Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Along with many others in the blogsphere, I was sad to see The Raven leave his roost at the Salon. Didn't always agree with his points, but he had a clean sense of rhetoric and a mordant irony superior to most on the web.

The Raven's penultimate entry had to do with the Shrub's proposed tax cuts. Seems he's in favor of them. This is one of those points I disagree with. He is not promoting it so much as "trickle-down economics" (which is our Fearless Leader's de facto argument), so much as a way to "get Washington off our back" by turning off the money spigot.

If only it were so easy. The Republicans are laize faire when it comes to environmental protection and corporate accountability, but they are suprisingly activist when it comes to bedroom issues and basic standards of liberty.

I think it's about time somebody picked up the gauntlet of the Federalist Papers. As students of American History know, the Federalist Papers were a series of essays — essentially editorials — written prior to the revolution. These essays concerned, essentially, the role of government in a federalist republic. It may be time for someone to review those points and ask whether they still apply to modern society.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

More from the Prophet Mark Twain

The following text comes from Mark Twain Tonight!, edited by – and starring – Hal Holbrook. This television special originally aired on March 6, 1967. I was eleven years old, and loved the burlesque & the Huck Finn sections most of all. I still love those parts, but have come to appreciate the sections which reflect the "bitter" Twain's later years.

At some point, we recorded it or bought the album, for I listened to it several times as I grew up. Like many people of that era, I came to be a Twain fan on the basis on that special. I am of the opinion that Hal Holbrook deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor solely for re-introducing America to one of its greatest authors.

As you read the following text, remember the time. I think Holbrook displayed a special kind of bravery when he repeated these words (likely written around the time of the Spanish-American War) as the country was being rent in reaction to our involvement in Viet Nam.

In support of my contention that Twain was a prophet, the words still ring true today.

Man is really the most interesting jackass there is ....

Man is the only patriot. He sets himself apart in his own country, under his own flag, and sneers at the other nations. Keeps uniformed assasins on hand at heavy expense to grab slices of other people's countries and keep them from grabbing slices of his, with the result that there's not an acre of ground on the globe that's in the possession of its rightful owner. And in the intrevals between campaigns, he washes the blood from his hands and works for the brotherhood of man — with his mouth.

Man is the only animal that deals in the atrocity of war. He's the only one that, for assorted wages, goes forth in cold blood to exterminate his own kind. He has a motto for this: “Our country right or wrong! Any man who fails to shout it is a traitor; only the others are patriots.”

Say, who is the country? Is it the government? In a republic, the government is merely a servant — a temporary one. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them. Only when the republic's life is in danger should a man uphold his government when it's wrong. Otherwise, the nation has sold its honor for a phrase.

If that phrase needs help, he gets another one. “Even though the war be wrong, we are in it. We must fight it out. We cannot retire without dishonor.” Why, not even a burglar could have said it better.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Thought for the day

We despise all reverences and all objects of reverence which are outside the pale of our list of sacred things. And yet, with strange inconsistency, we are shocked when other people despise and defile the things which are holy to us.
Mark Twain, author and humorist (1835-1910)
[Received via A Word A Day]

Monday, May 12, 2003

Performance for Code Pink, May 10, 2003

The Shawnee Chapter of Code Pink hosted a Mother’s Day Celebration in Woodland Park this past Saturday. I had already met the primary organizers, Janice & Jerry at the Spiritual Walk for Peace on Easter Sunday. After reading their literature, and looking at the national organization’s website (cited above), I decided this was a cause I could support.

I toyed off & on with the notion of driving to Shawnee to perform at the rally. Shawnee is a little less than an hour away from OKC, so this seemed like a very small investment to make in a worthy cause. Plus, I thought it might be a good experience for me to perform a set as a solo act. So, I e-mailed the organizers, and we made preliminary plans via that ethereal medium.

Having no idea how many performers would be at the two-hour event — even the organizers were not positive until shortly before things started — I planned three sets of ~15 min each, and prepared my ego to do only one. As it turned out, this was a good plan.

There were six speakers, so the rough outline was for me to do a set, followed by two speakers, then do another set. I was grateful that I had brought a song list along, with the plan for the three sets – this was a technique I learned from Lark.

The weather in central Oklahoma had been pretty bad the latter part of last week — tornadoes ripped through their traditional path of Moore, east OKC, Edmond, and NE OK. There was some forecast of storms Saturday morning in Shawnee. As it turned out, they had a pretty strong storm which blew through at 1:00, but things cleared off by the time the event started, at 3. It was sunny enough for me to get respectably red (admittedly not much of a challenge for this fair-haired, fair-skinned boy). The organizers and I agreed that the unpredictable weather may have prevented as large a crowd as we might have hoped for.

I had expected to be performing for mostly strangers — "soon to be friends" — but I met a woman who graduated two years before me at PC West – Gretchen. Gretchen ran with Rusty Nichols (also two years before me), who was pals with my friends Drew Curtis, Gary Shilling, and Gary Zimmerman. These last three were fellow members of the class of 1975. Drew & Shilling, in particular, were members of the fabled "Street Saints" with whom I spent a mythic summer in Princeton, NJ.

Gretchen was joined by her husband, Bobby Crow, who plays blues harp. He got very excited when he saw my blues harp, and said he wished he’d brought his. I said "Why not?" and he went home to get it. Gary played two of his own tunes as I pounded out chords in the key of A (the fifth to his “d” harp).

I opened with my arrangement of the Youngblood’s “Get Together,” which I play in drop-D tuning. I also used my new “jelifish” pic, which is supposed to make a six-string guitar sound like a 12-string. Heaven only knows if it really did — there was no instrument mic, and my guitar has no pickup, so folk could just barely hear the guitar.

I began the performance by encouraging the audience (around 20 folk) to sing along. Though I couldn’t hear them, I could see their lips moving. As planned, I followed that with “Pack Up Your Sorrows.” Then I played my medley of Wm Blake’s “The Tyger” (tune by Alan Ginsberg) and Dylan’s “Masters of War”, which I dedicated to the Military Industrial Complex — which I believe to be the prime movers of recent events.

Set Two — Bobby read two poems, then brought me on-stage to accompany him on his first blues song. We had run through the song a couple of times, and I think we did very well. The man plays a mean harp (much better than me), and the lyrics were also good. I followed his tune with “Their Brains Were Small and They Died”, which I introduced as a cautionary tale. I do a mouth trumpet thing in this tune, as a little homage to my Aunt Merri, who did this as part of her night-club act back in the day. I closed the set with John McCutcheon’s “Immigrant”. This song ends with audience participation — “Ay-y-y am an immigrant, I am,” repeated as often as the performer dares. I like to do this as a fade-out, by walking away from the mike. Just as I did, I had the inspiration to walk off stage, into the audience. Singing with them in that way was very special for me.

Set Three — I opened with Dylan’s “Mighty Quinn.” Now, this is a song where I totally indulge my inner ham. I give it a long introduction where I explain that it is the official song of the faux millennium (2000), and sing the first verse in the style of Leonard Cohen. The day before the event I had an inspiration for the second verse:
“Everybody’s just standing ‘round, just feeding pigeons on a limb,
But when Bush the Shrub gets here, all the pigeons gonna run to him!”
The audience liked that. I employ so many singing styles in this song (rock, soul, and faux-Dylan) that it’s hard to keep track of them all.

I re-introduced Bobby back to the stage for another of his blues songs — which we had not rehearsed. As I said at the time, the ultimate in home-made music. The challenge for me was to work some variations on the "A" blues progression. I’ll confess now, to the anonymous ether, that I see myself as a competent guitarist who is an exceptional singer. I followed this with my close-to-Bo Didley version of Cohen’s “Bird on the Wire.”

I continued with a story about how, each year, I nominate a different song for the national anthem. In 2000, my nominee was "Born to Run". In 2001, my nominee was "Sixteen Tons" Since I nominate these songs on July 4, I did not think the gag would fly in 2002 – so I tried to play the Star-Spangled Banner, Travis-style, as a medley with "This Land is Your Land."

So, a couple of months early, I used this rally as the time to introduce this year’s nominee for an alternate national anthem — the humorous tune "Your State’s Name Here," by the Berriman’s. People really enjoyed it. I closed with Guthrie’s version of "Lonesome Valley" which was only slightly spoiled by the fact that I couldn’t remember all the words.

So … with three sets of approx 15 min each, I played a total of 45 min. The longest set I’ve done as a solo act. I drove home exhausted, and happy.


People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish motives.
Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you may win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.
The good you do may be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and openness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and open anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.
People who really want help may attack you if you help them.
Help them anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt.
Give the world your best anyway.

— Mother Teresa

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

What I'm Reading

I recommend The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, a British author. The novel is set in an alternate-reality 1985 in which time travel is possible, the Crimean War is still being fought, and Great Britain is essentially controlled by a shadowy corporation. Overlaid on this is a rather fun police procedural mystery with lots of literary gags. One element that is fun is this is a society in which literature is taken very seriously - there are fights over whether Shakespeare or Bacon wrote the Shakes plays; people name themselves after their favorite author (so much so that folk are referred to as "John Milton #16").

Last night I read a section describing an audience-participation production of Richard III. The audience has seen the play so many times, that people can recite it from memory. Members of the audience are chosen at random to play the parts - so many come in costume, in hopes of being chosen. Those not chosen are very involved in the play - e.g., they shout "When is the 'winter of our discontent' " as the actor playing Richard shuffles across the stage. On the whole very reminiscent of the "Rocky Horror" phenomenom popular in the U.S. during the 1970's.

The novel is a fairly brisk read, and is the first in a series (the second was recently published). I plan to reserve the second book at the library, and will watch for future books in the series.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Thought for the day: The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization. -Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher (1803-1882) [Courtesy of A Word A Day]

Note a new link to the left
, to pictures recently taken at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building Memorial in downtown Oklahoma City. These pictures relate to a couple of the essays which will are archived here (when the archives are functional). I plan to link some of the pictures to other essays, old & new.

Soon to come - family photographs, including some recent ones of your erstwhile correspondent.

In the "nothing new under the sun" dept:

The following is a portion of a poem was written in the 18th century by an Irish poet. Notice especially the commentary on the corrupt courts and graft.
The following translation is by Seamus Heaney.
From _The Midnight Verdict_
Brian Merriman (c. 1745-1805)

Her words were grim when she got started.
"Get up” she said, “and on your feet!
What do you think gives you the right
To shun the crowds and the sitting court?
A court of justice, truly founded,
And not the usual rigged charade,
But a fair and clement court of women
Of the gentlest and regime.
The Irish race should be grateful always
For a bench so composed and wise
And in session now, two days and a night,
In the soaring fort on Graney Height.

Their king, moreover, has taken to heart
The state of the country; he feels its hurt
As if it were his own, and the whole
Of his entourage are aghast as well.
It’s goodbye to freedom and ancient right,
To honest dealing and leadership:
The ground ripped off and nothing put back,
Weeds in the field once crop is stacked.
With the best of the people leaving the land,
Graft has the under- and upper hand.
Just line your pockets, a wink and a nod.
And to hell with the poor! Their backs are broad.

Alas for the plight of the underclass
And the system's victims who seek redress:
Their one recourse is the licensed robber
With his legalese and his fancy slabber.
Lawyers corrupt, their standards gone,
Favouritism the way it's done,
The bar disgraced, truth compromised,
Nothing but kick-backs, bribes and lies.

To add to which, the whole assembly
Decreed on the Bible this very day:
The youth has failed, declined, gone fallow —
Bad news and bad marks, sir, for you.
In living memory, with birth rates fallen
And marriage in Ireland on the wane,
The country's life has been dissipated,
Pillage and death have combined to waste it.
Blame arrogant kings, blame emigration,
But it's you and your spunkless generation.
You're a source blocked off that won't refill.
You have failed your women, one and all.

Translated from the Irish by Seamus Heaney in _The Midnight Verdict_, The Gallery Press, Loughcrew, 1993. ©