Friday, August 29, 2008

No Country For Old Men

At least not today.

Feeling all defensive about my admission that I've listened to Toby Keith, here's what's on shuffle today:

1. Fountains of Wayne
2. Fastball
3. Spoon
4. New Order
5. The Strokes
6. The Eels
7. Pinback

Gotta have variety.

The Breakup

A few of you have asked about the band, Twelve Cents Shy. I'm sorry to say that the band is dead. As in no more. As in shuffled off to join the choir invisible.

Why? Lots of reasons, really, but bands tend to have a pretty short shelf life. Someone said that being in a band is like being married to five other people and that's not much of an exaggeration.

But I was beginning to feel like this was a second job and that's not what I signed up for. I thought the music was drifting into easy listening and some numbers definitely had that Holiday Inn lounge feel to them. It didn't happen overnight, but over time, and I just wasn't inspired any more. So I told the other band members that I wanted to do something else.

Like all breakups, I had hopes that we could part amicably and for a few days it looked like that was going to work. Then someone did something really stupid and before you could say Ono, the whole mishigoss caught the express train for Uglytown.

I'll be the first to say that I could have, and should have, comported myself with a bit more maturity, but maturity has never been my strong suit, as you may have noticed.

So, there will be no farewell performance. I said I would show up and play, but by then, too many things had been said and done to make it an enjoyable night.

And the worst part? I've lost a really good friend and at my age, you don't make friends with the same ease as you did in grade school.

So I'm looking for something else to do. Maybe I'll just stay home and play the ukulele. Maybe I'll start a country band.

For now, who knows? But I should have seen it coming. After all, we did play the blues.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

What country and crime have in common.

Hard to believe, I know, but every now and then, more often lately, I can't stand to hear another news story. I don't care if it's about approaching Iranian nukes, George Bush overcoming his fear of horses or just the weather forecast, some days the sound of Maura Liason's voice makes my ears bleed.

When that happens, I hit the radio button that takes me to my guilty pleasure, country music.

I've been a secret listener for years and for a long trip across the big flat middle of the US, nothing beats country at 4 a.m. when you're cranking on caffeine and dexedrine and the headlights of the closest car look like dim and distant stars.

I grew up in a time when AM radio could go from Roger Miller to the Stones, to Ray Charles and the Beatles, all in a half hour block. So I was listening to country music before I knew I was listening to country music. Before my first kiss, I could sing all the lyrics of Miller's "King of the Road."

A few weeks ago, I turned away from the news and landed smack on Miranda Lambert singing a song called Gunpowder and Lead and the chorus blew me away:

I'm goin' home, gonna load my shotgun
Wait by the door and light a cigarette
He wants a fight well now he's got one
He ain't seen me crazy yet

"He ain't seen me crazy yet." Goddamn, that's good, and it's as close to noir as any writer could hope to get. That the song is from an album called "Crazy ex-Girlfriend" just makes it that much better.

In the following weeks, every time I listened, I heard echoes of themes from crime writing. Like this from Toby Keith (my listening is unspoiled by any political views the singer may or may not have. I don't give a fuck.) It's a song about getting older and I understand TK took the recurring title line from something Burt Reynolds said to him, and that makes it all the better.

I ain't as good as I once was
I got a few years on me now
But there was a time back in my prime
When I could really lay it down

What man hasn't felt his youth slip away but out of pride, hung onto some shred of the guy he used to be. It's something I'm writing about now in my ongoing WIP.

And is there any better advice for a writer of crime fiction than this by Brooks and Dunn?

If you're world's got somethin missin
Just put a girl in it

Country music has its share of weepy numbers. Right now there's a maudlin piece of crap called You Can Let Go Now where a woman sings to her father that title line, first as a little girl learning to ride a bike. As soon as you hear it, you know that by the end of the song, that old man is going to be breathing his last in a hospital room. Maudlin and predictable, not something any writer should emulate.

There's a lot of God and Jesus in country, and that can be OK. Merle Haggard did "Crying Holy" and Carrie Underwood does a number called "Take the Wheel, Jesus," which I'm ashamed to admit I like. It's a weeper, yes, but it isn't nearly the crapfest that "You Can Let Go Now" is.

And I'll be the last one to condemn a little honest sentiment and faith in our characters. Just don't turn it into a Valerie Bertinelli movie.

I looked up the top 100 country music tunes and one list looked like this, and while I could argue that "Crazy" is a better selection from Pasty Cline, I can't complain about her being in second place after "Ring of Fire."

Here's the entire top 10.

1. Ring of Fire - Johnny Cash
2. Sweet Dreams - Patsy Cline
3. Mama Tried - Merle Haggard
4. He Stopped Loving Her Today - George Jones
5. Whiskey River - Willie Nelson
6. I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry
7. Faded Love - Bob Wills
8. Orange Blossom Special - Johnny Cash
9. King of the Road - Roger Miller
10. Cryin' Time - Ray Charles

So, tell me, what do you like to hear when you're on a long drive on a lonesome road and the only thing on your mind is a broken love or that convenience store just ahead, open and empty and just begging to be robbed?

Talk to me.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Why I Hate Television News, part 678749386456392.

I went out to play music last night and had one really great set before someone came into the bar, sucked all the joy out of evening and I had to leave. But that's another story for another day.

I got home early enough to hear Hillary's speech, and I thought she did a really good job. Regular readers will know that I'm not a big fan of Hillary's. I really disliked some of the slimier aspects of her primary campaign, like the as-far-as-I-know moment on 60 Minutes, but last night she delivered a really good speech. It was nicely written and well-delivered.

I woke up this morning, walked Duncan in the rain, and then turned on the TV to watch some blather while I did mindless exercisey motions against my better judgement. And what comes on the TV? People picking apart Hillary's speech like a circle of shaman combing through buffalo dung looking for hints of the future. I mean, holy shit.

As I flicked around, trying to find anything that wouldn't make me want to poke my eyes out, I ran across the CBS Morning Twaddle with some asshole (an asshole with a book, of course) actually divining Hillary's intent by reading her goddamn body language. HER GODDAMN BODY LANGUAGE.

And amazingly, he can discern subtle nuances in Hillary's true intent based on what he can see above the fucking podium. Sweeet Jesus, have we, as a nation, become so mouth-breathingly stupified that this is what passes for political discourse on a major network?

Holy Mother of God. Somebody shoot me.
Somebody shoot me now.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Donny, you're out of your element.

Ryan Stevens, Boy Genius, sent me a link to this story about one of my all-time favorite movies, and if you have to ask which one, you haven't been paying attention.

The story is about how popular the movie has become with those crazy kids today and the line that really got me was from Steve Buscemi, a guy who has been in about a zillion movies, including 2 or 3 hundred Coen Brothers' films in which Buscemi's character always dies.

About TBL, Buscemi said, "I'll pass three guys on the street, and they may just give me a nod. They don't even have to say a line from the movie. I know what movie they're thinking about."

That's some influential movie.

Thanks, Ryan. Yes, you made it into The Planet again, and no, I don't need a toe.

Update: I missed the big news completely. This, my friends is the awesome 10th Anniversary Edition of TBL, served up in its own bowling ball. Is this cool or what?

Dead bees, George Bush and the liberal media.

A story in our local paper, the Raleigh N&O, tells about a suit filed by Germans against Bayer, the makers of an insecticide that many people think are killing the honey bees.

If you're not familiar with what's called colony collapse, you should be. Bees are necessary to produce a huge amount of the food we eat. The news story said that every third mouthful we consume is available for our masticatory delight because of busy little bees. No pollinating bees means trouble, my friend, with a capital T and that rhymes with bee, and that stands for DEAD.

People like to eat. You can strip them of their rights, cancel their favorite TV shows, even convince them to wear funny hats backwards, but snatch away that Ring Ding and you've got riots, anarchy and social upheaval.

So, as bees die and people bandy about words like famine, researchers think they've found the culprit. It's one of the best selling insecticides in the world, worth more than a billion dollars to Bayer.

So, why isn't the use of this insecticide at least suspended until we know for certain? Did I mention that it's worth a billion dollars a year?

But surely, with calamity at hand our EPA would step in. Wouldn't they? No, not if George Bush is president. Because under George Bush, any environmental news that might harm a big corporate donor is tucked away in the Department of We Have No Idea What You're Talking About. That's what lawyers for American enironmental groups think is happening here.

OK, now I know you're asking, where does our liberal media fit in this story? Our paper, the Raleigh N&O, is often the whipping boy for conservatives who think it's a little too lefty. So why am I picking on them?

Because they buried this story, a story whose ramifications include the potential for famine, calamity and the destruction of a huge swath of America's food production, on page 7B.

But why would the N&O do this? Call me a cynic, but it may be because the headquarters for Bayer CropScience, the group responsible for these insecticides, is right down the road in our own Research Triangle Park.

Did I mention a billion dollars? I thought I did.

Think of that the next time you hear a buzzing in your ear. That's not a honey bee, that's the government whispering not to worry, that everything is under control and the only things you have to fear are people who are not like you.

By the way, did you know that John McCain was a POW?

See, don't you feel better already?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Where to start, where to start...

So much has happened since I had a moment to log on with anything more than a passing shot at my friends over at First Offenders and Naked Authors.

Where to start... Joe Biden is Obama's running mate. I've always liked Joe, runaway gums and all. And I love the GOP spin. OH NO! Obama picked Biden, proving he's insecure about foreign affairs!

Uh, maybe it's just me, but I see Obama's bringing Biden aboard a sign of self-confidence and maturity.

Maturity. Wouldn't it be nice to have a Commander in Chief who didn't conduct foreign policy with "bring 'em on"?

Then we had John McCain forgetting how many houses he owned. Now, Jenny does all the financial stuff in our house, and I couldn't tell you how much money we have in the bank. I only know that when I give my bartender my debit card, it goes through. That makes me and my bartender happy.

But I know how many houses we own. We own one. We also own two cars, one couch, two guitars and a ukulele. Again, I love the right wing spin on this.

"This is a guy who lived in one house for five and a half years -- in prison," some bozo named Brian Rogers huffed. Because, you know, being a POW excuses everything, even McCain entering his wife into the topless Miss Buffalo Chip contest. I'm not quite certain how being a POW excuses that, but I'm assured that it does.

Then it was revealed that the cost for keeping all of McCain's houses runs about a quarter mil a year. That may be chump change for the McCains, but for most of us, that's some serious coin. Someone at Matt Yglesia's blog broke it down and it came out to 8 people for 8 houses meant each housekeeper made about 37 grand a year. That's not bad for a housekeeper.

But then, against my better judgment, I gave it more thought. My wife and I live in a very small house, only 1200 square feet. And we're not the most fastidious housekeepers in the world.* But even with this lax, some would say slovenly, lifestyle, Jenny and I spend several hours cleaning the house every week.

And my guess, judging just from her prom picture up there, is that Cindy McCain is the kind of tight-assed, white-glove employer who would make my old drill sergeant look like a filthy hippie.

So one person per house to clean, launder, cut the grass, weed the flower beds, etc? For 37K? I don't think so, not when McCain is paying people 50 bucks an hour to pick lettuce in Yuma.

So that means he must hire contractors, maybe off the books, to come in and tidy up. And what kind of people do you get when you hire contractors to do your landscaping and house keeping? Ask Mitt Romney. He had so many illegal Mexicans working around his house that his neighbors started calling it the Alamo.

I'm just sayin.'

Other news: We now turn to the world of music and find that Twelve Cents Shy has lost their bass player and their harp player. That's right, ladies and gentlemen, if you want to catch Twelve Cents Shy with this line-up, our last show will be at Papa Mojo's in Durham on September 13th.

There's so much more to talk about, but I've got to run. That will teach me to take a couple weeks off.

Later this week: What crime writers and country music have in common.

*Our apologies to overnight guests who have had to wade through the drifts of dog hair, cat hair, dust, dirt and general 21st century effluvia two humans and assorted critters can generate in a small space.

Monday, August 18, 2008

I've been a little busy, as you've noticed.

I know you're not getting your money's worth lately, but I'm busy keeping the wheels of commerce greased and running.

At least I'm not like these guys.

Or these guys.

That's right. I'm here for ya, baby.

Check back in a few days.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Is there a place in the mall I can get that coat?

Isaac Hayes-Theme From Shaft (Live de 1972)
by Ophim-Baker

Bernie Mac checked out and now Isaac Hayes has joined him.

The kids know him as Chef from South Park, but for me, Mr. Hayes will always be the Hot Buttered Soul Man who gave us this.

Just listen to that hi-hat sizzle.

Can I have this woman's job?

Have you noticed how many pundits are the children of well-connected people? Jonah Goldberg of the National Review is the son of Lucienne Goldberg and he got famous just by using his living room to tape Monica Lewinsky.

Bill Kristol, one of the wrongest men on the planet, nearly as wrong as David Brooks who is widely known as the Prince of Wrong, rode his father's intellectual coattails into punditry and is now a staple of Fox News and other outlets for bloviated air.

Cokie Roberts is daughter to famously missing politician Hale Boggs. She's the darling of NPR and staple of ABC News, appearing every Sunday on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, partnered with the chinchilla-pated Sam Donaldson, making a duo that is so goddamn vacuous they make George Will seem sane.

Yesterday and again this morning on her weekly NPR slot, Cokie opined about Obama's vacation:

"...I know his grandmother lives in Hawaii and I know Hawaii is a state, but it has the look of him going off to some sort of foreign, exotic place. He should be at Myrtle Beach and if he’s going to take a vacation at this time. I just think this is not the time to do that."

Yeah, that's right. Obama should have gone to Myrtle-fucking-Beach, the butt crack of the Eastern shore, so he wouldn't look so exotic. Maybe stopped of at South of the Border on the way, got hisself a cool Pedro sombrero and a trunk full of illegal fireworks.

Because no real American goes to Hawaii for vacation. That's just crazy.

And whose grandmother lives in Hawaii, anyway? Doesn't she know that, by law, grandmothers live in Florida?

At least Cokie knows that Hawaii is a state, so I guess we should be grateful for that.

Honest to God, could an addled, rabid marmoset be any more inane? And could an addled marmoset replace that patch of roadkill on Sam Donaldson's spotted noggin? And wouldn't Addled Marmoset make a great band name?

How do these people get their jobs? Is there an opening? Because if it takes saying stupid shit like this every Sunday morning to pull down the big bucks, I'll make the sacrifice and get drunk earlier.

I can start right away.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Change? Spare change?

This is Donny. He's a little over two and he's a service dog.

My sister, Becky, trained Donny. I can't imagine how you can live with a dog and train him for two years and then give him away, but she did. And she does this for nothing.

This is Donny with Virginia, the lucky woman who got him. He's already saved her life at least once, I understand. Pretty cool for a critter with no thumbs.

Becky volunteers with Therapetics. It's a non-profit who finds people like my sister who are capable of training a dog, and then they match the dog with the person who needs him.

Why, other than being proud of my sister, am I telling you this? Because you just might want to give a couple of tax deductible bucks to Therapetics. Or, you can find a service animal group near you, and you can shake loose a few bucks for them.

I know, everybody's asking for money these days, and there might be more important things you could donate to, but if you can, I'd appreciate it.

Before we leave, I just wanted to show you my sister's dogs, Charlie, Sam and Jada.

Now, wasn't this a nice break from politics? I thought so.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Totally hot!

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

What have we come to when Paris Hilton is being more adult about this election than John McCain?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Let's talk about terrorists.

This is Richard Jewell. He's dead now, but when he was alive, he was an unexpected and under-appreciated hero. A humble man with what's been described as a deferential manner, Jewell was the security guard who first spotted the bomb that Eric Rudolph left in a crowded park during Atlanta's Olympics.

Within days, the FBI let it leak that Jewell was "a person of interest" in the bombing. He fit the profile. That is, someone at the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit thought Jewell was a single loser with a love of law enforcement. The hell that the cops and the press put Jewell through in the following years, I wouldn't wish on the biggest ad weasel I've ever known. (Yes, Mr. Mooth, I'm talking about you.)

Eric Rudolph's bomb killed one person and injured 111 more. He killed that woman to make a point about abortion and homosexuals.

People like Eric Rudolph are seriously twisted.

This is Stephen Hatfill.

Hatfill was a scientist working on biological weapons at Fort Detrick, Md. Someone sent envelopes full of anthrax to liberals. Again, innocent people died, this time postal workers, because someone wanted to make a point.

About what I don't know.

The FBI fingered Hatfill for the job. He was later declared innocent and we, the taxpayers, had to pay him close to 6 million bucks because we, as a government, fucked up his life in a major way.

Now the FBI has decided that Bruce Ivens, a scientist who worked on biological weapons at Fort Detrick was really the guy. Inconveniently, Ivens killed himself this week.

C'est la vie.

This is Abdul Rahim Dost and his brother Badr Zaman Badr.

They spent 3 years being interrogated by grim men in small rooms at Guantanamo. They were among what Donald Rumsfeld once described as "the worst of the worst."

What was their crime? They wrote a satirical piece about Bill Clinton. The interrogators didn't get the joke. Interrogators aren't chosen for their deep appreciation of satire.

The brothers were released after someone finally got the joke. They were lucky. They were educated. Badr holds a master's degree in English lit so he could speak with his interrogators, a real plus considering they weren't allowed a lawyer.

If writing satire about Bill Clinton is enough to get you tossed into Gitmo, the staff of the National Review should be afraid. Be very afraid.

These 4 men have one thing in common. They were all wrongly accused of terrorism. All of them had their lives disrupted, even ruined, because law enforcement made mistakes. Law enforcement people are human, after all, and will.

Which is why the accused are given such latitude in our society. They're considered innocent until proven guilty and given every chance, from lawyers to judges, bail to habeas corpus.

That is, unless you're considered an unlawful combatant, a term that is decided by one man, the Decider himself, George W. Bush.

Given his track record so far, would you want to place your freedom at the mercy of his sound judgement? I didn't think so.

The next time some dick spouts off about how liberals want to give terrorists rights, think of these men, all innocent, who were once labeled terrorists by people we thought we could trust.

Measuring hot air.

This is a tire gauge. It measures the pressure of air in your tires. Lately, it's also measured the stupid that the McCain campaign has brought to the debate about who should govern our country in the near future.

It begins with common sense advice from Barack Obama. He said one of the things an individual could do to help the energy crisis is to have the car tuned up and the tires checked. Hardly controversial.

But the right wing has exploded in derisive laughter, and the McCain campaign has seized on the little tire gauge the way the GOP laughed over those Purple Heart band-aids they passed out in 2004.

Yeah, they're funny. Ha ha. See, Kerry didn't bleed enough to be a super patriot like George Bush, the flyboy who spent his time in uniform snorting coke off an Alabama cheerleader's thigh.

Now they're saying that checking your tires is the sum total of Obama's energy policy. And this is where the stupid blossoms.

Over at The Carpetbagger Report, Steve Benen takes this apart so well that I wish I'd have written it. He suggests we take a little throw-away from one of McCain's recent speeches, one about skin cancer, and give it the GOP treatment.

McCain emphasized that skin cancer is preventable, and implored Americans to wear sunscreen, especially over the summer. What’s wrong with this advice? Not a thing. It’s a smart, sensible thing to say.

But imagine if Obama and his surrogates said the entirety of McCain’s healthcare policy is sunscreen application. McCain doesn’t really care about cancer, they could argue, he just wants everyone to run out at get some SPF 30.

Those vying to be Obama’s running mate started holding up bottles of Coppertone during their speeches, saying things like, “We want you to wear sunscreen, you know, it will very mildly improve your chances of not getting sick. But wearing sunscreen is not a healthcare policy for the United States of America.”

And about that tire gauge advice? Seems that Obama's suggestion is backed up by other left-wingers like The Energy Department, two Republican governors and NASCAR.

Sweet Jesus, this is some cynical shit, playing the voters for idiots. And according to the polls, it's working.

Somebody shoot me.

Monday, August 04, 2008

And here we thought you wouldn't support Obama because you were a racist cracker.

I don't suggest you watch more than a minute of this guy because he's truly, as they say, bugfuck crazy.

But there were a couple of things about this video that caught my attention.

First, the guy's taste in art. I mean, that's an attractive wall hanging. Where does one buy something ike that? Does Wal-Mart carry this item, and if it does, is it made in China?

Second, is the mask. You know, I've ventured into Crazytown in the past and, to a man (they're almost always men), these people operate out of overwhelming fear. Dusty Rhoades has a good piece on this over at his blog, and if you're not a regular reader of Dusty's blog, you should be.

A few days ago, Dusty wrote about the site, Confederate Yankee, a place that is filled with these whack jobs and they all seem to have a few things in common. They all have a fetishistic love of the military, although the majority of them haven't been any closer to a uniform than a Burger King paper hat. They love guns with a pornograpic zeal that I've never seen in anyone who actually, you know, has to carry one for work. And they strut in the comments section, their virtual brass balls clanging for all the other primates to hear.

But they're afraid. They fear liberals, women, foreigners, blacks, gays and, Allah help us, muslims, especially muslims. Some of them are so afraid that they operate anonymously or under names like The Purple Avenger and when you ask why, the answer is always the same: fear.

They're really afraid that someone will be angered by their bold patriotic stand and search them out and do them harm. Seriously. They're that afraid. Can you imagine living with that kind of fear every day? No wonder they're nuts.

Back to our Obamaphobe up there in the video. He reminds me of a guy we used to have on our local cable access channel that everyone called "The Stick Man." The Stick Man had this stick, see, and there was something about it that he thought was holy. If he ever explained why he thought this particular piece of wood was blessed, I didn't catch it, but he would play the camera over it with a slow erotic pan as if tracking every naked detail of Scarlet Johanson's body, and say, awestruck, "Look at it, ya'll." This video worship of The Stick would last for ten or twenty minutes with nothing more than panning the stick and the off camera voice repeating, "Look at it, ya'll, ain't it a miracle?"

YouTube has given everyone, even our masked man with the wall hanging, a voice, and that's good, I think. How the guys at Confederate Yankee see the Second Amendment, that's me with the First. I think everyone's voice should be heard. If for no other reason than to see just how fucking crazy some people are.

I mean, look at it, ya'll, ain't it a miracle?

Friday, August 01, 2008

Chuck Norris says, "Happy Birthday, Jenny."

Today is Jenny's birthday and she's 29 years old.

As most of you know, the past few years have not been easy. Throughout, Jenny has been the rock of the family. When things go south, there's no one I'd rather have on my side.

My father always said that Jenny was the best thing that ever happened to me. As usual, he was spot on.

I love you, baby. Happy birthday.