Thursday, December 30, 2010


A vintage New Year's card. Long before email and Facebook and cell phones, people actually wrote letters and sent cards for the holidays like this beautiful example from a bygone era. But you knew that.

Monday, December 27, 2010


In this cold stretch of the holidays that's hammered like a shim between Christmas and New Years you may experience a kingly mood swing fueled by all the liquor and sweets and family visits, the fruitcakes and seasonal ales and figgy puddings and whiskey, barrels of whiskey, and you may find yourself on a bio-rhythmic roller-coaster that pitches and sways and whip-snaps and lands you flat on your ass feeling a desperate need for something true and non-sweetened and simple that doesn't taste like peppermint--and that brings you to Wilco. You need something acoustic and unadorned and true. Something that doesn't make your ears ring, your heart race or give you visions of sugarplums. These old boys--the bastards of Uncle Tupelo, the band that kicked off a genre--are the cure. Kick your shoes off. Set a spell. Have a listen.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


This is brilliant! Shoppers in a food court can't believe their eyes and ears when a talented flash mob pops up unannounced to sing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah. This unsponsored act of art reminds us--even when we're mind-dulled with consumerism, worn out from routine, and trapped in the lock-step of daily life--that anything is possible. In this context, singing the Hallelujah Chorus can be a subversive act. Thanks to these operatic guerrillas, obviously talented and well-trained, we're blindsided by a magical moment and forced to look up from our ruts. Here is ART, without warning, where we least expect it, far from the galleries and museums and concert halls, with no explanation, no wall-text, no hand-out or guide telling us how to feel, giving us the proper response. This can't be right. It just doesn't fit. Some might feel confused or inconvenienced or even cynical, but some will feel the thrill. The axe cuts through the ice. We're suddenly outside the box.

Thanks to these operatic guerrillas for making it happen. Good show! And thanks to Wendy, our resident opera fan, for finding this clip. Now before you go back to your normal programming, make a plan to create something beautiful and unexpected. And give it to someone. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me, won't see another one
And then he sang a song
The Rare Old Mountain Dew
I turned my face away
And dreamed about you

Got on a lucky one
Came in eighteen to one
I've got a feeling
This year's for me and you
So happy Christmas
I love you baby
I can see a better time
When all our dreams come true

They've got cars big as bars
They've got rivers of gold
But the wind goes right through you
It's no place for the old
When you first took my hand
On a cold Christmas Eve
You promised me
Broadway was waiting for me

You were handsome
You were pretty
Queen of New York City
When the band finished playing
They howled out for more
Sinatra was swinging,
All the drunks they were singing
We kissed on a corner
Then danced through the night

The boys of the NYPD choir
Were singing "Galway Bay"
And the bells were ringing out
For Christmas day

You're a bum
You're a punk
You're an old slut on junk
Lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed
You scumbag, you maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it's our last

I could have been someone
Well so could anyone
You took my dreams from me
When I first found you
I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can't make it all alone
I've built my dreams around you

copyright 1988 Shane MacGowan & Jem Finer

Monday, December 20, 2010


Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein appear in this promo for "Portlandia," an upcoming IFC series that spoofs and celebrates the city of Portland, Oregon. If you've ever lived in Portland you'll find this clip especially hilarious (maybe not so much if you still live there) but having been born and raised there I can vouch that this hits the mark. Sophisticates may celebrate its upscale food scene and impressive cultural additions, but there is a movement against such gentrification that is embodied in the ubiquitous bumper sticker seen in the Rose City: "Keep Portland Weird." This snarky little sticker recognizes the underground tradition of the city. Despite the "yupscale" changes, Portland will never be LA--and that's a good thing. What draws droves of people to PDX is a gritty, affordable working city that exists on a manageable scale. Artists and musicians have been moving here for years, especially since Seattle and San Francisco have become so terribly expensive, and there is a powerful indie music scene that attracts national attention. Okay, maybe these smart-asses from LA have gone too far in their parody As usual, the Angelinos tend to think they've got their finger on the pulse of American culture because they've got Hollywood and TV studios, but that's not how culture works...there are plenty of smaller towns with much more vibrant music and arts scenes. At any rate, if Portland is scoffed I'll defend it--though secretly I can laugh at some of its more recent affectations. All in all, I'm siding with the weird Portland.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Chef Mario Batali is making Baccala a la Vesuviana--salt cod with tomatoes and capers--a traditional Italian preparation served on Christmas eve as part of The Feast of the Seven Fishes.

On that night, Italians (and Italian Americans who keep the old customs alive) devour an amazing seafood feast of baccala, calamari, shrimp, clams, crab, oysters, whitefish--or some other combination that adds up to seven. The tradition goes back to forever.

According to Epicurious, "the Feast is a meal served in Italian households on La Vigilia (Christmas Eve). In many parts of Italy, the night is traditionally a partial fast, during which no meat should be served. But in true Italian style, this proscription has morphed into something very unfastlike indeed: course after course of luxurious seafood dishes, often as many as 7, 10, or even 13. 'No one's quite sure of the significance of the number," says Batali. 'Some families do seven for the sacraments. Some do ten for the stations of the cross. And some even do 13 for the 12 apostles plus Jesus.'"

Whatever your heritage, and whether or not you even celebrate Christmas, you should be proud of your history. Some folks believe everyone should lose all traces of their past and assimilate into one big homogenized America, but it's nice to keep some of the old traditions alive. Besides, that would be boring. Wherever you may have come from, originally, and whatever you may believe, you have cause to celebrate. Have a happy holiday season.

For more Italian Christmas information and recipes, visit the Epicurious Holiday Guide here.

Friday, December 17, 2010


A couple drunk uncles at the holiday party. That's what it seems like when Frank and Der Bingle start hitting the egg nog and singing. The uncles used to gather at Grandma's house, a jolly old fashioned crew that commandeered the couch and drank whiskey and nibbled at tiny anti-pasta plates Grandma had prepared--cheese and salami and olives--and maybe a few tiny bowls of Planter's peanuts. We cousins--children of Sputnik and rock music and the post-war baby boom--played in the back rooms, wired on Christmas adrenaline--and to us the uncles seemed ancient as Old Growth trees. Lights from the Christmas trees sparkled in their watery eyes. They chortled at their own jokes and might shake your hand and ask how old you were, and make some joke and then send you on your way. They were from another era--older than our parents, who were part of a newer world, voted for JFK and owned a bookstore--no, the old timers were World War Two guys from the forties who wore big pants and had barely stopped wearing hats (some still did) and they had a backlog of holiday memories to ruminate about after a few drinks in front of Grandma's Christmas tree. Grandma was even older, if that was possible. She'd come from the Old Country and raised nine kids and weathered mining towns and countless hardships and prohibition (with Grandpa, who had gone from blackballed miner to restaurant owner to bootlegger), and she remained a tough old bird who spoke broken English and walked with a limp and didn't believe in sloth and unnecessary pleasures. Grandma refilled glasses and tiny peanut plates and served candies that were sour (the punishment and penance that must accompany pleasure) and gave us children a bracing shot of Creme de Menthe at midnight. To think about it now, Christmas probably meant something different to everyone in the room back then. Maybe it still does. Now the trees are decorated much in the same way, and there are candles and cotton snow and maybe a swag like olden times--and Mom has her tiny Victorian village atop the piano and her famous fruitcake from days of yore (and a newer version, closer to panforte)--but the new kids in town are text-messaging and surfing the web, and they never stray far from a computer or a television screen of some kind--and yes they're wonderful kids but they probably look at those of us sitting on the couch with our drinks in our hands much in the same way we looked at our old uncles--as Old Growth timbers from ancient times and a distant and faraway places. This time around there will still be several generations present, and a wonderful holiday spirit--and still the labyrinthine details of pulling off a successful holiday as people bustle about, drive in from out of town, cook meals and play music and refill drinks and present endless platters of food. I'll be one of those uncles this time, and after a couple egg nogs I'll think back at my Christmases over the years, as everyone must. And yes, once again Christmas will mean something different to everyone in the room but we will all be together.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Elvis Presley sings a couple Christmas songs in a loosey-goosey jam session during his '68 Comeback Special. It had been a tough few years for the King. His last number one single was back in 1962, and now the swinging psychedelic sixties were under way and bands like the Beatles and the Stones were running the show. What happened? After coming out of the army, Elvis had gotten lost in a cheesy swamp of Hollywood teen movies, but now he had a chance to make one last stand. He got a special lined up on NBC, and he went into training. He trained hard. Maybe only blue-haired old ladies would watch it, but once upon a time Elvis had been a rocker with lots of sass, a swivel-hipped heartthrob who tore down the house with his gyrations and his soulful singing, and he wanted to get one last shot at it. People were stunned when he emerged from the shadows looking mean and lean and dipped in leather. He sang a few big production numbers, and he had a good time jamming with his old band. This was the last glimpse of greatness before Graceland became his personal prison and he spiraled downward into a zombie half-life of pills and booze and fried banana sandwiches only to die like a bloated Las Vegas lounge blimp in a white jumpsuit and a cape like a sad sack superhero down on his luck. Here, for a few golden moments, he was great again.

Santa Claus was back in town that night.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


As you can imagine, actual photographs of Santa Claus are exceedingly rare. There are plenty of of fake Santas, of course, and this time of year they can be found sitting in department stores and ringing bells on street corners, but these are only Santa's helpers. These helpers are frequently photographed, and these photographs are virtually worthless. Actual photographs of the real Santa exist, and according to some people the government has known about them for years. Some deny their existence, and some say they were destroyed or classified Top Secret and hidden in Area 51 by the military--along with the wreckage of an alien spaceship and a stag movie starring Marilyn Monroe--but a whistleblower recently leaked the photographs and the world can judge for itself. The photograph above is reported to be St. Nicholas early in his career when he wasn't so secretive. The photograph below, showing Santa loading a truck, was reportedly taken with a hidden camera by a disgruntled elf. The elf, and his accomplice (shown grinning on the truckbed), were summarily fired, but somehow this picture made it out of Toytown.

Santa's last known public appearance was at an orphanage in New Jersey in the 1930s, and while the good man requested no pictures someone snapped a surprised St. Nick handing out books and advent calenders to orphans.

Of course, we have no way of verifying that these are actual photographs of Santa Claus, but they seem pretty authentic to us. What do you think? Is this the real Santa Claus? there a Santa Claus at all? We quote the newsman Francis Pharcellus Church in his famous answer to a little girl who asked that question.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Here's another version on the Rankin/Bass stop-action Rudolph classic (shown below) and this time it's Martin Scorsese's take on the Christmas tale. As you might expect, this is a tougher take on Toytown, a place where cutting somebody out of the reindeer games could get you whacked. If these toys could talk...they'd keep their big mouths shut. Forget about it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," the Rankin/Bass stop-action Christmas classic, teams Rudolph with little Hermey, and Elf who wants to be a dentist. Together they discover an Island of Misfit Toys, and with the help of an old prospector, Yukon Cornelius, foment a revolution. Throwing off the shackles of repression, the toys set up a liberated zone free of exploitation, class and wage slavery, an open society where toys can finally escape the tyranny of Toyland bosses and express themselves fully for the first time. Their final victory is celebrated in song by Wobbly the Snowman (played by Burl Ives) in the holiday classic, "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas (You Have Nothing to Lose But Your Chains)!"

We hope you like this heartwarming holiday story--and its radical sub-text--as much as we do!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Thinking about John Lennon on the anniversary of his death. John was killed by a deranged nut in New York City on this day thirty years ago as he signed an autograph. We all remember him differently. There were many John Lennons--from the early days of John as clever wise-cracking Beatle, the poet of A Spaniard in the Works, middle-period songwriter Lennon crying "Help!," primal screaming artist Lennon expressing his fears and joys, house husband and hounded political activist taking on the Vietnam War and the evil Nixon machine. There will be eulogies today, and most of them will strip the man of controversy and candy-coat his memory. We're going with controversy--a fierce political song for the holiday season--since the dragons John tried to slay with his art and his wit are still alive and well. Another tragedy would be remembering him as just a pop star, and diluting his powerful music and memory to a cute little bio on the evening news that misses the point entirely. As another Englishmen once lamented, "the good is oft interred with the bones." Now John is safely dead, and the powers that be can rest easier. Maybe we all can, since he urged us all to do our part for peace and justice and that's not always easy. As the man said, War is over--if you want it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


If you grew up in the 1960s, you remember the Andy Williams Christmas Special. Bland as vanilla custard, and shot on a studio sound stage sparkling with fake snow, the show featured Andy, in a thick winter sweater and sporting an incongruous tan, crooning his way through Christmas carols with a cast of extras, dancers and singers. The whole affair probably cost more than Vietnam (and probably shared the same sponsors), but that was okay because the world out there, beyond the studio walls, was never allowed to intrude on Andy's world. For all we knew the Christmas Special was beamed from another planet entirely, but that was fine with us since it signaled the holiday season like no other harbinger, and many a hardened, cynical bastard was softened by its over-produced invocation of the Christmas past, Dickens via Studio City, the kind of good clean family fun you might find at Branson today. Sure, this treacle made your fillings ache, but if you stayed with it past the initial sugar shock the holiday spirit kicked in like peppermint mescaline and you were suddenly tripping Christmas balls.

How we loved the Christmas Special. Sure, we knew better. Andy was cheesy and old-fashioned and the songs were corny but we liked it the way we liked Christmas window displays downtown or those TV commercials with Santa riding a Norelco shaver. It was kitsch before we knew the word, and sure, maybe Cronkite was reporting war and assassinations, civil rights and psychedelia, student demonstrations and Black Power, but Andy's world was safe and cozy even if the real world was going up in flames, a magical winter wonderland where you could ease off your slippers, sip an egg nog, and drift into nostalgic holiday reverie unhindered by anything even vaguely resembling reality. You're probably too hip and jaded to dig this now, or too dishonest to admit it, but try to play along and imagine another time in a world long ago that never really existed, and get your cheer on. A'ight?

Monday, December 6, 2010


Something in a lighter vein, a cartoon by David Kazzie dealing with writing novels. These aren't Pixar production values, by any means, and the robotic voices are annoying, but as crude as it may seem this little cartoon manages to hit some ringing truths and elucidate some commonly held misconceptions. Here at the Hammer offices, we were rolling in the aisles. Like the best observational humor (and the worst dentist) this really hit a nerve--partly because we still believe it is possible to write a meaningful, challenging novel (there are still wonderful books being written) and partly because we are, in fact, writing one. We're stealing moments away from jobs and televisions and loved ones to hammer together an entirely made-up story (it's amazing how many intelligent people you meet who only read non-fiction, as if there is nothing "true" in a novel, meaning nothing to be learned), and we're just bold enough to believe it's worth the trouble. When will it be finished? When it's done. The trick is doing it right. It's not as easy as most people (including our animated bear) think. It takes heavy construction as well as fine carpentry. There are complicated characters and plots (in fact, several) and a strong narrative pull (profluence, John Gardner called it) but at this stage of construction one has the impulse to put up wallpaper in a room before the entire house has been built (to make a little showcase, perhaps) but the impulse must be resisted. It takes slow and steady work, checking the blueprints from time to time, and, lacking the reassurance and feedback that smaller pieces afford, something like faith. Anyway, the work is going well. There are sturdy weight-bearing walls and a strong foundation, and with any luck the sheetrock will go up without a hitch and the roof will hold water. Ha ha. Watch the video.

Friday, December 3, 2010


A passionate speech from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont that pulls no punches.


The Friends of the Nib and Fantagraphics is proud to present "Medieval Thinkers," an eye-popping exhibition of comix art at the Fantagraphics Bookstore--part of the holiday festivities celebrating its 4th year anniversary in Georgetown. Live music and art! Opening Saturday, December 11, 6:00 to 9:00PM.

This will be an amazing show and I'll be attending as a fan as well as a participant. If you're interested in seeing a showcase of some of the best comic artists out there--masters of the form as well as talented emerging artists--drop by and see original work by Peter Bagge, Bruce Bickford, D.J. Bryant, Chris Cilla, Max Clotfelter, Eleanor Davis, Kim Deitch, Heidi Estey, Kelly Froh, Justin Green, Gerland Jablonski, Megan Kelso, Jason T. Miles, Nate Neal, Bob Rini, Zak Sally, Dash Shaw, Matt Tamaru, Frew Weing, Jim Woodring, Mary Woodring, Max Woodring, Martine Workman and Chris Wright. Curated by Jason T. Miles and Max Clotfelter for Friends of the Nib. Yup, this will be a killer show.

Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery
1201 S. Vale Street, Seattle, WA 98108

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Some say Quentin Tarantino changed the face of contemporary film by combining dark comedy and violence in the same hip mixture, but Arthur Penn did that with "Bonnie and Clyde" back in 1967. Penn's film was a scandalous hit and was met with hand-wringing and condemnation from the upright (uptight?) critics and cultural watchdogs of its day, much in the way "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction" shocked and delighted audiences when they were released. Instead of surf guitars and oldies, Penn used bluegrass music--specifically the Foggy Mountain Breakdown performed by Flatt and Scruggs--which served the same purpose as a distancing device, an upbeat lively tune seemingly at odds with the somber subject matter--a hip twist of our expectations. It suggested the film was light and comical, much the way Dick Dale and the oldies undermined the bloodshed in "Pulp," and took us by surprise as we were pulled further and further into the void without the standard Hollywood musical cues helping us understand what we should be feeling. No, this was cold-blooded, and no overly dramatic score would satisfy this new take on American violence.

And violence. Both "Bonnie and Clyde" and the Tarantino films brought violence to a new level--or did they? That's how we experienced it, if it happened or not. In both cases, the films were derided fr their violence and used as examples of how society had gone to hell, how constant exposure to violence had a numbing effect, and how the directer (either one) was making light of a dreadful situation and should be ashamed of himself. The scene everyone remembers from "Reservoir Dogs" is over in a flash, but the scene had such a powerful effect because of a long, tense build-up. The torturer dances around the room to "Stuck in the Middle with You," while brandishing a straight razor. Like the shower sequence in "Psycho," you think you saw more than you did because of effective use of suspense. Plenty of worse things happen every night on television, but you don't feel it like this--so who is really numbing us to violence? Violence is ugly and unsettling, and somehow worse when it's portrayed in an antiseptic TV world where nobody bleeds and no one's hair get mussed. The body count could be higher, but the camera doesn't linger. You'll be safe soon enough, because every few minutes there's a whole rack of advertisements to interrupt the mood. Check out the advertisement for Taster's Choice up above--this you WON"T see on television.

Anyway, Penn didn't beat Tarantino to every punch, and Quentin deserves credit for writing offhand seemingly random dialog, scrambling the chronology, and tweaking the old fashioned genre tropes he's obviously familiar with--having teethed on movies as a film geek working in a video store. In any case, they roasted Tarantino this week and reportedly Quentin drank out of Uma's stiletto. Weird and kinky, sure, but that's his stock in trade. Even so, I'd have preferred a glass.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Last Friday, Willie Nelson was busted for pot in Siera Blanca, Texas. According to news reports, border patrol agents found six ounces of marijuana on Willie's tour bus. Six ounces of the stuff is a felony with a potential minimum of 180 days in a county jail and a maximum of two years, with a $10,000 fine. According to Fox News, the 77-year-old singer will likely do time in jail.

Marijuana is nothing new, of course, and it goes back further than the hippies and the beats and the crazy musicians. This clip is from the 1934 film "Murder at the Vanities."

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Novelist Jonathan Lethem discusses bogus nostalgia for a perfect Brooklyn, whether or not "hipster" is a pejorative term, and how novel writing is like mountain climbing. Yes, he's all over the map. If you've read any of Lethem's novels (and if you haven't, we suggest you begin with "Fortress of Solitude") you'll be familiar with his wide range of interests and quick wit. In this interview he is no different. Less eagle than egret, Lethem lights from tussock to tussock, off-kilter and herky-jerky, an apparently flightless bird poking awkwardly through the reeds, and then surprises us by taking flight on impossibly graceful wings with a fish in his bill. He shouldn't be able to do that, but he pulls it off. His protagonists are a motley crew of disheveled academics, dope peddlers, neurotics, musicians, a boy with magical powers, a detective with Tourettes. They seem hopelessly earthbound at first glance, but Lethem lifts them into the sky.

Here's an excerpt from "Motherless Brooklyn":

Minna's Court Street was the old Brooklyn, a placid ageless surface alive underneath with talk, with deals and casual insults, a neighborhood political machine with pizzeria and butchershop bosses and unwritten rules everywhere. All was talk except for what mattered most, which were unspoken understandings. The barbershop, where he took us for identical haircuts that cost three dollars each, except even that fee was waived for Minna--no one had to wonder why the price of a haircut hadn't gone up since 1966, nor why six old barbers were working, mostly not working, out of the same ancient storefront, where the Barbicide hadn't been changed since the product's invention (in Brooklyn, the jar bragged), where other somewhat younger men passed through constantly to argue sports and wave away offers of haircuts; the barbershop was a retirement home, a social club, and front for a backroom poker game. The barbers were taken care of because this was Brooklyn, where people looked out. Why would the prices go up, when nobody walked in who wasn't part of this conspiracy, this trust?--though if you spoke of it you'd surely meet with confused denials, or laughter and a too-hard cuff on the cheek. Another exemplary mystery was the "arcade," a giant storefront paneled with linoleum, containing three pinball machines, which were in constant use, and six or seven video games, Asteroids, Frogger, Centipede, all pretty much ignored, and a cashier, who'd change dollars to quarters and accept hundred dollar bills folded into lists of numbers, names of horses and football teams. The curb in front of the arcade was lined with Vespas, which had been a vogue a year or two before but now sat permanently parked, without anything more than a bicycle lock for protection, a taunt to vandals. A block away, on Smith, they would have been stripped, but here they were pristine, a curbside Vespa showroom. It didn't need explaining--this was Court Street. And Court Street, where it passed through Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill, was the only Brooklyn, really--north was Brooklyn Heights, secretly a part of Manhattan, south was the harbor, and the rest, everything east of the Gowanus Canal (the only body of water in the world, Minna would crack each and every time we drove over it, that was ninety percent guns), apart from small outposts of civilization in Park Slope and Windsor Terrace, was an unspeakable barbarian tumult.

In October, Jonathan Lethem gave the following interview to Big Think:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


"Arctic Blast," that's what they're calling it on TV--I guess it's supposed to sound dangerous and thrilling but it sounds like something you buy at Dairy Queen. "I'll have an Arctic Blast and a Dilly Bar, Please." What it means is fiercely cold weather and snow and ice for the past three days. Everything is shut down, including UW (they rarely close) so work has been called off for the second day in a row. With a windchill factor bringing the temp down to five degrees or so, and with snow on top of sheet of ice, people don't realize how treacherous it is outside. We bundled up and hiked to the store yesterday and it was beautiful and the snow crunched. We've seen a few bent street signs and a few wrecks (including an eighteen-wheeler that was sheared in two) and this video will show you why. Make sure you watch the whole thing because a Metro bus comes sliding through near the end, and you don't want to miss it. Hope it clears up a little for Thanksgiving. In the meantime, we're having hot coffee and pancakes. Snow day!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


We're getting awfully close to Thanksgiving and this old bird is getting nervous. Shielded by Bush tax cuts, this upper crust turkey has squeaked by for years untouched--but the crowd has never been this hungry. The peasants are sharpening their axes. Wait, this just in: our dapper turkey has been spared again--this time by Democrats. The old bird is safe, for now. Once again, there will be no axes for the top 2%. In related news, America is buying stockpiles of cranberry jelly.

For some dysfunctional holiday fun, don't miss our rollicking tale of Thanksgiving with the family here. Have a happy holiday!

Monday, November 22, 2010


We've loved impersonations ever since we were kids. There's something miraculous about a good mimic, and over the years we've been enthralled with the magic of Frank Gorshin and Rich Little and Frank Caliendo and Kevin Pollack and Kevin Spacey. Give us enough to drink, and we might baffle you with a half-bad Christopher Walken, or Brando in "On The Waterfront," but we're not kidding ourselves--entertaining a group of inebriated friends is nothing like going on national TV with your impersonations--and singing to boot! Here's a great set from Jimmy Fallon--a musical set with an uncanny impersonation of seventies-era Neil Young singing a Willow song, "Whip My Hair." Neil is joined by an uncanny impersonation of the young Bruce Springsteen--played by Bruce himself. Hilarious.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


This is funny. If language offends you, skip it, but the familiar--no, overly familiar phrase--that pops up again and again will surprise you. Are screenwriters simply relying on hackneyed cliches? Of course. And you love it. That's what they're banking on. You want the familiar, the entertaining, the easy--not some offbeat creative and unpredictable "art house" movie where anything can happen. That's too close to real life! When you pay good money you want exactly the same thing you got last time, whether it's a comforting meal or a trite Hollywood movie, and what's wrong with that?

Nothing. Maybe we're just jaded. We're not snobs but we watch a lot of films, and after a while the patterns, cliches and formulas start cropping up. Sure, dissecting a film can spoil the fun, but after a while you scratch your head and say "haven't we seen this one before?" Well, you have and you haven't. Originality has never been the hallmark of the Hollywood screenwriter, and the hacks seem to crank out the same film over and over since most people enjoy these familiar stories and stock characters and boilerplate plots. While Art may challenge the mind with the unfamiliar, Entertainment gives us exactly what we (think) we want. Over and over. What are screenwriters writing this very minute? Revisions of last year's hits. They're not just playing you for fools, they're relying on proven formulas and you can't blame them because writing is hard. They go for the easy plot-twist, the easy laugh, the easy catch-phrase because it's easy, obviously, and easier than creating something highly original and creative that you probably don't want to see, anyway. Give the people what they want and never give a sucker an even break.

On the other hand, what is wrong with these hacks? Can't they come up with something new? They get millions to deliver this tripe and they should earn those damn Malibu beach houses and those Porsches and those hair-plugs. Regurgitating the same old cud just drives us to foreign films (that, generally-speaking, are more challenging) and literary novels (God forbid) and forces us to abandon the theaters in droves. Honestly, we love going to the movies but there is NOTHING of interest playing: a quick glance turns up a typical romantic-comedy, a children's movie, a slasher remake of a Japanese slasher, and a simplistic testosterone-fueled action picture that would make "Die Hard" look like "Little Dorrit." Forget the hassle! Thank God we have our Netflix and our little Roku box--which we love--or we'd have a hard time finding any good movies. That might sound snobbish, but grab your newspaper and tell us we're wrong. In the meantime, watch this collection of film clips.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


"Nine Pound Hammer," Merle Travis

The great Merle Travis singing his song, "Nine Pound Hammer." Travis was born in 1917 in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, coal country made famous in the John Prine song "Paradise." Travis often wrote songs about the hard life and exploitation of coal miners, and his hits include "Sixteen Tons" and "Dark as a Dungeon," as well as this classic. (Full disclosure: We named this blog after the song.)

"Nine Pound Hammer" is related to "Spike Driver Blues," another hammer-swinging song, recorded in the twenties by Mississippi John Hurt, and loosely based on "John Henry," the mythical steel-driving man. "This is the hammer that killed John Henry," he sings, "but it won't kill me." This is a song of defiance, a song of resistance...and, ultimately, escape. "Take this hammer," he tells his co-worker, another spike driver, "and take it to the captain. Tell him I'm gone."

"Spike Driver Blues" by Mississippi John Hurt

These songs are country folk and blues, people's music, not the stuff that got on the radio, not the candy-coated production numbers that placated the masses and assured them "happy days are here again." These songs told simple secret truths and people played them themselves, with no intermediary business making once red cent off the transaction.

Plenty of people have covered these songs over the years from Chet Atkins to Marianne Faithful to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and we have a few "new" favorites of these old classics.

The Stable Jammers do a nice loose Hammer--something for Thanksgiving, maybe.

The Stable Jammers are alive and well over at Steam Powered Studio, a listener-sponsored studio you should visit. (Sponsorship costs $20-50 a month). Check it out here.

And here's our p;d pal Laura "Two Beers" Veirs with a sweet slow version of Spike Driver:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


You talking to me? A Thanksgiving vignette from a couple New Yorkers. Now stop busting my balls.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. As previously noted, this is the season of the decorative gourds. The autumn leaves are beautiful gold and brown and floating down from the trees, but that's just window dressing compared to the real psychodrama of the holiday season, the high-stakes, high-stress melange of overeating, heavy drinking, unreal expectations, off-kilter family dynamics and good old weapons-grade nostalgia for a past that never really happened. Don't get me wrong--I love the holidays--but it's good to remember we're bound for the perfect storm and we ought to make sure our vessel is seaworthy. This dinghy has weathered many a holiday and we proudly fly the family flag, but it's time to batten the hatches and maybe scrape off some barnacles before the annual voyage into these familiar and sometimes treacherous waters.

In the past, before the term "dysfunction" became a household word (not to mention a cottage industry), the holiday was a lightning rod for "family fights" over at my cousins' place. Let's call them "The Hatfields." Every year, without fail, fists would fly at The Hatfields'. There would be a knock-down, drag-out wrasslin' match fueled by Four Roses and bad wiring, which the Hatfields had in abundance, and our poor cousins would inevitably drift over to our house with big hollow eyes and empty stomachs, telling us quietly that "Mom and Dad had a fight." Our house was a relatively safe sanctuary where they could lick their wounds before returning home to clean the turkey off the walls and pick their parents off the floor. Our house wasn't perfect, by any means, but it was warm and sustaining, comparatively-speaking. You walked in and the kitchen smells pulled you forward into the holiday.

Mom would start cooking the holiday meal several days in advance, fired by black coffee and zero sleep. Dad would sharpen the knives for the ceremonial turkey carving, his traditional role which no one could do nearly as well. After seventeen hours in the oven, a per-pound equation calculated with a slide-rule, the bird was presented. Dad addressed the turkey, considering it as thoughtfully as a surgeon (Dad is a doctor, but not that kind). After scrubbing down with hot water and soap, he would return in OR scrubs with a razor-sharp chef's knife. He studied the poultry again, with the knife poised above the shiny brown skin. This was no time to crack a joke, but sometimes it was impossible to avoid. If you joked, Dad would start over. Before the incision he might hush the room and utter something like "Will somebody turn that damn music down! I can't hear myself think!" And then, in absolute silence, he would make the first incision.

Pilgrims we were not, but we gladly shared our bounty with others, including my Mom's sister's crew (a different crew than The Hatfields, let's call them "The McCoys") and they would bring a pie or some warm oysters of unknown provenance, but it wasn't about payback. The cornucopia spilled forth without questions, and it didn't matter if cousins brought their current temporary boyfriends and they ate enough for two, or even if they raided the bathroom medicine cabinet for pharmaceutical hors d-oeuvres because it was a holiday, dammit, and it was all about giving thanks. So give some thanks. Now my sisters have grown up and gotten married and they have their own beautiful hungry children, and their own crazy opinions, and all thirty-nine of us cluster around the beautiful dark oak table (and the adjacent rickety card tables and TV trays) and devour the holiday bird and all the trimmings. It's possible someone may comment on the excellent food, or thank Mom, the exhausted chef, but this isn't likely. More likely, the surly anti-social elements will make comments about the giant jocks loaded on anabolic steroids colliding in slow-motion instant replay on TV, or comment on the merits of the wine they brought, or comment about poultry, in specific and general terms, such as the time one brother-in-law insisted turkeys were the smartest animals in the world, a "fact" we all absorbed in stunned silence as we ate our turkey, shocked that somehow chimpanzees and dolphins were out of the running, but one smart-ass at the table offered a clever riposte (not too loudly, for fear of upsetting the proverbial apple cart of the family dynamic) that turkeys must be smart if they stare up into rainclouds until they drown, since suicide is generally considered a moral crime of the larger-brained animals, mostly man. This sailed right over the congregation, but the in-law in question was forced to amend his original assertion with "I'm talking WILD turkeys" as if we were too dumb to understand the subtle distinction, and then, as if to punish us for our stupidity, ate all the potatoes with grim determination.

Ah, thanksgiving! To know it is to love it. It is a day to celebrate and give thanks. This year we'll be giving thanks to Tryptophan and hard liquor. God knows none of us are perfect, and when we love someone we forgive them their foibles and try to let go of some of our own issues. Christ said something like that at his last supper, but of course it was his last supper. He might have been less beatific if John had eaten all the potatoes, say, or if Thomas, ever the doubter, had questioned the intelligence of fowl in specific or general terms, or if Judas had scarfed down Christ's Vicodin. Or maybe he would have remained infinitely patient and loving and blessed them all, even the apostles who hadn't brought a thing, and maybe he would have sighed and said, What the hell, I'll just turn more water into wine.

Monday, November 15, 2010


If dreams came true, ahhhh wouldn't that be nice? After years of playing clubs on the Jersey Shore and releasing a couple albums everything changed for the E Street Band with the release of "Born to Run." It was a certified popular hit with Springsteen combining the lyrics of Dylan with the longing of Roy Orbison and some Phil Spector Wall of Sound production. That was the plan, anyway. It was a great album. After that success, everyone expected the next record to a big soul-filling follow-up, but the car spun out of control. The wheels fell off. The gas tank exploded. There was a legal battle over the music, and there was a creative battle to wrestle some music from the wreckage. The record that followed was "Darkness on the Edge of Town."

Darkness on the Edge of Town, 1978

They're still racing out at the Trestles
But that blood it never burned in her veins
Now I hear she's got a house up in Fairview
And a style she's trying to maintain
Well if she wants to see me
You can tell her that I'm easily found
Tell her there's a spot out 'neath Abram's Bridge
And tell her there's a darkness on the edge of town

Hipsters may have never forgiven Springsteen for his mid-eighties popularity (and muscles) and they opted for college radio tunes or outright punk, and the mainstream MTV kids moved on to synthetic haircut bands and the latest pop confections, but before that a man in a snakeskin jacket had to fight his way out of a burning building like Brando in The Fugitive Kind. This music wasn't Top 40. This was dark and brooding and full of demons, not your background soundtrack for clubbing and partying or slam-dancing. Guitars slashed and burned. Hearts burst into flames. Listen to the scorching solo in "Prove it All Night" from the 1978 tour--smack dab in the middle of the darkness this thing cuts through like an acetylene torch. This was more than an album of pop songs about girls and cars, this was about heartache and redemption and loss. Like he said, Mr., I ain't a boy I'm a man. You want it, you take it, you pay the price.

Prove it All Night, 1978

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Ron Charles of the Washington Post discusses the finer points of a fierce competition gripping the nation and hints at the likely winner. No, we're not talking about the goddamn Oregon Ducks. Yes, we know football is great and we're not casting doubts on your manly love for the game--we're just acting snarky about another grueling, muscle-bound, adrenaline-infused competition that somehow slipped under the Great American Radar--the National Book Awards. You might think nobody gives a damn since nobody reads, but you might be wrong. Books are cool. Really. And the awards are heated and full of (implied) violence and aggression. You watched the game, right? Imagine your favorite writers in the same spot with only nine minutes and 25 seconds left in a knockdown, dragout battle. You've had a couple stadium-sized Duck beers, a Duck Dog, and a big greasy order of Duck Nachos but they only gave you a teensy square of wax paper to use as a napkin--but that's okay, your beloved Ducks are up by two. You feel confident. Oregon has had a tremendous run this season--not unlike Jonathan Franzen, author of the much-acclaimed "Freedom" and seen on the cover of Time Magazine, virtually unheard of for a literary figure since the golden age of fiction--and everyone expects a clean sweep. And yet, and yet, just as you sit there on your Ducks pillow with your Ducks blanket over your lap, and your green Ducks carcoat over your shoulders, and your big yellow "O" painted on your forehead--they tell you the top-ranked Oregon Ducks--pride of Eugene and butt-slapping fanboys statewide--aren't even in the running! Your big green web-footed quackers are totally dissed! How can this be??? The injustice! After this charmed season, the emerald fowls of Autzen Stadium have been snubbed! Oh! My! God!

Well, you get the idea. The literary equivalent of just such a thunderous challenge and subsequent humiliation has occurred in the National Book Awards this year, and book critic Ron Charles will tell you about it with manly wit and vigor.


Thursday, November 11, 2010


Sadly, it sounds as if the Obama Administration will cave in on the Bush tax cuts. We're greatly disappointed. Bush gave the richest of the rich the sweetest deal, and we'd like them to pay their fair share, as radical as that might sound, especially now that the country is going broke. Frightening data shows the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer at an unprecedented rate. The divide is greater than it has been since The Great Depression. A recent study on taxes in Washington State showed that the rich pay 2.6 percent in taxes, while the poor pay a whopping 17 percent. We're not advocating Class War--not yet, anyway--we'd just like to see something a hair closer to economic justice. In that spirit, we present the decadence of the Ruling Class in this hilarious remix of Federico Fellini's classic, "La Dolce Vita."

It's never easy being rich: endless tax avoidance, the Sisyphean search for reliable domestic staff, the never-ending burden of surly stares from the Great Sea of the Unwashed as one goes about one's rightful business. Toughest of all is simply keeping track of everything one owns. There's so much of it. And personal possessions are just the beginning.

You must keep a gimlet eye, too, on the myriad people and institutions that safeguard your gilded status: politicians, newspapers, financial instruments, branches of government. They all belong to you. But staying on top of what they're up to is a full time job. What's an overstretched gazillionaire to do?

Good question! The film remix was part of the publicity for the publication of "Rich People Things" by Chris Lehmann. The quotations are from the book. As our pal Tom Frank, author of "The Wrecking Crew," blurbs: "What a delight it is to have--finally!--an entire book in which Chris Lehmann gives the mountebanks and plutocrats of this world the drubbing they deserve--in delicious detail and at satisfying length. His scoffing is a tonic."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


William F. Buckley vs. Noam Chomsky, 1969

Ego. It's the greatest word of our time. We fight to defend it and no one can back down. If asked to name the greatest fights of the century you might name Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier, or Max Baer vs. Joe Louis, or Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Rocky Graziano--great fights by professional boxers--but few would come up with these intellectual pugilists throwing the verbal equivalent of punches, jabs and hooks, crosses and uppercuts. Sometimes they fall back against the ropes and take a pummeling. Some are fast on their feet, and some plod like flatfooted drunks in the late rounds. Some fights are won by decision, others by knockout. Here are a few classic matches by two-fisted intellectuals.

William F. Buckley vs. Gore Vidal, August 1968

They call boxing the "sweet science," and the pros make it a sport but some nut in a bar has no science whatsoever--and the same is so with these intellectuals. They have style in abundance, they drip style, but too easily they lose their cool and start telegraphing punches and swinging for the rafters. Or playing to the crowd. Ego again. A boxing coach might tell you to cut the fancy stuff and use a straight punch against an unskilled opponent, some barroom brawler throwing haymakers. Avoid the fancy footwork and the short-range punches like hooks and uppercuts, and most of all don't start hurling insults which only make matters worse. If you must fight, win the argument with as little force as necessary, relying on facts not ad hominem attacks. Better yet, don't fight. After all, most people won't change their opinions because of your wonderful skills. Besides, it's like wrestling with a pig--you end up covered in muck and the pig likes it.

Gore Vidal vs. Norman Mailer, 1971

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Are you reelin' in the years
Stowin' away the time
Are you gatherin' up the tears
Have you had enough of mine

Steely Dan occupy a precarious shelf in the pop music pantheon, clinging to a ledge between California rock and coke-fueled jazz (they started with rock and drifted to jazz on later albums) zoned somewhere between the seventies and the eighties, a technically sophisticated band with slick production values that could easily have become dated if not for their patent weirdness. And they were weird. Formed around the dark nucleus of two feverish miscreants, Fagen and Becker, and named for an infamous sex toy in a William Burroughs novel (that should be a clue), the band was filled out with crack session musicians who provided a solid sound base while the bandleaders told tales of junkies and players, paranoids, dreamers, Cubans, pro ballplayers, bookkeepers, snipers, gauchos and the odd acid chemist. In another world they might have been just another Boz Scaggs, and their sheen might fit in perfectly with the schematic chrome and leather Scandinavian furniture in the Scagg soundscape, those giant eighties quadraphonic speakers in the corners and the glasses of expensive Scotch and lines of Bolivian marching powder--but slick as it may seem this is not that world, this is not Scaggs, and this band leaves the silk degrees of his sub-zero disco behind like the telltale granules sparkling on the running boards of Owsley's technicolor motor-home. This is Steely Dan, damnit! This is the day of the expanding man. The sound triggers a mid-seventies memory-burn but in different ways than the blues-based rock bands we listened to at the time, those heavy holdovers from the sixties, but this was probably playing in the background when we transitioned from keggers to cocktails while trying to keep our (imagined) outlaw edge. This music was adult, suddenly, as far as we could tell, and that was something we were desperately trying to figure out, something we figured everyone else had down cold, and we studied these clues as if they were travel brochures from an undiscovered country where everything was cool and sexy and soundtracked with languid jazzy solos. We would drink Scotch whiskey all night long and die behind the wheel. That was the deal. Too late to get your money back now, big guy. Chill. And pump up the quad mega-speakers to eleven.

Watching the 1973 clip from "Midnight Special," a network TV show (there were ONLY network shows back then) brings back a time. The second clip is just a couple years ago, but they're still chilly as Scotch on the rocks.

It seems like only yesterday
I gazed through the glass
At ramblers
Wild gamblers
That's all in the past...

Friday, November 5, 2010


There's a great new album by Elton John and Leon Russell, two piano-playing geezers from yesteryear. It's amazing. Now that the midterm elections are over (and Patty Murray finally beat Dino Rossi in an agonizingly slow vote count) we can put politics aside for a moment and celebrate with some good music. Besides, it's the weekend. Rolling Stone magazine gave the new album five stars, which is extremely rare, but once you fall into its grooves you'll know why. This is the best thing either fellow has done in thirty years. Check it out. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Indecision 2010 - Maybe We Can't - Election Results
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorRally to Restore Sanity

So you woke up this morning and felt like you had the worst tequila hangover in history where the pain is right behind your eyeballs and your entire skull is throbbing, but it wasn't booze that did this; call it the midterm elections. The night before you watched the dismal returns roll in, and it seemed that every mouth-breathing ignorant redneck who could manage to utter a couple talking points and keep his pecker in his pants had defeated every halfway decent Democrat from sea to shining sea. Don't get me wrong--the Democrats can be terrible do-nothings and we're furious at them for their lack of fight--but these hate-filled teabags really took the cake--and the country--in a bad dream where naked self-interest paraded as righteous indignation, anger was touted as a virtue, and fear of foreigners and socialism and a black leader got them off their recliner chairs and into the streets to support the privatization of damn near everything, an end of taxing the ultra-rich, and praise for everything "business-friendly" with a holy "Jay-sus!" For these newly-awakened cretins, things started turning south once the slaves were freed and women got the vote (the Jezebels!) and children started speaking at the table. After that, it was all downhill, the bible was out the window, gays were in the military, smoking became a bad habit, and a half-black Muslim terrorist whose middle name was Joseph Stalin became President of the USA! Jay-sus! Liberal Democrats won an election somewhere in there, but that was during the Big Sleep, and they woke up with the help of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck and various other wealthy professional pundits posing as average people. Next thing you know the corporations that had layed these folks off started flooding money into their cornpone campaigns, with strings attached, of course, somehow indoctrinating these folks to deregulate this and that and make it easier for them to lay people off, outsource jobs, and make more money. That's the American way, by gum, by golly--and the result is a lot of cranky people blaming this Knee-grow President for not saving us all from the terrible mess we're in. Remember the mess George Bush Junior left us? Blame the black guy, it's an old trick that generally works among simple white folk. Turns out there weren't no dang WMDs after all, and no magic bullets to cut taxes without going bust--there was only a big ol' mountain of horse manure that caught fire on the porch just before George W and his smirk retired to his ranch in Dumbass, Texas. Now W is taking it easy, hunting quail with Dick Cheney and his Haliburton cronies, and we're in a real fix. Turns out these assholes didn't know what the hell they were talking about! Turns out they cut our funding and turned a record surplus into the greatest economic disaster since the Great Depression. Turns out these teabaggers hate government so much they ran for office, and now they're going to be blocking every good idea that isn't pre-approved by bible-thumpers and fat cat CEOs. Turns out we're fucked. Let the gridlock begin! See? You got the hangover and didn't even get the tequila.

Next time, we get the tequila.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Back in the day, people fought for the right to vote. Some even died. The Good Old Boy system prevailed and big decisions were made behind closed doors in smoke-filled rooms. Poor people didn't have a chance, women were excluded, and blacks were subjected to intimidation and special "tests" restricting their access to the polling booths. Throughout the rural South, blacks and whites organized voters during "Freedom Summer"--some were beaten and some payed the ultimate price. Think about that when you vote.


Sunday, October 31, 2010


racist teabagger zombie

It's Halloween day. Fear and ugliness and hatred and greedy self-interest and self-pity are sweeping the nation like zombies in a cheap low-budget scary movie. Call them Teabaggers. Well, okay, the budget isn't low but the simile stands. It's scary! After ignoring the travails of others for hundreds of years, they have awakened when the topsoil of their own privilege is slightly disturbed, and they have crawled from the graves of apathy to shamble mindlessly from town to town with mouths full of half-eaten platitudes and claws clutching touchingly misspelled signs calling for an end to "Sochlizm" and "Helth Care" and a return to the good old days when different-looking people lived in their own neighborhoods and didn't upset the apple cart looking for less wormy apples. They move in a herd and call for a return to a time when other people didn't speak their mind and women stayed in the kitchen or the maternity ward and the gays stayed in the closet or the church and the blacks cooked in the messhalls and shined shoes and sat in the back and we all pledged allegiance with liberty and justice for all and thought we meant it. Oh, sure, people still beat their wives and had abortions, but they didn't talk about, they didn't rub your nose in it, they didn't walk down the street hand in hand while you scowled from the porch, they didn't protest against the war and they had respect for their elders, by God!

Well, they were good old days if you were hardworking, God-fearing citizens of a certain complexion, and everyone knew their place--but somehow they got this notion of freedom, which was our word, damnit, freedom, and they meant freedom for everybody. They heard about the Constitution, which had safely been hidden in a civics book, and they figured everyone should have a tasty piece of that Freedom pie, but that screwed everything up. Suburbs that had been built for open space away from the slums of the city suddenly couldn't restrict house sales to whites only, so they even showed up next door and shopping in the malls and starting little restaurants. They came over from other countries, and the old racial quotas of the 1920s intended to keep "a balance" of races, no longer seemed to hold water legally. All that jazz written on the base of the statue of liberty about come on over, give us the wretched refuse from your teeming shores, seemed to actually INVITE people from other countries to move here, and not just doctors and lawyers but people who spoke broken English, or no English at all, and worshiped different gods since somewhere some founding father wrote down we should separate church and state, which we thought was just a technicality until that point, and next thing you know people were praying to all kinds of things. Skin privilege started to mean very little, and people who normally had a good shot at the top now had no guarantees, which made some people fighting mad, especially the dumb ones who had no chance without that extra little edge in the good ol' boy's network. Sadly, the world and the country changed drastically and the folks who had it good hearkened back to the Good Old Days that the others knew never really existed, not for them, anyway. Finally, people rose from their slumber to complain.

anti-teabagger at sanity rally

Jon Stewart, who doesn't even worship a Christian God, called for a Rally to Restore Sanity, and a good America named Stephen Colbert fought back on the very same day with a rally of his own, OUR own, called A March to Keep Fear Alive! Together, these two represented our divided nation. The signs were wonderful. The teabaggers didn't get the irony, of course, because that's a high level of cognition and they have a pretty basic cable package upstairs, you might say, but even so, the message was clear: these people did not agree with the fear and hatred and rage of the Tea Zombies. They would not stand pat while America was narrowly-defined by people like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck and other right wing hustlers and conmen. They refused to be dittoheads because they wanted to think for themselves. It's a sneaky business, because the Republicans think they own the flag and the country, but the message seems to be this country isn't just about empty platitudes and fireworks but a republic guided by the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And "justice for all" means "all" not just when it's convenient or makes a profit. And "Freedom" isn't just a campaign slogan, and "Equality" means not just fairness for the wealthy and well-connected and white, but everyone. It won't be easy, you say? Surely not? Fascism is easy--you just become a follower ("dittohead?") of a fierce leader--and racism is easy--you don't have to rise about the default setting--but democracy is very difficult because every voice is valued--not just a certain race or tax bracket--but even people with a wide variety of skin colors and belief systems and religious views--and none should dominate. Sure it's tough. It's a lot easier just feeling wounded and blaming others and lashing out because you didn't get the whole pie, but we need to learn to share. Come on, children, act your age not your shoe size.

See some of the best signs from the Restore Sanity Rally here.

Here's another clip from the sanity rally with Stewart and Colbert introducing Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) and Ozzy Osbourne to sing a couple train songs. Yusuf is Muslim and Ozzy is, well, crazy as a snake on a griddle, but somehow they create beautiful music, sort of. You must admit, this looks a lot more fun than those psalm-singing Teetotaler Tea Parties. Let freedom ring! Thanks, Jon and Stephen.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Betty Boop is having a swinging Halloween Party in this jazzy little short from 1933. For some reason this cartoon was banned, and we can't figure out why. It doesn't have offensive racist stereotypes like so many cartoons from those days, nor violence that goes unpunished, but maybe it's because the little bird drinks some booze. Remember, Prohibition lasted from 1920 until 1933--the year of this release--and maybe the censors couldn't allow anyone, including a silly cartoon animal, to enjoy a drink. Ha ha! What nutty puritans! What do you think? Should cartoon animals be allowed to drink?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


America is a violent country, and it always has been since the days of Indian-killing and slavery. Don't believe the hype. In this disturbing clip, Republican supporters of tea party candidate Paul Rand stomp on the head of a woman from This shows you the kind of hate that is being stirred up across the land. There are historic parallels and I'm not being flip comparing these thugs to early Nazi supporters in the beerhall days of Hitler's rise to power. Bad economy, hatred, racism and fear blend together in one scary cocktail.
Can you imagine if the boot was on the other foot, and several male Obama supporters beat the hell out of a lady tea party enthusiast clutching her bible? That clip would be a propaganda coup and would run non-stop on Fox News.

As violence goes, one could argue for self-defense but never bullying. Ganging up on someone, or picking on someone smaller and less able to fight back, is a sign of cowardice. Sadly, bullies seem to be in fashion these days--and it's not just the bullies themselves but the green light they get from their misguided parents and so-called leaders who fear and hate people who seem different. Does it make bullies feel tough, that they can gang up on someone? Does it make them feel macho? Do they have something to prove? Teen suicides are on the rise, many resulting from victims being tormented by these unenlightened jerks.

I came across this in an essay in the New Yorker.

"This month, we heard about Tyler Clementi, an eighteen-year-old Rutgers University freshman who threw himself off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate used a Webcam to broadcast, live online, Clementi making out with a male date. His suicide followed those of Billy Lucas, aged fifteen, of Greensburg, Indiana, and Seth Walsh, thirteen, of Tehachapi, California, both in September, and preceded by a day that of Asher Brown, thirteen, of Houston, Texas. All three boys had reportedly been victims of anti-gay bullying."

It's all connected. Hatred and fear of people with different beliefs, skin color, religion or sexual orientation resulting in violence. There have always been bullies, but now we have so-called responsible people, parents and political leaders, spouting intolerance and speaking in a coded language fanning hatred of foreigners and illegals, socialists and gays, outsiders and non-conformists. If Adolph Hitler rose from the dead he might think he won the war.

Fight the hate. Teach tolerance and justice. Start at home.