Tuesday, May 31, 2011

On the Subject of Trees...

... here's a performance by the Screaming Trees from sometime back in the nineties:

Three Pictures: Trees

These three shots are from the past couple of days, while I was out communing with nature (sort of). Above is a scene as evening fell on the Town Park in Williamsville. The next two were taken at Hunter's Creek in East Aurora.

Here's one of the tributaries to the creek itself. Like a lot of places this year, there's been a lot of precipitation causing plenty of runoff. The good part of that is it feeds the green; the bad part is it made the trail really muddy and slippery in spots.

This last one may seem kind of plain, but I find it very relaxing for some reason, the image of the narrow trunks snaking up through the leaves.

Tuesday's Quote

The following comes from the famous Roman soldier and statesman Marcus Aurelius (121-180):

"A noble man compares and estimates himself
by an idea which is higher than himself; and a
mean man, by one lower than himself. The one
produces aspiration; the other ambition, which
is the way in which a vulgar man aspires."

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Trip Down Memory Lane

I remember when Three Dog Night were the biggest band in rock (well, pop rock anyway). Albert Brooks even did a bit where he talked about them selling out the state of Kentucky (or was that Neil Diamond? I'll have to listen to that Brooks album again). Here's one of the first songs I remember hearing by the group way back in 1969:

Four Photos: At the Zoo

I don't consider myself much of a wildlife photographer (mainly because I lack the patience necessary), but when the animals are put on display before me, I don't mind snapping a few shots. These were taken at the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma. The peacock above was wandering around the entrance area, and putting on a nice show with his plumage.

They have several tigers at the zoo, and they were one of my favorite attractions. Working with a zoom though, I didn't get many good pictures, as they were constantly moving. This is about the best, and on a quick glance, I guess you might mistake the setting for some African savannah (though I think these were actually Indian tigers).

The penguins all marched down to check out the visitors hanging out around their habitat. They seemed like some down-to-earth guys, despite the formal wear.

Unlike the tigers, this guy was standing completely stock still the whole time we watched him. I was hoping he'd turn his head and give us a smile, but no such luck.

Soup Diary 110530

I'm falling behind on recounting my soup experiences here, so I'm going to double up today in order to catch up. The last two cups I enjoyed from Infinity Soups in Tacoma were the Roasted Red Pepper with Chicken (seen above) and Curry Chick Pea (partly visible in the shot below). The first was okay, but nothing special. There was more tortellini than chicken evident in the mix (not a problem exactly, but it seemed like filler). But the Curry Chick Pea, that was outstanding. Just a perfect mix of flavors and textures, spicy but not too hot. Even given all the options at this particular soup stand, it would be hard to resist ordering this one automatically if I saw it on the menu without even considering the other possibilities. Special thanks to Lizzie for taking me to there-- it looks like it will become a regular stop when I find myself back in the area (I'm already wondering what might be available around Thanksgiving).

Memorial Day Quote

Probably the greatest speech in American history, here's the full text of the Gettysburg Address delivered by Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) following the famous battle in 1863:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rock Noir

I was trying to think of a good song to go along with the long previous post on detective fiction, and remembered this great Jim Carroll Band cut off of their debut album Catholic Boy. As it happens, the video actually features another detective story set in San Francisco (Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo starring Jimmy Stewart). Carroll really nails the hard-boiled tone in this song (no surprise, he name-checks Raymond Chandler in another lyric from that album). Enjoy:

The Last Book I Read

I discovered Dashiell Hammett's work back when I was in high school. I'd somehow come across Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, which led me to seek out the rest of his novels and stories. One of the collections of his pulp stories also included an essay called "The Fine Art of Murder" which was his treatise on the development of the hard-boiled school of authors, and the clear hero in this account was this guy with the odd name of Dashiell Hammett. So I started checking out his books too. After devouring them all (at the time I believe that only his five novels and one short story collection were available), I started looking around for the next great author in that tough, gritty genre. A few omnibuses featuring work by fellow Black Mask pulp writers turned up a couple of candidates (Norbert Davis and Frank Gruber were two I recall), but they either never produced longer works, or they proved disappointing aside their short stories. Eventually I did discover James M. Cain, but while his novels were in the same ballpark stylistically, his plots tended to soap opera and that wasn't so appealing to me. So over the years I came to believe that after Chandler and Hammett, there's a pretty big drop-off in the hard-boiled detective school.

Spade & Archer is a really fine attempt to recapture the air and voice of Hammett's best known work, The Maltese Falcon. Gores has been down this road before-- back in the seventies, I read his novel imagining Hammett's own transition from Pinkerton operative to author, just titled Hammett. Wim Wenders later turned that into a pretty decent film (and I still hope he someday undertakes a movie version of Hammett's Red Harvest, set in rough and rowdy Butte, America in the years after World War I). Anyway, Gores recent effort is actually a prequel to The Maltese Falcon, providing a back story for its protagonist Sam Spade (I find it difficult not to picture him as a dead ringer for Humphrey Bogart, who played the character in the 1940 John Huston-directed film). It's no insult to say that Gores is no Hammett, but he's a good story-teller with a great skill for setting the scene, in this case San Francisco in the 1920s. One difference between him and Hammett, from my perspective, is that while Hammett wrote detective stories, Gores writes mysteries. The difference is in the emphasis-- whether one focuses more on character or plot development. Because it's less likely to be constrained by genre conventions, I'm inclined to find the former more interesting, and that's where Hammett excelled. Gores is better in the latter area, so the story is compelling, but occasionally seems like little more than the sprinkling of clues (I guessed the bad guy at the start of the last part of the novel) with characters doing things not because of who they are but because of what needed to be done at that moment. It helps of course, when you are dealing with characters (or, at least the main character) whose persona is already pretty well known to the reader. Again, I don't want to say this is a major fault-- no one working the in the hard-boiled tradition should bristle at falling short in a comparison with Hammett. This book doesn't make me want to go out and find everything else that Gores has written, but I was genuinely entertained throughout, and am glad I read it.

Sunday Funnies

I actually never heard of the strip featured here today, Lala Palooza, before I stumbled upon it at the I Love Comix Archive. This is odd to me because it is the creation of the great Rube Goldberg, and I've read a couple of books about him (not to mention all the copious attention he gets in general histories of early newspaper strips). Boob McNutt, Foolish Questions, Mike and Ike (They Look Alike), and of course his great series of weird inventions were all familiar to me. I can only guess that Lala came along later and either didn't last very long (Goldberg clearly was always coming up with fresh ideas), or just didn't get into too many papers. Anyway, here are a few examples that I think exhibit some nostalgic charm, and you can find more at the link to the Comix Archive above.

A Sunday Quote

A great insight from the noted author F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940):

"That is part of the beauty of all literature.
You discover that your longings are universal
longings, that you're not lonely and isolated
from anyone. You belong."

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Great Replacements

Many would argue, and I might have to agree, that the Replacements were past their prime by the time they recorded this song. But even sub-prime Replacements is still better than just about anything else out at the time (late eighties), and while this is a bit pop-ish in comparison to their classic earlier work, it's still got a little bite, and wit, to it:

Saturday Morning Cartoon

My sister Theresa mentioned the character of Granny who appears in this Tweety and Sylvester cartoon-- I thought she'd get a chuckle out of the song she sings at the start. The rest of it is pretty good too (though once again poor Sylvester is thwarted):

Quote of the Day

Short, sweet and on target: that's what I think of this line from the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804):

"Morality is not the doctrine of how we
may make ourselves happy, but how we
may make ourselves worthy of happiness."

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Great Amy Rigby

As I've probably mentioned here before, Amy Rigby is my favorite contemporary female singer-songwriter (I might even drop that "contemporary" qualifier). Here's a live performance of one of my favorite tunes by her:

Friday Family Blogging Quiz

Due to unforeseen (actually, it was foreseen) circumstances, I don't have a new quiz this week. But I'll keep last week's contest open for another week, so you can still get in a few more responses to that one (even those who already played-- why not throw in a second entry?).

More Friday Family Blogging

Last week I posted a pic of Marenka performing with the PLU Woodwinds Orchestra. Today, her equally talented brother Gerik is on-stage with the Auburn Riverside Jazz Band. That's him at the top, doing a very credible impersonation of Clifford Brown (on one of whose compositions he later soloed).

Friday Family Blogging

Last week, Joseph did a presentation at his school celebrating the great state of Alaska. Here he is dressed as a fisherman from the Great White North, with his massive catch under his arm. Notice how impressed his classmates are.

Friday Philosophy

Here's a famous passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson's (1803-1882) essay entitled "Self-Reliance:"

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cool Song

Everyone knows Steve Forbert for "Romeo's Tune" but the guy's been making good music for a long time past that big hit. Here's another song that actually goes back to the early part of his career, in a recent live performance.

Toonerville Thursday

I guess like any town, Toonerville has its share of dirty old men. Think of the great stories one would hear, loafing around the porch of the general store...

A Thought for Thursday

Something to remember in these anti-worker times, from one of the great figures in organized labor during its earliest years in this country, Samuel Gompers (1850-1924):

"The labor of a human being is not
a commodity or article of commerce.
You can't weight the soul of a man
with a bar of pig-iron"

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Classic Rock and Roll

From back in the days when the saxophone rivaled the guitar as the preeminent rock and roll instrument, here are the Diamonds with an early dance hit:

Soup Diary 110525

I'm not a big fan of meatballs in soup-- it just seems like they should be smothered in rich, thick tomato sauce rather than a runny broth. Along those lines, I would never order Italian Wedding Soup if I have another alternative, although I must admit it's not based on taste so much as perception (I've actually had one or two decent bowls of Italian Wedding Soup in my time). But at Infinite Soup they offered something called Hunter's Meatball, and I was intrigued enough by the name to give it a try. Turned out pretty good too, though I can't help but think that it would've been better if the meatballs were to be broken up into smaller chunks of meat. In this case, the broth had a slightly buttery flavor (actually, that's kind of a mark of almost all the varieties I tried at that shop), lightly seasoned to complement the meatballs. Along with that were some chunks of red pepper and mushrooms, for a very satisfying mix. This wasn't so spectacular that I'd be tempted to order it again, especially given other options, but I'm glad my prejudice didn't stop me from enjoying it at least this once.

Three Pictures: Seattle

Here are three images from my recent visit to West Seattle, affording me a great view (and photo ops) of the city's skyline and other sights. In addition to the Space Needle above, you can also see the Cascades dimly in the distance.

Some boats on Elliott Bay, including the big ferry chugging into view at the left.

Is it safe to call Mt. Rainier the most famous landmark of Seattle? Personally, I find it much more impressive than the Space Needle, even though in this shot looking southeast from West Seattle, the mountain was about sixty or seventy miles away!

Wednesday's Quote

Today's quote comes from a letter written by the renowned author Herman Melville (1819-1891) to his compatriot Nathaniel Hawthorne. It's a bit cynical, but definitely worth consideration:

"Try to get a living by the Truth -- and go to the Soup Societies. Heavens! Let any clergyman try to preach the Truth from its very stronghold, the pulpit, and they would ride him out of his church on his own pulpit bannister. It can hardly be doubted that all Reformers are bottomed upon the truth, more or less; and to the world at large are not reformers almost universally laughingstocks? Why so? Truth is ridiculous to men."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Classic Dylan

Once again in honor of Bob Dylan's seventieth birthday, here's a live performance of one of his greatest tunes, "Tangled Up in Blue." The song originally appeared on the album Blood on the Tracks, and this version appears to be from the Rolling Thunder Revue tour from 1975. Enjoy:

Soup Diary 110524

I guess I was due for a clunker after several cups of truly delicious soup. The Spicy Hungarian Chicken that I had a couple days ago (also from Infinite Soups) was not bad exactly, it was just way too spicy. The "heat" factor overwhelmed everything else so that I really could have been eating almost anything, as no other flavors could break through. Now I generally like hot dishes, but that heat really should complement the other ingredients and not overwhelm them. I ended up dumping in a whole bunch of oyster crackers to try and cut the spice down to size, but that shouldn't be necessary. So the scorecard so far for this venue reads two outstanding varieties and one... eh. Not a bad average, all things considered.

The Last Movie I Saw

One can certainly see that Everything Must Go (directed by Dan Rash) is based on a short story, in this case one by Raymond Carver. The plot is very concise, built mainly on three interpersonal relationships with protagonist Will Ferrell at its center. As each relationship is developed, they display how his character is basically a decent guy, but one with a self-destructive streak that compels him to sabotage any good will he has built up with his friends and acquaintances. Forced to confront this reality, he initially checks out but slowly comes to realize there are some things worth preserving in his muddled life, and it isn't the possessions strewn across his front lawn by the wife who dumped him. I have to admit that early on, I was seeing this movie primarily in terms of its seeming stunt casting of Will Ferrell. It was hard not to be thinking about how this wasn't like his usual starring vehicles, and wondering if it would reach the point where he did something more in line with his typical persona. That moment never came, and at about the half-hour mark, I stopped expecting it-- which is another way of saying that as I got absorbed in the story, Ferrell's performance conformed to the dictates of the narrative, for the most part quite effectively, and that real acting was trumping any potential star turn. It's not a great movie, but I doubt it had any pretensions to be one; but it is very good and even somewhat moving as it moves towards its completely logical conclusion. Kudos to the entire cast, especially Rebecca Hall and Christopher Jordan Wallace, who along with Ferrell keep things on a human level.

Today's Quotation

In honor of his seventieth birthday today, here's a quote from the great American singer-songwriter (and reluctant voice of his generation) Bob Dylan:

"I don't think the human mind can comprehend
the past and the future. They are both just
illusions that can manipulate you into thinking
there's some kind of change."

Monday, May 23, 2011

Great Singalong Song

You probably have to be of a certain older generation to fully appreciate this number by Gurf Morlix (a western New York native like me), but if you are, I don't know how you can keep from joining in after the first couple of bars.

Four Pictures: Macro Experiments

One of the places I visited on my trip to the great Northwest last week was a place called Mud Mountain Dam, where Lizzie and I took a little hike through the woods. This gave me an opportunity to try out the macro settings on my camera, and I got some nice shots of the local fauna.

I don't actually know what any of these flowers are called, but I enjoyed playing around with getting some sharp images by closing in on my subjects. I also like how the background is rendered quite fuzzy.

As is often the case as I discover more ways to play with my camera, I hope to keep experimenting on these close-ups, and I'll likely post more examples of what I come up with here.

Soup Diary 110523

It was a good soup week. A very good soup week, in fact. I visited Infinite Soups in Tacoma several times and one of the best selections I made there was the Curried Chicken soup seen above. I'm not the biggest fan of curry, but the mix in this concoction was perfect, with chunks of chicken, couscous, and a spicy creamy broth binding it all together. With a little baguette and some crackers, a totally satisfying lunch. By the way, my sister Liz noted that I underestimated the menu in my previous diary entry, giving Infinite Soup credit for offering about twelve varieties on a daily basis. Turns out the number is more like eighteen or twenty. I can't affirm that all are equally good, but it wouldn't surprise me if most of them were. It's also a plus that we could carry our soup over to Wright Park a couple blocks away and enjoy it outdoors in the sunshine (though I suspect that is not always the case in Tacoma).

A Monday Quote

Something to ponder from the famous mystery writer Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849):

"Experience has shown, and a true philosophy
will always show, that a vast, perhaps the
larger portion of the truth arises from
the seemingly irrelevant."

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Favorite Song

Roky Erickson has had several stages in his career as a musician (most recently on the comeback trail again after recording with the group Okkervill River). This goes back to his "mid" period in the 1980s, after his initial success with the 13th Floor Elevators. It's a stripped down but driving song called "Don't Slander Me:"

Friday Family Blogging Quiz

We haven't done one of these in awhile. The goal is to be creative, and your answers will be judged on originality and enterrtainment value. The question: what is compelling Ben to make that face? Put your answers in the comments section.

Last week, I asked you to identify some eyes, and Lizzie recognized that they belonged to Gerik (she also finally got the previous week's quiz answer, identifying Eileen as the person sitting next to Maria and Natalie on the hayride). Good luck this week!

Cool Site

Iused to spend a lot of time wandering the streets of Manhattan back in my faraway youth. Now I can do so again, after a fashion, as the result of photographer Richard Howe's project of taking pictures of every street corner in the city (above is the northeast corner of Lexington Ave. at 49th St.). Twenty plus years on from when I lived there, most have changed, some considerably. But it's a kick to click through the series and spot a familiar spot, even all these years later. You can find the collection here, if you want to go exploring yourself.

More Friday Family Blogging

More nieces-- Maria and Sara just before setting out for school. Maria's holding a duffel bag because her class was heading off on a three day field trip.

Friday Family Blogging

If you look at the above group shot, you can see my very talented niece Marenka almost dead center holding her bassoon. I got to see her perform with the PLU Woodwinds Ensemble last night in a varied program culminating in a rousing set of tunes from John Williams Star Wars soundtracks. Good stuff!

Friday Philosophy

Some words of wisdom from the eminent British historian John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton (1834-1902), better known as Lord Acton:

"Every thing secret degenerates, even the
administration of justice; nothing is safe
that does not show how it can bear
discussion and publicity."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sax Giants

Speaking of saxophonists (see previous post), here's a couple great ones: Pharoah Sanders and David Sanborn. Sanders in particular is one of the soulful players I've ever heard, and Sanborn is certainly no slouch himself. Check it out:

Toonerville Thursday

These are two of my favorite Toonerville panels, one about baseball, one about music. Hack Wilson was a slugger for the Chicago Cubs back in the early 1930s, and I think he still holds the record for most Runs Batted In in a single season (190).

Thursday's Thought

Here's a passage from Looking Backward, Edward Bellamy's (1850-1898) famous novel of utopian prognostication. If anything, this appears more true today than when he wrote it:

"There is no such thing in a civilized society as self-support. In a state of society so barbarous as not even to know family cooperation, each individual may possibly support himself, though even then for a part of his life only; but from the moment that men begin to live together, and constitute even the rudest of society, self-support becomes impossible. As men grow more civilized, and the subdivision of occupations and services is carried out, a complex mutual dependence becomes the universal rule. Every man, however solitary may seem his occupation, is a member of a vast industrial partnership, as large as the nation, as large as humanity. The necessity of mutual dependence should imply the duty and guarantee of mutual support..."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cool Song

Since Tacoma has come up in each of the previous couple of posts, here's a song by the greatest band to come out of that great city: the Sonics, one of the all-time great garage outfits of the 1960s:

Soup Diary 110518

My sister Lizzie has been raving about this soup place in Tacoma for months, and I finally got a chance to visit today. The place is called Infinite Soups and that's all they serve, just for takeout (not unlike the Soup Nazi's stand in the classic Seinfeld episode-- a comparison I bet they're sick of hearing about, though the staff was very friendly). I actually tried to visit back in November, but they were closed for the whole long Thanksgiving weekend, so my taste buds had to wait. While they didn't quite reach the promise of their name in offerings, they definitely had more varieties to choose from than I've ever encountered in a single place on a single day before. There were at least twelve different soups on the chalkboard menu, and although that number included Chicken Noodle and Broccoli Cheddar, all the other choices offered some unique or offbeat element. I decided to go with the option that was most exotic, in the sense that it was something that I have never heard of or imagined as a soup before-- so I went with the Roman Artichoke. To put it simply, it was outstanding. Marked by a creamy, slightly cheesy, broth, with copious artichoke leaves and a smattering of tender tortellinis, this was an all-time great. If that's representative of the quality of everything available at Infinite Soups, I can guarantee that I'll be back at the soonest opportunity. If I actually lived in Tacoma, it would be very difficult to resist near daily visits. As it is, it's now added to the list of must-does when I find myself in western Washington.

Wednesday's Quote

I saw a statue of Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) in, of all places, Tacoma earlier today. So here's a great line from teh most famous of Norwegian playwrights.

"One of the qualities of liberty is that,
as long as it is being striven after, it goes
on expanding. Therefore, the man who
stands in the midst of the struggle and
says, "I have it," merely shows by
doing so that he has just lost it."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Light Posting This Week

Posting will be, at best, intermittent over the next week as I take care of some other obligations before embarking on summer travels. In the meantime, and if you haven't already done so, get your guesses in on last week's quiz.

Cool Song

I recently picked up the new Fleet Foxes album, called Helplessness Blues, which I've been enjoying. They've got a great sound, which you can check out on this song, "Grown Ocean."

Four Pictures: West Fest

These four pictures were taken at the KDWG 10th Anniversary Show, West Fest, last month. The lighting was a bit tricky for an amateur photographer like me, but I think that these look pretty good after a little work on PhotoShop.

The goal was to capture what it looked like with just the stage lights illuminating the performers, and that meant longer exposures which lent an impressionistic tone to the images (as in the top picture and the one below).

Another alternative was to use software to adjust the exposure, but while that brought out a bit more detail (in its initial state, you couldn't make out the smile on the singer's face below), it really makes for some odd coloring. Maybe a little more work will get that part right. I consider all of these to be works-in-progress. The last set I posted from this event were enhanced (I think) by converting them to black and white, but I wanted to see if I couldn't make the color work too.