Monday, May 31, 2010

O Captain! My Captain!

Today is when Americans honor their war dead. At one time, the 30th of May was known as "Decoration Day." Citizens would decorate the graves of the fallen with wreaths or flowers. In more recent years, what is now known as “Memorial Day” is celebrated on the last Monday of May.

A growing number of Americans are weary of the cost, that of maintaining freedom not only here, but abroad. Some call it the cost of empire, others a gratuitous exercise in wielding influence. All may wonder about the men and women themselves, what it means to them.

In the science-fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, the fifteenth episode of the third season is entitled "Yesterday's Enterprise." The crew of the Enterprise must decide whether to send a ship of the same name from an earlier time period, back through a temporal rift and certain death, in order to restore balance to the time line. In the briefing room before the decision, an argument ensues. In the clip linked below, it appears at about 6:00.

RIKER: With all due respect, sir, you'd be asking one hundred twenty-five people to die a meaningless death.

DATA: Not necessarily meaningless, Commander. The Klingons regard honor above all else. If the crew of the Enterprise-C had died fighting for the survival of the Klingon outpost, it would be considered a meaningful act of honor by the Klingon empire.

PICARD: Even their deaths could have prevented this war.

Today, our President cannot stop apologizing for our country's prior actions. This was not always how our Nation's leaders have handled it.

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Dean Rusk, Secretary of State under President John Kennedy, was in France in the early 60's when French leader Charles DeGaulle decided to pull out of NATO. DeGaulle said he wanted all US military out of France as soon as possible.

Rusk responded "does that include those who are buried here?"

DeGualle did not respond.

In the UK, during a large conference, General Colin Powell was asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury if our plans for Iraq were just an example of empire building by George Bush.

He answered by saying, "Over the years, the United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our borders. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those that did not return."

The Archbishop did not respond. How could he? His Immenseness neglected a fact of history, of how conquering nations generally extend their welcome by continuing mistreatment of those conquered. How do America's own occupational forces behave? There are many ways to answer that. We'll come to ours shortly.

There was a conference in France where a number of international engineers were taking part, including French and American. During a break, one of the French engineers came back into the room saying, "Have you heard the latest dumb stunt Bush has done? He has sent an aircraft carrier to Indonesia to help the tsunami victims. What does he intended to do, bomb them?"

A Boeing engineer stood up and replied quietly: "Our carriers have three hospitals on board that can treat several hundred people; they are nuclear powered and can supply emergency electrical power to shore facilities; they have three cafeterias with the capacity to feed 3,000 people three meals a day, they can produce several thousand gallons of fresh water from sea water each day, and they carry half a dozen helicopters for use in transporting victims and injured to and from their flight deck. We have eleven such ships; how many does France have?"

Has this ever been the posture of a conqueror?

A US Navy Admiral was attending a naval conference that included Admirals from the American, British, Canadian, Australian, and French navies. At a cocktail reception, he found himself standing with a large group of officers that included personnel from most of those countries.

Everyone was chatting away in English as they sipped their drinks but a French admiral suddenly complained that, whereas Europeans learn many languages, Americans learn only English. He then asked, "Why is it that we always have to speak English in these conferences rather than speaking French?"

Without hesitating, the American Admiral replied, "Maybe it's because the Brits, Canadians, Aussie's and Americans arranged it so you wouldn't have to speak German."

But the most remarkable story we can provide here, is the one of Robert Whiting, an elderly gentleman of 83 when he arrived in Paris by plane. At French Customs, he took a few minutes to locate his passport in his carry on.

"You have been to France before, monsieur?" the customs officer asked sarcastically.

Mr Whiting admitted that he had.

"Then you should know enough to have your passport ready."

The American said, "The last time I was here, I didn't have to show it."

"Impossible." The Frenchman became indignant. "Americans always have to show your passports on arrival in France!"

The American senior gave the Frenchman a long hard look. Then he quietly explained, "Well, when I came ashore at Omaha Beach on D-Day in 1944 to help liberate this country, I couldn't find a single Frenchmen to show a passport to."

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Still, there are those who may ask themselves, what is America doing for nations like Afghanistan, other than securing her own interests in someone else's back yard?

Last month, the Scout Commissioners for my district received an appeal from a United States Army Captain and civil affairs officer serving in Jalalabad, a small city near the eastern border of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is no joke. It's a difficult place with unfathomable problems. Rebuilding this country also has to take into consideration her children. Education is the first step and children are going to school in droves. Children's programs are another step in the process. I know if there had been a viable Scout program here, the Taliban would have been minimalized before they could have taken hold. But they are a huge problem ... These kids need Scout Handbooks. With the new edition there must be truckloads of out-of-date handbooks. We do not need new books ... Believe me, these boys have nothing. Someone sent me 8 used neckerchiefs and I had a ceremony this past Saturday and gave each of the patrols leaders a neckerchief. I felt like the Wizard of Oz awarding Courage and Heart and those boys could not have been more proud. The rest of the Troop could not have been more envious. There are over 120 of them now.

Scouting was first introduced to Afghanistan in 1931. The national association was dissolved in 1946, but re-established in 1956. When the Soviets invaded in 1978, Scouting was outlawed. The government's Ministry of Education, which traditionally oversees such programs, attempted to begin anew in 2002, and attempts to keep it going over the last decade have been precarious. Even with the assistance of American and Canadian personnel, the World Organization of the Scout Movement revoked its endorsement last year.

I was called upon to assist the Captain. He needed help from Afghans with Scouting experience, any headquarters that could be established in the capital city of Kabul, as well as other military personnel with experience in assistance. I found a Lieutenant Colonel from the Canadian Forces, and put him in touch with our Captain. Meanwhile, other Scouters donated literature and equipment, and several of us pooled funds to purchase over one hundred copies of the previous edition of the BSA Handbook still in supply. (Sending used copies was difficult, as the boys use them to maintain a record of advancement.)

Today we received a communique from our Captain, which included a slide presentation of his progress.

Senior Patrol Leader (SPL) and Patrol Leaders (PL) conducted the Patrol Leader Council (PLC) meeting to plan and organize for their execution of the Troop meeting. US Boy Scout handbooks shipped from home were issued to the boy leaders. ... The SPL and PLs led the Troop in the review of the square knot and sheet bend and taught the Troop the two half-hitches and taut-line knots. The Scouts were introduced to basic first aid with a lesson in how to treat bleeding using a dressing, bandage, and a square knot. The lessons are based upon this teaching principle tell-show-do and all Scouts teach Scout and all participate in the practical exercises. ... The Troop was introduced to the [General Secretary of the Ministry of Education] ... and we look forward to developing a Provincial Scout Council over the next year.

As the BSA has been involved for much of the year in centennial activities, including a national jamboree, resources for official efforts have been diverted. In a sense, our local organization was "going rogue," which is not the stuff for which accolades are ordinarily bestowed. But we will know better. So will the Captain.

And hundreds of boys in a far-away land will know, that America is not only a land of opportunity, but of generosity, of freedom, and that these are among the things worth dying for. Those of you who ever saw the movie "Charlie Wilson's War," and remember how it ended, will understand why I took the lead with this, and why I was prepared to do more, much more.

This effort was worth it for our countrymen overseas, and for Scouting's centennial here at home.

God bless America. HOO-rah.

Home Alone

Officially, summer begins with the longest day and shortest night, the 21st of June in the Northern Hemisphere. But in the States, the practical beginning of summer was this past weekend, or more specifically, (today on) Memorial Day. By the same criterion, it lasts not until the vernal equinox on the 20th of September, but the first Monday of that month, on Labor Day. And so it is, that most of us make our plans for vacationing during this time. This usually involves leaving home. People who want to break into homes and steal everything know this.

I have the good fortune of people -- friends, research staff or otherwise -- who come by the house regularly. If it's an extended absence, I have the post office hang on to my mail. I tend to leave the radio on and the lights timed to go on and/or off at regular intervals. But there are other things to keep in mind as well, including this list that comes to us from "S.L." in Seattle. It is told from the point of view of the burglar himself.

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1. Of course I look familiar. I was here just last week cleaning your carpets, painting your shutters, or delivering your new refrigerator.

2. Hey, thanks for letting me use the bathroom when I was working in your yard last week. While I was in there, I unlatched the back window to make my return a little easier.

3. Love those flowers. That tells me you have taste... and taste means there are nice things inside. Those yard toys your kids leave out always make me wonder what type of gaming system they have.

4. Yes, I really do look for newspapers piled up on the driveway. And I might leave a pizza flyer in your front door to see how long it takes you to remove it..

5. If it snows while you're out of town, get a neighbor to create car and foot tracks into the house. Virgin drifts in the driveway are a dead giveaway.

6. If decorative glass is part of your front entrance, don't let your alarm company install the control pad where I can see if it's set. That makes it too easy.

7. A good security company alarms the window over the sink. And the windows on the second floor, which often access the master bedroom - and your jewelry. It's not a bad idea to put motion detectors up there too.

8. It's raining, you're fumbling with your umbrella, and you forget to lock your door - understandable. But understand this: I don't take a day off because of bad weather.

9. I always knock first. If you answer, I'll ask for directions somewhere or offer to clean your gutters. (Don't take me up on it.)

10. Do you really think I won't look in your sock drawer? I always check dresser drawers, the bedside table, and the medicine cabinet.

11. Here's a helpful hint: I almost never go into kids' rooms.

12. You're right: I won't have enough time to break into that safe where you keep your valuables. But if it's not bolted down, I'll take it with me.

13. A loud TV or radio can be a better deterrent than the best alarm system . If you're reluctant to leave your TV on while you're out of town, you can buy a $35 device that works on a timer and simulates the flickering glow of a real television. (Find it at

14. Sometimes, I carry a clipboard. Sometimes, I dress like a lawn guy and carry a rake. I do my best to never, ever look like a crook.

15. The two things I hate most: loud dogs and nosy neighbors.

16. I'll break a window to get in, even if it makes a little noise. If your neighbor hears one loud sound, he'll stop what he's doing and wait to hear it again. If he doesn't hear it again, he'll just go back to what he was doing. It's human nature.

17. I'm not complaining, but why would you pay all that money for a fancy alarm system and leave your house without setting it?

18. I love looking in your windows. I'm looking for signs that you're home, and for flat screen TVs or gaming systems I'd like. I'll drive or walk through your neighborhood at night, before you close the blinds, just to pick my targets.

19. Avoid announcing your vacation on your Facebook page. It's easier than you think to look up your address.

20. To you, leaving that window open just a crack during the day is a way to let in a little fresh air. To me, it's an invitation.

21. If you don't answer when I knock, I try the door. Occasionally, I hit the jackpot and walk right in.

(Sources: Convicted burglars in North Carolina, Oregon, California, and Kentucky; security consultant Chris McGoey, who runs, and Richard T. Wright, a criminology professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, who interviewed 105 burglars for his book Burglars on the Job.)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Day at the Gallery

A very special exhibit is in its final days at the National Gallery of Art here in DC. The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture, 1600–1700 will be on display until the end of the month. If you're in town, it's worth stopping by.

My favorite work (and it was a close call) had to be The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, a gilded wood piece attributed to Juan Martinez Montañés (1568–1649) and an unknown painter. Dated about 1628, it is from the Church of the Anunciación, Seville University. Measuring just under 4 feet, 7 inches tall, this life-size carving is most exquisite, as can be seen in the painted detail of the robe. (Click on the image. You'll thank me later.) The depiction here barely does it justice.

Mary Eberstadt writes for The Catholic Thing:

Here a bleeding, suffering Christ stretches tautly on the Cross, staring both piteously and pitiably at the penitent near his feet. There a dewy yet tormented Mary Magdalen, her dazzling soiled skin wrapped roughly in a penitent’s coat of rushes, hunches in sorrow over a crucifix. A statue of Saint Ignatius Loyola looms so lifelike and animated that a recitation of his Exercises seems a strong possibility. Many more shocks await ...

Check the slideshow at the Gallery website. The instrumental track included makes for a stunning presentation.

There are also some lovely Italian sacred works on regular display there from the early Italian schools of Duccio and the like. This guy obviously couldn't get enough of them. They kept a tight watch on camera phones in the special exhibit, but I considered the irony of a guard coming over to me, and telling me I couldn't take a photo of this guy taking a photo. Or something.

I spent the day with Father Erik Richtsteig of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, and author of the blog Orthometer, as well as Katrina "The Crescat" Fernandez from North Carolina, author of that blog that's SOOOO much more popular than this one. She was staying with one of her gal pals, and had a few kids along. Hopefully they went to Chinatown afterwords to tear the place apart. Those kids could use a little excitement after a day in the museum. The adults, not so much.

Friday, May 28, 2010


There was a restaurant, an historic re-creation of sorts, in Colonial Williamsburg, where "Sal" and I dined while we were there. It was there that I had the best cornbread I had ever tasted.

Those of you from the city tend to associate bread with being a byproduct of wheat. Such is your loss. Cornbread is obviously not from wheat, but from the meal made of corn. If you are from the southern United States, you might be aware of how cornbread became popular "back in the day" as a form of quick bread (that which is leavened by an acidic reaction, as opposed to yeast) that was much cheaper than wheat bread, as the main ingredient was very close at hand, and took less time when feeding a hungry family. If you hail from the Midwest or the Great Plains, you hail from a region also known as "the Corn Belt" of the Nation.

No one who was raised smelling cornbread baking in the kitchen will dismiss it. Cornbread is the essential comfort food of middle America. Breakfast, lunch, supper -- it is equally at home on the table anytime of the day. Just reading about it in Wikipedia is enough to bring tears to a man's eye. (Somewhere in the USA, a displaced Southern boy is placing a call home to Mama as you read this.) The very thought of it is enough to bring peace to a rancorous discussion at the blog WDTPRS.

Which is why that part of the conversation is being reproduced here.

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I think “nazareth priest” is right. I said so the whole time. And after all that effort, I’m callin’ mama back in Ohio. I have a sudden appetite for cornbread.
Comment by manwithblackhat — 28 May 2010 @ 2:49 pm

I really don’t believe that I was in any way mean-spirited ... I stand behind what I wrote, and the way in which I wrote it.
Except maybe for that crack about cornbread. I’m from the Midwest as well, so self-deprecation seemed like a good idea at the time.

Comment by manwithblackhat — 28 May 2010 @ 5:13 pm

Now you’re going too far. I’m a southerner, and cornbread is our thing. (At least, we think so.) Sorry, you can’t have any.
Comment by Henry Edwards — 28 May 2010 @ 5:25 pm

Obviously we need a separate conversation about cornbread. Probably not here.
Comment by manwithblackhat — 28 May 2010 @ 5:39 pm

Henry E. and manw/blackhat: I LOVE cornbread.
My Mum’s people were from Tennessee…sweet tea and cornbread…
Better put up a separate conversation about cornbread…the English/Northeasterns et al won’t understand ... not at all:< }!

Comment by nazareth priest — 28 May 2010 @ 6:33 pm

This cornbread sure sounds tasty.
Comment by Jack Hughes — 28 May 2010 @ 6:43 pm

cornbread huh? well how about a southern dish with a yankee twist?? ;)
have yer cornbread, beans, onions et al and top it off with a lil maple syrup! Just a smidgeon now! ;) YUM!

Comment by Ancient Soul — 28 May 2010 @ 7:07 pm

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MAPLE SYRUP??? That's for hotcakes, dagnabbit, not cornbread!!!


FAMW: Shiny Happy People

Denis Leary is crude, obnoxious, offensive -- but that doesn't bother me so much as when he's blasphemous. Yet his comments about celebrity pontificating could warrant attention, should you ever tire of hearing them spout off at concerts or on those award shows.

“And I also don't go for this other thing now, with MTV being so big where you get a band that gets a hit video, and all of the sudden they think that they're like icons and they can tell us how to feel about environmental issues and how to vote and stuff. You know what I'm talking about? Like R.E.M. ‘Shiny Happy People’ ‘Hey Hey Hey Hey Hey! Pull that bus over to the side of the pretentiousness turnpike, alright!? I want everybody off the bus. I want the shiny people over here, and the happy people over here, ok! I represent angry gun-toting meat-eating ... people, alright!’ Sit down and shut the [heck] up Michael! Don Henley's gonna tell me how to vote. I don't [really] think so, ok? I got two words for Don Henley, Joe ... Walsh, ok!? Thanks for calling, Don! How long's your pony tail now? Ok!”

See how he still gets the point across when I clean it up a little? And so it goes for this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.

Games People Play

The last month at the office has been like this, not unlike it was fifteen to twenty years ago. “Never meaning what they say, now, and never saying what they mean.” I hate when that happens. So when I went in for a midyear evaluation, and someone from upper-management was there, I didn't tell him anything I wouldn't want his politically-appointed boss to hear. No disrespect, just keepin' it real. He understands. I can work with this guy.

“Games People Play” was written and recorded in 1968 by Joe South, and appeared on his debut album that same year, "Introspect." It won a Grammy for Song of the Year in 1970. Dozens of artists have recorded it (some of them badly), including a Scottish folksinger named Dick Gaughan on his album "A DIfferent Kind of Love Song."

“God grant me the serenity to remember who I am ...” till I'm covered up with flowers in the back of a black limousine.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

How does he DO that?

Probably with a lot of help from someone, but if we think about it, so do the rest of us. And unlike Nick Vujicic, a native of Melbourne, Australia, most of us have both arms and legs. (And here I am complaining that my left knee is bothering me lately.) With degrees in both accounting and financial planning, Nick spends much of the year as a motivational speaker. This clip shows the effect he has upon young audiences. For more information about Nick, and how he pulls it off, visit

Guitar Workshop: Rick Cunha

Last week, our Guitar Workshop series focused on the Mason Williams composition “Classical Gas.” There were a number of artists associated with some of his albums, as well as his road tour. One of them has had their own composition made more-or-less famous by The Smothers Brothers, when Tommy's not-so-secret passion is featured. Unfortunately, those two clowns can't stop flapping their gums long enough to actually do the whole song. The first clip is an example of such gum-flapping. Just a basis for comparison; please bear with them.

“(I’m A) Yo-Yo Man” was released in 1974 on the GRC label by folksinger-songwriter Rick Cunha, co-written with Marty Cooper. There were two versions of it, the better-known of which was played on middle-of-the-road AM stations that same year, which is how Yours Truly first heard of it. An earlier and lesser-known version of the same tune was featured on the 1971 Mason Williams album "Sharepickers." The GRC recording is featured in the second clip.

Cunha went on to record several other albums, but other than looking on eBay for old copies, little is written of him. He had another tune entitled “Poor Little Robin” which was also featured on the "Sharepickers" album. Whenever I hear it, I am reminded of being back home in Ohio as a boy, on a lazy summer afternoon. I'm lying in my room, or playing in the back yard. Or something. Don't ask me why.

This last tune is a good exercise for intermediate-to-advanced players who want to work their way up and down the neck. As a kid in college, I got about halfway through the intro before giving up.

But I was so much older then; I'm younger than that now.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

And now, for something completely different ...

... this submission from “Samer” a commenter at Rorate Caeli, a fascinating presentation on the many accents and dialects of the British Isles. Just when you thought they all sounded alike. Now you'll never have to toddle into an English pub and wonder where you are. Let's give this bloke the fifteen-minutes of fame he so richly deserves. HUZZAH!!!

Five Second Theatre: Sell Cycle

It's time once again for our regular midday Wednesday feature.

Ever since GE merged with GM (in which case, they could just call themselves “G”), salesmen have been trying hard to move these hybrid vehicles off the lot. Meanwhile, Sal wants me to get a washer/dryer for my townhouse. (They were built in the 1940s, and there are laundry rooms. Long story.) She also wants to get a car.

I'm just kicking ideas around here.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

“For all you [expletive] whiners out there ...”

Paul sent this out to the social messaging universe today, with the aforementioned title. Click on the image, and chart your own path.

It was the opening line of a 1918 poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins: “The child is father to the man.” (It was also the title of the 1968 debut album by Blood Sweat & Tears, but that's another story.) Between my work and current outside activities, this is turning out to be a depressing week. In fact, I woke up with a one of those panic attacks again this morning, at the usual time of 3:30. (You really can set your watch by it. Just saying ...) Our relationship is a unique one relative to a father and son, which is one of the things a parent must learn to live with after a divorce. They never have you on a pedestal, even as children, and you aren't their buddy either.

And every now and then, he comes up with a thing like this. Meanwhile, we're also getting into an argument over the oil spill thing. We're pretty evenly matched in a debate, mostly because I taught him how. So I guess I'll be hearing from him soon enough about where he gets this stuff, so I can post a new one each week.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Shirley and Marcy

A mom was concerned about her kindergarten son walking to school. He didn't want his mother to walk with him. She wanted to give him the feeling that he had some independence but yet know that he was safe. So she had an idea of how to handle it. She asked a neighbor if she would please follow him to school in the mornings, staying at a distance, so he probably wouldn't notice her. She said that since she was up early with her toddler anyway, it would be a good way for them to get some exercise as well, so she agreed.

The next school day, the neighbor and her little girl set out following behind Timmy as he walked to school with another neighbor girl he knew. She did this for the whole week.

As the two walked and chatted, kicking stones and twigs, Timmy's little friend noticed the same lady was following them as she seemed to do every day all week. Finally she said to Timmy, "Have you noticed that lady following us to school all week? Do you know her?"

Timmy nonchalantly replied, "Yeah, I know who she is."

The little girl said, "Well, who is she?"

"That's just Shirley Goodnest," Timmy replied, "and her daughter Marcy."

"Shirley Goodnest? Who the heck is she and why is she following us?"

"Well," Timmy explained, "every night my Mom makes me say the 23rd Psalm with my prayers, 'cuz she worries about me so much. And in the Psalm, it says, ‘Shirley Goodnest and Marcy shall follow me all the days of my life’, so I guess I'll just have to get used to it!"

(From the desk of "D.W.")

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Veni Creator Spiritus

There are strange reports, that cathedrals around the country are going to see Mass disrupted today, as "gay rights" activists have a hissy-fit over being able to engage in behavior that is not only unnatural, but dangerous to themselves and to the public health. Imagine an assembly imbued with a sufficiently Catholic sensibility, when faced with such malfeasance as to render the celebration of Mass momentarily impossible, spontaneously erupting in this traditional invocation of the Holy Spirit.*

Come, Holy Spirit, Creator blest,
and in our souls take up Thy rest;
come with Thy grace and heavenly aid
to fill the hearts which Thou hast made.

O comforter, to Thee we cry,
O heavenly gift of God Most High,
O fount of life and fire of love,
and sweet anointing from above.

Thou in Thy sevenfold gifts are known;
Thou, finger of God's hand we own;
Thou, promise of the Father, Thou
Who dost the tongue with power imbue.

Kindle our sense from above,
and make our hearts o'erflow with love;
with patience firm and virtue high
the weakness of our flesh supply.

Far from us drive the foe we dread,
and grant us Thy peace instead;
so shall we not, with Thee for guide,
turn from the path of life aside.

Oh, may Thy grace on us bestow
the Father and the Son to know;
and Thee, through endless times confessed,
of both the eternal Spirit blest.

Now to the Father and the Son,
Who rose from death, be glory given,
with Thou, O Holy Comforter,
henceforth by all in earth and heaven.


Its authorship is attributed to Rabanus Maurus in the 9th century. It is sung not only at Pentecost, but at the entrance of the College of Cardinals to the Sistine Chapel to elect a new pope, the consecration of bishops, the ordination of priests and deacons, the confirmation of children, the dedication of churches, the celebration of synods or councils -- and at other solemn events, even the coronation of kings.

It is sung here by Doina Buzut and Lucia Starinski of Gloria.TV.

Included here is a homily for Pentecost from the previous year, given by Father Paul Scalia, pastor of Saint John the Beloved Church in McLean, Virginia.

(Depending on your web browser, it can also be accessed by clicking here.)

* This as opposed to some sophomoric charismatic ditty from the 1970s, like a bunch of dumb-@$$ aging hippies.

Friday, May 21, 2010

FAMW: Josh’s Band

The folks who brought you the flash mob dance at Liverpool Street Station didn't stop there. They created a band consisting of anybody who showed up. But this gets even better. All 1107 people who signed up went on the road with Josh’s Band. At least that's what's been reported. I'd hate to be the hotel manager for that road tour. I'll bet the road crew had some fun, though. Yeah. Good times.

And so it goes for this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Tonight I put on the Scout uniform, to attend the annual District Dinner. Adult volunteers from Arlington and McLean honored Eagle Scouts from the past year, as well as Scouters (adults in Scouting) who went above and beyond "one hour a week," as we like to say. As this is the centennial of the Boy Scouts of America, one of Scouting's perennial cottage industries is having a field day -- or should I say, a field year?

Patch collecting, as well as patch trading, is a really big deal. Special issue insignia, commemorative patches, either one from exotic lands whose contingents attend world jamborees -- all are cause for serious negotiations. The rule has always been that youth and adult members may not deal with each other (which avoids an unfair advantage), but both young and old revel in it. And this year, there are tons of special issue items.

Both of our illustrations here are displays from our brethren in the Plains states. The first illustration features a series of CSPs, or "council shoulder patches," which are worn at the top of the left sleeve to give one's location by council (local jurisdiction). But it's the second one that gets carried away. Some councils have a huge five-sided patch around which five different CSPs in a series can go. Obviously you can't wear them on your uniform, but they can go on the back of the standard-issue red field jacket. This one commemorates a particular railroad system that settled the West. The entire ensemble of eleven patches, properly assembled, is apppoximately eighteen inches high. (Go ahead, click on it for a closer look. You know you want to.)

I sure hope someone has a jacket big enough.

To find out more, go to The Scout Patch Collector's Base Camp at There's also There is even got a club for these maniacs -- The International Badgers Club.

Get it? BADGERS???

Guitar Workshop: Classical Gas

This is a song I learned when I was in high school. It came out in 1968, by a classical guitarist/folksong writer named Mason Williams. It was a great song, and when I found the tablature in Guitar Player, I realized that it wasn't that complicated.

Looks complicated, though, doesn't it?

This selection underscores the importance of regular practice. Watch this guy in the second clip. The left-hand fingering is very straightforward relative to the intermediate player. It's the right-hand that makes the difference, and even that is basically 1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2, 1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2, and so on.

There are two examples of tablature available, both at, and Or, you can get the official score at

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Anchoresses Aweigh!

Elizabeth Scalia is a good writer, if not always (for my money, at least) terribly original. So when she is (and in fairness, this is not the first time), it's a high one right out of the park.

I must attend an "all hands" meeting of the entire communications staff in less than one hour, the content of which has been as tightly-guarded as anything I've witnessed in nearly three decades here. But I've got an inkling of what might happen, and if I had the nerve (and I will, eventually, this is the piece by "The Anchoress" that I would send to everybody involved.

The men who built the Empire State Building stood on bare planks to work in the sky; paradoxically, they were grounded in reality, not theory. They did not have to concern themselves with tones and timbres; nor did the educated architects who dreamed up skyscrapers. One suspects that if either the man on the beam or the one with the blueprints had been approached by a tanning-booth-bronzed-and-manicured corporate bureaucrat, and asked to enumerate their “goals” as part of their “performance review” they both would have hooted at him in derision. “My goal,” the first would say, “is to not fall. It’s to stay alive so I can pick up my pay, have a beer with the wife, raise the kids and get into heaven a half-hour before the devil knows I’m dead.”

Pray for me, and stay tuned ...

UPDATE: The meeting is over. The status quo survives -- for the moment.

(Note to Ms Scalia: I'm a much harsher critic of my own work. Take care.)

Five Second Theatre: The Midas Touch

It is time once again for our usual midday Wednesday feature. The producer of this week's selection describes it thus: “When you grow up putting Digiornos into your sister’s Easy-Bake Oven, every day you spend alive is kind of a small miracle.”

We're going to take his word for it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Jerry Garcia Explains It All For You

My Twitter account is used for three things, generally; to announce new entries here at mwbh, to exchange brief correspondence with Paul and others, and to post quotations from people of note. I was inspired for the latter from watching reruns of "Criminal Minds" on Ion Television Network, a show where they begin and end each episode with a voiceover of a cast member quoting something pertinent to the story. There's even a website run by fans of the series, where they catalog them. I kid you not.

Maybe that's where I got this one from the late founder of The Grateful Dead. I don't remember:

“Constantly choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.”

I'm wondering if we do that with every Presidential election. I also wonder if we do that with a lot of things. I know I do, not because I want to, but because there are moments where it's easier. And painless.

For now.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Lisztomania: The Inner-City-Kids-With-A-Dream Remix

We've been on a major Talent Search lately, haven't we?

Paul sent me this one, from the PS22 Chorus of New York City Public School Number 22. They've got a blog. They've got a YouTube channel with over fifteen million hits. This number alone has over half a million so far. They've even been interviewed on national television. I can't wait to hear if they get a call from Phoenix.

I also can't wait to see them do the theme from "Ironman."

This is what art and music can do to motivate schoolchildren, as part of the whole educational experience. When you cut art and music, you suck the joy out of that experience. Do what you have to do to save the public school system, but the kids need art and music more than ... say, a teacher's union.

Single Ladies: The Non-Skank Remix

We've got sixth-grade boys doing Lady Gaga, we've got nine-year-old girls gyrating to Beyoncé, and now ... well, speaking of Beyoncé, we've got something truly imaginative, from Nataly Dawn of Pomplamoose Music. Put a ring on that, SUCKAS!!!

(H/T to Jessica. You go, grrrl!)

Best Political Ad Ever ... or is it???

You've seen this ad elsewhere. What you haven't seen is what's between the lines.

The guy sure sounds convincing. He's gonna kick ass, name names, and take no prisoners. He's the voice of the people. He wears a cowboy hat and drives a pickup truck. He hangs around with horses. What more do you want?

ANSWER: What you want is a constituency that will forgo its inclination towards hero-worship, and maintain its vigilance. Anyone can be bought if the price is right, especially when there's pressure to get anything done, and you can't do it alone. Washington is full of guys who start out this way. Yours truly has met several of them. Getting the right man for the job is easy; keeping him that way is hard.

If people in Alabama elect this guy as their Agriculture Commissioner, their responsibility cannot stop on election day. In fact, their work is just getting started.

Now, if Dale Peterson actually rode his horse into the sunset, the ad would have been perfect.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Big Novena?

Longtime readers of mwbh might have been surprised that we didn't do the Great Novena this year, the one inspired by Mary and the Apostles awaiting the Holy Spirit after Our Lord ascended into Heaven. In 2009, we introduced it on May 22. This prelude is followed by a day for each of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Fear, Piety, Fortitude, Knowledge, Understanding, Counsel, and Wisdom. On the final day, we contemplate the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit: Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience, Benignity, Goodness, Faith, Mildness, and Temperance. Just so you know.

This is done every year. Sadly, it was forgotten this year. May is probably the busiest month of the year for yours truly, and it has been even busier this year. In addition to work on the Program Guide for the annual Washington Folk Festival, there is also a very special project with the Boy Scouts, one which we are anxious to share with you soon.

And so it goes ...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Another One Rides the Bus

I've been riding on the 16Y for more than four years now. Unlike most of the buses which feed into the Metrorail system, the 16Y runs to and from the District along Columbia Pike during the morning and evening rush. Everyone more or less knows each other, if only by nodding acquaintance. Not quite like family, but relatively so.

Sometimes I've had to stand, which was never a problem, until this year.

Over the winter, I'm not sure how, but when I threw my back out, I started having problems with my knees. After the back problem subsided, the pain in the left knee remained. Whenever I walk a long distance, or stand in one place for very long, there is a pain. Occasionally that pain is very sharp and I can't stand up. So I'm careful. When I serve Mass I wear a disposable heat bandage on it. And when I take the bus and it's standing room only, I wait for the next one. Occasionally I have to ask for a seat, mentioning the problem that I have. This has rarely been necessary, and never a problem.

Until last Tuesday.

I could have waited for another bus that morning, but I was already running late. The seats in front are reserved by Federal law for the elderly and disabled. The driver is supposed to ask people to get up when necessary, but some of the drivers are a bit challenged in the area of interpersonal skills. The young black woman with a toddler tried to ignore me, probably thinking I'd want to recreate the Rosa Parks incident. She would have been very mistaken. In the other seat were two people, one of them an Ethiopian woman, probably hoping I would think she couldn't speak English. Then there was the white guy -- let's call him “Mister Gavone” -- who did the best job of ignoring me. Fortunately another young guy in another seat offered me his.

But it wasn't over between me and Mister Gavone. An unspoken language hatched an animus between us, one that lingered in silence.

I always apologize once I sit down. I really hate doing this. I'd rather be the one to stand, really. But if the bus jerks a lot like a jackrabbit -- you'd think some of the drivers aren't that bright -- I know I'm going to hit the floor in pain Someone would have caught me on this day had that happened, because it was really, really crowded. Finally we got to the District. I had to step through several people on my way to the door, and upon brushing up against Mister Gavone's leg quite by accident ...

He kicked me.

"Hey, what was that?" I told him. "What's your problem?" he said, already well rehearsed in ignoring the obvious. "You kicked me, you fool!" was my answer. He took it to the next level.

"F@#$ YOU!"

Well, that did it. Half the people on the bus started on him. It was the perfect time to exit stage front. I reached the driver, who knew by now that this morning was off to a bad start. "That jerk just kicked me as I was getting out. He does that again, I'm having him arrested." Then I got off.

Boy, was I steamed! Maybe kicking somebody like a GIRL was how a young boy had to survive on the mean streets of Spring Lake, New Jersey. But it wasn't going to cut any ice in the Nation's capital. He probably thought he could make quick work of me if it came down to that. We may never know.

There have been many conversations of late about the loss of civility in American life, much of it from Democrats who lost most of theirs in exchange for winning the election. To be fair, I doubt that many people would have seen this man kicking me, as it was so crowded. In fact, one driver told me something about needing some kind of a card to verify my infirmity, but I've never seen anything about that. Maybe it's in the fine print on a website. Maybe a cane or a wheelchair is a suitable calling card. Maybe if I'm carried out on a stretcher they'll be convinced. Then again, maybe I'm going to have to see the doctor sooner, rather than later, about the early onset of arthritis, or whatever it is that's going on. It runs in the family, I tell myself, and we were never much for visiting doctors.

Whatever comes of this, I felt pretty foolish, and I still do, for each rare occasion that I must prevail upon someone for the time being. But until then, my sole consolation is the knowledge, that Mister Gavone had to continue facing that crowd of people for the rest of his trip.

I sure hope he's okay.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Stupid Boy Scout Skits: The Furniture Store

We will end this series brought to you by Melrose Troop 68, with a presentation involving the audience. This skit is about a gentleman opening a new furniture store, with "volunteers" from the audience chosen to be the furniture. The local District Scout Executive was picked on during this skit.

I still don't know where this "Melrose" place is, but I get the impression this was something open to the public during the day. Nice to know there are places in America where people are easy to entertain.

“To sleep, per Chance to dream ...”

We are learning more about Greyson Chance, the young man from Edmond, Oklahoma, who became a big hit on YouTube this past Tuesday, and was featured here that same day. He also appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show yesterday, where he got an unexpected phone call (not to mention some rather sage advice).

He'll be on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson tonight. Yeah, we're staying up late for that one. No Tivo yet at Chez Alexandre.

POSTSCRIPT: Famecrawler looks at the sudden fame of Greyson and asks the impertinent question: “Is that really such a good thing?” My advice to the parents? Don't be like that piece of trailer trash Billy Ray Cyrus was with his daughter and skank-in-progress Miley. Get a good lawyer whom the family can trust, have him find a good agent who isn't too ambitious for the kid's own good, cut one album of the signature hit along with original material, make a few appearances to talk it up, put the money in a college fund, and let the kid be a kid, a NORMAL kid.

But hey, that's just me.

FAMW: Who Da Man? Christie Be Da Man!

The latest buzz around the water cooler here at mwbh is the kid from Newark, New Jersey, still in the first year of his term as Governor of the Garden State.

You should have seen Chris Christie on CNN, spitting out facts and figures about the condition of the state budget, and what he intends to do about it. As a US Attorney, he put mobsters behind bars (including guys from his First Communion class for all we know). When you've got that under your belt, you can have some cake-eater from the mainstream press for dessert. Best of all, Christie really doesn't care whether he's re-elected or not, which already distinguishes him from the President and most of Congress.

But listen to the clip, and see why he's this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy. You can love him; you can hate him. But you know where he's coming from. Sit back and enjoy.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Stupid Boy Scout Skits: Motorcycle Gang

We've been showing skits all week produced by Melrose Troop 68 in 1996, for a series they called "Laughs for Lunch." Apparently this one was shown on the local television station. This one reminds me of skits where the big punk-@$$ kids in the troop get to pick on the little guy. It looks from a distance like they're pretending, right?

That's what they want Mummy and Daddy to think. Trust me; boys will be boys.

Viri Galilaei

I wrote this last year. It still works. Click here.

Metrorail Madness

Paul knows this guy identified as “denkmanttlb” who shares the following: “On Wednesday, April 28th, 2010, I rode the entire DC Metro (and took photo(s) of every station along the way). It took about 7 hours (with a 40 minute break in the middle for a conference call I needed to take). I took at least 1 photo of each station. Click on the link in the note on each station to see all the photos from that station.”

Hey, there are people who travel the country to ride all the roller coasters at amusement parks, right? This is like a low-impact version of that.

“I don’t have a price, ready for those flashing lights ...”

I saw this on ABC News last night. So have more than 1.3 million others on YouTube.

One of the things I envy about kids growing up today, as opposed to when I was growing up, is that it is okay to be yourself. At my high school, if you were a guy, and you weren't a jock, chances were you could just forget about your accomplishments being feted. And it's not like we were the kick-@$$ contender in the Queen City either, at least not while I was there.

Once I asked a girl to a dance, and she accepted. We had been friends for months, it had become flirtatious, it was a total no-brainer. The next week she dumped me -- for a jock! They soon became one of those proverbial high school sweetheart match-ups -- she was a cheerleader; what was I thinking? -- got married after graduation, and lived happily ever after.

I think I'm gonna hurl.

But even at that breeding ground of bourgeois suburbanism, it is very different now. Kids are honored for a variety of reasons. You can be a total geek, you can be your damn self, and they're okay with it! I get their alumni newsletter, and I'm astonished every time I read it. I save the back issues. I've even thought of (drumroll!) sending them money!

[flashback] It was the spring of 1973, nearing the end of my senior year. I was trying out for the one thing I was good at, the high school musical. I sang a James Taylor song and accompanied myself on the guitar. Down the hall, there were girls from the freshman class running to their friends, “Hey, you guys, there's this boy singing in the music room, and he's REALLY GOOD!” [/flashback]

(Okay, so they were freshmen. I'll take what I can get, people!)

Closer to the present, this week's Tip of the Black Hat goes to the only boy among all the girls at his school recital, the sixth-grade boy from Edmund, Oklahoma, by the name of Greyson Chance, for braving the taunts of others, and defying the odds against him.

“‘Cause you know that baby I’m your biggest fan ...”

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Stupid Boy Scout Skits: Emergency Broadcast System

The gang at Troop 68 is at it again.

For one hundred years, the Boy Scouts of America has responded to disasters and other emergencies, at both the local and national level. Stories abound of Scouts risking their lives to save someone else's, applying skills they learned in Scouting. (Yours truly must confess to having his own account, to be told later this year.) They continue to live and act upon the spirit endowed in their motto: "Be Prepared."

Hopefully it never looks like this.

You mean the President said WHAT? Duuude ...

We're going to leave it to you to decide. Long story short, when the President was approached with the idea of playing a round of golf with conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, the Übermeister of Civility is reported to have said that “Limbaugh can play with himself.” I really don't know if it's true, but check out Allahpundit's insightful commentary on the subject.

Yours truly would definitely get the pay-per-view for this trip across the fairway. Totally.

(CONTENT WARNING: Basically what you read here, only said out loud and elaborated upon just a touch.)

Five Second Theatre: Be Cool

For this week's usual midday Wednesday feature, we portray a different twist on a similar theme from a couple of weeks ago, about maintaining your composure when things get out of hand. Personally, I wouldn't recommend this one, as there is no guarantee that the "unknown factor" will be as cool as you are about it.

Okay, maybe once. In Texas. Possibly Nevada.

Do You Know This Man?

You will before the end of the week, as we look for the meaning behind another day, in the life of America's most self-important city.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Stupid Boy Scout Skits: Pickpockets

Those wacky, wild and crazy guys from Melrose Troop 68 are at it again. In this episode, we are treated to a public service announcement about pickpockets. Notice how the little guy gets to be the butt of the jokes. It's the usual rite of passage in the neighborhood, and in Scouting as well. But when they have older guys worth looking up to, it has its own rewards.

Besides, little kids are easier to flip over.

Spring Cleaning Resolved

In the third and final installment on Spring Cleaning, through an inventory of things the world might be better off without, this writer examines the list of the items themselves, to see how they rate.

+    +    +

Fine print    YES

Any contract between two parties, no matter how explicit, presumes the good faith intention of both parties to endeavor to live up to its terms. Elizabeth Warren, a professor of contract law at Harvard, identifies a cause of bad faith through misleading information, however unintended.

Virginity    NO

Every civilization from the beginning of time, has associated the breaking of the woman's hymen with a change in her biology, and with it the accompaniment of marriage, and her place in society. Like most radical feminists, however, Jessica Valenti would reduce biology to an artificial construct. Then there's that thing about divine law, maintaining the social order ...

Exit polls    YES

Karl Rove may have been an advisor to presidents, but when it comes to this subject, he joins the ranks of everybody else who is sick and tired of the mainstream media trying to manipulate an election before it's finished.

Tactical nukes    ???

The use of atomic weapons is morally questionable in the eyes of the Church, as their use pushes the envelope at the expense of what constitutes a "just war." Yet it was during the Cold War, that possession of such weapons was the best assurance we had that no one else ever used them. Have conditions changed to force us to reconsider such means of deterrence?

"Washington Week"    YES

I used to love watching CNN's Crossfire. But we don't have old-school journalists like Robert Novak anymore. These posers couldn't cover a house fire. Hostess Gwen Ifill was an obvious mouthpiece for Obama during the last major election. The length of experience is not the problem here; they've ceased being journalists in favor of being propagandists.

Internet memes    YES

There must have been a reason why I never paid much attention to this phenomenon, and who better than the editor of The Onion, Joe Randazzo, to underscore its absurdity? I could live with e-mail replacing writing letters. At least letter-writing is still a pastime, if now delivered differently.

Lawns    YES

Ed Begley Jr is right. Click here.

Pundits    YES

When political strategist Donna Brazile throws out the same Bill of Rights guaranteeing a free press, to refer to "mad hatters from the 'tea party' preaching their views ..." she makes the best case against pundits. Way to keep it classy there, Donna!

High-stakes testing    ???

I never saw the point to tests like these when I was young, and education historian and former assistant secretary of education Diane Ravitch doesn't see the point to them either. But she seems to have a problem with basing any solution to the problems in public schools on the problems themselves (like the teachers' unions). She doesn't HAVE a point, so I don't see any in deciding.

Computer keyboards    NO

It is possible that technology journalist Kara Swisher used voice-activated text messaging on her smartphone to write this piece, but I wouldn't bet the farm on it. Remember, Steve Jobs thought the mouse would make the arrow keys obsolete. He was wrong, and he was, like, Steve Jobs, ya know?

Carbon offsets    YES

Environmental activist Mike Tidwell has discovered, that getting the Have Nots to compensate for the excesses of the Haves, is a lot to ask of the Have Nots, and it doesn't change the bad habits of the Haves. So much for trying to control the universe from an ivory-towered think-tank.

The Congressional Budget Office    ???

James K Galbraith has been on the money before, and he makes a good case here, until he says that "If we'd had a CBO in the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt could never have gotten the New Deal off the ground." We also wouldn't have a legacy of deficit spending. If we didn't have a CBO, we'd have to establish an alternative. You won't find it here.

+    +    +

A non-scientific poll among online WaPo readers shows that "fine print" gets the most votes for the dustbin of history. Sadly, virginity places fourth.

Good thing it's not scientific. (By the way, here's last year's list.)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Stupid Boy Scout Skits: Echo System

It's going to be that time of year again soon. Let's dedicate the whole week to it.

They are the mainstay of a Scout's summer camp experience, the "family night" when the parents and little siblings come and see Junior in his finest hour. Naturally, they have to put on a show. As memory serves, it may revolve around an outlandish running schtick on the part of the camp staff, among whom are those poor saps who are "volunteered" to lead the Scout sing-along. Interspersed with this are skits from the various troops camping there that week.

I thought I'd seen them all, but this one does bear a slight resemblance to one of them.

Spring Cleaning Revisited

Yesterday, we began the subject of "spring cleaning" with a list of things in the world which some people believe we could all get along without. One in particular dealt with the subject of lawns. Ed Begley Jr, Emmy Award-nominated actor and the host of the television show "Living With Ed," says:

Nationally, it's estimated that 50 to 70 percent of residential water use goes toward landscaping, most of it to water lawns ... looking at one yard, this isn't a big deal, but nationwide, an estimated 20 to 30 million acres of land is covered by lawns.

He's absolutely right. One of the last things I ever wanted in a house I bought, is a big lawn. It's unproductive land, its greatest byproduct is pollen, and its greatest achievement is isolating you from your neighbors. That's three of the many reasons I'm attracted to townhouses, and in particular, my own neighborhood in southern Arlington.

I get asked from time to time, “Hey, Mister Black Hat Guy, I want to live the agrarian-Catholic-Chesterbelloc-counter-cultural-distributist-homeschooling lifestyle, but I've got a wife and seven kids to worry about, and I need to be near my miserable excuse for a job.” My first reaction is, what, only seven? Then I suggest they bloom where they're planted.

Ryan Mitchell of The Tiny Life found Jules, Justin, Anais, and Jordanne Dervaes in Pasadena, California. They have a solution for you back-to-the-landers stuck in the city. Take a look at the video clip, and watch the transformation begin between 2:25 and 2:30.

Then go to their website:

Tomorrow, we'll go over the other items on the List of Twelve Things The World Could Do Without, and find out how well (or how badly) our parade of prognosticators did.