28 July 2009

another nail

Only one Republican voted to confirm Judge Sotomayor this morning. Can you spell "suicidal?" The electorate will never again be as white as it was in 2008 and the Repubs are thumbing their nose at Hispanics every chance they get. At this rate, it won't be long before Arizona and even Texas turn blue.

Have at it boys! The cliff is directly on your right - don't forget to wave goodbye as you jump.

27 July 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookies and Birthers

I've been on some version of the Net (starting with BITNet)since the mid-eighties when there was nothing to do but FTP and email. As such, I've seen most of the great Internet Hoaxes. Most had to do with virus warnings and other net-related stuff; typically you would get an email which looked seriously official and warned you of some impending calamity. Others were so obviously false that one wonders, in retrospect, how anyone in their right mind could have believed them.

One of the most renowned of the latter group was the Neiman-Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe. For those who don't remember this one, the scam went like this: someone is having lunch in a Neiman-Marcus restaurant. At some point in time, they are served a chocolate cookie which is the best cookie they have ever tasted. Enthralled, they ask the server for the recipe - which he/she promptly delivers to the table. The diner then presents a credit card, mindlessly signs the receipt, and is off for an afternoon's shopping.

The big surprise comes when the credit card bill arrives some time later. The hapless diner finds an outlandish charge - usually $250 - for (you guessed it) the recipe. Indignant about being taken in, the diner then proceeds to email the recipe to everyone he/she knows - taking revenge by destroying any market the recipe might have.

The story was bogus (Neiman-Marcus does not sell its recipes), but thousands - and likely millions - of early Net users fell for the prank. For one thing, the recipe supposedly was pretty good - the cookies were quite tasty according to some. But it was goofy - and Neiman-Marcus spent years dealing with inquiries about this hoax.

Fast forward to 2009 and we have a similarly goofy situation with the so-called "birthers" - nitwits who have been taken in by talk radio blowhards and internet whackos so that they believe that the President was NOT born in Hawai'i, but in Kenya. These cretins are out in force for tea parties and, now, Republican official appearances - as evidenced by the footage from last week showing Rep. Mike Castle being harangued by a group in a hometown audience. When Castle attempted to answer reasonably, he was shouted down.

I almost felt sorry for Castle - almost. The thing is - if the Republicans had not spend the last 4 decades recruiting racists and right wing extremists (starting with Nixon's Southern Strategy) by demonizing the "Other," they wouldn't be having this problem. So now they are hoisted on their own petard. What is scary about this is that a lot - probably most - of these jokers are armed. This has nothing to do with where the President was born - rather, it has to do with a percentage of our society who cannot bring themselves to accept that an African-American with a funny sounding name is the legitimate President of the United States. They have been convinced that "their" country is being stolen from them by unlawful usurpers. The Republicans fed this frenzy during the last election: remember Sarah Palin beaming at the crowd as yells of "kill him!" were clearly audible. Remember John McCain and the woman who believed the Barack Obama was an "Arab."

I can laugh at these fools with everyone else, but a nagging fear is also present. I sincerely hope that the President's Secret Service detail is successful in protecting him from these people - because sooner or later, one of them is going to snap and start shooting. These are the same people who glorify the murdrers of abortion doctors as "heroes" - don't believe for a minute that they wouldn't extol a presidential assassin in the same, deranged way.

24 July 2009

Cale, Thompson, & Colvin

Velvet Underground meets Fairport Convention.

23 July 2009

From Thoughts and Glimpses

"All religions have saved a number of souls, but none yet has been able to spiritualise mankind. For that there is needed not cult and creed, but a sustained and all-comprehending effort at spiritual self-evolution."

- Sri Aurobindo

How the others live...

Writing to Wired Mads Tobias says:

"I live in Norway, which meets Kelly's definition of old socialism. The currency is strong, and health care and education are free. When you retire, the state pays you a pension. The unemployment rate is 3 percent. None of Norway's newspapers are controlled by the government. The state-owned radio station satirizes political leaders. So much for 'harsh penalties for criticizing leaders' and 'forced labor in government factories.'"

Doesn't sound so terrible does it? Call your congressman/senator. Tell them you want health care reform. Now.

22 July 2009

Sandy Denny 1974: Solo

The late Sandy Denny in a rare filmed performance from 1974. The song is "Solo" - one of her most-beloved later songs. Sandy was the foremost female English singer-songwriter of her day. She died tragically in 1978 after a fall, but her influence presists even today. Natalie Merchant, Kate Rusby, and Linda Thompson are just a few of her many protegees.

21 July 2009

Mahisha the Demon Slain

The title image is a photograph of a carving at Mamallapuram in South India. It dates back to the 7th century C.E. and depicts the goddess Durga slaying the demon Mahisha (in the form of a buffalo), conquering the world of darkness at its source.

19 July 2009

"We choose to go to the moon"

I've always been a space nut. I love science fiction, cosmology, and everything in between. The very idea that it is 2009 and we have yet to send a manned mission to Mars is unfathomable to me. But that is where we stand with human space exploration today - still in our own orbit.

Ah, but there was a time. Forty years ago, the United States was being torn apart by an unpopular war, horrible race relations, political rebellion, and a string of assassinations which tore the life out the country. And yet - we went to the Moon amidst all that - honoring a dead president's pledge to do what seemed at the time to be all but impossible. The world stopped and watched in wonder as human beings walked on another world for the first time

We will return to manned space exploration. The period we are in - the period since 1972 when Apollo XVII left the Moon - will be seen as a pause in which our emphasis moved to more cost-effective, data-gathering rather than exploration. And we have accomplished wonders in that time - the most impressive being the Hubble Space Telescope which has taken us back - close to the beginning of time itself. But the time is nearing when it will no longer be enough to send cameras and robots - we will have to go ourselves once again.

Today, people in my age cohort will remember: the teacher wheeling the portable black and white television into the classroom during the Mercury and Gemini missions, the horrible explosion which destroyed Apollo I and killed three astronauts, and finally the ultimate triumph of the geeks with the short-sleeved white shirts, the skinny ties, and the Marlboros dangling from their lips as they hunched over their primitive computer terminals.

One cannot remember today without reflecting on the irony of Walter Cronkite's death at this time. That greatest of all television journalists was one of the space program's most steadfast advocates - and the eternal voice we hear in our minds as we recall the most significant technological achievement in the history of mankind.

So here's to all those who made that great event possible forty years ago. And here's to the day when we venture out again - as we surely must.

17 July 2009

2nd Warmest June on Record


Paul de Vive, better known as Velocio was the father of bicycle touring and randonneuring, and an early advocate of the derailleur gear system. He lived from 1853 until 1930 and was the publisher of Le Cycliste - an early cycling journal - in which he wrote eloquently of his tours:

"After a long day on my bicycle, I feel refreshed, cleansed, purified. I feel that I have established contact with my environment and that I am at peace. On days like that I am permeated with a profound gratitude for my bicycle. Even if I did not enjoy riding, I would still do it for my peace of mind. What a wonderful tonic to be exposed to bright sunshine, drenching rain, choking dust, dripping fog, rigid air, punishing winds! I will never forget the day I climbed the Puy Mary. There were two of us on a fine day in May. We started in the sunshine and stripped to the waist. Halfway, clouds enveloped us and the temperature tumbled. Gradually it got colder and wetter, but we did not notice it. In fact, it heightened our pleasure. We did not bother to put on our jackets or our capes, and we arrived at the little hotel at the top with rivulets of rain and sweat running down our sides. I tingled from top to bottom."

A vegetarian and classical scholar (he began most days reading ancient Greek literature), he is best remembered today for his bicycling code - a set of guidelines which continues to influence contemporary cycling culture:

1. Keep your stops short and few.
2. Eat before you're hungry, drink before you're thirsty.
3. Never get too tired to eat or sleep.
4. Add a layer before you're cold, take one off before you're hot.
5. Lay off wine, meat and tobacco on tour.
6. Ride within yourself, especially in the first hour.
7. Never show off.

Velocio was the antithesis of the brightly-colored spandex clad posers we see riding high end carbon fiber racing bikes today - he was in many ways the original cycle hipster. He disliked competition, preferring to use bicycling as a discipline which, if pursued regularly, enriched body, mind, and spirit.

15 July 2009

Republican Buffoonery

The Southern Republicans in charge of attacking Sonia Sotomayor during her confirmation hearings are a couple of buffoons. It is almost painful to watch Sessions and Graham make complete jackasses of themselves - both grinning like Cheshire cats, seemingly oblivious to how pitiful and incompetent they appear. The idea of these yokels lecturing this distinguished jurist is truly laughable. Sessions in particular gave ample justification for his own failure to win confirmation to the federal bench years ago. The guy is not the sharpest tool in the shed - that's for sure.

The idea - at least according to most conservatives - is that racial discrimination is a thing of the past - that continuing legal remedies for past (and present) discrimination are only resulting in something called "reverse Discrimination." Of course this argument is somewhat compromised when Sessions engages in thinly-veiled racism during his questioning ("that other guy is a Puerto Rican - why don't you all vote the same?").

At the same time we are hearing conservatives blather about reverse discrimination, we are reading the story of the African-American and Hispanic children from the Philadelphia child care center who were subjected to name-calling and jeers when they went to swim at a club pool. The club canceled the contract with the center - citing "overbooking," an action they tried to take back when the story hit the media. Now they are complaining they can't afford to defend against a lawsuit. Tough.

10 July 2009

Drake Levin 1946-2009

If you are of a certain age - say, 55 like me - chances are fairly good that one of the first real rock bands you saw was Paul Revere and the Raiders. For me they actually were second - the Righteous Brothers were my first. But PR&R were certainly big in the mid-60's - a string of Top 40 hits, regular TV gig on Dick Clark's "Where the Action Is," Sixteen Magazine, the works. Drake Levin was quiet, but his musicianship was important to the Raiders' sound. While they may be remembered more today for their later, more trivial hits, in their early days they could rock in true mid-60's garage band fashion - right down to the Vox organ. Songs like "Steppin' Out," "Just Like Me," as well as some mostly well-chosen R&B covers stand the test of time today.

PR&R recorded "Louie, Louie" in the same Portland studio in 1963 at around the same time the Kingsmen did. At first, the Raiders' version was the bigger hit - heavily outselling the Kingsmen locally. But, it was the Kingsman's version that was picked up nationally later that year and rest is rock and roll history. The song itself was written 8 years before by Richard Berry.

That's Drake on the right. He passed away - interestingly enough - on the Fourth of July.

09 July 2009

Conservative Ignorance

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center indicates that 65% of those Americans polled recognized that carbon dioxide gas was linked to temperature change. I'm not sure whether this should be viewed as encouraging or depressing. One might see it as encouraging in light of other recent polls which indicate that only a minority of Americans believe in evolution, however it is certainly depressing that there are still 35% of us who are so profoundly ignorant as to either not know of the relationship or to not believe it.

American conservatism thrives on ignorance; it could not exist otherwise. The systemic anti-intellectualism of the right has never seemed so rampant as it does today. Mention climate change in a newspaper article and one can be assured that flood of responses will follow - all citing the "irrefutable fact" that global warming is a myth - or a dastardly creation of socialist politicians out to destroy the American economic miracle (which hasn't seemed so miraculous lately by the way). It is amusing that conservatives love to harp on the failures of the "government education monopoly" - all the while not understanding that it is exactly the failure of the American education system which makes conservatism possible. John Stuart Mill once noted that while "not all conservative people are stupid, most stupid people are conservative." The latter point has never been truer than it is today.

Whence Real Figments?

The idea for the title came as I was beating my brain, trying to come up with a title which was not already taken. Kinda tough when you're the last person in the civilized world to start one of these things. At any rate, the idea for the name comes from the title of a collection of photographs by Gary Winogrand - Figments From the Real World. Winogrand was one of the great Street Photographers of the latter 20th century and FFTRW is probably the most comprehensive single-volume treatment of his work. The detail above is from the image that is reproduced on the cover of that volume: "New Mexico: 1957."

The Oxford Dictionary of English defines "figment" as "a thing that someone believes to be real but that exists only in their imagination." The usage in the Winogrand retrospective refers to his abstraction from everyday life; so then here are my abstractions. Whatever pops into my head is fair game - no one is likely to read this anyway - so it doesn't matter. In the final analysis, it's an exercise which may or may not prove interesting. We'll see.