those daring young yuppies in their flying SUVs …

Begin rant …

To be honest, all the SUV bashing I’ve been reading lately is starting to wear thin. It’s much too much like the BMW haters of a decade or so ago. It seems to be driven as much by envy as indignation over wasting gas.

But then it snows in Knoxville. And all those wankers who drive $40k SUVs on dry pavement all week can’t get in to work. And I start wondering if maybe the folks bashing SUV drivers are dead-on. Why are they wasting all this money on 4x4s that they’re afraid to drive when it gets a bit slippery. Grocery carts don’t need four-wheel-drive …

Here’s a little tribute to all those daring young yuppies who are staying home today because of the snow …

… end rant

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

When I taught at the University of Birmingham at Alabama, I always assigned Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” to the students. It hit close to home, and it was a good example of rhetorical method. I try to take a moment to read it every year on the King Holiday. It’s a stark reminder of the role some so-called Christian churches played during the civil rights movement, and it’s a beautiful piece of writing. I guess sitting in jail on behalf of a just cause can prove inspirational.

Here it is if you want to give it a read …

As I read it again this year, I was struck by the parallelism he uses so often in his speeches and writing. Very similar to Whitman. And very Biblical, too. Parallelism is such a great device here, signalling an equality of sentence structure and thought as he argues for equality and human rights:

“Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you no forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”

My war against the Amazon …

I always thought Amazon.com was everything Internet commerce should be. It was technologically smart and utilitarian. Comprehensive. Convenient. But when push came to shove, it came up lacking in the most important category: heart.

I bought three $50 gift certificates for my nephews and niece for Christmas 2001. For some reason, they never used them and by the time I found out and tried to help them with their order, it was one year and one day after I bought the certificates. They expire after one year.

I sent a note to Amazon. Noted I spend a lot of money with them. Asked if I could still redeem the certificates. Afterall, we’re talking one day. Loyal customer. A lot of business. I understand that businesses have rules, but good businesses know when to be slavishly adherent to rules and when to bend them. This, I argued, is a case where Amazon should cut me a break.

They disagreed. After talking via e-mail to several folks there, I realized my money was gone and they weren’t going to honor the certificates (even though they had my money). So I told them to remove me from their databases. I was taking my business elsewhere. (To their credit, they appear to have done so; I’m not getting any Amazon spam since I made that request). I figured I’d give Barnes and Nobel a shot.

But then I stumbled across an independent bookseller in Portland, Oregon: Powell’s Books. I remember visiting there when I was in Portland once. It was impressive, taking up an entire city block or so and having a very personal feel. It reminded me of the Tattered Cover in Denver.

I’ve placed my first order with them, and I’m very impressed so far. Their e-commerce engine is easy to use and flexible, and I like the flexibility built into their shopping cart. And the relatively obscure titles I was chasing were in stock. I even found used copies, which will save me some money. Next time you’re looking for a book online, give them a shot:

http://www.powells.com/

A 17th century blogger …

I’ve been reading the diaries of Samuel Pepys, as posted online in blog format. Pretty fascinating (and often mundane) stuff. Pepys (pronounced peeps) was the father of the modern British navy, but he also had a habit of writing down everything he did, day in, day out. His writings start on New Year’s Day 1660 when he was 26 and run for nine years, filling six 282 page notebooks. The New York Times had a review of a recent Pepys biography, and that’s where I first read of him. When I saw this online diary, I started reading it and got hooked. A lot of it is the mundane stuff of everyday life in the 17th century (“From thence to my father

So Many Roads …

I don’t lack for Grateful Dead CDs. But I wanted a set that compiles their best live performances. I have several of the Dick’s Picks series, but I wanted something that combines the best SONGS, not necessarily shows. After a little research, I settled on a box set, So Many Roads: 1965-1995. I’m generally not a fan of box sets. Unreleased tunes generally aren’t released for a reason. And I’m not terribly interested in rarities and alternative takes. But this one looked promising. Lots of live performances. A few from the studio. I slapped it in the six CD changer in my truck (along with Cafe Tacuba’s first album) and listened for several weeks. Overall, I like it. But there are several spots where I find myself repeatedly reaching for the “skip” button on the CD player.

— Surprisingly, I really like the early selections, circa 1965, including “Can’t Come Down” and “You Don’t Have to Ask,” Both of which didn’t made it into the regular live rotation. They’re an interesting chance to hear the Dead in its formulative stage.

— A 1988 version of “Playin’ in the Band” is everything I love about the band. It stumbles out of the gate, with Weir bungling lyrics, but then it picks up steam and starts chugging forward only to dissolve into total, beautiful chaos. This is what space was supposed to be. Not some prefab chunk of sound that is tucked before or after the drums. The great thing about Dead shows was knowing that Apollonian order could dissolve into Dionysian frenzy at any moment, and being there to revel in it when it did. This version of “Playin’ in the Band” fits the bill.

— I catch myself skipping everything that has Brent Mydland singing lead on it. I never liked him much in that roll, though I love his keyboard work. (I’ll never forget his sound during “Sampson and Delilah” at one particularly serpentine Civic Arena show in the early ’80s; it echoed in my head for WEEKS afterward.)

— Don’t have much use for disc 5 at all. I’ve always found “Terrapin” to be somewhat tedious, and most of the ’90s Dead I’ve heard was as listless as Garcia himself during those years.

— Surprisingly (again), the long Pigpen blues jams don’t do it for me. They get repetitive and start spinning their wheels. I really think I like him much better in the context of their more psychedelic sound.

In the end, I guess I need to get into recording my own CDs and put together a few CDs with my favorite live tunes. This set is good, but it wasn’t really what I was after.

That Old Ace in the Hole

Just finished Annie Proulx’s latest novel, set in the Texas Panhandle. As always, she does an incredible job of painting characters. Her sense of the grotesque rivals Flannery O’Connor, and her ability to weave words into living people never fails to amaze me. “He had a sharp Aztec nose, fluffy black hair and black eyes like those in a taxidermist’s drawer.” Love that image. She seldom reverts to cliche in her similies and metaphors. She also does a great job of portraying Panhandle Texans, warts and all, without turning them into caricatures. My one disappointment was the end of “That Old Ace in the Hole.” It felt sort of anticlimactic, perhaps too “tidy.” I actually dreamed a different ending last night. Then, in a dream within a dream, I awoke and realized the “new” novel ending I’d just dreamed was the real finish, and that the disappointing ending was the “Hollywood” ending used for the movie version. Guess I’ve been watching too many bleak anti-Hollywood films on IFC and Sundance.

Regardless, I highly recommend the book, and all of her works. Great stuff. She’s definitely my favorite contemporary writer.

Ho ho humbug

Thanks to Tivo, I’ve been watching all those Christmas specials that used to hypnotize me as a child. In fact, I watched Charlie Brown bungle the big Christmas tree purchase multiple times, at the urging of Anita’s 4-year-old daughter, Emma. The Grinch, Frosty, Snow Miser/Heat Miser … it brought back a flood of Christmas memories. It’s amazing how much these images and sounds are intertwined with my recollections of Christmas past. I remember sitting up late, watching Christmas specials on our little black and white TV, waiting for my postman father to return home late from delivering holiday mail. Most vividly, I remember that Norelco commercial, with Santa riding an electric shaver across the snow.

I guess that says something about the commercialization of Christmas. I was also amazed at how this was a recurring theme in many of the specials. Charlie Brown already was hitting commercialism head-on in 1965. The Grinch made his pitch in 1966. I wonder what they

Dear Saddam …

Haven’t added anything to this in a long while. This one is worth checking out. Apparently, someone managed to hack into the e-mail account that Iraq uses for Saddam Hussein. This story from Wired details some of the mail that’s been sent to Saddam. Some of it’s totally amazing — offers of how to create chemical weapons to use against the U.S., etc. Sometimes I wonder …