Friday, December 30, 2005

My top picks for 2005

Lotta people have blogs. And they have a unique way of chattering. They are part of a phenomenon that is being called “the long tail.” They are getting more buzz than traditional media these days. Of course they try to do traditional media things from time to time, and end of year lists is one of those things.

No different am I - I have been doing a music list [The Veneberal Proud Truth Music Awards] on my blogs for a few years including last year. This is the year the music ground down to 16 rpm. Stuff was not as good. Which is not to say I didn’t hear a lot of great music, it just didn’t much of it fall into the boundaries of Jan – Dec 2005.

My top pick and a lot other peoples’ – big white traditional media and long black tail media alike -- top pick comes from within the confines of the year and doesn’t. It’s the “Thelonius Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall.” Released this year, the CD comprises a 1957 concert recording for the Voice of America that was misplaced and forgotten and recently discovered. So we are in Rod Serling Twilight Zone territory with this one. The are two giants from a time when there were giants. They are taking the stage. With different musical cores, they make beautiful music together. Monk dismembers and remembers tunes with a fabulously abstract conception. Coltrane in a few months of steady gigs has absorbed the ethos and is busting at the seams with his own musical notions. It’s great, and the lostness and foundess of it adds tonic. Call it abstract expressionism.

At that point the ‘CD’s of the year’ list breaks down for me. All I can point to is numbers, cuts of CDs. No full fledged CDs impressed me that much.

I guess going with songs rather than full album makes sense. It is in the age of iPod, which is really only a slight remove to the days of the 45, singles and hits that held sway before the days of Sgt. Pepper, Morrison Hotel, and Planet Waves [when a handful of artists were actually capable of producing full formed LPs].

But continuing my picks to click. Let’s have a drum roll for Fiona Apple’s “Extraordinary Machine.”

She is a wordsmith and puts her personality in her singing. Off beat rhythm. The music is much more creative than what you hear in pop these days by a long way. String section, winds including oboe, xylophone and .. prize fight bell.

Before she sings that bell rings, and well it got my attention.

I certainly havent been shopping for any new shoes
I certainly haven’t been spreading myself around
I still only travel by foot, and by foot it’s a slow climb
But I am good at being uncomfortable so I cant stop changing all the time.

Fiona....don’t know how to describe it but whole album doesnt live up for me to the title track but sure is intersting. It’s Sgt. Pepper chords or maybe Magical Mystery Tour progressions...maybe early [Mary Hopkins] Apple [ha!] era sound actually, certainly clever instrumentation. It’s that Beatles alternating chord piano sound, right? The way Jake described Extraordinary Machine musci: It's like kids music..where the different instruments take on the roles of animals..where a bell might indicate you should turn the page...where the beat is the elephants walking through the city to the circus show. Like yknow?

She gets in some pretty good licks on the old male half of humanity, but like Joey Ramone said of Maria Bartoloma, “Those eyes make everything okay.”

Now, throttling down to my third and last formal pick, Mr. Clark: Now, on our stage, it is John Prine with “Clay Pigeons” from Fair & Square. Prine is deeper and heavy than a Midwestern Moses and still light as DewChomp. He hit the later life stride with “The Missing Years,” and this one dont quite hit that bar...but like Fionna, he makes you pull the car over. This number was actually written by Blaze Foley..sure sounds like it fell off the old Prine tree.

I’m going down to the Greyhound Station
and get me a ticket to ride
I’m gonna find that lady with two or three dids
And sit down by her side.

Okay. It was a tough year for me to keep up with things. Bet I missed something! Of course, if you get out of the confines of this particular Gregorian temporal interval, there were even more good numbers, LPs, and artists. From days of yore. The Rod Serling era. Found this year Peter La Farge, Patrick Sky and the Black Elk Singers [Native Americans, all], Elmore James Capricon boxed set, “Zambita” [and more] by Gustavo Santaolalla on “The Mortorcycle Diaries”, and from a DooWop box, the immortal strains of Ruby by the Drifters.

All my love and money too
Tomorrow night
Will belong to you...

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Warmest Wishes in this holiday season and throughout the New Year

From Jack, Cecelia, and Jacob

Well we made it through another year. Still on the Hill. Jake involved with the busy activity associated with finishing high school and looking at colleges. Cecelia's group, The WOlf Cry singers, performed quite a bit..and C even made some road trips to Canada and Maine and rural Mass. With Jack's dad passing on, it was tough for Brother Mike and mother Mary. But she is at home and doing well. God bless us everyone. -J.V.

For more:
Jack's Eulogy for his father
End of the year blog notes
Musical picks of 2005

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Crusade in Europe

I try to read some history each year, usually U.S. history, often military history. This year I read Crusade in Europe.

By Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower. Amazing. Maybe someone would correct me, but it is my impression that he really wrote this – it does not have the feel of the ghost writer that often comes in to provide the voice-over for the great man.

The personality that comes through is quite similar to that which Eisenhower conveyed in public. Able. Able to create consensus. A listener. Casual. Hands in back pockets. Stern if need be. Analytical. Concerned for his troops.

But most of all the sense emerges of Eisenhower being a modern organization man.

The job for America beginning in 1940 [when Eisenhower is still a colonel] was to mobilize. Eisenhower proved adept at understanding this, and gradually - but not too gradually - bringing the forces to bear. He appreciated amphibious war, tank war, and air war. He came to appreciate all these over many years of basically boring assignments. He also was dedicated to the notion of an allied force, and ready to negotiate through fields of politic and diplomacy to make that work, while enforcing a system of single command in Europe. He worked well with George Marshal [his mentor and patron], Winston Churchill, Bernard Montgomery, George Patton, and Omar Bradley.

And all these things come through crystal clear in Crusade in Europe like a memo from one same man in a mad battlefield.

There is a style of work that culls general’s writings, histories, and biographies to find wisdom of war that can be useful today for business leaders. Gee, I wonder why. Somehow, as far as I know, the great World War II leader Eisenhower has not been identified for this treatment. Which is kind of funny. Lee and Patton have been cited so, almost unto nausea. But neither of them have the traits of the modern organization man.

Eisenhower was asked to create a general line of action mere days after Pearl Harbor.

Not brazen was Ike. Looking at the charter to lead. “The question before me was unlimited in its implications and my qualifications for approaching it were probably those of the average hard-working Army officer of my age.”

He’d gained over years of staff work an understanding of technology as applied to war making. “..I had been forced to examine world-wide military matters and to study concretely such subjects as the mobilization and composition of armies, the role of air forces and navies in war, tendencies toward mechanization, an the acute dependence of all elements of military life upon the industrial capacity of the nation. This last was to me of especial importance because of my intense belief that the large-scale motorization and mechanization and the development of air forces in unprecedented strength would characterize successful military forces of the future. ... I knew that any sane preparation for war involved also sound plans for the prompt mobilization of industry. The years devoted to work of this kind opened up to me an almost new world.” P.19

This is where the story gets going. And he carries the narrative steadily until Hitler’s final defeat.

Some bits.

Planning: “It was our duty to determine military policy in terms of objectives, requirements in men and materials for the attainment of those objectives, and the most effective means of quickly meeting these requirements.” P.35

He took his cues from Marshall: “We fell into a practice of holding at least one general review a week, during which we often sat alone to evaluate the changing situation ... Marshall’s rapid absorption of the fundamentals of a presentation, his decisiveness, and his utter refusal to entertain any thought of failure infused the whole War Department with energy and confidence. His ability to delegate authority not only expedited work but impelled every subordinate to perform beyond his own suspected capacity.” p. 40

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Good night, year

Locust plague would have been the frosting on the horrible cake of war, tsunami and hurricanes, and failed civil engineering this year. But we are still standing. Each day is a blessing. My father died in 2005, but it was sad, not tragic - he was glad to go to better world. Here, the year was palatable one day at a time. It was the year they removed the smoke coming from the pipe in the drawings in reissues of “Goodnight Moon.”

The home team won the Super Bowl. Fionna Apple created ‘Extraordinary Machine.’ I saw Mose Allison. Paul DeMark put out a record. Jeff DeMark and family actually made it here to Boston – same night Jake saw the Rolling Stones [from a rooftop near Fenway]. Jeff performed in S.F. with Gangomine in tow. Hey I am getting jazzed! No world is a failure that has friends.

These were blogs of the year for me.
Church Eulogy for my father
King of the Chicago Feedback
Super Bowl half-time dream
The Atlantic sneaks out of town
Memphis Minnie epic
I got Google in my heart for the judge

Monday, December 12, 2005

On Edgar Renteria, fire, brimstone, peanuts and Cracker Jacks

The Red Sox have quickly parted ways with shortstop Edgar Renteria. The move comes one year after he was signed with no small fanfare. A league-leading 30 errors did him in with the Fenway faithful, and all are glad he can move on, and avoid the boo birds waiting for miscues in 2006. He said the fans were more demanding than fans at his previous team, the Cardinals, but that he came to appreciate them. He seemed less enamored of the grounds’ crew.

The Globe of Boston is not too available to web linking so it is hard now to read the paper’s fairly stellar sports columnists who cover such events. I thought I’d give you a fair sampling of Bob Ryan, who wrote on Edgar’s leaving for the Braves. Ryan hit on something that I had difficulty grasping when I got here 32 years ago. That is: Why are these people so uptight?

Ryan explains why, in this comparison of St. Louis and Boston:

“They love their baseball in St. Louis, for sure, but they love it in a far different way than we do. They are, at heart, forgiving Midwesterners, not aggressive New Englanders, for whom baseball is not so much a pleasurable pastime as it is a family curse. Get this: The people in St. Louis actually go to the ballpark to have a good time, not to get in touch with their inner Cotton Mather."

Friday, December 09, 2005

Burning Pinter

Click on pic to see original sources as long as it is available.

Snow in Stockholm. The Nobelists at their session I guess no longer in their tuxedos seem to me like some kind of Universalist congress. The league of nation lives. Today for sure, as British playright Harold Pinter comes to it like Halide Silesia on the eve of deduction. The Nobel group has dynamite money to burn, and only has power over domains like physics, chemistry, literature. But there is something in the air when the awards are ceded, and the winners do their end-zone dance.

In this case the chandiliers wavered like in a small earthquake. Pinter, Big Brother like, came over video conferencing satellite.

This is writ on a day I think we could call Pinteresque, upon a Nobel ceremony that we can call Pinteresque, which I found out about on page 3 of the New York Times, Pinteresquely sandwiched in the vicinity of a story on the U.S. flight from responsibility for carbon dioxide emissions* and Macy’s and Lord and Taylor’s ads [for jewelry and suits, but you are welcome to picture Bloomingdale’s lingerie [page 4] and watches too]. Page one NYT Sec of State Rice explains what grilling is in relation to prisoner renditions.

Dressed in black, Pinter explained how an image or word can ignite his acts of composition. The goal is truth. Yet the artist cant ignore the political, he said, if the politics of the time creates a tapestry of lies, and uses language to obscure reality. It is the duty of citizens, Pinter said, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies.

Pinter is like an old Ohio Teamster with his 15 minutes on the World stage. But more power to him. Dadgummit. I think the United States is the greatest country in the world and there is nowhere else I would rather be. But my country roots for the underdog - doesn’t lord it over anyone. And the lord-it-over overdog Pinter describes today is far from a fiction.

* “There is such a thing as a global conscience, and now is the time to listen to it,” said Canada Prime Minister Paul Martin. Separately representatives from the Eskimo native culture of the Artic have filed a petition against the U.S, as unabated American emissions threaten the ice shelves from which they hunt and on which they travel.

See Playwright Takes a Prize and a Jab at U.S. - NYT, Dec. 8, 2005
See US Resists New Targets for Curbing Emissions - NYT, Dec. 8, 2005
See Pinter's speech text -

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Apropos of Ivar

Getting to my conversation with UML amigo Ivar Jacobson was not without its complications. Jacobson travels the world, and was in South Korea when I caught up with him via satellite phone. Biding time, waiting for that interview, I had a bit of fun with "Cyber Ivar," a program (Shown at Right) he has made available on his Web site that allows one to converse with a facsimile representation of the actual Ivar Jacobson.

After many years writing about computers, I finally interviewed one. And I don't hesitate in telling you, I felt like it was interviewing me. Still, an old Irish song comes to mind, and I transpose things a bit and come up with this ditty: "Ivar, we hardly knew ye." I am more glad than ever that I was actually able to talk to Jacobson through the miracle of satellite communications.

One wonders if online agents such as Cyber Ivar will someday be interviewed by virtual reporters such as Cyber Vaughan. Will those conversations be more or less illuminating? Read My dinner with Cyber Ivar on

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