Sunday, December 30, 2007

Odds and Sods - Special year-end edition!

Left: Mr Natural, by R. Crumb.

A round-up of interesting reading to round out 2007. An idea that I gather is common for bloggers... but I just decided to do it when reading Natalia.

*One of my very favorite bloggers, Kiya, writes in a post titled I'm too nerdy for my love:

I was too smart to ever be pretty. It shapes a lot of things.

It wasn't allowed, you know, for the likes of me to be attractive. I could be either attractive or smart, and smart was something I clearly was before the dichotomous choice came up as a visible fork in the road, so I was off down one branch before I realised I was well past the place I could maybe have decided about it.

Because it was forbidden for me to be pretty, it was forbidden for boys to like me (unless they were social rejects beyond the bounds of The Rules). It wasn't forbidden for them to treat me as some kind of sex toy, but kind attraction was forbidden. Crude comments, breast-grabbing and other unwelcome touch, and mockery were acceptable; those didn't depend on me being pretty, just on being female. Perhaps some of that was an outlet for taboo attraction. Perhaps they were just assholes who knew they could play with me with impunity. There's no way to know.

When I met someone who told me I was beautiful it broke me inside, a little. I didn't know how to deal with it, how to live with it, how to untangle the mess around this boy who broke the taboo for me.
*Here is Irish blogger Silly Old Twit introducing a video clip of U2 at Dublin's Croke Park:
This is a classic piece of Stadium Rock. But that’s all it is. The culture of the full belly as I like to think of it. Affluent white youth killing time while they take their turn to become landlords….A generation which has sold itself cheap. After 50 years of clerical abuse this generation stampedes to get it’s place in a good Catholic university… , and then a place on the property ladder……there’s little to respect here……like the proverbial good book say’s , “You cannot serve two masters”. ……

This is the generation which handed over Irish airports to the US military ………..this is the generation that wants unlimited immigration ( after they have left the neighbourhood that is )……

Bono reflects this generation well…..they look at him and see themselves……
*Irshad Manji writes provocatively on about the death of Benazir Bhutto:
Writing to me through my Web site, American feminists say they are "aching" over the loss of "our dear, sweet, brave Benazir."

I understand the sentiment. But "brave" is not the word used by Pakistani women from whom I've also heard. They're hurting more over Bhutto's "self-imposed" conformity.

"She never realized her potential," a woman from Karachi tells me. "And not because she was killed but because when she had the chance, she did not effectively challenge the backward mindset that has now led to her demise."

For example, during Bhutto's time in office, Pakistan didn't defy the anti-female rape and adultery laws. Those notorious ordinances, known as Hudood, took their inspiration from tribal politics masquerading as Islam.

Imagine the opportunity: Bhutto could have championed a purer faith by tackling corrupt cultural practices.

In so doing, she might have created allies among conservatives, who can be persuaded that although Islam is God-given, culture is man-made.

Last year, a media campaign to strike down the Hudood Ordinances achieved this fine balance. But not because of her. And that, say many progressive Pakistanis, amputates Bhutto's legacy.

Check out Ren's posts on Creepy Dudes and Creepy Chicks. Adult content, please be forewarned. But you'll recognize them all, in some shape or form!


ZipcodeZoo is an awesome service that allows you to create a nature-based home page, determined by your zip code. ZipcodeZoo guesses your location according to ISP, although they do make errors. (I had to manually enter my zip code and email address for the information, but that's it.) You can see all invasive species, as well as a list of threatened species, and all species that live in this zip code! ZipcodeZoo visitors from the USA will also see their zipcode demographics, local attractions for naturalists, and the local weather. It's terrific, and is particularly recommended for the busy hippie-moms of homeschooled tykes who worry about the plants and animals! (yes, you know who you are!)


And don't forget to have a Happy Deadhead New Year! :)

Listening to: Grateful Dead - China Cat Sunflower
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Captain Walker didn't come home

Left: Tommy's mother, Ann-Margret, swims in baked beans, for reasons unknown, in Ken Russell's version of The Who's TOMMY (1975).

If you've never seen Ken Russell's phantasmagoric version of The Who's rock opera Tommy, you will have the chance tomorrow at 6pm EST, on Turner Classic Movies.

As a big Who fanatic, I will admit here: I used to hate the movie. As a teenager, I wanted the story of Tommy to be all hippie-sensitive and Dr Phil... sort of like the Broadway version turned out, I guess. But now? Bollocks, as Pete Townshend would say.

How often do you get to see Roger Daltrey dosed with acid (by Tina Turner, no less) borne by hundreds of hypodermic needles in some kinky-weird lotus-blossom creation? Keith Moon as child-molesting Uncle Ernie? ("Your mother's left me here to mind you/Now I'm doing what I want to!") Check out Jack Nicholson, as Tommy's concerned physician, sagely intoning "He seems to be completely un-recep-tive! The tests I gave him show no-sense-at-all!" And BTW, where did this American doctor come from? And how did American Ann-Margret get to be the mother of Roger Daltrey, with that Shepherds Bush accent of his? And who doesn't want to see Ann-Margret swimming in baked beans? Come on, admit that you do not see that every day.

Ken Russell is berserk, and extended his berserkery to the film. For those of us who had very definite ideas about Tommy, who he was, what he represented, the movie smashed all of that to hell. Of course, I now see that this deliberate iconoclasm was the whole intention; Townshend was giving the finger to those of us who were deifying Tommy, which was the warning delivered in the rock opera: Don't deify human beings. Only God deserves our worship.

Left: Tommy passes the acid test.

There is one truly incredible, bang-up sequence in the movie, delivered by hizzoner Eric Clapton, which I have included below. The blues classic Eyesight to the Blind (written by Sonny Boy Williamson) was the only non-original song in the rock-opera and was simply too perfect not to include, since Tommy IS deaf, mute and blind. This sequence--Tommy's mother taking him to a faith-healer played by Clapton at a Marilyn-Monroe shrine--is Ken Russell at his finest and most trippy. (Other times, if you've ever seen Russell's indescribably bizarre films The Devils or Lair of the White Worm, you know he can drift far off into Andromeda somewhere... Earth to Ken!) This particular sequence manages to be just bizarre enough to be utterly fabulous.

Great observations, meditations and hallucinations about music, God, worship, disability, trauma, child abuse, sexual abuse, religious hucksters and all of that good cosmic stuff. If you've never seen it and you have a taste for the strange, don't miss it.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto 1953-2007

Photo from Southwestern University Magazine (2005)


As everyone knows by now, she is gone.

Please see ProblemChylde's excellent post, which contains copious links.

I hardly think it's any coincidence that is also down, which was the link to the "Don't Block the Blog!" graphic on my blog. The link disappeared shortly after she was murdered.

I am leaving the link up as an act of hope that the blog will someday return.

Pakistan anger sparks civil war fear

by Zahid Hussain in Islamabad | December 28, 2007, THE AUSTRALIAN

THE assassination of Benazir Bhutto has triggered a wave of violent protests, raising fears of a full-blown civil war in Pakistan.

Within hours of Ms Bhutto's death, angry mobs took to the streets, attacking police patrols and government buildings.

At least five people were reported killed in Karachi, the southern port city and Ms Bhutto's hometown, where thousands of protesters fired shots, blocked roads with burning cars and torched government buildings.

Two more people were shot dead in the eastern city of Lahore and two people were killed in smaller towns in the eastern province of Sindh.

A mob set fire to a passenger train in Hyderabad in Ms Bhutto's political stronghold of Sindh province, and police fired teargas into crowds in Peshawar, in the country's volatile northwest.

The mood was tense in the Sindh town of Larkana, where crowds set two banks on fire.

In the central city of Multan some protesters fired shots into the air and many shouted slogans, including "Long live Bhutto" and "Musharraf is a dog", in reference to the President.

Paramilitary forces were put on red alert and ordered to clamp down on any violent protest. "There is trouble almost everywhere," a senior police official said.

Hundreds of Ms Bhutto's supporters had gathered outside the hospital in the garrison town of Rawalpindi where she was taken.

On hearing of her death, some just wept but many turned violent, smashing the glass door at the main entrance of the emergency unit and throwing stones at nearby cars.

They then clashed with the police, shouting: "Killer, killer, Musharraf".

Leaders of Ms Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party fanned the flames by accusing the Government of a fatal security lapse.

"We repeatedly informed the Government to provide her proper security and appropriate equipment including jammers, but they paid no heed to our requests," said Rehmani Malik, a PPP spokesman.

Ms Bhutto had been the target of a twin suicide attack in October but had decided to continue campaigning for elections scheduled for January 8.

That attack in Karachi had resulted in the deaths of more than 140 people.

In her last address Ms Bhutto, who was tipped strongly to become prime minister, called on Pakistanis to fight against Islamic militancy, which she described as the biggest threat to the country's security.

Her pro-Western views had made her a target of Islamic militants, who had gained strength, particularly in provinces in the northwest.
Please pray for the people of Pakistan.

Listening to: Bob Marley & the Wailers - Redemption Song
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Feast of St Stephen

This one goes out to everyone who ever wondered who Good King Wenceslas was (St Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia, 907-935 AD), or what the "Feast of Stephen" in the song referred to. The Feast of St Stephen is today, December 26 (also Chairman Mao's birthday, for interested parties), which is how Good King Wenceslas got to be a Christmas Carol. In Canada and other countries, today is known as Boxing Day, a day to give alms to the poor, as Good King Wenceslas does in the song. (In my saltier moments, I have wondered if the US doesn't celebrate Boxing Day because nobody believes in giving to the poor.)

And what kind of Deadhead would I be, if I didn't post ST STEPHEN? The best short (operative word, SHORT) musical version I found was recorded in 1969, and both Bob and Jerry look like teenagers (except Jerry looks like an exceptionally hairy teenager). It was recorded for Playboy After Dark, which isn't optimal, but whatcha gonna do?

St Stephen was martyred in the New Testament. Because he is what is often called a "Biblical saint" (meaning his sainthood was "grandfathered in" and he didn't need to undergo the usual canonization process) I thought it would be safe to wish another Christian a happy St Stephen's Day today. Ha! Dream on, Daisy! John Knox spins in his grave! The Christian-in-question bit my head off in the usual Calvinist style. Honestly, I'd like to know what they put in the water over there at Bob Jones University, which seems to make the people 1) stupid and 2) terribly unhappy.

This conversation broke out into a rather heated theological discussion that seemed to leave everyone around us alternately freaked-out and awestruck, but I'll be DAMNED if I will allow some FUNDIE KNOW-IT-ALL who is studying to be another CLUELESS PREACHER (as if we don't have enough preachers around here as it is) tell me all kindsa bullshit about "epistemology"--a word they have apparently just learned over at BJU, since I've heard it from two of them now.

The discussion ended up with young Preacher-Man self-righteously informing me I was not WORTHY (shades of Wayne's World!) to hear the Gospel. I guess he doesn't think I've heard it already, or not the CORRECT one, in any event. He said he'd visit here to argue with me further, and I wouldn't underestimate him. ZEAL is the brother's middle name. He is right, everyone else (except for John Calvin and Bob Jones, one assumes) is wrong, and that's that.

And then, I remembered the day itself; I thought of St Stephen:

Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:

Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept [it].

When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with [their] teeth.

But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,

And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord

And cast [him] out of the city, and stoned [him]: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.

And they stoned Stephen, calling upon [God], and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

--Acts 7: 52-60 (KJV)
Who is now doing the stoning? It's interesting to read this, in our modern times. Who are the people doing the judging? Who are the people deciding that other people are not good enough, or (ahem) WORTHY enough?

The Calvinist fundamentalists would have stoned St Stephen, as surely as they now have no need for his feast day.

Did he doubt or did he try?
Answers aplenty in the bye and bye
Talk about your plenty, talk about your ills
One man gathers what another man spills

Saint Stephen will remain
All he's lost he shall regain
Seashore washed by the suds and the foam
Been here so long he's got to calling it home


Grateful Dead - St Stephen

[via FoxyTunes / Grateful Dead]

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas from the Family

Hallelujah, everybody say cheese... I hereby present Robert Earl Keen's Christmas classic Merry Christmas from the Family. (Yankee readers are certainly free to sit this one out!)

Feliz Navidad!


Sunday, December 23, 2007

It's a Waffle House Christmas

Left: From Daveweb's Waffle House Web Cards

It would appear that I have survived this year's auditory assault, complete with millions of chestnuts roasting on millions of open fires, the weather outside being frightful, etc. At my place of business, we went musically trad over this past week, switching from the usual "Shake your ass for Christmas" and "Go to Rehab for Christmas," to old Christmas carols such as "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "O Holy Night." Interspersed with the usual Christmas pop songs.

And so, I've been listening to some of the older singers, trying to identify Andy Williams and Tony Bennett (who sound alike to me), early Dean Martin and Perry Como (ditto). I've noticed how Judy Garland always sounded so sad, even when singing happy songs. I've noticed that Ray Charles sounded extremely stoned in the middle of his career. I've noticed how forced Karen Carpenter sounded, after the fifth or sixth album. (I remember the cheesy marketing of Merry Christmas, Darling and it's sudden popularity with high school choirs.) I've noticed that Rosemary Clooney sings so beautifully and perfectly, she could not help but have become an addict. Frank Sinatra and Elvis, of course, are utterly confident even when singing very difficult music; making me wonder if their approach to religion was similar? Frank croons "It Came Upon Midnight Clear" in a definitive fashion that leaves you no doubt that he believes the story he is singing about. Elvis, similarly, sings "Silent Night" with utter conviction. Both sing sweet choirboy versions of "O Little Town of Bethlehem," obviously familiar with the hymn.

And so, my first spiritual lesson the weekend after my tattoo: stop seeing events negatively (i.e. as an auditory assault) and start seeing events positively (i.e. an interesting opportunity for education about popular culture and music history). Not a bad attitude to take with you on possibly the rowdiest retail week (and weekend) of the year.

My positive attitude has recently been buffeted by the construction of a WalMart on the edge of my neighborhood--an old-style apartment complex that has remained pretty quiet and mellow as the Greenville Metro Area has grown up around it. This was once at the edge of "country"--two miles east was completely rural. And now, we have Michelin North American Headquarters, BMW, Hitachi, countless grocery stores, Jack In The Box, Waffle House, Walgreen's, Starbucks, Radio Shack, Lowe's, and at long last, the coup de grâce for the entire zip code...WalMart. The epitome of evil itself.

I park my car and gaze at acreage my daughter walked through, as it is pillaged, paved and tunneled by Sam Walton's minions... and again, I try to remember to be positive. Next year, I know what will be here. I try to remember the land as it is, before it is dug up and transformed daily, for the purpose of profit.

And I remember that everything changes and is impermanent.

Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. -- Matthew 24:35

The Feast of Joe Strummer

Left: Memorial mural to Joe Strummer on 7th Street at Avenue A, New York City. Photo from Union Song.

(This one is for Mr Daisy. I'm a day late!)

Joe Strummer died on December 22, 2002. In this song, he wrote of another war, a generation ago. And we find it is enduringly true once again.

Joe, we hardly knew ye.


If you can play on the fiddle
How's about a British jig and reel?
Speaking King's English in quotation
As railhead towns feel the steel mills rust water froze
In the generation
Clear as winter ice
This is your paradise

There ain't no need for ya
There ain't no need for ya
Go straight to Hell boys
Go straight to Hell boys

Y'wanna join in a chorus
Of the Amerasian blues?
When it's Christmas out in Ho Chi Minh City
Kiddie say papa papa papa papa papa-san take me home
See me got photo photo
Photograph of you and Mamma Mamma Mamma-san
Of you and Mamma Mamma Mamma-san
Lemme tell ya 'bout your blood bamboo kid.
It ain't Coca-Cola it's rice.

Straight to Hell, boys
Go straight to Hell, boys
Go straight to Hell, boys
Go straight to Hell, boys
Oh Papa-san
Please take me home
Oh Papa-san
Everybody they wanna go home
So Mamma-san said

You wanna play mind-crazed banjo
On the druggy-drag ragtime U.S.A.?
In Parkland International
Hey! Junkiedom U.S.A.
Where procaine proves the purest rock man groove
and rat poison
The volatile Molotov says-


Go straight to Hell, boys
Go straight to Hell, boys
Straight to Hell

Oh Papa-San
Please take me home
There ain't no need for ya,
There ain't no need for ya

Go straight to Hell, boys
Go straight to Hell, boys

Can you cough it up loud and strong
The immigrants
They wanna sing all night long
It could be anywhere
Most likely could be any frontier
Any hemisphere
No man's land
Ain't no asylum here
King Solomon he never lived round here

Straight to Hell, boys


The version below is missing the final verse, probably due to the time constraints of commercial American television. (And how ironic.)

The Clash - Straight To Hell Live

[via FoxyTunes / The Clash]

Pray for us, Joe.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Friday Cat blogging - overworked Christmas retail edition


I've never participated in Friday Cat Blogging before, but as always, there is a first time for everything.

One cat just leads to another. -- Ernest Hemingway

Listening to: Talking Heads - Artists Only
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Former executioners sue SC prison officials

Left: Execution photograph from The Black Sentinel

Bob Dylan said, "The executioner's face is always well-hidden."

Well, not this time. They are coming forward to say, enough. And God bless them for it.

Former executioners sue prison officials

2 claim they lacked training, were forced to perform job

By Tim Smith
STAFF WRITER, Greenville News
December 20, 2007

COLUMBIA -- Two former state executioners have filed federal lawsuits against the prison system’s top officials, alleging the executioners weren’t trained and were forced to execute inmates or lose their jobs and rank as majors.

Terry Bracey and Ira Craig Baxley, who both worked for the prison system for more than 20 years, filed suits against Jon Ozmint, director of the state’s prison system, and Robert Ward, director of operations for the agency.

Both executioners retired from the department on disability and have pending workers’ compensation claims against the agency, according to their attorney, Lewis Cromer, a Columbia lawyer who has represented government whistleblowers.

A spokesman for the prison system said he was aware of the lawsuits. "Anyone can file a lawsuit filled with false allegations," spokesman Josh Gelinas said. "Some lawyers will file them and send out a press release announcing it."
Maybe, but not just anyone is an executioner.

The lawsuits themselves are difficult reading.
The suits paint a gruesome picture of executions in the state and allege "accidental malfunctions of death apparatus." Most of the executions in the state over the past decade have been by lethal injection, but at least one was done using the electric chair, according to the suits.

Both men alleged they were forced to act as executioner "against their will" although they said the agency labeled the job as voluntary.

Neither man was trained or prepared for using the electric chair, the suits allege, "with its shocking smell and scene of agony."

And neither man was offered counseling, the suits allege.

"Although these executions were barbaric, gruesome and repulsive to the plaintiff, he continued to perform them under the implied threat by the defendant Ward that such service was necessary if he was to continue to act as team leader and to receive the salary supplement and other benefits of his major’s position," Baxley’s suit alleges.

Baxley killed eight inmates as executioner, according to his suit, and participated in two other executions.

Baxley’s suit alleges that in one execution the "plaintiff was exposed to poison, blood and a horrible death scene where the lethal syringe came out of the inmate’s arm during the execution."

Baxley alleged that some executions were carried out in which he alone did the executions.

Bracey alleged that he was identified as the executioner, though their identities weren’t supposed to be made known.

A third executioner who didn’t wish to do the job voluntarily later committed suicide, the suits allege.

Bracey alleged in his suit that the executioners’ treatment by Ozmint and Ward constituted "emotional distress and treatment so severe that no reasonable person should be required to endure it."
One wonders if this could be the beginning of a trend? Will this finally be the abolition of the death penalty?

Baxley sent an email to Ozmint voicing concerns about being forced to be an executioner, the lawsuit alleges.

"Ozmint responded that if he did not like it, he could transfer (losing his position and supplement) and additionally if he was being treated badly by (the worker), he could do something else," the suit alleges.

Baxley alleges Ward and Ozmint "began a ruthless and unrelenting campaign of retaliation, harassments, threats and criticisms ultimately and proximately resulting in the plaintiff’s physical and emotional collapse."

Baxley is seeking $1 million in damages, and Bracey is seeking $5 million.
PDF file: Ira Baxley's lawsuit

PDF file: Terry Bracey's lawsuit

Godspeed, gentlemen. Sue their asses off.

Listening to: Nina Simone - I Shall Be Released
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Oh dear God, no. This is the last thing anyone needs right now. But when I saw the hand-wringing, scandal-commentary posted over on Slate, I knew it was tabloid story of the month, courtesy of the National Enquirer:

Presidential candidate John Edwards is caught up in a love child scandal, a blockbuster ENQUIRER investigation has discovered.

The ENQUIRER has learned exclusively that Rielle Hunter, a woman linked to Edwards in a cheating scandal earlier this year, is more than six months pregnant — and she's told a close confidante that Edwards is the father of her baby!

The ENQUIRER's political bombshell comes just weeks after Edwards emphatically denied having an affair with Rielle, who formerly worked on his campaign and told another close pal that she was romantically involved with the married ex-senator.

The ENQUIRER has now confirmed not only that Rielle is expecting, but that she's gone into hiding with the help of a former aide to Edwards. The visibly pregnant blonde has relocated from the New York area to Chapel Hill, N.C., where she is living in an upscale gated community near political operative Andrew Young, who's been extremely close to Edwards for years and was a key official in his presidential campaign.

And in a bizarre twist, Young — a 41-year-old married man with young children — now claims HE is the father of Rielle's baby! But others are skeptical, wondering if Young's paternity claim is a cover-up to protect Edwards.

Meanwhile, Edwards' cancer-stricken wife Elizabeth has joined him on the campaign trail.

In a statement issued to The ENQUIRER through her attorney, Rielle said: "The fact that I am expecting a child is my personal and private business. This has no relationship to nor does it involve John Edwards in any way. Andrew Young is the father of my unborn child."

But a source extremely close to the 43-year-old divorcée says Rielle has told a far different story privately: "Rielle told me she had a secret affair with Edwards. When she found out that she was pregnant, she said he was the father."
Read the whole thing.

Also see: Spotlight turns to Edwards--no mention is made of the breaking scandal, but this gives you an idea of how close the Iowa race is.

Listening to: Death Cab for Cutie - This Temporary Life
via FoxyTunes

Mitt Romney has his cake, eats it too

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave his "John Kennedy" speech recently, promising that his Mormonism would not be an issue as President of these United States. At the same time, he talked up faith (generic faith in God, or Christian faith specifically?) as important and crucial. Huh?

Well, Governor, if it is, you have just given everyone the right to question you about it.

In his speech, Romney said:

"Almost 50 years ago another candidate from Massachusetts explained that he was an American running for President, not a Catholic running for President. Like him, I am an American running for President. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith.

"Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin."
All very well and good. And then, he said:
"We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders – in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty.'

"Nor would I separate us from our religious heritage. Perhaps the most important question to ask a person of faith who seeks a political office, is this: does he share these American values: the equality of human kind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast commitment to liberty?
Say what? What is he talking about? Isn't this a contradiction? Slate's John Dickerson explains:
Will the pitch work politically? It's a long shot. There are better ways to go after Mike Huckabee: Romney is not going to out-God a Baptist minister. He could do more damage by spending the days on which he'll now be answering for his religion on blasting Huckabee's tax and immigration record. The speech also raises expectations for Romney's performance in Iowa, because it is the biggest dramatic moment he can create to change the political dynamic. By investing in this way, he makes a possible caucus loss to Huckabee all the more dramatic.

If Romney skirts specific doctrinal questions, he'll get himself out of talking about "reformed" Egyptian hieroglyphics and explaining his view on the afterlife—but also limit his chance to win over voters who want to know about just those things. Vague is bad for Romney: It can make him look calculating and insincere, which is already the rap against him. That's what tripped him up when he talked about the Bible in the debate. He seemed to be dancing around an issue that evangelicals think should be in his heart. Elites mocked George Bush when he said in a debate that his favorite philosopher was Jesus, but to evangelical voters, the quick answer from Bush's gut showed he was really one of them.
I decided I didn't like Romney when he got the endorsement from Bob Jones III. If Pope Bubba likes him, count me out. That tells us all we need to know about him, doesn't it?

In Iowa, as the New York Times reports, the Wars of Religion continue:
On Monday, Mr. Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, raised the stakes when he began broadcasting an advertisement in Iowa that emphasizes his faith and declares him to be a “Christian leader” — all in capital letters — which some might view as a shot at Mr. Romney.

Chip Saltsman, Mr. Huckabee’s campaign manager, said the campaign had no intention of making any kind of allusion to Mr. Romney’s being a Mormon, saying the idea was simply to introduce Mr. Huckabee to Iowans.

“It’s not like this is a new issue for him,” said Mr. Saltsman, referring to Mr. Huckabee’s faith. “He’s talked about this issue everywhere he goes.”

Mr. Huckabee’s advisers admit privately they are cognizant of how Mr. Romney’s religion can work against him and how Mr. Huckabee’s evangelical roots are to their advantage at least among some voters. They pointed out, however, that all candidates have aspects of their biographies that can be beneficial or not, depending on the audience.

The issue is a delicate one for Mr. Huckabee. He has waffled in recent interviews about whether he considers Mormons to be Christians. The Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination he is a part of, does not consider Mormons to be part of historic Christianity.
And meanwhile, down in Columbia, Romney is charging Mike Huckabee with being too liberal. (And if that doesn't give you chills, nothing will.)

Romney Assails Huckabee as "Too Liberal"
By Michael D. Shear, Washington Post
December 18, 2007
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney joined the Republican contest this year by pitching himself as the only true conservative.

Now, he finds himself desperately trying to convince people that former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee -- a Baptist minister with a staunch pro-life record -- doesn't deserve that label more than he does.

As he began a week-long barnstorming of three early states by plane, Romney assailed Huckabee as a liberal, adding his own voice to television commercials and mailings that his campaign has begun churning out.

Romney told reporters that voters will conclude Huckabee has been "too liberal on immigration," "too liberal on crime" and that he has "too liberal of a spending record and too liberal of a tax record."

On immigration, Romney cited Huckabee's support for a bill that would have granted in-state tuition to illegal immigrants. On crime, he highlighted the 1,033 pardons and commutations Huckabee granted as governor. And on the economy, he said Huckabee presided over a budget that grew from $6 billion to $16 billion.

"I'm convinced that as people take a close look, that the good, conservative Republicans of South Carolina will be supporting a conservative candidate like myself and they won't be supporting governor Huckabee," Romney said. "But time will tell."

A poll out overnight put Romney ahead slightly in South Carolina after another poll had shown him slipping behind Huckabee here, as well as in Iowa. Romney planned to head back to the Hawkeye State for two days of campaigning starting Wednesday.

Romney unveiled a tough, new ad in Iowa attacking Huckabee on the pardon's issue.

"Romney got tough on drugs like meth. He never pardoned a single criminal," the ad says. "And Mike Huckabee? He granted 1,033 pardons and commutations, including 12 convicted murderers."

Huckabee called the ad "desperate and deplorable."

Romney has 16 days to turn things around. Take out Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years Eve and New Year's day, and that leaves 12 days. Twelve days to regain the leads in Iowa and New Hampshire that he has spent $20 million of his own money to achieve.

On the plane trip, his first during the primary campaign, Romney is squiring a dozen national reporters around South Carolina, and then on to Iowa for two days and then back to New Hampshire for three more days.

It's part of a last-ditch effort to regain momentum in a race that seemed well-in-hand a month ago. But that was before Huckabee knocked Romney off his Iowa pedestal, where he had ruled for months.

Romney aides now say they they don't have to come in first in Iowa. But they acknowledge that coming in second would force them to win outright in New Hampshire four days later despite a flood of negative press that would inevitably develop.
The Mitt Romney signs are everywhere here in the upstate, but I saw my first Huckabee bumper sticker yesterday.

Trouble in paradise?

Listening to: AC/DC - Money Talks
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Odds and Sods 5

Left: Cross by Wes-Wilson (1968)

Today is the Feast of St Rufus and Zosimus.

On 18 December, the holy martyrs Rufus and Zosimus, who were taken to Rome with St. Ignatius of Antioch and were put to death there for their unwavering confession of Christianity during the persecution of Trajan. St. Polycarp speaks of them in his letter to the Philippians (c. ix).
From Wikipedia.

When I read of two saints persecuted together, I always wonder if one was mad at the other or if they stayed plucky to the end. Or did it play out like Brokedown Palace? (I refer to the Kate Beckinsale/Claire Danes movie, not the fabulous Grateful Dead song it was named after.)

We all like to think we'd be big-hearted Claire, but I know I'd end up as Kate "get me OUT of here!" Beckinsale.


Please check out Ms. Crip Chick's poetry, specifically My soul needs more and The Scar. She is remarkable.


What I ate today, courtesy of my cousin Bethie!


Serves: 8

2 pounds potatoes
3 ounces butter, soft
4 egg yolks
to taste salt and pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon chopped truffles
1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Peel and cut potatoes into large cubes. Place in a large saucepan, boil in salted boiling water until tender. Drain well, and put through a ricer.

Transfer to a saucepan, and combine with butter, egg yolks, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Mix well over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in chopped truffles, and sliced almonds. Cool potato mixture until it becomes easy to handle.

Shape into pancakes 3 inch round by 1 inch thick. Arrange on a greased baking sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown.

Recipe courtesy Chef De Cuisine.


For political junkies: Anddy Arnold, chairman of the Greenville County Democratic Party has endorsed Barack Obama for the party's presidential nomination. We are an early-primary state, so this is significant. This follows last week's news: former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Joe Erwin's endorsement of Barack Obama.

Listening to: Grateful Dead - China Cat Sunflower
via FoxyTunes

Monday, December 17, 2007

Odds and Sods 4

I've just finished creepy Virus Clans by Michael Kanaly, which is enough to keep germaphobes up at night for a week. Forget it, resistance is futile, as in the novel's subtitle: A Story of Evolution. You can't stop evolution!

As the viruses start running the joint, everything goes to hell in a handbasket (as you might well imagine) and Kanaly's book has elements similar to J. G. Ballard's High Rise and Concrete Island. The "science" is something of a blur, but takes off on ideas also in Greg Bear's Blood Music, one of the most amazing science fiction short stories of all time.

Somewhat leaden prose, but provocative ideas.


Another commercial for my talented friend Penny, who brought me a beautiful, multicolored, geometric-patterned dichroic-glass cross for Christmas! I am honored and humbled, thank you, Penny and Rachael!


Graphic of Neem leaves from

Winter skin issues need NEEM! Neem has been around forever as a staple of Ayurvedic medicine, but here in the West, we are only just now learning of its super-powers. Neem oil is great in whatever form you choose, but most people with dry skin, burning, rashes, chapping, eczema, psoriasis, new tattoos (!) seem to respond best to Neem-based lotions and butters.

Neem lotion, soap, shampoo, and toothpaste are available from Organix South, but you can also buy an unscented lotion and add a dropperful of Neem oil to it. Some people prefer to apply the oil directly. It has a very distinctive, almost soapy-citronella-ish scent; not that bad, but nothing you'd seek out to wear, either. (That's why I recommend adding it to lotions.)

Try it, you won't be disappointed!*

*Full disclosure: No, I did not get paid, nor get any freebies, to write any of this. I have received freebies from Organix South in the past, not connected to blogging.


Today is December 17th, which is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Please educate yourself about the genesis of the event, and what it really means!

Annie Sprinkle offers Ten Things You Can Do to Participate!

Listening to: The Kinks - Rock & Roll Fantasy
via FoxyTunes

Dan Fogelberg 1951-2007

Light-rock guru Dan Fogelberg, mandatory listening in 1970s California, has passed on. He is survived by his wife, Jean.

Dan Fogelberg, Lyric Rocker, Dies at 56
December 17, 2007, The New York Times

Dan Fogelberg, the singer and songwriter whose hits “Leader of the Band” and “Same Old Lang Syne” helped define the soft-rock era, died Sunday at his home in Maine after battling prostate cancer. He was 56.

His death was announced Sunday in a statement released by his family through the firm Scoop Marketing and also posted on his Web site.

Mr. Fogelberg learned he had advanced prostate cancer in 2004. In a statement then, he thanked fans for their support. “It is truly overwhelming and humbling to realize how many lives my music has touched so deeply all these years,” he wrote. “I thank you from the very depths of my heart.”

Mr. Fogelberg’s music was powerful in its simplicity. He did not rely on the volume of his voice to convey his emotions; instead, they came through in his soft, tender delivery and his poignant lyrics. Songs like “Same Old Lang Syne,” in which a man reminisces after meeting an old girlfriend by chance during the holidays, became classics not only for his performance, but also for their engaging story lines.

Mr. Fogelberg’s heyday was in the 1970s and early ’80s, when he scored several platinum and multiplatinum records fueled by such hits as “The Power of Gold” and “Leader of the Band,” a touching tribute he wrote to his father, a bandleader. Mr. Fogelberg put out his first album in 1972.

Mr. Fogelberg’s songs tended to have a weighty tone, reflecting on emotional issues in a serious way. But in an interview with The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 1997, he said it did not represent his personality.

“That came from my singles in the early ’80s,” he said. “I think it probably really started on the radio. I’m not a dour person in the least. I’m actually kind of a happy person. Music doesn’t really reflect the whole person.”
I was secretly terribly fond of his song Part of the Plan, the lyrics of which carried me through many a personal crisis:

I have these moments
All steady and strong
I’m feeling so holy and humble
The next thing I know
I’m all worried and weak
And I feel myself
Starting to crumble.

The meanings get lost
And the teachings get tossed
And you don’t know what you’re
Going to do next.
You wait for the sun
But it never quite comes
Some kind of message comes
Through to you.
Some kind of message comes through.

And it says to you (chorus)

Love when you can
Cry when you have to
Be who you must
That’s a part of the plan
Await your arrival
With simple survival
And one day we’ll all understand

I had a woman
Who gave me her soul
But I wasn’t ready to
Take it.
Her heart was so fragile
And heavy to hold
And I was afraid I might
Break it.

Your conscience awakes
And you see your mistakes
And you wish someone
Would buy your confessions.
The days miss their mark
And the night gets so dark
And some kind of message
Comes through to you
Some kind of message
Shoots through --

Love when you can
Cry when you have to
Be who you must
That’s a part of the plan
Await your arrival
With simple survival
And one day we’ll all understand

There is no eden or
Heavenly gates
That you’re gonna make it to
One day
But all of the answers you seek
Can be found
In the dreams that you dream
On the way.

The following is the only version of the song I could find on YouTube, by some fellows I've never heard of, the Wheezetones. This was apparently their first show, too! Nonetheless, they give this charming, wonderful song the respect it deserves, and it's worth listening to if you've never heard it before. The song is an exact cover of Fogelberg's original, including the magically-acoustic finish.

The Wheezetones- Part of the Plan

[via FoxyTunes / Dan Fogelberg]

Thanks for the song, Dan. Resquiat in pace.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

My Christmas Present

How do you like it? I just got it about an hour ago, so pardon the raw appearance!


My Christmas present is a tattoo, my fourth. It is an Om (also called Aum) symbol, as popularly written in Devanāgarī. An Om/Aum means many things. It is recognized in Hinduism (as well as the Eastern religions that branched off from it), as the all-encompassing, the All-One. It is a sign of the Infinite, of all that is.

Of which I am a very small part, and that's a good thing to keep in mind.

My purpose in getting this tattoo is to have an actual physical reminder of that fact, so that I won't forget the nature of the Infinite and instead place myself at the center of the universe. Which is one of those things I like to do.

As Bob Dylan said, it's life and life only.

Listening to: The Pretenders - Tattooed Love Boys
via FoxyTunes

A Peaceful Solution

For this installment of Dead Air Church, we have Mark Bronstad's version of Willie and Amy Nelson's extremely righteous "A Peaceful Solution."

This comes courtesy of the Willie Nelson Peace Research Institute.



A Peaceful Solution (Mark Bronstad)

[via FoxyTunes / peaceful solution]

Friday, December 14, 2007

St Francis Festival of Trees

More reasons to play with my new camera! (I remembered to recharge it this time!)


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Iowa caucus debates: Adventures in Snoozeville

Left: Alan Keyes, from Race 4 2008.

Will someone tell me why Alan Keyes was allowed to participate in the Iowa caucus Republican debate, but Dennis Kucinich was not permitted to participate in the Democratic debate? Certainly, their numbers are about equal; Kucinich might even have a larger percentage than Keyes. True, they are both way out on the wings of their party, but so what?

Am I to understand that the Republicans are more inclusive than the Democrats?

Nope, according to The Campaign Spot at right-wing National Review Online, it's all the Des Moines Register's fault:

Des Moines Register Weeds Out Only the Democratic Fringe

Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel are not participating in this week's Des Moines Register debate. The newspaper's standards for participation include at least 1% in its statewide poll and an office and paid staff in Iowa.

Kucinich's state office works out of his home. Yeah, that's why they're keeping Smeagol out.

Alan Keyes is participating. Alan Keyes has paid staff in Iowa? He has an office? He's past 1 percent?

There's no good reason for Keyes to participate, and I say that as a guy who likes Keyes. The only reason one would include Keyes at this point is because he's just about guaranteed to declare the rest of the field "inauthentic conservatives." (Perhaps he'll declare Vice President Cheney's daughter a "selfish hedonist" as well.) The one percent standard is way too low. We've had nine Republican debates so far, and fifteen Democratic ones. If you haven't broken out past the margin of error by now, it's not gonna happen.

A debate time that already gives about one-eighth to Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo is now going to be split nine ways. This is a disservice to the other candidates who actually have a shot of getting more than an asterisk's worth in the caucuses.

In a year of lousy debates, this one is set up to be a train wreck on par with CNN's YouTube debate for the Republicans.
I'll say. It was terrible. Even worse, it was boring. I'll admit, Alan Keyes isn't boring, as Kucinich wouldn't be either. As usual, Ron Paul tried to liven up the proceedings, but when the other candidates started yammering, it lapsed back to somnambulism.

Alan Keyes would make a great Shakespearean actor, with his rhetorical flourishes and first-class command of language; indeed, it would seem talk radio was made for him. (And he has had several radio and TV shows.) Instead, for some inexplicable reason, he keeps running for president over and over. It is interesting to remember that he was a hired gun for the GOP, and moved to Illinois simply to run for the Senate in 2004 against Barack Obama, whom it was thought no one could beat. And alas, no one could.

Photo of Senator Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey (left) from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The Democratic debate wasn't much better. The CNN-talking-heads consensus is that Senator Hillary Clinton is now trying to "humanize" herself with references to weight loss, Chelsea, her mother, "eating her way across Iowa," etc. Her poll numbers have dropped alarmingly in the face of Barack Obama's incursions, courtesy of Oprah Winfrey joining him on the campaign trail, and filling Williams-Brice stadium here in South Carolina. (The last person I can remember doing that was Pope John Paul II.)

For his part, Senator John Edwards sounded great and highly focused, as Hillary and Obama took veiled digs at each other. There is also a mild scandal trying mightily to develop: it appears Obama may have taken a toke as a teenager. OMG! (I doubt this story will go anywhere, but you never know about things like that.)

Who will take the Iowa caucus? Stay tuned, sports fans!

Listening to: Sleater-Kinney - Off With Your Head
via FoxyTunes

Be still my beating heart!

Photo at left from The New York Times.

The Songs Remain the Same, Just Played a Little Slower

By BEN RATLIFF, The New York Times
December 12, 2007, Music Review

LONDON — Some rock bands accelerate their tempos when they perform their old songs decades after the fact. Playing fast is a kind of armor: a refutation of the plain reality of aging — all that unregainable enthusiasm and lost muscle mass — and a hard block against a band’s lessened cultural importance.

But Led Zeppelin slowed its pace down a little. At the O2 arena here on Monday night, in its first full concert since 1980 — without John Bonham, who died that year, but with his son, Jason, as a natural substitute — the band found much of its former power in tempos that were more graceful than those on the old live recordings. The speed of the songs ran closer to that on the group’s studio records, or slower yet. “Good Times Bad Times,” “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Whole Lotta Love” were confident, easy cruises; “Dazed and Confused” was a glorious doom-crawl.

It all goes back to the blues, where oozing gracefully is a virtue, and from which Led Zeppelin initially got half its ideas. The band’s singer, Robert Plant, doesn’t want you to forget that: He introduced “Trampled Under Foot” by explaining its connection to Robert Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues,” and mentioned Blind Willie Johnson as the inspiration for “Nobody’s Fault but Mine.” (Beyond that, the band spent 10 luxuriant minutes each in two other blues songs from its back catalog: “Since I Been Loving You” and “In My Time of Dying.”)

Ahmet Ertegun, to whom the concert was dedicated, would have been satisfied, sure as he was of the centrality of Southern black music to American culture. Mr. Ertegun, who died last year, signed Led Zeppelin to Atlantic Records; the show was a one-off benefit for the Ahmet Ertegun Education Fund, which will offer music students scholarships to universities in the United States, England and Turkey, his homeland.

By the end of Zeppelin’s more-than-two-hour show, it was already hard to remember that anyone else had been on the bill. But the band was preceded by Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings — a good-timey rhythm-and-blues show with revolving singers including Paolo Nutini and Albert Lee, as well as a few songs each by Paul Rodgers (of Free and Bad Company) and Foreigner — who all had recorded for Atlantic under Mr. Ertegun.

There was a kind of loud serenity about Led Zeppelin’s set. It was well rehearsed, for one thing: Planning and practice have been under way since May. The band members wore mostly black clothes instead of their old candy-colored wardrobes. Unlike Mick Jagger, Mr. Plant — the youngest of the original members, at 59 — doesn’t walk and gesture like an excited woman anymore. Some of the top of his voice has gone, but except for one attempted and failed high note in “Stairway to Heaven” (“There walks a la-dy we all know ...”), he found other melodic routes to suit him. He was authoritative; he was dignified.

As for Jimmy Page, his guitar solos weren’t as frenetic and articulated as they used to be, but that only drove home the point that they were always secondary to the riffs, which on Monday were enormous, nasty, glorious. (He did produce a violin bow for his solo on “Dazed and Confused” during that song’s great, spooky middle section.)

John Paul Jones’s bass lines got a little lost in the hall’s acoustics — like all such places, the 22,000-seat O2 arena is rough on low frequencies — but he was thoroughly in the pocket with Jason Bonham; when he sat down to play keyboards on “Kashmir” and “No Quarter” and a few others, he simultaneously operated bass pedals with his feet, keeping to that same far-behind-the-beat groove.

And what of Jason Bonham, the big question mark of what has been — there’s no way to prove this scientifically, but let’s just round it off — the most anticipated rock reunion in an era full of them? He is an expert on his father’s beats, an encyclopedia of all their variations on all the existing recordings. And apart from some small places where he added a few strokes, he stuck to the sound and feel of the original. The smacks of the snare drum didn’t have exactly the same timbre, that barbarous, reverberant sound. But as the show got into its second hour, and a few of the sound problems were gradually corrected, you found yourself not worrying about it anymore. It was all working.

Led Zeppelin has semi-reunited a few times in the past, with not much success: short, problematic sets at Live Aid in 1985 and at Atlantic Records’ 40th anniversary concert in 1988. But this was a reunion that the band had invested in, despite the fact that there are no plans yet for a future tour; among its 16 songs was one it had never played live before: “For Your Life,” from the album “Presence.”

The excitement in the hall felt extreme, and genuine; the crowd roars between encores were ravenous. At the end of it all, as the three original members took a bow, Mr. Bonham knelt before them and genuflected
As we all should, of course!

Listening to: Led Zeppelin - Dazed and Confused
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Far from home, Virgin of Guadalupe comforts believers

Waukegan church celebrates 476th anniversary of first sighting

By Andrew L. Wang | Chicago Tribune

6:44 PM CST, December 12, 2007

Powerful drumbeats echoed off the sanctuary ceiling and dancers in traditional Aztec garb leaped and spun at a frenetic pace as statues of Jesus and Mary cast beatific gazes upon them.

There was a time when the performance of an indigenous ritual might have been shocking at a Roman Catholic church; not so Wednesday at Holy Family Church in Waukegan, as parishioners gathered before dawn to mark the 476th anniversary of the appearance to an indigenous Mexican peasant of a dark-skinned Virgin, now known to the world as the Virgin of Guadalupe.

"She's really the blending of the two cultures into one," said Rev. Gary Graf, pastor of the church.

The message held special resonance for Latinos in this far north suburban city after a trying year.

Many said they feel targeted by police enforcing a city ordinance to tow cars if the drivers don't have insurance or valid driver's licenses. They fear they will be caught up in an immigration sweep, like the one in August that netted nearly 100 people—some of whom were not guilty of any crime or immigration violation. And they worry that new powers sought by local police will lead to deportation for minor offenses.

"I'm asking my parents to sell the house," said Veronica Martinez, 27, of Waukegan. "It's very tough." Martinez was among hundreds who attended the standing-room-only event in the city's largest parish, at 450 Keller Ave.

Mexican Catholics turn to the Virgin for solace, comfort and for aid in their earthly troubles. But another lesson of the Virgin is particularly relevant today, Graf told his mostly Latino parishioners: The collision of cultures can create a new, more inclusive society that values the contributions of both.

The story of the Virgin, passed down over nearly five centuries, says that Mexican peasant Juan Diego was walking to morning mass Dec. 9, 1531, when he heard a woman's voice calling him to the top of Tepeyac, a hill on the outskirts of Mexico City. When he reached the top of the hill, he saw the dark-skinned Virgin with European features who spoke in Nahuatl, his language, and asked him to build a church in her name.

Juan Diego told his bishop of his vision, but the cleric was skeptical and told him to get proof that the woman he saw was the Virgin. Three days later, the story goes, the Virgin told Juan Diego to return to the hill, gather roses and bring them to the bishop as a sign. He wrapped them in his tilma, or cloak, and when he presented them the roses fell to the floor to reveal an icon of the Virgin on the fabric.

A church was built, and today the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe stands on the site.

Wednesday's 4 a.m. celebration interspersed prayer with the singing of Las Mañanitas, or morning serenades, accompanied by guitars, tambourines and accordion. Graf was joined on the altar by small children, the boys wearing tilmas like Juan Diego's and sporting painted-on mustaches, girls with braided hair and brightly colored dresses.

Then came the Aztec dancers, wearing elaborate feather-covered headdresses, gold-trimmed garb and heavy anklets made of hundreds of seashells. They danced to a drum and the call of a conch shell. Fascinated parishioners pressed closer to the front of the sanctuary to see. Some snapped photos with mobile phones.

The Virgin's image has long been ubiquitous in Mexican-American neighborhoods and in recent years she has gained popularity among non-Latinos, non-Catholics and even non-Christians.

"She cares for us and comforts us," said Juan Carlos Pizano, 34, of Round Lake Beach, whose parents emigrated from Mexico. "She unites us as countrymen, as children to a mother."

Her story has many parallels to the situation of undocumented immigrants, said Elena Segura, director of the Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform, part of the Chicago archdiocese.

At the time the Virgin appeared to him, Juan Diego faced an uncertain future, she said. He was poor and alone in the world. Spanish conquistadors had come to his land and brutally established their dominion. Indigenous peoples like his were being converted to Catholicism, their native customs and religion being subjugated.

"Then this lady showed up in the midst of all this stress," Segura said Wednesday after speaking at the service. "He represents people in despair and fear. That's like what undocumented people are feeling now, especially in this town."

Moreover, Graf told parishioners, the Virgin's mixed appearance is a message that tells believers to reach out to the non-Latino community and accept their differences.

"This is a moment in time in which we're given an opportunity to learn from the newcomer and for the newcomer to learn from those who have been here for several generations," he said. "In the process everyone's got to give a little bit . . . to become a new people, a new creation."

Queen of Peace, Blessed Mother, pray for us.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

You'll be doing all right, with your Christmas of white...

At left: Is it--? Yes it IS! It's Phil Spector as Santa Claus! Take cover!


If one is fully experiencing what a former co-worker of mine at the Open Book used to call The Zen of Retail, then one is able to detach from one's immediate surroundings and carefully observe the psychology of both Christmas and capitalism. Careful analysis of the music, which reflects the selected ambience, the projected market or target of the music, the veritable soundtrack of the season, if you will... ah, here is true yuletide wisdom!

I try to remember these wise words, every year.

As a retail wage-slave, I have been listening to lots and lots of Christmas music, against my will. Some of it barely qualifies as holiday music, unless you consider "Shake your ass for Christmas" or "Spank me for Christmas," part of your Advent repertoire, and certainly, some folks do. It's either that or a buncha damn kiddie songs, Holly Jolly Christmas, and so on. Bah, humbug! (You're a mean one, Mr Grinch.)

Sometimes, if you're lucky, you get the transcendent Charlie Brown Christmas music. Spookier this year than last year, is Frosty the Snowman, as delivered by Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes, since you know her creepy, homicidal ex-husband (see above) was standing nearby and forbidding her to leave his sight. (*Source: He's a Rebel) Maybe they should play that song at Halloween instead?

On the EZ-smooth muzak station, we hear Frank Sinatra sing his sweet version of "Oh by gosh by golly, it's time for Mistletoe and Holly"--just as smooth and nice as gravy on rice. Then we hear him later in his Vegas period: "Just! Hear! Thoooo-oooose! Sleigh Bells ringling! Jing-jing-jingling too! Jack!" and it's interesting to think about his progression from the young Sinatra to the old Sinatra... but that is way beyond the scope of this blog, or even Christmas itself.

Madonna's "Santa Baby" was xeroxed (that is to say, stolen) from the far-superior original by Eartha Kitt, but I'm sure she's cagey enough to call it a "homage" instead.

Elvis is credited with starting the pop Christmas music trend, but please, you should not BLAME him, just as he can't be held accountable for any bad rock music that followed. Elvis recorded a whole Christmas album at a time (1957) when only mainstream singers (which meant: no rock or pop) like Frank Sinatra, did. Many believed Elvis cut the record only to garner respectability, since it indeed DID bring him major respectability. Even mainstream people who disliked rock and roll bought the Christmas record, which was a sensation containing the huge hit ballad Blue Christmas. I've never believed that he did it only for respectability, but also to stake a claim that he was as good as the Frank Sinatras of the world. As for the Christian-respectability angle, it was something Elvis fell back on his whole life, making gospel records right alongside the others. (I know this because my grandmother owned them all.)

Dean Martin's "It's a Marshmallow World in the Winter" makes me think of Tony Soprano driving that poor guy out of his lakefront house by broadcasting Dean Martin 24/7 at deafening levels, from a boat on the lake. Imagine waking up to DEAN MARTIN serenading you, huh? Yes, I'd have to move, too.

I already played my Kinks Christmas song for you, and now here is my ABSOLUTE favorite Christmas pop song by glam-rock band Slade, which I defy you not to love as much as I do. Lots of Americans have never heard of Slade, believe it or not:

Slade were one of the most recognisable acts of the glam rock movement and were, at their peak, the most commercially popular band in the UK. They are well known for the deliberate misspelling of their song titles and for the song Merry Xmas Everybody (released December 1973), now one of the most iconic Christmas pop songs in the United Kingdom.
(from Foxytunes, below)

Turn it up!


merry christmas everybody

[via FoxyTunes / Slade]

Monday, December 10, 2007

Senator's grandson found dead at Clemson fraternity

The local gossip this morning is all about Senator Garrison's grandson, Benjamin Garrison Sprague, found dead on a futon at Clemson fraternity Sigma Nu.

Clemson freshman's body found at fraternity

Autopsy today on Greenville High grad, grandson of longtime lawmaker

Monday, December 10, 2007
By Paul Alongi
STAFF WRITER, Greenville News
An autopsy is expected to be performed today on the body of a Clemson University freshman who was found Sunday morning at an off-campus fraternity house.

The body of Benjamin Garrison Sprague was found lying on a futon at Sigma Nu near Seneca at 7:40 a.m. Sunday, according to Oconee County Coroner Karl Addis.

Srague was a Greenville High graduate and the grandson of longtime state legislator T. Ed Garrison.

Addis said Sprague, a Sigma Nu member, attended a party at the fraternity house Saturday.

Sprague, 18, was the grandson of Garrison, a Democratic state representative and senator from 1959 to 1987.

He was a general engineering major who graduated from Greenville High earlier this year and played center for the Red Raiders' football team, said family friend Jeff Dezen.

"Ben is one of the most brilliant, loving, kind young men I have ever known," Dezen said, "and I have known him since he was a little boy."
Fox News Carolina reported last night that there were no signs of a struggle. They also initially reported that Sprague had just pledged the frat within the past week, although that fact seems to have been dropped down the memory hole in both news account I read today. Alcohol poisoning?

Sprague comes from a prominent family, and this story has that telltale Pat Conroy vibe. What really happened? Will we ever know?
Clemson placed Sigma Nu on interim suspension, pending an investigation by its Office of Community and Ethical Standards, Denny said. Sigma Nu's executive director in Lexington, Va., couldn't be reached for comment.

The Oconee Sheriff's Office is also investigating Sprague's death and has asked for help from the State Law Enforcement Division, said SLED Inspector Richard Hunton. Sheriff James E. Singleton couldn't be reached for comment.

Sprague is the son of Joel and Gaye Sprague of Greenville and has an older brother, Jay, who attends Clemson, Dezen said. Relatives wanted to grieve in private Sunday, he said.

Garrison, the namesake of Clemson's livestock arena, owned Denver Downs Farm for years. His son Bart Garrison, also a Clemson graduate, died in a silo accident on the family's farm in May 1990.

Sprague was an outstanding athlete and scholar, Dezen said. He played on the Red Raiders' soccer team. Greenville County Schools honored him for being one of 12 students who never missed a day of high school.

"In his intelligence, his spirit and his joy for life, Ben Sprague was a giant," Dezen said.
My condolences to Benjamin's family; losing a child at Christmastime is particularly horrific.

Listening to: Minutemen - Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing
via FoxyTunes