Friday, November 30, 2007

Pullman Attacked

Pullman Attacked

Perhaps, I’ve finally to gotten old enough to be wise or maybe I’m just an old, wise fool. When I observe movements to boycott movies, it reminds me of movements down through history that have banned books. As an American, unbridled access to literary works and information is one of my most cherished freedoms. I respect the right of people to choose not to read a book or not to see a certain movie, but I believe that when governmental institutions allow for literary and theatrical works to be censored in this way, a significant piece of freedom is tarnished.

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, specifically the movie version of The Golden Compass, is being attacked because Pullman, according to the censorship movement, is an atheist and killed God in the book/movie.

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series is not unknown to me. About ten years ago when The Golden Compass was released in America, my ten year old son, who was then and still is a voracious reader, picked up the book and found himself immersed in it. After he finished the book, both my wife and I read it and were blown away by the story, too.

In the book, Pullman created a reality that is eerily close to ours, yet with subtle differences. He also created parallel universes where what we view as normal would be viewed as being absurdly ridiculous. From the very beginning of his tale until the last word of that first book, I was immersed in these universes. Quite honestly, The Golden Compass is the best adolescent fantasy I’ve ever read. The ensuing volumes, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, have a relentless drive and dimension.

In addressing the contention that God is killed and that religion is attacked in the series, I would say that I disagree. Keep in mind that this is a fantasy series. The characters exist in various universes. It is true that the antagonists are members of the entrenched institutional church that rules the land with an iron-fist using the politics of fear to keep the inhabitants oppressed. However, Pullman never draws a direct correlation to any organized institutional religious group in our real world. Others outside the story frame have made those connections. The contention that God is killed is a superficial translation of the written word in my view. I the titanic battle more as the death of a mythical god, like if Zeus were overthrown (I’m sure that might displease those who still worship the Ancient Greek gods).

What I think is being lost in the turbulence of the issue is that His Dark Materials is simply a whacking good tale. Since I read through the series once, I’ve gone through and reread the books two more times which puts His Dark Materials on par with JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Tad Williams’ Otherland, CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia on my personal fantasy wall of fame.

For Another Perspective on His Dark Materials

More on Banned Books

"Books and ideas are the most effective weapons against intolerance and ignorance."
-- Lyndon Baines Johnson, February 11, 1964

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Country Cousins Come A'Visitin'

On November 24, Virginia Tech met UVA in football for another round of the annual rivalry. This year there was a lot on the line. This is a recounting of my experiences at the game, a complete Virginia Tech victory...again.

Country Cousins Come A’Visitin’

Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her: but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.

Voltaire, the great French philosopher and writer, also said, “Prejudices are what fools use for reason.” As the week of the great intrastate rivalry game approached a great sense of anticipation ruled the sport world in these parts. Media did their best to pry controversial bulletin board material from the tight-lipped players. It seemed that this time, the game would simply have to be decided on the field.

Yet, in direct contrast to the players and coaches, the fans from both sides filled message boards with flamboyantly flatulent proclamations and puffed up predictions. I suppose the fact that UVA (a.k.a. UVA-C, DSU, France) was forced to admit that the game was both a rivalry and an important event sparked the pre-game hullabaloo.

Tickets for the game at the Carl Smith Center at Scott Stadium were selling at a premium price and were hard to come by…except for the 15,000 or so Hokies who managed to find them. You could see huge sections of solid maroon and other maroon dotted all around the stadium in delightful patches. It was as if UVA-C fans wanted to share the rarified Jeffersonian air with their simpler cousins from the south. In a generous sportsmanlike gesture, DSU decided to make it an “Orange” game. Consequently, the visiting gridiron farmers from the hills felt right at home when gazing upon the organic wall of humanity in the complex modern athletic facility: fields of orange and maroon, just like their home.

On a serious note, I certainly enjoyed my visit to UVA yesterday, and not just because our football team dominated the game and deflated the Hoos. My wife and I were genuinely moved by the efforts that the institution of UVA went to show respect and compassion in light of the tragedy in April. The mass band at half time was powerful and moving. I’ve never seen 600 marching band members successfully maneuvered around a football field like that before, and their sound was excellent. The pre-game featured a moment of silence for the victims of April 16, a fly-over, a solo saxophone rendition of The Star Spangled Banner, and respectful presentations.

Even the cartoonish Cavman refused to kill the Hokiebird on the mumbojumbotron. Instead, he growled that their disagreement should be settled on the field…no cannibalistic Thanksgiving feast where Cavman vanquishes his opponent then eats him. It was all so very well done and much appreciated by my wife and me.

In addition to the actual game festivities, I was shown great hospitality by my Hoo host who led me to a delightful and friendly tailgate beside the stadium. The tailgate owner then proceeded to introduce me to the most unusual and tasty morsel I’ve ever had at a picnic. She had made pumpkin muffins with lots of butter and added cranberries. Then she halved them and placed thinly sliced turkey and ham between the halves. The result was a most delicious turkey/ham muffin.

Of course, I have to bring up some other things that I noticed or that happened to me at the game.

1. I got a charge out of the two orange painted students who passed me on my way in to the stadium. They took the time to paint clever blue ties on their chests for added detail. As they walked by me, one of them shouted in my face, “WELCOME TO UVA…WHERE REAL FOOTBALL IS PLAYED!” I just smiled and walked on.

2. I really enjoyed the UVA guy who was busted while sitting behind me. He had been drinking at the game. I’m not sure how he managed to get alcohol in to the stadium, but he managed somehow. Anyway, sometime in the second quarter, a police officer stopped by my row and stared straight at me and began motioning for me to exit. I looked at him guiltily and realized that he wasn’t speaking to me or to the two people beside me. Instead, he was after the guy behind me. Although drinking, the guy behind me was very nice and very much under control the whole game. He didn’t even throw up on me once. Anyway the cop motioned for him to leave again and said, “…and bring the bottle, too.” So he got up and with his empty fifth of Gentleman and exited the stadium. About ten minutes later, he came back and explained that when he showed the guy his military ID, the police officer just let him come back to his seat (minus the bottle). Anyway in the third quarter, the guy left and returned about twenty minutes later with another fifth of amber colored liquid. Where he went, how he got it…I have no clue.

3. It turns out that there were Hokies everywhere. One was sitting two seats away from me. “Steve” was vocal but respectful. Steve, in combination with me, was just about more than this Hoo in his hunter bibs, NASCAR hat, and Jeff Gordon sunglasses two rows in front of us could take. You could see his face get redder and redder from the first moment he entered the stadium. He definitely did not like Hokies being in Hoo seats, and he was a volcano ready to erupt. So when France made a good play in the second quarter, the NASCAR Hoo stood and screamed, “Take that, Mother Blanker.” This large man’s edgy muscles were twitching. That’s when a bigger, older man, I assume his father, leaned over two seats and grabbed him saying, “You get yourself under control or I’m not bringing you to any more games!” He was quiet and red the rest of the game.

4. My Virginia Tech sweatshirt got me in trouble when I entered the stadium. My Hoo friend had directed me to stuff a two-pound bag of peanut M&M’s in my sweatshirt pouch. I asked him if I was allowed to bring in such treats, and he said they really didn’t care. So when I went into the stadium, the event staff soldier asked me to show him what was in my pouch. So I showed him my gloves and mentioned that I also had a bag of Peanut M&M’s. He told me that I had to either throw them away or leave them behind. So I placed the bag on top of the trashcan for adoption. Meanwhile, my Hoo friend entered the gate right beside me and walked right through with his large bag of pecan halves.

5. The Hoos in the area I was sitting, along with all Hoo season ticket holders, are about to go through reseating. I told them how sorry I was to hear that and how reseating sadly changed the atmosphere in Lane for the last few years. I was very surprised to find out that my seats yesterday, something akin to Section 16/18 in Lane, require no gift to the athletic foundation in order to have the right to purchase.

All told, the whole trip to France was enjoyable. I didn’t need a passport and the views from Mr. Crozet’s montagne were breath taking.

Everything's fine today, that is our illusion.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Feast

The Feast

Thanksgiving is the most important family gathering of the year (even more than the Kentucky Derby) for my clan.

This year, my oldest brother's girlfriend volunteered to host the family gala at her Blacksburg home.

So my wife, two teen-aged children, and I arrived at about 1:30 and chatted with everyone before the 3:30 dinner. We were able to reconnect with my brother and sisters and all of the associated people: nieces and nephews, etc. Only my middle brother and his family were missing this year. As we laughed, chatted, and talked fantasy football smack (we have a family league) we caught up on all paths we've taken over the past year. Some were on the upswing. Some are dealing with incredible stresses. Others were dealing with tough problems. Yet no matter what is tossed our way, we all seem to embrace life and relish the times we gather together.

We also got the opportunity to meet the hosts' family. She has two lovely teen-aged daughters, and she also invited her brother's family. Within a few minutes, we were all talking and sharing stories like we'd known each other for years and years.

The meal was outstanding with twenty-two people gathered in one long room at one long table. Food and wine were plentiful. Turkey, mashed potatoes, rutabaga (my favorite), peas, corn, cranberries, stuffing, gravy, and Graham Beck Champagne. I've rarely felt so thankful or comfortable.

After sitting around for a bit, my brother, oldest nephew, the host's brother, and I moved upstairs to a quiet room and began jamming. It's sort of a tradition. We usually sit around and play music just for grins. Over the years, the music has actually gotten better and now it's gone from just something my brothers and I would do just to pass a few beers to something people call for as a primary entertainment event.

Tony, the hostess' brother, plays an excellent mandolin and guitars as well as vocals. My brother, Joe, plays guitars, banjo and sings, and my nephew, Jesse, plays guitars and sings. I tag along with my collection of harmonicas, whistles, and spoons.

Tony led us in an excellent rendition of "Arkansas Traveler" and Joe led us in a wide variety of John Prine tunes. Jesse specializes in Johnny Cash songs with a voice eerily reminiscent of the great one.

After messing around for a few minutes, we were called downstairs to play for the whole group, especially my 83 year old mother who enjoys the celebration of music more than anyone I've ever met.

My highlight was taking lead vocals on the song "Froggie Went A'Courtin'". I used the John McCutcheon version to base our lyrics since as a traditional song, the lyrics have changed over the eons. This whimsical ballad is challenging to sing due to the delicate chorus...

Froggie went a-courtin’ and he did ride
Rinktum body minchy cambo
Sword and buckler by his side
Rinktum body minchy cambo

Kimaneero down the Cairo, Kimaneero Cairo
Stradda-ladda-ladda-bobba-ladda-bobb- linktum
Rinktum body minchy cambo

All told there are about fourteen verses in the song along with a couple of instrument and jig breaks that all takes about fifteen minutes to complete. By the end, I was sweating like Robert Plant singing “Stairway to Heaven.” Quite a rush, especially seeing my mother smiling and clapping loudly.

The play went on for four hours with Jesse, Tony, and Joe taking turns leading us into impromptu song after song. The conversation between songs would always go something like this,
"Do any of you know _____."

"I've heard G?"

"Yeah, that's be good."

Then they'd launch into the song with daring and energy. Sometimes they messed up and everyone would break out laughing; but most of the time, music was made.

We had actually printed the lyrics to many of the songs, so many would join us and sing along. My daughter, sister, nieces, and the hostess' daughters were especially active in singing and dancing. I couldn't help but grin through my harmonica.

My family gathered me up around 8:30, and we headed back to Roanoke. I was assured that the music would go on until late in the night. As I was leaving, my brother-in-law, Gordy, had taken up a guitar and was about to play.

As I was walking out the door and in to the brisk Blacksburg breeze under a starry sky, I couldn't help but wish Thanksgiving could go on forever.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Great Turkey Drop

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. To celebrate the day, I bring you my favorite television comedy spot of all time..." sacks of wet cement!"

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Fish School

A Voice Thread is an interactive slide show. Viewers are able to see the pictures, listen to or read the comments from the maker, and respond in text or voice to what they are viewing.

This thread is from my friend, Megs. She and her husband are currently diving off the coast of Mexico. Megs has created this thread for students back in Roanoke.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007



something craved, especially an intravenous injection of a

narcotic drug; "she needed a fix of chocolate"

Beggars’ Circus has released their third compact disc, Stolen Heart, and it is packed with Celtic flavors. Their fan is ecstatic.

The group, which consists of Tim Summers, Michelle Lawrence-Walker, and Mary Beth Coffey, is based in the Roanoke/Floyd County area and performs all over the region at festivals and celebrations. Their first CD was entitled Peddlin’ Bedlam which was followed a couple of years later by Moor For the Asking.

The new CD, Stolen Heart, is contains a spiffy mix of traditional reels and tunes.

This review consists of an insightful and sometimes witty look at each track from the new CD. As an added bonus, you will be able to directly link to a snippet from each track (in progress) so that you can validate my insights.

Sarn Mere

No doubt I will mention it over and over here that Michelle Lawrence-Walker is a superb wind player. Sarn Mere is hauntingly still. Every breath Lawrence-Walker takes sounds as if it will be her last. Mary Beth Coffey’s resonating viola walks solemnly beside Lawrence-Walker’s flute. It’s as if some doom is being visited or retreated from.

Behind The Bush In The Garden/The Rose of Castleton

Beggars’ Circus provides no clues as to the meaning of this woven piece. Perhaps they are simply allowing me to make up something…and that’s okay by me.

Castleton is a small village in the Peak District in Derbyshire. It’s most famous for the stunning Peak Cavern. This cavern, which has the largest natural cave opening in the British Isles, is also known as “The Devil’s Arse” and is home of the headwaters of the river Styx.

Throughout the piece, the trio happily dances on the devil’s arse.

Julia Delaney

Eileen Ivers performed this tune on her debut solo album, Traditional Irish Music, in 1994. The earliest recording of the song, however, dates back to 1903 according to the Irish Folk tune index.

As a consumer of this music, I find this piece to be driving somewhere, hard at it and percussive.

Paddy’s Lament

Tim stands alone behind the microphone for this song. To say it’s grim and depressing is grossly insufficient. It’s a downright hopeless tale, the kind that Beggars’ Circus brings forth with relish.

I spoke with Tim for some time about this song, and the more we talked about it, the more it struck a chord with me. IN the song “Paddy” leaves for America to see if he can find a way to feed his starving family back in Ireland. As he gets off the boat, he’s conscripted into Lincoln’s army and sent off to fight the Confederates. In the process, he loses a leg and his dreams.

Paddy’s tale isn’t altogether much different than my Polish grandparent’s tale. Some forty years after Paddy came to America, my grandfather came over to find work and to feed his new family. Eventually, he sent for my grandmother and his baby daughter. The voyage for them was very difficult and the baby contracted measles and was taken from my grandmother. No one ever saw her again. It is assumed she died on ship. My grandmother was heart-broken, confused by the foreign language, and angry. When the officials tried to give her someone else’s orphaned baby to take the place of her lost daughter, she refused. Paddy’s and my grandparent’s tales were more the norm rather than the exception, I think.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

From the Wide World of Wackiness

I accept it as my solemn duty as keeper of this blog to bring you those things which inspire and complete me. Because after all, this is all about me.

I returned home from a long day of school and meetings this evening, a day that included regular school stuff, a missed meeting, a dinner meeting, and a politically charged school board meeting. I was plumb wiped out. That's when my daughter came to my rescue.

Here is what she shared with me first...

Needless to say, Daft Hands demonstrates some amazing digital dexterity and a unique sense of timing.

The second video she shared with me struck me as being one of the most absurd pieces I've ever seen.

Young Jonathan from somewhere in the USA is interviewed by a local reporter. What he has to say that day has cut through the infernal murmur of world chatter and emerged as the most definitive statement of the year.

Jonathan's admonition has made him a You Tube star like Jake Shimabukuro the Ukulele player,the toilet flushing cat, and George Allen.

This follow-up video is a real report from the same news reporter. She tracks young Jonathan and finds out what he's really like.

Harder and faster makes better turtles, Macacas.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Shattered Serenity

Shattered Serenity

Morning birds serenade my sleeping soul. I lay in my bed with the birds chattering about as they search for their friends and mates after the long dark night. They’re so busy.

Every so often I find myself slumbering in the early morning, trying to take a few extra minutes respite from the day’s business. Swallows dart in and out of the early blue sky, seen only through the lazy slits of my eyes. Sea gulls laugh as they play tag in the air. In the distance I hear the morning bustle of the city grinding to work without me. Boats are heard meandering up the river, but my head is much too comfortable to rise from my soft four-poster feather bed with its milky white sheets and downy comforter to gaze upon them.

There is a hint of a coming cold winter in the air; an edgy exhale, a river breeze, flowing over my face. When I breathe out, I can see my breath in the morning sun through my half open eyes. As my breath floats away from me and passes between the rising morning sun and my unfocused eyes, it creates beautiful patterns and designs. It’s like looking through a prism. For minutes, I play with the design by altering the amount I squint into the rising sun. Open them a little more then close them a little more. The design before me changes like my own kaleidoscope.

I’m more relaxed than I ever remember being before, and I think I can lay propped up on my bed of pillows forever. Bliss. Serenity. It doesn’t really strike me as being at all unusual that my bed is outside or that it is situated dead-center on the main runway at National Airport in Washington, D.C.

Tranquility is shattered and my reality is splintered. A roar suddenly enters my head from the sun in front of me. My eyes are jolted wide open, but I’m blinded by the full sun’s glare. The gentle breeze becomes a wind rushing at me. Somehow I briefly elevate above my bed to see myself sitting up in a four-poster bed squarely in the middle of the busy landing strip at National Airport. The Potomac lays beside the runway with rush hour traffic streaming across. Planes are stacked up awaiting take-offs. More planes are stacked in the sky awaiting landing.

Back in my bed with my eyes blinded by the sun, the roar grows louder and louder. It can only mean one thing. At that very moment of realization, I see a dark shadow emerging from the sun. Giant wheels and the underside of a huge Boeing 747 are within inches of pulverizing me like the monstrous Godzilla squashing me with his massive left foot.

With virtually no time to react, I scream as I dive out of the bed and roll, hoping to create enough space between myself and that crushing metal beast.


The plane finishes its landing and smashes the bed just mere feet away from me, pulverizing it into tiny pieces. I am left laying on the runway breathing in and out rapidly, still alive!


“A big jet was about to land on me…” I mumble.

“I don’t care. Get back in bed!”

That’s usually when I wake up. I’m always on the floor. I’ve always just kicked the devil out of my wife, and she’s always unhappily awakened from her peaceful sleep. Sometimes I find that the next morning I’m bruised all over from diving out of the bed and smashing into the furniture. It’s really one of the more embarrassing nightmares.

I slink back into bed, roll over onto my side for better protection, and try not to think about jets.