Thursday, March 31, 2011

Unlike Father, Unlike Son

In a recent interview for the BBC, Ron Reagan, Jr, son of the late President, admonished political conservatives in America for making his father "a fetish object for the far right."

"Who else are they going to remember that way? Richard Nixon? I don't think so. Warren Harding? Maybe. But he is a fetish object for the far right, he's sort of the rubber bustier of the far right -- you know, they all have to go and touch him, as it were."

Warren Harding? The man who once told his confidants that he never should have been elected, that he was never right for the job? Oh, no, Junior. History has been far kinder to Nixon, if those born after his time can believe that.

Let us suppose that his is a fair assessment. Back home in Cincinnati, the Cross County Highway was renamed the "Ronald Reagan Highway," for no apparent good reason, and the guy wasn't even dead yet. Washington National Airport was renamed "Washington Ronald Reagan National Airport." This might have been to honor his firing en masse of the air traffic controllers who went on strike during his administration, but we doubt it. There have also been proposals to erect a Reagan Memorial on the National Mall, and to put his image on a twenty-dollar bill (in which case, say goodbye to the hero of the Battle of New Orleans, President Andrew "Old Hickory" Jackson). Given all that and more, it might be worth reminding Junior, that it is only because of any such tribute to his late father, that he continues to be interviewed about him, or damn near anything, for that matter. Rather ironic, don't you think?

Or don't you?

Like Father, Like Son?

(More random thoughts of varying degrees of import on a Thursday evening.)

Paul is coming to DC this weekend to tend bar at his old stomping ground, Wonderland (or is it The Looking Glass Lounge? He used to work them both). If you're in DC and are looking for where the party is on Saturday and/or Sunday night, click on either name and you'll find it. He and I may or may not connect, as his schedule is pretty tight. One round trip ticket here for a weekend, and the trip more than pays for itself, since he can make more in DC than an entire week down in Atlanta. (Are we surprised that Washington is where the big money is?) That's how he spends his breaks from school.

There are rare moments between a father and a son, where the latter is positioned to provide timely wisdom for the former. Once he had a falling out with someone, and this guy he couldn't particularly stand told him: “Does this person have anything you value, anything to which you aspire?” Paul had to say no. “F@#$ him, then, you don’t need him.“ Rather pithy advice, but lately I needed to be reminded of that.

“Kids say the darndest things,” even once they are grown. Here's something he posted on his Tumblr page:

“Here’s some crazy $#@t: I just read that some of the bloodiest skirmishes in the Civil War’s Battle of Atlanta were fought right outside my new apartment.”

Wait til I tell him about Sherman's March!

Guitar Workshop: I Fought the Law (and the Law Won)

We did an installment last September for Guitar Workshop, and this one in particular, what with all the recent talk about fighting the law, and the law either winning or losing, depending on whether you're Joe Sixpack or the President of the United States, and we decided, hey, let's do that one again, so here goes ...

“I Fought the Law (and the Law Won)” was written by Sonny Curtis in 1959. He recorded it with The Crickets that year, taking the place of Buddy Holly (as if anyone could, right?) after the latter's unfortunate demise earlier that year. But the most famous rendition came at the end of 1965, when the Bobby Fuller Four recorded it, and performed it on nationwide television, as seen here. (I know, I know, don't forget the version by The Clash in 1979. Whatever.) Notice the rhythm guitar break in the first clip. Any flattop flogger can play chords and call himself a "rhythm guitarist." It's the ones who can work the whole fingerboard who make the grade.

Watch this next clip for a closer view of the action, provided by some guy in a tee-shirt that says "More Cowbell." (NOTE: The previous demo has been removed from YouTube. It can happen.) There are basically three barre chords here. During the verses we see the F barre chord in the third position for the G chord, and the B-flat barre chord played in the third and fifth positions for the C and D chords, respectively. The third barre chord is the basic D chord, although it's not used much. Sometimes it is played for one beat, in the interlude between the verses, so the D will sound "lower" than the barre. It is also used once early on in the solo break.

But pay attention to the thumb of the left hand. Some guys will use it to finger the sixth string. Our subject is using it to dampen the sixth and fifth strings, which are not being utilized here. The result is a sort of "partial barre chord," which some players prefer. This is how Bobby Fuller does it for the most part (as you'll see when he does the break). Like I said, some players find it more convenient.

This is a good exercise for the intermediate player, one with a little experience working up and down the neck. If you're patient enough, it can be a good starting tool as well.

Rock on.

Remembering Terri

On this day in 2005, Terri Schiavo died, after being deprived of nutrition through a feeding tube. This action followed the very questionable decision of doctors that she was in a "persistent vegetative state." It was also at the urging of her husband, who by that time was already living with a common-law wife, through whom he had children. At the time, and even now, Florida law (765.309) prohibits euthanasia, and Federal law (Title 28 35.130(e)(2)) prohibits the refusal of food and water.

Thanks in large part to the incompetence of the Governor of Florida, and the President of the United States (both named "Bush"), and the current trend in the judiciary of "legislating from the bench," the Terri Schiavo case proved without question, that this Republic is no longer under the rule of law, but under fiat. There is nothing to prevent our leaders from doing as they wish (including going to war without approval), in violation of that law. We have done nothing to stop them.

The fault, to paraphrase the Bard, lies not only in our government, but in ourselves.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

America’s Kinetic Moment

We found this clip from Jon Stewart's The Daily Show on Comedy Central. It simply can't wait.

Even now, it is still a shock to hear a comedian with a general audience and a fairly broad appeal rip into the current President, who still more or less gets a pass from the press (if not as much as during the campaign), and who is still lauded by Hollywood celebrities. Throughout this entire episode, there is a form of what this writer would call "antics with semantics." We're not actually at war, we're performing a "kinetic" -- what the hell IS it with that word? -- military action. We had to stop a despot from massacring his own people.

Well, you drop a bomb from high enough, and sooner or later you'll do the same thing anyway. That's why you only do it as a last resort, and in the face of imminent threat. Barring that, how can a Catholic in uniform participate in this action with a clear conscience?


Art-For-Art’s-Sake Theatre: The Avett Brothers Revisited

Time once again for our usual midday Wednesday feature. Last week, we featured the music video for a song by The Avett Brothers. We got some positive feedback on that ...

Their lyrics are very rich and layered with Christian themes, and a deepness not found in most mainstream music. And they are only getting better as they mature.

... and decided to explore this subject a bit further.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, a song or other work of art does not have to scream "I love Jesus!" in your face. Part of the idea of Catholicism inculcating the culture, is not in how obviously the artist expresses spiritual themes, but in how the themes are part of the artist himself. What's more, it is not only in what he explores, but in an increasingly oversexed culture, what he chooses not to explore. The way he composes, the way he interacts with his colleagues, the way he goes about his business, the way he plants a garden, all this ad majorem Dei gloriam.

And this can be done without wearing a rosary around your neck, for all the world to see, don't you think?

Or don't you?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

From the state that brought you Joe Biden ...

... comes this episode of last Friday, from a state government with enough time on their hands to mess with the heads of their residents. Delaware Department of Transportation crews escorted by state police are seen tearing down a basketball hoop, as they did all over two neighborhoods in Claymont, amid protests from residents who say the nets aren't harming anyone. You can hear at one point where the woman representating for the state police deliberately misleads the couple, into thinking they can keep their property. Later they learn, oh, yeah, you can still keep it, but you have to come get it first.

That does it, people. From now on, I'm always taking the detour around the toll booth on I-95/I-295 whenever I go through Delaware. That'll show 'em!

The rest of the story is here. (Camera: Daniel Sato. Editor: Daniel Sato. Photos: Robert Craig. Shown here without permission or shame.)

UPDATE 1: We have learned that state police is launching an internal investigation into the incident. There is also the prospect that state law concerning right-of-way was indeed violated -- to be exact, Title 17, Section 525 of the Delaware State Code. More details, and continually-updated stunning commentary and witty repartee, can be found here.

UPDATE 2: This doesn't change anything. I'm still taking that detour.

Some Disenchanted Evening

(Merely random thoughts on a Tuesday morning.)

As this is written, there are at least four stories that have been roughed out, and just screaming to be brought to fruition. The demands they make compete with the usual spring ritual of home improvements. Some of those projects involve money, which is not so much the problem as time. Is there ever enough?

In looking through a wooden box of photographs and other keepsakes, I came across a copy of an article for which I had been looking for years. Since I know how to reach the author, and it cannot be found online, I'm going to write them and ask for permission to reprint it here in its entirety. I have written little if anything about the late Pope John Paul II's "Theology of the Body." Most pieces on the subject do little to foster understanding of the concept. What's worse, they treat it as some sort of novelty, when in fact much of it is rooted in the traditional teaching of the Church. This article I found, is the one I wish I had written.

Yesterday, I reconnected with two classmates from grade school via Facebook. One I was united with only a few years ago, the other I thought was dead. As we both agreed, those reports were exaggerated.

But with good news, there is often disappointment, and I have had that recently. I had to part company with a friend. We had become rather close in a brief period of time, and so the falling out was even more poignant. I have little to regret over anything I did or failed to do, but that doesn't make it easier. They do not know that I pray for them and their family nearly every day.

As we reach the mid-point of Lent, we call to mind the fleeting nature of this world, in the face of occurrences that never make sense, at least not in this life.

And so it goes ...

Monday, March 28, 2011

My “Kinetic” Moment

Tonight, the President of the United States speaks to the nation, about his decision to involve us in a ("kinetic") military action overseas, against a nation which does not pose an imminent threat, which is not currently engaged (so far as we know) in any attempt to lend aid and/or comfort to our enemies, all with little if any consultation from members of the legislative branch, let alone their approval. Furthermore, there is reason to believe, that such action may be indirectly lending aid and/or comfort to our enemies in another venue.

And ... all this, only a few years after publicly challenging the constitutionality of any other president who would do the same.

Thank God for high-end cable.

Skanks in Training

Abercrombie & Fitch has long been known for marketing provocative clothing to the teen market. Now they're taking it to new heights, by pushing padded bikini tops to "tweens" -- basically, the preadolescent stage, about nine to twelve years, usually applied to girls. With the trend towards the sexualization of girls at an increasingly younger age, this product could reach girls in preschool.

As the videos here will show, WalMart is also getting in on the action, marketing cosmetic products to girls of the same age group.

Our second clip features commentary from a professor in the UK (starts at 0:41), warning about the adverse effects of this trend. A more detailed analysis is provided by ABC News, courtesy of Dr Michael Bradley, child psychologist and author of When Things Get Crazy With Your Teen. As embedding the video proved difficult, it can be accessed here. It begins about halfway into the clip.

And of course, we're always on the lookout for more suitable (as in, age appropriate) alternatives. Discuss.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Obligatory Rebecca Black Post: “Never wanted to be no ... pop singer ...”

There are an increasing number of pop recordings that make their mark solely on the internet, in particular on YouTube. The latest "viral hit" is a song called “Friday” written by two guys who run a recording studio and talent agency in Los Angeles, by the names of Clarence Jey and Patrice Wilson, and their latest protege, Rebecca Black, a thirteen-year-old American singer. From what we can gather, Black began modeling and acting in talent competitions from the time she was about eight years old. A friend told her about the ARK Music Factory, and with her mother putting down a couple of grand as a flat fee, the rest is pop history. Or something.

The "package" included the recording of two pre-written songs of her choice. What is interesting is that, of the two, she chose the one she did because ...

... the other song was about adult love – I haven't experienced that yet. 'Friday' is about hanging out with friends, having fun. I felt like it was my personality in that song.

The other thing she couldn't possibly have experienced, is driving a car, or having classmates who do. Nobody -- not CNN, not Rolling Stone, not the internet trending "expert" trotted out by ABC's Good Morning America -- has made note of the fact, that we are watching a bunch of eighth-graders driving around in cars! Is this why California has a budget crisis? Too many insurance risks? The very thought of it makes you wish the whole state would slide into the ocean already.

The early 1960s saw a lot of these pre-manufactured teen sensations. You can find them on old recordings of ABC's American Bandstand from that period. They feature Dick Clark introducing a young boy or girl, lip-syncing a song they couldn't have possibly written while a bunch of white kids shake around, and then you never hear from them again. When popular music went through a paradigm shift in the latter part of that decade, there were fewer compromises with commercialism. That didn't last long once there was money in being "anti-establishment." Funny how that works, huh?

Speaking of white kids, that's the second issue we have with this whole thing. Virtually all of the kids in the video are white. (From what we can tell, Ms Black is half-Latino, through her mother's side.) Aside from that, there is one black girl riding shotgun in the night scene, and one older black guy providing the obligatory hip-hop bridge. (Remember one of those beach bunny movies, the one where a young "Little Stevie Wonder" makes a cameo appearance? Yeah, that's what I mean.) We learn that this is Patrice Wilson, one of the song's co-writers and co-producers. One might suppose that Wilson is on to get some face time for himself on the ride to fame and fortune, or to give these lily-white kiddies in the story some "street cred." Be that as it may, the idea of a grown man going on about following a bunch of kids around on a school bus is just plain wrong!

Reaction to the song has been mixed. It has already spawned a number of parodies, some better than others, the one featured here being the best. As of today, however, the real deal has gotten over 54 million hits on YouTube, and over one million comments, over ninety percent of them negative. Jim Edwards of BNET and Doug Gross of CNN remarked that the rap break from the considerably older rapper was "creepy." (FWIW, so did Paul.) But get this; Simon Crowell actually liked it -- he thinks Black is a gutsy thing for going through with this and hanging in there; can't argue with that -- not to mention Rolling Stone!

When you see this video, you immediately notice everything that it does "wrong", but it actually gets a lot of things about pop music right, if just by accident.

While any artistic criticism must be duly noted, it isn't any worse than any other one-hit wonder to come down the pike in the history of pop music. It's not obscene, it's not sexually exploitative, and nobody's "busting a cap" on anyone else. It's the basic California schtick of kids out having fun. We can't wait for the Weird Al Yankovic version to come out. And you just know it will.

We also wonder what John Mellencamp would say. After all, he "never wanted to hang out after the show."

Friday, March 25, 2011

FAMW: 24 Hours in the Life of Paul

The following are "tweets" sent out by my son Paul Alexander (shown here at his apartment in Atlanta with his pet chihuahua) in the last 24 hours. They offer a glimpse into that twisted universe that is uniquely his own (without a glimpse into the names or IDs of the other parties involved, to protect the innocent), and illustrate all the more why that little punk-@$$ kid still cracks me up, and why I love him.

Thursday 9:42pm
@xxxxx take it from someone who moved 10 hrs away: hauling that stuff to Seattle will be the most miserable experience of your life.

Thursday 9:43pm
@_XX nooo! You promised me the moon, Xxxxxxxx! THE MOON!

Friday 2:11pm
Congrats @XxxxXxxxxxxxxxx, can't wait to get some ramen when I'm back in DC. And thanks for the barber chair Xxxx, I've still got it.

(Oh yeah, he has this big old barber chair sitting in his apartment. Eventually he will have it restored, and his fiancee still won't comprehend. Her loss ...)

Friday 2:29pm
Internet in my apartment! Netflix! Multiplayer Halo! I've finally joined the first world.

Friday 4:07pm
Who doesn't respond to Craigslist inquiries two days later? Hellooo dude, I want to buy your $#!t. Stop making this so hard.

Friday 4:09pm
I didn't say, "hey I have some questions about your $#!t," I definitely said "HEY you know that $#!t youre selling? I'LL BUY IT. GET AT ME."

Friday 4:11pm
Are you having second thoughts about parting ways with your Chrome cycling hip pouch? Maybe you should take that ad down, bud.

Like I said, that little punk-@$$ kid still cracks me up. So it goes for this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Steve Martin and the Clawhammer Comeback

This was the scene last Monday night on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," where his guest was comedian Steve Martin, who is also an excellent banjoist.

As a boy visiting my Grandma Alexander in the 1960s, I would go up to the attic, where I would find an old Stewart banjo. It belonged to my dad's Uncle Otto, who used to play it in dance bands around western Ohio nearly a century ago. The tuning gears were broken, the strings were gone, and there was no skin on the head. It was quite heavy for a little boy, but I used to pretend to play it. My sister Mary got it in the mid-70s, and learned to play bluegrass on it before buying herself a Gibson designed for bluegrass. By 1979, the old Stewart was mine, and I've been pretending on it ever since.

Most of us associate the five-string banjo with bluegrass music, and Martin has been a capable performer with the instrument for years. But contrary to conventional wisdom, bluegrass is a relatively new phenomenon, dating back only to the 1940s. In this clip, Martin introduces (or re-introduces, you might say) the older, more authentic "old-time" mountain variety of playing, known as the “clawhammer” style. This is not the first time that Martin has performed this style publicly. It was also a staple of his comedy tours, in his heyday throughout the 1970s. In this second clip, dating from somewhere during that time, he plays a medley of "Loch Lomond" and "Sally Ann."

David Holt gives us a brief tutorial on the clawhammer style, how it breaks down, how to play it, how to apply it. While bluegrass developed around the microphone and the "high lonesome sound" of harmony, its precursor in the Appalachian mountains evolved around accompanying the fiddle, whether in front-porch playing, or at Saturday night square dancing. The rhythmic quality of old-time music is different from bluegrass, and no one in their right mind would use the latter to accompany a square dance (which doesn't mean it never happens).

Steve Martin produced an album called "The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo" in which he plays a variety of tunes, some by himself, some with other artists. He also does a medley in the old-time mountain style. It won a Grammy Award in 2009 for Best Bluegrass Album. For the Colbert Report appearance, Martin was joined by his latest collaborators, The Steep Canyon Rangers. Here they are together at the 2010 New Orleans Jazzfest.

Guitar Workshop: Math and Music Theory

Our semi-regular midday Thursday feature does not always amount to a "guitar lesson," but will on occasion delve into areas which the practicing guitarist will encounter at one time or another.

We rarely get the opportunity to discuss the relationship between mathematics and music, but there really is one. Most would associate this relationship with the division of whole notes into half notes, quarter notes, and so on, combined with varying degrees of complexity to form a whole equal to the sum of its parts. But it is more than the sum of its parts, as seen here in this video commemorating Pi Day last week.

If nothing else, it shows how the left and right sides of the brain can work together.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Springtime in “The Land of Steady Habits”

Originally, Sal was going to be in the Philippines right about now, for about a month. So I planned this sojourn up the coast as a suitable diversion in her absence. Then the needs of one of her clients took precedent -- she is a "certified personal care assistant,"
a caregiver -- and her departure was delayed until mid-April. But last Thursday morning, with plans already made, I left anyway. Alone.

I hadn't been through Connecticut since August of '03, when I passed through on the way to Rhode Island for a weekend festival. So up I-95 I went, arriving at my hotel a few miles north of Norwich by about seven in the evening. It was Saint Paddy's Day, and I arrived in a little village a few miles from the hotel, where I was invited to the traditional corned-beef-and-cabbage dinner.

Last August, we reported on the publishing of a book titled 11 On My Own, the saga of a devout Catholic mother of eleven whose husband left her for another woman. I had the privilege of breaking bread once again with the author, Kristin Bothur, only this time at her home, and with nine of her children who still live there, ages five to eighteen. Inasmuch as I am a sucker for women and children who laugh at all of my jokes, they were a real party waiting to happen.

The next evening (Friday), we all went to Stations of the Cross. Then they let me buy pizza for all of them (vegetarian, of course), followed by them returning the favor, by taking me bowling with them. I used to go bowling as a kid, and it was a common activity with the parish CYO group. The last time I tried it was for my eighteenth birthday. The highest score I ever got in those days was 125. But that was then, and this is now, and I was even worse that night. But I managed to score one strike and two spares over the course of two games, thus avoiding total humiliation.

The events of that evening took place in Willimantic, which was once a city, but is now known as a "census designated place" within the Town of Windham, which is in the County of Windham. Connecticut has a strange way of running themselves. They have villages within towns, the latter being more like townships where I come from, but which are the basic form of local government, except for the cities. And the eight counties don't really have functioning governments, their boundaries only existing on paper, outside of provision for county sheriffs for juridical purposes, which makes you wonder why they bother with them. And outside of cities, nearly all local police is done by the State Police.

But back to Willimantic. It is also known as "Thread City" because it had an enormous thread factory there, which is now a huge condominium -- quite an ingenious solution, actually. In addition, one of their bridges has frogs sitting on top of giant thread spools, in honor of the legendary Windham Frog Fight of 1754, a rather curious phenomenon which can be explained by clicking here. And even then ...

Earlier that day, I went north for antiquing. Putnam is a town (which actually is a town) in the northeast corner of the state, and is known for its many antique stores and consignment shops. The largest antique store there is three stories high, not counting the basement. I could have spent the entire afternoon there, and I admit I was sorely tempted beyond my spending limit, but I held fast. The best part about that place was the old guys who hung out there. I think some of them actually work there, while others just come in to hang around the old cracker barrel. I should have stayed longer, and I could have made up my own Lake Woebegon story. I already had the perfect cast of small town characters.

The next day (Saturday), I went to visit one of two Indian Reservations in the state. I hadn't realized there were any reservations in Connecticut, but both the Mohegan and the Mashantucket-Pequot each have sovereign jurisdiction over theirs, and both operate luxurious casinos, which is common among Indian tribes, and not just the Seminoles in Florida, as the Feds don't get a piece of the action. I visited the Mashantucket-Pequot Museum, where I went on a tour of a recreated Pequot village. I really have to go back again so I can see the movies, which are supposed to be excellent. And besides, I only had two hours there before they closed, because the museum is nearly impossible to find amidst all the casino stuff.

The hotel where I stayed was really the best. It wasn't exactly near a lot of stuff, but it was strategically located for my itinerary. And the pool and hot tub were open until midnight, and opened at six in the morning, which is great for someone spending most of the day away from the hotel. And after a few weeks of palace intrigue at my job, luxuriating in a hot tub was a welcome respite.

Overall, I had the best time, and I expect I will bring Sal with me when I return in the fall. Leaving Connecticut was very difficult, even though I wasn't there for more than a few days. I found myself quite taken with the Bothur children. They renewed my appreciation of board games, which I haven't played in a long time. And they all wanted to take turns riding in my car. One incident of note, was when I spent much of Friday evening at the bowling alley conversing with eleven-year-old Cassidy. They were all adorable, of course. And closer to home, I was always grateful that God had given me a son. And maybe Cassidy was just at the age to be especially precocious, and it would undoubtedly pass. But for a brief interlude, I found myself wishing that I had been blessed with a daughter as well.

That does not happen very often. No, actually ... never.

Art-For-Art’s-Sake Theatre: The Avett Brothers “Head Full Of Doubt/Road Full Of Promise”

Time once again for our usual midday Wednesday feature.

Scott and Seth Avett are two brothers on banjo and guitar, respectively, as they front the five-piece band known as The Avett Brothers, based in Concord, North Carolina. Their late grandfather, Clegg Avett, was a Methodist minister. It was through the reading of his collection of sermons that the brothers were driven to explore spiritual themes through their work.

This is the video of the song they performed at the 2011 Grammy Awards. Their sound is described by the San Francisco Chronicle as “the heavy sadness of Townes Van Zandt, the light pop concision of Buddy Holly, the tuneful jangle of the Beatles, the raw energy of the Ramones.”

Light pop concision??? Sure. Whatever.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Guitar Workshop: D Modal Tuning (DADGAD)

You just got back from the local Irish pub for the usual Saint Paddy's Day soiree, and there was a band there with a guitar player doing an unusual tuning, and you said to yourself, “Dude, I have GOT to learn how he does that!” Well, if you can master this in the next 24 hours, you may be ready for when the festivities continue over the weekend (and you know they will), and on to Gaelic festivals all summer. Welcome to the world of Celtic backup guitar playing with “DADGAD” or D Modal tuning.

This tuning gets its name from how the guitar is tuned, from the sixth to the first fret -- D, A, D, G, A, and D. Only the sixth, second, and first strings are tuned down a whole step. In Part 1, instructor Rob Schumann gives an overall view of the chord system. As most Irish fiddle tunes are in the key of D, making D Modal tuning the staple for playing second fiddle to -- well, the fiddle. This clip shows how it goes from low to high, to give you the basic idea.

In Part 2, the instructor goes into more detail. While there is a barre chord system at work here, some of the strings remain open regardless of position. This is to maintain the "drone" quality that is distinct to the genre. In Part 3, the focus turns to the minor scale. This clip ends with a rendering of an unnamed original composition, which while not strictly Irish, does show the possibilities for ambient "new age" genre.

But, hey, you wanted to know about that Irish thing, right? So here's a clip of the brother/sister duo of Qristina and Quinn Bachand performing a medley of Scottish (!!!) tunes -- Haste to the Wedding, Banish Misfortune, Little Miss Susan Cooper, and The Wedding Reel -- at "The Creamery" Ceilidh Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, on August 14, 2007.

Party on, while there's still time.

My Annual Über-Celtic Moment

Longtime readers of man with black hat have read most of this before, but we have some new people in our audience.

So the rest of you, humor me.

Today the Church celebrates the feast of Saint Patrick (387-493), the patron saint of Ireland. It is on the Emerald Isle that the day was traditionally a religious holiday, when the bars would close and the churches would be full out of obligation. Only in recent years has the Irish feast seen a more rebellious spirit, complete with parades and green beer, which is definitely an American influence.

(I can't imagine why Europeans hate us so much, can you?)

Growing up in a postwar Catholic environment, we were taught that there were two kinds of people; those who were Irish, and those who wish they were. My own family fell into neither category. Yet there were the Irish nuns who favored the Irish kids, including the notorious Sister Mary Mel, who wasn't above calling some miscreant a "jackass." I came to dismiss the whole notion of St Paddy's Day -- indeed, the whole notion of being Irish -- as a license for certain people to be more arrogant and obnoxious than they already were.

Then I went to college, where I discovered Irish music. I mean the real thing, not the over-romanticized "Christmas-in-Killarney-on-St-Patrick's-in-June" that passed itself off as genuine the whole time. I simply could not get enough of it. I used to watch the St Patrick's Day parade in Cincinnati, which included the carrying of the statue of the Saint, which the local chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians would "steal" in the middle of night, from what was once the German parish in Mount Adams. (Long story.) There was also the local Irish dance school, with boys and girls who never imagined that, a quarter century later, they could do it for fame and fortune in shows like "Riverdance."

Who knew?

By the end of the 1970s I spent Sunday evenings working at a coffeehouse, and I helped broker a deal that brought Clannad to town on their first American tour. I even gave harpist/vocalist Máire Brennan (pronounced MOY-uh) a ride back to where she was staying. Otherwise shy and aloof, she managed to laugh at my jokes. That seemed to matter at the time.

I saw Máire again in 1987, in a music video on VH1, for a song entitled "Something to Believe In." She was also the haunting voice in the Volkswagen commercials. Naturally she's world-famous now, and probably wouldn't return my calls. Although she did write me a long and possibly heartfelt note when she autographed my copy of their album. I say "possibly" because it was in Gaelic, so I'll never know for sure, especially since it was among my collection that was stolen from my apartment in Georgetown back in '94. (Bob, if you're reading this, tell your rich white trash buddies that I'd really like to have it back. Hey, don't get defensive, pal; the neighbors all thought YOU did it!) Máire also came out with a book in 2001 entitled "The Other Side of the Rainbow." She continues to tour and so on, but I knew her when.

(Sigh ...) Anyway, back to the '70s.

While the whole world (including "Sal") was going bonkers over disco, the feast became an annual ritual, of spending most of the accompanying weekend hanging out at Hap's Irish Pub in the Hyde Park section of Cincinnati, or Arnold's Bar and Grill downtown. Even when I moved to Washington in 1980, I learned Irish dancing (if not quite what appears in the above video), Irish folk tales, and the like. But the upscale bars in the Nation's capital weren't as quaint as the neighborhood pubs in my old hometown, and I was under no illusions that this heritage was one that I could claim for my own.

In 1982, that claim became even more elusive. I married a gal whose grandparents came over from Slovakia, and who grew up hearing Slovak around the house. This pretty much killed any enthusiasm for all things Irish around our house. By the time eastern Europeans came to America in the late 19th and early 20th century, the Irish were the big fish in the little blue-collar pond, and didn't mind letting the "hunkies" in the coal towns and factory neighborhoods know it. This latency got a reprieve when the marriage tanked in 1990.

Then one night -- it was about 1998, I think -- I was interviewed for a writing job by a priest who edited a major Catholic periodical. A native of Dublin, he reminded me of what really mattered:

“Patrick was not Irish, and on his Feast Day, we do not celebrate being Irish; we celebrate being Catholic.”

I always knew that my father's side came from a small town near Verdun, in the Lorraine province of France. But in recent years, we learned that before the 18th century, the Alexandre line was expatriated from Scotland, a result of the Rebellion when England overtook them. I was later to find out, that the man known as Maganus Sucatus was of a Roman family, born in Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in that part of Great Britain that is now Scotland. Sooooo... if not being Irish were not enough, Patrick -- as he was known in later years, being of the Roman "patrician" class, and a "patriarch" to his spiritual charges -- might well be claimed by the Scots as one of their own.

As this is written, I am on the road to New England for a few days. But once I check into the hotel, one highlight of the day will be the Annual Irish Poetry Reading. This is when I call my folks in Ohio on this day every year, and with their speakerphone on, recite the following piece by Benjamin Hapgood Burt in a very bad Irish brogue:

One evening in October, when I was one-third sober,
    An' taking home a "load" with manly pride;
My poor feet began to stutter, so I lay down in the gutter,
    And a pig came up an' lay down by my side;
Then we sang "It's all fair weather when good fellows get together,"
    Till a lady passing by was heard to say:
"You can tell a man who 'boozes' by the company he chooses"
    And the pig got up and slowly walked away.

Today, those who are Irish, or who wish they were, will dine on Irish lamb stew. When I can ever find it amidst my stuff, I use this occasion to wear a button with the words of William Butler Yeats: “I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree.” I will listen to Celtic music the entire day. When I reach my destination, I will dine on corned beef and cabbage (although, according to this last video, I should know better). Then, if I can get it on pay-per-view at the hotel, I'll probably watch Mel Gibson in Braveheart. Who cares if William Wallace was Scottish? No one cares if Patrick is, sort of, do they?

After all, "The Apostle of Ireland" is properly claimed by Catholics everywhere, whether those Micks like it or not.

“Agus fagaimid siud mar ata se.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Reaching Out to Japan

Just a final word as yours truly is packing to head for the highway.

We have more dramatic footage here from the previous week, showing the effects of the earthquake and the tsunami in Japan. Earlier today, we mentioned the President's appeal to donate to any one of a number of organizations, linked at the website of the State Department's Agency for International Development.

Another option is in your own hands, assuming they're holding a cellphone. The American Red Cross is accepting donations via text messaging. Simply text REDCROSS to 90999, then confirm with the reply message, and ten dollars will go directly to Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami Relief.

Okay, where's that toothbrush?

The President’s Own ... Basketball Picks for 2011

The President makes an appeal for Americans to go to the Agency for International Development website to give donations toward the relief efforts in Japan, then proceeds to the business at hand. One of the few things about this President to which this writer actually looks forward, is when he makes his annual picks for the college basketball championships. It is here that he exudes an air of confidence that makes him actually appear ... well, presidential. The man just loves to talk basketball.

And who can hold that against him? (The Boston Herald has more details, including The Prez's women's picks.)

Art-For-Art’s-Sake Theatre: “Lights will guide you home ...”

Time once again for our regular Wednesday midday feature. This was from the final episode of this past season of ABC's "The Sing Off" on December 20, 2010. It was a most moving rendition of Coldplay's “Fix You” which reached number eighteen on Billboard in 2005. Coldplay vocalist Chris Martin tells its story:

My father-in-law Bruce Paltrow bought this big keyboard just before he died. No one had ever plugged it in. I plugged it in, and there was this incredible sound I'd never heard before. All these songs poured out from this one sound. Something has to inspire you, and something else takes over. It's very cloudy ... probably the most important song we've ever written.

Yeah, I could see that.

Monday, March 14, 2011


Today is Pi Day, as it is the fourteenth day of the third month of the year (rendered as 3/14 here in the States).

"Pi" of course, is the mathematical constant whose value is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, one that appears in many mathematical expressions. In other words, diameter (d) times pi (π) equals circumference (c). It is rendered as 3.14, or to be more exact, 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510582 ...

Well, that's the other thing. Not only has it never been rendered exactly to the last decimal point, but such rendering shows no discernible pattern (in other words, a repeating series of numbers). This means, if you asked a computer right now, to calculate the exact number, it would continue as long as the computer is left on, and the hard drive doesn't crash.

It can come in handy, too, like in that episode of Star Trek, where Mister Spock kept a renegade computer totally preoccupied, by instructing it to calculate the value of pi, thus giving Captain Kirk the time he needed to once again save the universe. Or something.

Archimedes of Syracuse (287 - 212 BC) was the Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, astronomer, and all-around geek (shown here in a 1620 painting by Domenico Fetti baking his first pi), who first approximated the value of pi, using what is known as the "method of exhaustion," which means he kept working on it until he was exhausted, and he still didn't finish.

Today, we remember his achievement every year, according to New Scientist magazine, by actually -- you guessed it -- baking a pie.

Well, I think we have all learned something here.

Early Scouting History on Facebook

As crazy as it sounds (or looks, actually), somebody put together what the early years of the Scouting movement, including its introduction to the United States, would have looked like had Facebook been around at the time. It can be found here. Had something like this been possible over a century ago, I imagine it would have been easier to find the "Unknown Scout," whose good turn to an American businessman lost in the London fog inspired the introduction of Scouting across the pond.

We will never know ...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Common Sense Gun Control

More than two months after the tragic events in Tucson, the President is calling for "common sense gun control." To him this means more laws on the books to render the Second Amendment pretty meaningless.

But there's a better way that really IS grounded in common sense, and it's the one I learned as a Boy Scout. Always be certain of your target, and never point a weapon at anything you don't intend to blow the living daylights out of. Having established this intention, assume that the weapon is fully loaded, and capable of deadly force, even if you know for a fact that it is completely empty.

Now, for the bullet points on effective gun control.

   Thumb and three fingers
   Hold lightly
   Breathe in
   Breathe out halfway
   Squeeze slowly
   Follow through
   Aim small miss small

In summation, the most common sense form of gun control ... is a steady hand.

(H/T to "dhunter.")

“Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert ...”

On September 23, 2002, I wrote the following entry:

It has become necessary to be away from publishing for forty days. But I shall return. Stay tuned ...

(Notice the lack of fanfare. Now then ...)

As the Prophets of old wandered into the desert to be alone with God, as His Son our Lord began His earthly mission in the same way, as did the early Church fathers dating to the fifth century -- the ancient tradition of leaving the noise of the world behind, if only for a respite, is the message of the Gospel today, in both the Western and Eastern church, for the first Sunday of Lent. Thus we learn how any penance should begin: alone before our Maker. At that time almost nine years ago, I didn't write anything in this journal for the entire time in question. Considering the circumstances, which have long since passed, it was the right thing to do.

As a boy, I would take to my bicycle after school, to wander aimlessly the streets of the village where I grew up. The sun would begin to set, and I would know it was time to return. In the aftermath of my wife leaving me in 1990, I would take to the highway for a weekend every four to six weeks. Maybe there was a folk dance weekend in Pittsburgh, or a farm in eastern Ohio where people were camping and playing music. It was an escape.

But sooner or later, we must return from the desert, to face the reality of life, and our obligations. We are prepared for that return, depending upon the manner in which we left, don't you think?

Or don't you?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Scouting’s Good Turn in ... Libya!

Amidst the chaos of civil war, much of the public services provided by the Libyan government are gone, especially in areas being taken over by the rebels. In the town of Benghazi, one group has stepped in to fill the gap. So goes this Voice of America news report:

The Boy Scouts of Libya, around 3,500 in the town of Benghazi, are organized, and able. They find themselves called upon to take on tasks that many would expect of the state - or at least more professional, trained volunteers ... whether it is working in the bloody mayhem of a hospital or directing traffic because no one trusts anyone in a government uniform, in many cases it is now scouts who are sorting out the international medical aid that has flooded in.

As an Eagle Scout and a Scout Commissioner, it is not only an inspiration for this writer to watch these young men in action, but also gratifying. The honor with which they serve reflects upon all of us in the Scouting movement. Those who wear the uniform, who take the oath, who follow the Scout Oath and Law, salute these fine young men. And the Tip of the Black Hat goes to the men and boys of the Boy Scouts of Libya.

Friday, March 11, 2011

FAMW: Mormons Gone Wild

You can see it coming a mile away by now, can't you?

Latter-Day Saints don't even drink coffee, but at least they approve of dancing. It was last Saturday night, when Brigham Young University was playing the University of Wyoming in Marriott Center, when a break during the second half was cause for ... you guessed it, just an excuse for this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.

Now, where have we heard this song before?

The News From Japan

In the last 24 hours, there has been a major earthquake in Japan. The shockwaves have sent tsunami warnings across the North Pacific Ocean, as far east as Hawaii, which was on high alert during the night. In this clip from an English-language newscast of NHK World (via NBC News), the effects of the quake and the tsunami are graphically portrayed. Halfway through the clip, the viewer can see the waves move quickly across the countryside, as much as ten kilometers (about seven miles) inland.

In the Philippines, the effects of the tsunami are expected to hit the easternmost provinces throughout the nation. Metro Manila itself is on the west side of southern Luzon, tucked in along the Bay, and should not be seriously affected.

Stay tuned ...

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

“I’m (still) on a mission from God!” (or, Why I Am Not Giving Up Blogging For Lent)

“Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.”

By now, any number of participants in the Catholic blogosphere have announced, with some measure of fanfare, that they are giving up blogging for Lent. We're supposed to admire them. You're welcome to if you'd like (and in reading some of them over the years, they'd be doing us all a favor), but as for me, what follows is why I'm not giving up blogging for Lent. In addition, while not a complete treatise on the subject, this piece will serve to clear up some heretofore little-known aspects of the season.

The Christian calendar has traditionally had numerous periods of fasting in anticipation of great feasts. In some parts of Europe, the "Saint Martin's Fast" would begin on the 11th of November ("Martinmas"), and continue until Christmas. Officially, however, the Roman (Latin) tradition would not begin the penitential season until the four Sundays before Christmas, the time of which is known as "Advent," or "the Coming." There were also the "Ember Days," three days of penance each occurring on a quarterly basis throughout the year. But it was the season of Lent which is known as "The Great Fast" of the Year of Grace.

People assume that Lent is the only time for giving up anything, when it isn't. People also assume that giving up anything involves making a big to-do about it, when it shouldn't. Attending daily Mass is a popular exercise, and in most major cities where there are urban parishes near a business district, there will be an extra scheduled weekday Mass -- and extra time for confessions -- during the season. These things don't always call attention to themselves. They shouldn't.

But don't take MY word for it.

At that time, Jesus said to his disciples: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” sees what is hidden will repay you.” (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18, the Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday)

And speaking of the season, it doesn't necessarily start right away. The traditional Roman calendar precedes Lent with three Sundays collectively known as "Septuagesima" (literally "seventy days" but actually "within the octave of seventy days"). They were termed "Septuagesima Sunday," "Sexagesima Sunday," and "Quinquagesima Sunday," respectively. As with Lent, the priest wears violet vestments, the Gloria is not sung, and the Tract replaces the Alleluia before the Gospel. But unlike Lent, the musical accompaniment is not restricted, and flowers and other suitable decor can be placed on the reredos behind the altar, as normally done during the year.

Meanwhile, on the eastern side of the tracks, the Byzantine Rite has five special Sundays preceding their "Great Fast": "Zacchaeus Sunday" (if only in the Slavic churches), "The Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee," "The Sunday of the Prodigal Son," "Meatfare Sunday" (or "The Sunday of the Last Judgment," when the faithful begin abstaining from meat), and "Cheesefare Sunday" (when the faithful begin abstaining from dairy products, which for them would include eggs, don't ask me why). The following day is when the the Fast begins in the East, and is generally known as "Clean Monday."

In addition, there was a time when weddings were not permitted during Advent or Lent, unless there was a serious reason. And if one was allowed, the altar and sanctuary could not be decorated as it could otherwise be for the occasion. (Try that today, and see a young lady get in touch with her inner Bridezilla, eh?)

So right now you're saying, “Pray tell us, O Black Hatted One, as you are a veritable fountain of arcane and useless knowledge, how does it explain why you're not giving up blogging for Lent?”

Well, my little minions, there is much, much more to Lent than giving up things, never mind making a big-@$$ whoop-dee-do out of it. There is a significance in the marking of sacred time, something lost on a people whose solemnities all get moved to the nearest Sunday. But you wouldn't know all that if there was no one to tell you along the way, now, would you? Duh, guess not! Besides, I had to work in all that arcane and useless knowledge somehow.

To the extent that mwbh identifies itself as "Catholic," its author is engaged in what could be considered a propagation of the Faith. And in case it isn't obvious by now, you don't give up an apostolate for Lent, you big dummy!

But still, you must be wondering if yours truly is actually giving up anything for Lent. Well, yes, and it's something really important.

And I'm not tellin.'

Art-For-Art’s-Sake Theatre: Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango”

Time once again for our usual midday Wednesday feature. This is the music video “Libertango” by the Grammy Award winning vocal group, The Swingle Singers, featuring the music of Astor Piazzolla. It is arranged by Kineret Erez and directed by Nathan Theys. NO Instruments are used in this film!

One last tango as the season of penance begins.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Obligatory Mardi Gras Moment

The "official" Mardi Gras flag has the "official" colors of purple (justice), gold (power), and green (faith). They were said to have been chosen by the Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff, when he visited New Orleans in 1872. I also read once that they were the royal colors of the Bourbon family, still the rightful heirs to the French throne (depending on who you ask).

I've spent part of the day -- when not trying to get the attention of someone who needs something right away, but just can't understand what the holdup is and doesn't have time to be told -- listening to Keith Frank, who retired from touring about a year ago, probably to spend time with his family, the one he used to take out on the road. (Obviously that wasn't enough.) I've thought about making pancakes tonight, but by the time I get home, I'm pretty lazy. If you're not, you can try this recipe from ...

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons white sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup milk
3 eggs
1/3 cup butter, melted

... which includes butter and eggs, both traditionally considered dairy products (which includes eggs for some reason), and so traditionally abstained from during Lent (and still are in the Eastern churches).

I won't be staying out late tonight. There's dancing, to be sure, but "Sal" is working an evening shift, and I quit going to dances alone. I actually wore Mardi Gras beads to the office today, in the hopes that they would put me in a better mood. Didn't work. Maybe next year.

Right now, I'm thinking about IHOP for dinner ...

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Hey, Wisconsin, you busy tomorrow?

Because if you're not, those crybabies from the public employee unions left quite a mess in the state capitol building. All those nasty signs comparing Walker to Hitler, combined with pizza boxes and Chinese take-out containers, can really add up. So various "tea party" supporters from around the state will converge in Madison at 1:00 pm local time, to get the job done. And if you're not a supporter of people who think they're "Taxed Enough Already" -- where else did you think the name came from, you big dummy? -- well, who gives a rat's patootie? It's your state, and your state capitol. Be a good citizen and do a good turn for the public interest.

I hear they're working for free.

(THIS JUST IN: We found the Facebook page: “It’s Time to Take Out the Trash!” H/T to "INC.")

Friday, March 04, 2011

FAMW: Foul Play

I was sitting in my favorite sports bar today, having lunch, and they've got five or six big-screen TVs going on all at once. I've suggested closed captioning several times, but the idea just sort of lays there. So did this ball, in just the wrong place, in a match between the University of Connecticut and West Virginia University. It's the best we can do for this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.


We take this opportunity to welcome some new visitors; in this instance, those Scouters who are members of the Scouts-L Discussion Forum. We have a number of pieces here at mwbh concerning our adventures with, and insights on Scouting, not all of them towing the party line, but all of them (hopefully) of some interest.

There will be more in the year to come, as the centennial years continue to visit us -- for this year, that of the Boy Scout Handbook, and Boys Life magazine.

See you on the trail!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

“Let me google that for you.”

As a boy, the kids in the neighborhood called me a "walking, talking encyclopedia." Even back then, I had been called worse.

These days, it's easy to look smarter than you really are. I could rattle off on some deep subject, and you'd think I had memorized the subject at hand completely. Actually, in most cases this would be true, which is evident by the number of books occupying Chez Alexandre. But, on some rare occasion, I'm looking stuff up while I'm writing down stuff. No, that is not the same as copying.

Steve Skojec brought this to my attention today: For all those people who find it more convenient to bother you with their question rather than google it for themselves.

Go ahead, click on it. You know you want to.

Obligatory Charlie Sheen Moment

We've all heard the news about Carlos Irwin Estevez (his real name), how he's going on a bender with drugs and hookers and what-not, to the point where his children have been taken from him, to the custody of their mother, and to where his father, actor Martin Sheen, is contemplating an intervention. Or something. He's got one thing going for him; he's getting more compassion than Mel Gibson for bad behavior, and Mel didn't appear to escape the consequences nearly as much.

I'm not sure whether I agree with everything Brendan O'Neill has written about Sheen, but his commentary in the Telegraph is the most refreshing to date, especially when he ends by saying that ...

Sheen nicely reminds us that we alone are responsible for our behaviour, and that we alone can improve ourselves, when we’re ready.

He's not ready. Film at 11. Discuss.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011


175 years ago today, 59 delegates from the various colonies in the Mexican province of Texas, meeting at Washington-on-the-Brazos, signed the Texas Declaration of Independence, declaring Texas to be a free and sovereign Republic. The Republic of Texas would be a sovereign nation for almost a decade, before its admission in 1845 as the twenty-eight of these United States.

One-hundred-thirty years after its admission, in the summer of 1975, I was supposed to end my sophomore year at the University of Cincinnati, with entry into their internship program. I would alternate academic quarters of study, with work in a related field, until I graduated. The process was to begin that summer. But a slick talking "career counselor" who promised the moon wasn't enough during a recession, and I was basically left to twist in the wind, without so much as a "sorry about that" letter from Mister Smooth.

My father was an executive at Procter and Gamble, in the headquarters building at Sixth and Sycamore Streets downtown. He knew the guy who was in charge of the "sample distribution program," where free samples of new products would be hung door-to-door by traveling crews. It also served as the training program for Field Advertising Representatives, who would take these crews from one town to another, hiring at unemployment offices as needed. I worked towns in southern Ohio, western West Virginia, and for most of that summer, eastern Texas.

It was a little like being in the Army. If the "sergeant" was a jerk, there wasn't much you could do about it. You didn't have much choice over who you bunked with either. And while moving through towns like Kilgore, Palestine, and Tyler, and staying in motels that charged five or ten dollars a night (which came out of our meager living allowance), I worked with quite an assortment of characters. We had the weekends off, though. I took a bus to Dallas by myself (something I had never done before) to visit a friend from the old neighborhood, and enjoyed my first handling of a sailboat. I went to where President Kennedy was shot, saw both the Book Depository Building and the "grassy knoll." And in a "wet" town called Longview, in the middle of a dry county, I bought my first hard liquor at the age of twenty.

Among the important life lessons I learned were, that high school football was the highest form of culture in that part of the world, that there really was such a thing as "the other side of the tracks," and that one part of that other side was still referred to as a "n****rtown" in polite company. I also learned that you could get shot for stepping on someone's property. "Beware of the dog" took on new meaning.

Through it all, I had three things going for me. I was a bonded "driver's assistant," so I could drive company vehicles, nearly all the Texans I ever met were the salt of the earth, and all the jerks I worked for thought my dad was a bigger big shot with the company than he really was.

And when I got back, I had something else going for me, that came with the determination never to get stuck in a situation like that again. So when I got a hot tip about a shot at one of the finest studios in town, the George Tassian Organization, I jumped at it, and interviewed with an up-and-coming art director named Dan Bittman.

I got the job.

But then I was called into the Career Counseling office on campus. Mister Smooth was replaced by Mister Bearded Guy. He said that I would have to turn down the job, and give the Department a chance to let them interview some of the "other" students. By that, he meant the star pupils, the teacher's pets, the public-relations whiz kids. That's when, for the next ten minutes, I tore Mister Bearded Guy a new one.

I kept the job.

As I remember standing up to that poseur, I honestly believe that I had brought back just a little piece of the Lone Star State with me. And so, finally, I want to take this opportunity to thank her, and her proud, don't-take-no-$#!t-from-nobody kind of people.

“All political power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their benefit. The faith of the people of Texas stands pledged to the preservation of a republican form of government, and, subject to this limitation only, they have at all times the inalienable right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think expedient.” (Constitution of the State of Texas, Article 1, Section 2)

God bless Texas!