When I was young I subscribed to Boys’ Life magazine. Even though my membership in the Boy Scouts was very brief I continued reading the club’s official magazine for several years because it contained lots of stories, articles, comics, etc. that appealed to me as a 10-12-year-old boy.
In addition to their more professional content, the magazine also featured a joke section in the back. Readers would send in original jokes, and those who were fortunate to have their jokes selected would be compensated to the tune of two dollars. Most of the jokes were terrible--so terrible, in fact, that I figured I could come up with better. So I did.
At the time I was particularly fond of the particular sub-genre of joke that involves an invented book title with a punning author name--stuff like “Under the Bleachers by Seymour Butts.” I think I came up with two or three clean, original ideas and sent them in. The only one I distinctly remember went something like, “Babysitting Made Easy by Justin Casey Wales,” which I thought was extremely clever.
I waited with great anticipation to hear that all of my original jokes had been accepted, but after several months went by with no response I eventually gave up hope. But one day, unexpectedly, I received an envelope from Boys’ Life with two dollars enclosed. There was probably some kind of letter enclosed, but I don’t remember. All I remember are those two dollar bills, creased and worn. Although not as glamorous or professional as I had imagined, that cash in an envelope was exciting for what it represented: I was getting my name in a magazine, and I was getting paid for it.
I’ve been teaching my students about resumes and applying for jobs, and I stressed to them that they need to be careful of how they use their names online. I said that on the Internet nothing is lost and nothing is forgotten. I mentioned that I try to avoid using my last name on my own blog so that potential employers don’t find it when they do a Google search. It’s been a while since I actually Googled myself and I thought I’d see if the results have changed at all.
In addition to the pages of swimming results and random things I’ve carelessly attached my last name to, I was surprised to find a link to Google Books’ display of the January 1992 issue of Boys’ Life magazine. So go take a look at which joke of mine was chosen (which I had completely forgotten over the years) and marvel at the first, and as yet only, time I got paid for my writing.
When Christmas is over, the world is in the dead of winter, and the TV networks have not resumed new episodes of our favorite TV shows, then Erika and I long to rent the movies we weren't able to see in the last year. This past week we've been trying to catch up on titles that made critics' best of the year lists, most notably the A.V. Club's.
First, though, there's one winter movie we were able to see on the big screen.
A friend gave us a gift certificate to a movie theater in Nebraska to use while we were visiting over break. We took this chance to see True Grit, mostly because I never turn down a chance to see a Coen brothers film in the theater. Before going on I really expected that it would show up on my personal Best of 2010 list. Obviously, it did not, but just barely. I feel bad criticizing it because I really think the Coens made the best movie they possibly could out of the material; I just don't think the story is very interesting. It's a pretty straightforward revenge story, with the mild twist of a young girl travelling with a bounty hunter.
The strength of the movie is in the characters. Jeff Bridges is excellent as an old, drunk, yet oddly competent bounty hunter; Matt Damon is hilarious in his straight depiction of an uptight and dorky Texas Ranger; and Hailee Steinfeld is very impressive as an unusually brave and assertive girl trying to avenge her father's death. The supporting cast is just as good. There's not an uninteresting character in the mix. While I usually admire the Coens' movies for their complex stories, snappy dialogue, and distinct visual style, True Grit made me realize just how good they are at getting spectacular performances from actors.
In preparing for this post, I was trying to think of what movies we had rented in the past week. I knew there was one from the A.V. Club list that I was forgetting, but I couldn't for the life of me think of what it is, and I had to actually look up the list. It was Greenberg, and I'd say that my lapse in memory is a pretty good indicator of how forgettable this movie is. Noah Baumbach's movies tend to rely more on character than story (he's one person you could honestly accuse of making movies with no plot), and while I absolutely loved that approach on The Squid and the Whale, I just didn't think it worked here. I didn't really care about Ben Stiller's character, and while I remember laughing occasionally at the time I don't think I can point name any funny moments in the movie now. To be frank, I'm having a hard time finding anything good to say about the movie. I suppose I was a little concerned over whether or not the dog would die.
I have been excited to see this ever since it came out almost a year ago. I heard rave reviews for it at the time, and it was #1 on the A.V. Club's list. As a result, I'm afraid I let my expectations get built up too high, so I'm going to try to forget all that and simply assess the film on its own merits. I think Winter's Bone is a solidly good movie. It is about a 17-year-old girl in Missouri's Ozark country whose mother has an ambiguous mental illness and whose father is absent and due to stand trial on charges of producing meth. As a result, this high school student is responsible for the feeding and care of her two younger siblings and the maintenance of her house--a burden that becomes even greater when she learns that her father had put up their property to pay his bail and is now nowhere to be found. If she's to have any hope of keeping the house and her family intact, the girl must find her missing father herself, a task that takes her into the hidden world of meth production. It's a fascinating look at a drug culture that is underrepresented in crime fiction, with its own set of social rules. As a character, the girl is a dark parallel to True Grit's protagonist, as she fearlessly enters dangerous situations and stands against people far more powerful than her. And with Jennifer Lawrence turning in an excellent performance in the role, that makes 2010 an impressive year for young actresses. I'm anxious to see if one or both of them turn out to be Oscar contenders this year.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
When this film came out I was oddly not excited to see it, despite its being based on a popular comic book and featuring music by Beck. I read the first volume of Scott Pilgrim in a bookstore and was not impressed with the style or the story. But I think Edgar Wright has a fun and unique approach to blending action and comedy, and after reading several positive reviews, I decided to give Scott Pilgrim a chance. I wasn't disappointed. There are a lot of laugh-out-loud moments in the movie. Wallace, Scott's roommate, is excellent (kudos to Kieran Culkin), and Alison Pill's deadpan portrayal of Kim is an absolute delight. The action scenes are also a lot of fun, and while they run the danger of getting tedious after a while, I think Wright does a good job of not letting them run for too long. One disappointment I had was in the character of Ramona. For a girl who is supposed to be so cute and weird an fascinating that Scott falls in love with her at first sight, I found her to be pretty uninteresting. I don't really see why Scott would be attracted to her. The resolution also feels very contrived. It's as if for the last five minutes all character motivation is thrown out the window and the film just devolves to giving the audience the ending they want.
The Secret of Kells
Obviously not a 2010 release, this is a nominee from last year's Oscars that I put off seeing with the kids because I thought it might be too scary. I decided to finally get it for our family movie night last night, and both kids handled it just fine. Since we watched it with the kids, I thought I would give you their reviews as well as mine.
Daniel: I kind of like it. I like how the girl makes sparkles while she is singing. I like when the wolf turns into a girl. I like the wolves. I like the mean people who took their gold and crops. I like the scary noises and the big serpent. I didn't like when the little boy fell down from the tree. I give it a thumbs sideways. That means kind of.
Eva: I liked the special family movie night. I like the wolves. I like the mommy girl. I like the little boy. I like the black eyes from his friend. I like the funny eyes. There are no lions in it.
Kyle: The story is about Brendan, a boy living at the Abbey of Kells. The boy's uncle is the abbot, who has suspended all work on illuminated manuscripts to build a wall for defense against vikings. The monks are joined one day by Aidan of Iona, who brings with him the Book of Iona and secretly begins training Brendan to continue work on the book, against his uncle's wishes. At the same time, Brendan ventures outside the protection of their wall to the forest, also against his uncle's wishes, and meets a forest spirit. The film uses a very flat and simple style of cel animation, but with lots of intricate little embellishments, mirroring the look of illuminated manuscripts. The effect is very pretty to look at, and also quite inventive in the dream-like sequences, such as Brendan's battle in the dark with Crom Cruach. The story itself is pretty simplistic, though, and the resolution is abrupt and unsatisfying. Still, in a time when most animated films are of the CGI-action-comedy variety, it's nice to see a movie that dares to be different.
I don’t really know how it started, or when. I assume there was sometime in my childhood that I didn’t do it, but I can’t really recall. As far as I’m concerned I’ve always been a nail-biter, and not just the kind that bites off the ends of his fingernails when they get too long. I’ve bitten my nails even when there was nothing there to bite. I’ve bitten my cuticles and the skin around my nails. I’ve bitten them until they’ve bled and gotten infected. I’ve bitten them until all that was left was the barest remnant of a nail, warped and misshapen. I’ve bitten them until they turned black.
Gross, I know.
I tried to many times over many years. At first it was in response to the nagging and bribing of my mom. And while I did want to quit, I just didn’t have the will to stop. The problem with nail-biting is that once your nails are already bitten down and ugly and jagged, there’s a constant temptation to bite them more. There’s always one more little piece or edge or thread sticking out, and you think that if you can just bite that part off, it will be better. But then that just leaves another jagged edge.
Plus, the nails are always there. I would never claim that nail-biting is a harder habit to break than drinking or smoking (there are other, stronger forces at work with substance addiction), but at least with those you can throw away your cigarettes or pour your liquor down the drain. With nail-biting the things you want to avoid are perpetually at the ends of your arms. So simply deciding to stop never worked for me.
Over the years, I tried many solutions. I tried the foul-tasting fingernail polish, but I just bit them anyway. I tried clear, shiny polish, but I scraped it off with my teeth. I tried chewing gum, but I bit my nails even with gum in my mouth. I tried designating one nail that I would not bite, with the idea that I would gradually progress to two, three, on up to ten. I never got past one.
After each attempt inevitably failed, I would always go back to biting my nails without restraint, accepting that it’s always going to be a part of who I am.
Until last year.
Around the beginning of the school year I decided it was time to quit for good. I think a combination of factors led up to this. My kids are getting older, and I don’t want them to see me biting my nails for fear of them copying my bad habit. I’ve been trying to look and act more professional at work lately. It also occurred to me how unsanitary it is to be constantly putting my fingers in my mouth, especially when I work somewhere as germ-infested as a public school.
So there’s the why. As for the how, I was assisted with a bit more self-awareness than I had in the past. I decided that, despite what I’ve always been told about nail-biting, I do not have an oral fixation: even when I have forced myself to not bite my nails I have just gone to picking at them instead. So I decided it has nothing to do with my mouth, and everything to do with my hands. The way I calm myself when I am nervous, anxious, or just bored is to do things with my hands. So I started carrying around a British pound coin left over from a trip to London several years ago, and whenever my hands weren’t occupied with something else I started flipping the coin around between my fingers. This gave me just the nervous outlet I needed.
The other thing I’ve learned about myself recently is that if I’m going to change my habits, I have to do it all the way, and not by increments or compromise. I learned this when I was trying to lose weight. It really doesn’t work for me to say I’m only going to have dessert one or two nights a week. If I allow myself any at all, then it quickly turns into allowing myself to have it every night. I figured it would be the same way with my nails: if I allowed myself to bite even one nail, or only trim the edges (as I told myself in a previous attempt), then pretty soon I’m back to the same behavior I started with. No, I would have to go cold turkey, and I would need a way to both hold myself accountable for every time I slipped up, and motivate me to get back on track. I created an item on my Google calendar called, “Last Day,” and I challenged myself to see how long I could maintain a perfect streak. If I so much as nibbled at a single nail, I moved “Last Day” up to the current day and started over.
When I approached my habit this way, I was surprised at how easy it was to quit. I had an occasional lapse, but for the most part I left my hands alone. The coin very quickly took over as my default behavior. On days that I left it at home I would get anxious and actually crave the coin, not my fingernails.
After a few weeks my nails had grown out enough that I could file the rough edges down. This was a major turning point. I found that once my fingernails had a nice, smooth edge on them, I didn’t want to bite them anymore, for fear of ruining them. Soon, I didn’t even need the coin anymore.
Several months have passed since then and my nails have been gradually growing back to a normal appearance. Some of them had been bitten down for so long and so brutally that even the roots were misshapen, and it’s taken a long time to grow out the ugly parts. But probably in the next several weeks the last evidence of my former habit will be gone. It feels great. By beating my nastiest and longest-running habit I feel like I really am the master of my own behavior, and I have a new boldness to start improving myself in other ways.
10. Plastic Beach by Gorillaz
The latest album from Gorillaz took a while to grow on me. It’s the group’s most hip-hop album to date, a genre that is just generally harder for me to get into. But over time I came to appreciate most of the tracks, including those featuring unexpected guests Snoop Dogg and Lou Reed. My very favorite moments are the tracks “On Melancholy Hill” and “Stylo,” which feature cool beats with Albarn’s unmistakable vocals. I don’t think Plastic Beach is as consistently good as the previous Gorillaz releases (the end tends to lose my interest), but still it’s another fine release by a very interesting group.
9. Antifogmatic by Punch Brothers
I admit that I’m a sucker for anything with banjo and mandolin, so my musical judgment of anything resembling bluegrass may be a bit skewed. Nevertheless, I’m surprised that the progressive bluegrass of Punch Brothers doesn’t get more attention. Led by Chris Thile, formerly of Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers make music that is complex and lush, but also foot-stomping, knee-slapping fun. By the end of their latest album their formula starts to grow a little stale, but standout tracks like “Rye Whiskey” and “Next to the Trash” elevate this to one of my favorite albums of the year.
8. Planetary Vol. 4
Although Warren Ellis’s excellent series Planetary concluded at the end of 2009, the final collected edition was released this year, so I’m including it on my list. Volume 4 sees one of the best comic book series of the last decade reach its zenith. Ellis and Cassaday really outdo themselves here, especially with the two-part episode in which the heroes discover an ancient spaceship as large as a planet. Its gargantuan pilot died eons ago and the dead ship has been adrift for so long that it’s developed its own ecosystem full of highly evolved life. This is all revealed in a tremendously fantastic series of silent images, the ultimate expression of the wild weirdness that drives the whole series. Rarely do you find an ongoing series that is this consistently good and is allowed to come to a fitting end while still at the peak of its originality.
7. My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky by Swans
When I make this list each year I’m sensitive to the fact that most of my favorite things are by creators and artists I’ve already known for some time. I actually do try out new things all the time, but the ones that get me most excited tend to be by people I already know and love. Here’s an exception. I had never heard of the band Swans before this year, but based on numerous recommendations I bought their new album and loved it right away. It’s a dark, noisy, messy, and sprawling album. The songs, some of them as much as nine minutes long, are given lots of time to grow and expand slowly. Although this is not the type of music that lends itself to catchy melodies, I was surprised at how well each song manages to distinguish itself from the rest. This is an album that heavily rewards repeated listening.
6. Go by Jónsi
Go is easily the most accessible release Jónsi has been involved with (for one thing, I can read not just the album title but most of the song titles), but the music is still the dreamy orchestral rock that is Sigur Rós’s trademark. Even when sung in Icelandic or a made-up nonsense language the music alone is able to carry the listener to thrilling epiphanies. In fact, one of the things I’ve loved about Sigur Rós is that, to those of us who don’t speak Icelandic, the emotional power of their songs is communicated solely through the music. Perhaps the nicest surprise on Go, then is how Jónsi’s lyrics make the music even more powerful. On “Animal Arithmetic,” he proclaims, “Every time, everyone, everything's full of life,” and at the height of the song, amidst dizzying drums and the building crescendo of strings and chorus, he repeats, “I see you colourful, I see you in the trees / I see you spiritful, You're in the breeze / I see it in your hands, Tree fingers draw a beam / I see you in the sand : Roll down the stream.” It’s hard not to love such naked joy at the world.
5. Absolute All-Star Superman
I usually don’t read Superman comics because I find the character uninteresting. I also generally don’t like Grant Morrison. It seems sometimes like he’s trying too hard to be weird and re-inventive when I’d rather he just tell a good story. So it stands to reason that I wouldn’t like Grant Morrison, right? Wrong. I think in this case Morrison’s sci-fi weirdness and thorough knowledge of Golden Age comics provides a fascinating new take on Superman that is both futuristic and nostalgic. Yes, this is all old news but I have held out on actually buying the series until the inevitable oversized Absolute Edition is released. Well, it came out this year and it’s every bit as good as hoped. Frank Quitely’s artwork is served very well in the oversized format, and there are the usual character sketches and other such extras. This is the most interesting and attractive Superman story every written, presented in its ideal format. If you are inclined to buy this kind of product, I highly recommend it.
After I saw Inception I started hearing complaints about confusing and difficult to follow it is, and frankly, which baffled me slightly. I thought the story couldn’t be more straightforward. Sure, there are multiple things happening at once, but each level of dream reality takes place in a very distinct setting, which I think makes it very easy to differentiate. Aside from that, the story mostly unfolds chronologically. Neither did I think the movie was particularly groundbreaking or revolutionary. Although it is original, it’s not that radically different from great action movies that have come before. That said, Inception is a particularly well-crafted, exciting, and entertaining film, and I loved every minute of it, from the opening that thrusts the viewer into an unfamiliar world to the ending that is deliciously ambiguous. As soon as it was over I immediately wanted to watch it again--the mark of a truly great movie.
3. Grinderman 2
After spending decades building a reputation for combining highly literate song lyrics with top-notch instrumentation, Nick Cave, along with three of his Bad Seeds decided to form a separate band with a rougher sound. The idea was that each individual would play an instrument other than what he typically uses, with Cave himself abandoned his piano for the electric guitar. Furthermore, when writing the songs for this project, Cave left behind his allusions to Homer, the Bible, and folklore to focus on more low down and dirty subjects. As one reviewer put it, “In The Bad Seeds, Nick Cave thinks with his brain; in Grinderman, he thinks with his dick.” The first eponymous album from this side-project was definitely different: it was rough, grungy, and a lot of fun to listen to. Grinderman 2 continues in a similar vein, showing off Cave’s nasty sense of humor on “Worm Tamer.” It’s also a prettier album, though, with more than one song that would feel at home on a Bad Seeds album. “When My Baby Comes” is the song of a woman repeatedly begging, “Just how long you gonna be, my baby?” over gradually crescendoing strings until the song explodes in electric guitar. “Palaces of Montezuma,” on the other hand, seems to be the first truly sincere love song by Grinderman, a piano-based tune that promises a number of lavish gifts to the beloved, including “The hanging gardens of Babylon,” “Miles Davis the black unicorn,” “The epic of Gilgamesh,” and “A pretty little black A-line dress.” At this point the difference between Grinderman and The Bad Seeds seems pretty arbitrary, but no matter what they’re calling it, it’s some of the best music of the year.
2. The Age of Adz by Sufjan Stevens
It took me a while to make up my mind about Sufjan Stevens’ new album. It’s not that the sound was completely unexpected: after hearing the BQE, the eighth Songs for Christmas EP (not officially released, but leaked online), and various songs recorded for compilations, I knew that Sufjan was moving in a different, more electronic direction. No, with the Age of Adz there were other factors at work. One was the different approach to songwriting. There’s less emphasis on lyrical content and traditional song structures and more emphasis on creating unusual sound textures. There’s also just less of a cohesive idea linking the songs together. Sufjan is good at making complete concept albums like Illinois or even Seven Swans, but on Age of Adz the themes are not as immediately obvious. What helped me was seeing Sufjan in concert (thank you, Danny). It actually helped me to hear Sufjan explain the ideas behind some of the songs and, in some cases, hear them performed with the videos projected behind the stage, further integrating the music with the visual work of artist Royal Robertson. I don’t think The Age of Adz is perfect from start to finish like Illinois is, but it is a bold and exciting record that more than once rises to pure delight.
1. Toy Story 3
Lately I've felt some disappointment at the announcements of Pixar's planned sequels. I love their original films so much that I would much rather see them take a chance with something like Up or Ratatouille than fall back on already-established characters. But it’s hard to stay bitter about Pixar getting into the sequel game when their sequels are this good. Toy Story 3 isn’t content with just doing what has worked in the past: it moves the characters to even greater emotional depth than they have experienced before. While in their previous adventures they have faced the prospect of losing one or two from their group, they now have to deal with the possibility of them all being neglected, thrown out, or even utterly destroyed. There are relatively few jokey jokes in Toy Story 3, the story focusing much more on the characters and their plight. And oh, that spectacular ending that makes you laugh and weep at the same time. It’s rare that a movie manages to move so many people so deeply, especially when you realize that these characters that elicit such genuine pathos are made of plastic. I know Disney/Pixar is pushing for a Best Picture win at the Oscars, which animated films are generally deemed unworthy of. It will be interesting to see if Toy Story 3 can break that ceiling.
I remember a conversation I had when I was a kid about attempts to find the Ark of the Old Testament. It was something I didn’t really know anything about, but I wanted to impress the friend I was talking to, so I did my best to pretend at knowledge of the subject. Before long, though, it occurred to me that we were talking about two very different things: I was imagining Noah’s Ark, the enormous seagoing vessel that carried two of every animal during the flood; while he was talking about the Ark of the Covenant, that sacred box that carries the ten commandments and melts Nazis’ faces off. This was actually the first time I had heard of the latter, and I remember experiencing some initial confusion over two such different artifacts both being called arks. Over time, though, I just accepted this as the way it is and thought nothing more of it.
Sometime in the last couple of years I began reading Everett Fox’s translation of The Five Books of Moses, with his explanatory notes. I learned that “ark” is actually a Latinate word meaning box, and is used as the English term for several boxy objects in the Old Testament.
The first, of course, is Noah’s Ark. I was a little surprised to learn that the Hebrew word used for it is derived from teb, meaning chest. A far cry from the sturdy seagoing vessel depicted in most artists’ renderings, Noah’s Ark in the Genesis account is a big floating box.
What’s even more interesting is that the same Hebrew word used for Noah’s Ark is repeated in Exodus when describing the vessel the infant Moses is placed in when he is sent adrift down the Nile river. This is a deliberate echo of the flood account, and the parallels are obvious: in both instances an ark spares its inhabitant(s) from certain destruction. Given the clear connection between the stories, it’s a shame that most modern English translations have Moses’ mother placing him in a basket, thus losing the linguistic connection, although the King James version does translate it as an “ark of bulrushes.”
Then there is the third ark, the Ark of the Covenant. This time it is a sacred object that houses a number of holy artifacts and, more significantly, represents the very presence of God. It is the object that is at the center of tabernacle worship. It is carried with the Israelites into battle as a sign that God is with them.
The Ark of the Covenant is obviously quite different both functionally and lexically (the Hebrew word used is aron, rather than teb), but I think it’s interesting that it’s translated “Ark” all the same, especially since I know of a fourth ark that resonates with all of the three mentioned.
I am talking about the manger of Jesus.
Now, I must admit that etymologically I have no grounds for linking this with the arks previously mentioned. The New Testament is written in Greek, whereas the others are from the Hebrew scriptures. But semantically I would argue that the manger, a feeding trough, is a kind of box, and can reasonably be called an ark.
I also think that the story of Jesus very clearly echoes that of Moses: both babies were prophesied to be saviors of their people; in both stories a powerful king calls for the death of all children under a certain age, in reaction to that prophecy; and both infant saviors are narrowly spared by their parents secreting them away to a safe location.
Speaking more broadly, the manger of Jesus is like Noah’s Ark in that it is a box or vessel through which God has chosen to save the world.
And finally, like the Ark of the Covenant, the manger holds a sacred treasure. It holds the very presence of God.
...maybe it's time.
This may only be interesting to Grandmas and other blood relatives, although I should point out that you get to see Daniel palm Baby Jesus' head and Eva improvise some unusual dance moves.
In all seriousness, though, I am proud of the level of participation my kids put into the program this year. It was fun to watch, and there are some adorable moments.
Daniel laughed so hard at that he had trouble breathing.
With my last.fm account approaching 50,000 plays I thought I would commemorate the event by counting down to it with a good, old-fashioned random ten.
Love You To - The Beatles
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - U2 (that's not a typo--it's a live cover)
Mad World - Tears for Fears
Ramble On - Led Zeppelin
My Heart Would Know - Hank Williams
Who's Got the Bacon? - Howie B
Bad - U2
Funny Face - The MDH Band
Polyethylene Part II - Christopher O'Riley
And my 50,000th play on last.fm is...
The New Pollution (Remix by Mickey P.) - Beck
Yes, that is Fred Schneider of the B-52s.
You can download the song for free here.
In addition to their normally great deals on mp3 downloads, Amazon is featuring ridiculous specials all week leading up to Black Friday.
Plastic Beach by Gorillaz, an album I've already seen on many people's year-end top ten lists, is on sale for $1.99. That's right: $1.99! If you apply the $3 credit Amazon is offering that means you can get one of the year's best albums for free, and still have a little something left over.
Or, if you'd rather, you can pick one of the other releases by Belle and Sebastian, KT Tunstall, John Legend & The Roots, or Creedence.
What a beautiful song. It also further demonstrates that the difference between Grinderman and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds is more or less arbitrary.
Today is Kurt Vonnegut’s birthday. It also happens to be Veteran’s Day, previously known as Armistice Day. Here is what Vonnegut had to say about it in his book Breakfast of Champions:
I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.
Armistice Day has become Veterans' Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans' Day is not.
So I will throw Veterans' Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don't want to throw away any sacred things.
What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.
And all music is.
Here are some other nice things Vonnegut said.
If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:
THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED
FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.
There are plenty of good reasons for fighting, but no good reason ever to hate without reservation, to imagine that God Almighty Himself hates with you, too. Where's evil? It's that large part of every man that wants to hate without limit, that wants to hate with God on its side.
History is merely a list of surprises. ... It can only prepare us to be surprised yet again. Please write that down.
If you can do no good, at least do no harm.
Bergeron's epitaph for the planet, I remember, which he said should be carved in big letters in a wall of the Grand Canyon for the flying-saucer people to find, was this:
WE COULD HAVE SAVED IT
BUT WE WERE TOO DOGGONE CHEAP
Only he didn't say 'doggone.'
Doesn't anything socialistic make you want to throw up? Like great public schools, or health insurance for all?
For Christ's sake, let's help more of our frightened people get through this thing, whatever it is.
Why throw money at problems? That is what money is for.
But the one quote that best sums up his life's work is his greeting to all new human beings arriving on earth:
Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you've got a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- "God damn it, you've got to be kind."
From my local paper, The Kirksville Daily Express: "Clerk, not evil clowns, responsible for theft"
To my disappointment, though, the clerk didn't say evil clowns robbed him, but just people in clown masks--a claim that later proved rather less than true:
Police later reviewed video from the ATM located at the front of the store and observed no one entering the store at the time of the alleged robbery. Instead, the video revealed Austin stuffing money into his pants.
Robert Reich appeared on Fresh Air this week and discussed his new book, in which he submits that the root cause of our economic problems is the huge income disparity in America. You may have heard similar claims before, but I not like this. Nobody today speaks as convincingly as Robert Reich about America's economy and what we can do to fix it.
I know I say this a lot, but seriously, you should go listen to it. Now.
If I had been drinking coffee while watching this, then the words "a film by Joel and Ethan Coen" would have made me do a real-life spit take.
Why was I not informed of this before now, Internet?!
So we have Jeff Bridges reuniting with the Coen brothers for the first time since The Big Lebowski, plus Josh Brolin back for more after his performance in No Country For Old Men. Nice.
I was afraid the Coens had exhausted their creativity between 2001 and 2007, but they are really on a roll lately. I can't wait to see this.
NPR is now streaming The Age of Adz by Sufjan Stevens, as part of their First Listen series.
That is all.
I'm writing a rare post from work.
There are lots of sporting activities and things going on after school, and as I was walking down the hall just now I overtook a kid going in the same direction, probably about 8 years old. He said, "Hi, coach." I informed that I am not a coach, and he said, "Oh. You look like my coach."
I asked, "Who is your coach?"
The boy said, "I don't really know."
"You don't know his name?"
Then the boy very seriously informed me, "We just call him Coach Sexy Biceps."
Erika is volunteering at a local church's food pantry tonight, so I fed the kids dinner, bathed them, and put them to bed. As I was saying goodnight to Daniel, he said he wanted Erika to come and say goodnight (as he says every night when she is here). I told him that she is still at the food pantry, but if she comes home while Daniel is still awake I will have her come in and say goodnight.
"You know what's the best thing?" Daniel asked.
I replied, "What?"
"When I go to sleep and wake up, and then Mommy comes in."
There are a lot of things to love about our local TV station's news website: the spelling and grammar mistakes, the charmingly mundane stories, and the aneurism-inducing reader comments.
But my favorite is the News RoundUp. This regular feature highlights and summarizes the most newsworthy items of the day. The thing is, though, that the writers feel the need to capture the essence of each story in just a few words, and then to combine the three, separated by commas, within the headline. Usually this results in something like, RoundUp: Iowans and credit, Rathbun Lake tour & health care. But occasionally the news items are worded in such a way that their juxtaposition results in some unintended meaning. These are always a delightful surprise.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Proving you're a citizen, forgery & a new high school
With a couple of punctuation changes, this could be the title of a fantastic weekend seminar.
Worker accused of having sex, yoga & Tasers
I'd like to know what kind of job that worker was hired to do.
Ignoring laws, lightning causes house fire & shorter school year
Something must be done about this lightning's utter disregard for our society's laws and our school schedule.
I heard this story the yesterday about some Republicans who want to remove the part of the 14th amendment that automatically allows anyone born within the United States to be a citizen.
I thought that conservatives are committed to preserving the constitution (or at least what they imagine the constitution to say). Apparently, that only applies to the parts of the constitution that agree with their agenda.
As usual, the debate seems to center around what congress intended when adopting the amendment. So just to clarify, when legislators wrote 219 years ago that "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed," they clearly meant that private citizens should be able to own and operate assault rifles and machine guns in 2010, but when they wrote 144 years ago that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside," they clearly did not intend to include Mexicans.
One of my favorite things about All Songs Considered is their coverage of the big music festivals each year, especially the Newport Folk Festival. It will be a long time before I can actually attend (if ever), but I can experience the concerts vicariously through NPR’s comprehensive coverage: I believe audio recordings for all the performances are available through the Live Concerts podcast and I’ve spent the last week listening to them straight through.
There’s a great show by Punch Brothers, a band I would love to see live. While I couldn’t find a video of them playing “Rye Whiskey,” a favorite of mine, at Newport, here they are gettin' down on another occasion:
They also closed their set with an odd cover of Radiohead’s “Kid A.”
A band I’ve just learned about through these live recordings is O’Death. Here they are performing “Grey Sun” at Newport:
They fit into that wildly-aggressive-playing-of-traditional-insruments genre that I love. Just watch that guy go to town on the violin at the end. I’m definitely going to be checking them out some more.
My most exciting discovery, though, was John Prine, who apparently is a very famous and renowned folk artist that nobody bothered telling me about until now (I’m disappointed in you, Internet). He sings a song (also apparently famous) titled, “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore.” There is a YouTube video of him performing it at Newport here, but the quality isn’t very good, so here's an almost completely unrelated performance from several years ago:
When I heard this, I assumed it was a fairly recent song, probably written during the height of the Iraq War, considering its message about religion and shallow patriotism. It turns out, though, that it dates all the way back to 1971. It’s interesting how such a specific satirical song can be so timeless. Again, something I’m going to have to check out more of.
I was intrigued to learn today about Republican congressman Bob Inglis, who recently lost a primary election largely because he refuses to pander to the Tea Party paranoia that has swept through his constituents. Among his crimes: telling people to "turn Glenn Beck off," criticizing Joe Wilson for yelling at the President during a State of the Union address, and refusing to call Barack Obama a Socialist.
Upon reading these things, my first reaction was relief at hearing about a Republican politician who actually seems decent, followed by depression at the thought that the bar for Republicans is so low that all someone has to do to stand out is not call the President a Socialist.
I don't want to make little of Inglis's integrity, though. There are some comments he made in the Mother Jones interview that really did impress me. Here he is talking about why he wouldn't call Obama a Socialist:
The word is designed to have emotional charge to it. Throughout my primary, there were people insisting that I use the word. They would ask me if he was a socialist, and I would always find some other word. I'd say, "President Obama wants a very large government that I don't think will work and that spends too much and it's inefficient and it compromises freedom and it's not the way we want to go." They would listen for the word, wait to see if I used the s-word, and when I didn't, you could see the disappointment.
I refused to use the word because I have this view that the Ninth Commandment must mean something. I remember one year Bill Clinton—the guy I was out to get [when serving on the House judiciary committee in the 1990s]—at the National Prayer Breakfast said something that was one of the most profound things I've ever heard from anybody at a gathering like that. He said, "The most violated commandment in Washington, DC"—everybody leaned in; do tell, Mr. President—"is, 'Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.'" I thought, "He's right. That is the most violated commandment in Washington." For me to go around saying that Barack Obama is a socialist is a violation of the Ninth Commandment. He is a liberal fellow. I'm conservative. We disagree...But I don't need to call him a socialist, and I hurt the country by doing so. The country has to come together to find a solution to these challenges or else we go over the cliff.
I have never wanted to be the type of person to vote solely on party lines, but after seeing the Republican Party as a bloc perpetuate misinformation and outright lies about Obama's health care and tax policies, and tolerate the worst elements of their own party, I thought I had finally reached a point at which I would never support any Republican ever, purely on principle. But after seeing Inglis's integrity, I think that maybe I could support him. Maybe.