Monkey Sings

The tempo gets more and more dirge-like as she goes along, and she has a pretty bad cold, but she does a good job with an a capella rendition of this song by the Canadian band The Duhks.


A brief post about politics

I haven't commented on politics in a while - chalk it up to outrage fatigue - but now that the Democrats have Congress, it looks like Congressional oversight (those little checks and balances we learned about in school - or in between Saturday morning cartoons if you are a member of my generation) is at long last back in place. I'm not getting too excited yet that anyone is going down (although surely Alberto Gonzalez can't hang in there for much longer), but I'm going to buy some popcorn the next time I go to the grocery store, in case I need something to snack on while things get entertaining.*

*entertaining in the sense of some people finally getting their comeuppance - I weep inside for the damage this country has taken from the Bush administration.

Early Wednesday Morning Pet Blogging

This is the Lord of the Manor, Casimir, aka Caz. He is very attached to Loki, it is rare to find Loki without Caz. He is also protective of the whole family - when I take Cugel for a walk, Caz comes with us.

This is Cugel, aka Stinky. The camera makes him nervous/excited, so he is difficult to photograph. I tried to get a an overhead shot of him in full Basset (completely flat against the floor, ears stretched out to the sides, back legs kicked out behind him), but as soon as I turned the camera on, he got up so he could smell it.

This is Madouc, aka Madoucaloo. She used to be aloof and bitey, but Loki is the cat whisperer, and he brought out her inner flirt. Madouc likes to relax.

She also loves cars. One time, I saw her jump out of the back of a pick-up truck that had been parked on our street but was leaving. In fact, we got her when she was a 3 week old kitten, she had traveled from Union CT to Manchester CT in the wheel well of a truck. You should be able to see Caz through the glass - this is the closest, physically, they have ever been to each other. Caz hates sharing his people with interloper Madouc.



This week in Random Flickr Blogging: People who are not like me

Exhibit A: I am not a Nascar loving person

Exhibit B: I am not an Xtreme sports type of person:

Exhibit C: I am not a Teletubby, Xena the Warrior Princess, or that Green lizard looking dude:

I Love YouTube

Peggy Lee + Stephen Sondheim

Freaky-ass cartoons

This morning, I was waiting for Sio to get ready so we could run some errands, and I sat down with Monkey to watch Saturday morning cartoons while we were waiting.

I wasn't paying much attention at first - the show she was watching had a bunch of kids sitting in these big office chairs talking about rescuing someone from the government, and then, it got freaky deaky:

I was going to say that we didn't have such weird cartoons when I was a kid, but when I think back...we just didn't have such interesting animation to go with our strange cartoons. And then I saw the credits and realized that this show is Executive Produced and stars Andre 3000 from OutKast, and suddenly, it all made sense.


Tom Dowd and the Language of Music

We have digital cable, which gives us this great online guide, and sometimes, I go to a channel that offers a lot of interesting programming and look ahead to see what's coming up, and I record anything that sounds vaguly interesting. That's how I opened up my DVR list last night to find this movie.

Tom Dowd's biography is, by itself, incredible. He worked on the Manhattan Project from the time he was 16 until he was 20. He worked at the tests of the atom bomb in Bikini Atoll. But after that, he took his energy and ability into the music industry.

He worked as a recording engineer for Atlantic Records, and his name can be found on the back of records by Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Book T & The MGs, The Allman Brothers Band, Cream, Bobby Darin and Lynard Skynard, among others. What I got from the movie is that his real genius was about getting the best sound possible from each individual artist he worked with. Artists who spoke about him for this documentary mentioned how he coached them, how he was able to take their ideas and help them make it better, and how no one ever felt criticized or belittled by him. One of my favorite moments was when Ray Charles (sexy as hell, even as an older man) was talking about Dowd and Dowd came into the room - the genuine affection between the men was palpable.

Aside from that, Dowd pioneered a lot of technical advances - from recording in mono to recording in stereo to recording on 8 tracks to modern recording equipment. Another moment in the movie that stands out is a clip of Dowd playing with the tracks from the recording of "Layla" - he was giggling with delight as he brought the tracks together.

I have never given much thought to how music gets from the brain of a musician onto a disc of some kind of material that I can play on some kind of machine. I like to sing and learn new music, but I'm not really a musician - I'm a singer, I interpret music that someone else has created. I've always been sort of mystified and awed by people who make music - I've tried to write a song before, and I can't - and this opened up a whole other avenue of interest for me.


Brief Reviews of Movies I've Seen or Re-seen, Recently

1. The Holiday - I watched this with my SIL last weekend. The story is that Kate Winslet finds out that the man she has loved for a long time (Rufus Sewell) is marrying someone else. She decides to take a vacation far away and lists her house on a Home Exchange site. Meanwhile, Cameron Diaz has just broken up with her boyfriend (played by Ed Burns) because he cheated on her, and there is some silliness around the fact that she cannot cry, poor dear. Kate and Cameron exchange houses, and Kate is delighted with Cameron's California house, but Cameron is the quintessential ugly American and gets bored after about 12 hours in the English countryside.

If they had cut out the whole Cameron Diaz side of the movie and expanded the Kate Winslet side of the movie, it would have been at least 50% better. Cameron Diaz was terrible. Jack Black was okay, but I have liked him for a long time (I think I have terrible taste in men sometimes), and he came off as a little smarmier than he usually does. Kate Winslet is a woman I would totally renounce all men for, she was divine and delightful, as always. Jude Law was quite good, he definitely improves appearance wise when he wears glasses, and he was very sympathetic as a widower, but, of course, he would be, wouldn't he?

I don't really recommend the movie to anyone but diehard romantic comedy fans, or people who enjoy really bad acting by ostensibly attractive women (i.e., Cameron Diaz). Or rent it cheap and fast forward through any scene that doesn't involve Kate Winslet.

2. Four Weddings and A Funeral - you know the story, Charles (Hugh Grant) keeps getting invited to weddings and meets an American woman, Carrie (Andie MacDowell, outclassed at every moment), who he falls inexplicably in love with, and then she gets married and Simon Callow (not Cowell, sheesh) dies and Charles tries to marry to forget about his inexplicable love for Carrie, but he can't go through with it, so he and Carrie agree to not marry.

Okay, I will never understand why Charles falls in love with Carrie. Andie MacDowell is just there, all the lines sound like they were written for someone else to say, someone British, actually, and she has no special spark or wit or anything. This is sort of an ongoing problem I have with Andie MacDowell, which is that she seemed to always get cast as the romantic female lead, but there is something positively matronly about her. Not her appearance, but her - she seems like an old fussy woman somehow. I'm probably reading far too much into it.

The funeral always makes me cry - usually, I get all the way to when Matt (John Hannah) speaks at the funeral to start crying, but on this viewing, I started crying as soon as they cut to the funeral scene and I heard the music.

The first time I watched this movie, I was absolutely charmed by Hugh Grant, but the most recent time I watched it, I kind of fell for dorky Tom, played by James Fleet. And I was very sad to find that Charlotte Coleman, who I had a little crush on ever since I saw her in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, passed away in 2001 after an asthma attack.

3. Running With Scissors - I loved Augusten Burroughs memoir about his twisted childhood, and I was really looking forward to this movie, but it got terrible reviews, so I decided to wait for it to come out on DVD. And the movie was not good. But not good in a kind of weird way. The actors were all good...Annette Bening as Burroughs narcissistic mother was overacted, but not bad, Alec Baldwin can do no wrong in my book, Joseph Cross who played Augusten was terrific, etc. And yet.

The story in brief is that Augusten Burroughs is the child of a professor and a poet. His father the professor is a distant alcoholic. His mother is a narcissistic nutso. When his parents divorce, Burroughs lives for a time with his mother, who signs guardianship of Augusten over to her completely insane psychiatrist, Dr. Finch. Dr. Finch has a few children of his own, plus he has adopted a pedophile, Neil Bookman, who becomes Augusten's first boyfriend, and Augusten.

The Finch family is certifiable. They make decisions on everyday things by Bible dipping - opening the Bible to a random page and interpreting what they should do based on the word their finger lands on. Dr. Finch interprets his bowel movements as messages from God, and scoops them out of the toilet to go on a shrine in the backyard. The children are free to do whatever they want. When Augusten says he doesn't want to go to school, Dr. Finch encourages Augusten to attempt suicide so he can write a note saying that it would be bad for Augusten's mental health to go to school. Crazy, crazy, crazy.

I have two quarrels with this movie. The first is that a lot of the humor was sucked out. The second is that they made Augusten a much deeper character then he was in th book - in fact, I think one of the reasons Augusten survived his childhood was *because* he was shallow - he didn't have the sensitivity to let it ruin him completely. Although he did become a raging alcoholic, so I may be off base about that. Not so much a quarrel, but I was irked by the way they made the wife of Dr. Finch a substitute mother, which didn't happen in the book - she was just a strange, kibble-eating martyr in the book.

Love the book, and recommend it - skip the movie.

4. Muriel's Wedding - I love this movie. Rachel Griffith looks hot dressed as the dark haired woman from Abba, and the scene where Muriel's husband-of-convenience and Muriel make love after her mother's funeral is very romantic. Toni Collette is a terrific actress as Muriel goes from being pathetic to sympathetic. I'm keeping this on my DVR.


First Day of Spring

Since it's the first day of spring, I wanted to capture a picture of spring in New England. You can't quite see the big cat sunning himself on the front step, but you can see how desperately my yard requires the services of a landscaper. Those evergreens to the right of the door (as you are looking at it) need to go. And there is a rhododendron to the left of the door (as you are looking at it), and I think I've nearly killed it with my attempts to prune it, so maybe we should pull that one and plant something else instead.

Anyway, this is our house. It used to be army green, but I wanted something more cheerful, and so we painted it yellow, with white trim and plum shutters. Everyone tried to talk me out of the yellow/plum combo, but I still like it.



My mother was never the kind of mom who baked cookies or had a special meal that we remembered fondly.* But we knew another Irish family whose mom made the best Irish soda bread I ever had. I just remember the bread had this wonderful clean taste.

Since we didn't have any family recipes to pass down, I've tried a lot of recipes over the years, but until tonight, I never found a recipe that had that clean taste of Mrs. Joyce's Irish soda bread.


*There are a number of meals that we remember not-so-fondly - the overcooked flounder on Fridays....we were always thrilled when my mother made fishsticks instead of actual fish. The boiled chicken - yes, you read that right - boiled effing chicken, taking an already bland meat and blanding the fuck out of it. The cabbage, oh mercy, the cabbage, those watery, nearly translucent leaves that stank to high heaven. Any beef was cooked well past done, potatoes would often be slightly undercooked and still hard in the middle, and all vegetables were boiled till every last bit of nutrition was gone.


More Irish Music for St. Paddy's Day

Here are a couple from a band that originates from my father's hometown of Tuam, Co. Galway - The Saw Doctors

Nice images from Erin in this video.

Here's a Saw Doctors tune that is a little more lively - I'd Love To Kiss The Bangles

Here's a band with a changing roster that plays in the Northeast fairly often, Cherish the Ladies

A piece on the Irish harp played by Michelle Mulcahy, and some lovely Gaelic.

Very nice old style singing:

John Doherty's Reels performed by Altan (Toast, this is another good band for traditional Irish music)


Songs from my Childhood

Since tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day, I find myself feeling nostalgic for the Irish music my parents listened to when I was a kid.

First up - The Wild Rover by The Dubliners:

This was one that, when it came on the jukebox in the Irish club, everyone would join in on the chorus.

This one doesn't really have a video, but it was also a popular choice for the Irish Republicans in the Greater Hartford area in the late 70's:

As was this one by the same group, The Wolfe Tones:


The Plague, plus What's In The Basement?

I started the day feeling fine - a little tired, maybe, but fine. But as the day has gone on, it is clear that I actually have the plague. My eyes hurt, my throat hurts, every sinus cavity in my head is full of mucus, and I'm starting to get wheezy.

Ugh. I swear, between Monkey and I, it has been neverending illness for the past couple of months.


What's In the Basement?

Last week, Loki pointed out that there were wood shavings on the floor of the basement.

"Something is down there," he said, "and I think I know what it is."

"What?" I said.

"It's a rat."

I hadn't been down in the basement since early that morning, but that night, I realized that the dryer was full of my undergarments. I had to go down to the basement or go commando.

I opened the door and clicked on the light and looked down. There it was, a small pile of wood shavings.

"It's a not a rat," I said to myself. "It's probably Madouc." It sounded reasonable to me, Madouc can get destructive at times.

So I'm slowly going down the steps. Right foot down, left foot joins it. Right foot down, left foot joins it. (That's how I go down steps because I don't have enough flexibility in my hip to extend my left leg down to the following step.) I pause again, because....I think I hear something.


I turn around and go back up the stairs as fast as I can.

I go to bed that night making sure that none of my blankets are touching the floor.

The next morning, I am calm and rational. If, in fact, there is a rat, we'll just have to get a trap and catch it.

When I got home from work, Loki says, "I know what's in the basement, and it's not a rat."

"What is it?" I ask

"It's a squirrel!" he says. Apparently, Loki opened the door to the basement and caught the little critter trying to scratch a hole through the outside door. Since it was a nice day, he cracked the outside door open and it appears he has left the building.



The other day, when I was leaving choir practice, one of our young sopranos ran through a list of names for potential offspring she may or may not have someday. It's kind of a silly exercise, but I've always like naming things, and if I ever have a French Bulldog (as pictured above), I plan to name him or her Die Fliedermaus, and call him or her Flie for short.

I've also decided that my next cat will be named Sparkle Motion - if I catch any of you stealing that name, there will be hell to pay!


testing embedded videos

If this works, then you are looking at a short snippet of Ben Kweller from the Ben Kweller/Gomez concert I went to last night. This is not my favorite BK song, but it was the only one that offered a clear shot during the performance - I am short and there were many tall men in front of me.


Belated anniversary to me

Yesterday, completely unnoticed by me, was the third birthday of Laughing Wild. For the year ahead, I promise that I will continue my unfocused, sporadic ways, sometimes posting about politics, sometimes posting about my kids, sometimes posting about music, sometimes just putting up one-line posts linking to one of the many bloggers who is a better writer than I am.

Arguably worse

A week or so, Toast had a post up about some fucked up shit involving a guy behind Toast at a light who was eating something with a spoon.

Today, I was in my lane at a light, and I glanced over at the car next to me - it was a silver Honda CRV - and there is a round shaped man about 35 at the wheel, flipping through a copy of Playboy Natural Beauties. I watched as he found a page that he found sufficiently appealing, then he put the magazine down in the passenger seat, and I swear to His Noodly Appendage that he reached down and appeared to do something that looked like he was releasing his junk from his pants. I can't say for sure, but his right hand and arm moved downwards and made motions that suggested the undoing of pants was happening.



If I could just get into my car and pick a direction and drive, I would just keep driving until there were no more roads in front of me. I'm itchy to get away from everyone and everything, and be by myself, just me and a full tank of gas and some good CDs in the player and a wide black ribbon of asphalt ahead.


Feedback Needed

I'm thinking about writing a memoir, like the books David Sedaris writes. I was telling a story from my youth to someone a couple of weeks ago, and they thought it was a great story and said I should write a book, and so that thought has been percolating in my brain.

Would you read a memoir written by me, with the proviso that I would spend a lot more time writing these stories of my life than I do on any of my blog posts, so they'd probably be a lot better than anything I write here? (Anyone can answer)


Added to blogroll

Mike's Neighborhood has moved into the Friends and Family section of the blogroll.


XTreme blogging

Joe Klein wrote a post where he listed what he considers the characteristics of an extremist lefty.

believes the United States is a fundamentally negative force in the world.
--believes that American imperialism is the primary cause of Islamic radicalism.
--believes that the decision to go to war in Iraq was not an individual case of monumental stupidity, but a consequence of America’s fundamental imperialistic nature.
--tends to blame America for the failures of others—i.e. the failure of our NATO allies to fulfill their responsibilities in Afghanistan.
--doesn’t believe that capitalism, carefully regulated and progressively taxed, is the best liberal idea in human history.
--believes American society is fundamentally unfair (as opposed to having unfair aspects that need improvement).
--believes that eternal problems like crime and poverty are the primarily the fault of society.
--believes that America isn’t really a democracy.
--believes that corporations are fundamentally evil.
--believes in a corporate conspiracy that controls the world.
--is intolerant of good ideas when they come from conservative sources.
--dismissively mocks people of faith, especially those who are opposed to abortion and gay marriage.
--regularly uses harsh, vulgar, intolerant language to attack moderates or conservatives.

It's the talk of the lefty blogosphere today, and some folks are just answering each item and whether or not they agree with it, but when I read this, and the comments on his thread, it just struck me again how rarely people with opposing political viewpoints listen to each other. I actually think Klein *is* describing an extremist lefty, but he's also describing someone who, statistically speaking, doesn't exist.

And anyone who thinks this is what the garden variety liberal believes has the most simplistic, shallow and ungenerous reading of the general liberal view.

I'm setting aside the whole issue of civility for the moment, because that's really not about what a person believes or what policies they support, but their method of communication, which is secondary in my opinion to the idea that is being communicated (and I know that some people read a swear word and immediately discount the speaker/writer, but I think that attitude is immature, and I think that because when I was an immature teenager, I was very anti-swearing and thought poorly of anyone who casually peppered their speech with vulgarities, but then I grew up and started trying to listen to what people are saying, and not necessarily how they are saying it.)

I have conservative family members, and I trust that they make their arguments in good faith - not because Fox News or George Bush believes it, but because they do. And then I can discuss their beliefs, and try to communicate how and why I believe differently. I have to listen to them, and they have to listen to me, and we have to trust that the one person is operating honestly and not just there to automatically contradict the other. This works well on a one to one basis, and I think it has been successful at bringing out the inner liberal of some of those family members. I distinctly remember having a discussion about abortion with Loki's grandmother before she passed away, and her view was wise and pro-choice - not what one would expect from someone who grew up believing "FDR" was a curse word.

On a large scale, that kind of listening and give and take seems to be mostly impossible. Here we have Klein, ostensibly a moderate/centrist/Democrat, who has clearly internalized the right-wing's bad faith and shallow arguments about what liberals believe. Personally, I'm curious about how he came to believe that this is what liberals think (if, in fact, he isn't weaseling away from that entirely with his "extremist lefty" label), and whether he is willing to listen to the people who are trying to tell him that, no, that's not what they believe. (So far, it looks bad on the latter, with his snarky update about what the readers are saying.)

FWIW, here's my take on his list:

believes the United States is a fundamentally negative force in the world.

Fundamentally, no. I do believe that the United States is just as capable as any other nation of being a negative force in the world, but I don't think it is inherent to the US, I think it has a lot more to do with the policies of the people who are leading the US.

--believes that American imperialism is the primary cause of Islamic radicalism.

No. I think the primary causes of Islamic radicalism are poverty, fear, ignorance...the usual drivers. Do I think the US has contributed to the increase of radicalism? Yes, as has Britain.

--believes that the decision to go to war in Iraq was not an individual case of monumental stupidity, but a consequence of America’s fundamental imperialistic nature.

I think it was a big heaping chunk of column A and a little bit of column B.

--tends to blame America for the failures of others—i.e. the failure of our NATO allies to fulfill their responsibilities in Afghanistan.


-doesn’t believe that capitalism, carefully regulated and progressively taxed, is the best liberal idea in human history.

In human history? I'm not sure about that. Actually, the idea of a carefully regulated and progressively taxed capitalism makes me positive giddy with excitement. The problem is that I don't think we're there yet, particularly on the carefully regulated and progressively taxed front.

--believes American society is fundamentally unfair (as opposed to having unfair aspects that need improvement).

I believe life is fundamentally unfair, and American society at least acknowledges that and has some policies in place to reduce some of those fundamental unfairnesses. Can we improve in that arena? Yep.

-believes that eternal problems like crime and poverty are the primarily the fault of society.

Primarily? No. But American policies can help reduce crime and poverty, or they can increase them. Actually, that's not even American, that's true across the board, in every nation.

--believes that America isn’t really a democracy.

Well, it's actually a republic, but yes, I believe that U.S. government is a democratic system.

--believes that corporations are fundamentally evil.

Again with the fundamentally. No, I don't believe that corporations are fundamentally evil.

--believes in a corporate conspiracy that controls the world.

No, I don't believe in a corporate conspiracy.

--is intolerant of good ideas when they come from conservative sources.

No, good ideas are good ideas.

--dismissively mocks people of faith, especially those who are opposed to abortion and gay marriage.

--regularly uses harsh, vulgar, intolerant language to attack moderates or conservatives.

These last two I'm going to address together. People who use their faith as a shield to protect them from criticism for their political beliefs should not be excused from the debate because they are arguing from their faith. I have had debates in a number of forums where someone will come forward with the faith card and then I know there is little point in continuing, because they will refuse to listen to anything reasonable - they believe, and they will believe regardless of any facts to the contrary. They are somehow excused from their frankly reprehensible attempts to disallow women the right to control over their own reproductive systems or for gay people to pair bond, because they beliiiieeeeeve! Sometimes, mockery is all I have left in my repertoire after that.

And I should add that moderates and conservatives are often dismissive and mocking towards those they view as liberal, on any number of fronts, regardless of whether the liberal is a person of faith. So this is silly to attach to extreme lefties, because everyone on every political side does the same thing. (And that goes for the language, although, IMO, nothing is quite as reprehensible as communicating an abominable idea using genteel and mannered langage - like the Nazis did when coming up with their final solution. No curse words there, just sensible people discussing what to them were sensible solutions.)



It's been almost 10 days of no sugar now. I feel like my moods have evened up - I managed to make it through Subway Hell in NYC without snapping at anyone, and I seem to be staying a little calmer than usual. I've also stopped craving sweets. Although that may be negative reinforcement from the sugar-free candy I bought. FYI: that stuff makes you gassy. I could hear my stomach rumbling over all the background noise of my office.

Sio has now been accepted to 4 colleges: Manhattan, Green Mountain, RIT and SUNY-Geneseo. So far, Manhattan has offered the most generous financial aid package - basically, they've covered all her tuition, leaving us responsible for room & board and fees. Of course, she's pretty determined to go to Ireland. In order for her to gain citizenship, I have to gain citizenship - I am a citizen, because my father was born in Ireland, but to be official, I also have to have an Irish passport. I got my passport application in the mail today, and it's going to be a beauracratic joyride to get this thing. I have to get my parents original marriage certificate - a photocopy will not suffice - along with my birth certificate.

I have to admit, the idea of having my Irish passport makes me feel a little giddy. If I had any foreign language skills, I could get a job anywhere in the EU! Maybe I'll take a French class next semester.