Monday, March 31, 2008

Thoughts inspired by Sophie Olivia, 3/21/94 - 3/31/94

Today is the 14th anniversary of the day my daughter Sophie died. Imagine a sculpture, or something, that has been shattered. After putting it back together again, some pieces were lost, some put in the wrong place and there are a few pieces left over that you don't know where they belong. The sculpture then looks mostly the same as it did before, but not entirely whole. That's as close as I can get to describing how I feel about it. I'm not going to say more, only because it would be too long and I don't feel up to attempting to organize everything in my head into a coherent form. Luminiferous Ether has a post about her here and Sophie's older sister, Cinderbelle, wrote about her, as well as some other things, here.

I love you, Sophie.

While driving around doing some errands today, thoughts of Sophie were burbling around in my brain. I turned on the radio and WORT FM was broadcasting an interview with Lawrence Colburn, one of the heroes (and by hero, I mean that he was one of the soldiers who intervened to stop the slaughter) of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam on March 16, 1968. Since this month is the 40th anniversary, Mr. Colburn, along with a number of other people, were in My Lai, which is where this interview was held. While listening, I thought about how Sophie's death effected my life. I can't even imagine how this tragic event must have shaped the lives of everyone involved, military and civilian, hero, perpetrator and victim. I also wonder how many massacres like this are happening in Iraq and Afghanistan and we never hear anything about it, neither the horror nor the heroes. How many lives are being destroyed or changed forever? If you'd like to hear that interview, go here and listen to or download the 3/31/08 broadcast of "A Public Affair." The interview will be archived on their site through 5/30/08.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Old friends 'n' stuff

I went to see the Mekons last Thursday night. It was a fun show. They have evolved into a somewhat more folky kind of sound, but they still have a rock 'n' roll attitude. Accomplished musicians one and all and very progressive politically. Funny and engaging people on stage, too. If they happen to come to your town, I recommend going to see them. If you visit their site, click on Lu and Steve and look at the lists of people they've played with. You'll undoubtedly recognize a few names.

The last time I saw them was probably something like twenty years ago and I was playing with a group, Appliances-SFB, that opened for them on at least two occasions, back in the day. Four of the five members of A-SFB were at the show. Most of us don't see much of each other these days, and it was good to see all of them, see The Mekons, hang out for a little after the show.

L-R: Bill Siebecker, Sally Timms (Mekons), Ed Feeny, Bill Feeny, Meredith Young

Ed Feeny, Bill Siebecker, Jon Langford (Mekons), Meredith Young, Bill Feeny

I get occasional e-mails from people who tracked me down to tell me how much A-SFB meant to them at some point in their lives. These are people, for the most part, that I haven't ever met, yet the music we made was very important to them. I like hearing from them. It's nice to know that what we were doing was meaningful to other people. There has been some talk of an Appliances-SFB reunion. A local promoter has been asking some of us what it would take. It would be great to play together again, but I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Loose ends

The last week or so has been rather hectic, what with single parenting for a week, car accidents (no injuries, thank the gods. Or not) kid and spouse going back to school, pieces of music to learn at the last minute (more about that later - I guess you've heard that one before), financial issues to deal with...

So, now I have a job application to turn in, some pieces of music to finish figuring out and work up to performance level, a meme I'd like to get to and some pictures that I've been meaning to post but haven't gotten to. Right now, I'm going to deal with the pictures. As is usually the case when I put up photos, if you want to see them better, click on them and they'll probably get bigger. I wish the same could be said for my bank account, but don't we all?

Winter is drawing to a close and spring is drawing nigher, although it wouldn't surprise me if we get more snow before summer arrives. In Wisconsin, we almost always get snow in March, it's not at all unusual in April, May isn't out of the question and a couple of times in my life we've gotten snow in June. It snowed several inches last Friday while Ms. Geranium was making her way back from Pittsburgh (now, that was an adventure! I hope she posts about it.) and we're supposed to get snow tomorrow. But, spring is definitely rearing it's head. Over the last couple of weeks, the birdies have been making their presence known. Noisy little buggers. At our local Bark Park, I've been seeing robins, hearing redwing blackbirds and those obnoxious canada geese never really leave, but now they're making one heck of a racket. (When I first moved to Wisconsin, canada geese were a rare sight, possibly endangered. Now, I think it's illegal to hunt them [there's good eatin' on one of those!] and, probably due to climate change, they've figured out that they don't have to migrate south during the winter after all and they've become something of a nuisance.) A week or two ago when I was there I decided that, since the ice on the marsh would be melting soon, Molly and I would take a walk on it while we had the chance. We came across a couple of canada geese.

Molly had a few choice words for them. "Hey! What do you think you're doing? Get out of here! I mean it! And don't come back, or else!"

A few days later, Sparkly Seacow joined me on my daily rounds. The sandhill cranes had been quite noisy for a few days, so we went in search of the source. (Sandhill cranes were almost extinct for a while. Now, thanks in large part to the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, WI, you can see them rather often if you know where to look and know what they sound like. If you ever get to southern Wisconsin, the ICF is worth a trip. The ICF has been quite successful in their program of breeding cranes and reintroducing them to the wild. You can stand face to face with a number of different types of cranes, some of which are among the most rare birds in the world. Some of them are taller than most humans and look like freaking dinosaurs; it's an unnerving experience to have one of those critters eyeballing you from inches away.) We walked out across the still frozen marsh once again. SS wasn't too happy about it, but I could see that the ice was quite thick. We followed the noise and found one crane out in the marsh grasses. It's more or less in the center of the photo, but pretty well camouflaged. Make it bigger by doing that clicky thing, and you should be able to see it.

Those things are pretty big, but I wanted to see how close I could get. It decided I was too close and flew away. You can see it on the left of the photo below. The problem with that digital camera is that you can't see the screen when you're in the sun, so framing your shots involves a lot of guesswork.
I can still hear them every day, even when I can't see them. Must be mating season or something.

Related news: (Name withheld) of Springfield, WI was arrested when it was discovered he was killing and eating sandhill cranes. When asked what they tasted like, he replied "they taste kind of like bald eagle." Sorry.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Book Review: Thursday Next, First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

(Disclaimer: I also published this review at the Spring Reading Challenge. My apologies for the redundancy, but as I've said before, I don't have that many ideas that I can afford to waste one simply because I've used it elsewhere.)

I Ffinally Ffinished a book! Well, actually, I’ve ffinished lots of books, but I meant since the beginning of the Spring Reading Challenge.

It was pretty good.
The end.

Oh, I guess I'm supposed to write more than that. Okay.

This is a somewhat difficult book to describe to someone not ffamiliar with Fforde's work. Thursday Next is the name of the protagonist (she has a son, Ffriday and two daughters, Tuesday and Jenny.) It's the ffifth book in the Thursday Next series. The books take place in an England kind of like ours, but not quite. Ffor example, in Thursday Next's England, cheese is a controlled substance, smuggled in to the country by the cheese mafia through The People's Republic of Wales. The most popular contact sport in the nation is croquet and when the government insists on behaving rationally, making long range plans based on common sense, the unused stupidity accumulates, creating a dangerous stupidity surplus. In the ffirst ffour books in the series, Ms. Next works as a Literary Detective for Spec Ops-27, the Literary Division. Spec Ops consists of all the police operations that are too dangerous or too unusual for the regular police department.

Now, it gets a little weirder than that. In addition to being a Spec Ops agent, Thursday Next is also a Jurisfiction Agent. Jurisfiction is the agency within ffiction whose job it is to maintain the structural integrity of ffiction. You see, Thursday Next can enter ffiction (a.k.a. the Bookworld, something she discovers in her ffirst adventure, The Eyre Affair.) Within the Bookworld she can interact with ffictional characters, some of whom are also Jurisfiction agents. In ffact, she is the only "outlander" (person ffrom the real world) in Jurisfiction. Occasionally, a ffictional character will escape the Bookworld and enter the Outland, which is very much discouraged. During the course of the series Thursday has made a number of enemies, including The Goliath Corporation™ (Ffrom the Cradle to the Grave™) and a ffictional minotaur code-named Mr. Johnson, among others. Very ffew Outlanders know of the existence of the Bookworld, although The Goliath Corporation™ (Ffor All You'll Ever Need™) knows of its existence and wants to get their grubby paws in it.

Ffirst Among Sequels begins 14 years after the end of the last book, Something Rotten. Almost all divisions of Spec Ops have been officially dissolved, including the Literary Division. Thursday is now employed by ACME Floor Coverings which, of course, is a ffront ffor her continued work as a now clandestine Spec Ops agent, which in turn, is a ffront for her even more clandestine work as a Jurisfiction agent. The Bookworld is concerned about ffalling Read Rates in the Outland. They have also charged her with the task of training the ffictional Thursday Next to be a Jurisfiction Agent. In the Outland, Spec Ops is dealing with the end of time and The Goliath Corpoaration™ (Solving Evolution's Problems™) is attempting to create a "Short Now" in order to ffurther their plans ffor world domination. In addition, Thursday's teenaged son, Ffriday, would rather sleep in than join Spec Ops-12 (Office ffor Special Temporal Stability, The ChronoGuard. Recruitment drive now on due to industrial action expected in ffifteen years ago) which, if he ffails do to, will have disastrous repercussions in the past, present and ffuture. Oh, yes, she is also trying to keep all her activity secret ffrom her husband, Landen. As you may surmise, Thursdays hands are ffairly ffull.

So, confused? If you read the Thursday Next series ffrom the beginning, it all makes some kind of sense. It might even make sense if you start with the ffifth book. He makes ffrequent thinly veiled references to "real world" events; ffor instance, in the Bookworld, the genres of Ffeminist Ffiction and Religious Ffiction are plotting a preemptive strike against the Racy Novel genre, who they claim is developing a "dirty bomb" which would spread suggestive text throughout any genre in which it is detonated. Fforde writes very well (nothing is quite as distracting to me when reading a book as being conscious of the writer's lack of skill) and I've enjoyed reading all of them, including Ffirst Among Sequels, but they aren't books that have made me ffeel like ignoring everything else in life until I ffinish them. I never did ffigure out why it's called Ffirst Among Sequels other than it sounds sort of clever. In ffact, that's one of my few criticisms of Jasper Ffordes books. Sometimes it seems like he's trying just a wee bit too hard to be clever.

All of Fforde's books are what he calls (I think) "enhanced." If you go to his website you ffind everything ffrom corrections to special ffeatures. I've checked out the website, but I'd rather just read the book. The book stands on its own and all the web stuff, while kind of ffun, is definitely not required to enjoy the books. And don't worry, you won't have to deal with all ffs being unnecessarily doubled when you read his books. I was just having a little ffun.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Happy Birthday, QuakerFruitSalad!

Today is The Blogger Formerly Known As Cinderbelle's golden birthday! Stop by and wish her a happy birthday. She always loved that moose hat.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What goes up, must come down, right?

I have debunked the Law of Gravity! Excuse me a moment while I upload some photos. I'll be right back.

("Pssst! What the heck is he talking about?"
"I don't know, maybe all that 'home alone' stuff has pushed him over the edge. Or maybe a little too much time in the sauna."
"Shhhh! Here he comes! Act like everything's normal! Just smile and nod.")

Okay, I'm back. In case you're wondering what I meant, allow me to explain. It all starts with this 11-year old dalmatian-mix that became a member of our household a few months ago. If you're a regular reader (I'm pretty sure there are at least five of you), you know all about Molly and her need for copious amounts of exercise as well as my lack of gainful employment. These two things combined mean daily trips to one of Dane County's Dog Exercise Areas. Within a short time of acquiring Molly and discovering the necessity of getting her to the Bark Park™, I also discovered that she is crazy about chasing balls. Not just likes it, but crazy about it to the exclusion of (just about) all else. She's pretty smart about balls, too. Before you throw it, she doesn't watch the ball like many other dogs, she watches your eyes to determine where the ball is going to go (a bad throw or mischievous thrower can fool her.) She isn't too smart about ballistics, though. A ball thrown in a normal manner usually hits the ground within 2 or 3 seconds, but a ball thrown as high as you can throw it stays in the air for, well, longer than that. So, you throw the ball as high as you can and Molly takes off in the direction she thinks it's headed. 2 or 3 seconds later she starts looking around in an "it ought to be around here, somewhere" sort of way, which is very different from her "I'm going to get that ball" gait. Then, a few seconds later, the ball comes down, usually pretty close to where she thinks it should be. Her reaction is good for hours of laughs. I get a chuckle, she gets the ball, we're all happy campers. Until...

One day while Ms. Geranium, Molly and I were at the BP together, I threw the ball as high as I could. Molly took off. Up! Up! Up went the ball! Down! Down . . . . wait a minute . . . it didn't come down! Molly is running around in her "seeking" mode. Ms. Geranium and I are looking all over the place: on the ground, in the nearby tree ("It never came down, maybe it's in the tree." "Yeah, right!"), on the ground some more. Over here, over there. In the tree ("yeah, right!") Meanwhile, Molly is getting a little frantic. No ball anywhere. Finally, we give up, finish our walk with Molly expecting the ball to turn up at any turn (that happens sometimes. She doesn't know how.)

For a week or so after that, every time I walked past that vicinity I took a quick look in the tree knowing that if it (the ball, not the tree - I love those squinting modifiers) were on the ground it would be long gone, but I swear it never came down. One day, I'm throwing the ball high near that tree again, tempting fate, or the gods, or whomever, and a woman walking nearby asks me "are you trying to knock that ball out of the tree?" "Duuuh, what?" was my extremely intelligent response (good thing I'm married and my wife knows I'm only stupid most of the time - if I were single I'd never have any luck with the ladies with repartee like that. She wasn't my type, anyway.) Sorry, back to the suspenseful narrative - she replies "I thought you were trying to knock that ball down." I explained that I suspected I had gotten a ball stuck in the tree, but had never been able to locate it. "It's right there! For days I've been wondering how someone managed to get it perfectly wedged between those two branches" she tells me. (If you so desire, you may click on the photo to enbiggen it.) I follow the direction in which she is pointing her Chuck-it™ and . . . Doh! All this time, I'd been barking up the wrong tree! (Sorry about that, I couldn't help myself. There's probably a special place in Hades for people like me, but at least I won't be alone. My dad will without a doubt be there, too.) Two weeks later, that ball is still in the tree. Now, when I walk past it, I take a couple of throws at it with the new ball under the assumption that, eventually, I'll knock the old one out of the tree or there will be two balls stuck up there. Either option works for me.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Home Alone

Well, almost. Ms. Geranium (a.k.a. Luminiferous Ether) is off to Pittsburgh for a few days to visit our oldest daughter. The Blogger Formerly Known as Cinderbelle will be celebrating her golden birthday with her mother. Much as I wish I could be going, too, our youngest is in the middle of a grueling rehearsal schedule for PlayTime Productions' upcoming play The Princess and the Pea, which means the two of us are staying home. Besides, in my current employment-challenged state, we couldn't afford for all of us to go out there. I'm sure they'll have a great time.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Happy St. Urho's Tay!

Happy St. Urho's Tay (a.k.a. St. Urho's Day), or what's left of it (it's almost over for this year as I write this.) What's that? You've never heard of St. Urho?

Well, gather round! As legend has it, when Finland's grape crop was threatened by grasshoppers, Urho banished the grasshoppers from the country by shouting "Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!" ("Grasshopper, grasshopper, go from hence to Hell!") Now Finns and Finnish-Americans celebrate St. Urho's Tay on the 16th of March.

Actually, Finland doesn't grow many grapes and they still have grasshoppers. The story of St. Urho was invented, allegedly as a joke, in 1956 by a Finnish-American from Virginia, Minnesota (that's a town named Virginia in the state of Minnesota) named Richard Mattson and later revised by Dr. Sulo Havumäki of Bemidji, Minnesota. The "legend" and it's accompanying "holiday" have caught on in Finnish-American communities throughout the U.S. and Canada. It is also gaining popularity in Finland. If it tickles your fancy, google St. Urho to find out more.

It may be too late to observe St. Urho's Tay by the time you read this, but you can still drink a beer (or maybe two) and enjoy The Sauna Song by Conga Se Menne. And remember, it's pronounced SOW-nuh not SAW-nuh.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Motor Primitives: Crystal Corner Bar 3/15/08

The Motor Primitives are playing at The Crystal Corner Bar (1302 Williamson, Madison, WI 53703) tomorrow night, March 15, 2008 (the ides of March!) Opening the show will be The Sigourney Weavers followed by Goat Radio. The MPs will play last (that's supposed to be good. Ha!) It all starts at 10:00 pm, so we probably won't hit the stage until midnight or so. Naps help.

We were mentioned in this week's "picks" section in local paper "the Isthmus" even though Pam sent that irate letter to them written on a used popcorn bag (if you follow the link, it's the fifth letter from the top of the page. The second letter from the top of the page is by someone you might recognize, too.) I figured that would be the end of any coverage from the Isthmus. I guess you never know.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Nader Conundrum

I know I'm going to get it for this one, and it's all your fault, PoodleDoc. You got me started thinking about it when you posted that article by Ed Garvey. To anyone reading this who doesn't know, PoodleDoc is a good friend of mine. He's one of the most thoughtful and level-headed people I know, yet I've noticed that the N-word (Nader) can really get him going and, as we all know, he's not alone in that respect. Since reading that post and the comments that followed, I've been thinking a lot about the whole Nader question. I hope this won't appear as a post directed at you, PD, you just got me started thinking about the whole thing. Some of this has already been expressed in a comment on the aforementioned post, but I wanted to put it here, as well. Sorry about the redundancy. I just don't have so many ideas that I can afford to waste one simply because I've already used it.

So, here's the big question: Why is it that Nader is the target of so much anger from those who think of themselves as liberals, progressives or democrats? (See, it's a big question so I used a bigger font size. Clever, don't you think? Gods, sometimes I even amaze myself!)

Nader is a person who has spent his entire professional life working on the behalf of "the Little Guy." If you've ever been in a car accident, taken any prescription drugs, or even if you breathe air, you may well have Ralph Nader to thank for the fact that you're still alive. He has been tireless in his struggle against corporate control of the country. At age 74, he's still at it.

I realize many people feel Nader made it possible for Bush to steal the 2000 election, but I guess I don't buy it. This argument assumes that the votes Nader received rightfully belonged to Gore (or Kerry in 2004), logic that seems flawed to me. Nader didn't take votes from Gore or Kerry. Gore and Kerry failed to win those votes, and many of those who voted for Nader in all likelihood would not have voted for Gore or Kerry had Nader not been in the race. Officially, Bush "beat" Gore in Florida by 543 votes, but 12% of Florida democrats voted for Bush in 2000. That's a lot more votes than the 97,488 votes Nader received. Change that 12% to 11% and Gore, in the absence of further electoral shenanigans, wins Florida. Let's not even start with the intentional disenfranchisement of voters. Be angry at Bush for stealing the election. Have a hissy at Gore for running such an ineffective campaign (he didn't even win his home state!) that it was possible for the election to be stolen, and then giving in when he should have persisted in challenging Bush's "victory." Shake your fist at Kerry for giving in even quicker than Gore did. Get your undies in a bundle about those Bush-voting democrats. Anger toward Nader just seems misplaced.

Then there is the oft-repeated line "Nader has done some good things in the past, but what has he done lately? He just runs for president every four years, then disappears." Where does that come from? One person says it, a few more people hear it and repeat it, then, next thing you know, lots of people are saying it, yet, in my experience, none of them have actually bothered to check. That's what Stephen Colbert would call "truthiness." Well, a friend of mine told me she heard from her brother-in-law's neighbor that a person at his church said that, if elected, Obama will refuse to be sworn in on the bible and will swear on the koran instead (I don't think that would really be any worse than being sworn in on the bible, but that's another post.) I don't see the difference between the Nader comment and the Obama comment. Go to Nader's website and see what he's been doing. He's a very busy man.

The Democratic Party spent millions of dollars attempting to discredit Nader in 2004. A fair amount of "truthiness" was created, most, if not all, of which was not true. In fact, most, if not all, of it was fabricated by the Democratic Party itself. For example, a gay friend of mine told me he couldn't support Nader because Nader is homophobic. Where did he hear that, I asked? Everyone in the gay community knew it to be true, was the response. In reality, Nader was the only candidate in 2000 or 2004 whose campaign literature stated very clearly that he was in favor of legalizing gay marriage. So, where did that one come from? You guessed it! The Democrats.

Another knock against Nader is that he is an arrogant egomaniac. Is this true? I don't know, maybe it is, but if it's true does it make him unfit for office? What makes him egotistical or arrogant? It's another one of those things that I've heard many people using as a reason to dislike him, and "everyone" seems to know it without being able to say why. More truthiness. Are Clinton and Obama models of humility? Would any successful politician be successful if he or she weren't egotistical or arrogant? Give me arrogance over dishonest, evasive or in bed with corporations, please. Besides, if the egomaniac claim were really true, don't you think he would be resting on his laurels while everyone reminded him how great he used to be rather than putting himself in a position where he knows he will be attacked by those same people? Think about it.

Then there is the bit about how he can't win and no one will listen to him. So, this means he should give in? If he gives up, then it's a certainty that no one will listen. The media does a wonderful job of ignoring or trivializing those people who actually work for real change (just look at Dennis Kucinich), but would we be better off if they gave up? We need more people speaking up and working for change, not fewer.

There is one statement Nader made with which I disagree. In 2000, he said that there would be no difference between a Gore presidency and a Bush presidency. I understand what he meant, but I think he was partially wrong on that one. Even though I believe Gore, at that time, would have been in the pockets of big business and would also have gotten us into a war if he were president when the World Trade Center was attacked (one could argue that it wouldn't have happened if Gore had been president, but that's another post), Bush has turned out to be even worse than I could ever possibly have imagined. Worst. President. Ever. Period.

Will I vote for Nader in 2008? I honestly don't know, but when I look at the issues, Nader always agrees with me, unlike Clinton or Obama. Nader sees the true causes of the problems our country is experiencing. It always boils down to corporate greed and power. Always. Clinton and Obama serve those same corporations. Does it make sense to vote for a candidate who doesn't represent your views or your interests? Nader is very clear about what he believes and what he will attempt to do. You know what a Nader presidency would look like (yeah, if he actually won, someone would have him killed.) Obama , Clinton and McCain only tell you what they think will get them elected, rather than what they truly believe. I want to know what a candidate believes, not what they think I want to hear.

While a McCain presidency is a frightening prospect, I know I can't vote for Clinton. She voted for the war. Reprehensible. Now she's doing the "if we only knew then what we know now" song and dance. I knew then what we know now, and so did a lot of other people, including Ralph Nader. While the truth wasn't being broadcast by CNN, Fox "News" or any of the other major networks or news outlets, it also wasn't too hard to find with a little effort. It's her job to know. I can only conclude that she's lying, incompetent or stupid. I don't think she's stupid and I'm pretty sure she's not incompetent, so there you have it. She has received big money from the pharmaceutical industry as well as other corporate interests. Who do you think she'll represent if elected? Would a Clinton presidency be much different from a McCain presidency? Do we really want four to eight more years of a Clinton? If she's elected, and assuming she serves two terms, that would mean twenty-eight consecutive years with a Bush or a Clinton in the White House; thirty-six if you count George H. W. Bush's years as vice-president. Do we really want to continue this dynasty? I don't think so.

I'm not sure if I can vote for Obama. Obama spoke against the war in the beginning, when he wasn't in a position to vote on it. Since becoming a U.S. senator, he has either been absent or voted in favor of continued funding of the war every time it has come up. He says he will leave around 35,000 troops in Iraq. He has said he would not rule out military action against Iran or Pakistan. I don't know where his money comes from, so I don't know to whom he is beholden. They say he has charisma. Hitler had charisma. I'm not comparing the two, I'm just pointing out that charisma isn't necessarily a good thing. It's certainly not a good reason to vote for someone.

Listen to what Nader has said. Read what he's written. Check out Be aware of the fact that much of what "everyone knows" about him could be the product of a very deliberate and well-funded smear campaign. Give the same treatment to any other candidate. Nader comes out looking pretty good. He's a very intelligent person and he's spent his life applying that intelligence to the struggle against corporate greed and power. He has the right to run for office. For this we vilify him? If you disagree with him, think a Nader vote is a wasted vote or just plain don't like him, don't vote for him. To those people who are angry with Nader and his supporters, remember, anger consumes a lot of energy. I respectfully suggest redirecting that energy toward something more constructive than tearing down someone who has done an awful lot of good.

So, once again, why is it that so many people that you would expect to be in agreement with Nader harbor such intense anger toward him? It's a conundrum, alright.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Concert review: Tom Russell

Thursday night, Ms. Geranium and I went out to see Tom Russell at the Café Montmartre (or The Momo, as locals like to call it, although, since "Monmartre" pronounced with a midwestern accent sounds quite a bit like "Muammar" pronounced with a midwestern aceent, it gives me pleasure to call it The Café Qadaffi). I had never heard of Tom Russell until about a week before he came to Madison. Ms. Geranium showed me a YouTube video which piqued my interest. His song "Who's Gonna Build Your Wall?" won song of the year from the Folk Alliance in February of 2008.

The Café Qadaffi is a pretty small venue but we somehow ended up with front row seats. Mr. Russell proved to be a very engaging performer. His songs are well crafted and he played them with the comfortable manner that seems to be the sole property of seasoned performers. He doesn't have what most people would call a "good" voice (opera definitely would not be a wise career choice), but it has a richness and character that I like. He razzed the audience, promoter and opening musician quite a bit, but in a friendly way (after a recent tour of Ireland, he seems to enjoy using the word "bastards." A lot. Even in Spanish.) He was on the receiving end of some friendly heckling, in turn. (I had nothing to do with it. Promise.)

Accompanying Mr. Russell on guitar, mandolin and backing vocals was Michael Martin. I really enjoyed Mr. Martin's playing. He had this weird right hand thing going on when he was playing guitar - he used a flat pick and played finger-style as well, frequently switching back and forth many times during the course of a song. While playing finger-style he would tuck the pick in his hand - he could make the pick disappear and reappear with the flick of a finger like a magician dong a coin trick. It was more than just a nifty gimmick, since it gave him the ability to use a wide variety of tones without interrupting the flow of his playing. Regardless, he is a technically proficient player who makes use of his technique in a very musical fashion.

Madison native Blake Thomas opened the show. I thought his songs were good, he had a nice voice and played well. It's an unfortunate fact of life that the opener is often overlooked, since the reason most people show up is to see the headliner.

The audio and video quality of the following clip "El Gallo del Cielo" is rather poor and it only has part of the song, but it's the only version I can find of this song with Michael Martin playing on it. It's one of those epic, tragic songs to which I'm always drawn. It must be a flaw in my character, but I love those kinds of songs. There is a version of the song in its entirety on YouTube, but it doesn't have Michael Martin playing on it. Don't get me wrong - Andrew Hardin (who has played with Tom Russell quite a bit in past years) is a spectacular guitarist, but, for my tastes, Michael Martin is stylistically a better match for Mr. Russell's songs.


Okay, spring may be nigh, but it got pretty dang cold last night. 2˚F when I took this screen shot.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Spring is nigh

Some miscellaneous winter scenes that I haven't gotten around to posting.

First, from when it was still cold. (When it was this cold, -20˚F or colder, my grandfather used to say, in Finnish, a word that he claimed translated to "piss freezes in an arc.") I liked the way the wind had sculpted the snow into something that reminded me of a lunar landscape in miniature.

We had an ice storm a few weeks back, encasing everything in ice anywhere from 1/8" to 1/4" thick. It really did a number on some of the trees around here, including the birch tree in our front yard. Any guesses regarding the type of tree to which the branches in the foreground are attached?

Then, as it warmed up and the sunlight got stronger, we started getting some good crops of icicles.

Here, someone must have collected them and jammed them into a snowbank.

One evening last weekend, after a few days in the 30s and 40s, it began to rain. During the night, temperatures dropped and the rain turned to snow. The next day, the bark park was an odd combination of fresh, fluffy snow, large expanses of sheer ice and puddles. In the photo below I'm standing in about 4" of ice water. Thank the gods for dorky-looking, inexpensive, water-proof rubber boots. Made in China, unfortunately.

During the recent thaw, our street turned into a lake. Some of the local waterfowl took advantage of the conditions. (photos and concept: Luminiferous Ether)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Veseliyka: Madison Folkdance Unlimited's Bulgarian Night

This Sunday, March 9, 2008, Veseliyka will be playing at Madison Folkdance Unlimited's Bulgarian Night. Veseliyka plays traditional, village-style music from the Balkans. It consists of Dave Kantor: gaida and kaval; Yulian Yordanov: tupan and vocals; Flora van Wormer: gadulka; and me: tambura.

Open to the general public and admission is free, although donations are appreciated.

If you're a folkdancer, you've probably recovered from Folk Ball 2008 by now, and here's a great opportunity to dance to some live music again. If you're not a folkdancer, it's never too late to start. Great excercise and boatloads of fun, too. Generations of Bulgarian goatherds can't be wrong! (Plagiarism alert! I stole that goatherd line.)

The fun begins at 7:30 pm. During the first hour some Bulgarian dances will be taught. The live music begins at 8:30 and will run about an hour, after which dancing will continue to recorded music until about 11:00. Come for all or part of the evening. If you plan on dancing (and you should, if you're physically able), wear comfortable shoes. An extra belt is a good idea for dances of this region (not to hold up your pants, silly - for those dances that use a belt-hold.)

The event will be held in the basement of The Crossing Campus Christian Center, 1127 University Avenue, Madison, WI.

For more information, contact Kim at kimcaisseATgmailDOTcom or Michael at mkATmailbagDOTcom.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Happy Birthday!

Today is Beth's birthday, one of my oldest and closest friends. I think she's turning twenty-seven. Happy birthday, Beth! I know you read this occasionally, but hopefully you have better things to do today than reading boring old blogs. I'll call you.


Monday, March 3, 2008

Spring Reading Challenge

Okay, so I've joined the Spring Reading Challenge. It's this thing where you read some books, write about what you've read, read what other people have written about what they've read, write about what other people have written about what they've read about reading the things that they wrote reading write . . . umm, I seem to have gotten a little carried away there. Why don't we start over? You read some stuff and write some stuff and read some stuff written by other people about stuff they've read . . . this could get out of hand in a real hurry.

Well, to me, reading is not a challenge (unless it's non-fiction.) I read constantly. I don't feel comfortable going anywhere without a book, just in case. The challenge is finding good books to read. I find an author I like and I read everything I can find by that author. Then what? Read a bunch of mediocre books until I find another author I like. It's also a challenge for me to write about what I've read. So this whole Spring Reading Challenge thingy will, hopefully, serve two purposes: it should be a resource for some good reading material as well as an opportunity to share what I've enjoyed reading with other readers. And an opportunity to create community while discussing books with other people. Okay, I guess that was three purposes. Sorry.

If this sounds interesting to you, you can sign up until March 7th. Follow the link above or on my blogroll (some blogs I like...). Go crazy.

The Thaw

We've had a record-breaking amount of snow this year (global warming, global shwarming!). I think the previous record was set in 1979. Temperatures in the 30s and 40s for a few days. As a result, we have some serious thawing happening. Last Friday, our street, which had become a nearly impassable mass of rutted ice, had turned into a lake. I had intended to get a picture of it but, since it had remained submerged throughout the day, there was no sense of urgency. In fact, I thought that it would continue to get larger as more melting occurred. After returning from picking up my daughter at school I discovered that almost all the water had disappeared (see below).

It couldn't possibly have all evaporated and the gutters and storm sewers were still blocked with ice. Where had all that water gone? Curiosity got the better of me and I eventually found a spot downstream that was bubbling like a mudspring. Bloop. Bloop. Weird. I went to get the camera and when I returned the bloopling had turned into a little whirlpool. As it turned out, there was a manhole cover that must have been ice-covered and was no longer. All the water was rushing down that little hole in the center.

I suppose it doesn't sound all that strange, but I thought it was interesting. One of the things I enjoy about winter is the strange landscapes it creates, both in the midst of all the snowfall and during the thawing stage. These next photos are of the little canyon on our street that was formed after one of my neighbors went and hacked all the ice out of the storm drain. If you give your imagination a bit of leeway, they almost look like aerial views of a real watercourse.