Friday, December 26, 2008

On the second day of Christmas...

It's probably apparent that I have chosen to observe Hogswatch rather than Christmas this year, but I simply must share my favorite Christmas song of all time. Today, on the second day of Christmas, I invite you to enjoy The Twelve Days of Christmas by Bob and Doug McKenzie.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


For this entire post, when I write "compensation", "income", "payment" or anything similar, I mean salary, bonuses, severance pay, incentives, dividends, stock options, or any other convoluted manner those rich bastards can come up with which ultimately refers to how much money they are making.

The economy is in the crapper. The federal government is throwing huge sums of our cash at rich bastards, but what's in it for us? Where is my bailout? Where is your bailout? Where is all that money going? "We choose not to disclose that information." Someone help me, please.

It appears that our government is going to throw money at all sorts of rich bastards in order to save our "cratering" economy. Most of us have no say in the matter, but, given the fact that these bailouts seem to be a foregone conclusion, here is what I would like to see happen:

1) Any corporation on the receiving end of federal bailout funds shall not pay any CEO, or any other employee, more than $100,000 between now and 12/31/09. Should anyone on the payroll of the aforementioned bailed-out corporation receive income from any other source, their compensation from the bailed-out corporation shall be reduced by the amount received from those other sources.

2) No CEO or other employee shall be paid more than five times the amount earned by any other employee. (Let's just say the lowest paid employee earns $30,000 in 2009. No one, including the CEO [reduced for income/dividends/etc from any other source] could receive more than $150,000. "But wait!" cry the CEOs. "I could never live on $150,000/year!" Deal with it. Ask the employee who is earning $30,000/year how he/she manages. Maybe you'll learn something.)

3) All existing unions must be recognized, and employees shall form a union should a union not already exist.

4) Layoffs and/or decreases in the number of unionized employees shall result in reduced CEO compensation down to and/or below the wage paid the lowest paid employee, according to a formula as yet to be devised. (In other words, a CEO can end up earning less than the lowest paid employee if he or she totally screws things up. Waah, waah, waah.)

Okay, all you free-market trolls, have at it. I'm sure that my ideas reek of socialism and the end of the universe. As if we're not all being flushed down the toilet already.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Time for some yoga.

I saw this at Sorghum Crow's General Store. I thought it was too good not to post here as well. I've seen Ms. Stiles' yoga video for Sarah Palin, but this one was new to me. Enjoy the video, and when you're finished, skip on over to Sorghum Crow's blog.


I'd like to introduce all my readers (all four of you, but it's about quantity not quality, right? Wait a minute, let me think about that... oh, the heck with it.)

Start again...

Introducing (drum roll, please...) The Hum of the Smoke Machine! So far, this new blog by Singing Bear appears to be mostly about music. There is a lot of interesting stuff for your perusal, and I expect there is more to come. So, please take some time to check out The Hum of the Smoke Machine. You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Solstice!

Happy Solstice! Here are some wintry photos from last Friday after we got about a foot of snow.

In this photo, I'm looking for a place to put the snow that has my car immobilized. The darned plow could have plowed the snow toward the other side of the street where there is no parking, making it easier for people to shovel out, but no, they have to bury all the cars. I'm pretty sure they do it on purpose. It's two days later, residents have moved their cars to other streets that have been plowed clear, and they still haven't plowed away all the mountains of snow on our little street that are the result of having to dig the cars out. I think they're going to wait until people start parking on this street again so they can bury us all once more.
(Photo: Ms. Geranium)

Ms. Geranium using a shovel that isn't her not-so-trusty snow shovel (the stupid piece-of-crap plastic handle broke off of her shovel of choice.)

Sparkly Seacow questioning the legality of child labor, the valiant Molly at her side.
(Photo: Ms. Geranium)

Jen, our neighbor. Why aren't her kids shoveling?

Who can resist drawing in the snow? Certainly not Ms. Geranium.

Nor I.

Happy Solstice!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Excuse me, I think I'm going to be sick...

Seriously, this made me come awfully close to blowing chow all over my keyboard. Watch it if you dare... and if Blogger is keeping you from experiencing the horror in widescreen, or it loads super slowly, double click on it for extra barfaliciousness!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


This just in... astronomers determine Christmas should really be on June 17. Using software to reconstruct the positions of heavenly bodies, they found that on June 17, 2 B.C., Venus and Jupiter lined up in such a way that from Earth, they would have appeared as a single, very bright star. In other words, Jesus was born two years Before Christ. Now, I call that a miracle. Of course, if you're one of those wacky Christians that believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the earth is only 6,000 years old, you probably won't believe those god-hatin' astronomers, either. Read about it here.

Kind of makes you wonder if Wal-Mart and their ilk will try to find a way to make June 17 an excuse to get people to buy lots of useless crap, I mean consumer goods.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Johnny Clegg

My lovely and talented wife, Ms. Geranium (a.k.a. Luminiferous Ether, a.k.a. Suzy) sort of went on a Johnny Clegg jag a few days ago, which brought back a lot of memories. One of the most amazing concerts I've ever experienced was Johnny Clegg and Savuka on Halloween Night, 1990, at The Barrymore Theater in Madison, WI. The combination of incredible musicians performing great songs at a high energy level, and great sound in the house (which, unfortunately, from my experience at that particular venue, turns out to be a rare occurrence) was incredible in and of itself. Add to it the fact that much of the audience was in costume and dancing, and you have an extra element of atmosphere on top of the performance. It was an other-worldly experience.

For anyone who is not familiar with Johnny Clegg and his bands Juluka and Savuka, I feel it's important to be aware that, while Clegg was born in England, he grew up mostly in South Africa. As the child of a single mother, he was often left to his own devices and spent much of his time with local Zulu musicians and dancers. People frequently mistakenly assume that, like Paul Simon, he borrowed from South African music. The truth of the matter is that he is South African and incorporated other styles, such as Celtic folk and western pop, into the traditional music he grew up playing. Clegg ended up in prison for playing in a mixed-race group. Juluka was banned from South African radio stations for being too political and for being multiracial. Ironically (and stupidly), they also found themselves blacklisted in Europe for playing in South Africa, their home country, at a time when musicians around the world were boycotting South Africa.

The first recording I ever heard by Johnny Clegg was Scatterlings, the first Juluka album to be released in the U.S. I was working in a record store and it was a time when "World Music" wasn't even a category. Apparently, Juluka was all the rage in Europe and Warner Brothers Records in the U.S. had acquired the rights to the group. Scatterlings was a minor hit with the more adventurous record buyers and was followed by a second album, Stand Your Ground, the sales of which were disappointing to the good people at Warner Brothers. I never even had the opportunity to hear that one at the time. Nothing was heard from Juluka on the U.S. scene after that. I assumed they were gone, done for, and they disappeared from my radar. When Johnny Clegg formed Savuka, I didn't immediately make the connection between Juluka and Savuka. Shadow Man was the first Savuka album I heard, and it didn't occur to me that it was the same vocalist, guitarist and bandleader as Juluka until I went back and listened to Third World Child, and thought, "hey, they're doing a Juluka song!" Doh! I loved both albums and when they went on tour in 1989, I was quite pleased to have the chance to see them. They played at a place called Alpine Valley (the same place where Stevie Ray Vaughan died in a helicopter crash), opening for Tracy Chapman and Bob Dylan. Ms. Geranium and I left during Tracy Chapman's set (missing Dylan completely - how many people can say, or admit, that they went to a Bob Dylan concert and left before he even went on stage?) so we could beat the rush getting out of the parking lot and get home to relieve our babysitter.

While the music, itself, is worth the cost of an album, his lyrics also bear listening to. Songs about injustice, history, loss, death, suffering, love and, yes, even soccer. I sometimes reflect on how inaccurate the media's depiction of real life actually is and how it creates unreasonable expectations in so many people's minds. Thus, I found the chorus in Don't Walk Away to be rather meaningful:

This is not a movie
Not a dream
What you see is what you get
This is not a movie
It's for real
You have to face it in the end -
The hard side of love

(Just ask Ms. Geranium about the hard side of love. Uff da! The woman is a saint.)

Speaking as a bass player, I've seen a lot of the famous hotshots. I've seen Jaco, I've seen Chris Squire, Flea and Billy Sheehan. Great players, from a technical point of view, but I have only seen a few bassists that have really grabbed me. Richard Davis is one. Percy Jones (of Brand X and Brian Eno, among others) John Wetton (King Crimson, 1973 - 1975) and Mark Abraham (Enter The Haggis) are three others that come to mind. Savuka's Solly Letwaba would be in that group, and not the least of them. Letwaba died in 2000 at the age of 36 of complications resulting from tuberculosis. He was one of the most exciting bassists I've seen. His death is a great loss to his family and the music world. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to see him play not just once, but three times.

Unfortunately, Solly Letwaba is not the only member of Savuka to die an untimely death. Percussionist and dancer Dudu Mntowaziwayo Ndlovu (Dudu Zulu) "...was assassinated in a very convoluted conspiracy relating to a taxi war that unfolded in his area in 1993. The killers were never brought to book and of the five people who were present when the shots were fired at night outside his homestead, four have subsequently been killed in tribal feuds and taxi wars." [Quote from an interview with Johnny Clegg posted on his website.]

Clegg, too, has been a target of violence in his home country. He still lives in South Africa and has invested much of his money in working to provide clean water for all in addition to an organization which recycles computer components. He doesn't seem to tour the U.S. very much any more, but plays to packed arenas in South Africa and Europe.

Despite the fact that Clegg, his band mates and their country have seen and experienced loss and suffering beyond the imagining of most people, their music is still full of life and joy. Here is a clip from the tour on which I first saw them. I remember them playing this song (Don't Walk Away) and being blown away by the fact that, among other things, the dude could sing while executing some rather physically demanding dance moves. Enjoy.