Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What’s on My I-pod—Let’s All Commit Suicide and Go to Hell Edition

Mrs. Archaeopteryx gave me an I-pod Nano for Christmas last year, and I spent several months wondering how I had lived fifty years without one. Then I spent the next several months wondering why she had bought something with only 14 gigs of memory—the damned thing would only hold about 1500 songs. Lo and behold, after enough wailing and gnashing of teeth, an I-pod Classic with ten times as much memory appeared next to my laptop. I love it so much better—it looks and feels substantial. It’s too big to tuck into a shirt pocket, but I don’t care—I get to spend the next couple of months loading a significant portion of my CD collection into it, and I so look forward to listening to obscure tracks off of decades-old pirated discs.

Anyway, with the advent of the Thanksgiving Break, I’m trapped in my office for a day without classes, and only my new toy as company. It’s a perfect opportunity to play the game invented by Rundeep and Claude Scales—put the I-pod on shuffle and list the first ten songs that come up. So here’s the annotated list for this morning:

1. Carmelita—Warren Zevon. One of my favorite songs, and the impetus for today’s list. The song is sung from the point of view of a heroin-addicted artist who contemplates suicide (“I’m sitting here playing solitaire, with my pearl-handled deck.”) I’ve always assumed the song was at least partly autobiographical—Zevon had a life that was interesting in just about every sense. He was an obsessive-compulsive genius who counted Billy Bob Thornton and David Letterman among his closest friends, and who died at age 56 of mesothelioma.

2. I Still Miss Someone—Rosanne Cash. Rosanne recorded this version of her father’s song of broken love for the Kindred Spirits tribute album which was released a year before Johnny’s death in 2003. Apparently, everyone around the elder Cash understood that he wasn’t long for this world. It’s a sad song to begin with, but seems even more desolate when cast as the story of a girl singing about her missing father.

3. The Blues—Randy Newman. My friends are entertained by how much I love Randy Newman—“He’s got the Randy Newman boxed set” is how they make fun of my musical tastes. But I suspect that Newman’s the greatest American songwriter, and his songs of idiots who don’t know they’re idiots make me want to laugh and cry at the same time. This song is from his Trouble in Paradise album—Newman at the height of his powers. The lyrics are about a songwriter (anyone we know?) whose mother died in a factory fire, whose brother is a male prostitute, whose best friend was killed in a bar fight, and whose father abandoned the family for a woman he met on a train. Paul Simon sings the chorus.

4. Highway Patrol—Junior Brown. Country music at its finest. Brown plays a double-necked guitar with built-in steel, and his lyrics are usually funny. This song is just a straight-up paean to a state trooper, sung from the trooper’s point of view, funny only in that somebody wrote a paean to a state trooper.

5. 22—Richard Buckner. Oh boy. A lovelorn kid commits suicide when his girlfriend never calls to talk about their break-up. Sample lyric: “I didn’t leave a letter, I just wrote my baby’s name, on the mirror all steamed over, with water, heat, and shame.” The phone rings just as he loses consciousness. I still get chill bumps each time I hear this song. Why isn’t Buckner rich and famous?

6. Rehab—Amy Winehouse. Go ahead. Make fun if you like. I heard the song by mistake, and then picked up the disc Back to Black. It’s the album the Supremes would have made in 1962 if Holland-Dozier-Holland had used the word “fuck” in their lyrics a lot more than they did. Everyone knows Winehouse’s story, and it’s clear from this album that she knows it, too; she’s killing herself and kidding herself. How can you not feel bad for a kid who sings “I don’t ever wanna drink again, I just need a friend?”

7. The Wig He Made Her Wear—Drive-by Truckers. This band is my favorite discovery from this year. Think Lynyrd Skynyrd, but with funnier, smarter lyrics, and a rawer sound. This song recounts the true story of Mary Winkler of Selmer, Tennessee, who killed her pastor husband Matthew because he “made her dress up slutty before they had sex.” Her defense attorneys caused an “audible gasp in the courtroom that day,” when they exhibited “them high-heeled shoes and that wig he made her wear.” The jury reduced her charges to involuntary manslaughter, which the singer finds perplexing: “I ain’t judging either way, but she’s already out of jail.”

8. My Head’s in Mississippi—ZZ Top. Here’s a band that helped me enjoy a lot of weed back in the 1970s. These guys seemed to play flat-out rock and roll, and only later did I figure out that they had tricked me into liking the blues. This song is about a confused, drugged-out young man who doesn’t seem to remember if his encounter with a naked cowgirl was real or not. “Stumbling through the parking lot of an invisible Seven-Eleven,” may sound like fun to you, but it just seems scary to me. Maybe a trip to rehab is in order.

9. Hell—Squirrel Nut Zippers. Jimbo Mathus is a demented genius, and the music of this band is Jimbo at his most demented and most genius-y. Who would have thought up a calypso song about Hell? Apparently it’s not a pleasant locale: “This is a place where eternally / fire is applied to the body / teeth are extruded and bones are ground / then baked into cakes which are passed around.”

10. Daniel and the Sacred Harp—The Band. The Band was around for a long time, but only in the last several years has it become one of my favorites. Robbie Robertson wrote this song of a man who sells his soul in exchange for a beautiful harp and the ability to play it. Robertson said that he was inspired by the story of Robert Johnson, the Mississippi blues legend who claimed that he sold his soul for the ability to play the guitar. A high price, but still in all, a good trade.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

"Liberal Media" Strikes Again

Next time somebody starts whining to you about the "liberal media," point them to the Manchester, New Hampshire, Union Leader. Turns out that the newspaper has decided not to publish wedding notices for gay weddings, even though gay marriage is legal in New Hampshire. In other words, owners of the newspaper don't like the law, so they're going to pretend that it doesn't exist. The Union Leader clearly wants to make the news, rather than report it. Or maybe, they're going to report the news the way they think it should be, rather than the way it is. In other words, the Manchester Union Leader is just like every other "mainstream" media outlet operating in this country.

Monday, August 16, 2010

You Need to Shut Up About the Damn Mosque

The United States of America is not a place. It’s not a flag. It’s an idea. The idea was set forth in the Constitution. If you bother to read the Constitution, what you find out is that it’s mostly just nuts-and-bolts instructions about how to run a government. Yeah, there are some good ideas there, but really, it’s about as exciting and revolutionary as the instructions for assembling a cheap Wal-Mart bookshelf. The part that is groundbreaking, and breathtaking, is the bit tacked on at the end—the Bill of Rights.

And the one that comes first is the most important. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Now, I know that some of y’all really love that Second Amendment. And the Fifth, and Ninth, and Tenth are pretty awesome, too. And even the Third is underrated—who among us wants a bunch of soldiers hanging out in the rec room, drinking up the beer and scratching up the pool table? But the Founding Fathers—and y’all keep telling me how important their intentions are, all the time—put the First Amendment first. That should tell you how important they thought it was.

And it’s what makes this country America. Up to that time, pretty much every country in the world reserved the right to make you worship the way they wanted you to worship, and they could throw you right in prison for saying the wrong thing, or writing the wrong thing, and if you decided to have yourself a Million-Man March, or a Vietnam War Protest, or God-help-you, a Tea Party Rally, they could beat you with nightsticks, or squirt you with fire hoses, or do whatever they did to people who mouthed off in the 1700s. But the First Amendment changed all that. It protected your right to say whatever stupid-ass thing you wanted to say, or to worship Baal if that was your predilection. If you didn’t like what the government was doing, the First Amendment gave you the right to bitch about it. In other words, the First Amendment says that you are a human being, and you have the right to think whatever you want to think.

Now, I know some of you don’t like Islam, and that’s your right (your First Amendment right!). I know I don’t like it, what with the beating women down, and the blowing shit up, and the America-hating and whatnot. But guess what—I don’t like your fucked-up religion, either, whatever it is. I don’t like that you think that your god should have some say into whether I can buy a beer on Sunday, or that you think that somehow posting the Ten Commandments up in the courthouse makes sense, or that I shouldn’t be able to marry a dude if I get hit by lightning and burn out the heterosexuality circuits in my brain. I don’t like that you think that your god should have some input into my biology classes. But I’ll tell you this—I would fight to the death to defend your right to believe whatever crazy-ass thing you want, and there’s not many things in this world that I think are worth dying over. The First Amendment is the United States of America. It’s why your grandfather died on Omaha Beach, and why your uncle came back from Vietnam as your crazy uncle. The First Amendment is the “free” in “The Land of the Free.”

I never liked George W. Bush (how’s that for an understatement?) but he said something once that was pretty insightful (especially for him). Somebody asked him why the Muslim extremists didn’t like us, and he replied something along the lines of “They hate us for our freedom.” And he was right. They don’t hate us for our freedom to choose from eight flavors of Mountain Dew, or our freedom to help select the next American Idol. They hate us because we don’t have to worship their god if we think their god is silly. If the people who died on 9-11 are heroes, here is why—they died because of the First Amendment.

We should be reveling in the fact that people can build goofy religious buildings wherever they like. We’re the United Fucking States of America, and we’re not afraid of your religion. If you like, you can ignore what the First Amendment means, but if you do, you’re no American. Yeah, a mosque down by the big hole in the ground might hurt some people’s feelings, but if you want to suspend the First Amendment for that, you’re no better than somebody who thinks it’s okay to kill people because they dared to make a cartoon of Mohammed (remember how we made fun of those people?). And if you’re a person that would demagogue this—somebody who would undermine the First Amendment to score political points, or to attack the President because you don’t like him—I’m talking about Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich, and I’m talking about you—than you’re no patriot. You’re a treasonous rat bastard who isn’t worth the spilled blood of the American soldiers and the other martyrs of our freedoms.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Genius Speaks

Time for Tony to Shut.  The.  Fuck.  Up.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

On The Beach

The last night of the trip, we spent a couple of hours on the beach at Pensacola. The beachfront was decimated in 2007 by Hurricane Ivan, and almost every human-built structure was completely destroyed. NOAA records indicate that the storm surge was 12.5 feet on Pensacola Beach, but the locals claim that it was much higher at times. However, the entire beach area has been completely rebuilt, and there are restaurants, stores, a pavilion for special events, and plenty of tourist attractions. This was the fourth trip I’ve made to the beach, and the third since the hurricane, and the progress of reconstruction has been exciting.

We arrived on the beach near sunset, expecting to find the regular raucous crowd of tourists and kids, but found it as empty as the year after Ivan. A sign in front of a condo rental agency explained, “There is no oil on our beaches except Coppertone.” Pensacola is in the crosshairs of the BP oil spill, and even though there is no oil on the beach yet, hundreds of vacationers have cancelled their trips. Radio stations throughout the Gulf Coast exhort their listeners to spread the word that the beaches are still clean and beautiful, but apparently to little effect. The cheap hotels (the type frequented by college students on field trips) are full around Mobile and Pensacola, but not with the usual contingent of families and college kids. Instead, there are people funneling in to deal with the oil.

I walked out onto the fishing pier with a couple of students to watch the Least Terns hunting in the shallow waters there. The birds are tiny compared to other terns and gulls. They sail over the waves, using their excellent vision to find little fishes near the surface, then fold their wings and dive into the water, much like a pelican. They crash-land into the sea and emerge about one time in ten with a silver prize. The successful terns take off for the shore with their fish, cackling a victory cry past the morsel in their bill, while those who haven’t been as lucky immediately bounce twenty or thirty feet into the air to try again. The crashing and bouncing happen quickly and make the terns appear mounted on strings. The number of Least Terns at Pensacola was the greatest I’ve seen there, but the birds are one of the success stories of the Endangered Species Act, and the populations are starting to flourish all along the Gulf. Wildlife managers identified important nesting areas for the birds—almost always on pristine stretches of beach—and posted fences and signs warning beach users to stay clear. Amazingly, this worked. People in the Gulf care about wildlife, or at least about the tourist dollars that the wildlife brings in, and do what they need to do to protect it.

The next morning in the hotel room, I watched an interview on one of the morning news shows. The subject of the interview was a fishing charter captain who was also the father of two other fishing boat captains. He choked back tears as he described his conversations with his sons—what would they do for customers this year? What would they do for a living? The waitress at the fish house the night before had chuckled nervously when she told one of the students that the dressing on his salad would be made of the “good kind of oil.” We noticed several times this graffito: “FUBP.” Sometimes it wasn’t written on a BP store or billboard. For the most part, though, the people in Pensacola were like those we had encountered throughout Florida—cheerful and positive, and very, very nervous.

Many years ago, I read the Nevil Shute novel On the Beach. The plot was that a nuclear war had destroyed all life in the Northern Hemisphere, and that weather currents were slowly moving the fallout south to Australia. The people in Australia were waiting for the end with a fantastic feeling of foreboding and resignation—knowing that the end was coming and that there was nothing to be done about it.

That’s what it feels like in Pensacola.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

I Have Always Loved Arkansas

But in the last few days, it has gotten better and better. Now if we could just get rid of some of our embarrassing congressmen and senators. One (or two) things at a time, I guess.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Cops Can Do Whatever They Want!

Thank God, the courts have decided that it's okay to use excessive force against pregnant women who may be exceeding the speed limit. I'm sure that tasering pregnant women won't be hazardous to the fetus, and it'll keep those poor widdle coppers from being overwhelmed by those big, mean pregos!
(h/t Pharyngula.)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Little White-nosed Lie

Leslie Newell Peacock of the Arkansas Times does a nice job here explaining the decision of federal and state agencies to close caves under their jurisdiction. The caves contain bats that may be susceptible to white-nose syndrome, a fungus that kills bats. The fungus is thought to have been introduced from Europe or Africa by human visitors. Note at the end of the article a quote from the owner of a commercial tourist cave who is "skeptical" that the fungus is killing bats. Does that sound familiar? If you don't like the science, just declare yourself a skeptic! White-nose syndrome, anthropogenic global warming, evolution--all junk science, invented by those pesky scientists to make life difficult!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Pass the Ammunition!

Today's shooting at the University of Alabama-Huntsville is a horrible event, but not so horrible that gun nuts shouldn't try to score political points off it:
Gina Hammond, a UAH student, told WAFF that she lobbied the University of Alabama trustees to allow students with gun permits to carry their weapons on campus. She was turned down.

“I’m scared to go back to school,” Hammond said. “However, if they were to allow me to carry my permanent pistol on campus, I would not be as scared.

“... I’m sorry that nobody in that room had a permanent pistol to save at least one person’s life,” Hammond said.

That's right--the answer to the problem is more guns! Read the whole news story on msnbc.com.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Martin Luther King--Conservation Biologist

"There is no human circumstance more tragic than the persisting existence of a harmful condition for which a remedy is readily available. Family planning, to relate population to world resources, is possible, practical, and necessary. Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess."--Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., May 5, 1966.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

2010--An Assessment

Although only one day has passed, the recent spate of year-end assessments has convinced me that it's never too early to get started on assessing the year.  So, here's my assessment of 2010 so far.

1.  Category One--Archaeopteryx's posting in 2010.  Only one post so far.  Contains some form of the word "assessment" four five six times.  Clearly, this rates a negative score:  -4.

2.  Category Two--Archaeopteryx's meals in 2010.  Breakfast, January 1--Two small banana nut bran muffins, a container of yogurt, one pear.  Score:  -2.  Lunch, January 1--All-you-can-eat buffet at Mazzio's.  Pizza crust was too thick and chewy, accidentally picked up "hamburger" pizza thinking it was sausage, none of the varieties had mushrooms, salad bar mixed greens were wilted.  Score:  -5.  Dinner, January 1--meal at friends' house included grilled andouille sausages (yum!) but also weird, flavorless beef sausages.  Mrs. Friend made unfortunately named "Pea Pie" which contained chorizo sausage, spinach, and mushrooms, as well as otherwise inedible but traditionally required black-eyed peas.  It was delightful.  Mrs. Arch made her always-fantastic potato casserole.  Score:  +8.  Overall food score:  +1.

3.  Category Three--Archaeopteryx's football watching in 2010.  Archaeopteryx's alma mater Auburn prevails in wild overtime victory over Northwestern in the Mazzio's Pizza Bowl.  +5.  However, in the Pea Pie Bowl, Florida, led by Jesus-Loving Crybaby Tim Tebow, stomps Cincinnati, thus vindicating the BCS selection committee and setting back by several years the fight for a college football playoff, and increasing the possibility of having to watch Tebow burst into tears every time whichever NFL team is foolish enough to draft him is walloped by the Colts.   -4, with an extra -3 penalty for the convoluted structure of that last sentence.   Overall football score:  -2.

4.  Category Four--Archaeopteryx's birdwatching in 2010.  A trip to a nearby lake yielded sightings of ring-necked ducks, a pair of hooded mergansers, numerous buffleheads, and a winter-plumage common loon.  Nothing but good here; Score:  +5.

5.  Category Five--Miscellaneous.  Beautiful, but cold, weather allowed some yard work; however two hours of raking leaves caused soreness in recently broken arm.  Playing with new iPod was fun, but cut into valuable internet-time-wasting.  One incident of cat vomit, but this was discovered by Mrs. Arch, who then, according to house rules, had to clean it up.  Score: 0. 

Adding the scores together gives an overall score of....well....zero.  So, on balance, 2010 has been, um, balanced.  Perhaps further assesment of the year is warranted.  Check back with me day after tomorrow.