Friday, December 25, 2009

Top Ten Albums

Usually people take late December and earliest January to make 'best of' lists of the past year's stuff: political events, book, movies, music, inventions, discoveries, whatever.

Since I am hopelessly out of touch regarding current events here is an appraisal of the top ten albums of all-time.

If you want last year's movies check my sister's blog:

1. Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles

No surprise here, and not without good reason: every track sounds ground-breaking compared to earlier efforts. Many like Revolver more, but this ain't their list.

2. Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys

The album that inspired 'Sgt. Peppers' was Brian Wilson's pet project (not where the title comes from, though) with usual incredible harmonies, this time paired with great soundscapes.

3. Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan

Not my personal favorite Dylan (that would be Blood on the Tracks). Yet I am always lightly stunned when I put it on again and am hit by the snare that launches 'Like a Rolling Stone'.

4. What's Going On by Marvin Gaye

Politically conscious, great music. A league apart from his other work, and from Motown records in general, this album was seminal, and still flows and jives with incredible clarity.

5. Kind of Blue by Miles Davis

You can't say it was the big bang of jazz, that honor goes to Louis Armstrong. But this album might be the formation of the Milky Way. The new direction it paved would mark all other albums as pre- or post- Blue.

6. Live at the Apollo by James Brown

Best live album and best of James Brown. I've yet to hear any other album, on either regard, that can beat this one.

7. The Velvet Underground and Nico

The second-most important album from 1967, and arguably more important. While the banana album was barely received on it's release it has gone on to pave the way for the likes of many a hard-rocking or experimental band.

8. London Calling by The Clash

The best punk album ever, hands-down. The versatility, passion and effort on each track slam you into a new way of thinking about punk: sometimes the artists can play their instruments, and sing songs with meanings.

9. Astral Weeks by Van Morrison

A truly unique album. I've yet to hear anything comparable with this odd masterpiece of storytelling and almost free jazz recording. Morrsion is passionate and open, far from polished.

10. Are You Experienced? by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Not the best Hendrix, perhaps (that might be Electric Ladyland) but impressive in that it showcases Jimi's prodigious abilities in shorter songs, without having to extend his playing to fifteen minute jam sessions. More tightly wound than usual, but a nice package.

Runner's up, not nearly as carefully planned:

11. Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd

12. Innervisions by Stevie Wonder

13. Led Zeppelin IV (ZOSO) by Led Zeppelin

14. Purple Rain by Prince

15. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars by David Bowie

16. Let It Bleed by the Rolling Stones

17. John Lennon by The Plastic Ono Band

18. Thriller by Michael Jackson

19. Blue by Joni Mitchell

20. Who's Next by The Who

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced its inductees for the year:

ABBA - As I said before, no fighting this one.

Jimmy Cliff - Yay! I just got 'The Harder They Come' and it is a great album. Deserved for this contribution alone.


The Hollies - Well, at least Nash will now be a double inductee like Crosby, Stills, and Young.

Genesis - Huh. Oh well.

Next Year's dream list: Gram Parsons, Kraftwerk, Roxy Music, Jeff Buckley, Jethro Tull.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Some musicals are great to experience just as an album. Here are some examples:

A Little Night Music by Sondheim

Original Broadway Cast.

This musical waltzes through the 'Glamorous Life' of Norwegian aristocracy and their 'Liaisons'. Based on Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night (one of my faves) this is full of Sondheim themes, reminding me at times of "Into the Woods" crossed with "Sunday in the Park". The songs are catchy and interesting. The over-played classic 'Send in the Clowns' seems fresh in this first take and in context of the story. Favorite tracks: 'Now Later Soon', 'Remember?', 'Weekend in the Country' and 'The Miller's Son'.

Stormy Weather by Everyone Who Was Anyone

Original Broadway Cast.

Cab Calloway, Lena Horne, Fats Waller, Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson. Plot? Who cares. This soundtrack to the 1943 musical has an amazing score, and if it had nothing else going for it that would be okay. The classic title track is still fabulous, as are the other tracks 'Ain't Misbehavin', 'Jumpin' Jive' and 'My, My Ain't That Somethin''.

West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim

Original Broadway Cast.

For a cooler kind of jazz "West Side Story" delivers the modern (1950's) Romeo and Juliet story with catchy tunes, lyrics and dance numbers. True, listening to the album won't give you the ballet experience, but listening to Bernstein's symphonic dances is still a treat. In the end Romeo, Tony, dies. Favorite tracks: 'Something's Coming', 'Tonight', 'Cool'.

My Fair Lady by Lerner and Loewe

1956 Broadway Cast.

Based on Shaw's "Pygmallion" Rex Harrison is Higgins: a man obsessed 'Why Can't the English' learn to speak? Julie Andrews, flower girl Doolittle, is taught to speak like a duchess. A peculiar romance entwines the pair as Doolittle softens from hating to loving the man who seems capable of only loving himself. Favorite tracks: 'I'm an Ordinary Man', 'Just You Wait', 'On the Street Where You Live', 'Show Me'.

Perhaps I'll add more later as I find more of this caliber.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Live Album Round-Up

As my music collection steadily grows I thought I'd take a moment and praise my top ten live albums.

Dream Letter: Live in London, by Tim Buckley

This is one of my favorite albums, period. Tim Buckley was a folk singing troubadour who is here captured at a decisive moment when he was mixing folk with jazz and rock. His band is minimal and his voice soars. If you are only familiar with his son Jeff Buckley's work I highly recommend this album as an introduction to the father.

Live at the Apollo, by James Brown

Many consider this the greatest live album of all time, and it is easy to see why. Brown whips the crowd into a frenzy with long jams and pleading medleys. The material is from Brown's earlier catalogue, and is a perfect showcase for 'the hardest working man in show business.'

At Fillmore East, by The Allman Brothers

For those who love the electric guitar Duane Allman was one of the undisputed masters. This collection of their best pieces from the last Fillmore concerts before closing highlight Duane's amazing technique in extended, but not repetitious, sessions.

At Folsom Prison, by Johnny Cash

Even more so than 'Apollo', this performance has the best crowd interaction. The inmates at Folsom Prison "roar their approval" as Cash presents a bill of songs about prison, love, standards, and some songs even written by the prisoners in the audience. Cash's songs, empathy, and humor makes the whole album excellent.

Carnegie Hall Concert of 1938, by Benny Goodman

This was the first time, ever, that jazz would be played in a venue like Carnegie Hall. The idea was new, but the best possible band for the job ensured that this would not be Carnegie's last jazz concert (see the great Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane live album at Carnegie, for example). The best big-band swing sound keeps the audience clapping through the amazing finale of 'Sing Sing Sing'.

MTV Unplugged in New York, by Nirvana

Okay, so Cobain was actually secretly amped. Still. This set was done in one marvelous take with a selection of some of Nirvana's lesser-known material and covers by Bowie, the Meat Puppets and other bands you may not have heard of. It is, to my mind, a vocal performance. Cobain's raw and passionate voice is the draw.

Live at Leeds, by The Who

The Who could create a great studio album, but this offering shows their legendary live prowess. Covering their classics ('Magic Bus', 'My Generation') and a long section of 'Tommy' they turn up the amps and start to forge what would become arena rock.

Live at the Regal, by BB King

BB King seems to disagree with most people that this is his best live work. As a blues set goes this short recording packs an amazing punch. King is in great form as a singer and guitar player, and the crowd is wildly enthusiastic.

Europe '72, by The Grateful Dead

The Dead had to make an appearance on any 'live album' list. This collection taken from a few different venues and countries on their European tour is a great collection of classic Dead jamming and covers some of their best material.

Ellington at Newport, by Duke Ellington

This live album rejuvenated the band leader's career. For many years this 'live' album was actually a studio cut made to sound live. Recently the original live tapes were found and now the two cuts, live and studio, come packaged together. The Newport Jazz festival boasts many classic jazz shows and artists, but for pre-Miles jazz this is an excellent show.

Honorable Mentions: Highlights from the Plugged Nickel, by Miles Davis; Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall; Live at the Harlem Square Club, by Sam Cooke; Royal Albert Hall, by Cream.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Redding and Cooke

I'm not a tremendous fan of either Otis Redding or Sam Cooke.

Otis Redding is best known for his posthumous single "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay". Since the song is about my town I feel some connection to it, and its popularity bespeaks to some extent the emotional connection many feel when listening to it.

Redding's best album, essentially universally acknowledged, is 'Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul'. This album is very good, but has always bugged me. See, out of 11 tracks Redding wrote: 2 and a half. That's a bit of a discrepancy. Most of his songs were covers of tracks by the likes of BB King, The Rolling Stones, Smokey Robinson, or Sam Cooke.

Cooke appears three times on the album, more than anyone else. Redding was a huge fan of Cooke's and covered some of his best-known songs on the album: "Shake", "Wonderful World", and Cooke's masterpiece, "A Change Is Gonna Come".

Then again, everyone used to cover, and the number of folks who covered the latter is quite high. So I shrugged it off.

Besides, Redding was known for his gravelly voice and pleading style while Cooke had a voice with a smoothness far surpassing silk. In that regard I figured Redding's covers were fine: his vocal talents are so different from Cooke's that it is almost like listening to a unique song.

But they weren't actually that different.

For the past few weeks I've been listening to "Sam Cooke Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963". For a live album the energy is pretty good, but not comparable to Brown's live album the year before. The performance is in Miami. As the liner notes say, and I must wholeheartedly agree, "It's a different Sam Cooke." Sam is feeling the deep soul. And his voice?

Pleading and gravelly.

I was stunned. He was out-Redding Redding. Why?

The simple truth was stark and unavoidable: Redding knew Cooke personally, and must have seen and heard him live. Cooke wasn't imitating Redding, Redding was imitating Cooke; so much so that he even copied Cooke's voice. It just wasn't the voice most listeners knew.

Most who listen to Cooke know his studio cuts, but this live performance, while not amazing, is very telling. It reveals a new angle to the performer and helps clarify the sound distinction between the legend and his protege, Otis Redding. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In that case Redding was the greatest flatterer of all.

I still listen to "Otis Blue", after all it is still a good album, but you can be sure that "The Harlem Square Club" has left me reevaluating just how 'great' an artist Otis was.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The biggest/littlest/sizeable hamlet/town/city in the western U.S.

I'm clearly in Reno.

There are no pigeons. Instead there are California Quail bobbing down the roads.

The heat is still on.

Tumbleweeds are not uncommon. There are some outside my house.

Locals insist 'Nevada' is pronounced 'Neh-va-duh', like 'Crab apple'.

I can bike to work across town. In 20 minutes.

Prairie style architecture? You betcha. Suburbia with 'western' influences'? Darn tootin'.

My students aren't all white.

My students have never been to NYC, Boston or DC.

Downtown = casinos.

Two blocks from work = prostitutes.

Six blocks from work = downtown.

* * *

In all seriousness, I am now living and teaching in Reno. It was quite a change and a hell of a move on short notice, but so far I'm liking it. The school is good, and almost all of my kids are good as well. I'm teaching world history, US history, and sociology. It's a blast. High school kids are great.

I'm now in my third week here. All of the above is true, and it's a pleasant change of scenery from Boston. Not that Boston is bad, mind, I just like to move around from time to time.

So here goes: real-life teaching. Hope I survive it.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

And The Nominees Are...

Every year I make predictions of who should be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ( This year there are 12 nominees, five of whom will be inducted. I've emboldened the ones I want to win. Nominees:

The Stooges Please? Finally?
KISS Why not.
Red Hot Chili Peppers They've got their own sound, sure.
Laura Nyro I only recently discovered her but damn.
ABBA I'm not even going to fight this one.

The Hollies - I like 'Bus Stop', but they're just another British invasion band. On the other hand Graham Nash would finally be a double inductee alongside Crosby, Stills and Young.

The Chantels - Meh. I'd be okay with their winning I guess.

Jimmy Cliff - Should win. Should replace ABBA.

Genesis - Do we want to reward Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel for what they've done?

Donna Summer - Do we want to reward disco for what it's done?

Darlene Love - She was that girl's voice you heard in the background of Phil Spector productions.

LL Cool J - Huh.

So there You have it. Next year maybe the other three oversights (Parsons, Kraftwerk, Roxy Music) will finally be acknowledged. Here's hoping the Stooges finally make it this year.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Quesadilla Theory

I used to only date.

I was a man of principles, in college, surrounded by great women. I'm a good-looking guy. I'm not good enough for a shaving ad, but I'm better than most. I had a nice selection of ladies to choose from.

My one rule was that it was serious dating and exclusive.

Due to this rule I missed out on so many great times with amazing girls. One ridiculously gorgeous girl was interested, but wanted an open relationship. I wrestled with it and turned it down. Wish I hadn't.

The saying (originating, I think, on How I Met Your Mother) that "guys regret the girls they didn't do, girls regret the guys they do" is very true. I regret the things/girls I didn't do far more than those I did and found unsatisfactory. At least with the latter I didn't have the nagging question of what might have been.

Choosing only serious relationships was due to an idea that if I wanted more but settled for less I'd be left unsatisfied, and therefore more miserable than before. This, in hindsight, was stupid.

So now, Craigslist types, I give you my new and improved Quesadilla Theory.

Back in college I spent a lot of time in our common room, chillin'. Having a voracious appetite and little money I was an unabashed mooch, and so when other house residents (it was a small house) came back with food I'd inevitably ask for some. When friends left the house to get food I'd ask them to get me some. It hardly ever happened, but once in a blue moon it payed off, at no expense to me.

As such what usually happened was someone would get food, eat most of it, and give the remainder to whatever mooches were in the common room. The best offering was part of a chicken quesadilla from this place down the block.

Whenever someone offered up one of those 'dillas I was on it. Even if I just ate. Even if I wasn't that hungry, having just mooched up some french fries. More often than not, though, I was indeed very hungry to the point of being ravenous.

During these ravenous moments you know what would've really hit the spot? A full chicken quesadilla - 8 slices of heavenly cheese chicken goodness. But just because that's what I wanted didn't mean I was going to turn down three slices given for free.

Girls are like quesadillas.

Or maybe relationships are.

The point is, I may want a serious relationship, a soulmate and the love of my life - if you think about it who wouldn't? - but if I have to settle for three slices of an open relationship or a fling or a one night stand, fine. It's better than no quesadilla at all. And, after all, isn't that what Christmas is really all about?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Further Music Reviews

Two quick reviews of recently acquired concept albums.

Come On Feel the Illinoise!, by Sufjan Stevens.

Stevens' Illinoise is the second installment in a quest to make an album for each state. The first, apparently, was Michigan. Being unfamiliar with that work, I can only say that Illinoise is a delightful album for a couple of reasons.

First it provides lush orchestrations and filled-out songs. They are, basically, pop-rock tracks. But there are generous helpings of folk. The titles are amusingly long-winded and descriptive: "A Short Reprise For Mary Todd Who Went Insane, But For Very Good Reasons" and "They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back From The Dead!! Ahhhh!" to pick two mid-length examples.

Many people called this the album of 2005, but being unversed in the numerous offerings of that year, I can only give this album my highest recommendation, with the assurance that it will appreciate with age.

69 Love Songs, by The Magnetic Fields.

A decade ago this album, with it's stark palindromic cover, seemed to be everywhere.

It is a beast of an album. You can, apparently buy the individual volumes, which as a three disc album may be worthwhile.

Oddly enough the topic of these 69 songs is often love songs, instead of love per se. Clocking three hours of listening the album's saving grace is it's deliberate variety. Pretty much every conceivable genre is covered, there are multiple male and female lead vocalists, songs from under a minute (the winking 'Punk Love') to full-fledged, multiple chorus selections ('Papa Was a Rodeo'). The main man behind the project has a gravely, Johnny Cash voice, and many of the songs have a bite or depressing edge.

Remarkably, though, while not every track is a personal winner, the sheer versatility will keep you on your toes. The tracks were arranged nearly randomly, so don't go looking for call-and-answer, or story arcs between songs. Surprisingly, if you have the time, you can throw these discs on one after the other and not get bored of what might have been a gimmicky offering.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Music Reviews

I'm in a music collection phase. Here are some curt reviews of recent acquisitions:

Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, by Neko Case.

Only after I'd listened to this album and was reading other reviews was I informed that it was 'country'. Really, it's a solid display of writing, intriguing instrumentation and fantastic vocals. Upon multiple listenings I guess there are two tracks that, in subject matter, sound 'country'. But their, and the album's overall excellence puts this chorus-free work with others that transcend categorization.

Court and Spark, Joni Mitchell.

Blue is Joni's masterpiece, but it is also "monochromatic". Court and Spark has Joni's magnificent voice, along with a rhythm section and some saxophones. This departure from Blue's 'a girl and a guitar or piano' allows for fuller offerings and a broader range of emotions, subject matter, and tone.

Mama's Gun, eryKah Badu.

The opener of this album instantly drew my mind to 'Maybe Your Baby' from Stevie Wonder's 1972 classic Talking Book. It also threw me off regarding everything else the album was going to be: a quiet r&b shuffle with obscure lyrics and mellow beats. After multiple listens the tracks still all sort of sound the same: an easy-going playlist with modest qualities. The last track 'Green Eyes' is hauntingly catchy, and serves up a surprise after fifty minutes of repetitive songs wedged between the more interesting bookends of the first and last offerings.

Yet, for these faults, I have to admit that the album isn't bad. It's not breaking any amazing new ground. But the songs are...good. You could definitely do worse. It is, by no means however, essential.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

As Time Goes By...

For a collegiate exercise I had to make a timeline. Some of the juxtapositions of this rediscovered work I find unintentionally amusing, especially if read as causal 'headlines'.

1666-7: Great Fire of London, Paradise Lost

1792: Pain's Rights of Man, Reign of Terror in France

1804: Napoleon declared Emperor, Kant dies

1850: Wordsworth dies, Scarlet Letter

1861: American Civil War begins, Fathers and Sons

1862: Thoreau dies, Bismarck becomes Premier

1890: Wilde's Picture of Dorian Grey, Van Gogh dies

1924: Kafka Dies, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue

1948: Israel formed, Gandhi assassinated

1953: Eisenhower President, Everest summited

1957: Sputnik, West Side Story

1962: Cuban Missile Crisis, Silent Spring

1978: Jean-Paul II made Pope, FBI formed

1980: John Lennon Dies, Small Pox eradicated

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Reaction to Last Night's Daily Show; in which town hall meetings on health care were derailed by planted agitators

There are so many problems in America.

I think the biggest is poverty. We need health care reform. Who needs it most? The poor. They have the worst health. When all you can afford is McDonalds and you don't have a stove or money for produce what can you expect?

We need education reform. I have no idea what direction public education needs to go in, but no matter which way it goes the same group of students will always suffer: the poor. Due to the instability of their home lives and the responsibilities they have at home there's no time for school work. As such they barely get through, or don't understand what they got through, or don't get through school. They learn no skills and their education haunts them, rather than helps them for the rest of their lives.

Because of this people don't understand science or statistics or civics. As such people don't vote, they worry about 'bonding' and invest in Baby Einstein, and they debate the Darwin 'theory'.

And these people are fed misinformation and lies so they can get riled up, go to town hall meetings, and shout down the speakers who are trying to ensure that they have the health care they need. The same people who would benefit the most from reform are those who are frightened of Obama, racists whose fear and narrow mindedness are being manipulated against their own best interests.

Why do we call it the Religious Right? It's not an ecumenical movement. I'm willing to bet there aren't many Hindus and Muslims in the Religious Right. Sikhs thin on the ground. Shouldn't we just call it the Christian Right?

What really upsets me is the fact that if Jesus showed up today I'm fairly sure the Christian Right would hate him. I mean, 'Blessed are: Peacemakers, Meek, Merciful, Those who Hunger for Righteousness, Poor in Spirit'. In a word: The downtrodden. What happened to 'Love thine enemy'? Whatever happened to Christian charity?

That's why these Christian Right people anger me. They profess to be followers of Jesus, but honestly, I see few of them following in his footsteps. Very few helping the sick and needy. Few feeding the hungry, and communing with the outcasts of society.

Who might be considered outcasts in our society, in our modern-day parable? Illegal immigrants? Gays? Who has the fewest rights in this country? Why are they stripped of their rights, if not due to the bellowings of the conservatives.

Jesus was not exactly a conservative fellow. Frankly, he bore more in common with those people who advocated peace and love forty years ago then those who physically intimidate speakers at health care town hall meetings.

For a man who got enraged and started flipping tables because there were money-lenders in the temple, do you really think he would approve of closing the gap between church and state? Do you really think he would approve of the widening gap between the rich and poor?

That's why poverty is the biggest problem. Poverty keeps people stupid and manipulable.

Without a free-thinking citizenry the country can't survive. People need to be able to reach stage three arguing. What are these stages? Stage one response: “That's stupid.” No reasoning, not argument, just gut reaction, often based on unchallenged assumptions. Stage two response: “That's stupid, and here's why...”Explaining and understanding why one feels the way they do about a subject, having given consideration to the problem. Stage three, the ideal: “I can see how you think that for reasons X,Y, and Z, but I think that's stupid for reasons A,B, and C.” Besides understanding one's own position you can understand the position of others. You need not agree with them, but you don't tell them their stupid and walk away.

I'm okay with certain conservatives. William F. Buckley-type conservative thinkers, who are rational, engage in stage three argument, and disagree with my views on how government should be run. Fine. But these belly-busters aren't doing anything useful. They are trying to deliberately impede helping people in need.

I recognize that the Left has it's share of fanatics. I am anti-fanatic. I am pro-helping people. Thus I generally am more lenient when it comes to the Left frothers since they just really really believe that helping people is a good thing.

That's what the parties seem to be, to me. The Left has a reputation for using government to help the needy, the conservative, supposedly Christian Right is entirely focused on self-interest.

We really need to rethink the self-interest motivation in this country. When men on steroids hitting balls are making millions as poverty creeps into the towns they play, and the President of the United States earns less for his job than Barry Bonds something is wrong. Perhaps poverty isn't the biggest problem in America today. Perhaps Barry Bonds is.

Or the 24-hour News cycle. Can we be rid of this yet? Can we go back to daily or twice a day news? I think we'd all be better off, journalistic integrity and standards would appreciate, and stories on the news would be, well, newsworthy. The constant tug at heartstrings of the daily local tragedy leaves one numb after mindless repetition. I used to care about the news. Now I can hear about a typhoon that kills thousands and not bother to read past the headline. Just another tragedy.

But I digress. The real issue is poverty, not the News that either chooses not to tell the story or does an 'interest piece' before packing up and leaving a poverty-ridden town having invested $1.50 at the local diner for a cup of coffee (no Starbucks!).

Until we start to settle poverty we can't expect education to improve. If you are a student who has to come home and take care of your siblings, or your parents, or hide from your parents, or work two jobs to support your family, or don't know where your next dinner is coming from, do you really think homework and study would be your primary concerns? Kids in poverty get very squirrelly just before school breaks. While other kids are looking forward to a vacation they dread the chaos that awaits them without any structure and questionable support at home. At school there is a routine, and food. No such luck at home.

So to the conservatives who are riling up these people, those conservatives who use the impoverished for partisan politics and anti-Obama sentiment due to the fact that Obama is a black president, to the conservatives who pay unholy lip service to the ideals of Christian charity and who are interested only in their own agendas at the cost of human lives, I say this:

I think you're stupid. You know damn well why.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Five Funniest-Looking Cat Breeds

The Five Funniest-Looking Cat Breeds

In the world of purebreds there are three basic rules:

1. Looks are the most important thing in life.
2. Make sure the breed is unique.
3. Just keep inbreeding.

The following creatures, supposedly feline, should have been pruned from this already unfortunate family tree. Instead they are recognized breeds.

5. Russian Blue

From the Breed Profile:

Little is known about the origin of the Russian Blue, however, stories and legends abound. Many believe the Russian Blue is a natural breed originating from the Archangel Isles in northern Russia...

That, or Mars.

There is something distinctly extra-terrestrial about this cat. It bears striking resemblance to the typical 'little grey' alien sci-fi fans are so familiar with.

But Wait, There's More:

One of the most outstanding features of the Russian Blue is a short, dense coat of an even, bright blue color with each hair dipped in silver.

Did they just say each hair is dipped in silver?

This cat is worth a million dollars.

4. Devon Rex

From the Breed Profile:

In 1959, a Miss Cox of Devonshire England found that a stray cat in her care had given birth to a rather odd looking curly-haired kitten, the sire thought to be a curly-haired tomcat seen in the area. Delighted with the kitten's elfin features and wavy curls, she named him Kirlee -- the founding father of the unique and wonderful breed of cats known today as the Devon Rex.”

Unbeknownst to Miss Cox (worst pseudonym ever), her unwitting discovery came right in time for a horrible new fashion:

The Borg queen gets a perm.

Also one questions whether we should be encouraging anything to look 'elfin'.

What one hugely popular and extremely effeminate role can do to an otherwise uninteresting film career.

But Wait, There's More:

Devons are low maintenance, wash-and-wear companions.

Perhaps that's why their coats look like that.

Please do not wear your cat.

3. Colorpoint Shorthair

From the Breed Profile:

Colorpoint Shorthairs are the first cousins of the Siamese. This breed is distinguished by its elegance in sixteen different "point" colors beyond the four Siamese colors. Half-siblings to the Siamese by virtue of their foundation and continuing breeding with the Siamese, the Colorpoint Shorthair is a hybrid breed of the Siamese.

By all admissions, a knock-off inbreed of a much more popular inbreed. This cat's IQ can probably be measured on one hand. A recent creation, it proves that breeders have learned nothing about genetics in the past 200 years.

But Wait, There's More:

To distinguish the new breed from the Siamese, CFA breeders adopted the name Colorpoint Shorthair for registration purposes, and through a painstaking process won recognition as a breed in 1964.

The poor thing doesn't even know if it's looking up or down.

2. Cornish Rex

From the Breed Profile:

Are those cats from outer space?!

If you don't know shouldn't we just kill them?!

This cat is clearly the by-product of curly Devon Rex and the alien Russian Blue. Or a crossbreed of a fur ball and alien-Burns.

It comes in peace.

But Wait, There's More:

In spite of their sophisticated, elegant appearance, Cornish Rex cats are anything but cool, aloof or dignified.

Two problems:

1. Obviously they have never seen one of these cats.

2. What character traits would you ascribe to a cat that looks like this?

Besides 'fugly' or 'unfortunate'.

1. Sphynx

From the Breeder Profile:

This cat and a few other naturally hairless cats have been found worldwide. These have magically been produced by Mother Nature and are the foundation for this unusual breed.

We already know that breeders don't have the basic concepts of genetics down. Which leaves one question:


These cats were bred in 1966. The Mexican Hairless Dog had been around for thousands of years. We know that cats and dogs don't mix, but when the evidence is running around barking at you, we could only hope humanity had learned its lesson.

We were wrong.

But Wait, There's More:

They perform silly antics for your entertainment and are sometimes downright clumsy...on purpose it seems.

The texture of the Sphynx skin has been compared to a suede covered hot water bottle

Because of the lack of hair that would normally absorb body oils, the Sphynx needs periodic bathing and ear cleaning.

Clearly a kind, loving creature that has no intention of killing you in your sleep.

With all those traits to recommend it why wouldn't you spend as much for one as you would on three new iPhones?

All pictures/quotes courtesy the Cat Fancier's Association, Inc.

The Past 100 Years

I've decided to grade the presidents of the past 100 years to determine if there have been any good Republican presidents. Here is a quick run down, with grades, of the US presidents of the past 100 years.

WH Taft, 1909-1913. Republican. Known for: Size of person.

Presidential Legacy: 17th ammendment - Senators elected directly by the people, 16th ammendment - Federal Income Tax, Nasty bit of business in Nicaragua.

Grade: C

Woodrow Wilson, 1913-1921. Democrat. Known for: League of Nations.

Presidential Legacy: Creation of the Federal Reserve, Approval of racial segregation, WWI intervention, 19th ammendment - Women's Suffrage.

Grade: B -

Warren G. Harding, 1921-1923. Republican. Known for: Dying in office.

Presidental Legacy: Established Veteran's Bureau, Teapot-Dome Scandal, Administrative corruption/fraud.

Grade: C-

Calvin Coolidge, 1923-1929. Republican. Known for: Skills of oratory.

Presidential Legacy: Immigration Act - excluding Asian immigrants, Tax relief, Indian Citizenship Act, Poor reaction to the Mississsippi Flood disaster.

Grade: C

Herbert Hoover, 1929-1933. Republican. Known for: Hoovervilles.

Presidential Legacy: Lack of intervention during the Great Depression/'Volunteerism', Most policies not enacted, Bonus Army - Firing on US troops demanding benefits, Noxious racial views.

Grade: D

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933-1945. Democrat. Known for: The New Deal

Presidential Legacy: New Deal - Lowered unemployment and raised the GDP while lowering the national debt, WWII intervention, Internment Camps, Only president elected to four terms.

Grade: A-

Harry Truman, 1945-1953. Democrat. Known for: Hiroshima bombings.

Presidential Legacy: Ending of war with Japan with use of Atomic weapons, Truman Doctrine - Communist containment/ McCarthysim, Creation of the US Air Force and CIA, Support of NATO, the UN and Israel, Korean War/Dismissal of MacArthur.

Grade: C

Dwight Eisenhower, 1953-1961. Republican. Known for: Golf.

Presidential Legacy: Sent first soldiers to Vietnam, CIA coups overseas, Nuclear stockpiling, Creation of NASA, Interstate highways, Little Rock, Alaska and Hawaii statehood.

Grade: B-

John F. Kennedy, 1961-1963. Democrat. Known for: Assassination.

Presidential Legacy: Bay of Pigs Fiasco, Cuban Missile Crisis, Partial Test Ban Treaty, Escalation in Vietnam, Peace Corps and Civil Rights, Playboy affairs.

Grade: B

Lyndon Johnson, 1963-1969. Democrat. Known for: Civil Rights

Presidential Legacy: Civil Rights Act/Voting Rights Act, National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, Medicare and Medicaid, Further involvement in Vietnam.

Grade: B

Richard Nixon, 1969-1974. Republican. Known for: Watergate.

Presidential Legacy: Escalation of Vietnam to include Laos and Cambodia/Removal of troops from Vietnam, Equal Rights/Equal Opportunity, Chinese and Soviet Diplomacy, Clean Air Act, Watergate and Resignation.

Grade: D+

Gerald Ford, 1974-1977. Republican. Known for: Nixon Pardon.

Presidential Legacy: Pardoned Nixon, Inflation and worst economy since the depression, Khmer Rouge and East Timor, Rockefeller Comission - CIA can't assassinate foreign leaders, NYC bankruptcy and Oil Crisis of 1973, Swine Flu.

Grade: C-

Jimmy Carter, 1977-1981. Democrat. Known for: Bungling the Hostage Crisis.

Presidential Legacy: Creation of the Department of Education and Department of Health, Energy Crisis, Inflation Crisis, Camp David Accords, Iran Hostage Crisis.

Grade: C-

Ronald Reagan,1981-1989. Republican. Known for: Being an actor.

Presidential Legacy: Iran-Contra Affair, Reaganomics: widening of rich and poor gap/greatest national debt in history/Wall Street deregulation, HUD controversy, 'Star Wars' Defense Project, War on Drugs, Nasty bit of business in Nicaragua.

Grade: D-

George HW Bush, 1989-1993. Republican. Known for: Read my lips, eat quiche and die.

Presidential Legacy: Economic recession/"No new taxes", Americans with Disabilities Act, NAFTA, Persian Gulf War, Fall of the Soviet Union, Nasty bit of business in Panama.

Grade: C-

Bill Clinton 1993-2001. Democrat. Known for: Monica Lewinsky.

Presidential Legacy: "Don't ask, don't tell"/Defense of Marriage Act, Budget Reconciliation - reversing the Reagan/Bush deficit and seeing a period of economic growth, Bosnia, Oslo Accords/Good Friday Agreement, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Impeachment for lying under oath.

Grade: C

George W. Bush, 2001-2009. Republican. Known for: War on Terror.

Presidential Legacy: War on Terrorism - Response to 9/11 by invading Afghanistan, War in Iraq, PATRIOT Act, Guantanamo/Homeland Security/Wiretapping, No Child Left Behind, Hurricane Katrina response, Environmental Record - Refusal to implement Kyoto Protocol/ANWR drilling debate/increased logging in parks/allowance of ozone destroying pollutants/Clean Air Act - stating carbon dioxide is not a pollutant,Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, Stem Cell Research Veto, Secure Fence Act, Economic Crisis of 2008

Grade: F

So all in all, 10 Republicans and 7 Democrats. Average grade for each party?

Democrats: 79. Or a B-/C+

Republicans: 62. Or a D/D-

I rest my case.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Reflections on Reflections on Bennington

Browsing my old entries (you know, just casually) I found the following odd little description of my first year at Bennington, composed during my third year while abroad in Leeds (coincidentally when this blog first began). I don't think this is how I'd describe that year now, with an extra two years behind me, but it is interesting, to me, nonetheless.

The length of the daily writing response astounds me. I forgot just how bored I was in Leeds.

"I had applied to thirteen colleges, and visited seven of them, and got into roughly that many. The summer after I left CRMS I kinda didn't do much. My mom was not impressed. I was preparing psychologically for the shift to college. This was not really needed, or true, but I lazed about all the same. It's not easy getting a summer job in SF when you get out of school a month after the local schools. Directly after CRMS my dad and I went on a bonding trip through the South West, hitting Mesa Verde, Arches, Goblin Valley. I took him to one of my favorite restaurants in Moab, called Zax, a pizza, soup and salad buffet. It was nice. Saw more Utah and Nevada. Of the thirteen schools I applied to, those being Earlham, Beloit, Evergreen State, UCSC, UCD, Hampshire, Skidmore, Drew, Sarah Lawrence, Pitzer, Eckerd, St. Johns and Bennington, St. Johns was top of the list. I wanted to go to the Santa Fe Campus and read the Great Books out in the desert. It was one of the few I didn't get into, along with the UC schools, Davis and Santa Cruz, Pitzer, and surely some others. I had, starting Junior year, begun reading classics of literature, and now I pursued this passion with vigor when applying. It was, ironically, my math grades that they cited being too low for my entry. So I have read them on my own time, and am about 2/3, at the time of writing, completed. I have added many more and fleshed out the list, and learned math from Euclid to Lobachevsky, and intend on reading them all within the next two or three years. So I decided to go Bennington College in rural Vermont, as it reminded me most of CRMS. It had the streak of John Dewey in it that was present at CRMS. The campus is very pretty, as was CRMS'. I moved in and went on an orientation backpacking trip through the Appalachian trail. I assumed this sort of thing would be common, but it was not to be. I've not gone backpacking since.

I fell in at once with a group called the Long Table. Comprised primarily of seniors, the group spanned all grades (once I joined) and was known as the Long Table since they took up two rectangular tables in the dining hall. Our antics were well known, and people at other tables would watch us and get involved occasionally. Extremely social meals was a carry-over from CRMS, but not nearly to the same degree. They were bawdy, loud, hysterical, emotional, and fantastic friends. John Wiswell was the patriarch, and his best friend was Nat Sylva, a junior. Wiswell had founded the table his first year, and had included people older than him at one point, who'd since graduated. Ryan Tittle and Penn Guenthner were a comedic team of playwrights/directors. Cassie Nichols dated a fellow named Nick, who had dropped out from Bennington, but showed up at the table about weekly. Megan Napier and Vanessa Grasso were best friends, and John's most loyal subjects. Max Cantor was a Sophomore who added an odd intellectualism to the atmosphere, he soon started dating a girl named Sarah King, a freshman who most of us were not fond of. This continued until they were engaged. Dana Brzezinski and Abbi Westwood were also Sophomores, and were often at the table, both had a bit of a reputation as party-earth-girls, and both were quite pretty. Amanda Nazarian and Mike Houlding had been dating forever, and were a quirky couple, of whom everyone was fond. Those were the principals. And me. They were so good to me, I miss that amazing pentadecatuplet of friendship, support and humor. As such I spent a lot of time that year with them, we met in John's room, and played video games, that is, everyone else did. Sometimes we'd squeeze nearly everyone in his tiny single, on his bed and floor. Meanwhile I lived in Sawtell, where Mike and Amanda lived my first term, going to Japan for the second. Sawtell had a great community spirit as well, and so I immediately started living this double social existence between the Long Table and Sawtell. I have kept up an increasingly complex version of this going ever since. My earliest friends, of course, I didn't stick with for long. My room mate was a fellow named Matt Mayo, who dropped after the first year, but we got on well, he really like Michael Moore and introduced me to Carlin. He was gay and had different boyfriends, but rarely sexiled me. After first term I moved in with Jake Cutler, an amazing fellow, whom I lived with until I came to Leeds, for reasons to be disclosed later.

In between the two terms I had my first Field Work Term, which I spent in SF at the SF Zen Center. I studied and practiced, and got a very good grasp, I think, on Soto Zen Buddhism. It was a little surreal, of course, living in a monastery. Up early, bed early, very ritualized, and structured, it was more religious than I anticipated. My classes went well, I had no tests or grades. My first semester I took, let's see if I can recall, British Regional Fiction with Davis-Goff, which I was quite good at, Intro to Anthropology, with Prazak, since I thought I might want to be an anthropologist, Astronomy with Norman Derby, which was fun, and about as in-depth as my independent study had been, and Internationalizing America with Eileen Scully. I did very well in this last course, and brought quite a bit to the class, I think. So, for my second term, I took Musics of Asia, on a lark, but quite an enjoyable one, with Nicholas Brooke who that term was my advisor, replacing Ron Cohen from the term before, Spacetime with Derby, since I didn't know a thing about it, Existentialism with Paul Voice, and Democracy Projects with Scully and Liz Coleman, the head of the school. The latter two I marginally passed, leading to my being put on academic concern for a term sophomore year. The first was due to laziness on my part and Paul's seeing that I was quite well-informed in the area, comparably, and so was not exerting myself enough. The second is a longer story, which may be summed up in that it was the worst academic experience I've ever had. Scully and I have not been on good terms since, and she does not let me into her classes. Part of it was due to my telling her that I knew she could do better, that I'd seen it the term before."

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Off the Wall, by Michael Jackson

For my money, this is the disco album. It might be the only disco album.

The first track "Don't Stop Until You Get Enough" was the biggest hit. It also sets the template for the whole album: love songs, catchy hooks, and relentless rhythms.

Other key tracks that follow the mold include the title, "Working Day and Night", "Rock with You" and "Burn This Disco Out". It stands as the most joyful album he ever made. On "Get on the Floor" he starts cracking up towards the end.

In the middle of the album there is a pause, though, for reflection. "Girlfriend" is a seemingly tender song that slows the pace and readies the listener for what may be the best song offered: "She's Out of my Life". Famously, on this slow song about lost love, Michael actually breaks down and starts quietly sobbing at the end, overcome with emotion. In all the oeuvre of 'i wish she were back' rock ballads no one had ever felt the message so personally that the reminder of the loss causes tears in the studio.

This album got Jackson his first Grammy and three AMA awards. It showed a breadth, from laughter to tears, that was a defining mark of a mature performer. Unlike most of disco, which has the hooks and the rhythm but not the soul, Jackson's first outstanding solo effort is still listenable and enjoyable.

Thriller, by Michael Jackson

I'm almost positive this will be the title of a posthumous biography.

Possibly the greatest selling album of all time, what is left to be said? This album contains a trifecta of three of the greatest pop songs of all time: "Thriller", "Beat It", and "Billie Jean". Each one could get a paragraph of analysis.

Next on the list of fame would probably be "The Girl is Mine", the school-boy argument with Paul McCartney. "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'", the first track, almost sounds like it was an afterthought to 'Off the Wall'.

The last three tracks are arguably weakest, but saying so is like saying that parts of 'Pet Sounds' or 'Revolver' aren't as strong as others. Sure. But the album, as a cohesive whole, is one of the best ever made.

Perhaps it's only understandable if you've listened to 'Off the Wall'. The sound on 'Thriller' is so different from anything that had come before, both for Michael, and in pop generally, that nowadays its revolutionary sound is often forgotten or lost. Unlike 'Pet Sounds' or 'Sgt. Peppers', Where a casual listening will perk up the ears to a unique sound, 'Thriller' can almost play unnoticed. Almost.

Thing is, Jackson created a template with 'Thriller'. The reason why it may not sound as revolutionary is because we are still listening to the echoes of what must be recognized as the peak of his career, and one of the peaks of pop, ever.

Monday, June 22, 2009

R+R H o F

To qualify for induction 25 years must have passed since the release of the band/artist's first album. I think the following performers are a bit overdue for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and should be the five inductees next year:

The Stooges. Qualifications: Released first album in 1969. Iggy Pop and the Stooges were a pioneering band in that they are credited with influencing both the development of punk and heavy metal.

Kraftwerk. Qualifications: Released first album in 1970. Pretty much invented electronic music. Without them: no techno, no synthesizers and vocoders, and no endless sampling of 'Trans-Europe Express'.

Roxy Music. Qualifications: Released first album in 1972. "Roxy Music were a huge influence on both punk and New Wave: They anticipated the restraint and the coolness of the Eighties, but you wouldn't have had the Sex Pistols without them, either." - John Taylor of Duran Duran.

Gram Parsons. Qualifications: Released first solo songs in 1973. Generally considered one of the founders of country-rock, a notable contribution to the rock and roll field.

Whitney Houston. Qualifications: Released first songs in 1985, and the Hall o' Fame can't resist such a qualification. That, and she's one of the best-selling artists of all time, and generally well-loved. I'm more confident in her getting in next year than any of the others above.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Three More Albums

More album reviews. What makes mine different from all the others in the blogosphere?

They're written by me, that's what.

Roger the Engineer, by the Yardbirds

The Yardbirds had three different guitarists during their brief existence: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. 'Roger the Engineer' hails from the Beck era.

Half of what makes the album so fun is its uniqueness. Beck made his other band members recite peculiar chants, some of which seems downright Gregorian. The guitar is blistering, the songs alternate between snappy and reflective, and the themes, aparently, have no connection.

'Over, Under, Sideways, Down' is a great stomper, followed by 'The Nazz are Blue', a guitar show-off with typical blues lyrics, next accompanied by 'I Can't Make Your Way', which sounds like a demented piece of tambourine sunshine pop.

Throw in some really odd tracks like 'Hot House of Omagarashid' (lyrics: ya ya ya, ya ya ya. Repeat) and seemingly you'd have an aimless, incoherent mess.

Somehow, though, the album feels right. The tracks work well in sequence, and in tone claim a sort of afinity to one another. Perhaps it's Beck's deft giutar skill that bundles it together. Whatever it is, it works.

The Gilded Palace of Sin, by The Flying Burrito Bros

Five seconds into this album Sneaky Pete, the guitarist, lets you know you are in territory most classic rockers despise: country!

If you let the track go for another 60 seconds, though, you'll start to recognize some bizarre sounds, lost in the cliche of country: these are psychedelic rock noises. What are they doing here?

This album, which was made with recent ex-Byrds Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman at its heart, tries to create something a bit off: psychedelic country rock. Some of the tracks are more successful than others, but the lyrics of even the most 'country' tracks, talking about green mohair suits, reflect the time and objective.

Less 'country' than the Byrds' feature 'Sweetheart of the Rodeo' in which Parsons introduced the Byrds' audience to the notion of country rock, 'Gilded' has some great covers, fine originals, and a sound that had not yet been locked in to the stereotypes of what a country rock album had to be. 'Sweetheart' provides that model just fine.

The last track, sounds like Luke the Drifter somehow was transported from a Hank Williams album into 1969. "I was walking down the street the other day/A sight came before my eyes./ It was a little hippie boy/ I must've been twice his size/ His appearance typified his strange breed:/ Guady clothes, long stringy hair hanging down." The hippie admits that the two walking side by side are "a million miles apart", but, in true hippie optimism, suggests the two could still both enjoy the sunshine. This album tries to create this same sort of reconcilliation: and ultimately succeeds.

Moanin' in the Moonlight, by Howlin' Wolf

Most of the songs in the Howlin' Wolf catalogue are first encountered through covers: 'Spoonful', 'Little Red Rooster', and the rest have been covered by aritists as diverse as Etta James, Sam Cooke, the Grateful Dead and Cream. But these tracks are found on Howlin' Wolf's first album, and are not original to Wolf, anyway.

On 'Moanin' Wolf's material, often donated by Willie Dixon, is straight blues. His growls and howls of loss express, what else, his hard times and loss. His career having begun in his forties Wolf (Chester Burnett) distills 20 years of blues development in one knock-out album.

'Smokestack Lightening' is the oft-covered single. The tracks are swirl of bar room piano, driving beats, and 12-bar guitar, complete with harmonica solos. As an introduction to the feeling and sound of electric blues there is no better album.

The Wolf is always on the wrong side of some situation, either with 'No Place to Go' or 'Evil', or the wrong side of women 'I'm Leaving You' and the hilariously acerbic 'I Asked for Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)'. Hence his need to sing, howl and, living up to the title, moan his blues.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Album Reviews

I already did a review on Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica. I suppose I can use the forum to give more info on good albums.

Here are three to get us started:

The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society, by the Kinks.

This is an album of nostalgia. I found it highly relevant when I was studying modernity and memory, with authors like Fritzsche. If it's a concept album, the theme is on the losses experienced as we grow up.

The first track "The Village Green Preservation Society" is probably the most recognizable track. This album doesn't have "Lola", "You Really Got Me", or "Waterloo Sunset". For a versatile band, this album is sonically thin and reflective: "Waterloo Sunset" would be the closest hit, in terms of a similar sound.

The intro track's lyrics set the tone for the whole piece: "We are the village green preservation society/ God save donald duck, vaudeville and variety". Yet the sarcasm becomes apparent in a later verse: "We are the office block persecution affinity/ God save little shops, china cups and virginity". The quaintness of the past is gently made fun of - in part since by the time the album was made, 1968, it had already disappeared.

Two songs, running on the memory theme, deal with photographs - "Picture Book" (from which Green Day borrowed a riff) and "People Take Pictures of Each Other". Both are fairly disparaging. "Do You Remember Walter?" laments the loss of school friends and presents the most personal and familiar experience of loss and memory:

"If you saw me now you wouldn't even know my name/ I bet you're fat and married and you're always home in bed by half-past eight/ And if I talked about the old times you'd get bored and you'll have nothing more to say/ Yes people often change, but memories of people can remain."

God is questioned in "Big Sky", "Last of the Steam-Powered Trains" is fairly obvious, and childhood is presented in two wonderfully juxtaposed pieces, "Phenomenal Cat" and "Wicked Anabella".

The album was one of the few released that year that didn't delve into psychedelia, but is straight-forward...rock? One definitely doesn't rock out to this. Perhaps it's one of the last examples of what Carlin defined as "roll".

Happy Trails, by Quicksilver Messenger Service.

Primarily a live album QMS were a psychedelic jam band that cropped up in the California scene contemporaneously with the Grateful Dead. The first five tracks, and twenty-three minutes, is an elongated jam of Bo Didley's "Who Do You Love". This jam, rankable amongst the Dead or Allman's at Fillmore East, is one of the most hypnotic, fascinating, and telling examples of a live performance in that day and age. By the fourth section (titled "Which Do You Love", as the other parts were renamed "When", "Where" and "How" so as to avoid royalties) the crowd interaction is frightening, and mesmerizing.

If this performance was a novel it would be Heart of Darkness.

Next comes a live performance of Didley's "Mona" - whipped up to seven minutes. Then we get some 'live' performance that were done in the studio: "Maiden of the Cancer Moon" and "Calvary" checking in at thirteen minutes. These are both instrumentals, and excellent ones at that - not repetitive, or meandering as often is the case. The final track, forty-seven seconds crooning Roy Rodger's farewell, is by far the least fitting and enjoyable track.

All in all the two sides share the extended plays, and fancy guitar work. Yet the feel of the two, in an overall eerie work, is noticeably different, but equally enjoyable.

Odessey and Oracle, by the Zombies.

It has been dubbed 'Baroque Pop' and it was a beautiful thing. Rich harmonies, dark themes, and symphonic orchestration. It's about as far away from the Ramones as you can get.

The Zombies are known for two hits: "She's Not There" and "Time of the Season". The latter, with its familiar echoing verses ("What's your name?/ Who's your daddy?/ Is he rich like me?") makes an appearance as the last track on this album, and the least recognizable in comparison to the other tracks. It reminds me of the inclusion of "Sloop John B" on "Pet Sounds" - not bad, but dissimilar in its presence.

It's not a concept album, but the themes are generally dealing with love and loss (no big surprise - nearly all albums are). Tracks such as "Maybe After He's Gone", "I Want Her She Wants Me" and "This Will Be Our Year" are fairly standard in this vein, if not their execution.

"A Rose for Emily" relates to a work by Faulkner, I believe. "Care of Cell 44" is a letter written to a girlfriend in prison. "Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914)" relates the horrors of WWI from a soldier's viewpoint. These tracks, and others, break up the love songs.

Not that the listener needs a break. My favorite track, "Changes", is about a girl's transformation once she's left. But all of the songs, regardless of theme, are immaculate constructions. They are pop masterpieces, all only a few minutes long, with a more harmonious wall of sound than Phil Spector could provide.

"Time of the Season" gets the airplay because it reflected the sentiment of the time. The other tracks are more somber, with a careful timelessness.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

And Now For An Over-Used Reference...

Generally I try to avoid turning this space into a blog about myself. When it is about me there's great care taken to remove any distinguishing 'I'. However, in a fit of Spring fever (which may be the source of newly discovered allergies for me) here's a break from the usual and a personal update.

I am fucked.

Like so many others, I need a job. Problem is, I don't know where to get said job. Everyone gives the same advice, namely to just get one anywhere. I then tell them the possibilities (New Orleans?) and they advise me against places. This has me worried.

Since I'm young and in transition the US is open. Of all the states I think there are roughly 16 I'd be happy to live in: Hawaii, California, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Washington, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Baltimore, Delaware, Virginia and Washington D.C. The rest have too much snow. I could stand to live in: Colorado, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Georgia, Tennessee, Wyoming, Connecticut, Ohio, Indiana, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and Illinois. Absolutely unacceptable: Michigan, the Dakotas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kentucky, Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri, Montana or Minnesota, West Virginia, Iowa, Mississippi, Alabama, Idaho, Wisconsin and Alaska.

The problem is that these states aren't simple. The cost-effective states don't have jobs. The jobs are in my forbidden states. My friends and family are in neither. I'm afflicted with that old dilemma, we've all had it, where I simultaneously have too many choices to decide and not enough options.

This is compacted by three things: certification, recommendation, and a portfolio. Certification is different state to state. It's similar for most, but there's paper work and waiting periods and such for all of them. Recommendations, increasingly, are asked to be submitted with cover letter and resume. This is obnoxious since those gracious enough to do a cover letter haven't agreed to send me umpteen copies. That means open letter instead of closed, and that means I'll only be able to send out a very limited number of apps in the first place. Finally, although not directly job related, I'm working on my Masters teaching portfolio, which is very long and time consuming, and due in two weeks.

I am, as a suspension cable would say, stressed.

* * *

I am good.

Life is going pretty darn well for me at the moment, for a number of reasons. Unlike many others, I have guaranteed shelter for the next few months. I have food. I have warm clothes as I hear the rain drench my vehicle outside. My security is assured.

My standard of living and comfort are far superior to many other places. It's slightly better than: Saudi Arabia, France, South Korea, Austria, Canada, Australia, Japan, Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Oman, Singapore, Spain and Brunei. It is far better than: Brazil, China, Mexico, Cameroon, Bahamas, Chile, Lithuania, Costa Rica, Lebanon, Jamaica, Namibia, Russia, Turkey, South Africa, Uzbekistan and Syria. My life would be utterly novel in: Liberia, Guinea, Sudan, Senegal, Uganda, Mali, Angola, Haiti, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Myanmar, Solomon Islands, Yemen, Rwanda, Mozambique and Vanuatu.

The advantages are that I'm an American, middle class, educated, healthy, and intelligent. For more spurious but unfortunately valid appraisal, I'm also male, attractive, heterosexual and white. These latter qualities aren't actual qualities, just characteristics. But to many, they are 'quality' characteristics.

Chances for success in life are three-fold: international status, upbringing, and motivation. My international status is the fact that I'm an American, and we are still, for all fears, the number one country in the world. The upbringing is that list of features, part which I was born with and part which I acquired up to this point, that prepare me for power, money and success. Motivation, which doesn't properly fit into the latter, is the knowledge that I will do well, and have safety nets of loving caring people to help me should I stumble and fall.

I am, as St. Paul would say, blessed.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Here's One Way to Measure a Vacation...

Weds: Pork in garlic with Chinese broccoli, a jackfruit smoothie. Hot chocolate flight, dessert sampler: cheesecake, whoopie pies, smores, sorbet, mousse, etc.

Thurs: Clam chowder, pepperoni pizza, apple juice. Ma Po tofu, iced tea, dessert sampler: tiramisu, cheesecake, chocolate cake, red velvet cake, apple pie, etc.

Fri: Sushi: inari, unagi, tamago, ebi, avocado and California roll, etc., iced tea. Cornbread, lobster ravioli, lemonade. Mate ice cream.

Sat: Steak and eggs with toast, milk, oj, and homefries. Gnocchi with sausage, scallops, dessert trifecta: panna cotta with blueberries, apple crisp, brown butter tart, water.

Sun: Crabcakes, fried potatoes, lemonade.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


As a product of bibliophile I have come to possess the gene that allows one to harbor a deep love of books.

In actuality I must credit whoever taught me to read, and those teachers who forced me to do so with continual regularity. Reading, and the love of books which accompanies it, is taught, not innate.

Alongside this love our time is a time of lists and list-making. I have commented elsewhere on this phenomenon, and the drastic ramifications of a society so constructed. What follows is not a justification or exemplification of our society and time, as I hope none of my work is, but is, instead, merely a product of it.

So here are 10 books everyone should read (but haven't been forced to already).

1. Don Quixote, Cervantes. Often called the "alpha and omega" of the novel form it wrote, and broke, all the rules. The gallant stick-insect on his nag Rociante fights off windmills, tries for a young disreputable girl's heart, eventually teams up with Sancho Panza to go righting all manner of wrongs and injustice. A friend of mine once quipped, in reference to the knight, "It would have been better if he were right."

Yet for all of these delights Quixote does not live up to its title of the Greatest Novel of All Time. For that treat you have to read the transition from the first to the second half, for the mother of all metafiction moments.

2. Ficciones, Borges. The short stories of Jorge Borges are an incomparable treat from the annals of world literature. Borges, for my money, was the world's greatest short story author for consistency, ingenuity, creativity and language. His topics shift from Argentinean gauchos to metaphysical libraries and Arab scholarship. Quite simply the master of the genre.

3. Watchmen, Moore. It would be easy to write this off as a product of the hype of the recent cinematic release, which, most parties will agree, earned a critic's B-. Yet this book is tremendously enjoyable and important for a comic-conscious nation. Tackling huge themes of morality and justice while also grappling with issues of American consumerism, the Cold War a variety of other sociological observations Watchmen turns a fun house mirror on our society and challenges us to laugh at what we see.

4. Three Seductive Ideas, Kagan. Non-fiction, especially of the academic variety, tends to present diminishing returns. The further in the more difficult it is to keep interest. Not so with Kagan's Three Seductive Ideas, the best book on developmental psychology out there. He handles three ideas we have largely accepted regarding how we grow up and takes note on how these ideas are not only faulty but also dangerous assumptions: infant determinism, the pleasure principle, and the ability to measure emotion, and more earth-shaking, intelligence. This will undoubtedly be hailed as a classic as it gains readership.

5. The Stranger, Camus. "Mama died today. Or maybe it was yesterday. I can't remember." So begins one of the great works of the 20th century, a stream of consciousness that is coherent and invigorating telling a story of a man's existential coming-to-terms with self. Far more readable, and, indeed, a true pleasure to read, compared to some of Sartre's fictions. It is the necessary reflection on the philosophy alongside...

6. The Notes From Underground, Dostoevsky. Gogol was funnier, Tolstoy was the greater author, but Dostoevsky in this slim volume best captures the complexities and paradoxes of his time and the modern world. While Gogol could parody these bureaucratic and social upheavals with ghosts and noses that run away to become ministers, Dostoevsky's main character actually feels these changes personally, strongly, and painfully.

7. The Divine Comedy, Dante. At least the Inferno. Technically, this may be the greatest work ever written. The depth, complexity, and simply staggering size of the undertaking in part distance readers rather than draw them in. A good, annotated edition, such as Musa's, will help accompany the wary reader alongside the pilgrim and Virgil in their descent.

8. The Clouds, Aristophanes. There is a tendency in casual readers to equate age with uninteresting. After all, what relevance can a story like Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel, lampooning the trends ans sacred cows of the time, have on us today? The genre which suffers the most within this neglect is comedy. And, to be fair, comedy often does not age well.

Not so Aristophane's 2,000+ year old play that makes fun of the pretensions of philosophy, Socrates, how to write a play, and what comedy even is. Again, I show my bias towards the meta, delighting in the fact that Aristophanes writes himself in as a character in his own play, addressing the audience in a formal speech telling them why his play his best. The ending, too, is a masterwork of comic genius.

9. Silent Spring, Carson. The now-classic book is more revolutionary than many give credit. On the surface it is a work which addresses the dangers of DDT and the ramifications of humans role messing around with the ecosystem. Written so as to be easily digestible to the layman, Carson's work is, in fact, far more than a warning or argument against spraying crops. It stands as one of, if not the first, work that directly states that the supposed benefits of our scientific progress aren't actually beneficial, moreover, that they are dangerous. The ramifications of such a realization require thought-provoking contemplation, if understood.

10. The New Testament. I think if more people actually read this a lot of the world's problems would be cleared up. A tremendous number of Christians spread a message of intolerance. Perhaps, if they read Jesus' teachings, they would realize that Jesus communed with lepers and prostitutes. Perhaps, if they read the Gospels, they'd understand that the apparent discrepancy between the New and Old testaments is one where the New, with its message of love and peace, supersedes the Old. If more Christians studied and read about Christ they may start to act more like him, rather than dividing and persecuting the human race and those who don't agree with them. On second thought, perhaps this should be first on the list...

Saturday, April 4, 2009


"It's just weird to think that what we did tonight we won't be able to do later in our lives."

"Going out to eat?"

"Well, I mean the details."

"You're being kinda vague."

"We drove for half an hour to a restaurant that serves Indian cuisine in a car that uses gas. Eighty years from now, when we're on our deathbeds, we won't be able to do that."

"Why not?"

"Things will be different. I think distances will lengthen."

"What? You're being really vague."

"Over the next eighty years I think that distances, communication, all of that, rather than getting more compact will expand. We're not going to have the same convenience. I mean, think about the past eighty years and what all changed then."

"The, 1920's? 1930's? People still drove to Williamstown to eat dinner..."

"Yeah, but -"

"I mean, the details were different. The cars were different, and I don't think cars will run on gas, yeah, but why do you think it's going to expand and not contract?"

"Just a hunch. Just an assumption."

* * *

Think of the difference between 1929 and 2009. If I live to see 2069, that is, live roughly 80 years, how much change will I have witnessed? Already I've clocked five presidents, three wars, 9/11, and Oklahoma City.

I grew up learning how to use a dictionary for vocab drills, and saw computers evolve from Apple Plus to featherweight laptops of today. The internet and email arrived.

Cloning is no longer the science fiction of my youth. The debate on the death of dinosaurs has, more or less, been fixed to a meteor impact. AIDs has become a global epidemic which we may have to live with for the rest of our lives.

The civil rights debate has shifted/is shifting from racial minorities to homosexuals. 'Deep Throat' was exposed.

Hair metal and Michael Jackson were replaced by Nirvana and Alternative, were in turn replaced by Indie rock and Hipsters. Silicon valley and the housing market boomed and busted.

Car phones and wireless phones were replaced by cell phones. Tape decks were replaced by CDs which were replaced by iPods. The Organic, Buy Local, and Green movement took flight. Electric cars were invented.

The Berlin wall came down. Countries have been created and dissolved. Apartheid ended, and Hong Kong was relinquished. Fidel stepped down and Putin stepped up.

I'm just 22. That all has happened in about twenty years. I mean, for goodness sake, what may come in the next sixty? Looking back on the past eighty years, here are the highlights up to my birth:

Sputnik, Moon landing, a space station, and the Hubble telescope.

The Wall Street Crash, Great Depression, and ten presidents. The JFK assassination.

Rock and Roll, Hippies, Woodstock, Punk, Funk, Disco. Country rock, folk revival, bebop and modern jazz.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Van Der Rohe and Gropius.

Microwaves, refrigerators, and power tools. The interstate highway system. The end of operator girls. The rise of department stores, credit and credit cards, catalogues, and strip malls.


Computers, and the silicon chip which allowed them to be personalized.

Helicopters and jet engines. Nuclear reactors and weapons, radiocarbon dating. Insulin, LSD, DNA sequencing, genetically modified organisms and hybrid rice. Lasers.

"Adolescence", yuppies, the agricultural revolution, hot rods, diners, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Free Speech, Kurosawa, Felini, Kubrick, Hitchcock, Bergman and the Academy Awards.

Hemmingway, Faulkner, Borges, Brave New World, Orwell, Steinbeck, Lord of the Rings, Beat Generation, Asimov, Heinlein, Stephen King.

Feminism. Existentialism. Post-Modernism.

World War II and the Holocaust. 'Little Boy' and 'Fat Man'. Stalinism's Great Purge, the Khmer Rouge, Chairman Mao and the Cold War. Korea and Vietnam.

Television. The rise and fall of the drive-in movie. LED technology. Aerosol, DDT, and supermarkets.

Ball point pens. Vending machines. Playboy.

Some people have seen all of this and more in their lives. The rate of change constantly increases.

So will people in 2069 still go out to dinner in Williamstown? Maybe. Will that interaction be at all identifiable with what we did tonight? I doubt it.

But that's just an assumption.

Monday, March 30, 2009

You can copy a newspaper with it...

Picture a toy chest, filled with a variety of toys. Ther're frisbees, blocks, sailboats, all sorts of fun toys.

Each toy is different, but each is fun, and is used differently. A frisbee and a sailboat can both provide amusement, but not if you sail a frisbee and toss a sailboat.

That is, each toy has a purpose.

Amongst this collection is an egg of silly putty. What is its purpose?

The way one enjoys silly putty is from the acceptance that its purpose is what you make of it. You test its extremities - how long, flat, and tall you can make it - while realizing that every silly putty tower must collapse upon itself.

That's my best description of philosophy. By engaging questions, impossible questions for which answers will never be found, you are testing your own extremities and ingenuities. Philosophy is mental silly putty.

Most kids mess around with silly putty, but don't properly engage it. Instead they sail sailboats, throw frisbees, and build with blocks. Some dress up in costumes and pretend. Others march stuffed bears.

Every kid has had the silly putty experience, though. And that is not true of the rest.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Basically, the American experience can be described by the phenomenon of feeding ducks.

When I was a child I liked to go to the ponds in Golden Gate Park and feed the ducks pieces of bread. When I grew up I learned that it is bad for the ducks to feed them.

Look those two sentences over again. Concerning the first sentence, did you ever ask yourself why? Why do families take their children to feed the duck? Our excursions were not unique - many young children can be seen throwing pieces of bread to ducks. But why?

Those two sentences tell you quite a lot about our society, or at least the society I grew up in. Many people never fed the ducks since, of course, their town had no ducks. I have counseling slots open for these people after work.

Yet the need for counseling merely underscores the 'why?'. Kids enjoy this. Why? I would look forward to it. I would take a bus across town for an hour to get to the park where my sister and I would dutifully bring bread for the ducks.

Did we think the ducks were dependant on us? They apparently got on fine without us the other days of the year. Did I have a particular vendetta against bread?

Maybe we just liked playing God, controlling these stupid, silly creatures. If the ducks were in one area you'd throw the bread into another and watch the quackers rush over.

There was always a hero and a villain. The hero never got any crumbs, he was a tragic hero, and the villain was the gluttonous successful one.

Already at this young age my liberal sensibilities were forming.

Recall the initial sentences: "When I was a child I liked to go to the ponds in Golden Gate Park and feed the ducks pieces of bread. When I grew up I learned that it is bad for the ducks to feed them." We've addressed, if not solved, the 'like' factor. A savvy reader would have picked up on my upbringing from other clues, as well. The fact that I have to go to a park relates my urban setting, as did the bus reference. There's a goldmine of inferences about being raised in an urban setting and the retreat, the urge, to escape to a patch of wilderness in the big city.

The fact that I wasted bread on lower orders is also a powerful testament to the affluence which I was granted. Such behavior would be inconceivable, even criminal, elsewhere.

Let's look at the second half now. Bread, it seems, is not healthy for ducks. They eat it, I suppose because it tastes good, or is easier to catch when thrown at their heads than hunting for insects and fish. (Do ducks eat insects? Do they eat fish?) At a certain age I went from enjoying feeding the ducks, which were also apparently a nuisance in the park, to silently shunning and thinking scornful thoughts about those harmful imbeciles who fattened and promoted an unhealthy pestilent duck population.

Greatest testimony of all, is how often this happens to us. Not ducks necessarily, although ducks work for me, you may have your own, but something that was innocent fun or enjoyable as a child which you learn is actually bad.

This is not a tremendously new discovery. Many people for a long time have said that growing up is a loss of innocence. But it's not. Growing up is a loss of innocence in America. The more I consider it the more I realize how this affects our national character, if we still claim to have such a thing.

Of course the 'loss of innocence' is true for many parts of the growing up experience. But increasingly pain, suffering, and sexual activity are all familiar to people before their adolescence, the traditional age for loss of innocence. (Which, in and of itself is a distinctly American myth, propagated by one Anna Freud. But the sturm und drang of the American adolescent is not here or there. Except in the sense that it is everywhere: another successful American global export.) These losses are especially common for those who live in the second and third world (remember them?). Feeding ducks is wasteful, consumerist, childish, irresponsible, and a number of other synonyms that people equate from the past eight years with 'American'. It is an extravagance that only the middle class and upper class can afford.

Moving on from this self-flagellation, I am more concerned with the second element, that of discovery. More specifically I think we can take these ducks and apply them to school. When we are children in first grade we put on Pilgrim plays and meet the nice Indians. Note: the indians are a monolithic peoples, the Pilgrims are British, and the two get along. Ten years later you have to relearn the whole scenario, and from a different point of view, namely that of slaughter and extortion and tension of colonialism and settler's wants conflicting with a variety of people's needs.

Each semester I cover Columbus with my students they are surprised to learn the realities of a cruel, morally reprehensible individual who is going to Hell if there ever was one.

Couldn't Columbus be a bad guy from the start? Why don't the first graders learn about the sorrows of imperialism? I mean, they can handle sorrow, loss and develop their ethics at this time. You need not provide graphically scarring details, but it would make my life easier.

So much what we learn as a child is overturned when we get older. Maybe this way we could ease some of the hormonal storms and stress of adolescence, as well as that horrific distrust of preteens, who are slowly realizing that everything they've been told is lies.

Just a thought in consideration for unhealthy ducks.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Here are some unfortunate considerations:

Scientists who study spider intelligence increasingly are discovering that certain arachnids show signs of intelligence.

Take, for example, jumping spiders. Jumping spiders, of course, need to have a little more mental processing than your average layabout web weaver. A jumping spider has to catch its prey actively, which requires 3D spatial imaging, as well as the ability to judge distances and determine outcomes.

Studies have shown that these little buggers also have a decent memmory and can be goal-oriented. They also, like bees, have a means of communicating with one another. Ever seen a spider flip its little front legs around in seemingly random swirls? It's trying to talk to you.

Does this make me want to squish them more or less? I can tolerate spiders at a safe distance. That distance increases with the increase of size. I'm fine being mano a mano with a goliath bird eating tarantula. But it better be at least five feet away. Six would be better.

If it's behind glass then there's no problem. I can walk right up to it. Because it can't get on me.

There's something to contemplate next time you have to take the life of a fly and mosquito catcher.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


The night was hunch-backed. It just was.

Four score and seven years ago I had a dream, not of what my country could do for me, but that this day would go down in my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is a respectable Republican cloth coat.

Fianlity is neither a word, nor the opening of this tale.

"There are thre erors in this sentence."

He sang, softer and softer. Soon the tune was a barely audible whisper. She succumbed, and cursed him with her last breath.

"Succumbed? Subcame?" He worried himself incessantly with the probability of grammatical faux pas.

Disregarding her devilish temptations she had, in all due fairness, wanted to see him die for reasons humane, pure, and just.

Had he gone half a foot to the left his placement in the room would have been different.

Had circumstances been different the outcomes would not be the same.

Had the Chinese sailed around the Cape of Good Hope the course of history would be completely altered.

Historical hypotheticals are meaningless. Not in the traditional sense of not having any meaning, for they do. Rather in the colloquial sense that equates 'meaning' with 'worth', so as to not sound pretentious in our criticisms.

Historical hypotheticals are worthless.

Voyages need not have a beginning any more than they need have an ending.

We nicknamed him 'Astro'. He thought it was a favorable comparison to Astro Boy. It was, in fact, a comparison to Astroglide.

From the Antichrist's Revisionist Bible: In the beginning it was the End, and Satan did not say 'Let there be dark.' He said 'Let there be Man.'

I tried my best to cheer him up with 'Reservoir Dogs'.

She threatened her life with a railway share, she charmed her with smiles and soap.

In retaliation she read long passages from Carrol's "Hunting of the Snark".

I now begin my tractatus on Three Hundred and Fifty-Three Ways to Silence a Baby with a common misconception: that in silencing the child you must also preserve its life.

Nobody knew of her existence but the barber, whose mute conditioned ensured her obscurity.

Nine of them lived, the tenth was reborn.

All in all, a most erratic narrative.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Moonlight in Vermont

Listening to Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart. I think it may be the best album ever made.

Those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about let me attempt to give some means of understanding my position while acknowledging the inability of the reader to listen to what I'm talking about.

(For some samples of tracks you could always go to Amazon or your iTunes store - but neither of these will offer relief. Good luck finding it.)

I think it sounds like free jazz mixed with delta blues.. Or you could picture what happens if you mix Robert Johnson, the Velvet Underground and Ornette Coleman together with Bob Dylan writing lyrics. And what's not cool about that?

(For the record I like all of the above mentioned artists. I like Dylan's lyrics, Coleman's jazz, Johnson's blues and the Velvet's rock noise. If you do not you may not like this particular offering. But then again it doesn't have to have your approval to be great, does it?)

Of course, he said with a self-satisfied academic guffaw, most people liken his work to Frank Zappa's. Yet Beefheart goes way beyond Zappa's work. Not that Zappa is exactly absent - he shows up as producer and you can hear him talking on some the tracks recording the album.

I should mention that the album was recorded in about 5 hours. That's not due to the seeming chaos of the album, which does sound raw. The band had practiced the songs for more than ten hours a day for months on end in "cultish" conditions.

Someone said that this album was the closest thing music had produced to parallel modern art.

That's why I love it. It is not easy listening. Look at Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Almost everyone loves this album. Millions will claim that it is the best album ever made. Yet what are its accomplishments, besides having 13 nice tracks? It showed that pop music could attain a status of art. It showed that the 'fab four' girl crushes could make something universal and enjoyed by everyone. That a pop album could win the grammy for best album.

(For those who follow such things it might also be noted that Bob Newhart once won album of the year. I like Newhart, but jeez. The grammies have a bit of a reputation for travesties.)

(For those of you keeping track this is the fourth parenthetical.)

Perhaps I shall metamorphose this blog into an area for fiction as well as music, movie, and book criticism. We shall see.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Zhang He

was a 7 foot tall Muslim Chinese eunuch. Which, in of itself, is not historically noteworthy.

His appearance, and paradoxical religious and ethnic combination may have made him noteworthy in his own time. In court he may have been an extraordinary figure, and knowing the Chinese court he'd likely have been mentioned by someone or other. Indeed, some specialist historian may have discovered him, if his features and traits were all he was known for.

But Zhang He explored unknown worlds.

Having trained, not since boyhood, but from his mid-twenties, when he decided being a court official was not ambitious enough, to become an astronaut he left our atmosphere at the age of 35, the upper limit for qualification.

At first, of course, he was just a regular pilot. He ran shuttle missions mostly. By the time he was 45 he had earned a minor reputation for excellence in this field. By fifty he was considered for a small exploration unit. He got the job three years later.

He spent the next thirty years penetrating deeper and deeper into space. He catalogued stars, planets, did lifesweeps, and collected samples. He charted asteroid belts and debris clouds as one would describe a reef along a rocky shore.

After this period he began to have a mid-life crisis, choosing to transfer to surface operations. These ground sweeps are generally regarded as less cozy than their ship-based counterparts, and therefore paid less.

Once he was on the surface of his first planet, however, He knew that he had picked the right job. It could take years to catalogue a single planet. The scanners on the ships could give as detailed an image as one could hope for. Yet a human was still needed on the surface to verify the machine's scanned images.

He was able to sweep three planets before retiring: FG-472, KS-096, and RD-786. To s they remain numbers, but to Zhang He they were each wildly different homes. One, arid and cold, strikingly flat until one reached a precipice and was presented an inspiring canyon vista. One, completely monopolized by a primitive multicellular seditious lifeform that fed on the surface's silicone dust and potassium-based atmosphere. One, a volcanic wonderland.

The reason his name came down to us, however, is not for his planetary discoveries, which were minimal amongst tens of thousands, but the fact that he was the first human who, after he'd retired, successfully mate with an alien life-form. In his immortal words, "It was squelchy." Their child, unsurprisingly, became World Premier. The mother looked like a rotten tree stump. He did not live to see the ceremony, passing away at 149.