Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Aughts

It just struck me that 2009 is not the end of a decade, as some would
have it. For some reason, we are more entranced by the chronological
odometer rolling over from nine to zero than from zero to one. But the
reality is we don't really start counting until the year has been

Unlike the Koreans, and some other Asian cultures, we do not say a child
is one year old when she is born. An infant's age is calculated,
initially, by the number of minutes and hours it survives. In short
order, the parents start counting days, then months. An infant is not
one year old until she has actually lived a year. Once a child is
verbal, he may insist on marking half way points - "I'm two and a half!"
- but he won't make this distinction until about half a year has passed.

So, this gives us one more year to consider what to call this passing
decade. I heard one commentator on Fresh Air suggest "the naughty
aughts", though he did not explain why the past nine years were so
"naughty". It seem to me less "naughty" than "the roaring 20s", when
most people in the US were breaking the law drinking illegal booze.

I think "the aughts" work just fine, although the word seems
anachronistic. I think it works because it is a homophone for "ought",
and we can consider what opportunities were missed, what things we as
individuals and as a nation would do differently.

In the words of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, "we have left undone
those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things
which we ought not to have done".

For example, in hindsight? We ought not have invaded Iraq. Warrantless
wiretaps ought not have happened. Oil companies ought not have been
allowed to draw up energy policy. Rendition of terrorism suspects to be
tortured may carry a certain cromagnon vengeful satisfaction, but it is
contrary to our claimed moral code.

We ought to have pursued Osama and his cronies into the mountains. We
ought to have had stronger regulations on banks and the financial
markets. We ought to have stiven to resolve the conflict between
Palestinians and Israelis without showing favor for either side.

It may seem I am picking on a particular presidential administration,
but that is the administration that has held power since 2000. I can
list a few for Pres. Obama - drug companies ought not draft health care
policy behind closed doors. Small banks need money more than big
financial institutions or the big three car manufacturers. The District
of Columbia ought to be allowed to determine who can marry within its
borders. The government ought to be truly laize faire regarding a
woman's "right to choose" - neither promoting nor hindering her access
to abortion.

I have my own oughts and ought nots - but most are too private to share
in this public space. I invite you to consider your own. It is a proper
time to consider how we might yet accomplish those things we "ought to
have done" in the year to come.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Idée d'jour

Men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt.
- H.L. Mencken, writer, editor, and critic (1880-1956)

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Alarm Clock

Pleased to report I have a fully functioning fur-bearing alarm clock.
Unfortunately, she does not recognize the difference between Friday and

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Satan in Satin

Satan wears satin
while he stands at
his subOlympian heights
watching twilight
melt into morning

He's been walking
up and down suburban asphalt
He's been drinking
Starbucks espresso
He's a Walmart
secret shopper

He's been walking
up the valleys
down the mountains
past the prayer flags
of russett and gold

He's been going
to and fro in the earth
byways and causeways
boardwalks and boulevards
the inland coast
and the outer Hebrides

He prowls like a lion
and purrs like a dragon
He builds sky scraper banners

Satan wears his light
like a reflection
He wears his head high
He comforts the dog in the manger

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Dalton Trumbo & the Abuse of Power

A documentary on Dalton Trumbo was on PBS last night. 90 minutes, and fantastic. Man, he could write! And apparently couldn't stop writing, no matter what. I hope you got a chance to see it; if not, definitely put it on your Netflix cue. I had put it on mine when I first heard the film was coming out; I plan to see it a 2nd time. If there's a book of selected letters by Trumbo, I want it.

The program put me in mind of an-going meditation on the abuses of power.

Some weeks back the radio program This American Life had an episode about how mildly slimy Egyptian business man was caught in the post-9/11 web anti-terror hysteria. He has been arrested for conspiring to sell arms to an undercover agent. The arms came from the govt, as had the money. According to the program, the Egyptian had not previously sold arms to anyone, and had no known connection to any terrorist groups. He was bested by his economic need and his vainglory; not by any desire to overthrow the govt. Now he sits in a Federal Prison in Jersey.

The program acted like this was something new. But I couldn't help but think of the stories Abbie Hoffman told about guys agitating for violence who turned out to be undercover agents. I vaguely remember a riff in Revolution for the Hell of It in which Abbie explained how easy it was to spot these guys.

The use of agent provocateurs is older than the term. Neither incident is unique in the annals of world govt.

I think it was Jefferson,or one of his heros, who said something like, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Another truism about power is that those who have it will typically strive to get more, and to hold on to that power for as long as possible.

I consider this a typical human flaw. I can be as easily tempted by power as Barack Obama or Dick Cheney.

The Founding Fathers sought to create checks and balances that would hold the temptation of power in check. Those checks and balances have been tested, sometimes to survive sometimes to be eroded. Their ideals, I think, were tempered by the fact that only landowners had the right to vote - so our Republic began as a sort of oligarchy. Perhaps not as bad as old King George, but still far from De Tocqueville's classless ideal.


This American Life: Arms Trader

Friday, August 14, 2009

Ode to my Silvertone

O guitar, I sold you,
first guitar I ever had.
I sold your string set too high,
higher than the valleys
in my left fingertips.
I sold the missing bridge knob,
and the broken strap peg.
I sold the mahogany.
I sold your faint sunburst.

You were the first guitar I ever had,
purchased by my dad
in the famous dreams of my youth
when my heart was an alternating bass
when I was an apostrophe
curled around your feminine curve.

I sold your f-holes and the bridge
warmed and patinaed by
my long slender fingers
and my young anxious hand.
I sold the dark blue felt gig bag
with "Harptone" scrolled in yellow
crackling at a 45° angle.

But o, guitar, I could not sell highschool nights
balancing you on my knee
with the song book spread on my bed.
I could not sell the hours practicing,
the songs played for friends,
the folk operas written,
the march of my right hand fingers
as I learned my first L Cohen song.

O, guitar, I could not sell
playing my first song for my father.
I could not sell
performing a talking blues
at senior year assembly.
I could not sell
your ancestors
and the poetry they sang.

O my well-mannered lover
o mistress of 3-fret by 6 string boxes
o mystery of F & B7 &
other wickedness
O mother of each guitar
yet to come.
I could not sell you,
I could only pass you on
to minister to a new troubadour.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Your Law Is My Delight

Psalm 119:77
I am very willful. I expect things to go my way, and pout when they don't. I suppose myself to be "smarter than the average bear", and expect to learn new things easily. If I don't pick it up in one sitting, I'm likely to drop it rather than persevere.

For example, I play the guitar, and would like to expand the picking patterns I use. Problem is, learning new patterns requires practice and patience.

I am more likely to question a rule than not. "Because" is not a sufficient reason. If it seems that I am surprisingly law-abiding, it's only because I dislike confrontation more than I dislike unreasonable rules. I obey, resentfully.

It's hard for me to imagine delighting in any law. So many people today strive so much for "self fulfillment", I don't suppose that I'm alone. Don't most people obey the law out of fear of punishment?

This verse comes from the longest poem in the Book of Psalms. It is a veritable love song to Torah Law. Not only the Big Ten, but over 600 more (collected in Leviticus and Deuteronomy). Another line in the same psalm exclaims, "Oh, how I love your law."

Jesus said, "I have come to fulfill the Law." When asked to summarize the Law, Jesus quoted two passages from Deuteronomy - to love God with your full being, and to love your neighbor as yourself. When you think about it, this can be more challenging than obeying hundreds of written laws.

After all, if you have a written law, you know exactly what's expected of you. But how, exactly do you love your neighbor as yourself? What does loving God with your full being look like?

However, in addition to this challenge, Jesus led by example. When it came time be obedient unto death, we can hardly say that Jesus' obedience was motivated by fear. What punishment could be worse than suffocating on a cross under the mideastern sun?

Jesus' obedience was motivated by love - love of God and love of humanity.

What would it look like if we were obedient as a loving response rather than from fear of punishment?

Can the love of the Law become the Law of Love?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I Wanna Be Your Blues

This poem was originally posted in this very space; now you can hear a performance with appropriately bluesy guitar. You may read the text at my poetry site.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Power of a song

Grant that the lip-sticked pig is gone for good. Nice of her to have SNL write her resignation speech, though.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Na Na Na

Just a song before I go, something to cheer you in case the heat has got you down.

NOLA immigre Theresa Andersson (originally from Sweeden) has the most talented feet in music.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I Can See For Miles

Petra Haden & the Sell Outs perform the classic Pete Townsend tune. Impressive acapella work.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

My Last Poem

This video is for Natalie, who commented that she wished she could hear the poem. The text of the poem is available at my postcard site.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

You Tube Premier

There's a couple of stumbles here - who knew I'd be so unsure in front of a camera? - but I think the point of the medley comes across. Shot with a Flip Ultra.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Crow Time

You live in my heart
but now
you're a victim of crow time —
struck dumb by green patches
fenced in by brown & gray —
and by the mystery of ashen urns.
Sky pure black, sparked by dove stars
and the moon is a sliver balancing
a firm ball of light
on its thin point — &
I'm reminded of your simple black hair,
sparks hidden in its strands.

You live in my eyes,
but still
you're a hostage to crow time —
lost amid men with broad shoulders
and women who live up to men's lies —
and until you notice your own smile,
you're doomed to servitude suffering.
Some trees with minor leaves
frame the cemetery evening,
but even now I can't help
thinking of you, thinking
of your warm woman's heart beating
like wind-blown love.

You live in my hands,
which are still scented with crow time —
though you may be far or
you could be across the midnight street —
and here where silence is an answer
I could think of you
studying my smooth hands
or weeding the wild moss on my chin.
Trees, stars, moons —
all the lies of romantic bleeding —
must have betrayed me.
Now you've gone.

You live in the memory of your head
pressed against my hair —
only the honor of crow time
could tempt us apart.

15.March.1980 (with some changes)
This one's for Dr. O and seattlecrows.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Idée d’jour

Truth, in matters of religion, is simply the opinion that has survived.
– Oscar Wilde, writer (1854-1900)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hard to Live With

Mandolin blues. What a concept.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Idée d’jour

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
— J. Krishnamurti, author, speaker, and philosopher (1895-1986)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Life is for Sharing

Tip o' the tam shander to Brother Dave.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Jonquils, 09Feb28

Once filled with spring dreams, today they are sighing, bending their heads to the west.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Idée d’jour

What monstrosities would walk the streets were some people's faces as unfinished as their minds.
– Eric Hoffer, philosopher and author (1902-1983)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hazards of Love

I really like the sound of this track, what I presume to be the second "single" from the album of the same name. I've listened to the 30 sec snippets available on iTunes, and the album as a whole sounds interesting. It's a "concept" album, similar to their previous album, The Crane Wife. The difference being that album had two stories told over a series of tracks, with 2-3 tracks being outside those stories; the description of this album indicates it's all one story told over the course of 17 tracks.

Let me know what you think of this track.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lenten Cross

shrove cross

Herewith, the traditional wooden cross set up on Shrove Tuesday, to stand in the courtyard through Lent.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Pie Jesu

Andrew Lloyd Weber at his best. According to the originating page, Ms. Westenra was 15 when this was filmed.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Golden Morning Lake

Two of four.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Morning Lake, 7.Feb.09

The lake at St. Crispin's (near Seminole), about a quarter of 7. One of four. Maybe five.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Seven Ways to Say Yes

  1. Ice white as snow
    brown grass designs
    a rorschach lawn

  2. A smile as thin as New Hampshire
    or as long as California
    or as wide as Texas
    or as false as Wall Street.

  3. Eyes bright as a new moon
    or as broad as the Milky Way.
    Eyes searching eyes or busy crowds.
    Eyes evening drowsy.
    Eyes with pupils
    dancing like sweep second hands

  4. Fingernails, songs at their tips,
    half moons under
    quarter light

  5. Warm hand on hand
    Head on shoulder
    Word echoing word
    Twilight laps
    and morning arms

  6. Now the day is short
    now the wind is white
    now the air is fire
    now the sun is hidden
    now we go forth
    now we forget our dreams
    now we forge youth
    now we ponder these visions
    we descend to honor
    we ascend to defeat
    we go forth
    we become our dreams

  7. Yes, I will
    Yes, I am here
    I am listening
    I am with you
    I'll meet you where you are
    I do not know you but I want to
    Thank you Thank you Thank you

Saturday, January 24, 2009

This Land Is Your Land

Pete Seeger, his grandson Tao Rodriguez, and Bruce Springsteen. Note that Pete, that wonderful iconoclast, sings verses rarely recorded - "By the relief office, I saw my people" and "The great big sign there said Private Property".

Friday, January 16, 2009

Idée d’jour

A time will come when a politician who has wilfully made war and promoted international dissension will be as sure of the dock and much surer of the noose than a private homicide. It is not reasonable that those who gamble with men's lives should not stake their own.
- H.G. Wells, writer (1866-1946) Words to the wise, Dick Cheney

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


The last time I wanted to vomit into a trash can, I was in college. That was my freshman year, 1976. I was living in Worchester House, a converted Navy barracks, on the south end of campus. My roommate, Richard, was a tall lanky fellow - at least a head taller than me. It was clear we were each strange cats, and had little in common.

I suspect it was early in the year that Richard suggested we go out drinking, as a way to bond. We walked to a bar about two blocks from our dorm. The Fallout Shelter was downstairs at a mini-strip mall. We drank pitchers of beer, all the law would allow.

We actually did use the trash cans that night. And maybe the next morning as well.

When I started feeling bad last Wednesday, I thought breakfast had not settled well. I had eaten at a greasy spoon, and it seemed possible the sausage had been too greasy. I still felt uneasy at lunch, but felt I should eat anyway. Something light - like a bowl of chili.

Not a great idea.

After lunch, I started feeling really bad. I felt bloated. I felt like I needed to use the restroom, but "nothing was delivered". I began to feel warmer than normal. I finally left a bit before 4 - just a half hour early.

Driving home was the greatest challenge. Every bump was amplified by the bile in my tummy.

By this point, opening the garage door did not seem an option (I have to open it manually). I parked in the drive, and ran in the house. I turned on the TV, intending to lay on the couch. I think I laid on the couch for about 10 minutes, then decided my bed was much more inviting.

I left the TV on. I left my dress shirt and pants on. I crawled under the comforter, loosened my belt, and prayed the increasing nausea would pass.

About two hours later, I felt the gorge rising. I wasn't sure I could make it to the bathroom, and grabbed my trashcan. I did not throw up at that time.

I did make it to the bathroom. That's when the diarrhea started. I started going to the bathroom about every two hours.

Thursday morning. I felt feverish. The diarrhea was on-going. No way I was going to work. I left a message on a co-worker's phone. Shortly after, I dashed to the restroom and knelt before the porcelain shrine.

It appeared that I hadn't really digested much of the chili I ate the day before.

During one of those frequent trips, I did use the trash can in the bathroom. I had lost the energy to kneel, and had laid down on the bathroom floor. The gorge started rising, and I just grabbed the bucket just in the nick of time.

Happily, I line my small trash cans with plastic grocery bags.

Now, I don't generally let myself off the hook very easily. My goal is to go to work every day. I figured once my stomach pumped all the gorge out, I'd be good to go to work Friday.

Not so. I felt better, but extra movement seemed dicey. I made one trip Friday, to buy more Pepto and 7-up at Target.

Now, I have two theories as to how this thing started. My original hypothesis was that it was food poisoning from the greasy spoon. Then, sometime Thursday or Friday, I remembered my elderly neighbor had described similar symptoms last Monday.

I've been helping him get adjusted to the converter box for his TV. Which, naturally, requires I go in his house on occasion.

I've been living on clears liquids and crackers the past few days. My stomach was queasy Sunday and Monday; it's now "hinky", which seems like an improvement.


Classic story song by Mark Erelli & Peter Nelson; performed here by Mr. Erelli.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Idée d’jour

Society is like a stew. If you don't keep it stirred up you get a lot of scum on the top.
— Edward Abbey, naturalist and author (1927-1989)