"If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly." --G.K. Chesterton

“New” music to design houses by, January 2015

Heading into February, this is the music that has been getting me started in the mornings.

Screenshot 2015-01-22 22.34.22I recently finished Will Friedwald’s amazingly painstaking discography/criticism Sinatra: The Song Is You, which inspired me to track down the Dorsey recordings as well as the albums that Sinatra conducted but did not sing. (Alas, Tone Poems is the only orchestral one that is still available.) After the exhausting Friedwald, I reread the short, snappy, but elegaic Why Sinatra Matters by Pete Hamill. Both books hammered the fact that The Voice was most inspired by Billie Holiday, who was in fact an exact contemporary; only eight months older. I instinctively think of her as being much older and to hear Sinatra talk about her you would assume he does too.  An older soul, I suppose– for all her troubles she never had to play a tap-dancing naïf next to Gene Kelly.

I’ve been focusing on recording techniques and remastering lately, so of course Jimmy Page’s remasters of the original albums enters into it.  Plant remains increasingly fascinating in his later years; this album of traditional folk songs should be interesting.

The Temptations are certainly a band worth exploring beyond the endless greatest hits collections.  This is their first album, 1964 being a great year for “Meet The…” albums.

And the greater-than-you-think Bill Withers…This is his fourth album and it seems to be settled into a nice groove.

Film Log: The Train Robbers

train robbers

The Train Robbers

1973, 92 minutes

Directed by Burt Kennedy. Starring John Wayne, Ann-Margret, Ben Johnson, Rod Taylor.

The title is a trifle misleading— we come to find rather early that John Wayne’s band of merry men (Ben Johnson, Rod Taylor, and Bobby Vinton among them) are “good” guys, not robbers, in the service of recently widowed Ann-Margret.  From the moment she steps off the train, however, we can tell that this is no damsel in distress. It is the coolest the Lady in Pink (in this case, green) has ever appeared on screen, and holds her own with the boys without vamping or tramping, even though she looks as petite as can be when she stands next to the Duke, who is larger than life in Technicolor, Panavision, and advanced middle age. Real life cowboy and under-appreciated actor Ben Johnson is as fine as ever as the steady side man.

The film is beautiful.  Like other late Westerns, Panavision and Technicolor in the hands of an aging director and cinematographer (in this case, Burt Kennedy and William Clouthier, respectively) make you almost wish John Ford and Howard Hawks were thirty years younger so that they could have had full access to such great technology in their prime. Almost.

At the 1:01 mark, Wayne gives a brief speech to young gun Bobby Vinton (!) on what it means to be a man. It is only a few sentences of no great profundity, and almost seems like an embarrassing vestigial Western obligation in the otherwise taut 1973 screenplay. But hearing it forty years on, delivered in that iconic voice, it is refreshing as a drop of water in a desert as parched as the one they are fighting their way through.

Should I give it away?  Probably not. It is not as powerful in print as on screen, but here it is:

You’re a man; you’re stuck with it. You’ll find yourself standing your ground and fightin’ when you oughtta run, speakin’ out when you oughtta keep your mouth shut, doin’ things that seem wrong to a lot of people but you’ll do them all the same. You’re gonna spend the rest of your life getting’ up one more time when you’re knocked down, so you better start gettin’ used to it.

Is it a memorable film?  Not particularly.  But its simplicity and ordinariness– even creakiness, for 1973– seem like genius compared to the digital light shows of sound and fury produced in Hollywood today.

This is Wayne’s last western other than the Cogburn films, and in many ways this is the last of the straight-up westerns, with none of the moralizing or stylizing of a Peckinpah, Leone, or Eastwood. Wayne is a strong man performing a man’s job, doing what he needs to do until his role can be filled by a younger man. The fact that we know what he suspects— that there may not be a person to do it, or a society that recognizes the value of it— only makes the movie that much more of a treasure.

Rating: 72/100.  12/31/14.


Film log: Jeremiah Johnson


Jeremiah Johnson

1972, 108 min.

directed by Sydney Pollack. Starring Robert Redford, Will Geer.

Sydney Pollack has made good movies, but is not much of an auteur.  Robert Redford has been in many good movies, but is not much of an actor.  What do we expect of this, the second of six movies the two made together, and the only one a Western?

The first half of the movie is a seemingly deliberate aggregation of Western cliches: Redford rides west and in an hour-long standard picaresque narrative encounters the solitary old-coot mountain-man and a taciturn Indian warrior; inherits a wife through a poorly-translated Indian barter; and unwittingly adopts a mute boy. (We are even treated to his inevitable signature double-take). With good scenery, though, it makes for better watching than an equally-long documentary on the changing of seasons in Utah, where it was filmed, and that makes a great deal of difference. Just when it starts to get tedious, plot kicks in.  Worth it?  Yes.  The plot is a bit opportunistic and muddled, but watching Redford’s character penitential journey through the second half of the film for an unfortunate misdeed is a precursor of sorts to Jim Jarmusch’s later Dead Man.

Rating: 73.3/100.  12/29/14.

Cowboy Junkies

trinity coverTwenty-six years ago, in my senior design studio, I heard a sound that blew me away.

There was the usual commotion and hubbub in the cavernous brick room, where boom boxes competed for attention over conversation, laughter, and the occasional angst-ridden freakout.  I usually wore headphones connected to a portable cd/cassette player to tune it all out while I worked. I had my favorites: Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, Rolling Stones…the usual litany of classic rock, plus a little classic jazz and classical.   The two things I couldn’t stand were the bubble gum pop of the day or the reactionary “alternate” pop that was most popular in the black turtleneck set that comprised a plurality of architecture majors, even at Lehigh University.  All of that sub-tonal crybaby poseur crap: The Smiths, Depeche Mode.  Ugh.  As I result I became something of a reactionary myself, declaring in the sweep of adolescence that “all” “new” “music” was crap.

But there was one album that someone– I don’t know who– used to put on in the middle of the night– 2 AM, 4 AM– that provided the refutation of Dr. Johnson’s rock.  It began with a fragile, but confident female voice, a cappella, singing slow for a minute and a half about the sorrows of a life devoted to working in a mine. Then a pause, with the echo of the voice  lingering. And then: the most thrilling slow harmonica wail with an underlying acoustic guitar and…accordion?, soon joined by a quiet bass, muted high hat, and steel guitar. And then that voice again…that sad steady, resolute voice singing of heartache for song after song.

Was it ironic?  This was the age of irony and detachment, when Letterman reigned supreme and any signs of emotion or vulnerability were relegated to sitcoms lest they become fodder for endless mockery. Surely, no fledgling musicians hoping for success would hang their success on such a style.

But no, it was not ironic. It was all so simple, with the efficiency of the Bauhaus with which I (along with all of my architecture peers) were at the time infatuated– but without the coldness or cleverness. It could have become precious, but didn’t. It was warm, acoustic, Western.  Patient.  Not a note was wasted, nor rushed. That above all seemed to be the thing: it was as though the band had taken a sacred vow to play as slowly and as softly as humanly possible without losing the structure of the song, or that they were congenitally unable to play an upbeat tempo.  (This would disproven, handily, in their upcoming albums and especially their concerts.)

Not only was the album not ironic, but it was rooted in…country.  No one I knew liked country, or knew a damn thing about it– we were all from New Jersey and New York and eastern (read: sophisticated and cool) Pennsylvania.  I was the only person I knew who listed to Elvis Presley and that was as it close as it came.  But there they were, with their cowboy instruments, singing of work and prayer and filial relations and holiness.  Who were these guys?  I did not recognize this then, but in many ways they were like that other Canadian Band of an earlier day, the ones who cared more about playing the music properly than having a proper name or meeting contemporary expectations.

When I found out that the band was called Cowboy Junkies, I said, “Yes. That is exactly what they are.” They can’t help themselves.

Some of the songs were covers, some original, yet each song was treated in the same way, like a precious vessel being examined for the first time. It was as though relics of Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, and Lou Reed, heretofore respected and loved, were shown in a new light that revealed something that even their authors didn’t realize. Like a B.B. King solo, silences have as much matter as the notes. In design we refer to it as negative space, and it his rarely been used to greater effect.

One of the first things I did after I graduated was buy that album, The Trinity Session, because there was a hole in my life without it.  Not just nostalgia for studio (though there was that), but it had become a touchstone for faith, music, and design.

The Trinity Session.  Singular, not plural; like Frank Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session.  The album was recorded in a single day, around a single microphone, in an empty church called Trinity. I’m sure that many reviews of the day called the sound “atmospheric” for that’s exactly what it is.  The cover of the album, fittingly, was enigmatic in its fuzziness, as though showing a clear photo of the members would demystify the aural implications.  (What kind of band with an attractive and soulful female lead singer wouldn’t feature her on the cover of their first major album?!)

Many Junkies albums have followed, and for a long time they did not disappoint. Many of the subsequent albums were great, and the concerts were great too. None captured the mystery of that first album, but they continued to prove themselves a band worth following for the next decade and a half, at least.   I confess to not caring for their recent material, but I appreciate the way they have matured and stretched as a band.

MIke Timmins himself provides insight on the magic of that first album on the band’s website, here.

junkies trinity


The Paper Chase

If we were truly serious about striving for a paperless society, our efforts should be directed towards reducing all manner of bureaucracy.

Empirical evidence undermines popular wisdom: the rise of digital tools has led to an increase in paper flotsam in the home, the office, the school. Personal printers and copiers, an exponentially burgeoning quantity of data flying to and fro between co-workers, banks, clients, as well as an overall increase in mass and personal communication have left us awash in the stuff. Remember how hard it was to get twenty or thirty copies of anything just thirty years ago?  It usually meant sticking around the office late to use the copier or mimeograph machine when no one was looking.  Now we can all do it in the blink of an eye, and frequently do.  And so does every entity we come in contact with: easily 98% of the paper I receive in the mail– catalogs, flyers, solicitations– is unnecessary fluff.  Even the phone bill is twelve pages long, when all I need to know takes up about an inch.  As for e-bills: I find the relevant data and print out a hard copy. Aside from not trusting electronic data record keeping in my home, on “the Cloud” or in the hands of someone else, I cannot adequately peruse data unless it is on the printed page, nor is this something I am ashamed of.

No amount of recycling or exhortations to “Go Green” is going to end this deluge.  As long as paper and electronics are cheap and data cheaper, the problem will get worse under the existing regime that places more value on the quantity of information rather than the quality.

Blue Yodel #9

Amazing what you can find on the internet while looking for something else:  Louis Armstrong yodeling with Johnny Cash!

armstrong and cash

(I was actually looking to see if Louis Armstrong had ever sung “Blue Hawaii”…)



What a great pair of American names: “Armstrong” and “Cash”. Positive names, that make it sound like anything can be accomplished.


I’ve had an iPhone, iPhone 3, and my current iPhone4s, and I’ve been successively less happy with each one.  Part of that is the inevitable diminishing returns after that deliriously amazing first device, but part of it is slowly discovering the flaws, rotten Easter eggs, and expensive irrelevancies that each new release brings. So when I read this press release via Popular Mechanics, what it says and what I hear are two different things.

What it says: “Both phones sport screens larger than the current display: 4.7-inch and 5.5-inches, respectively.”

What I hear:  Time to consign another batch of cases, battery packs, chargers, and screen covers to the landfill.

I want to spend less time with my phone. I don’t watch movies or shows or play video games or even FaceTime. Therefore screen size is not important: in fact, I’d rather have something that fits better in my pocket– better than the one I currently have with a Morphie juice pack that undermines the sleekness. These will not.


What it says:  “…both phones are also thinner than their predecessors.”

What I hear:  Crappy battery life.


What it says:  “The displays are a new generation of Retina that Apple is calling Retina HD.”

What I hear:  Crappy battery life for a feature I don’t want or need and likely won’t even notice.


What it says:  “Under the hood, the phone has a new, faster A8 processor. And these larger iPhones can be used a little differently as well. A new horizontal view…”

What I hear:  This battery will be dead after an hour.


What it says:  “Both phones have an 8-megapixel built-in iSight camera…faster autofocus…mproved tone matching…Panoramic photos…43-megapixel resolution…digital image stabilization…optical image stabilization…improved face detection…

What I hear:  I like a good camera.  But I suspect 8-megapixels is pushing the asymptote on the bell curve of ROI. Faster autofocus is good. As for the rest:  stuff I don’t need.


What it says:  “and a new burst mode for ‘burst selfless.’”

What I hear:  Sancta Maria, mater Dei, ora pro nobis.


What it says: “With all those features, you’d imagine battery life would take a hit, but Apple says that’s not the case. The iPhone 6 is rated with the same or better battery life than the iPhone 5S.”

What I hear:  “Police Academy 6 has the same or more laughs than Police Academy 5”

In the end, I only want two things: substantial but not excessive camera resolution, and longer battery life. Everything else is planned obsolescence dancing (twerking?) around something I’m growing more and more reluctant to purchase.

Golf balls at night

From the liner notes to ol’ blue eyes is back, the first album Frank Sinatra recorded in 1973, two years after announcing his retirement:

“I just figured I’d do some work. No fun trying to hit a golf ball at eight at night.”

(HIs recording sessions tended to be at night.  Then, as now, mornings in Palm Springs and LA are for sleeping; afternoons for spending outdoors.)

You can’t keep an artist away from his work.

Say hey, say Tony

2014-09-03 16.19.14While moving books so I could introduce my youngest daughter to the Baseball Encyclopedia (1996 edition, the last year of its publication before it all went digital), a “bookmark” fell out of David Halberstam’s Summer of ’64 and landed at my feet.  It was a slightly faded but otherwise mint condition 1983 Topps Tony Gwynn card.  It’s only worth a few bucks, but I’d like to think it was the big guy himself dropping in to say “Hey man! Keep on keeping the faith.”


Books I’ve Enjoyed: To Have and Have Another

While up in Michigan earlier this month, I was hoping to find some Hemingway that I had missed.  When I was younger– college and thereafter, I read just about everything Hemingway that I could get my hands on.  There have been some post-humous releases and new biographies and re-collected works, I knew, but I really haven’t thought about Hem much in a few decades. The truth is that he was so embedded in me that I felt no need– but being in one of his stomping grounds for the first time rekindled the interest.

to have and have anotherIn a bookstore in Petoskey, where I hoped to find The Torrents of Spring (which I realized I had never read, and which was his first published novel, and which is set in Petoskey), I picked up this little book called To Have and Have Another by Philip Greene. I didn’t expect much; seemed gimmicky.

All right, so maybe it is gimmicky, but oh what a gimmick and what a delivery. The book identifies every cocktail associated with Hemingway, either in his writings (including his diaries and boat logs and letters), or through verifiable anecdotes and reminiscences of acquaintances. The book is neatly ordered– as one would expect of a Hemingway admirer– and written in short recipe-based chapters with anecdotal filler pages (similar to the vignettes of In Our Time?) on the supporting characters in Papa’s drinking career: bartenders, lovers, fishing buddies.

There are no fewer than 80 recipes in the book.  Now I have long subscribed to the view of Bernard DeVoto that there are only two honest cocktails:  a martini, and a slug of whiskey*,  but I have to say that my curiosity was piqued and my appetite whet as I read through the possibilities laid out by one of the best drinkers in history.  “Best” is not a word to be used lightly, but as in his approach to all of the essential components of life, Hemingway was simultaneously one of the most adventurous and one of the most cautious. (This must sound paradoxical unless you know his work.)

DeVoto’s treatise was written at the vulgar stage of the cocktail in American life, in the late 1940s, when garnishes and syrups and little umbrellas that emasculated the liquor were served in glasses with cartoon gags imprinted upon them, a symbol of the complacency and seductive affluence the nation was slipping into; I stand wholeheartedly behind his reactionary stance. Hemingway (who was his contemporary, only two years his junior), likely must have approved of his abjuration of bourgeois corruption although I doubt he would have had much patience for DeVoto’s own continued endurance of it. Hemingway, according to Lillian Ross’s famed portrait, hated New York for just these reasons.

I wonder if DeVoto and Hem ever shared a drink, and if so, what it would have been, and what they would have discussed:   Twain? The prairie? Prize fights? Drinking?

 To Have and Have Another is painstaking in its thoroughness and beautifully simple in its structure. As I say, each drink is given a chapter– and the book is well-read as a non-sequential narrative, with all of the stories of Hemingway’s drinking career that you know or didn’t know– but it also serves as a reference book, and the table of contents identifies each chapter not only by drink name but also by the ingredients of said drinks.  It’s neat, in a way that Hemingway would understand the word.

Possibly most interesting of all is the blurb on the author inside the back cover. He is not only a co-founder of the cocktail museum in New Orleans (which is now on my list of places to visit) but also has a day job– as a government lawyer across the Potomac in DC. Unlike here in Virginia, which still languishes in post-Prohibition Sovietism when it comes to selling liquor, I bet they sell absinthe in DC. I may have to find a bottle and liberate Messr. Greene from the office one day.

*Though I think Bernard goes too far in his dismissal of whisky, without the ‘e’– that is to say, Scotch, as being too barbarian for civilized tastes.

Up in Michigan

2014-08-12 20.58.46 Petoskey sunset

PETOSKEY, MI.–Reading the early Hemingway stories– especially the Nick Adams stories, but also the others from In Our Time, Men Without Women, and Winner Take Nothing— here where many were set and many were formulated, twenty-five years after I first fell in love with them as well as with the concept of literature, and with artistic honesty, and the creative process, is a grand experience. I really haven’t read or even thought much about these stories for decades, but reading them now is like seeing family at a funeral or old friends at a reunion: They are familiar but strange; the same but different. Strangely simpler than when I knew them but infinitely more complex. Part of that is being here in their setting, but most of it has to do with the passage of time.


Patterson Hood on The Creative Process

patterson hood heat lightningIn the excellent documentary on the Drive-By-Truckers, The Secret to a Happy Ending, Patterson Hood refers (twice) to successful songwriting as being

“You just have to be lucky enough to be the one to have your antenna up at that moment”.

(I believe that the song which he is referring to is “The Living Bubba”.)

An extraordinary number of artists– especially songwriters– refer to the notion of someone– a Muse, if you will– working through them.Paul McCartney was so convinced that the melody which would become “Yesterday” was better than anything he was capable of writing, that someone else must have already written it and he was subconsciously plagiarizing it.  He went around for weeks playing it for folks asking them to name that tune before he grudgingly had to admit that he had written it himself.

Patterson Hood’s recent solo album, Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance, is one of my favorite new albums. It maintains all of the sophistication of DBT music (and yes, don’t let the band or song names like “Buttholeville” fool you, they are quite sophisticated), but there is a welcome new maturity here too.



What’s Wrong with the World: Bonded Leather

Repeat after me: Bonded leather is not leather.

deerhideLeather is animal hide that has been carefully skinned, dried, tanned, and dyed. It is a wondrous material: strong, soft, and durable, it only becomes more supple and homey with age. This is true for every use: moccasins, saddles, car seats, rucksacks, belts, shoes, purses, upholstery, book covers, gloves, baseball mitts. You love leather.

Eventually it will deteriorate into the dust from which it came and to which we all shall return– but this can be a very long time if it was properly prepared and cared for. In the meantime, every stage of its life is precious, from newly-produced to sturdy vassal to faithful but aging to careworn to delicate ancient.

Because you love leather, a little corner of your mind is cheesed off when leather doesn’t behave like leather.  This is because what you have encountered is not leather, it is bonded leather. The reason I’ve italicized both of those words in the previous sentence is to make it easier for you to remember that they are synonyms: when it comes to leather, “bonded” means “not”.  In the legal world, an alleged perpetrator released on bond may be innocent of the charges at hand, or he may have a clever enough attorney to remain free after a trial by twelve men good and true, but in the material world bonded always means guilty, guilty, guilty.

wallace gromit machine

“Cracking good bonded leather, Gromit!”

Bonded leather is an animal skin that goes through the same process described above– and then is fed into a metal mouth to be chewed up, spit out, mixed with chemicals, turned into a noxious pulp, poured into molds and flattened into shape, and finally coated with a plastic on one or both sides that is then imprinted with a fake grain. Ultimately it has more in common with a chicken nugget than anything recognizable by a Sioux as coming from the Great Spirit’s grand gift to man known as deer.

Have you ever spent a lot of time in a “leather” office chair, expecting it to be reasonably comfortable and luxurious, only to find that after a few minutes, you begin to shift and pull your sweat-stained pants from the back of your knees and try to thwart the wedgie-in-training you have developed?  After a few days, you notice that you are  finding excuses to stand up and walk around, avoiding work, and after a few months you begin to justify spending a lot more money for a real leather chair which this clearly is not.

And yet all this time, you can’t wait to get home and sit in the (real) leather recliner that you still feel guilty about paying way too much for (or so says your wife), but that fits your body and makes that soothing crushing noise when you sit in it, and caresses your body, and that whiskey never seems to stain, or at least stains in a meaningful nostalgic way.  When you shift your weight, a part of your mind flashes a Proustian memory of your grandfather sitting in his leather recliner, muttering about the missed double-play he just watched as he carelessly drops ashes on the ever-patient chair’s arm.

Without putting too fine a point on it: after years of use, a real leather chair smells of…leather, and life. A bonded leather chair smells of…whatever its spent the most time in contact with. Ultimately, leather looks like leather, feels like leather, smells like leather. Plastic may get the first two of the three, for a little while anyway, but…the nose knows.

While I admit there are degrees of quality to bonded leather– some can look, feel, and in a retail store even smell quite leather-like– ultimately each material resorts to its true nature: leather behaves like leather and plastic behaves like plastic. One is a gift from God, one is an insult from DuPont.

Bonded leather is slowly taking over. I was recently shopped for a baseball glove as a present for my wife, and since my own glove is rather decrepit after decades of rotating use, neglect, and abuse, I thought I would look for myself too. I was depressed but not shocked to find that the only affordable gloves are Not Leather. They have all kinds of fancy deceptions like Grip-All Pocket and Sure-Fine Fingers, but the ones that are real leather boast that they are ALL-LEATHER. They are also three times as expensive as the standard model, and seem to be reserved for serious amateur athletes.  (Upon reconsideration, I went home and oiled up my old mitt, figuring I could get a few more neglectful years out of her.  I bought my wife a mostly leather one, but she didn’t like the size and returned it for a mostly bonded version with which she was very happy. I mentioned the issue but erred on the side of not spoiling her delight.)

I’ve found this tends to be the rule of thumb across most product types: the surest way to identify real leather is that the makers will boast that is Real Leather.  Barring that, assume that the “leather” in question is out on the street on bond, awaiting trial.

Here is another shopping tip:  if you are shopping in person, check the edges and seams. If you can clearly see a top layer, stay away. If the edge is too straight, with none of the loose fuzzies you get from leather: stay away. If the holes for the stitching seem to keep their shape a little too well– and if the thread itself is nylon or polyester that would cut through your own skin if pulled tight enough– it’s probably not real leather.

Online, stay away from anything that doesn’t explicitly state (and hopefully even brag) about the quality. And consider the source:  Though leather is known worldwide, look for products from North America or Italy for the real thing. As with most things, avoid anything made in China. One can only imagine who what it may be made of.

One must take extra care in these days of online retail to not buy bonded leather. Without the ability to see and feel, much that is sold as “leather” is actually the bonded variety.  Surely much of this is the result of the creeping ignorance that is infecting our society– both on the consumer and production side– but that doesn’t make it any less pernicious.

clint hat

Subversive nostalgia

Listening to David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane – specifically “Drive-In Saturday” and “The Prettiest Star” –  it strikes me how many 70s songs liberally borrow from musical tendencies of the 50s— melody, harmonics, structure, prominent saxophone— with varying degrees of sentimentality, irony, and acknowledgment.  Off the top of my head, Springsteen, the Ramones, Dire Straits, Elton John, Queen all have retro tendencies that to a good deal contributed to their success.

This makes sense in a few ways:

(one) I’ve noticed that nostalgic waves seem to occur in approximately fifteen year increments. In part this is because

(two) people who attain artistic success in their mid thirties are apt to look back on the influences of their teen years for guidance and inspiration, and

(three) the cultural disruption of the late 60s made nostalgia an especially potent and yet— importantly— subversive force in the mid 70s.  What would have been seen as natural continuity and progression in other eras (say from the early 20s to the late 30s, or the late 90s to the present) was treated almost as a novelty at that particular time. Continuity was uncool, so the way to make it acceptable was to bury it under layers of contemporary effects and/or deliver it with a sneer.

Japanese summer

This has been my summer of Japanese things. It started with a new hobby, archery. That led to finally reading Zen and the Art of Archery, followed by other reading on Zen Buddhism and meditation, which led to wider studies of Japanese art and architecture and, inexorably, Japanese history. For my birthday, my youngest daughter gave me bonsai tree seeds. All of this led to tackling Shōgun (the book), going deeper into Kurosawa films than I have before, and Shōgun (the movie– imminently.) Most recently, my wife and a good friend and I went to an exhibit of Kobayashi Kiyochika at the Sackler Gallery, followed by dinner at an Asian-themed restaurant.

During the course of dinner, our friend commented that she was surprised by this turn, as I had always struck her as anti-Asian culture, or at least Asian-culture antipathetic. I corrected her: I’ve always felt the pressure of too great a backlog of my own culture to explore– Pennsylvanian/Virginian, American, western European, Judeo-Christian, Greco-Roman– before tackling anything so definitively foreign.

That remains true, but there is also the truth in the way of expatriates, who have to immerse themselves in foreign cultures in order to more fully understand and appreciate their own. It is refreshing to look at totally different things, in order to look at the familiar in a new way. Chesterton talks about how much greener and bluer trees and the sky respectively look in a foreign setting, and it is only when we forcer ourselves to really look that we notice how green the trees are at home too.

This isn’t at all to say there is nothing to be learned from foreign cultures that doesn’t touch our own. It’s a big world, with a lot to see– but what has struck me about the parts of Japanese culture that I’ve touched upon have been as much about similarities as differences.

japanese martyrMost significantly, I have been surprised and struck by the similarities between Zen and early– one is tempted to say “true” or “authentic”– Christianity.  For starters, both Zen and Christianity define themselves, literally and linguistically, as “the Way.”

Each revels in metaphysical paradoxes: living through dying, sensual denial for spiritual fulfillment, with an emphasis on meditation or prayer, which are themselves quite similar.

In each Way, one is exhorted to seek a higher self in moments of adversity, seeking , denial of material world through heightened awareness of it.

Emphasis of process – Design, really- in service of a purpose higher than self– Truth– but whose physical manifestation is service to humblest tasks. And of course: death. Life is precious, death is a transition, and the afterlife is not something to be feared if one has lived truly in The Way.

Most surprising of all is how Japanese cultural and Christianity allow room for the other, in a similar way to the overlay of Greco-Roman tradition and Judaism also mesh with Christianity– if one but removes the obstacles of particular theology and dogma. (!)

There is a quotation by Awa Kenzo, the samurai archery mentor of Zen in the Art of Archery that demonstrates the compatibility:

Buddha is compassion.

Confucius is Humanity.

Christ is Love.

One of the compelling aspects of Shōgun is the logical gymnastics that various Christian Japanese characters undertake in order to reconcile the earthly effects and behavior of their two different belief systems. A cynic could dismiss these exercises as hypocrisy, as many of the non-Christian Japanese characters and the non-Japanese hero often do– but Clavell makes a point of bringing us inside their reasoning: competing earth-bound loyalties are not necessarily the manifestation of competing philosophies so much as an impossible demand on a grand metaphysical understanding. Angels dancing on the head of a pin and all that.

The differences between Japanese Zen tradition and Christianity are legion, of course– but isn’t it surprising when we discover such things not to be…fundamental.





Ease of Use

There’s a moment early in the guitar documentary It Might Get Loud where Jack White, speaking of the seduction of the digital era, says something like,

“Technology is a big destroyer of emotion and truth. Auto-tuning doesn’t do anything for creativity. Yeah, it makes it easier and you can get home sooner; but it doesn’t make you a more creative person. That’s the disease we have to fight in any creative field: ease of use.”


First: I couldn’t agree more, even as I slog through AutoCAD while listening to iTunes.

Second, this reminds me of two unrelated and disparate notions.

The first is from Truman Capote’s famous flippant criticism of Jack Kerouac.  “That’s not writing,” Capote snapped in an interview with David Susskind. “That’s typing.”

Kerouac’s defenders have long argued that the statement is unfair, as he revised his drafts many times while striving for perfection more in the traditional/Capote model.  Perhaps true, but even so I wonder how Kerouac’s writing would have been affected if his typewriter had a “Delete” button, where erasing “mistakes” becomes second nature, or if he had had the ability to save multiple drafts as we do. I wonder too how Capote’s writing would have changed as well, for better or worse.

his-girl-fridayThe second of the notions is from the 1940 movie His Girl Friday, where the strange notion driving the plot is that the killer is actually a victim, because he subconsciously subscribes to the notion of “production for use”– a gun is intended to be shot and so therefore if one finds a gun in one’s hands, one must put it to its intended use. It’s a cockamamie concept that can be dismissed as merely serving as a device in the movie of underscoring the manipulative and pseudo-intellectual conceits of the press,  but I think we all have a tendency to take that attitude to a point: I have this Delete button, so I should use it. I have this XM radio in my car so I should turn it on. Someone just wondered about the weather, and I have this iPhone with a radar app that could tell us definitely in 90 seconds (10 if I’m on wi-fi).

Even for the dullest of pencil-pushers: it may get you home faster, but it does not make you a more creative person.  Not everyone has a vocation of creativity, but to be human, by definition, is to be creative.

Omnia autem probate quod bonum est tenete: “Question everything. Hold fast to what is good.”


Creative Pauses

Part of the creative process is stepping away. For me this involves changing tasks, going to lunch, or stepping outside into the garden and pulling some weeds. Sometimes none of that is enough: sometimes pauses have to be measured in days or weeks rather than minutes.

This is tough to explain to oneself, let alone to a client, and so one tends to minimize the importance and compress the time required.  In formal office settings this is even truer, and so all kinds of gyrations and bad habits arise (Internet, anyone?) in order to feign continual busy-ness. However the Pause will not be denied, and the work will suffer if one tries to deny it anyway.

Sometimes the purpose of the Pause is to allow a peripheral part of your mind find a deep-seated flaw in a design. Sometimes it is to awaken you to something so boldly obvious that you overlooked it. Sometimes it is to relax that part of your brain that has tightened itself around a problem and made it worse for the effort.  Sometimes it is to pace yourself, so that you don’t fall in love with a design too early in the process to the detriment of future objectivity.


As with my professional design work, so too with this blog. Those who read these pages regularly– and shockingly, there actually are such people– will have noticed my absence for the past several weeks. At first this wasn’t deliberate, and led to the usual nagging guilt that has caused me to override previous bouts of bloggers’ block– and that’s what your supposed to do. “Write every day”, “post something, anything”, “don’t give into laziness” are the standard issue advisements given in any writers’ or bloggers’ guide.

But rather than give in, I decided to ride this one out– something wasn’t right; there was something lurking behind the blockage. After a while, I realized that it was a Pause, a great over-swollen Pause disguising itself as Laziness. This happens. (I wonder how many people never look beyond the laziness to see what is truly back there.)

What I discovered after some time away is that I kept sketching format changes to the blog.  Wasting time, yes? Well…no.  I found myself sketching something close to the original format that I had designed three or more years ago, but had abandoned when it came to finding a template my Tech Guy could manipulate easily (and inexpensively).  Revisiting it now– and improving it, of course, in light of experience)– made me recall what my goals had been– and how far I have strayed from those even as I’ve discovered aspects I enjoy that I hadn’t anticipated.

So now I was stuck:  My Pause had led me to an Ideal even grander than my original vision, while the reality of web templates, cost, host subscriptions, tech support has not changed. This was vexing and depressing, and still is. But I began to write to the format in my head, and before I knew it I had an inventory of future posts– and an outline of where they fit in the grand scheme.

The Pause reminded me of the importance of creative pauses, even on a small scale. It showed me how trying to write on a keyboard, with its never-ending pages and instantaneous infinite corrections, was about Busy-ness rather than Work, and how this fit in with the great Mechanical-vs-Electronic theme that has been wafting about my work and this page for the past few months. It reminded me that I had early on vowed not to post merely to post if I had nothing worthwhile to say.

And at last, the Pause brought me to the notion that the Ideal must meet the Real, at least for the foreseeable future. There is a way to write that bridges the gap between the image in my head and the tools at my disposal, that addresses the notion of the Creative Process, that discusses What’s Wrong with the World, and that praises Modern Things as well as Pre-Modern Things– all without losing touch with the Music, Movies, Books, Architecture, Road Trips and other Childish Things that color my work and my views of this world.

This is the second of those posts, and I hope the change is well-recieved.


Glen Echo

There is a bronze plaque inside Glen Echo, the former amusement park that served Washington DC in the first half of the twentieth century, commemorating the activists who held protests objecting to the park’s segregation in 1960. It was erected by the National Park Service, who now owns and operates the park as something of a sparsely-populated arts colony. The plaque is perfectly appropriate, and certainly inspires a sense of pride and awe for the brave Americans it honors, but it bothers me.

My daughters are taking drawing classes at Glen Echo for a few weeks this summer, as they have from time to time in the past. They have attended birthday parties on the grounds, and I have some very good friends who have spent many Saturday nights in the ballroom where they offer swing dancing lessons and sessions.

It is a nice venue. The grounds are pleasant and rarely– if ever– crowded. Next door is one of my favorite hidden spots in the region, the Irish Inn– the best spot in a fifty-mile radius for a Guinness and shepherds’ pie in midwinter. The combination of the two properties make you feel like you’ve discovered a great secret: a bit of the past; a glint of midwinter sunlight on the bark of an old oak.

The architecture of the park is whimsical and mostly Deco, though there are hints of an earlier rubble-and-timber Romanesque.  Throughout the park are the plastic-encased placards that the NPS is wont to erect that are intended to be helpful windows into the past, and they are helpful insofar as they exist. I’ve read them all, and I get the sense that there used to be more of them, or some were never completed, or there is some stretch of the park somewhere that I’ve never been to where the placards that would complete the story should be. For the placards, like the aforementioned bronze plaque, focus on the latter part of the park’s history, specifically on its last gasps and even its post-mortem. Several of the placards are dedicated to explanations of the “art yurts” that have been plunked down since the NPS takeover, which if you ask me are eyesores and entirely disruptive of the sense of spatial and temporal continuity that otherwise makes the park a special place. Oh don’t get me wrong– I love a good yurt. But they have their place and their place is not on the site of the former Crystal Pool in a park that has otherwise been preserved, as it were, in amber.

The placards skip over the early history of the park–which was founded in 1891 as a chautauqua– and start the chronology with the 1930s Deco additions and specifically the Crystal Pool. There is a reference to the ’40s– and then right into the desegregation effort of the 1960s. In short, they seem more interested in the intersection of the park with national socio-politics and with a particular viewpoint, one that has been vindicated by being on the “right side of history”, as the execrable phrase goes, than with giving an accurate and evenly-spaced chronology.

And that brings us to my objection to Glen Echo Park– that is, to my objection to the National Park Service ownership of the Park and many other sites like it. I mentioned that it was rarely crowded– that was a charitable way of saying that it is mostly desolate. The buildings may have their functions but they are not intended to be visited or viewed, unless you are taking the Adult Crochet class on Tuesdays at 11:30 and know exactly where you are supposed to be. The carousel is open on Saturdays and Sundays, but the Bumper Car building is an empty shell. And so it shall remain as long as it is owned by the federal agency whose mission is to freeze time– neither keeping it alive nor allowing it to grow into something else.

The overlay of the arts people is its own uncomfortable symbiosis, with the parasitic member controlling the host. I don’t mean to be uncharitable– as I said, I am glad for an inexpensive venue where my daughters can take drawing lessons– but those yurts along a neither-straight-nor-meandering macadam path on the former site of the Crystal Pool…they look every bit the mushrooms that they impersonate.  Rather ironic, too, as the NPS placards extol the virtues of the Crystal Pool but give the impression that it is beyond the remaining wall of the pool grounds, rather than before them.  It took me a while– years, actually, until I studied the photograph on the sign more carefully while killing time– to figure out the location of the Crystal Pool to be smack where the yurts are, on the path that everyone must walk from the parking lot.

Part of my objection is to the hypocrisy of the Park Service whose former Secretary issued the draconian and nonsensical Historic Preservation standards that have plagued the cause of “preservation” for over thirty years. No privately owned landmark would be allowed to dot the former site of a major contributing structure with yurts the way the NPS allows itself.

But the hypocrisy is a red herring. My real objection is that once the Park Service gets a hold, that’s it. Whatever house, building, neighborhood, or amusement park is brought into the fold is doomed to an existence of suspended animation, never to truly live or be lived in again. Add the brown signs, the handicap ramps, the humidity monitors, the uninformative brochures, and the mostly irrelevant gift shop and this place deemed important for its specialness looks just like every other such place under their purview in the nation.

Walking through Glen Echo, you want to see the bumper cars, hear the music, smell the popcorn. But it shall never be.

I find it hard to believe that in the fifty years since its demise, no one would have been inspired to revive it in some form. Of course, if the NPS hadn’t stepped in, there’s a good chance the place would be a strip mall or lousy housing development by now. That in its own way would be a shame too.

But what if the NPS were more of a holding company – charged with maintaining such places indefinitely until a suitable, responsible private investor were found, one who agrees to meet certain conditions of preservations and activity?

Keep buidlings alive. Buildings, like people, have an esprit which is stifled for lack of freedom. If a body is on a respirator it is not necessarily alive – but one should take it off extraordinary measures and see if it breathes on its own.







Toothbrushes and sneakers

My young daughter started mocking me because my toothbrush, with it’s swoopy transluscent teal handle filled with gold sparkles and its neon blue bristles, looked like it should belong to my even younger daughter. I could offer no explanation other than consumer captivity:  of the 400 toothbrushes I stared at in the drug store aisle, this was the only one of the right size and the right hardness that seemed the…manliest. The fact that we were camping made the contrast all the starker.  Everything around us was wood, leather, metal, wood, cotton, wool.  Maybe I should just feather the end of a twig to brush the way the pioneers did.

IMG_3865I love that when I go to the pharmacy, I can choose from about 400 toothbrushes – but it’s hardly a choice when they all look more or less the same and more or less like something I don’t want. Can’t someone make a wooden-handled toothbrush? Kentucky ash would be nice. I’d even settle for the straight, primary color plastic ones that we had to suffer with as kids– and when I say suffer, I mean in the sense that the handle wasn’t molded to fit the exact grip of a my palm, with a ridged thumb mount presumably to provide for the extra traction needed to prevent the slippage that could result in an impaled cheek,( It could, you know), and the precisely angled head with the seventeen kinds of bristles to caress each tooth as the plaque is efficiently whisked away as never before known to man. I am willing to take the risk of cheek impalation if it means I can have a toothbrush that doesn’t look like the tricorder of a hyper space-age gymnast. I’m not saying I want to risk splinters in my gums like a pioneer, but for Pete’s sake, I do not need Bluetooth connectivity to keep track of my oral hygiene.


This is an actual men’s sneaker.

The same goes for sneakers. I’ve owned comparatively few in my life, once mandatory phys-ed classes disappeared from my schedule.  I probably own a pair now, though I don’t recall seeing them the last time I cleaned out my closet. On the few occasions as an adult when I’ve sought to buy a pair– either out of a sense of necessity or an uncharacteristic desire for exercise– I’ve been quickly discouraged by the offerings. Outrageous price aside, the first question I pose to the clerk dressed like a referee is, do you have anything in just one color? White, black, brown? and the answer is (other than $400 tennis shoes), no. We’ve got teal, fuscia, magenta, violet, neon orange– and that’s just the left shoe.

I want a sneaker. I don’t want a tennis shoe, a running shoe, a basketball shoe, a badminton shoe, a hiking shoe, a cross-trainer.  I want a sneaker. Just a sneaker, in the same way that Lucy just wants Linus to play one-fingered Jingle Bells on a toy piano.  I resent you trying to fit me into one of your catch-all categories. Dammit, I’m a man!

I like a slip-on: loafers, slippers, the occasional boat shoe– but I’m willing to lace up for a sneaker. I understand the importance of protecting your ankle and getting a snug fit. But I never counted on laces and air pumps and Velcro (you’re not supposed to say velcro as a generic, by the way; the official term is “hook and loop fastener”).  And….what shape is that?  I want a pair sneakers, not two little bumper cars. I’m afraid if I put those on my feet and accidentally click my heels together three times, they are going to enlarge into two spaceships for me and Michael Jordan to fly around in chasing Warner Bros. martians.  And yet, they command top dollar. The proverbial kids in the ghettos kill over them. People sleep in line for days to get the newest model. The shoes are a response to the demand that they have created. Actual headline in USA TODAY:  “Exclusive: Nike Unveils the Jordan XX9: Basketball’s First High-Definiton Shoe.”

Someday in the future, I’ve no doubt that archaeologists are going to uncover the remains of present-day America and marvel over our fetishization of three-things: electronics, toothbrushes and sneakers. The electronics is somewhat understandable, as they appeared all of a sudden and took over our fancies and lives. The toothbrush and the sneaker, however, represent an evolution, a supposed progression of technology. Those archaeologists are going to shake their heads and laugh.

pioneer toothbrush


Track-o-the-Day: US Male

My buddy Chris Bro at All Things Next recently ran an informal Facebook poll for the best vocalist in rock history. The top three were Freddie Mercury, Robert Plant, and Janis Joplin. That seems about right, but I liked the comment of one participant who said, “For me, it begins and ends with Elvis Presley.”

Well said. Here he is, parlaying a little Johnny Cash/Tex Williams vibe during (one of) his comeback year(s) of 1968.

elvis us male

Job site photo

A long time ago, I read a quote by Frank Gehry in which he explained that the prime mover for his aesthetic (this was just after he had gained fame for his Santa Monica house, with the chain link and exposed stud walls) was that unfinished buildings were often more inspiring and poetic than the finished product. I may disagree with his resultant, but I am right with him on the antecedent. So many times, I am taken with an image that I see at a job site of one of my own projects…that will be covered up in a few weeks…

This is a basement of an addition in Arlington. The end result will be quite lovely, of course, but will the TV room ever be this ethereal?


Franciscan cross

I love this motif at the Franciscan monastery in Washington. The Franciscans are the guardians of the Holy Sites in Jerusalem, so their motif here is the “five-fold cross” or “Jerusalem cross” of the first crusaders, consisting of a large Greek cross with four smaller sans-serif Greek crosses in each quadrant, encased by a Star of David.

That’s a progression of 1-4-5-6. It is neither a numerical, nor geometric, nor intuitive progression. The real trick is getting from five to six smoothly, but the (acanthus?) leaves between the star and the crosses manage it by converting the six-corners of the star into twelve branches, which then correlate to the four points of the main cross and the sub-crosses. Nifty stuff.

2014-05-27 11.11.17


Buying fixtures

I’ve never been a handy man. It’s been known to take me two whole days to change the washer in a leaky faucet, a task which all of the how-to books say should take a few minutes.

During the process, I had damaged so many other pieces that I ended up replacing the entire faucet. As an architect, I had originally installed (rather, I had originally hired a contractor to install) a beautiful European faucet, tall and curved and made from high-quality brass and plated in surgical steel. As a homeowner, when I found that changing the washer involved dismantling the whole apparatus from below and behind, and involved plumbing skills and tools beyond (this) layman’s reach, and then discovered how brittle the brass fittings are and how difficult it would be to get replacement parts, I did the only sensible thing: I drove to Home Depot and replaced it with a cheap Moen or Delta or something.  This is only temporary, I assure you — someday a beautiful faucet will sit there again. It is but another item on the endless list of renovations and projects to accomplish. Cobbler’s children having no shoes and all that. At least they have running water again.

I had specified that original faucet before I was a residential designer– back when I was doing office buildings and condos and apartments, and was in the thrall of the catalogs and the sales reps of the Latest and Greatest.  Okay, that’s a lie– I was never the type of designer who was easily enthralled. Nevertheless, it was in the ether– like it or not, I knew the latest and greatest.  As such, all I really cared about was the aesthetics– the look, the feel, the assurance that it was a high-quality product. Ah yes– also unique. It couldn’t just look like any other bathroom faucet, after all.

Now that I advise clients on products, I have come to recognize that serviceability is among the primary qualities to shop for. Brass fittings and smooth ball-bearing operation are wonderful things, to be sure– but as I discovered the hard way can come to naught if they are too particular. A bathroom sink is not a performance car; I shouldn’t have to special order parts from Baden.  Sure, I could have avoided the debacle if I had called a plumber to service the leaky faucet– but a) I shouldn’t have to; there are some projects that even the lamest of us should be able to handle, and b) there is no guarantee he wouldn’t have cracked the brass nipple as well (“Crack the brass nipple”– sounds like a Spinal Tap album).

It was very distressing, however, to also discover the hard way just how bad the opposite end of the spectrum is. That $80 faucet I ended up installing didn’t just replace the brass fittings with cheaper metal and smaller connections; no, the whole affair is basically plastic with just enough metal to keep it legit, and only on surfaces that are visible. It was easy to install, I suppose, but most of the washer and bolt connections have been replaced by plastic snap’n’lock thingies. You can feel it when you twist the knobs. I feel it every morning and it drives me wiggy, that grrrrrrrrind of plastic turning on plastic. Needless to say, “Replace faucet” has steadily risen in importance on the To Do list.

Above that sink is a light sconce that I had installed at the same time. It was a cool looking fixture, and it went well with the faucet. Small, simple, but distinctive.  I remember scouring through lighting catalogs to find just that right one.

It’s been dark for about two years now. I got so tired of special ordering the replacement bulbs which  even the local electrical supply house didn’t stock. It’s okay; there’s enough light without the sconce. Lately I’ve noticed something else about it: seven years in a wet room have pitted the stainless steel, which is starting to rust. More cheap Chinese crap. I didn’t give it a thought then, but now I always check to see where a product is made and if I can avoid China, I do. Even Taiwan falls under suspicion now.

I am going to have more to say on the implications and deterioration of “Made in the USA”, but for now let this suffice as a general statement about shopping for anything for your home:  Beware of judging on aesthetics alone. There is no shame– and great merit– in finding an attractive, appropriate fixture that can be serviced by a trip to the local hardware store.   A good product, be it a dishwasher, a faucet, a light, a can opener, anything– finds the nexus between looks, practicality, longevity, and cost. Pay a little more for something that will last, but don’t pay a lot more for something that just looks great. If it seems to cheap, it probably is. If it seems to expensive, it probably is. Find that sweet spot, and do whatever you can to avoid cheap Chinese crap and special order supply houses in Baden.


Mad Men


draperNo spoilers here – in fact, this is written for those of you who have not been watching and are now biased against it because of all the hype.
The show has taken on a different character than the way it started–which I am convinced was by design, or potentially by design once Matthew Wiener figured he had the green light to run past three or four seasons. I think he probably had a short version and a long version in his head and now we are being treated to the long version.
The first episode took place in March of 1960, and as you no doubt have heard, everything was slick and orderly and the main characters were “cool” in a skinny-tie, ash-flicking, sidelong glance way.  Because the show is character-driven, the plot revolves around small-ball- who’s fortunes are on the rise and who is falling and who is diddling whom, so for the first few seasons time passes the way it really does: more or less unnoticed. Big picture events (Kennedy assassination, Selma, Beatles on Ed Sullivan, etc.) occur in the background, with appropriate but unobtrusive passing references just to keep your disbelief willingly suspended.
But  things have changed. The last two seasons have gotten really dark and all of a sudden the “events” have become inevitable, and personal– race relations, long-haired slackers, pot-smoking, the spike in crime in NYC, open decadence in LA.. This is not just around the world of the characters, it is their world. The transition is not at all forced in fiction than it was in real life: one of the reliable conceits of the show is that the scenarists are impeccably accurate: that really is the New York Times of that particular day in Roger Sterling’s hands with the headlines proving that the unfolding events are not being exaggerated.
In a way, the series is a mirror of our own Bush/Obama years where you don’t have the luxury of not having an opinion or at least expression of where you stand on things around you: neither information nor lack of information is a benefit or deficit, and the people around you are as trustworthy as you hope they are, until you start to see the ice crack beneath your feet and people you know standing on a floe that is slowly but surely drifting away.
Watching Mad Men is like watching the proverbial boiling of the frog, a slow-motion documentary on the dis-logical syllogism that was the unraveling of America in the 60s in which A led to B, B led to C, C led to D, and A found it had absolutely nothing to do with D.  The logic was cold but the emotions were raw.
From a dramatic standpoint, it means that in the blink of an eye the “cool” characters are now the squares, the settings we loved watching are now deformed, bordering on hideous; the sane is insane and the ridiculous is the norm, and the jesters are fêted as prophets.
Sixties retrospectives usually have a pre- or post-cultural disruption bent, either nostalgic like American Graffiti or nostalgic like Hair, or feign objectivity while all the while rooting for the hindsight-heroic “inevitable” cultural disruption. Mad Men is the first, or at least the best, one that I know of that more or less portrays the transformation.  It’s been a seven-and-counting year version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, except that is concentrating exclusively on the moment that all of the film versions of Stevenson’s novel try to elide and hide with camera tricks.
We are in Season 7 now, and it’s summer 1969: I’m expecting one of the next two episodes to include the moon landing and/or Charles Manson and/or Woodstock– July 20, August 8, August 15 respectively.  Those three things all happened in America in three weeks!  (Except for the moon part.)  Intellectually I’ve always known those dates, but wow! what a three week period in American cultural, and by extension, world history.
It’s not too late: the conclusion isn’t going to happen until next year. There is plenty of time to Netflix-binge and catch up. Come on, man, don’t be such a heavy. Everyone’s doing it now.


Quarters have jumped the shark

Well…truthfully they jumped the shark at least fifteen years ago, but now they have entered a painfully silly stage where no currency has gone before.

Shenandoah quarterThis new quarter I got as change today– which feels possibly just-perceptibly lighter? But why? it’s not like it contains any precious metals– has a border on the obverse, says SHENANDOAH and has an indecipherable graphic of what I assurme are mountains.

Why? Are we now documenting National Parks? Valleys? Rivers? Enigmatic folk songs?  Or is there a computer somewhere that just spits out random words and images to put on currency?

The answer is…who cares?  Stop debasing our currency.