Thursday, July 30, 2009


I've been on vacation.

I'm still on vacation.

I'll still be on vacation for another few weeks.

So, I haven't been writing about Gravity's Rainbow, or 2666, or even Anti-Oedipus, nearly as much as I need to in order to put them together in my head.

And that lack of writing will probably continue, shame as that might be for my own comprehension of these books. Heck, much as I enjoyed Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, I'm sure I would have taken more away if I had found time to write about it as I read it.

Intentionality + My Morning Jacket

And so, as a teacher and a student of literature, I tend to assume intentionality when I read. That is, if I read something on page 200 of a novel that seems like it connects to something from page 3, or if an image toward the end of a book dovetails perfectly with a question that gets raised earlier in the book, or if a particular verb in a poem works exceptionally with a specific idea that the poem seems to explore, I assume that the author intended exactly such connections.

Thus, I assume it's no accident, no coincidence, that Borges has the narrator of "The Babylon Lottery" specify, of all things, a mask factory.

Likewise, I assume it's no accident that in Cormac McCarthy's The Road, the boy not only has a nightmare of a penguin that moves without winding, without anything to move its mechanical insides, but also that a gang of marauders, of road agents, are likewise described in very mechanical terms. Not that the boy's nightmare is explicitly about evil roving gangs, or that the penguin is (god forbid) a symbol of such gangs, but that the sum of an image of something moving without purpose, without intent, without any motivation at all and an image of Definite Evil winds up (as you might guess, or as might be obvious) being greater than either individual image. If that makes sense. What, after all, could be more frightening to most humans than the notion that we're all moving / existing / living without purpose, without reason? (Isn't Ahab's greatest fear that he might punch through the mask, punch through the wall, and find that there is nothing, absolutely nothing behind it?

Likewise, I assume it's no accident how often words and images associated with blindness arise in the opening of Joyce's "Araby."

And films, too. I have to assume that even Steven Spielberg was thinking when he inserted that shot of the truck's tailpipe kicking out exhaust five minutes into E.T.

But I don't tend, except in isolated cases, to give the same benefit of the doubt, if that's what it is, to music. Or, not to lyrics, anyway. Sure, if something is explicitly put together as a "concept album," then it kind of begs that sort of attention. Or, if an artist goes out of his way to use the same words or names or images (like Van Morrison's use of "Cypress Avenue" as a setting), I might go looking. And, certainly, I'll find myself assuming musical / chordal associations between songs on an album. But not that often. And not in the same way as I do with books or poems. So, when I was running earlier today and My Morning Jacket's "Anytime" shuffled up and I heard Jim James sing, "Words only got in the way / But then I found another way to communicate," I wanted to assume a connection between that claim and the fact that the opening song on the album (Z, maybe a top ten entry for the last decade, for whatever that's worth) has a "Wordless Chorus." But, ultimately, I had the exact reaction that I try to push my students away from when reading: must have been an accident. A happy one. Maybe even a meaningful one, but an accident nonetheless.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


A quick post (and maybe incentive to return to writing):

If Antonio McDyess goes (and I won't weigh in on whether or not he should, as, clearly, that decision is entirely up to him), I hope -- perhaps for irrational reasons -- that he goes to San Antonio.

That's all.

(But, McDyess: if you're debating: stay. We don't deserve you, or your effort, but stay. Please).

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Goldenrods

I've been reading probably too much about Detroit lately, but, in the course of some of that reading, I came across this photo, to which I can only say (and this comment has nothing, nothing, nothing to do with the photo series itself): Farewell, los Goldenrods. El mundo hardly knew ye.

In any case, check out the photo essay: the Urban Prairie.

Another School Year

I'm a lucky man who gets to teach, who gets to learn, who gets to love his job, who gets to feel thankful.

So, thanks, students. Thanks to the class of 2009. Thanks to those first freshmen I taught when I started here at Lake Braddock and to those students in between as they moved through English 9, or Creative Writing, or English 11, or Honors English, or AP Language and Composition, or AP Literature and Composition, or Film Study. And thanks to those in the Hayfield ISP during my first year in Virginia. Thanks to all you Outward Bound students who spent time in the Beartooth Mountains with me. Thanks to all those kids who spent a week at Storer Camp.

Thanks for being students, for being learners, for being, so many of you, fully present and alive on so many of our days together. For taking risks. For thinking. For taking your education, your lives, in your hands and for claiming that education as your own. And thanks for being teachers, as well, and for never failing to teach me.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Brewery Update

I think we've closed for the summer.


Still debating getting a Flanders Pale going sometime in the next two weeks so that by next spring, it might be ready to sit on top of some fruit (maybe a third on top of cherries, a third on top of apricots, and a third simply bottled as is) for another year or so. At the same time, though, having it ready for fruit by the spring doesn't make a lot of sense, given that there is, essentially, no good fruit available at that point. Might as well brew it in the fall and get it sitting on fruit in the late summer or early fall of 2010 when I could get good fresh cherries, apricots, etc.

So, probably closed until the end of the summer and things are looking good at this point.

The two saisons made with Wyeast 3711 are good, but probably a touch undercarbonated. I tried to get them up around 3 volumes of CO2, but I suspect they came in a little under that. They don't pop and sparkle quite like they should. Maybe call these the Slightly Disappointing Saisons, not because they're truly disappointing, but because they might not live up to their tremendous potential. Thus, the SDS.

The saison-spiked-with-Orval tasted fantastic when I bottled it last week. Strong, but not overpowering, Brett-y flavor and aroma. As long as it carbonates well, it should be a good one and, as I gave it a little fresh yeast when I bottled it, I have high hopes. thanks to the bottling music, it's the Campaigner Saison ("where even Richard Nixon has got soul.")

The Orvalish thing I made with Wyeast 3789 (supposedly the Orval strain + Brettanomyces) didn't have quite enough sour-tang going into the bottles. And, as it was already pretty damn dry, I'm not sure how much more, if any, Brett flavor will develop. I gave this one extra yeast at bottling, too, and maybe that was a mistake. I probably should have just let any remaining Brettanomyces work on the priming sugar and get a little extra leather/spice/horse blanket flavor that way. We'll see. I'll bring a few bottles to Michigan and give them a shot with anyone who is around in late July or so. Might call this one the Banso Pale. (Not So Orval -> NSO -> Nso -> Banso. Makes sense to me).

Racked the Flanders Red onto almost an ounce of oak cubes; time to let it sit for nine months or so. Gestate, really. Let the Brettanomyces and the Lambicus and whatever else inhabits that Roeselare blend work some magic.

Kegged the pale ale. Once that's carbonated, I'll bottle up as much as I can and get it to Michigan. Incandenza's Pale Ale?

Brewed a rye IPA as what will probably be the last beer of the season. I purposely didn't make this as another version of "Denny's Rye IPA," which everyone makes. And, admittedly, that recipe makes a fantastic beer, but one that is essentially (you might argue purely) a showcase for Columbus hops, with Mt. Hood lurking in the background. I went for Centennial front and center for citrus and spice, Ahtanum for extra grapefruit, and Columbus hopefully providing some non-citrus earthiness in the background. I look forward to seeing how the Centennial might work with the spiciness of the rye.

Friday, June 12, 2009

This Is Uncalled For

A couple of days, the iPod shuffled up, back to back, the Beatles' "Ticket to Ride" and the Wallflowers' cover of "I'm Looking Through You."

A completely random occurence, obviously. A roughly one in 12,000 chance that "Ticket to Ride" gets shuffled up. And once that song ends, a roughly one in 12,000 chance that the Wallflowers' cover of "I'm Looking Through You" gets shuffled up. Not that big of a deal. Trivial, really.

But it's exactly that kind of random occurence, of course, that gets people to believe in a higher intelligence directing the chaos that surrounds us. After all, is it not a sign of intelligence that the iPod knew to follow a Beatles' song (particularly a track that, in many ways, pointed the way toward Rubber Soul) with not just another Beatles' song, but a cover by a different band. That's some Intelligent Design, no? Some Wise Old Benevolent Being Shit, no?

It's the chaplain, in Catch-22, who "would have yielded to reason and relinguished his belief in the God of his fathers... had it not been for such successive mystic phenomena as the naked man in the tree at that poor sergeant's funeral weeks before and the cyptic, haunting, encouraging promise of the prophet Flume in the forest only that afternoon: Tell them I'll be back when winter comes."

Right, Mr. Tappman. It's mystic phenomena. Or maybe, maybe, it's just Yossarian without his clothes.

It's our ability to reason run through (or perhaps clouded by) our need to find a reason.

Incidentally, I liked Catch-22 more this year than either of the last two years. Not sure why. At the end of last year, I was ready to leave it on the shelf for a few years and teach something else instead. Now, it's back in consideration for next year's rotation.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Truth + Annie Dillard

As I revised that piece last week, I tried to decide whether to distort the truth on a (relatively) insignificant detail: what tape is playing in my car at one point. For the sake of the piece, it works best if it's something like Al Green's Let's Stay Togther. In truth, though, it was probably something like Love and Rockets' Earth, Sun, Moon, or the first album by the Stone Roses.

Ostensibly, it shouldn't matter.

But the piece is about telling the truth, about trying to find the confidence to live my own stories, to live my own ideas, and not those of others.

And I know that lies, distortions, fictions can be as effective (even more effective sometimes) as the "truth" in revealing what's true about a particular story, a particular moment. It is, after all, how metaphors work. And it's ground that Tim O'Brien covers repeatedly in The Things They Carried. But, somehow, it felt awkward to lie in this particular piece.

In any case, it reminded me of Annie Dillard's "Transfiguration" and her insistence that, while she actually was reading a biography of Rimbaud when a moth flew into her candle and stuck there, she certainly would not have hesitated to invent that detail if it didn't happen to be true.

Monday, June 8, 2009


While revising a piece of writing about high school last week, I thought about those little lawn jockeys that you rarely see anymore (at least around here) and that were not-so-strangely ubiquitous in Grand Haven when I was in high school. You know the ones: the black guy, usually in a red jacket and white pants, perhaps holding only a hitching ring (in case Some Dutch Guy on a Horse shows up at your house) or perhaps holding a lantern, making sure that Massuh makes it up the sidewalk and into the house safely.

Specifically, what I remembered was a conversation I had with Melanie in which we dreamed up a new lawn jockey: The Vandersambo. What we should do, we decided, was steal a whole bunch of these ornaments, paint the faces white, maybe hint at a little blonde hair poking out from underneath the jockey's cap, and color the eyes blue. A lawn jockey that looked more like the population of Grand Haven. A lawn jockey that might light the walkway to Russ's Family Restaurant (though not, of course, on a Sunday). A Vandersambo.

Update: it turns out that some company has made just such a product. In fact, as far as I can tell, the company sells both the "traditional" jockey and the "updated" jockey. They don't, however, have the name. And the name is everything.

Friday, June 5, 2009

More Rain in Virginia

We're essentially underwater here in Burke on another rain rain and more rain day. It's a beautiful rain, though, and a beautiful morning. One of those fully saturated, completely green, somewhat dark, but somehow not gray mornings. Would I take it over sunshine and crystal air on a late October afternoon? No, but I sure ain't going to get mopey over it either.

A student claimed a few days ago that Charles Mingus' "Better Git it in Your Soul" is fundamentally life-affirming, fundamentally joyful. And he's right, of course. I replied that I couldn't imagine hearing that song and not feeling good, that, in some way, if an individual hears that song and does like it, well, then that individual probably doesn't actually like music. And it reminded me of a conversation from, like, 18 years ago, and my attempt to express that, no matter how straightup ugly the world might be at times, and no matter how theoretically bleak any particular aspect of the future might look, and no matter how frighteningly empty the prospect of Old Mister Fucking Death He Self might be, I couldn't imagine getting too, you know, like, depressed about it because Bob Dylan existed, because 100 Years of Solitude existed, because Astral Weeks existed, because A Love Supreme existed. Maybe it's a copout, to let art, even challenging art, be a consolation, but I suspect that's only the case if you make art nothing but a mask for pain, or a distraction from hurt.

Plus, there are rivers, mountains, and trees. And the sound that water makes running over rocks. And the end of "When Doves Cry." And Terence Malick's Days of Heaven.

In any case, if you don't have a copy of the Mingus track with you at the moment, get yourself a quick fix via the Interwebs. And if the "Oh yeah!" just before the one minute mark doesn't raise at least a small smile, and if the fundamental drive of the song doesn't at least make you want to get up and move just a tiny bit, then, um, rewind and try again.

("Rewind" just threw me, all adolescent-y into my family's 1987 Chevrolet Nova. For a few seconds, I could sense, exactly, with the first two fingers of my right hand, how it felt to push the rewind and fast-forward buttons simultaneously in order to activate the tape deck's auto-reverse function and flip to the other side of the cassette. And how it felt to root around one-handed on the floor of the car for a tape that had slipped down behind the passenger seat, trying to keep an eye on the road, a foot near the clutch, and another foot in relatively constant pressure on the gas pedal).

Sidenote: OMFD He Self is via Pynchon.

Sidenote: In a 1916 letter, Wallace Stevens wrote, "Unfortunately there is nothing more inane than an Easter carol. It is a religious perversion of the activity of Spring in our blood."

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Post War And Peace Reading

After Henry, by Joan Didion. She can write. And the essay on '88 Dukakis campaign is sadly relevant. Bonus feature: reading about that '88 campaign sent me back to Bloom County and its essential query during that race: vote for the wimp? Or vote for the shrimp? Unrevised blog bonus feature: multiple colons within a single sentence.

The Given Day, by Dennis Lehane. The opening chapter -- a prologue, really -- is excellent. Give yourself twenty minutes in a bookstore and read it. The rest of the book never hits the same height, but remains compelling. In that respect (but no other), it reminds me of DeLillo's Underworld, which opens with the 1951 Giants-Dodgers pennant race and Cotter Martin, Frank Sinatra, J. Edgar Hoover colliding in a brilliant 50-page setpiece and spends another 750 pages never quite getting as good.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Wallace Stevens: Questions are Remarks

Goldbarth’s poem about the typo in Simak’s A Heritage of Stars did, in fact, send me back to Wallace Stevens and I read this:

Questions Are Remarks

In the weed of summer comes the green sprout why.
The sun aches and ails and then returns halloo
Upon the horizon amid adult enfantillages.

Its fire fails to pierce the vision that beholds it,
Fails to destroy the antique acceptances,
Except that the grandson sees it as it is,

Peter the voyant, who says, “Mother, what is that” –
The object that rises with so much rhetoric,
But not for him. His question is complete.

It is the question of what he is capable.
It is the extreme, the expert aetat. 2.
He will never ride the red horse she describes.

His question is complete because it contains
His utmost statement. It is his own array,
His own pageant and procession and display,

As far as nothingness permits… Hear him.
He does not say, “Mother, my mother, who are you,”
The way the drowsy, infant, old men do.

Wallace Stevens

Today, I read it again and now I’ll write about it for a little while. An initial response, hopefully taking me further into the poem.

In some ways, it reminds me of Emerson’s “Nature,” especially Emerson’s claim that only a child perceives the sun, only a child can truly see the sun. In other ways, it is its own entity, full of its own insistences, like Stevens’ usual reminders of the primacy of perception, of individual perception, of an individual’s take on the world, constructed of both the world itself and the individual’s imagination.

Peter, in the poem, “will never ride the red horse she describes.” None of us will. None of us can. It’s impossible. Even if we ride red horses, they will never be identical to the one seen and described by her, the one constructed, in part, by her imagination, her perception.

What I respond to most, I think, in the poem, is this notion of “antique acceptances,” this notion that we’re so full of what we’ve already seen and what we’ve already heard that the very light of the sun itself cannot pierce the veils of our assumptions and presumptions and pre-conceived notions. It’s our “antique acceptances” walling our imagination off from its natural relationship with the world, walling us off from the sun.

Except, of course, that the grandson sees it as it is, sees it uncolored by 3000 years of solar writing, solar assumptions, solar study, solar theorizing, solar worship, solar poetry, and solar so forth. Even if, says Wallace, even if the boy stops to ask what that thing is, he still apprehends it fully. His question, says Wallace, is complete.

There is no desire to make that sun other than what it is, no desire to transform it into a symbol, into a metaphor, into a suggestion, into memory, into something to worship or to fear.

In the same way, the child – even as he may ask his mother who she is – has no desire to change her. He does not see her as anything other than what he sees her to be. His question, again, is complete. (Is this, in its own way, unconditional love?) This is contrasted with the “other” form of infant in the poem: the drooling, toothless old man, the drowsy old man. He, the old man, may ask the same question, but his is tinged with a desire to see something different, to know something different. Think of just a few of the different ways we can ask that question:

Who are you? (I honestly don’t know who you are and I’m curious).
Who are you? (Who is this person that I thought I knew?)
Who are you? (Have you changed? Have I changed?)
Who are you? (Was I wrong about you?)

And consider how we might, even if we're not as old as the toothless and drowsy guy, ask that same question of those we love, or those we claim to love, and how often we imply a desire to see something different.

I’m out of time now, but I must add this, for myself, so that I might remember to think about it later: I have no idea what’s up with the “2” in the fourth stanza.

Brewery Update

I'd like to brew one or two more batches before things shut down for the summer, so last week I picked up another package of Wyeast's Roeselare blend (a mix of a neutral ale yeast and a variety of lambic cultures) and a pack of US-05 (essentially a dry version of the ubiquitous California Ale (or Sierra Nevada) yeast). If time permits, I'll use the US-05 make an IPA (with rye) and hit it hard with Centennial and Amarillo hops for floral, spicy, citrusy goodness, and the Roeselare blend to start either a Flanders Red or some kind of Flanders Pale (with the other one put on the back burner until September).

Kinda still fermenting: an Oud Bruin (malty sour brown ale) that has soured nicely in the last month and a half but that still, I think, wants another six months or so before it's ready for packaging. At that point, I'll decide whether to bottle all of it, or split it and bottle half of it and put the other half on top of some cherries for another six months. I may do something similar with the Flanders Pale whenever that gets brewed.

Probably done, but still waiting to be bottled: the small batch of Saison spiked with Orval dregs and the Thing Made with Wyeast 3789 Trappist Ale Blend. With luck, the TMW3789TAB will wind up at least vaguely Orval-ish after sitting in bottles for a few months.

Waiting to be kegged: a summer ale with the gravity and body of a pale ale, but hopped for flavor and aroma a little more like an IPA. A fair amount of that one will head to Michigan, I suspect.

In kegs: an amber ale (some of which, like the pale ale, will probably get bottled and carried to Michigan); another dozen or so pints of an English Bitter; a Dubbel from the fall that may get dumped if it doesn't come together relatively soon.

In bottles and heading to Michigan: two different Saisons, made with essentially identical grain bills and the seasonal 3711 yeast, but one with citrusy American and one with spicy European hops; an assortment of various Dubbels, Tripels, old barleywines, etc, to give to those who might want them.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Little More Big Star

And, by the way, if you can imagine a way to improve the drums in "September Gurls," I'd love to hear what it is. If they got any closer to the edge, the song would fall apart. Any tighter and the song would lose its perfect ragged edge.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Big Star

I've been on a bit of a Big Star kick lately, especially Radio City. Today, listening to it, I was struck by the perfection of these lines:

Sometimes I think
She'll make me forget
What I need the most to remember.

Now, those are perfect lines of poetry, necessarily, but they are perfect popsong lines. They capture so well the simultaneous longing, fear, desire, and uncertainty that is adolescence and that is rock and roll.

Radio City. The song is "Way Out West." The band is Big Star. If you buy the CD as it's currently available, you also get the band's debut (#1 Record). 24 great songs, folks, including "Thirteen," "Ballad of El Goodo," and "September Gurls." About as good as ultra-polished (but ragged) 1970s poprock magic could get.

Paul Westerberg: "I never travel far without a little Big Star."

Typos in Poetry

I read through last year’s “this is what I believe” paper before I started work on my response to a new version of that assignment that I’m giving this year’s AP English students and I found this poem, a poem I had completely forgotten:

“Off in the darkness hourses moved restlessly”
- a typo in Clifford Simak’s A Heritage of Stars

We believed they were horses; and so
We saddled up, we rode expectantly
Through the long day and into the night.
Then we dismounted; and slept; and still
They continued to carry us
- The hours. They wouldn’t stop.
They carried us clean away.

- Albert Goldbarth (2005)

In my paper from last year, I used the poem as a little bit of a joke, but also as an illustration of the power of perspective and how every individual controls his own perspective. If you want, the poem is depressing. If you want, the poem is funny. If you want, the poem is instructive. If you want, the poem is a reminder of the wonderful elasticity of language. When I read it, I think about perspective.

Several years ago, a student (with an absolutely phenomenal eye for film, for images, incidentally) gave me a copy of The Lorax. And in it, he wrote, “For someone with the mind of a cynic and the heart of a romantic.” And since perspective is everything, I’m free to disagree with him. I’ve never been sure, after all, that he got it quite right. But in the seeming paradox of that dedication, there is truth.

I teach. I’m a teacher. But I’m also a father, a husband, a son, a brother, and a friend. I’m a student, a reader, a writer, a musician, and I used to be a climber. I’m a cook and a brewer. I’m a runner, a listener, and, at some point, I’d like to be a gardener. I think I’m probably, in some ways, a hermit.

At any given moment, I can perceive myself as more or less of any one of those beings – to say nothing of countless others I could list. And it’s in my power to do so. It’s my choice.

But the poem: the poem is fantastic. Fantastic. The beautiful human capacity to make and remake the world at will. Exactly what Wallace Stevens returns to again and again in his poetry.

Which means that I need to read some Wallace Stevens today.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Neil Young's Archives (Take Two)

I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but I ordered the Blu-Ray version of the Archives box. I can't justify it, necessarily, and I'm sure that, like Dave Eggers writes, "None of this was necessary," but I thought about it, considered it, decided against it, considered it some more, laughed it off, thought about it, and finally ordered it.

The way I figure it: if nothing else, getting older, getting a job, achieving some form of financial independence and (relative) comfort, must carry with it some perks, right? And one of those perks -- at least as I have found -- is that, within reason, if there is, let's say, a book I want to read, or a piece of music I want to hear, or some crazy spontaneously-fermented barrel-aged funkness from Belgian that I want to try, I can buy the damn thing.

So I bought the damn thing.

And maybe the Blu-Ray set is not within reason, but, you know, it's not like throwing the money into a retirement fund is any more within reason.

The Road

Some thoughts on the trailer for The Road:

I’ve waited a long time for this. The movie, as many of you might know already, was supposed to be released last autumn. Obviously, it didn’t make that deadline. It looks, though, like it will be released this coming autumn. Thus, the trailer.

I’m not pleased with what appears to be some manner of sorta kinda little bit of an explanation for what the hell happened to the world. I love the fact that McCarthy never specifies, that he leaves it at “a long shear of light and then a series of low concussions,” that the book never becomes, explicitly, a political screed or environmental warning.

Maybe, though, the kinda sorta explanation won’t make the film itself. Maybe?

And I’m not pleased with the truck that belches smoke from both sides. Sure, the image communicates, as an image should, and sure, it looks threatening, and, sure, it conjures up a lot of associations (all scary), but it goes too far. It’s too much.

And I’m worried about the camera that swoops up into the sky during what appears to be a chase scene.

And I recognize that the trailer may very well be sending a dramatically different message about the film than would otherwise be warranted. In some ways, it makes sense, financial sense, to market the thing as a post-apocalyptic thriller. And, hell, in some ways it is a post-apocalyptic thriller. It is the tone, though, the tone that needs to be right.

But, I’m excited about a lot of what I see, too. The look of the bridge with the abandoned semi is fantastic. And I love the bulk of the clothing the father is wearing and the desolation and fatigue visible on the characters. The dunes and the beach look amazing.

I’m intrigued by the way in which some of the father’s thoughts have been given to Charlize Theron as dialogue. I look forward to seeing how they handle other aspects of the strong “interiority” of the novel.

And, especially, I’m glad the thing is going to get released.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Neil Young's Archives

For those interested in such things, there is a quasi-demo for disc eight of Neil Young's archives. Not a demo for the CD version, clearly, but the DVD or Blu-Ray rendition. It's not a complete look (video doesn't play, for example), but it is an intriguing taste (if I may mix my sensory appeals).

Friday, May 15, 2009

Dylan Stops Time

I let Bob Dylan back into my life this winter. I do this every couple of years. He’s never fully banished, but in an off-time, I might listen to the occasional record (say, one a week), maybe put on a live recording every month or so, and focus my energy elsewhere – Neil Young, perhaps, or Sam Cooke, or Bill Evans, or the Hold Steady, or A Tribute to Jack Johnson.

But then something happens: a new outtake is found mouldering in an obscure Columbia vault somewhere, or Dylan puts a new song on a soundtrack, or the particular spiral of a falling leaf strikes me, or I get fascinated by the shape of a snowflake, or I read an out-of-context quote somewhere about the sound of the second acoustic guitar on “Desolation Row” and I’m off. Three out of four records I play are Dylan’s. Eight out of ten songs. I read or re-read books, articles and essays. I construct playlists with nothing but alternate takes of released songs. I revise my Infidels running order. I evangelize on the holy beauty of “Shelter from the Storm” and its relationship to “Up to Me.” I compare the three different studio takes of “Idiot Wind” (the test pressing, the one on The Bootleg Series Volume Two, and the one released on Blood on the Tracks). I pretend that there is some value in the time I spend considering how the post-2000 live arrangement of “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven” fundamentally alters not just the mood of the song but its very meaning.

In any case, here’s what I’m obsessed with today (and if I knew how to embed an audioclip, I would, so feel free to step up and help out): the way that Dylan played and sang “Mr. Tambourine Man” in 1966. Now, I love the slow, scarred 1995 examples (the pathos of a line like “My weariness amazes me” sung in the ravaged but unbeaten mid-90s voice is undeniable), and the more stately arrangements of late 2000, but these versions from 1966 are on an entirely different planet. Part of it is the warmth of the voice: it’s that thick Blonde on Blonde voice as it works its way through the cascading images, that voice already so different than the one that sang it upon the song’s completion two years earlier. And part of it is the suspend-time, suspend-disbelief harmonica solo, particularly the final one, as Dylan whirls around two or three motifs, circles them again and again before finally settling on a piercing, insistent, and ex-ten-ded high note, holding it, holding it, holding it before finally releasing. Part of it is the knowledge that that final, breathless crash into the song’s conclusion would be followed by a short break and then the Sonic Death Monkey wallop of Dylan and the Hawks crashing at terminal velocity into “Tell Me Mama” and the rest of the electric set. But mostly, and in particular, it’s this: in the final verse, Dylan sings, “Let me forget about today until tomorrow.”

(And it’s not just that line that’s killing me, although it is a quintessential bit of Dylan writing: an impossibility pushed across as a wish, its seeming positive nature undercut by the knowledge that even if we could arrive at tomorrow today, every today we’ve ever lived is now yesterday, is now behind us, and living for the sake of the past, like living for the sake of the future, takes us, if nothing else, firmly outside of today. It’s annihilation. It’s the desire to escape today and the promise that tomorrow, he will focus on today, but some part of him knowing (as it must know) that, of course, by tomorrow, today is the past. And, perfectly, the preceding lines are, “With all memory and fate / driven deep beneath the waves”).

In this version, on this night, on this tour, Dylan sings it as, “Let me forget about two-mah… row.” He inserts this pause, this space, this emptiness, this possibility in between the second and third syllables of “tomorrow.” It stops time. And that hesitation, that pause, that breath, sends me back to the song over and over (and reminds me of Paul Williams’ insistence that the performance of a song is, in fact, the song).

It’s that pause. It’s all of the tension created as Dylan makes you wait. And makes you wait. It’s what he does with the harmonica a minute later, but here it’s his voice. Worlds are created in that pause. And then, fully, thickly, wonderfully, he finishes it. Resolves the tension. Puts time into motion again. Takes us out of suspended animation (a state of bliss, perhaps, but also a living death) and sets us free.

It’s a good thing.

You can hear it, by the way, on The Bootleg Series Volume Four: Live 1966. Which you should own already: the concert contained within, truly, is Some Important Shit.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Torture News

While I finish War and Peace at home, I am reading William Vollmann's Rising Up and Rising Down: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means.

Which is good.

Which is not the 4000 page version, but the "condensed" single volume.

Which is not fun. The violence thing. The study after study of assault, of conquest, of liquidation, of infanticide, of patricide. The study of Cortes. Of Stalin. Of Pol Pot. Of murder by starvation, by hanging, by sword, by gun, by arrow, by work. Of war for land, for honor, for glory, for revenge, for faith.

And of torture.

Which ties all too well to every damn torture memo that I've read over the last two months, to every revelation of destroyed records, to every empty rationale for approving "new" methods.

Which ties all too well to this story that a former student sent me this morning: "The Torture Business."

And, see, I want to be shocked by this. I want to be stunned that no only can we torture, will we torture, will we attempt to figure out and justify torture methods that we previously shunned, but that we will also bid this work out to independent contractors so that said contractors, said business, can profit from our government's belief that torture is acceptable. That torture, in essence, can be profitable. The business of government is business, I guess, even when that business is torture, degradation, and dehumanization.

But I'm not. Not shocked. Not at this point. Angry, yes. Sad, yes. But not shocked. Which also makes me angry. And sad.

Read it, if you wish.

And read the Vollmann, too. It doesn't fit the beautiful spring that finally arrived here after 117 days of rain, but it is worth reading.


Because it's spring and that girl is beautiful.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

War and Peace and Henry Fonda

About 800 pages into War and Peace now and more and more believing that I loved it the first time around on its own merits and not purely the context for the reading. Yes, the characters are all still rich, still often largely clueless, and still worlds removed from me, but they're also, with every chapter, increasingly human.

I took some time to read Paul Williams Love to Burn and the first two Performing Artist books he wrote on Dylan (more on those three books later), as well as Michael Chabon's Maps and Legends collection, but I'm trying to keep my focus on Tolstoy for the next couple of weeks.

But that's not the point.

The point is that I read today that in the big ol' midcentury American film of War and Peace, someone chose Henry Fonda to play Pierre.

And that's idiotic. No matter his other qualities as a person, the novel insists, again and again, that Pierre is fat. Really fat. His bulk must be mentioned at least once in every one of his chapters. And yet, Henry Fonda.

That's not inspired counter-casting, like bringing him in to play Frank in Leone's amazing Once Upon a Time in the West. It's just a mistake, as bad as casting Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby.

Friday, April 3, 2009


I finally figured out a running order for a revised Infidels that I'm relatively happy with.

Not that this changes the world or anything, but here's the tracklist:

Side A:

License to Kill
Sweetheart Like You
Man of Peace
Lord, Protect My Child

Side B:

Foot of Pride
I and I
Blind Willie McTell
Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight

I'm even satisfied with it on a single CD without the side breaks. The key, it turned out, was keeping "Man of Peace," which I had always left off of previous attempts. It's not a great song, necessarily, and certainly outclassed by its contemporaries, but it's also, I think, necessary to hold the thing together. It keeps the first side from dragging too much.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Prog Rock Glory

Thanks to a roundabout link from a link from a link to a link, I happened upon what everyone else in the world, in the Facebook Nation, has already done: the album cover generation cultural meme game internet funkness. So I played along. Who doesn't like two minutes of diversion, especially when those two minutes cloak themselves in a quasi-scavengerhunt costume.

Here's how it works:

1. Get a random Wikipedia page. That's the name of your band.
2. Get a random quotation. The last four or five words of the last quote of the page is the title of the band's album.
3. Get a random flickr photo. The third picture, no matter what it is, is your album cover.

And, should you wish, you can then Photoshop the bajeezus out of the photo, layering in your band's name, your album title, etc.

Fantastic. It's Wu-Name magic.

Here's what I came up with:

Garden of Allah: As If Men Were Listening

Of course, it didn't stop there: the two minutes it took to click through (and revel) then became twenty minutes of imagining the sound, the biography, the press materials, and potential reviews of the album. But, really, when you're given such a gift as that name, that title, and that photo, how can you not play with it?

At first I thought the band would be a lost one-album wonder from early 1970s England, another anonymous pastoral-prog outfit with its roots in fuzzy psychedelia but attempting to hitch a ride on Ian Anderson's flute by playing a lot of acoustic intros to otherwise riff-heavy songs, and to capitalize on the fact that the bass player once shared a flat with one of the guys from Caravan.

But then I saw that album cover, screaming its allegiance to the digital Now, to 37 minutes with Photoshop, and the bio shifted, jumped thirty years forward.

It turns out that Vancouver, as I imagined it, has a crazy underground progrock scene (rife with divisions between the folk-proggers, the neo-metal proggers, the secret Rush fans, the obscure Italian scenesters, and those who hold all their rehearsals in German). Garden of Allah, first formed in 1999, initially fancied itself a King's X-style power trio, but has since added two members -- keyboard and a multi-instrumentalist who plays mandolin, mandocello, and mellotron -- and now swears allegiance to all things Frippish, but sounds like a poor man's Tull.

As if Men Were Listening is a concept album of sorts, albeit one whose storyline is much more suggestive than overt, perhaps a nod to Roy Harper circa Stormcock (and, in fact, on the band's My Space page, you can download a cover of Harper's "The Same Old Rock.") Both of the side-long suites open with acoustic passages, decorated with the occasional mandolin riff, building to grandiose segments of layered vocals, crashing electric chords and, inevitably, an organ solo. The tracklisting:

1. Millenial Blues
A. White Saturday
B. Time's Passion
C. The Shadow of History
D. Year of the Manticore

2. Infinite Regress (a fragment)

3. Eight Stones Left
A. The Lonely Iconoclast
B. Humanity's Fountain
C. Never the Shire
D. Twilight Oracle

4. The Future is Then (finale)

Signing off with a Wu-Name flashback: The Illegitimate Muslim Fundamentalist is over and out.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Return of the Son of the Jedi Prince

We're finishing up Hamlet in AP English (to the extent that you "finish" that play) and, while trying to track down a working Xerox machine, I thought not about Shakespeare, but about Lucas, and not about Hamlet, but about Return of the Jedi.

(Serious Daddy Issues in both works, after all).

Specifically, I heard the Emperor croaking, "All is happening exactly as I have foreseen."

And here's my question: what the hell good is foresight if it can be wrong? Isn't it pretty much just "guessing" at that point? If I put MSU in the Final Four, is that foresight? Or just a prediction, a guess?

New Dylan

It's another month before Dylan's new album drops (see that? "Drops." That's how I roll, kids. See that? "Roll." That's how I roll, kids. See that? Pete and Repeat were in a boat. Pete fell out.) but you can pick up a track (downloadable) from if you get there today (Monday).

It's "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'" and, if the song is any indication, the album should be pretty damn good. Not necessarily better than Love and Theft or Modern Times, but right in that same vein of consistent, pretty damn good craftsmanship that he's been mining pretty damn well for the last decade. And the accordion that leads off every story about the album works for the song, the whole thing an odd-at-first-glance melange of loping shuffle and dirty guitar, of border trumpets and 1950s Chicago studio magic. It's a little like the swampy mudfunk of Time Out of Mind but with the production approach of the last two records -- not too much of the Lanois reverb (though the drums are fairly wet). Plus, it might just redeem the "Black Magic Woman" beat (and progression, for that matter).

See that? Melange...

Et Tu, Church Lady?

Okay, with a minimum of Chicken Little madness, of "things are darker now than ever before" nonsense, of "we're all doomed! Doomed! Dooooooomed!" screaming, I present to you the following:

(Again, trying oh-so-hard not to histrionicize).

1. Nightline held a debate on the existence of Satan. And I know, I know, I know that Nightline is not news, not journalism, but it presents itself that way, ultimately -- as a part of the industry of news, of journalism -- and there are plenty of people who take it as such. And I know, I know, I know that this is no different than other commentator-based television or radio programs. And I know, I know, I know that this recognition of the non-news-ness of Nightline is, likewise, not news. But, return to that first sentence: Nightline held a debate on the existence of Satan. Invited guests on to their "news" program to argue about this. As if maybe if each side receives an opportunity to state its case, then this becomes responsible journalism; after all, weren't "both sides" presented? Isn't this the very definition of unbiased journalism? And, given both sides of the argument, what can a reasonable, logical, otherwise intelligent viewer-at-home do but conclude that, "Gee, the truth must be somewhere in between those two sides."

2. This quote from a story about the debate: "Nobody in the Bible talks about hell or Satan more than Jesus," said audience member Mike Garcia. "If Jesus talks about Satan and the reality of hell, then it has to be true." (Hulk want to smash. Want to smash. Must smash. Smash!) Wonderful logic, isn't it? If Jesus says it, it must be true. What more can you say after a conclusion like that? Can there be any further discussion, any further questions?

But, Chicken Little be damned: obviously, this sort of thinking (thinking?) has been around forever and not solely in the context of religion. Politics. Advertisements. Wartime announcements. Be like Mike. It's a Crab Step, not travelling. Science, too.

I used to give students Edward Abbey's essay "Science with a Human Face," in part because it made for an interesting companion to Emerson and Thoreau and Whitman and Barry Lopez (and not, clearly, because they all agree with each other) and in part because the essay works as a fine example of how "essay" does not mean "easily digestible three-prong thesis that no one is going to dispute anyway because it's both simplistic and already believed by just about everyone" and how an author's conclusion may be more complex than you immediately assume. Any attempt -- whether by religion or by science -- to reduce the world down to something abstract, something ultimately incomprehensible, is wrong. And any hands-up acceptance of such a reduction -- whether through religion ("Oh, well, you know, God works in mysterious ways, so I can't possibly understand why things happen the way they do, but I believe that they all happen for a reason, even if I can never have access to those reasons because God works in such mysterious ways") or through science ("Oh, well, you know, science is so complicated that I don't understand it, but the whole universe works in really, really complex ways that I can't understand and I can't have access to different models of how the universe is constructed because I'm not a scientist") is, likewise, wrong.

Anyway, check out Abbey's essay if you never have. It's worth a reading. Not in order to accept everything he says, but in order to consider it. To think about it. To think.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


We read Beloved last month in AP English. Is this the sixth time that I've read the book now? Seventh?

Regardless, how did it take so long for me to make the link between "When the four horsemen came" (in all of its intentional apocalyptic obviousness) and the description of the sick camp of Cherokees that Paul D encounters after escaping from the flood in Georgia? Here's the Cherokee:

Decimated but stubborn, they were among those who chose a fugitive life rather than Oklahoma. The illness that swept them now was reminiscent of the one that had killed half their number two hundred years earlier. In between that calamity and this, they had visited George III in London, published a newspaper, made baskets, led Oglethorpe through forests, helped Andrew Jackson fight Creek, cooked maize, drawn up a constitution, petitioned the King of Spain, been experimented on by Dartmouth, established asylums, wrote their language, resisted settlers, shot bear and translated scripture. All to no avail. The forced move to the Arkansas River, insisted upon by the same president they fought for against the Creek, destroyed another quarter of their already shattered number.

So far, so good, no?

It's a wonderful, and terrible, compressed history of a civilization. It's not a complete history, of course -- it's not meant to be -- but it is a window between two plagues. Literacy, government, craft, agriculture, religion, etc. Even higher education, here given the awful irony of "been experimented on by Dartmouth." It's enough, right? It has to be enough, right? Isn't that enough to ensure your civilization's survival? Isn't that enough to ensure the continued existence of your people? Isn't that enough story?

Nope: all to no avail.

Here's the rest of the relevant passage, though:

That was it, they thought, and removed themselves from those Cherokee who signed the treaty, in order to retire into the forest and await the end of the world. The disease they suffered now was a mere inconvenience compared to the devastation they remembered.

It's hard to miss the "now vs. then" appeal to memory, to the potential terror of the past, the echoes of the struggles of Sethe (and Baby Suggs, and Stamp Paid, and etc etc etc) to remember as little as possible. And, I suppose, for a lot of people, it's hard to miss the "end of the world" echo in the later description of Schoolteacher and Company as the "four horsemen," but I hadn't seen it until this year. Even after being prepped for it by Morrison concluding the Cherokee's 200 year window with "translated scripture."

And that's why I re-read. Not just because I have a pretty damn mediocre memory, making too many books feel like first-reads even on a second go-round, but because I love how re-reading adds layers and layers and layers to my understanding both of the questions that a given text is raising (and how it seeks to answer them) and of how that text is put together, how it works, and why it works.

(War and Peace, by the way, now that I'm about 400 pages in, is feeling more like a first-timer than a true re-read. And that's okay).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

War and Peace

Seriously. War and Peace.

A couple of years after working through the Volokhonsky/Pevear Anna Karenina (which didn't hold up quite as well as I expected it would, given how much I loved the novel when I read it (via Constance Garnett) 13 or 14 years ago, I decided to re-read War and Peace, this time (like AK) in the Volkhonsky/Pevear translation.

Given that I first read the book while backpacking alone on the Pacific Crest Trail as a 22-year-old -- the same summer that I read The Adventures of Augie March, Henderson the Rain King, Narcissus and Goldmund, and re-read The Brothers Karamazov, I'm probably setting myself up for disappointment.

But, I made it through the first 75 pages of "remind me again of why I should care about these impossibly wealthy mofos," and am now firmly entrenched in the second seventh of the book, so, I guess, all is well.

For the sake of trying to get a solid handle on the thing, I'm going to try to write about it when I can. We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Kalamazoo Brewing

Bell's HopSlam has arrived, folks.

It's probably gone by now, too, for that matter, but it's still worth looking if you haven't yet done so.

The HopSlam. How do they get so much grapefruit goodness into the thing? That big ol' citrus face sitting on top of a bit of warming mojo? My sensibilities cannot compute; my metaphors get mixed.

Harper's Band

Harper -- to be four in April -- has a band.

I'm in favor of that.

(And I'm fully aware of the dangers of And Then My Kid stories, but will that stop me? No, it will not).

Its name is Mex Fluoride. Its members are as follows:

Vocals: Beef
Guitar: Buller
Drums: Flyer
Keyboards: I'm The Tallest Mouse

Harper typically takes the role of Beef.

Mex Fluoride is most well-known for its songs "Texas Texas (Won't You Go Away)" and "Put Your Hand Down," but those who see the band frequently may have heard "Drop the Cheerio" or perhaps a cover of "Suffragette City" or "Run to the Hills."

I have no idea where this comes from. I mean, I know where the Bowie and Iron Maiden covers come from, but the rest of it? Do I know its origin? No, I do not. It's like when he opened his own restaurant over the summer and named himself, as cook and owner, Greasy Sanders.

Regardless, I'm proud of the kid.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Springsteen's New Album

I like Bruce Springsteen. I do. He’s never going to be a member of the Pantheon (Bob Dylan / Neil Young / Van Morrison / Stevie Wonder), nor will any of his records, outside of, say, Born to Run, ever crack the personal top thirty. Much as I might like them, I’ll never evangelize for Darkness on the Edge of Town like I have for the Band’s second album, or listen obsessively to Nebraska like I have to Al Green’s Call Me. I’ll collect the occasional concert recording to get a sense for what people mean when they refer to particularly legendary concerts by him. And I’ll even await new records with some degree of enthusiasm. Not as any kind of superfan, but as someone who is interested.

All this by way of saying that I’ve heard Working on a Dream and I’m not impressed. The songs are ultimately okay, if not necessarily as “worked” as those on Magic, but the production kills the thing. Just kills the thing.

(A sidenote: I’m not a fanatical “loudness is killing everything” prophet o’ doom, but there’s no doubt that a lot of recordings are brickwalled, over-compressed, and hard to listen to).

It’s this friable, high, trebly, bright, mechanical shine that holds us at arm’s length. It becomes not fun as a listening experience. And, for Mr. Springsteen, that must be a sort of nasty irony: you write fun, sunshine radio songs that, thanks to the mastering, no one can enjoy listening to.

And it’s not like I have phenomenal ears. A few years of club shows and too many hours in the basement with loud guitar and drums have, I’m sure, left me with at least a few gaps in my audible tone range, but even I can hear how ridiculous the production is and how poorly it frames the songs. Same thing with Magic, really – and those were better songs, even.

Maybe I have to get over that with Mr. Springsteen. Maybe I have to accept that, with the exception of three, maybe four records, he’s not going to make something with a sound I like as much as the songs.

(Those exceptions: The Wild / Innocent, Born to Run, Nebraska, and, arguably, Darkness, though even that last one has a disappointing drum sound that keeps something like “Badlands” from being the piledriver it could be).

Born in the USA and Tunnel of Love both suffer from dated sound (instrumentation) and awful, dated production (those gated drums and that keyboard-wash over everything). I like those songs, for the most part, but I can’t, just can’t, listen to “Dancing in the Dark” because of how it sounds.

Most problematic about Magic and Dream: the older albums (even USA and Tunnel) have a sense of dynamics. Everything, essentially everything on the two latest – every note, every riff, every cymbal splash – is placed at the same (maximum) volume throughout the records. Any place that a song could get louder, any moment in which a dynamic shift might be natural, winds up distorted instead. And, in almost every case, the instrumentation is the same from the beginning of each song to the end. There’s no build, neither in dynamics nor in arrangement. That accelerating race through “Thunder Road”? Won’t happen. You know that moment when the drums, the guitars, finally crash in on the piano figure in “Backstreets,” how that makes you feel? You won’t (and can’t) find that here.

And I know that an album is an ultimately disposable product, and no one’s asking – or, at least, I’m not asking – for the same song to be written over and over again, but to make entire albums that sound like “Night” (maxed out and crashing all the way through) doesn’t seem like the way to make a product that might last. Songs like Magic’s “Living in the Future” or Dream’s “This Day” deserve better.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Why School?

Or, to put it another way, from school, why school?

(A strange word to look at closely, as it turns out: school).

Or, to put it another way, here's a poem by Thomas Lux:


You go to school to learn to
read and add, to someday
make some money. It – money – makes
sense: you need
a better tractor, an addition
to the gameroom, you prefer
to buy your beancurd by the barrel.
There’s no other way to get the goods
you need. Besides, it keeps people busy
working – for it. It’s sensible and, therefore, you go
to school to learn (and the teacher,
having learned, gets paid to teach you) how
to get it. Fine. But:
you’re taught away from poetry
or, say, dancing (That’s nice, dear,
but there’s no dough in it
). No poem
ever bought a hamburger, or not too many. It’s true,
and so, every morning – it’s still dark! –
you see them, the children, like angels
being marched off to execution,
or banks. Their bodies luminous
in headlights. Going to school.

A few things I like here. I like how the - money - in the third line (making sense) implies that the whole proposition set up prior to that assertion (that money makes sense), in fact, is senseless. And that it does it so quietly, so easily.

And I like the sigh of "It's true" (that no poem ever bought more than too many hamburgers) toward the end and how it leads so naturally into "and so." How the children, like angels, going to school are doing so as a result of that truth. It's true. And so. There's a sigh there, I think.

But it's not only a sigh, and I like that, too. Just prior to "It's true," Lux insists that, "No poem ever bought a hamburger, or not too many." He writes, "or not too many." Not "or not a lot, anyway" or anything like that. "Or not too many." And so, even a fungible poem, even a work of art, a poem, as commodity, while it might ultimately be exchanged for food, would always only be exchanged for enough food. Never too much. Never too many hamburgers. Never more than the poet might need.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Pistons vs. Smallball

And so, yes, the Pistons lost to Charlotte. And Indiana.

And, yes, the team seems lost, particularly during the fourth quarter of any given game (Denver being an exception).

And, yes, now that Hamilton is back, Curry seems relatively determined to pursue this "smallball" thing further than seems healthy.

And, no, the last two losses cannot be blamed entirely on running a three-guard, Tayshaun-at-power-forward (!) offense.

But still.

So, here's something for anyone out there with either (1) a passing interest in the Pistons or (2) a passing interest in literature. And additional kudos (and Kudos, all chocolate + granola goodness) for anyone who already finds those interests intersecting on a daily basis:

It's a post + comment thread on about Curry, smallball, anger, literature, malice, and, with any luck, catharsis.

You'll like it.

I won't claim to have posted.

But I won't claim not to have posted, either.

I figure it's obvious.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Calvin without Hobbes

In last Sunday's New York Times Magazine, there's an article entitled "Who Would Jesus Smack Down?" about Mark Driscoll and an apparently surging movement of neo-Calvinism in the Pacific Northwest.

Yep, Calvinism. As in John Calvin. As in the Puritans. As in predestination. As in every man, woman, boy, and girl, is predestined, preselected for heaven or hell. As in beyond a rather fuzzy notion that those chosen for paradise are likely to engage in the sort of good works we would associate with being heaven-bound, nothing that you do during your relatively short life makes any difference vis-a-vis the eternal results -- not even, presumably, whether you, say, actually believe in God.

Now, that may, in fact, be a endpoint of logical necessity given a few other tenets of traditional Christian theology (namely, God knows everything and nothing that you do could ever, ever, ever make you worthy of such a gift as God's grace), but, you know, come on.

The article, in any case, is fun. As it should be. There's a great quote from Driscoll claiming the modern conception of Jesus to be "a Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ... a limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture."


But what struck me, really struck me, what made me actually want to write about the thing for a few minutes, to use this online journal to make some thoughts relatively permanent, was this paraphrased claim from a member of Driscoll's church: Reducing God to a projection of our own wishes trivializes divine sovereignty.

Right. And then, of course, you have to make a choice, a choice that any honest person should make: believe wholeheartedly (and, again, honestly) in a God that is truly omnipotent, that truly acts in the world in all things, that truly has a plan-with-a-capital-P, that not only grants you the life that you have but also takes it away, that not only grants some people freedom from pancreatic cancer but also gives it to others, that not only made the acorn but also the Huntington's disease; or wholeheartedly (and, again, honestly) reject the very premise of the existence of such a sovereign being.

No fuzzy middle-ground. Take your beliefs all the way to their logical ends. No subscribing to ultimately contradictory notions like "everyone chooses his own fate" or "everything is a part of a grand plan and I choose to be a part of that plan."

But, then, even the theoretically non-fuzzy Calvinism has, at its heart, fundamental fuzz, as the article's author points out: "God has predestined every human being's actions, yet we are still to blame for our sins; we are totally depraved, yet held to the impossible standard of divine law."

(No need, even, to point out the fuzz in the point at which John Calvin's beliefs and his life meet, the point that allows him to order heretics burned to death).

By chance, we just finished reading The Stranger in AP English.

And, in another pleasant dovetailing, the "Uber-Jesus" article is followed by Steven Pinker thoughtpiece exploring our genes' influence on our behavior.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Not the Lyndon, folks.

But he of the crab dribble. Or, I don't know, maybe it's the Crab Dribble. Either way, though, I figure I don't need a link here; either you already know about it or you don't care. And regardless, the Crab Dribble? Are you serious? And we're still talking about it? Debating whether it's a travel or not?

Come on, as Gob might say.

Meanwhile, Rodney Stuckey is on fire, the Pistons have won seven straight, and they play the Trail Blazers tonight. If I'm still up grading papers by halftime, I'll try to find a feed for the game and see what's happening.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

In the Brewery

It was a busy fall for brewing. From our return from Michigan in late August, here's what happened:

A Strong Golden Ale made with yeast from a Duvel bottle.

A Strong Golden Ale spiced with coriander, ginger, and grains of paradise, and made with yeast from a DT bottle.

An American Barleywine with Chinook, Centennial, and Amarillo hops.

An American Stout bittered with Magnum and flavored with Cascade hops.

An American Brown Ale with Amarillo hops.

An American Pale Ale with a whole mess of wild hops from the Upper Peninsula.

An English Mild.

An Ordinary Bitter.

A Robust Porter.

An Amber Ale with the remainder of the wild UP hops.

Another English Mild.

A Scottish 70 Shilling Ale.

A Dubbel with Wyeast 3787, supposedly sourced from Westmalle.

A Dubbel with Wyeast 1762, supposedly sourced from Rochefort.

A Tripel with Wyeast 3787.

An IPA with a lot of Columbus and Centennial hops.

I think that's all -- and sort of kind of almost in order. Some went into bottles, some into kegs. Three are still in fermenters: the second Dubbel and the Tripel need to be bottled; the IPA needs to go into a keg.

But it's 2009 and that means it's time to make more. Planned for the future, then:

Another English Mild. This is my new favorite style. It's small, but surprisingly rich and flavorful, a little caramelly, a little fruity, and fairly bready. Plus, I don't know of any bottled commercial examples, so not only do I have to make it if I want it, but I also don't have to worry about comparing what I make to anything else.

Another Robust Porter.

A Dry Stout, made small, maybe 3.5% or so.

An English Pale Ale -- maybe something like Fuller's ESB.

A Belgian Dark Strong Ale with the yeast from Rochefort.

Maybe a Double IPA for the early spring, round about the time that the cherry blossoms emerge, we get near spring break, and the HopSlam arrives.

And yet I want to get back into climbing shape, too. These goals may, in fact, be incompatible.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Winter Reading - The Holiday Break

Charles Baxter: The Soul Thief. I didn't care for this. I kept almost putting it down, letting it go, but then I'd hit an ndividual moment, an individual vignette, that was stunning enough to keep reading. In the end, though, I guess I didn't care. The setup is a little contrived, and while, yes, I know, most plots are, ultimately, contrived in some way (see, for example, "Maniacal one-legged captain obsessively hunts single whale while narrator contemplates free will, art, the soul, slavery, the nature of reality and the reality of nature," or "In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a man and boy try to survive grueling walk toward the sea"), I never got beyond the contrivance of this one.

(Note that Ahab is not pursuing an unmarried whale, but that he's after a particular whale. Sorry about the ambiguity).

Richard Russo: The Bridge of Sighs. I wasn't a huge fan of Empire Falls, but I loved Nobody's Fool, most of Mohawk and The Risk Pool, and Straight Man is a perfectly hilarious excuse for me never to pursue teaching at the university level (that, and, you know, like a doctorate and stuff). This one is good. Real good. I was a little worried that the whole "who were the man and woman outside the box" mystery might drive the plot too much, but that turns out to matter much less than the comparable "mysteries" do in Empire Falls. And Russo can write. Check out this passage:

The line of gray along the horizon is brighter now, and with the coming light I feel a certainty: that there is, despite our wild imaginings, only one life. The ghostly others, no matter how real they seem, no matter how badly we need them, are phantoms. The one life we’re left with is sufficient to fill and refill our imperfect hearts with joy, and then to shatter them. And it never, ever lets up.

Okay, so the "new day is dawning; light is coming; with light comes epiphany" opening is a little tough to take, but after that? C'mon. Those two last sentences? They don't reach you?