat. Wasn't I aware? What monumental sense of self-deception was I exercising?" (Cari: If you read this, no comments.) I'm headed back that way if I'm not careful. When my son came out to visit for two weeks I pretty much tied on the old feed bag and am now ten pounds heavier than I was in late December. Time to resume a daily counting of calories... and be diligent about it. Incorporate it into my karma. Engage my engineering soul. Be the numbers.
But then, are we ever happy with how we look in media? I see and hear myself in old videos and cringe. I can see why my Mom used to duck under beach towels or whatever was at hand wherever Dad aimed the camera in her direction. I suspect there are many middle-aged people like me who, insofar as camcorders and cameras are concerned, would just as soon live under a rock, thank you very much.
Well. Some sage once observed that every man over forty has the face he deserves, and I'm no exception. But think of the poor Hollywood celebs, whose faces are their fortunes. They age, too. And now along comes high definition video to highlight every wrinkle, scar, blemish and jowl. Sweet. Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch.
But there I go again, being mean spirited.
I'd like to report that I'm thoroughly enjoying my book "Across Five Aprils," but I'm not. I'm almost half way through it and so far nothing has really happened, save people ch0atting with one another in cornball dialects that I associate with The Waltons. I may be pitching this in the trash and making my way back to the hobo story collection of North Bank Fred. I haven't read all the tales, just most of them.
And, and... oh, I'll just stop now before I write some other negative thing.
I found sixteen yard sales in just under two hours on Saturday, but all I bought was a paperback and a Lava Lamp. The lamp is for work, and it's the fourth in my office. As you might expect, I'm becoming known for them. This one is navy blue lava in clear fluid (don't have that combination), and, like the others, cost me only $1.
I'm reading the paperback now. It's "Across Five Aprils," by Irene Hunt. It's a young adult/children's Newbury Medal novel about the Civil War. I think I read it last when I was ten or so. The characters speak in a rather annoying dialect - that troubled me some when I was a young'un, too, ah recollect.
I did some irksome home repair stuff over the weekend. Irksome because, if you've done it right, the house looks no different than before and you really have nothing to show for your efforts. Know what I mean? Not home improvement, just home preoccupation.
I replaced some rotting wood on my front porch railing, where shrubbery had touched the wood (and consequently transferred moisture) for years. I won't make that mistake again... It's fretful work. I stand back and look at it and become annoyed over some areas I have to fill in with plastic wood and some sections where the original builder left off the molding, etc. Grr.
I'm an idiot. I went to Home Depot to buy some necessary molding and took it home. When I compared it to the original, I realized that I had bought the wrong molding. Then I went back to get the right stuff, only to realize that Home Depot didn't have what I needed... the real humiliation is that I learned this lesson earlier this year when I installed some crown molding. So I have to go to Smoot Lumber in Alexandria to get a length of the right stuff. Argh!
I fulfilled some Chief Memory Officer duties over the weekend. I'm almost done with transferring the 22 VHS tapes and 19 Hi-8mm camcorder family video tapes to DVD - 82 hours! What I'll have left after that are odds and ends, bits of video tape and files which appear of this and that; these I put on DVDs entitled "etc." (I also have the 8mm film stuff from when my wife and I were kids on magnetic and optical media.)
I'm rather driven in this way. When I was fifteen I applied for a job with the Burbank Public Library; they didn't hire me because I had to be sixteen. Boy, did they miss out. I sometimes think my best and most appropriate occupation in the world involves arranging things, storing things and looking things up. I take a satisfaction from that that I get from no other occupation. When I impose order on some unorganized thing (or, better yet, create some useful thing) I feel a sense of accomplishment that I'm sure is down to the molecular level.
I was intended to be a librarian, not an engineer. I am thwarting the measure of my creation. It is no coincidence that I am such an avid scrapbooker and webmaster: These are the results of an enjoyment with arranging things, storing things and looking things up.
Anyway, the next step after getting clean, high quality images on DVD is to convert them into mp4 files and store them in some sensible directory structure with an index. I once calculated that I could fit everything I have on about 400 GB of hard disk space (not counting raw photographic image archives). Currently, 1 TB external drives go for about $120, so this is very feasible.
I have also digitized all the family scrapbooks, baby books, wedding books, some high school yearbooks and other stuff into directories of jpgs. This goes with the genealogical database I've compiled. My goal is to get movies, scrapbooks and genealogical data onto an easily archived form that I can load onto the kids' computers, sort of an electronic legacy.
My wife once observed that her entire childhood can be reviewed in less than an hour of 8mm and Super 8mm silent home movie films. (The same is true for me.) The advent of camcorder and digital technology has greatly increased the amount of stored data, but, in the end, the media highlights of an entire human life can all be sorted onto media that you can easily hold in one hand.
Actually, I was struck the other night with the realization that putting all of the family videos onto an iPod (!) isn't far off. Right now you can buy them with 120 GB of storage; I'm sure 500 GB isn't far off.
What interesting times in which we live!
My father, Wes Clark Sr., was a trip. (Photographic evidence.) The other day my son and his friend sought me out for advice as to how to mount a replacement Honda badge on the front of the friend's car. As they interrupted my viewing of a Louis Armstrong documentary, I attached it doing an extended version of what I thought was a credible Satchmo impression, with gravelly voice and toothy grimace. So possibly, years after I'm dead, they'll recall the past with the similar comment, "Dad was a trip."
I am still reading the hobo diaries of Abdul Rahim, which, so far, I am finding the most readable on the North Bank Fred page. This fellow has a poetic spirit. One of his quotes struck me: "Somebody who understood futility and loss wrote, 'It is in vain that we return to places we once loved. We shall never see them again for they were situated not in space but in time, and the man who seeks them will no longer be the child or youth who enriched them with his passion.'" A quick google check fails to turn up the identity of the writer of these pithy and truthful words...
I attend the funeral service of my southern church lady friend this afternoon; a sad duty. Afterwards, my wife and I and my pard Chris and his wife attend a Noel Coward play in D.C.: "Design for Living" - an odd conjunction of activities, given the play's title.
I feel the necessity of eulogizing Beverly (or as I'd say in mock Southern, "BEV-a-lee"). A large lady of loud and easy laugh and gregarious manner, she developed a brain tumor about ten months ago, and has been bedridden up to her recent death. Church has certainly been a quieter and more boring place since her absence. She was a compulsive hugger, and if I was anywhere near her reach she'd grab my arm and pull me into her orbit for some chat.
She served as the chorister during hymns, and always had us stand - almost as if to say, "If I have to stand up here in front of y'all and wave my arms around during songs, the least you can do is stand while I'm doing it."
As I wrote earlier, I used to tease her about being from South Carolina, and called her my "Rebel Magnolia Blossom Scarlett Honeysuckle Belle" and as many other southernisms as I could think to string together on the spot. When I returned from reenactments I'd report, "Hey, Bev, I shot some of y'all this weekend!"
I first heard the Dixie phrase, "I wanted to lay down and scream!" from her mouth, and learned about the childhood cult habit of dropping peanuts into Royal Crown Cola from her. (I have confirmed this habit with other South Carolinians of my acquaintance.)
She is survived by her husband, a daughter and three grandchildren. A short online obituary is here.
To paraphrase something Ronald Reagan once said about Marines, many of us wonder if we'll be remembered after we're gone. Beverly doesn't have that problem.
Have a great Memorial Day weekend!
I watched "Rail Kings" (2005) last night. Here's my IMDb review:
Whoa, this is one of the worst films I have ever seen.
For starters, Ernest Borgnine has all of about four minutes in this film as the lovable old hobo "Steamtrain" - and that's it. (An interesting reversal of roles from "Emperor of the North Pole," where he played a railroad bull - an implacable enemy of hobos.) So don't be fooled; this is by no means an Ernest Borgnine film.
The production looks like it was shot on a consumer grade DV camera, the plot has holes big enough to drive, well, freight trains through, and the acting is frequently bad. There are all sorts of odd gaffes and inept musical cues... and I find it very, very hard to believe that the big name rock bands whose music was used in this actually granted their permission.
I suspect that this film was made for hobos about hobos by hobos - and if any of them are murderous enough to kill me for panning this film, well, then, so be it - at least there's no chance of my ever having to endure "Rail Kings" again.
That's it: No more films about hobos. I quit.
Far better was a documentary about a musical figure I have always been curious about: Louis Armstrong. A few years ago I got a set of DVDs about Disneyland, and one of them featured a riveting Satchmo performance given on the Mark Twain steamboat. So I date my interest from that point.
While Armstrong isn't exactly the inventor of jazz, he is credited as being the father of it. That is quite a musical accomplishment, to have created a whole major musical genre. And his hit "What a Wonderful World" is one of my all time favorite songs... I know of few other pieces of popular music that generate such good will and vibes. Sappy and nostalgic it may be, but I imagine it was like pouring oil on the troubled waters of 1968, when it was released.
Anyway, I learned a few things about Satchmo I didn't know: 1.) His mother was a prostitute, 2.) He once married a prostitute (who was active as one during the marriage!), 3.) He smoked pot from the 1920's to nearly the end of his life (which might explain some of his odd mannerisms), 4.) He was a constant and outspoken user of laxatives, and 5.) He is considered by influential and knowledgeable jazz musicians to be one of the greatest - if not the greatest - American musicians of the 20th century. One said that some of his trumpet solos in some songs from the Fifties are unrepeatable and irreproducible. Wynton Marsalis, featured in the documentary, couldn't emphasize his importance enough.
Might have to find some Armstrong music on CD.
My son Ethan leaves for Utah today. I'll miss him but it's proper that he return to his life there. I always feel a bit blue when a child leaves after a visit... one good thing about it is the cessation of the celebratory feeds I've been doing during his visit. I must have ingested about 6,000 calories yesterday.
I am now reading the hobo stories of Abdul Rahim, found here. He's a good writer, better than North Bank Fred (who managed to make trainhopping sound boring). At one point, Rahim mentioned that due to post 9/11 security concerns freight trains going past a certain U.S. military installation were prevented from passing by at night - perhaps to keep people with names like "Abdul" from hopping off. Heh.
Also... we're applying for a home refinance. We're looking at the same monthly rate plus some money that we can use for needed home repairs and improvements. (Our driveway is a mess.) Our mortgage guy, running our numbers and credit history, told us we have as good a credit score as you can get, so it's nice to know we're doing something right on that front!
My son and I have been playing with the song recognition software on his iPhone. The way it works is you play a song and let the software on the iPhone hear it for about twenty seconds. Then it queries a database (you need a LAN connection for this) and it returns what it thinks is the name of the song with the artist. Pretty amazing.
On the way home from New Market we tried it out with some pop songs I had on a CD and it got 6 of 8 songs correct. Last night I tried it with a rather obscure Flamingos song ("Till the End of Time") and it got that right, too, except it called it "Mio Amore." I see that's another name for the song, which is news to me. It even properly identified the trumpet call from Rimsky-Korsakov's "Le Coq d'Or" that I use as a ring tone, which really surprised me.
Shazam is one such software tool, but Ethan used midomi - a so called "query by humming" (QbH) technology. It either didn't like or recognize my hummed version of Burt Bacharach's "Any Old Time (of the Day)." Hmf.
Last night my wife and son and I had an extended discussion about how the software identifies the song. One way, as described in this PC Magazine article, is via digital fingerprints. But it's not clear to me if this identifies music files or sounds. Sounds can be identified via something called a Parsons Code.
The wikipedia article for this led to the musipedia site, which identifies songs in various ways (keyboard, microphone, draw notes). Well, it tries to, anyway. I played a reasonably good by ear version of that Flamingos song (Mio Amore/Till the End of Time), and it gave me all sorts of song and music titles, none of which were correct. Again, hmf.
The third and next step is to rebuild my home PC; that is, reload Windows XP. It's a major pain but it's probably a good idea to do every few years. The current build is a result of years of kids loading on Instant Messenger, various games, video editing software, user accounts, Trojans, viruses, browser hijackers, etc. and my removing them. A clean build will probably make the PC run faster and it will certainly get rid of any bugs I have left. I plan to do that after Ethan leaves, in order to maintain some sanity.
2.) I am also transferring 23 years of family videotapes from VHS and Hi-8 mm tape to DVDs as a background activity. I'm now on VHS tape #20 (1998). It's a wondrous process, seeing babies turn into high school graduates... Last night I was watching various short videos of my daughters in high school; I thought back upon my parenting years and became profoundly grateful for being able to raise my kids.
A couple of weeks ago I attended the funeral of a young mother - age 35 - who left behind three small sons. The sight of the father (a rugby friend) walking out of the funeral service carrying two of them in his arms is something I'll never forget. It seems a thing we take for granted, being around to raise our kids, but it's a blessing that is not extended to everyone. My wife and I have been fortunate.
3.) My son Ethan leaves for Utah this Thursday. I'll miss him and doing things with him, but he needs to be back home with his wife, attending school and working. And my wife and I need to be empty-nesters again... it's the way things should be. I used to think it was hard watching kids grow older and away from the home, until I reflected upon other parents' kids who, for various reasons, couldn't or wouldn't do that. That's harder.
4.) I attend another funeral service this Friday, this one of a church lady who suffered from a brain tumor. It was ten months from diagnosis to the end. She was a great lady with a big personality - a South Carolinian - whom I used to josh about being a Reb and a "Southern Magnolia Blossom Belle," etc. I miss her.
So, all kinds of distractions... not to mention the upcoming Memorial Day weekend and the opening of the neighborhood pool, which becomes a hangout during the summer months.
I am now reading the hobo tales of North Bank Fred, as found here. These aren't quite as literate as Doc Bo's, but are better than those of Garage Dave, who seemed to delight in describing the logistics of his boxcar bowel evacuations.
I am rapidly coming to the realization that, aesthetically speaking, there is a probably an insurmountable gap between me and the hobo class or culture. I have already determined that I would make a lousy hobo because sitting around for hours in a ditch adjacent to a rail yard waiting for the departure of a freight train would require more patience that I could possibly ever muster. And this doesn't even take into account my demonstrated ability to hurt myself in industrial situations. Or, let's face it, the illegality of the whole thing.
Another dominant feature of the culture seems to be dissolution - North Bank Fred seems to search for and drinks a lot of wine - which ain't exactly this Mormon guy's thing, either.
So unlike rugby, where I came to terms with the cultural swearing and drinking (at least most of the players are college grads), and historical reenacting, where I could avoid the neo-Confederate rednecks by being a Yank, it appears that my foray into the world of the tramps and hobos will have to be literary only, and a rare case of where I spectate or research and not participate. After all, any hobby of mine requires loads of intelligent conversation.
It reminds me of a scene in "Pee Wee's Big Adventure," where Pee Wee Herman rides a boxcar with a crazy old hobo who insists upon obsessively singing "Jimmy Crack Corn (And I Don't Care)." At the point where his patience has utterly run out, Pee Wee desperately flings himself out of the boxcar. For some reason I think that's the funniest scene in the movie.
The New Market battle reenactment was fun and my son Ethan enjoyed himself. Some photos here. Being young, slender and bearded he was probably the most authentic looking of the four of us. After the battle on Saturday it poured and thundered but cleared. But about an hour or so later another batch of thunderstorms moved in. A quick check on multiple Blackberries and iPhones revealed that heavy rain was forecast for the evening and Sunday - so we left. Some bunch of hardened soldiers we were... good thing the preservation of the Union wasn't upon our shoulders...
I came back sneezing and with scratchy eyes and a mild sunburn; my pard Chris is now at home sick. Ethan is fine. So we took some casualties.
I have been battling a three way virus attack between my home PC, rugbyfootball.com and wesclark.com - what a pain. It now appears that when I did my weekly virus sweeps of my home PC, an ftp connection to one of the two sites would reload the virus. (This wasn't immediately apparent to me until I started to get e-mails from people telling me that wesclark.com was infected - and then I noticed that rugbyfootball.com was also infected.) So I have to clean off both sites, the home PC again, and hopefully that'll take care of it. I'm pretty sure that wesclark.com is now clean, and so is most of rugbyfootball.com - but I have to remove a bunch of files.
I do hope there's a nice warm place in hell for the people who write computer viruses.
That's all for today. Sorry for the short entry, but things are very hectic right now.
It wasn't a bad film, but it was somewhat disappointing. Much of the film seemed to be centered on a couple riding the rails together and settling down to play house (after playing boxcar). Eh. I was looking for more of an idealistic loner viewpoint, I guess, or a bit more of the historical aspect. What drives men to ride the rails? - that sort of thing. And there wasn't a word about the disaffected Vietnam vets that seem to play a large part in the anecdotal stories I come across. The co-ed emphasis of it kind of turned me off. Perhaps it had that angle because it was produced by a woman, I don't know.
The last half was a more general view of modern hobos. One hears from hobo-lawyer/author Duffy Littlejohn, hobo-media guru Wes Modes, hobo-webmaster North Bank Fred, etc. I thought the most disturbing thing about Catching Out wasn't the train hopping or the depiction of an anarchist culture, but the fact that hobo-environmentalist Lee has no eyebrows. (Proving that you can have no money at all and still have something in common with David Bowie.)
I also saw a curiosity from 1938: "Young Fugitives." This one is about the last surviving Union soldier of the Civil War gaining $50,000 as part of a GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) collection. A young (platinum blonde!) hoboette hops off a train and into his life. It wasn't bad.
In fact, Albert Woolston (see above), the last surviving Union soldier of the Civil War, made it past the 1930's; he died in 1956 - the year I was born. I'm sure there's some mystical connection there. Woolson's service is pretty minimal: He served as a drummer boy for less than a year starting in late 1864 and served garrison duty in Chattanooga. Neither he nor his regiment saw any action. But! It was enough to get him into the Guinness Book of World records.
Who was the last surviving Confederate? Due to an absence of records, that's become debatable. For years I thought the last Confederate - Walter Williams - survived the last Yank. However, it appears that his claim has been debunked and that this was not so. (Read the wikipedia link here.)
Whatever... again, the North wins!
There will probably be no blog updates for the remainder of this week. I'm taking Wednesday, Thursday and Friday off and doing things with my wife and son. And this weekend is the 145th anniversary of the Battle of New Market reenactment; for the first time ever, we're putting Ethan in wool and he's taking part. I shall certainly take photos. I've been doing the New Market event on and off since 1985 - this weekend will be my ninth one!
The most distinctive thing about camping at the New Market battlefield is the sound of Jake brakes on the trucks heading up and down the Valley: BRAAAAAMMMMMMMM. From wikipedia: "Compression release engine brakes may make a loud chattering or 'machine gun' noise while being used, which has led many communities in the United States to ban them." Not in the Valley of Virginia, apparently!
I bumped into the usual lady from church at one (we'll see each other all through the summer at yard sales) who told me that our own church was having a big swap meet, did I go there yet? This was news to me. I went there, picked out a few CDs I liked and asked how much. "Oh, it's free. This is a thing where we're giving stuff away." So I went back and grabbed all the others which interested me - about nine CDs in total of film music (Forrest Gump - Sixties hits), Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Orchestra theme programs, Christmas music by British choirs, that sort of thing. And the Drifters' Greatest Hits. Cool. So it was a good haul on Saturday.
This kind of experience really causes one to wonder what the true worth of a music CD is. When you obtain CDs of perfectly listenable music for nothing or next to nothing as I frequently do you become disinclined to pay $18 for them at a store.
I got a DVD recorder for my birthday on Saturday. It dubs VHS tapes onto DVD with a quality that is equal to the source material. (Or so close as to not be noticeably different.) I've wanted one of these for quite some time... my main use is to move the 23 years of family videos I've taken on VHS and Hi-8mm tapes over to optical storage. Once they're in the digital domain I no longer have to worry about the image quality degrading, a result of tapes losing their magnetic analog information. My ultimate desire is to then turn the DVDs into computer files and put them all in one completely indexed place.
I've copied the family VHS tapes to DVD before a number of times with a computer set up and given sets of the DVDs to my kids as a record of their childhoods, but the image quality isn't quite as good as the original tapes, and so it was an inferior archive effort that I was unhappy with. For some reason, this single unit component does a much better job of it. So now I am again wading through old tapes and memories...
I also have about 1,500 feet of 8mm and Super 8mm film (taken from 1959 to 1978 by my parents and I - this sort of thing) I need to transfer. I've done this before, too, but it's a process where I projected the film onto a screen and captured it via an inferior VHS camcorder back in the Eighties, then eventually digitized that to DVD. Not optimal. It costs between $250 and $300 to have it done professionally; but it has never been a priority.
We - that is, my son and wife and I - watched Hot Fuzz (2007) last night, another one of those Simon Pegg comedies. It was pretty good, if about a half hour too long at two hours. It seems that the standard length for a film these days nears two hours; for "blockbusters," well over that. As an old film fan I prefer the more or less standard 90 minute feature film length. And the nice thing about old films noir is that there are frequent examples of tight, pared-down productions that clock in at around 70 minutes. The Old School advice concerning entertainment was, "Leave them wanting more." Nowadays it seems to be, "Bludgeon the audience with over two hours of explosions and false endings."
I once sat through that first Transformer film on a plane... yeech. That one could have been considerably shortened. I saw in the Star Trek previews that a second installment is coming. No. Thank. You. In fact, we sat through a series of previews for films - blockbusters and brain dead comedies - that looks like they absolutely suck. This surprises me because I have seen many an acceptable and interesting promo for films that, when seen in toto, suck. If they can't even dredge up enough material for a good promo there's a real problem! The only bright spot seems to be that upcoming Disney-Pixar flick about the house suspended by balloons.
My son saw the Wolverine film and found it disappointing; he said what the critics seem to be saying: Star Trek is a better film. Ebert's review was pretty damning: "Why should I care about this guy? He feels no pain and nothing can kill him, so therefore he's essentially a story device for action sequences ... I have been powerfully impressed by film versions of Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, Iron Man and the Iron Giant. I wouldn't even walk across the street to meet Wolverine."
My rule is that if the character is unsympathetic, you don't care what happens to him. And when that happens you no longer have a film.
Hoboes: I am continuing to read the Adventures of Steve "Doc Bo" Keeley. Great stuff. He's called "Doc Bo" because he teaches college classes about American Hoboing... which says a lot about colleges these days. Dead white males like Plato, Socrates and Shakespeare - out. Unshaven freighthoppers - in.
I couldn't detect any difference made by the digital projection system. I suppose I could have if I had it side by side with a conventional film projection system, but I didn't get blown away by unusual crispness and clarity.
Anyway, "the Wrath of Khan" is still my favorite Trek film - and I miss William Shatner.
I bet the floors will still be sticky.
In the process of researching exactly what the big deal is about with digital projectors, I came across Eidophor technology, which, get this, used images transferred onto a surface of oil! Weird! Old school! Reminds me of the oil bath air cleaner I had on my '71 Porsche 914. Who would have expected that one could use oil to clean air or show big images on a screen?
I am now reading the hobo stories of Steve "Doc Bo" Keeley, here (scroll to almost the bottom). These are very well written; this fellow could and should be published. The standard for hobo lit is Jack London's "The Road," which was excellent. But Keeley's stuff is recent and therefore has an interest of its own. Hoboes and Apples seems very Londonian.
What I do is save these onto my hard disk from the web, form them into a text file which I then print off double-sided, and tear off and discard pages as I read. It's oddly satisfying to tear apart a "book" as you're reading it. For Keeley's stuff, however, you have to go back and look at the web pages as there are images with some of the articles.
We picked up my son Ethan at the airport yesterday evening and had dinner at a Macaroni Grill. We then visited a Best Buy, where he helped me refine the technical capabilities on my new cell phone somewhat - I can now send and receive images with my text messages.
I also tried putting some videos on the memory card; it won't play .movs or .avis, but it can play files in a .mv4 (iPod) format, which means that I can now watch Fats Waller's "Your Feet's Too Big" on my cell phone. If this isn't the greatest video, ever, it's somewhere near it. Nice little 2 1/2" diagonal picture - not bad. I shall now look for other .mv4 format video matter for my phone. You never know when I might get stuck in an elevator without diversion.
Oh, yeah... I can also read .txt files on my phone, which means I can stick some emergency reading matter on there as well. Maybe a Jack London book or two. I haven't read White Fang since I was in junior high... or perhaps Penrod, always a treat.
It's funny... a device that is smaller than the AM transistor radio I used to carry around with me as a kid is now a telephone, camera, video and audio player and book. I have seen a great deal of technological advancement since I was a kid, but every now and then I stop and reflect and am a bit surprised. For instance, I recall the first time I used my PC and a modem to dial up a UNIX Internet server at work to exchange e-mail with a guy in Scotland. This was in 1994 and I thought it was an interesting little technological achievement. Now people commonly do that with pocket devices in the middle of nowhere.
I recall a comment by Johnny Carson on a Tonight Show broadcast just after the 1969 Moon landing. He observed that it was within living memory that the first powered aircraft flight by the Wright Brothers took place at Kitty Hawk in 1903. A ten year old hearing about that in 1903 would be 76 in 1969, hearing Carson's remarks about Apollo 11.
The technological pace of change increases. We laugh now when we see the Dad in Steven Spielberg's "Hook" (1991) pull out his cell phone. And ten years ago what was a valued VHS tape one could hold in one's hand is now a mere .mpg file, to be viewed on a number of platforms or exchanged freely via e-mail, burned onto a plastic disk or edited and posted on youtube. But old forms sometimes remain. For instance, last night Ethan showed me the vinyl recordings for sale at Best Buy; they come with a CD of the same material or a web site to download the same music digitally.
The weekend looms. Ethan and I will be doing yard sales tomorrow morning, weather permitting ("Rain showers early with isolated thunderstorms developing later in the day. A few storms may be severe. High near 80F.").
Have a great weekend!
My daughter, who is now interested in space, sent me this: The Lord of the Rings is doing the Hula Hoop Dance!
I've been busy creating new ring tones for my new cell phone using my exhaustive .mp3 collection. For instance, when my Civil War reenacting pards call me they ring either "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," "The Battle Cry of Freedom" or an annoying little camp reveille melody called "The Three Camps." Given that we usually hear this one in camp at 6 AM and given the usual morning biological pursuits, I've developed my own set of highly individualistic lyrics for this melody. I hope I do not offend you, Gentle Reader, in publishing these tasteless lines:
You've got to take a piss, so get up and take a piss!
You've got to take a piss, so get up and take a piss!
We'll hold each other's schlongs,
And sing the whole day long!
You've got to take a piss!
So get up and take a piss!
Yes, get up and take a piss!
Let's all get up and take a piss!
The musicians are normally highly amused when I sing these for them; they had no idea that there were lyrics to this 19th C. melody...
Last night I watched a curious film from 1936, "The Green Pastures." It's one of those "all Negro" musicals with the usual racial stereotypes from that era. This one depicted Old Testament stories in accordance with the manners of "...thousands of Negros in the South." For instance, the Lord - played by the always impressive Rex Ingram - is known as "De Lawd," and there's a lot of grandpappies, mammys, ethnic language, etc. Heaven is depicted as a place where everyone wears robes and wings, ten cent cigars are freely obtainable, and the fish bake is the big social event. (Negroes with wings are shown floating about on clouds, fishing.) There's also a lot of really great gospel choir singing.
And yet, however, dated as it is, I'm not really sure that this film could be properly called "racist." The roles are all performed with dignity and the whole thing was presented by Warner Brothers with an attempt at respect. (The opening title states, "Warner Brothers has the honor of presenting...") Clearly the studio wasn't attempting to belittle anyone's faith - which can't be said for Hollywood nowadays. (A good analysis of the film is here.)
I have to say that I found it fascinating, and it easily held my interest for ninety minutes. So perhaps I'm a racist, I don't know. For instance, a guy told me a joke the other day - I think it's funny so perhaps I'm a bigot: You know how people said that a black man would become president of the United States only when pigs fly? Well, it's only 100 days into the Obama administration and swine flu.
But getting back to the movie "The Green Pastures"; since I'm interested in dialects I noted an odd one. It wasn't quite Brooklynese - I'm think it was meant to be Southern - but it looks like Brooklynese. "First" would be pronounced "foist," for instance. "Worst" would be "woist." The only other place I've heard this spoken in films are in the comedies of Laurel and Hardy, out of the mouth of Oliver Hardy (a Georgia native - note his father was a Confederate veteran wounded at Antietam). So I'm puzzled. Is this merely Southern, or is Hardy trying to sound black? Or trying to be refined but sounding like a hick? I guess the only way I'll know is to ask an old southerner...
My son Ethan flies home today for a two week stay between semesters. Unfortunately his lovely wife has to work and cannot come, but I'm looking forward to another visit from one of my kids. (London with Meredith in March, Julie in April, Ethan in May and Meredith again in June.) I'm taking three days off work next week to do... something with him. Don't know what. Coasters at King's Dominion, perhaps, or a road trip (Manhattan?) of some kind.
Ethan will be wearing the blue wool and smelling the black powder for the very first time ever at the New Market Civil war reenactment in a few weeks. That ought to be interesting... when he was a little boy he'd watch me pack my musket and stuff into the car trunk on Friday and ask, "Daddy, are you going out to shoot people this weekend?"
I never knew how to answer that.
Also, yesterday I also wrote too soon about not using another cell phone for awhile. I got one in the mail as a birthday present from my son Ethan, who works at a Best Buy in Utah while attending college. It's an LG Xenon (except mine is black, not blue). I really like the 2 megapixel camera feature... it takes and displays nice photos. Also, I can put .mp3s on the memory card and use them as ringtones, which means that the trumpet call from Rimsky-Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel becomes my ringtone. Or some as yet undetermined Civil War tune becomes the distinguishing ring for my reenacting pards.
As yesterday was Video Vault's half-price Tuesday (when I take a chance on something I might not normally rent), I took an enthusiastic recommendation from the owner to rent a wacky documentary: "Dancing Outlaw" (1991). It was produced by a Public Broadcasting station in Morgantown, West Virginia, and could well be subtitled, "Everything you heard about life in the Hollows of West Virginia is true."
It's about a fellow named Jesco White (pictured above) - let's face it, a hick - who tap dances. But there's more to it than that, as you might guess. It begins with some amazing shots of blighted Boone County, WV, where, apparently, trailers reign supreme. There's Jesco's extensive collection of tacky memorabilia in the Elvis Room in his trailer, his endurable extended account about driving back somewhere to fetch his sunglasses, his father who was killed via shotgun blast in a drunken brawl, his boorish physical threats to his wife, his lighter fluid sniffing stories, his sister pulling donuts on the mud in a truck, his one eyed brother, his mother complaining about his wife, and the amusing recurring shot of a beer bottle getting tossed at the "You are now entering Boone County, WV" sign. I would say that this production is indescribable, but I've just about described it all.
Watching it with me, my wife was quick to point out that Jesco's mother sits in a chair not unlike the furniture we had in my house growing up. Nice. (I might respond, "Hey, you married me.") She also draws some puzzling distinction between Jesco and his rednecky family and Jackie Kennedy's crazy cousins from New York we saw in the in "Gray Gardens" documentary. But redneck is as redneck does, to me, and I see them as culturally equivalent. These women lived in a shabby home where raccoons are allowed to defecate behind paintings of family members placed in the carpet. Claiming that they're somehow more genteel than the West Virginians makes no sense to me. Also, the Gray Gardens film crew explained that their feet became flea bitten while filming in the house; I bet Jesco's trailer was more hygienic than that.
As for entertainment value, Gray Gardens was two nutty women nonsensically running their mouths for upwards of two hours. In Dancing Outlaw there was dancing and action (the sister pulling donuts in the mud, flying beer bottles). Big diff!
So... if you're looking for jaw-dropping, unbelievable hillbilly action, check out Dancing Outlaw.
The surprise is that a West Virginia Public Broadcasting station would air and distribute such a thing. You'd think some entity like a state Chamber of Commerce would pressure them not to.
My "Where did America begin?" survey now has 178 votes. Looks like the majority felt it started in Independence Hall - but almost as many others, literalists, opt for "God and/or tectonic plates." I'm kind of sorry I put that one in as an answer!
I am now reading "Serendipity" by Umberto Eco, a favorite author. I chose this after an extended period of languishing in the library, looking for something to read. In general - Eco's books defy simplification - the theme of this book is to examine the cases where scientific falsity led to scientific attainment. For instance, the classic case is Columbus' voyage westward to find an easy path to the Orient, which led instead to the European discovery of the Americas. I'm only on page 20 and already he's mentioned Prester John, the order of the Rosy Cross (the Rosicrucians), the Illuminati and Thomas Aquinas.
Problem is, I seem to have finished my hobo reading before I'm quite ready to abandon the subject. I've read all the library materials on the subject, watched all the youtube videos, seen just about all of the available films (my son is bringing a few more when he visits later this week). The only thing left for me now is... to ride the rails myself and make my usual transition from investigator to participant. But seeing as how that's not going to happen perhaps it's time to move on.
(I say that it's not going to happen, but last night, when I jokingly mentioned it, my wife said that she's about ready to see me off to do so. I appreciate that a little of me goes a long, long way...)
Last night I tried to watch Elvis Presley in "Jailhouse Rock" (1957). While it's certainly one of the better Elvis films, it's still an Elvis film and so I lost interest after an hour and quit watching. I did resolve my curiosity regarding it, however... I was wondering how anyone could plausibly make a musical film with a prison setting. However, only the first part is set in prison. That celebrated Jailhouse Rock number is staged as a television act. (Easily adapted, it could possibly be the pop music industry's first "music video.")
I no longer have a cell phone. Ten years ago, the government furnished me one in anticipation of the infrastructure collapse as a result of Y2K. (Remember Y2K? It was 1999's version of the Swine Flu Pandemic.) I kept it because I was a supervisor and manager, and the implicit expectation was that I would be a mere phone call away at all hours. Since I'm no longer a supervisor and since we're cutting costs dramatically I had to return it. No big loss! It's nice without that electronic leash.
I had a government-furnished Blackberry for a time, but I found that bringing workplace e-mail frustrations around with me 24X7 was a real pain, so I turned it back in for a regular cell phone. Besides, I'm not the Crackberry type, pretending to listen while continually staring at a tiny screen and thumbing those infernally small buttons. (We have a ton of these people at work.)
The thing's biggest fault, however, was the fact that while it was in my pocket it would occasionally self-dial 911 - the pressures on the keys would sometimes be the right ones to phone emergency services. I'd get a ring and answer, then a voice would ask if I was all right, that I had dialed 911. Mortified, I'd assure the dispatcher that I was all right.
When locked, you see, the only two things you could do was to enter the password to unlock it (I found myself doing this twenty or thirty times a day - a major complaint) or dial 911.
Yes, yes, I know, you can wear it in a belt holster and then there would be no chance of it dialing 911. But I do not favor the Geek Look for Men.
Anyway, no phones or Blackberries. Let's see how long this lasts. Last night my wife and I were discussing the dubious appeal of the Kindle (yet another computer, this time masquerading as a book) when it occurred to me that I'm becoming thoroughly burned out and disenchanted with rechargeable electronic gadgets of all kinds: mp3 players, cell phones, laptops, PDAs, Kindles, point and shoot cameras, Blackberries, etc.
Perhaps I've subconsciously adopted a hobo aesthetic via my reading, but is all that stuff really necessary?
Yard sales were okay on Saturday; I did about fifteen. Listened to one of my Pixies CDs I bought last week - I like it. I bought myself one of those Magic Eight Balls for 50 cents - I plan to use it to make executive decisions and as a general lifestyle planning tool.
For instance, "Should I write about hoboes?" Let me consult the ball by upending it and reading the mystic indigo script: "You may rely on it."
I read "The Trail of the Tramp," by the celebrated hobo author A No. 1 over the weekend. It was another one of those Victorian schmaltz fests; in this one, A No. 1 helps to reunite a wayward young hobo with his mother, who was pining ever since The Wanderlust struck him. After a series of very improbable coincidences, the hobo presents the boy to his mother on Christmas Eve. To no avail, however - after a short stay at home The Wanderlust struck the lad again and, Alas!, he was eventually ground up under the wheels of a freighter.
A No. 1's books were written in such a style that he could assure parents that there was nothing unwholesome or immoral within the pages; in other words, they were more or less like pulp adventures for boys. This certainly meant that what was written was no real depiction of real hobo life at the turn of the last century!
Here's a fairly well done six part youtube freighthopping journal (from San Francisco to Las Vegas to Ogden, Utah), Silver Path. What made me nervous was the filmmaker's habit of continuing to run the camera while getting on the train - yikes. He also got an under the train shot (57 second point) I thought was pretty cool. Dangerous and foolish, but cool.
Many of you know that I work at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in Alexandria, Virginia. A local history buff and rail fan sent me this, a map of the local area in 1945. USPTO is about where the yellow "X" is in the upper map and where the "A" flag is in the lower map. So my office sits right over where the rail yards used to be. (Did A No. 1 once ride a freighter where I now sit?) The "Roundhouse" was nearby - the modern day cafeteria is named after it.
The fact that we're over the rail yards gives rise to a rumor... we have ground level parking because it was deemed too difficult to excavate where all that iron and steel is buried. I don't know if this is true or not.
I did an Old Guy thing over the weekend. While my pard Chris replaced his muffler in my garage I removed all my messed up Craftsman screwdrivers from my tool box and, later that day, took them to Sears for replacement. I got $23 worth of new screwdrivers in return for my battered 1978 ones. Good deal!
Over the weekend my alma mater, BYU, beat Cal to win the national collegiate Division 1 rugby championship. Story here. This is news because, generally, nobody beats Cal, the traditional national champ. It is an curious fact of life that Berkeley, California - where we get hippies from - is also where the best collegiate rugbly players are from. (Well, until this year... now they're from Provo, Utah...)
No, I never played rugby when I was at BYU. I didn't get interested in the game for another sixteen years. I didn't even ski when I was there. I cracked the books for four long years straight - every semester without a break - to graduate as quickly as I could.
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