October 2006 Archives

Music to my ears, redux


Five entries ago I wasted the title "Music to my ears." How could I have known then that Mike would decide to come home this weekend and take out his violin for the first time in three years?

He told me that he needs to write a piece of music for one of his Chinese language courses--strange, yes?--and that he was planning on taking both his violin and his guitar down to Charlottesville. He'd have to blow the dust off whichever instrument he chose to use. Since he hadn't played his violin for three years, I assumed he'd have forgotten how to hold it, much less how to play it. His guitar was abandoned more recently than the violin, so I recommended he use that.

He said he'd forgotten everything he'd learned about the guitar and would have to start from scratch. I pointed out that once a guitar is in tune, the fact that it has frets means you can't use it to sour milk, as can be done with the violin. Also, it doesn't really matter how you hold it, and plucking the strings with the fingers always produces a pleasant sound. The violin, on the other hand, can make a million different sounds, 900,000 of which are mind-bogglingly awful, half of which can cause actual pain to the ears.

Sunday afternoon I heard the soft strumming of the guitar, and it sounded nice. Good choice, I thought. Later, he got his violin out of the case and I braced myself for heartbreak. (Long story omitted here.) He started tuning it and the G string broke. I hunted around and found a spare in my own dusty violin case. It took him only a few minutes to remember how to put the new string on. I hunted for the tuner, found it, wiped thick dust off it, then discovered that, of course, the battery was dead. I hunted for a battery and found one. I handed him the tuner and left him alone in the living room. A few minutes later I heard the opening notes of Wieniawski's Legende. The intonation was good and so was the tone. I was stunned. I walked into the living room and stared in disbelief. That, dear reader, was music to my ears.

Fall back


I hate going off daylight savings. I hate coming home in the dark at 5:30; I can't play with the dog in the backyard if neither of us can see the ball when I throw it. When I get home from work tomorrow there'll be a short amount of twilight left-- just enough to change my clothes and throw the ball a few times if I leave the office right at five and don't stop at the store. Soon, there won't be enough twilight left to play at all.

I love long summer evenings; I love having several hours of daylight left after work. It makes me feel as though I have a life. In the winter life feels like all work and no play.

The neighborhood I live in is called Wellington Heights. A year or so ago a couple of women in the neighborhood came up with the idea of starting a monthly "Ladies Night Out". This kind of thing doesn't appeal to everyone, but since I have no social life whatsoever, I decided to participate. About a dozen of us participate on an irregular basis now.

Last night there were only five of us--an unusually small turnout. We went to Casablanca, a Moroccan restaurant in Alexandria's old town (sorry--Olde Towne). At Casablanca you don't get your own plate; everyone eats off a large platter in the middle of the table. It's quite authentic, and very good. What I enjoyed most, though, was the belly dancing.

By strange coincidence, one member of our party knew a lot about belly dancing. She said that historically women danced for women, and men for men. So there's a historical basis for my own enjoyment of watching a woman belly dance.

The dancer was very good. She danced for about half and hour, during which she did several dances of distinctly different styles. She had a beautiful body: no part of her was skinny, thank Goddess, and no part of her was fat. Her red and silver costume was beautiful and by today's standards, modest.

I loved watching her move. She could move each part of her body independently of the rest. She could move in a sensuous serpentine way or in a series of jerky motions or in a continuous shimmy. She danced with a sword balanced on her head, she danced with a veil, and she danced with a cane. The dance with the cane was something I'd never seen, but the woman in our party who, strangely, knew a lot about belly dancing, said that historically, when women danced for women, they danced with canes to mock old men.

Starbuck's decline, foretold

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You read it here first. One by one, two by two, Americans are going to wake up one morning and think: "Hey, 7-11 makes good coffee. And they have donuts." And that will be the end of the Starbuck's craze.

I've already experienced this awakening, although I had a very brief love affair with Starbuck's lattes, so it might take others longer. I can't remember my first cup of Starbuck's coffee, but it probably wasn't much more than two years ago. For several years before that I would only drink my own coffee: Peet's Kenya whole bean, ordered online about once a month, ground every morning and brewed in my French press. It was good coffee. Whenever I poured someone a cup, they'd take the first swallow on autopilot, then be jarred out of their train of thought by the taste. They'd look down at their cup in surprise and then look up at me and say, hey, this is good coffee.

I can't remember when it started to feel like too much trouble to brew coffee. For years it was a ritual; it was pure joie de vivre. Each morning when I poured my first cup, I'd lean my elbows on the kitchen counter and take the first sip from the spoon I used to stir in real cream and sugar.

Giving it up probably had something to do with getting the dog; now my morning routine includes quite a bit of dog-related activity, which cuts down on the time available for other things. So I make instant now, which means my standards have been lowered. From where I'm standing now, 7-11 coffee tastes good. I wish it were stronger, but that's just me; I made strong coffee, back when I made good coffee. You have to get 7-11 coffee in the morning when they're selling lots of it; that's when it's fresh.

Music to my ears


The Republican-controlled congress has a 16% approval rating. And richly deserves every percentage point. Sadly, I'm going to be in the UK on election day. I've already got my absentee ballot and will mail it on Monday, but I'm heartbroken that I won't be sitting up late on the night of November 7th watching the Republican pins fall. I'll probably get up at about 5am on the 8th and turn on the TV in my hotel room. It'll be midnight in DC ... or maybe 11pm. Uh, we'll be off daylight savings time, so, let's see, spring ahead, fall back. Yeah, it'll be 11pm on the east coast. There might be some news by that time, but I expect some of the senate races, at least, to be too close to call that night. Maybe news will filter in to us during the day, or we'll hear something at the pub at lunchtime.

Love Handles

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Hello folks. Visited the vet today. I got the nicest compliment I've ever gotten, I think. The vet said I had "love handles". I can't tell you how touched I was; I almost got teary-eyed. Yep, you have something to hang on to when you love me, that's the truth all right.

I weighed in at more than 96 pounds today. Still a growing boy! The vet suggested a nice change in my diet, and tonight the old dame scooped out some of the chicken and rice hash and replaced it with canned pumpkin. Canned pumpkin! I know they make pie out of that--I guess the vet decided I deserved to have a little dessert with my dinner, because of my nice "love handles". It was very tasty, I must say.

Tales of the Beltway

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I went to the Maryland Renaissance Festival today and was going to blog about it, but just getting there proved to be the more interesting event. In as much as during the 17 years I've lived here I've been to the festival enough times to have lost count, whereas today was only the third time I've been on the Capital Beltway when it was closed down.

The drive started out uneventfully. I crossed the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge for the first time, and thought as I did so that it wasn't very exciting, crossing the new bridge. "Not exciting" is a bonus, though, considering that crossing the old bridge always brought on the alarming realisation that it was crumbling to ruin and could give way at any time.

I'd gone a few miles past the bridge when I came to a dead standstill. A couple hundred yards ahead of me I could see that all four lanes were closed. I was on the outer loop of the beltway--the counter-clockwise lanes. After a few minutes all four lanes of the inner loop were also closed, and I knew this was Serious. I shut off my engine and got out of the car to stretch my legs. At least a dozen emergency vehicles screamed past on the shoulder, sirens blaring. After a while a helicopter landed, and a while later, took off. I didn't look at my watch when I first stopped, but I'd say we sat immobile for about an hour.

The three closings I've been caught in have resulted from three very different causes. On the first occasion a truck spilled a load of paint across all lanes, and the beltway was closed while the mess was cleaned up. On the second occasion the WW Bridge was closed during the evening commute, and as we sat in our cars or wandered aimlessly between lanes news filtered back to us that the bridge was closed because there was a jumper on it.

Among the thousands of us who just wanted to get home from work, eat some supper, watch a little TV, this occasion brought out the latent mean person. As with one mind, we beamed an insensitive directive at the guy who had chosen the evening commute hour for his dramatic gesture: so jump already. (And you thought New York was mean.) This seems less despicable, even humorous, in retrospect, since he did eventually jump but survived and was plucked out of the Potomac by a patrol boat. If that's not the definition of a Bad Day I don't know what would qualify.

Today's delay was trite, by comparison: a multi-car accident. When we were finally able to get around it, four lanes merging into one to squeeze past an array of flares, I could see one car sitting at an angle across two lanes and an SUV up on a tow-truck. I knew another tow-truck had already left the scene along with half a dozen ambulances. As I passed the scene I took one last look back and then saw it, the one thing that had undoubtedly been the cause of the lengthy shutdown: a crushed mass of burned, twisted metal, unrecognizable as anything that had once been a car.

Worlds Collide

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Hey, Trixie from Deadwood just showed up on Lost. What's up with that? Aren't there enough actors in Hollywood these days? A couple of weeks ago I saw Charlie Utter (also from Deadwood) on an episode of something--what was it--Without A Trace? Is Deadwood over, or does HBO not pay enough to afford digs in LA? The Deadwood cast has to work two jobs?

Cue Ultima Online "fizzle" sound effect


Based on what I'm hearing on the news, I'm guessing that the North Korean nuke did indeed fizzle. So now they know a few things: it's difficult to get the fissile material to build a nuke and now they've wasted some, it's damned expensive to test a nuke, doing it right is harder than they thought, and they don't have the expertise they thought they had. Everybody's mad at them now, and talking sanctions.

This would be an excellent time for them to save some face by demanding international aid in return for shutting down their nuclear weapons program and inviting international inspectors back in.

One Kiloton? Fifteen?


The French say the North Korean nuke was about one kiloton. The South Koreans say it was half that amount. Apparently the Australians agree with the French. The Russians, on the other hand, say it was fifteen. There are seismic stations all over the planet that were built to measure these things, but the data they collect isn't publicly released. Eventually our own scientists, and the Brits too, certainly, will study the data and decide for themselves how large the yield was.

The difference between one kiloton and fifteen isn't just an indication of the size of the weapon the North Koreans detonated; it's an indication of their success. It's technically more difficult to produce a 1-kt nuke than a 15-kt nuke. Since the North Koreans are new at this, it's unlikely they were trying to build a high-tech low-yield device. If the weapon they detonated produced only 1kt of yield, it was probably because it "fizzled"--the fission reaction stopped. Not that 1kt of yield wouldn't do a hell of a lot of damage; it's equivalent to a thousand tons of TNT, after all. But still, it would mean that the North Koreans detonated a crude device that resulted in partial yield: nuclear nOobs, for now, anyway.

Cooking By Numbers

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15 days supply of homemade dog food--30 meals, 120 cups of food:

13.4 pounds of skinless, boneless chicken breasts and thighs--the better parts of 8 chickens raised without antibiotics or hormones
10 pounds of rice
10 cans of brisling sardines in tomato sauce--about 80 little fish
2.5 cups of canola oil
13.3 Tablespoons of bone meal powder
10 teaspoons of potassium chloride salt substitute
4 teaspoons of table salt
7 hours in the kitchen
1 labor of love
1 happy carnivore:

My own dinner: hot and sour soup from Hunan Manor.

This is as good as it gets.



There will be no fence along the border: link. Right wingers who are apoplectic about illegal workers plucking the feathers from the chickens that go into their McNuggets have been punked. One more thing that will depress republican turnout on election day. Republican congress, you are New Orleans, and this election is Katrina, gathering strength over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. We're going to wash you away. It's only fitting; it's only fair.

Friday Dog Blogging

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The old dame has been remiss about posting pictures of yours truly. Seems like I have to do everything around here...

UPDATE: By the way, I was quite pleased to discover that I've become world famous. I discovered this picture of myself on a website that I can't read. I'd be much obliged if someone could translate. It is, of course, a picture of me rolling on the floor laughing, which first appeared in this post.

Full Moon Tonight


Look to the right--100% full moon tonight. I doubt I'll be able to see it though; it's been raining on and off all day and the chance of rain continuing tonight is 90%. I'm glad it's raining--it's good for the grass seed I keep scattering around.

Keith Olbermann is now My Hero.

I must be dreaming


I'm going to wake up, and the republican party won't be in a state of meltdown 4 weeks before the election. Thomas Friedman won't have written in the NYTimes that he hopes democrats win control of both houses of congress (although by unmanageably small one-seat margins). Condi Rice won't be on the defensive about pre-9/11 warnings.

On the other hand, if I were having a ridiculously good dream I'd have new carpet in the basement and lush green grass in the back yard.

Oh ick ick ick


First the NIE, then Woodward's book. George "Macaca" Allen, and now this. So he's gone into rehab for alcohol abuse? That's an insult to alcohol abusers everywhere. Alcohol abuse treatment is not going to cure what's ailing him.

Here's what worries me most: that in spite of all this, a majority of people may still vote republican because they think democrats are godless heathens who kill babies and coddle terrorists. If we can't win control of both houses of congress at a time like this, then there's no hope until this generation of voters is dust on the wind.

Famous Last Words


"I probably won't stay long; I'm not gonna bid on anything."

Yesterday I went to the 16th annual Lobster Fest held by Gerry Hyland, Mount Vernon district supervisor. For those of you who don't get down in the weeds of local politics, Fairfax County is governed by a board of supervisors, who are elected, like a school board. Gerry Hyland is the supervisor for the district I live in, which is heavily democratic. He's held the office since 1988.

The Lobster Fest is held outdoors at a local farm. For a $35 ticket (it's a fund-raiser, after all) you get a lobster, a ladle of mussels, corn-on-the-cob, chowder, and a brownie. A plastic cup of beer can be purchased for $1. I didn't eat anything in the morning, being busy all morning, so I had an empty stomach and was hungry when I arrived at the Lobster Fest in the afternoon. So, buying a beer probably wasn't the best thing to do, right off. But I did, then had a 2nd cup of beer after finishing my lobster, and was enjoying myself quite a bit, therefore, when the auction began.

The auction is just like a charity auction: local artisans and businesses donate goods and services and what-have-you. Prices vary all over the place. It's good strategy, serving alcohol at these things. A couple of glasses of wine or beer and people will pull out their wallets. Still, you don't expect to see many high-rollers among a gathering of democrats. I'd been to these things before, but I'd never bid on anything. Yesterday I sat through the auctioning off of the first 23 items without raising my hand to bid. The 24th item was a breakfast or lunch with our congressman, Jim Moran. I thought Mike might get a kick out of having a meal in the congressional dining room, so I bid on it, but I dropped out when someone in the back raised the bid to four hundred bucks.

So I thought, oh well, it was fun to bid, anyway, and I sat through half a dozen more sales. Then the most expensive item on the list came up: a week at a condo on the beach in Ocean City, any week in June or July except the week of July 4th. The minimum bid was $1200. Nobody bid on it. The auctioneer was trying hard, but nobody bid. and nobody bid. and nobody bid. and I thought: $1200 for a week on the beach in Ocean City? Mike would love to host a "beach week" in Ocean City for a bunch of his friends. It could be a graduation present. So when it seemed like the auctioneer might give up, $1200? $1200? Come on people! Ocean view! Sleeps 8! I held my program in the air. He pointed at me: THANK YOU!! he yelled into the microphone. Going once! Going twice! SOLD for $1200! It was exciting, and although I probably wouldn't have done it if I hadn't had two cups of beer, I don't regret it. Mike thinks it's awesome. I knew he'd love it.

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