Monday, March 31, 2008

I'm The Only Serial Killer In Massachusetts

I have to look after a handful of websites. All of these websites collect a little information about the people who visit them. Some of the utilities have a vast array of available views of that information. Maps. Pies. Tag clouds. You can produce your own multi-hued USA Today with them, if you like. The problem is, they tell you almost nothing.

Advertising is shifting from other media, especially print, onto the Web. So people prize these statistics. They are growing adept at massaging them into something salable. Most people seem to be cobbling together a concatenation of screeds calling conventional media giants poopyheads in the hope of drawing conventional media attention and a paycheck. Because that's where the money is.

If you're worried about the nature of the statistics being collected about you when you cruise the Intertunnel, perhaps I could put your mind at ease. It says almost nothing. If you leave your machine wide open to cookies, people could find out the town you live in, maybe, or more likely the town the Internet Service Provider you use lives in. Webmasters can see what pages get looked at. Who referred you by hyperlink. Search terms. Nothing much.

People that have webpages generally look at one number, which they hope is a big fat one: how many people visit each day. The rest is amusing applesauce for the most part, in my humble opinion. Even the good numbers can be applesauce, because Internet prominence schemes involve getting people to look at your page whether they are really an important audience or not.

I've seen people painstakingly build Web edifices solely of large handfuls of monomaniac patrons, being counted over and over as they compulsively visit a page and yell stuff in the comments. Then the bloggers get a book deal based on the traffic numbers and no one buys it. It's as if you got every person that stands on a highway overpass and yells at traffic to sign off on your business plan. If I had to rename the Internet right now, "Potemkin" would appear somewhere in its new title.

I keep seeing websites that are based on the most quotidian aspects of life become behemoths, with the only real traffic that matters if you're trying to make money without hopscotching off the web: people who spend real money. I see pundits being asked serious questions on television news programs simply because they've assembled a phalanx of angry commenters. But if you had any sense, you'd never as a third party purchase their website when you could buy Celebrity Baby Blogs instead. What a sneer you'd get from the literati glitterati of the blogosphere if you mention a website like that. Sneering at it is all you can do if you can't afford a postage stamp sized ad on there.

I'm not registered on The Truth Laid Bear. That's a website that constantly ranks "blogs" (another nebulous term) by traffic and by their prominence based on the amount of other blogs that refer to them in the form of links. Technorati does the same sort of thing. There are many others, of course. I can't help but notice that's basically a closed circuit, with a few opinions racing around in a circle.

I get some attention in that closed circuit, more or less than I deserve depending upon your taste, I guess, and I do find it interesting to participate in it a little. But I'd like to remind myself, and everybody else in the closed circuit, of one little thing.

Internet information is the dumbest kind of information there is. It involves bestowing attention based solely on a very provincial kind of notoriety. If you see people arguing over some obscure point in the comments of an Internet talking shop, the gauntlet is often thrown down: "Link please." It means you're being called out to back up whatever the hell you said with a hyperlink to something somewhere else on the Web to prove it. That has a certain aroma to me. "This is how I go, when I go like this."

There are many things in this world that are not amenable to "Link Please" pleading. When I had a management job in a large construction company, I occasionally had to utter: "You guys do understand that something actually happens outside this building?" to the assembled throng of beancounters, who manifestly did not understand that. And since what was happening outside the building dwarfed what happened inside, being that it involved excavators and bulldozers and dynamite and so forth, you'd think they'd know that already. They'd just look at you blankly.

I sell furniture now. I've been outside the Internet building. If you told me I could have a banner ad on every single blog listed on The Truth Laid Bear for a year, or I could have Martha Stewart look directly into a camera lens and simply utter my name, kindly, once, guess which I'd pick.

"Link, please." OK. Who is the only serial killer of note in Massachusetts, according to Google?

I'd stay on my good side, were I you. "If You Don't Buy This Magazine We'll Kill This Dog" can't hold a candle to me. Maybe buy an end table or sumfin'. You wouldn't want to make me angry.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

I Used To Play In A Band With A Drummer Exactly Like This

No, he wasn't Korean. That's not what "exactly like" means.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

How The Who With The What Now? Yo Gabba Gabba !

If you don't have young children at home, there can be whole swaths of the flickering tube landscape that you never see. Kids programs are one execrable thing after another, generally. Miss Jean made your trousers fit funny in the sixties. Sesame Street had Stevie Wonder playing on it the first time I saw it, how bad could it be? Bugs Bunny re-runs are a touchstone.

The rest of it, and there is a lot of it, oscillates wildly between watch-paint-drying dreck like Mister Rogers, to the aggressively awful stuff like the Wiggles. I'm grateful that I've been blissfully spared from the Barney infection and the Teletubbies pandemic and all those Vegan superhero cartoons in the nineties and all sorts of crappy totsam and jetsam. Either someone's sitting there like an oil painting, being preachy, or everybody's running around like someone swapped chili powder for talcum powder in the dressing rooms. I saw the Wiggles once, and wanted to drive to Australia and beat them with an elm cricket bat.

Upon reflection, that seems like an impractical way to signal my displeasure.

We're behind the curve with any sort of entertainment here, getting it mostly as disc compilations after the thing is all over, but we appear to be caught up in one in real-time for the first time ever. Have you seen Yo Gabba Gabba?

Like all things that become ubiquitous, it must have several appeal. (If you do not know that "several appeal" is not grammatically incorrect, simply fusty, please avoid the urge to correct me in the comments anyway. If you do not know what "fusty" means, I do not know what to advise. Try prayer, or the dictionary. They're both pretty soothing.) College kids must watch it and think it's trippy, man. Dad must not want to put his foot in the screen when he hears the 132nd mention of the word "sharing" on April 16th. Mom would probably prefer the hosts do not look like bus station perverts.

And of course, the four year old has to be captivated by it. But it doesn't stop there. Four year olds are captivated with dust bunnies and volcanoes alike. I have to keep my child from peering too closely into the caldera of popular culture because to fall in is to be consumed, but I must not totally cut him off from everything or he will be playing with dust bunnies.

I was pleasantly surprised when I entered the room with the screen at our house, and my tot was assiduously trying to mimic Mark Mothersbaugh drawing a face on a dry-erase board. Then he shouted: "My name is Garrett! and I want to dance"; and then he and DJ Lance Rock did.

Bootsy Collins and Mister Rogers had a love child. And I pronounce it good. Or at least harmless.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Sometimes (I Re-run Stories About) Peace Activists (That) Have Muskets

An older brother is sacred thing, my Father told me. Just so. But he don't know the half of it. Father's older brother went west on him, and disappeared. Maybe he's in Californy. He don't know. But he says he cares.

I care about Noah. He's mine. Older brother I mean. Mother says he was born in 1845, in the biggest thunderstorm ever, and Mother knew he'd be taciturn forever, for he didn't say a word that day.

Sometimes I think Mother is pullin' on my leg.

But Noah don't talk much around father. Mother says the oldest is the wisest. Maybe so. I talk all the time she says, even when I'm sleeping, but I wouldn't know. And when I'm gettin' switched for begging boiled sweets at the store, or pokin' at the pigs through the rails, or hidin' in the smokehouse when we play Red Rover, or hidin' checkers from my sister in my cheeks and puttin' 'em back on the board when she aint lookin', Noah just smiles and carries on, quiet like. I think he's always talkin' to himself in his head, so the words don't build up, and cause a jam.

Noah knows I'm little. I don't think Father knows. 'Cause Father tells me to do things, and turns his back to me, and goes back to what he was doing. But Noah turns my head around to the place Father told me to look, when I get distracted, and not with the cuff Father thinks I need. And when I was awful sick, and Father was away to Lafayette, Noah carried me all the way to the doctor's brick house, 'cause the fever made Mother worry so. Noah's always carrying me, it seems. 'Cause he knows I'm little.

Father works too hard. He takes the trees, one by one. There ain't but one gnarly tree left in the barnyard. And all the branches hang too high for me to reach. I ask Father, but he don't seem to listen always, but I never have to ask Noah. He never says a word, neither; he just sees me there, and finds a way to pass by, no matter what, and give me the "ten fingers" to the branch that's lowest.. And he never says nothing, he just does it, and walks on, wordless, and I bet Father don't even know he does it. But I know.

I asked Mother why Father don't always hear me, but Noah hears me before I talk, I think. Don't Father care for me, Mother? She said hush; Father made Noah for you, he loves you so much, to give you the ten fingers without askin'. How Father knew I'd need ten fingers, before I was even born, well, Mother didn't say. I don't dare ask Father. He's a good man, my Father, I guess, but why does he have to take all the climbin' trees?

Noah came to me and said: I have to go now. Just like that.Where do you have to go? To Lafayette?

No. To the war, down South, to do my part.

But you can't go. who'll give me the ten fingers?

There's others, brother, that need my ten fingers now. I'll go and give it to them. And then I'll come home, I promise. Maybe you won't even need the ten fingers then. But I got you this, from the Shakers, to give you ten fingers when I'm gone.

And he gave me my little wooden steps, to reach the branch, and the bed, and the wash bucket.

Father cried when Noah left, already dressed in his blue uniform, to give the southern man ten fingers. I never seen Father cry before. I think it's because he ain't got no brother, to give him the ten fingers.

(Painting by Eastman Johnson 1863. Visit the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and see it.)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Reality Intrudes

I am not here to pass judgment. I would only like to offer an observation. It's not my fault I notice things.

I interact with many disparate people. There are different sets of them. One group has nothing to do with another. It has been my great pleasure to talk of things here that seem new to many persons because I go places and see stuff they can't, or haven't yet, or whatever. If I am unusual, it is because I am a sort of rope bridge between citadels that would not be joined otherwise. My friend the carpentry framer and my other friend the book editor would not likely interact even if they were neighbors. But perhaps they see something of one another in my virtual living room.

A television is a godsend to a shut-in. Many elderly people are not ambulatory much; weary, sick perhaps, or simply know the joy of "not going." But they can still see the world and everything in it on the television. Media can connect people, including those that couldn't connect any other way. That's interesting to me.


I encounter an enormous and growing number of people who have no frame of reference for the whole world, and everybody and everything in it, except that which they learned from watching, listening to, or reading entertainment. But unlike the elderly I mentioned, they are not using the TV to remind them of a world they have already participated in. They are deriving their reality from the flickering screen. Every single thing they say or do is filtered almost entirely through the lens of movies, teleplays, and magazines --paper or virtual-- things that use reality only as a veneer, if that, and simply to lend verisimilitude to wholly fictitious inventions.

It is now possible to walk up to any stranger on the street, and be as likely to find a person whose views on every subject are shaped entirely by bad song lyrics as any other education. Or their understanding of economics is entirely seen through the prism of Michael Douglas yelling into a satellite phone. Love is one hour fifty-five minutes of a hooker that looks like Audrey Hepburn being wooed by a captain of industry. The only talk they have is small, and consists solely of misremembered quotes from Fletch. Their response to any query about the meaning of their life might elicit not St. Augustine, but Lloyd Dobler:

I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that.

I have no idea what you've got, but I know I don't want it, is an interesting worldview.

It's very difficult to glean raw information from the media, even --or especially-- from the sector of it that claims they are solely dispensing raw information. They are presenting a kind of entertainment for partisans. That is not information. But then again, information can be dull. Saying outrageous things and calling it a chaste appraisal is more fun, I suspect, especially for the generator, if not as much for the consumer.

There have only been two visions of the United States. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Alexander Hamilton might be the greatest visionary the world has ever produced. Jefferson's yeoman farmer, bartering hard goods with his hardass neighbors, is dead and buried. We are living in the mercantile division of labor fiat currency go-go world of Al Hamilton. It has brought us untold riches, and an appetite to amuse ourselves was finally joined to the leisure to do it. The pumps at the gas station play music. You must be entertained at all times. If life was harder, we would not be able to afford to act as foolishly and frivolously as we do. But it is madness to wish, as I see so many do, that misery could befall everybody so we'd have to be more circumspect and sober in our behavior. Nothing is stopping you from being sober and industrious. Why are you wishing to be forced to be that way?

The beauty of entertainment is that anything you can imagine can be conjured in front of you. It occurred to me viscerally, in a flash today, that in great measure the audience is all up on the stage and the entertainers are sitting in the seats and telling them what to do, to amuse the entertainers. What is American Idol, if not that? Since the audience is so far removed from the genesis of the prosperity and the leisure they enjoy, they have no frame of reference to reject any bizarre interpretation of reality out of hand. Elvis shot Kennedy after being anally probed in a spaceship! Hey, it could happen. I think I saw it on HBO once.

I see a lot of very insulting and condescending epithets hurled at those who exhibit simple religious piety. It is generally rained down upon the meek believers by persons who cannot bring themselves to forgo anything that might bring them a moment's pleasure or amusement out of hand. Abstract right and wrong as a method to govern your life is assumed to be dead. Even worse than dead; it's not cool.

There was already a time when men lived only in shadows and rumor, angry or frightened by wild tales, goaded by manipulators, envious and suspicious by default of anybody, kin or stranger alike, and were taught only by the ancient version of the movie screen: superstitious stories told around the flickering fire. We lived in a wild and vicious state of nature.

You meet a stranger on the street. It's become more and more common that they learned all they know about economics from Trading Places. Perhaps they learned all they know about love from a depiction of a man drinking himself to death with a hooker in hotel room in a city founded by gangsters. What if they eventually get their only idea of love of their fellow man from Saw II?

When they're carving you up with a rusty chainsaw, will they mention that the Sermon on the Mount is just a superstition, I wonder? And what difference would that make, anyway? The world is full of compelling and competing superstitions. I guess it's just up to us to choose a pleasant one. Or not.

[Update: Gerard Van Der Leun mines gold in Steve f's comment.]

{Up-Update: Heh.}

[Up, Up, and Awaydate: In the comments, my friend and fellow Massachusetti Sissy Willis links to her rumination about a facet of this topic. I think she's smarter than me, but I'm too dumb to really know if that's true.]

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Fitties

Please disregard the 1970s collars flapping like jibsails in the breeze. This is hardcore 1950s. The Flamingos have to eat, and this is their only real ticket. This song is from an era before mine, of course, but so what? So is Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. If I had to pick one piece of music to explain to a Martian what the 1950s were, that would be it. The music is barbarous compared to the big band music it killed, but it's light years more sophisticated than the rock music that pounded it flat in its turn.

It's nighttime. You are on the road. It is sultry warm. The music is coming over a small speaker via a dashboard AM radio, and is mixed in a bizarre fashion to punch through the skinny bandwith. There is chrome and spending money and booze and cigs and a woman in a real dress or a man in a suit, maybe. Lipstick is red or coral pink. Guitars are gold or turquoise. Amplifiers are tweed, like Bertie Wooster's traveling suit. You burn gasoline by the pail and drive around for the sheer joy of being abroad in the world.

The neon winks at you and you pull in and the harsh light shines on the formica tables with the Sputnik patterns printed on them. You don't go in right away. The Flamingos are still singing.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Three-Quarter Cape

I remember her laughter drifting out from the kitchen window. It was always muffled even before the trip through the house distilled it. Grandma would never let it all out. She laughed a lot, and smiled most of the rest of the time, but never with abandon. She'd glow with it like a lamp in a house at night.

Grandpa never spoke. I never met a man more like the Sphinx. He had that smile that wasn't. Halfway between smiling and plain looking at you. He could have been a fool, I guess; his silence could have covered up for a million inane things he might have said, after all. I doubt it.

The grass was always hay when I came. Each blade a tree in a miniature forest. I'd get out the rusty push mower and meditate over the swish swish swish of the blades. The daylilies would sway like languorous hula dancers in the sea breeze and you'd dance the rigid right-angle minuet of the landscaper beside them. After you cut the grass it looked like a bald man's crew cut. It's all sand anyway.

Grandma would bring you out a glass of lemonade. I remember that, though it was long ago. Her eyes were weary and her hand trembled so one time it would be a sort of liquid lemon praline, and the next a jolt of lemon battery acid. But it was ice and lemons mashed by her hand and gobs of sugar from the same chipped bowl your mother dipped her spoon in to dust her cereal, back when U-Boats cruised off the coast there. It was a taste of forever, unchanging. I'll never forget it.

All gone now, of course, but for the totem of the house. The time has long since gone by that's needed to take the sting of it being empty from everyone. We all owned it, so no one did, and we'd go and shear the lawn once in a while and chase out a raccoon or a squirrel that managed to find a way in from time to time. We'd swim in the tepid ocean and drink at the little shack on the access road with the blue-hairs and the fishermen. Maybe an afternoon on the butt sprung couch or a night sleeping on one of the musty mattresses in the cobwebby bedrooms. Then back to the world over the bridges.

"A Three-Quarter Cape," my Grandmother would gently correct you, if you called it a Cape.

Maybe I should open this house again. I'm three-quarters Cape already, too.

Monday, March 24, 2008

It's Hard To Make It Look Easy

This was old crap to us. We rejected it out of hand. We wouldn't drink gas --whisky -- because that's what the old farts drank. We drank gin and beer. We didn't want to hear any unelectrified instruments. No after shave. No Brylcream. A suit was for being buried in, and you were never going to die anyway, and the old farts entertainment couldn't die fast enough. A variety show was a variety of ways to annoy you. You only liked Don Rickles, and solely because he got up on the same stage and called his co-performers names, just like you wanted to.

How hard could it be, you thought, to smoke a cigarette and drink a Cutty and Ginger and wear a ruffled shirt tux and have a camera six inches from your face and sing a little song? It wasn't our mistake, exactly; Dean led us on. I blame him. If he'd have acted like a rock band, grimacing like he's having a kidney out while simply making a barre chord and yelling, we'd have known it was hard to make it seem easy.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Easter Lily

[Editor's Note: If the mawkish sentiment wasn't bad enough, it's a rerun. Happy Easter]
{Author's Note: Hey, it takes courage to be square these days. And they re-run Easter every year, too. What, am I supposed to bring something new to the table? Alright, next year I'll put a giant shark or a ninja or a hitman with heart of gold in the backstory. There is no editor. Happy Easter.}
Pater noster, qui es in coelis: sanctificetur nomen tuum: adveniat regnum tuum: fiat voluntas tua, sicut in coelo, et in terra. Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie, et dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. Et ne nos inducas in tentationem.

I've got to steal one. God forgive me. I've got to steal a flower from you. There are so many, God, and mother only needs one. I'll burn forever but mother needs her Easter lily.

"Child, what are you doing?"

"I need the lily for Easter, Sister. I have no money and there are so many."

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi: miserere nobis.

"It is a sin to steal, child."

" I know it is, Sister, but I can't help it."

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi: miserere nobis.

"You can always help it child. Where is your mother and your father?"

"Father is nowhere, Mother says, Sister, and I don't know where nowhere is. Mother is sick and I think she needs an Easter lily or she'll die."

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi: dona nobis pacem.

"Where is your mother, child?"

"She's in the bed with the diphtheria, Sister."

"Is she alone?"

"Yes, as I am here, Sister."

"When did you eat last, child?"

Panem coelestem accipiam, et nomen Domini invocabo.

"It's another sin I know, Sister, but I ate the heel of the bread this morning while Mother was moaning. She wouldn't eat it, and I needed it."

"I see. And before that?"

"I don't know. I was sick first, and Mother might know but she can't tell you. She is hot and talks of places I don't know and people that are dead, Sister."

"And she sent you for the flower?"

"It is my own sin, Sister. She said "The lilies, the lilies, the Easter lilies... " over and over until I promised I'd fetch her one. She would not have me steal, but she cannot come. Will I burn forever, Sister?"

"You will have your flower, child, and the kingdom of heaven besides, for to tend to the afflicted is the hallmark of the saint."

"And saints can steal flowers, and God don't mind?"

Indulgentiam, et absolutionem, et remissionem peccatorum nostrorum, tributat nobis omnipotens et misericors Dominus.

"No, God does not mind. Now take me to your mother, and we will give her the lily together.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Well, I Can Die Happy Now

Lots of people read and comment and link to my blog from all over. I am grateful to everyone for wasting a little bit of their valuable time here in my little typing shop. But I can die happy now, for I have been mentioned on Manolo's Shoe Blog.

Caesar, Alexander, Napoleon? Pikers. I'm somebody now; it's official.

Manolo was so excited about the whole business that he spelled Sippican incorrectly. It matters not; I'd be excited too if I woke up every day being Manolo.

I left a message for the fabulous Manolo on his blog, which I copy for you here:

Yes indeed the Sippican Cottage is populated entirely by the admirers of the Manolo and his many minions! Though Sippican is only a poor furnituremaker, the wife of the Sippican is possessed of the feets of the female, and desires to adorn her lower limbs as Manolo directs! And the Sippican can only stand agog at the words of the Manolo, assembled with the care and love; truly the cobbler of the Shakespeare!

Sippican can die happy now, knowing he is indeed an acknowledged FOM –Friend of Manolo.

Bury me in my confirmation suit with the wing tips with the little dingles and the cookies for the flat feet!

I have only tried my hand at the feet once in my writing career. It's not Manolo, but I hope it's alright:

The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Taking The Fun Out Of Fun

[Greetings to Instapundit readers. There seems to be an awful lot of you. I bet you could get matching leather jackets and beat up the rest of the Internet if you wanted to.]

I read that Adobe is going to sell a method of applying Digital Rights Management to Flash video. For those of you to whom the previous sentence is Greek, Flash is a format for video that is pretty much everywhere on the web. YouTube videos are in Flash format.

The purpose of the DRM applied to Flash is to allow the content generator to encode the video so that the end user doesn't have to watch it solely as a streaming signal. You could download it and watch it later. The DRM part decides what you could do with it, and how long you would be able to view it, and so forth. I imagine that it will make it much more difficult to take video off the web, cut it to pieces, and make sweet, sweet, mashups out of it. I dabble in that sort of thing myself, and anything that makes it harder to do, or perhaps impossible, bums me out.

Because to tell the truth, the source material is all garbage. You can make it seem wry and funny, or poignant, or interesting. But the bits you assemble to do that are 99.9% barnyard nuggets. It's bad enough Yoko Ono or Prince or somebody sending an army of lawyers after you if you even reference them in passing. Now every damp fart on video will be locked down like a woman's prison on Brad Pitt visiting day.

Admit it, Hollywood: The amateurs are better at it than the professionals.

Red Alert from Capucha on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Irrational Exuberance Always Passes Exuberant Homes And Settles At The Irrational Homestead

[Editor's Note: Written two years ago.]
{Author's Note: Please note prescience of author about land use. Please ignore everything else that sounds dopey.}

People make nests of all sorts. It's still possible to choose a wide array of living situations in the United States, and make yourself as happy as we imperfect beasts can be.

I don't know exactly how to describe our place, and the place it's in. Some would call our town a suburb. The word "exurb" came into favor while we were living here, and fits better, but not quite. Others would have called it rural a half century ago. It's just a cottage in the woods to us.

Sprawl. McMansion. Development. These are epithets thrown at one another in permitting authority meetings nowadays. It's getting harder to do what you want with your property. There is a very elaborate set of hoops that must be navigated if you want to build what we built here, on a miserable patch of poison ivy, ten years ago. Most of the hoops have been added recently, and essentially make what we did impossible now. If you managed to lawyer and engineer your way through the labrynth of government now, a fee would be charged, part of which would go towards helping keep housing "affordable" in the town.

Every thing offered for sale in this town sells in five minutes. By definition, that's affordable -- someone can afford it, and thinks enough of the town to pay it to live here. By "affordable," they really mean there's gotta be cheap housing. Well, my house was cheap, when I built it. All the restrictions put on what can be done buildingwise in the intervening decade have made the land it sits on fabulously expensive to the point of unavailability. And no one in their right mind is going to pay a third of a million dollars for a building lot and build a hundred thousand dollar house on it. And no bank will lend you money to develop a lot unless the finished product is worth three times the raw lot, minimum. It's the law of unintended consequences-- that which you've made impossible you try to subsidize. A town is not a zoo. People should not be kept as exhibits.

It's not too long ago that most people were farmers. Subsistence farmers, at that. And a farm is not like what you see on Charlotte's Web. Subsistence farms take up a lot of room, require Hiroshima style land clearing, and are famously bad for anything that lives near them that walks on four legs. An interesting conundrum for vegetarians to consider is that many more animals are killed when a farmer runs a harvester over a field than when a cow is slaughtered. Are not moles and voles and woodchucks and all their furry brethren a beating heart in a fur sack, just like that surly leather bag full of bones, the steer? Avert your eyes from the cats all farms have too; Chip and Dale appear in their mouths with astonishing regularity.

No one subsistence farms any more. Almost no one farms in any fashion in the Northeast anymore, compared to just fifty years ago. And the houses of the people that big time agriculture elsewhere can support, that dot the landscape and annoy the NIMBYs, take up far less land than the few farms that used to make a treeless brown corduroy patchwork quilt of the map. I live on what used to be a five acre pasture, once completely denuded of trees for grazing livestock, just 75 years ago. Three quarters of it is covered with dense forest now, and will remain so.

I look at that luminous black and white photo of a little homestead in Texas seventy years ago, with the baby in the pram, and the neat white cottage -- nothing special, but an unbelievable luxury for the new occupants, no doubt -- and see myself and my family. That little wisp of a tree that they've planted, probably with a little ceremony, likely shades that house now, and reminds its current occupants that some take the long view, and plant a tree; others pass laws against cutting them down. They work for the same ends, though they do not know it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Boundary Stone

-Pa, What is it?
-That's a divil of a query, sonny. Did you jes fall off the turnip truck? It's the boundry stone.
-What's a boundry stone, pa?
-Oh, you're like a fan dancer, you are. Everything suggests something else, don't it?
-I dunno. What's a fan dancer? What's the stone for?
-Never mind the first question. Your ma'll kill me. It's a marker for the town. The R is for Roxbury.
-But we're from Roxbury Pa!
-Do tell.
-What's it do? What's it for?
-You really want to know?
-Yes, please.
-OK then. Stand still and watch it. Won't take long.

A shifty dog, ears tessellated and frayed from numberless fights over the contents of garbage cans, saunters along the curb. He pauses for a moment, lifts his leg, and christens the marker. He lowers his head a bit and slinks by.

-It's just the same for the man that puts up the stone, son, but he don't do it so elegant as the dog.

Monday, March 17, 2008

London Derriere

Happy Naomh Padraig Day

Her Uncles had found her alone, a little girl sitting quietly in her family home in the county of Mayo. For the Irish, the famine was just the last straw; they had a litany of Cromwell's leftover reasons to leave anyway. And so they left in their thousands. Sinead O'Leary was no different; first to Liverpool, then to Canada, on to Boston. When she finally moved to New York City, now a grown woman and married, she rechristened it New Cork, and no-one she knew dared disagree. She made it so.

She simply refused to remember anything unpleasant, and seemed to forget nothing else. She regaled her children and grandchildren with stories of Cuchulain, and Medb, and faeries and wee people, Naomh Padraig and his clovers and snakes; a living encyclopedia of fun and fantasy.

She saved what little money came her way, and she bought and sold things. Her long lost relatives would send her this and that from the Auld Sod, and she'd sell them to Yankees who collected such as her family had, as if the Irish were as exotic as Babylonians, not right across the Irish Sea from their own forefathers.

One fine spring morning, she opened a bible box her uncle had sent her. Inside, sheepskin glowed with monastic filigree. She knew the Lord's word was on those Latin pages. Oh yes, she knew. She was wise enough to know also: There was a devil of a ransom in it from a collector too. And when a trim woman appeared at her door, sent by her employer, the Colossus of Finance, to buy it for that mausoleum of manuscripts he was constantly stoking on Fifth Avenue, Sinead was ready. He wanted it like the damned wanted icewater. Sinead knew how long to hold out before acquiescing.

Into real estate the money went. Then her son invested it for her in the stock market. Soon the simple woman, who still retied her own lace when it frayed, was rich. She always was, if you asked her, even though her Uncles could have told you they had found her alone in that stone cottage, all those years ago, because her parents were dead and gone right outside the door, their mouths green from trying to eat grass when the potatoes failed.

She was very old when that awful day christened "Black Friday" took her fortune, just like the famine had taken her family. Her son sat with her on the simple wooden settee she still favored. "It has St Patrick's clover in it, and to put a cushion on it would be extravagance itself!"

He gently told her that he had lost her money, over a million dollars, in one afternoon.

"What a blessing!" she said.

Her son, now grown grey himself, and ruined along with his mother, couldn't comprehend.

"How kind of the Lord to wait until I could afford to lose a million dollars. Imagine what a blow it would have been to lose such a sum when I was poor!"

Her son burst out laughing. And he knew then, that his beloved mother was placed on this earth for a reason. And they would rise again. Surely.

"Besides," she said, "I have three more Bible Boxes"

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Sippican Parenting Test (Returns)

I'm an OK parent. I've seen really good parents. I'm not them.

I am A Parent, though. There is a pass/fail aspect to it, and I defy any person to say I don't pass. I think that many parents fail because they are not satisfied with passing; they are determined to be THE BEST PARENT EVAR. And they mess up their kids trying.

There is only one way to demonstrate that you are THE BEST PARENT EVAR - your kid must be Bruce Lee/ Buzz Aldrin/ Tom Brady/ Albert Einstein/ Steve Jobs. Unless of course you've got a female of the species, you know, the ballerina/astronaut/CEO/oarswoman/scholar/runway model. There will be no finger painting. You will learn Mandarin Chinese while listening to Bach fugues and eating free range organic watercress sandwiches and drinking only water collected from terne metal gutters from French cathedrals, while waiting for your violin lessons to start.

While wearing a helmet.

I'm not THE BEST PARENT EVAR. My children get three squares a day, and can read and write after a fashion, and their peers don't point and giggle after they walk by, and other parents ask their children: "Why don't you invite that Sullivan boy over, he's nice and polite." They sleep all night in their beds untroubled by adult cares. We don't watch slasher movies together. They go outdoors occasionally. They won't get mumps or whooping cough because they have THE BEST PARENT EVAR who won't let them be immunized because immunization leads to being average! Like everybody else!


Sorry, I was channeling a bit. My kids are not extraordinary. You know, like Michael Jackson or The Olsen Wraiths...oops I meant Twins, or Paris Hilton or River Phoenix or Screech or Danny Bonaduce or Gary Coleman or ... well, you get the picture.

Anyway, I'd like to set your mind at ease. Take the Sippican Cottage Parenting test. Don't worry, it's Pass/Fail. Watch the following video. If it doesn't look like you and your children, then you're probably fine.

How'd you do? I thought so.

I wonder how many kids that woman had before she started the act.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Boat's Long Gone, But I'm Not Sad

[Editor's note: Written way back in 2006, I think. You'd think the guy would write something new.]
{Author's Note: If I told you what I was doing today, you wouldn't believe me. If I asked you to guess, and you had a million monkeys with typewriters at your disposal, you'd still never happen upon it. There is no editor.}

The world is a wonderful place. It's hard to see the forest for the trees sometimes, and the fellow weaving in the next lane jabbering into his cell phone while eating a submarine sandwich and occasionally nosemining can distract us, no doubt. Many things intrude. But sometimes, if you're available for wonderment, you can have a moment of clarity.

On the ocean is a place for moments of clarity. You cannot be in a motorized anything, unless the motor is turned off, because you're just a commuter if the engine is running. Sailing's better; contemplative.

You can't sail like the kind of people who always want to tug on the lines to get an additional half a knot out of their breeze bucket. You need the kind of sailing where you set the sails, and fix your course to nowhere to allow the fewest interruptions, and lay your leg over the tiller, trail your hand in the water, and consider your situation. Coronas with limes never hurt either.

You have nowhere to go, and nowhere to be, and after the second time you take them, your sailing companions must lose the urge to talk about the process of sailing in an enthusiastic fashion and simply enjoy it, and the company. And with the sky arrayed overhead, and the sea below, you are content to examine the world dispassionately. And the beauty and simplicity of the clouds that drift, the terns that swoop, the wavelets that tap their gentle knuckles on the windward side, the feeling of motion snatched without struggle from the endless breezes that massage your cheek and sail alike allow you to enjoy the world and all its wonders, and everybody in it, if just for a moment.

That's a complicated and unusual apparatus to distill the elixir of life, ain't it? We need to find ways, every day, to get the simple flavor of the sublime, in an esspresso dose -- short, fast, concentrated; ephemeral but available.

Two minutes of pop music can do it for you. It has to be good. It can't be serious. Serious pop music is an oxymoron. You're not saving the world, Bono, you're just a preening middle aged man in a ridiculous getup who's first job is to entertain, but you never got around to learning how. I'll raise my hand when you're Woody Guthrie. Don't hold your breath. On second thought -- do.

My bad. We're filled with love for our fellow man today. Our fellow Irishman too, last paragraph notwithstanding. Maybe's he's trying hard but failing. I'll leave him be. You too, if he makes you smile.

It's not supposed to sound like you're trying hard, even if you are. Try hard in rehearsal. It's generally best when it's a melody that sounds about fine whether played by a chamber orchestra, a busker, or a chicken pecking it out on a toy piano. The lyric is generally best about as complex as a nursery rhyme, a little obscure maybe, but with a hint of the recognition of the sublime percolating in the background, and hints of the whole daft fabric of shared human experience like a breeze blowing over your face.

It should be over in one minute fity eight seconds, and comprise one third of your quarter's worth of selections in DiMeglio's Pizza's jukebox in 1968, too.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I Want

[Editor's Note: The magnificent mundane pictures are from Square America.]
I want to participate unreservedly in American life.

I want to say hello to my neighbors. I want to send my children to school on a bus with their brethren to read of George Washington and Abe Lincoln. I want them to eat a peanut butter sandwich from a paper sack with a waxy box of whole milk to wash it down.

I want to watch the news and not think it's an assault on my worldview. I want to watch the news and not think it's an assault on the worldview of people with whom I disagree.

I want to read a newspaper. I want to listen to the radio. I wouldn't mind constructing my own radio with a soldering iron and a few parts that came mail order, but I'd rather not construct the playlist of songs. How would I know what I liked if I had never heard it?

I want to order a drink from the well. I want to sit on naugahyde. I want someone to smoke. I don't want to smoke. I want people to make music right there in front of me. I want everybody to know the words.

I want everyone to dress as well as they can for a social occasion and still be dressed badly. I want to see dress shoes and white socks.
I want to see old people. I want to see babies. I want to tell people their ugly children are beautiful. I want the ballgame to be on TV. I want the TV to be on a shelf over a bar.

I want to go to church on Sunday. I want to go to a bar on Friday night. I want to go dancing with my wife of many years on Saturday. I want to be buried in the same suit I was married in. I want people to stand there and look at my cold face and say I was no great shakes but I was alright.
I want someone to put flowers on my grave after everyone else has forgotten I was alive.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I Like David Mamet

David Mamet makes good movies.

I watch a lot of movies as old, or older than I am. Ever watch David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia? It's the greatest film ever made, you should. There's a scene where Lawrence's bedouin army comes across the scene of a great massacre of a whole village by the Turkish army. One striking son of the desert, whose village this once was, charges out alone across the barren intervening landscape at the receding Turkish column, waving a sword over his head and ululating, until the sound of shots signals his inevitable demise. Then the bedouins slaughter the Turks to a man.

David Mamet has announced he isn't a conventional liberal anymore, and chosen the Village Voice as the place to do it. He's in the entertainment business. He's charged straight at the Turkish army, alone. Forget about how you might feel, one way or the other, about the politics of the thing. It's a marvelous scene, ain't it? There are certain kinds of people I always harbor a soft spot for. The ax glints in the sun, poised for a moment at the top of its arc, ready to be brought down for the single, final blow; the crowd is hushed and nervous; and the man with his head on the block looks up at the hooded brute and says, clear as day:

Yer Mother!

We're into recycling here at the Cottage. The flinty locals just used to call it reduce, reuse, recycle -- long before the first Earth Day. Their neighbors just called them cheapskates. Here's some recycled text about David Mamet:

I Watched An Adult Movie Last Night -- With My Mother

What are you thinking? What's wrong with you people? Are you the few --or the many; how would I know? --that actually respond to viagra spam? Are you the folks that pay to watch a scrawny hotel heiress have desultory congress on a cameraphone? I'd better explain, I guess.

I am the parent of two small children. An "adult" movie has at least one adult in it. That's it. No sponges. No rabbits. No Sneetches. Adult persons talk to one another and do things that adults would do with a camera pointed at them and David Mamet telling them what to say. That's an adult movie.

That's a rare thing at my house. I do not understand persons that watch adult things in front of their children. Self-abnegation for the sake of others is the hallmark of adults. You really must look into it. My ten year old can recite every thing he's ever heard or seen verbatim, with accents, so I know they're paying attention. He's going to hear enough dopey things at school. I'm not going to make it worse by watching Reservoir Dogs while he does his spelling homework.

My relatives are visiting from California, and we've done everything relatives do, but after all the frosting and bug juice and basketball and playgrounds and croquet and Playstation and Spongbob and bubbles and ice cream and hot dogs and Monopoly, I decided that all the adults could sit in my living room and watch a movie with a few expletives in it. And a big honkin' bear.

The Edge is David Mamet making an action picture. For those of you who don't know, David Mamet is a playwright, and a screenwriter, and a regular old writer too. Off the top of my head Mamet is:

The Verdict
Glengarry Glenross
The Edge
The Winslow Boy
The Spanish Prisoner
Happy Texas
State and Main

Anyway, he's got that knack of putting words in people's mouths that sound like people would say them, but seem to encapsulate world views and themes and conflict and, and, and... compare and contrast Mamet's prose style with the style of Cheryl Printup's short story...

I'm sorry, I lapsed into a college writing class. I didn't like those. For me, college writing class, for as long as it lasted, consisted of me and twenty-nine girls sitting there reading Emily Bronte or some other girl that could use a stiff drink and a boyfriend with a tattoo, with my classmates nattering among themselves about tripe until they got to the part where the heroine is walking through the dewy garden barefoot with Heathcliff, or whatever the closet fruit du jour's name was, and there was a lot of scattershot adjectives about burgeoning stamens and dripping pistils and men in a boat and ripe fruit; and then the female teacher would invariably turn to me in the back row and ask: "What do you feel this imagery is driving at, Mr. Sullivan?" while the twenty nine ingenues turned and glared at me.

Lady, she should have shoes on and run off with a gardener and be done with it. The Chatterley broad did. Leave me alone.

Give me something... adult. Give me Mamet.

[Editor's Note: Heres some more if you want it: Mamet Management 101]
{Author's Note: I'm having another cup of coffee while you read this. Coffee is for closers.}

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Grind (One Year On)

This picture is sixty years old, easy. I'm doing the same thing today. How many people are doing anything the same as half a century ago?

The Grind refers to the mental and physical aspect of the day. He's sanding, not grinding. Me too.

There are some details that have changed, to be sure. This fellow didn't write a blogpost before beginning. He arrived at work a half an hour early and read the newspaper a bit and drank bad coffee from his thermos.

It's ever so slightly clunkier than mine, but he's using a belt sander, same as me. His might be better, as it weighs more. It's easier to use a heavy belt sander than a light one.

I won't get the enormous snootful of dust this guy got, as a vacuum hose is hooked up to mine. Nose cancer and a condition like miner's lung from the wood flour was very common in the wood trades. Still is, just less so now. I'm 99% sure the guy smoked like a chimney, too. Everybody did then. Come to think of it, you can still find a lot of construction workers that smoke now. It's one of the few patches of life I rub up against where a lot of people smoke. People who work with their hands tend to be very fatalistic about such dangers.

It's very difficult to get them to use devices to safeguard their health and safety, generally. Most large construction companies have to have rigid protocols, strictly enforced, to get people to take the smallest amount of care about such things. They chafe in the harness, that's why they choose to work out in the wild world instead of in a factory or office. They don't like being told what to do, and perform a simple rough calculation of loss/benefit/discomfort in their head, and throw dustmasks in the trash the minute no one's looking. You have to make it safer and easier at the same time, or it doesn't work. Laws mean nothing in this regard.

The fellow shown above is making a big pile of cheap furniture, and his job is on another continent today. No one shed a tear for its loss. Some one else wanted to do it more, and proved it by doing it better for less. It's the only calculus that should be allowed into the equation. That guy's sons and daughters have an enormous amount of consumer goods available to them because the creative destruction wrought by progress was allowed to make his livelihood pass him by. Consider also that there were craftsman making tables before this fellow, that glowered at him and his economy of scale in his big official factory with his state of the art lighting and tools and salesmen and secretary and bathroom and timeclock and power supply and so forth. He did not shed a tear for them, and we do not for him. In particular, it's sad when people's livelihoods are swallowed by progress. In general, we all get richer so it's fine. In a way, I'm more like the guy the fellow in the photo replaced. People shop at IKEA and Wal*Mart and so forth for inexpensive home furnishings. I don't play in that game, and try to take a big piece of a small pie that's left over. It's enough.

I do not expect anyone to shed a tear for me, if the time comes. I'm sanding today, because for right now, nobody wants it more.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sucking The Life From Opera Through A Lens

[Editor's Note: If you refresh the page after you watch some of the YouTube videos, it will keep the videos from hanging up. Even after they're over, they're kind of still sucking video resources.]
{Author's Note: The editor sure is smart.}

I like the melding of assorted kinds of arts. Opera is a meld of music and acting, for instance. My beloved internet allows for what's termed a "mashup," of course, a mucky pool I dabble my toes in from time to time. I'm all for it.

But popular cultural artifacts have vampiric quality, and it is growing. I noticed when I was young that Hollywood used to look towards serious -- or at least notable --things quite often, and not solely as a veneer for their crummy stuff. That has slipped more than a bit.

Hollywood reminds me of a decorator that buys books by the linear foot for a client's shelves. They'll never be opened by the occupants, but are a kind of show for the beautiful people that visit. They want to extract the essence of serious things without the concommittent respect and intellectual heavy lifting. It's the equivalent of casting Mark Twain as the corpse in Weekend At Bernies. Celebrity necrophilia.

I like opera some. It appears in movies from time to time, much too rarely to suit me. It's in the soundtrack generally, but sometimes a little more. It almost always gets the vampire treatment. They want to extract the power and the beauty of it without paying. It's a cheap gloss to use the "Flight of the Valkyries" in Apocalypse Now. But then again, the movie's a cheap gloss on an important book, Heart of Darkness, so why stick at the soundtrack choices? Hell, this is a better use of creepy old Wagner:

I searched my mind for opera in the movies that shows real interest in the thing they're cribbing. Hand in hand is better than on a leash, intermilieu-wise.

You know, I'm of Italian descent. There's some pretty sketchy portrayals of Italians in Moonstruck. The opera is first-rate. Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme, with Renata Tibaldi singing.

I have no idea if Very Annie Mary is a good movie. I only know about it by searching for "Oh Mio Babbino Caro" (My Dear Daddy) by Puccini, from the opera Gianni Schicchi. At least they have the sense to use it in a movie about a girl being reconciled with her father.

There's a fair number of Oscar winners amongst the debris here. Life Is Beautiful won three, as I recall. I loved the Offenbach. The Barcarola (Song in the style of a gondolier)

The opening credits of Trading Places has a selection from The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart as the music. Fantastic. The story is stolen from Mark Twain, by the way. Did you know Annie Gottlieb from Ambivablog is married to Jacques Sandulescu, the fellow that asks about the purse in this scene? It's a small world.

Raging Bull has become over time a very highly rated movie. I'm not sure if that's merited. I always liked it, but I'm strange. Director Martin Scorcese has always had a knack for choosing just the right music as the background to his pictures. This might be the prettiest piece of music ever in a movie: The intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni. It is a profoundly Sicilian Thing.

If you look really carefully, you can sometimes find someone in a movie to explain the whole business to you while he's entertaining you. The rarest of things -- pure exposition plonked in the middle of an entertainment without the seams showing:

Amadeus won all sorts of Oscars; thank the lord they didn't give one to Tom Hulce, who's eating the scenery throughout the whole thing. Mozart's Animal House! I think not.

Mozart? Yeah, he's all that.

I've attended the Marriage of Figaro. I'm not sure exactly where the Austro-Hungarian empire used to be.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Bonjour Les Enfants

Who doesn't love Pat and Stanley? Seriously. I want names. I'm coming to look for you, and not with binoculars.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Been There. Done That

For people with imagination -- vision, some would call it; it doesn't always mean the world of art -- the world is an enormous series of obstacles. The world is made easy for people without imagination. What could you do with a few scraps of paper, or just the sound of your own voice and some friends with bits of wire and wood in their hands?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Who Let The Doggerel Out?


The crow sat down and thought a bit

Who is to say what laws permit

I take a thing that draws my eye

My interest is my alibi

I travel through the wicked world

My Jolly Roger is unfurled

I have the knack of nicking stuff

It makes it mine oddly enough

The owners have no fixed ideas

Their compost piles my gallerias

They value things that I don't want

I pick their trash like a savant

I drag bits out and hawk the wares

To former owners unawares

Who ooh and aah at my concision

They're unaware of their misprision

The stuff you want is all around

I find it laying on the ground

But when you see me overhead

You wish you had my stuff instead

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Heroic, The Sublime, (The Reiterated)

[Editor's Note: First offered two years ago.]
{Author's Note: I've been doing this for two years? I need a raise.There is no editor.}

It's interesting to watch your children grow up. They are you, of course, but only so much. The rest is in play, and infinitely changeable and interesting. People often live vicariously through their children, it is said, but I think that's really less prevalent than conventional wisdom allows for. They are an extension of you, perhaps, at least for a time, but the world is not often a little fishbowl, it is a whole ocean, and your little kivvers are going into it sooner or later on their own. All you can do is teach them to wiggle their fins as best you can and then wonder where they might go. The idea that you could micromanage them for your own benefit or amusement seems comparable to flying a kite in a whirlwind. To build the kite sturdy enough, it would no longer fly. People still try occasionally to yoke their children to their own ambitions, but it's generally a fool's errand. If you succeeded, all you'd end up with is Michael Jackson or the Olsen Twins or similar misanthropes. A decent, well rounded, and happy person is unlikely to result. And so we raise them as best we can, and hope for... well, we hope.

" David53" commented on an earlier post about my older son's baseball adventures, and shared his recollections of his own son's. He talked about his son's surprising ability to act as well, and how neither David nor his wife had any footing in understanding in their son's facility at something mysterious to them personally. The athletics they understood, as they were similarly inclined when younger, but by acting in Tartuffe, their son was on his own, and his parents could only watch, and marvel.

My son is no athlete. He participates, and his father is proud of him, but only because of the way he comports himself. He's not bad, exactly, but it shows that it's not his raison d'etre, unlike many of his peers for whom physical activity bounded by lines is the entire universe.

He performs music too, and chose to play the trombone like his old man did, even though I told him Hell was a bellows attached to a trombone. Son, a trombone is worse than a bagpipe, in that in addition to sounding like what it is, you can pinch your finger in it too. It's a trumpet with emphysema. Son...

He doesn't listen. Like all humans, he watches, and learns all by seeing that what people do trumps what people say, every time. Why was there a trombone still in the attic, if I hated it so?
David's comment made me think of the two strains of the human condition we are watching played out with our boys: The Sublime, and the Heroic.

Music, acting, painting, humor, and writing and so forth, are all attempts to approach the sublime in humanity. When your loved one is dressed as a carrot in the school play, and has no lines, but is simply chased back and forth by third grader dressed as a bunny with spectacles, it may not seem, well, sublime exactly, but I suspect it is, in essence if not in degree. To observe, and distill, and portray, and express, and delight, and inform, and dazzle and disgust perhaps, can be as clarifying as any sermon. We examine ourselves, and reveal our thoughts to others. The trick is to paint the hands without making them look like catchers mitts, or to keep from eating the scenery in the play because the othere kids have the good lines, or whatever the minutiae of your proposed genre might be.

Sports are a representation of the heroic in humans. We strive, and test ourselves, and compete, and keep score, and live with the losses as well as the victories as best we can. The audience is different at a sporting event than at an opera, or at least it should be. It can be the same people, of course, but they must be there to see what is played out before them in a different way. How will your champion's mettle be tested? Will they triumph? Will they acquit themselves nobly while winning, or perhaps, in defeat?

It's fashionable fun these days to make entertainment that should be sublime, and coarsen it with competition. I don't want to watch people sing and choose which gets fed to the lions, like some Broadway Caligula. It makes the art less artisitic, and the audience less in tune with the essential humanity of the performance, to keep score on the stage. Hold the auditions before the performance, please.

There is also the drive to make the heroic in sports into something less prominent, and the outcomes less harsh. No one can win, because someone might lose. It diminishes the meaning of the thing itself, and so is counterproductive. People milling around without a purpose, even if it is on a lovely grass field, isn't heroic. Let them go at each other, and shake hands when it is done, and say, "better luck (or we'll get 'em) next time.

It has been likewise observed, that the money paid to professionals is ruining the ideal of sports for the amateur. It's not helping, but the money alone does not taint it; it's money given irrespective of effort or achievement that is the toxin, the tapeworm in the body heroic, and has made professional basketball and baseball and other sports diminished in stature and importance, because we are watching checks being cashed, not heroic competition. Figure skating and baseball with no-cut contracts are exhibitions, not sports. I don't care if they keep score. If the participants don't have to try if they don't want to, or if someone "decides" who won, it's not a sport.

Our children will likely never cash the checks at the stadium or the opera house; few ever do. But all humans need to sort out their approach, their affection, and their admiration and interest in the sublime and the heroic.

They're going to watch a lot of it on TV.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Arrivederla Signore Di Stefano

I mentioned Giuseppe Di Stefano here a little more than a year ago. He passed away Monday at the age of 86. He is one of my favorite opera singers. But not only mine:

He died at home, near Milan, the city he is associated with in the public mind. But the Siciliano will always show through if you look for it. His motor ran hot.

The end of this recording is a little hinky, but listen to him perform the familiar Nessum Dorma from Turandot.

He burned very brightly for a short time, abused himself and his gift, and generally had a hell of a time. People in the audience often think that if they were given the gift of the man on the stage they'd know what to do with it, and not waste it like so many do. That is one reason you are in the audience. The advice of the timid is of no use to the daring; and it is a daring thing indeed to sing a serious thing in an important place in front of an expectant, cultivated audience.

This is as common a piece to listen to as there is in opera. Che gelida manina (How cold is your hand!) from Puccini's La Boheme. I've never heard it sung in a more compelling way than this:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

His hand is cold now, too. His soul never was.

Life: An Overview

He had had a rich and full life. Led armies into battle. Commanded attention and admiration. His name was mentioned on every continent. His reputation would fade, but not disappear. He mattered.

The furnace of life was banked low now. He had had enough. He was ready to meet eternity. The faithful amanuensis bent low to hear his whisper amidst his stertorous breaths.

What did you learn? What can you tell us before you leave us?

In the forties **cough**

Yes? What happened in the forties?

In the forties, the sock needed to be argyle.

Yes, and...

In the fifties, they were white.

Who? Who was white?

The socks. White.In the sixties they had to be black.

The socks? You mean the socks?

Yes. In the seventies, they were white again. Towards the end there.


Yes; in the eighties you didn't wear socks at all for a while --then you had to have hosiery, not socks. Hurt my feet.

I see.

In the nineties it was just dark socks again.

Umm hmm.

In the oughts, it was ladies' socks for some reason. You wore ladies tennis socks and sneakers. I never understood that one.

Yes, and...?

No, that's it. That's all.

Monday, March 03, 2008

You Sold My Birthright For A Pot Of Message

One of my children is sick. Bronchitis or Strep Throat, or both, hard to say without equipment.

My wife and I worry about our children like most people do. We're not in panic over anything, although the consequences of illnesses like this are more severe for people like us than you might know. You see, you all mostly live in the magic world where money appears whether you're sick or not. If my children are sick, my wife and I will likely get sick. And when she is sick I must care for her and our children. And when I am sick, there is no money.

You likely call in sick when you're hung over, and save the remainder of your sickdays for sunny days in July, and go to work when you're ill and firing on three cylinders. Someone else picks up your slack. Or maybe you never call in sick because you're a demon and they have to bestow a check for the money on you at the end of the year. In any case, life does not stop.

You have been told, and you tell me, over and over, that my only problem is that I don't have Health Insurance. I tried to explain that it isn't insurance you have and want me to have. You have joined a club and pay a very expensive retainer and then visit the club when you are a little ill or a lot or more often these days, you go because you are neurotic and what the hell, it's "free." And by the way, that "insurance" is subsidized by making it a tax-free benefit through work. Poor people pay taxes so that the well-to-do can get vouchers for their medical care, a goodly portion of it of no real value unless you're a hypochondriac. Real insurance guards against catastrophe. A bill for a doctor's visit for sore throat is not catastrophe. Cancer would be, for instance. But since you are not allowed to buy insurance against catastrophe in Massachusetts without taking all the other trivial and superfluous things various medical and political lobbies demand be included in any insurance, the cost is so prohibitive that you can't afford it.

You all talk endlessly about "access to healthcare." There are three words in that expression, and I have a problem with two of them. It's not"access," and there is no such thing as "healthcare." You can go right along using the "to" if you like.

I used to have "access" to a doctor. I'd call them and make an appointment and go see them and pay them. But that wasn't good enough for you. You decided I needed "Healthcare," good and hard, and so it was made illegal to live in the state of my birth unless I either paid $1100 a month I don't have for services I not only don't need, but many I would fight to the death to avoid having; or I could pay a fine for every month I didn't pay; or I could be made a pauper and go on welfare.

I am not an automobile. I can't stay healthy by going to the doctor all the time and having my oil changed. You are an imbecile if you think that you're immortal and bulletproof and if you just go to the doctor all the time you'll be healthy. The doctor can do very important and well defined things to help you if you are ill in certain ways. The rest is up to you. All the advice I've ever received from doctors about being "healthy" has either been superfluous or bad.

So now it's mandatory that everybody in Massachusetts have "access to healthcare." You're going to get that "access" good and hard, in my case. But an interesting thing has happened.

As I said, my son is sick. Besides the immediate concern for his happiness and well-being, we have to guard against all of us being sick and me losing my ability to support us through my exertions. The least of my worries if we're all sick is the doctor's bills, although since doctors charge as if everyone has insurance they can be pretty daunting. We called his doctor, who has been seeing him for a decade. And they wouldn't see him. That has never happened before.

Well, they might. They said they'd call us back --sometime-- and let us know if the triage nurse thinks he's sick enough to look at. Otherwise, no. I thought triage nurses were for emergency rooms and M*A*S*H units. Silly me.

There's your access to healthcare. It exists but you can't have it. Money is all taken care of --for the supplier. The consumer is left to be ill or not at other's whims.

I will take my son to a dumpy stripmall ten miles away and sit there for a good long while and have a doctor who has never laid eyes on any of us before, who will no doubt have a very sketchy command of English, take a swab of his throat and see if the boy has strep throat. Perhaps with the illness caught in time, the doctor will save us all. And I will pay that doctor with money. Willing buyer, willing seller. Ever heard of it?

I'm sure they'll get around to passing a law against that in the near future, too. They'll say it's ruining the "access to healthcare" for everybody else.

What a desperado I've become. You'd best not be seen associating with me.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Sunday Sermon

It would appear that the church must be a feast. A buffet cannot be a feast. The best bits will be taken by the glutton, unthinking. Much of value will be overlooked by the mildly interested. You cannot sit on a folding chair with a plate in your lap, alone. It is a table you sit at with others, unqualified. If you open this door, you must accept everyone who walks through it.

Our culture becomes highwaymen, stopping the coach on its journey, and simply demanding that the box be thrown down. The box seems precious, but is empty of all that is truly valuable. It's the coach that matters. Be glad that only the strongbox has caught their fancy. Beware the the day the box is empty and the coach is pulled apart to make your shambles.

I have seen the coach, and occasionally hear the clatter of the hooves as it goes by late at night far off in the distance. But it doesn't pass by here any more.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Sippican Stop-Motion. Really Stoppy Stop-Motion

[Updated: I see "Walk The Dinosaur" and Was Not Was is getting some attention on the Intertunnel this week. If you want to know what everyone's going to be talking about in a couple of weeks or months, read Sippican Cottage]