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Monday, February 28, 2011

Normal?

It's Monday, and it's cold and wet, but at least its not snowy or icy.  Most of the forecasts indicated a chance of 1-3" of snow overnight, so I had to set the 4:00 AM alarm and give things an early-morning look-see.  I'm blaming that early AM up-then-back-to-bed for causing me to oversleep and run about 20 minutes late this morning.  Late is a relative word here, but I do have my preferred schedule and, as Bob Cratchit says, "I am running behind my time."

This morning also marks the first time in what feels like a long time I've been back in the Miata. It felt good, like a well broken-in shoe. The Japanese concept of Jinba Ittai (horse and rider as one) was central to the design approach Mazda took with the Miata, and I can tell you it works.  While there are certainly faster, more powerful, fancier, and more aggressively styled (and priced!) sports cars on the road, the Miata is almost unique in being a car that feels more worn than driven. Over twenty years of record-breaking sales and still going strong, the formula is clearly the right one. It was nice to be back in my usual ride for my little commute.

In addition to being back in my usual saddle, the week feels back on track as well.  No holiday this week, no weather-related weirdness (so far, at least), just a normal-ish work week.  I'm never sure what normal means, but it always sounds enviable.  Bruce Cockburn observes that, "The trouble with normal is it always gets worse," while Eileen Myles' incredibly powerful poem, An American Poem, about her hiding from being a member of the Kennedy family and history, about American social values and justice, and so much more, asks us:

Are you
normal tonight? Everyone
here, are we all normal.

[If you're not already familiar with this poem, my I suggest taking a few minutes to read it through.  You can find a copy here.]
 
A short playlist this morning, dominated by the 9:00 minute title track from Nick Russo's Ro album.  The album is described as, "...an eclectic mix of straight-ahead swing, Indian Raga, modern jazz and free playing."  This track features Miles Griffith on vocals doing a melodic, and at times very primal, form of scat. If you're interested, you can sample the album here: http://www.nickrussotrio.com/Ro/

All three tunes this morning played nicely together and made for a compelling playlist of very different musical styles: traditional swing, modern jazz, and jazz-influenced folk.  The full playlist:

 - Claude Bolling/Stephan Grapelli: Lady Be Good
 - Nick Russo + 11: Ro
 - Bruce Cockburn: Dweller by a Dark Stream

Friday, February 25, 2011

Maybe if I understood the lyrics it would make more sense

Friday swaggers in with a "what's all the fuss?" nonchalance after a few days of weather uncertainty and topsy turvy schedules.  Cold, indeed very cold, this morning, with the mercury hanging out at around the 20°F (-6° C) mark, but the skies are clear and blue and promise a sunny day.  All the main roads are bare and dry, though the side streets can be a bit icy in places.  Around the campus all is clear and dry.

Our little hill got a couple more inches of fresh snow last night, though it never accumulated on the roads.  The hill was a sheet of ice, however, so I didn't press my luck trying to coax the Miata up it.  M needed her car today, so she drove me in.  Once we got past our hill and the street along the top of it the Miata would have been fine.  It was nice to have company on the drive in.

The 4:00 AM watch was a pretty easy call again this morning.  With DOT reporting all the main roads clear and dry, local school districts operating normal schedules, and no other area colleges doing anything different, no reason we should either.  Of course, many employees and students live in areas that still have accumulations of snow and ice, so this becomes one of those mornings where everyone has to use their own best judgement about what constitutes safe and reasonable.

As noted earlier, convivial conversation replaced music for this morning's drive in, however Sigur Rós is  now (in my somewhat drafty office) playing the softly acoustic tune íllgressi from their album Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust.  Apparently the album title translates, more or less, "with a buzzing in our ears we play endlessly."  I know the album cover features four naked people running away from the camera across a roadway, for reasons that are not clear to me listening to music.  Maybe if I understood the lyrics it would make more sense.  

Which is, sometimes, an appropriate thought about life.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

We have the easy choices

Thursday rolls in, draped in white, but docile compared to some of the bleaker weather predictions we heard yesterday.  Well, here in the Bothell/Lynnwood area, anyway.  Our little hilltop got about an inch or two of light snow. Just enough to brighten the place up with a fresh coat of reflective white, but not enough to pose any serious challenge.  And there is plenty of sun right now to take advantage of the surface specularity. It's purdy.

Since the College made the call last night to go with a late open, I didn't have to do the 4:00 AM shift this morning.  I had a leisurely start to the day, drove in to the campus to assess the roads, and all looks fine for the scheduled 10:00 start time today.  All of the major (and many of the side!) roads were scraped and quite passable, both in Bothell and Lynnwood.  Slick in places, to be sure, and I'm glad I drove Ruby-of-the-studded-tires instead of the Miata again today.  Common sense and good tires are all that is really required.  Some busses on snow routes, but most I saw appeared to be moving along just fine. 

We will have to keep an eye on possible late afternoon snow fall and dropping temps (if predictions hold true) to see about evening classes, but we'll be open today to greet those students who show up.

NPR on the radio again for today's drive in, sans iPod. Live reports from Libya were pretty much the whole story this morning.  So much unrest and so many lives disrupted, to an extent most of us really can't even imagine.  Stepping out of a building means getting shot at in the Libyan capital right now, as mercenaries patrol the streets. Puts our minor worries about driving on scraped streets in perspective, doesn't it.  We are fortunate, we have decisions to make that are not life and death, and we have options.  Many don't have even that today.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The could-snow routine

Wednesday, extra-early morning. I've referred to Wednesday as Mr. Maleable before, but today he appears prepared to make a definite statement, at least in terms of weather.  A much-heralded prospect of significant snowfall caused me to set the 4:00 AM alarm so I could get up and see if we needed to make a campus delay or closure decision.  Nothing was happening at that point, so after a brief chat with the boss an easy "nothing to call" decision was made.  Of course, it immediately started to snow on our little hilltop right after I hung up, but with temps in the mid-30's it wasn't going to be a problem any time soon.

Even without the weather apps, television reports, Twitter feeds, and Web sites telling me it was going to snow, the early morning sky was blaring its intent.  There is something about the sunrise before pending snowfall that creates a particular melon-orange glow unique to this condition.  I don't know if this is a Pacific Northwest phenomenon or if the same sky conditions show up elsewhere, but after almost 50 years of seeing PNW skies, I know that look.

Once I'm up, for the most part, I'm up.  So, I set off on the usual morning routine about an hour and half earlier than usual and came on into campus.  The roads were wet, but clear once I got off our hill.  Even there it was just intact slush that disolved under the first tires to hit it.

As for later today... well it sounds likely we will get snow accumulations and decisions about evening classes tonight and campus closure or delayed starts for the next couple of mornings look likely.  I'm just leaving the 4:00 AM alarm set for the remainder of this week.

Because of the hour (and, probably, the threat of weather), there wasn't much traffic with me this morning.  A few cars were crawling along with exaggerated caution, most were simply driving as normal.

No iPod in the car this morning, since I took Ruby.  She of the four studded tires provides a bit more traction should the weather get worse before I leave for home this afternoon, certainly a bit more than the Miata in un-studded winter tires.  Icy hill insurance.  NPR kept me company on my short commute.  I don't keep as much music on my iPhone as on my old (now, in technology terms especially, very old) dedicated iPod, but I have my Sigur Rós playlist so I'll get my office concentration music anyway.

Here's hoping the snow skips us enough to keep things running for our students all through today!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

They took my Revel Berry away

Tuesday, sitting in for Monday who took the day off, is a kinder but more frantic start-of-the-work-week taskmaster. Kinder, because ––let's face it–– we've already made it through one fifth of the work week, but more frantic because of all the things that piled up waiting our late return and the time-on-task lost in allowing Monday to take the day off.  Speaking of things piled up, this is a bit of a catch-up post.

We spent the weekend at my sister/brother-in-law's (that is, sister of my wife and her husband, the husband being the that of my wife's sister, not my wife –– there has to be an easier way to say that!) home and vineyard in Northeastern Oregon.  Good company and conversation, great home cooking/baking, and a tranquil setting made for a refreshingly relaxed weekend away.  Just being someplace where my list of household projects was out of reach to me made it much easier to pick up a book without feeling guilty.  It was great to seem them both.

We flew over and back.  Normally, we would drive, but the weather forecasts (at the time we had to make the fly-no-fly decision) were showing too much chance of snow on the passes and in Eastern WA.  I wasn't concerned about making it through snow, properly equipped, but the prospect of road conditions possibly turning a five hour drive into something much longer and slower didn't sound like much fun.  Plus it's a short and beautiful flight at lower altitude in a dual turbo-prop plane, which is more enjoyable in itself.  

Can't say the same for the airport and the security arrangements our current fear-state has brought us to.  The TSA folks were pleasant and all, but the process is totally dehumanizing as we all meekly shuffle along doing exactly what we're told and knowing that here, in this "security check point" zone, we have been stripped of pretty much all rights we normally possess as citizens. The what-you-can-bring-with-you guidelines are also pretty silly, and not altogether clear.  You can bring food, but otherwise liquids and gels are limited to 3.2 oz., packaged in a ziplock bag, to be scanned separately. However, a sealed can of yerba mate (like a can of iced tea) was deemed a threat to national security and confiscated.  It's food, it's clearly an unopened can, and it's not even carbonated. But it's also a liquid and, in this absolute fear state there can be no discretion or common sense.  All things must be declared solid black or solid white, thus my can of mate was declared solidly in the OMG-call-a-guard-and-search-this-bag-for-whatever-other-dangerous-items-it-must-contain category.  In the end a can of Guayaki Revel Berry Yerba Mate was either trashed (or enjoyed by a TSA agent sometime later), justice was  purportedly served, and I was allowed to rejoin the ranks of the submissively passed-inspection crowd.

Coming back to this Tuesday-cum-Monday, a halfish-looking moon was sitting midway up the arch of the overcast dome above me when I woke, looking improbably 3-D. Like a poorly done perspective drawing, the visible curve of the moon seemed to push out more sideways than directly on, creating a bit of an optical illusion.  I watched a bank of slow-moving clouds slowly envelope the moon, while I was waiting at a stoplight later in my drive in.  Even with the knowledge that it was the clouds that were moving, the effect was of the moon sliding sadly beneath a roiling sea.

This morning's playlist was another nice mix, though probably not a mix a commercial radio station of any given format would likely string together. It wound down with the track Spiritual from the excellent collaboration between Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny, Beyond the Missouri Sky. This is a one-of-a-kind albums that is evocative and spare, yet simultaneously rich and full. This particular track was composed by Charlie's son Josh, and is one of my favorites from the album.

 - Robert Walter: Snakes and Spiders
 - Big Head Todd & The Mosters: All the Love You Need
 - Bruce Cockburn: Child of the Wind (Live)
 - Charlie Haden & Pat Metheny: Spiritual

Friday, February 18, 2011

Full moon, full week, good music

Friday, that much-loved fellow and popular dude, has returned at last.  There is already the expectant energy of a weekend anticipated trailing in Friday's wake, and folks are prone to greet each other with the salutation, "It's Friday!"  The weather is cold (for us, meaning it hovers around the freezing mark), surfaces have some ice on them, and yet there are clouds (dark and heavy) hovering.  The moon, when I first woke, was large and bright and shining directly into our bedroom window.  If not full, then so close to full as to make no visible difference.

The soundtrack this morning was mixed and quite good.  Sinead O'Connor's rendition of My Man's Gone Now from Porgy & Bess is hauntingly poignant.  It comes from a collection CD (The Glory of Gershwin) put together by Larry Adler, of harmonica fame, on the occasion of his 80th birthday.  The venerable Wikipedia says of the collection, "The album featured an all-star lineup of artists, including Peter Gabriel, Oleta Adams, Elton John, Sting, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, Meat Loaf, Sinead O'Connor, Robert Palmer, Cher, Kate Bush, Elvis Costello, Courtney Pine, Issy Van Randwyck, Lisa Stansfield and Carly Simon, all of whom sang Gershwin tunes live with an orchestra and Adler adding harmonica solos."  If you like Gershwin, this is a must-have album.


Patrick Cassidy (the composer, not the actor) is an Irish-born composer of cantatas and film scores.  Today's track comes from his Famine Remembrance album, a beautiful and powerful album commemorating the Irish potato famine and its victims.  It, and his similar The Children of Lir albums are two of my all-time favorites.  One reviewer called it a modern-day requiem with Celtish overtones.  That works for me.

Today's full playlist:

 - Supertramp: If Everyone Was Listening
 - Matthew Perryman: Save You
 - Sinead O'Connor: My Man's Gone Now
 - Jeremy Fisher: Cigarette
 - Patrick Cassidy: A Supplication

Thursday, February 17, 2011

It is still Thursday

Thursday, cold and wet.  It's rain, but mixed with the slightest bit of slower whiter almost-snow here and there.  Which is pretty much what the weather seers saw and said we would see this morning.  I got up at 4:00 AM just to make sure we didn't have a weather situation that would require decisions about college opening, though really didn't expect anything.

It's Thursday, which I've already noted.  No matter how I parse it, though, it is still Thursday. <sigh>

On to music: Fountains Of Wayne can usually be counted on for lyrics that are clever and fun.  So many of their songs make me smile, and it sure doesn't hurt that they are great tunesmiths and musicians as well.  This morning's contribution was the song Michael and Heather At the Baggage Claim, which is a song about a couple looking for lost luggage after a flight.  It's a sweet tune, really, about love in a situation that is all too familiar to anyone who has ever flown:

Michael and Heather at the baggage claim
Tired of playing the waiting game
Every bag has got a different name
Michael and Heather may never get home again

Michael and Heather at the lost and found
Looking for luggage that's soft and brown
Sir, I'm so sorry, it's just not around

We'll be on a short flight this weekend, but I'll be packing my life on my back and, yes, it will fit in the overhead compartment. That should ensure this song isn't a prescient warning.  Can't say I'm looking forward to the whole airport experience, but I'll flash my bits and bobs on the big screen in my patriotic salute to our culture of fear and its resulting abrogation of individual rights.  Here's the funny thing: try as I might I just can't recall ever agreeing to said abrogation.

Douglas Adams begins one of his books with the sentence (and I absolutely agree with him on this point), "It is no coincidence that in no known language does the phrase 'As pretty as an Airport' appear."  This, from the man who also said, "Life... is like a grapefruit. It's orange and squishy, and has a few pips in it, and some folks have half a one for breakfast." and "Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so."  What a brilliant writer - good stuff!

Today's full playlist:

 - Sigur Rós: Hljómalind
 - Bruce Cockburn: Wait No More
 - Fountains Of Wayne: Michael and Heather At the Baggage Claim
 - Wilco: Side With The Seeds

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mr. Maleable is dark and silent, svo hjlótt (so silent)

Wednesday, Mr. Maleable, is dark and silent this morning.  Colder than the day before, but impossible to see (at this early hour) what the atmospheres will bring us. Traffic is lighter, and somehow quieter.  The morning has a go-slow feeling to it, as if the morning darkness was somehow just a bit thicker than usual and movement slices through it with a bit more retarding resistance. It is a comfortable and comforting slowing down of life's pace, if only for these early morning minutes.

I really am a morning person, and I love the varied nuances of the early morning hours.  These precious early hours all have different flavors, more easily discerned before the cacophony of the day wakes and crowds in to obliterate those subtle smells, sights, scents, and sounds. They refuel me in ways that a more temporal breakfast cannot, though are every bit as solid and real.

I thought, at first, that the iPod was being lazy again this morning, tossing me two Sigur Rós tracks back to back, then three in a row.  After I got in I realized it was still set on my Sigur Rós playlist from yesterday.  So, my bad.  But it's also all good.  I frequently dial that playlist up in the office, when I'm writing, wrangling a spreadsheet, or doing other concentration work.  Their music took me through my Masters program research and writing too.  It's rich, atmospheric, often intense, and the vocals are almost always in Icelandic or Hopelandish, neither of which distract me because I don't understand either (nobody "understands" the latter, since it is a contrived language which resembles the phonology of the Icelandic language).  Pitchfork said of Sigur Rós, when they ranked the album Agaetis Byrjun #6 in their list of 100 Best Albums of 2000-2004, "Sigur Ros effortlessly make music that is massive, glacial and sparse. They are Hidden People. Children will be conceived, wrists will be slashed, scars will be healed, and tears will be wrenched by this group."

The first track this morning comes from their 2002 album ( ).  That's not a typo or missing word, the title of the album really is just a space bookended by two parentheses.  The songs are all titled, simply, Track 1, Track 2, etc.. The second track is from the later album Takk... (which means Thanks) and the song's title (Svo Hljótt) means "So Silent."  It seems a very fitting track for today's ambience.

The full playlist:

 - Sigur Rós: Track 3
 - Sigur Rós: Svo Hljótt
 - Sigur Rós: Starálfur (Live)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Power is the underwriter

Tuesday, dark, slightly wet, and post-wind storm blown.  It was a limbs-down windstorm last night, to be sure. 50 MPH gusts were recorded over the general lowlands, though I am positive we felt some house-rocking gusts that were higher than that last night.  Power outages all over the place.  Now the forecast is for snow late on Thursday and possibly again on Sunday.  Oy.

Only one tune for this morning's commute because I was giving Bruce Cockburn's new single, Call Me Rose, a test drive on the way in.  Cockburn's newest album (studio album number 31 in his long and rich musical career!) is due out this March and this is the first taste of what is coming.  Friends and family already know that I'm a long-time fan of this Canadian poet, humanitarian, activist, and consumate guitarist (often, in fact, referred to as a musician's musician, he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame by musician Gordon Lightfoot and scientist/environmentalist David Suzuki in 2001).

This is an odd song.  Though immediately recognizable with a very Cockburn rhythm and sound, the lyrics tell an interesting tale.  Cockburn says the song has to do with the Bush (W.)-era attempted redemption of Richard Nixon as a possible political reference for conservatives.  Cockburn attempts to envision what it would take to redeem Nixon and finds him re-living his penance as a single mother in the projects:

My name was Richard Nixon only now I am a girl
You wouldn't know it but I used to be the king of the world
I'm back here learning what it is to be poor
To have no power but the strength to endure 

I'll perform my penance well
Maybe the memoir will sell 

It's not what I would of chose
Now ya have to call me Rose 

As I would expect of Cockburn, he manages to drill down to the underlying issues of poverty and power here, as in the above reference to the lack of empowerment and in this verse:

I was boss of bosses the last time around
I lived by cunning and a mission unbound
The suckers said they stand behind me right or wrong
As if they thought that hubris was the mark of the strong

Power underwrites privilege, and we certainly continue to see plenty of examples around us.  Congress is moving to reduce funding for the poorest among us while continuing to subsidize corporate interests.  The wealthiest are growing their wealth at record-breaking rates while most of the rest see a correspondingly steep drop in wealth, access, and, of course, power.  A stint living the experience of the disenfranchised might just go a long way toward helping some folks understand the humanity of their actions.

A good song, a great musician, and I am looking forward to the new album.  Bruce passes through Seattle this June, and I hope to catch the show.

Today's full playlist:

 - Bruce Cockburn: Call Me Rose

Monday, February 14, 2011

A dawdle or gun-it Monday

It is one of those special Pacific Northwest Monday mornings, of a kind that seems uniquely indigenous. Mildly warm (46° F, 8° C) for winter, but wet and gusty, with heavy rain blowing from various directions minute to minute. Workweek Mondays require a certain resolve when the early morning alarm starts to chirrup, and hearing this kind of weather lashing the inky-black specularity of the bedroom window doesn't help.  It drives me down deeper under the comforter, at least momentarily.

This kind of winter morning stormy also has a particularly Pacific Northwest shade of darkness.  A dull green-toned black like the center of an indifferent soft black licorice chew.  Light simply absorbes into it's flatness, streetlights cast thin beams that seem to fade before they make it to street level, and pedestrians are rendered nearly invisible unless they have the forethought to wear something illuminated or reflective.  It is a tricky darkness, in that you can see into the distance but you can't make out details through the swirling condensation.

On Mondays like this folks seem to be either in a big hurry (running late?) or moving with no urgency whatsoever. Traffic, such as there was this morning, was all dawdle or gun-it. Posted speed limits were just the fulcrum from which the speedometer needle swings, with most cars moving at speeds to the right or left of dead center.

Like the streetlight this morning, like the gun-it or dawdle place of traffic, today's playlist started strong and energetic then faded, in this case, into gentle piano of Jean-Yves Thibaudet followed by the classical pace of Bach (albeit allegro-tempo classical):

 - Gaelic Storm: If Good Times Were Dollars
 - John Mayer: Daughters (Live)
 - Jean-Yves Thibaudet: Hullo, Bolinas
 - Johann Sebastian Bach: Concerto No.4 In G Major BWV 1049: Allegro

Friday, February 11, 2011

Not in our name

It's Friday! I stopped for coffee on the way in this morning, so arrived about 10 minutes later than usual (the order for the car in front of me took a looooong time), and really noticed that it is getting lighter earlier. Oh, it's still dark as I pull in, but there is enough light to give the sky a deep royal blue cast and for it to be just possible to make out the cloud cover that harbingers today's weather.  Cold, cloudy, probably wetness (50-50 chance, according to the weather gurus).

If not for the coffee stop today's soundtrack would have been one single track.  Clocking in at just a hair under 17 minutes, America the Beautiful (Medley) from Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra would have filled my entire commute.  It's the fourth track from the album Not In Our Name, and combines the standard of the song's title with Lift Every Voice and Sing, and Ornette Coleman's, Skies of America.   This occasional project-group with different musicians gets called together to express a musically political statement every now and then.  This album, released at the height of the recent Bush era and Iraq war,  "...is dedicated to creating a better world; a world without war and killing, without poverty and exploitation; a world where men of all governments realize the vital importance of life and strive to protect rather than to destroy. We hope to see a new society of enlightenment and wisdom where creative thought becomes the most dominant force in all people's lives."  This particular medley is an amazingly rich and, in places, moving, piece of music.  Hearing it today is also a good reminder that just because we have finally shed that president we have yet to outrun his disastrous legacy.  Not in our name, indeed.


Bon Jovi's duet with LeAnn Rimes is probably the closest thing on my entire iPod to "new country" and while I don't cotton to that genre of music generally, this is a well executed song with some great classic rock guitar work mid-way through.

The Nil Krogh album is one of those odd happy finds I stumbled across while exploring for new music a couple years ago.  Strong ensemble jazz with sultry hip-hop influences, there is a very unique sound to the whole album.

Today's full soundtrack:

 - Charlie Haden: America the Beautiful (Medley)
 - Bon Jovi & LeAnn Rimes: Till We Ain't Strangers Anymore
 - Nils Krogh: Things We Do (Jazzy Sport Crew Remix)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

But is it dolphin-free?

Thursday early morning: cold, dark, and clear.  Cars along the curb are heavily frosted.  On the lighter colored paint jobs, as my headlights slide across their icy flanks, it looks like their paint has oxidized, flattened, and cracked.  Even the nicest of curb-side cars now looks like it has a junk-yard paint job. The effect will, of course, fade with the rising of the sun, but this early morning frost is objective in its treatment.

Thursday, pretender that it often is, will be too busy to pretend to much of anything with me today.  A Board meeting this evening means a long day for us early risers, and meetings, projects, and preparation will handily fill the space between now and then.

A really nice mix of tunes this morning.  Nick Drake started off the set with a song that appears sadly prescient when filtered through his young death by overdose, and the poetry of the lyric is powerful:

Summer was gone and the heat died down
And Autumn reached for her golden crown
I looked behind as I heard a sigh
But this was the time of no reply.

The sun went down and the crowd went home
I was left by the roadside all alone
I turned to speak as they went by
But this was the time of no reply.

The time of no reply is calling me to stay
There is no hello and no goodbye
To leave there is no way.

The Bad Plus followed this up with a rip-roaring bit of frenzied and percussive musicality that in no way honored the somber nature of the tune it followed, but which succeeded in totally changing the mood of the moment.  I can't decide if this song's title (Layin' A Strip For the Higher-Self State Line) is the antithesis or  embodiment of "dolphin."  

Aside: dolphin, here, refers to something that came from a Meyers-Briggs workshop I participated in several years back.  The instructor added an animal to each of the four usual quadrants of MB scoring: fox, beaver, owl, and dolphin.  The dolphins were the folks who (speaking very generally here, mind) were feeling and creative oriented.  I would expect a capital-a Artist to fit into this group, for example. This same animalistic training led to the notion of "dolphin-free" training to mean training that was oriented at folks who go apoplectic at the sight of chairs arranged in a circle or the notion of sharing feelings in a group setting. For the record, I was an owl.  Sorry, this was a long aside. 

Andrew Bird wrapped this set up with his catchy and lyrically amazing Oh No. Check out an opening sample of the lyrics:

in the salsify mains of what was thought but unsaid
all the calcified arhythmitists were doing the math
it would take a calculated blow to the head
to light the eyes of all the harmless sociopaths
oh arm and arm we are the harmless sociopaths

When was the last time you heard the word "salsify" used in a sentence?  A root plant, it's use in this sentence suggests the deeper "mains of what was thought but unsaid."  Bird penned, back in March 2008, a very interesting short piece on the art of song writing, and talks about the thoughts and tale behind this particular song. The inspiration was a crying infant on a plane.  Quoting from the above-linked article:

"In the instance of this song I was on a flight from New York back to Chicago and a young mother and her 3-year-old son sat in front of me and it was looking to be the classic scenario of the child screaming bloody murder. However, I was struck by the mournfulness of this kid's wail. He just kept crying "oh no" in a way that only someone who is certain of their demise could. Pure terror. Completely inconsolable. It was more moving than annoying.

So when I got home I picked up my guitar and tried to capture the slowly descending arc of that kid's cry. It fit nicely over a violin loop that I had been toying with which moves from C-major to A-major."

Very good stuff from a very unique musician.  Here's the full playlist, in typical dolphin-free lineation:

 - Nick Drake: Time of No Reply
 - The Bad Plus: Layin' A Strip For the Higher-Self State Line
 - Matthias Lupri Group: Wish Song (Prelude)
 - Mark Isham: Ife
 - Andrew Bird: Oh No

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Color me lucky

Mr. Maleable, Wednesday, is back. Cold and frosty, but clear (from what I can tell in the early morning dark). Sunshine is forecast, with zero percent chance of falling wetness (in any form).  A relatively mild high of 49° F (9° C) is predicted, which I can easily live with for this point in winter.

Speaking of winter, people are starting to mow their lawns already.  I heard them this past weekend.  Hello!  It's winter, folks.  Don't they know that grass grows at the sound of lawn mowers?  Now my lawn might start to grow, too.  Grrrr!

Speaking of Mr. Maleable, he is (or I am) low tide today.  Ideally, time to burrow under and wait for the revitalizing sea waves to roll back over before springing back to life.  For me, this is probably the combination of still catching up on sleep (been at a state commission meeting the last two days and never sleep well in hotel rooms) and coming back to a pent-up schedule of meetings and an inbox full of action items.

On morning's like this, I need mellow music.  Piano lounge background tinkling would be about right, or some low-key Sigur Rós or Patrick Cassidy, maybe.  The iPod, being an inanimate object, doesn't do dynamic mood matching (though the "skip that song" button can get pretty close to manual mood matching), however this morning's playlist was suitably quiet.  Even the one Beatles tune was a light folk-ish tune that always sounds more like Paul Simon than the Beatles to me. Jonny Hartman, whose deep, rich, and languid voice conjures up smokey night club images for me, sang If I'm Lucky. Lovely lyrics in this old ballad:

If I'm lucky, you will tell me that you care, 
That we'll never be apart
If I'm lucky, this will be no light affair, 
It's forever, from the start

If I'm lucky, there'll be moonbeams all around, 
Shining bright as day . . . 
You will hold my hand and you'll understand, 
All I cannot seem to say

If I am lucky, there will be a time an' place 
You will kiss me, we'll embrace . . . 
In that moment, every wishful dream I ever knew 
Will come true

If I'm lucky, I will go through the years with you

Ok, this isn't the high water mark of poetry, but after nearly 30 years of marriage to my beloved, I totally relate to this definition of lucky!

Then the set closed, as I pulled on to campus, with an old Herb Albert standard.  How many of you can say you heard Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass on your radio/iPod/changer/satellite receiver/etc. this morning? I didn't think so!

 - Phil Keaggy: Nellie's Tune
 - Jonny Hartman: If I'm Lucky
 - Jan Garbarek: Lovely Walk
 - The Beatles: I've Just Seen a Face
 - Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass: Brasilia

Friday, February 4, 2011

And some will watch commercials

Friday, the popular dude, has stopped by again.  He's dripping a bit, just enough to spray wet road film up against windshields, and wearing monochromatic grey, but he's still Friday. I like my job, I really do.  I'd go so far as to say have passion for what I do and, more significantly, the role my organization plays in our community.  Even so, I still look forward to weekends.  I'll see the grandsons tonight, will get to see our daughter, son-in-law and, possibly, our son this weekend, get to share a meal or two with mom over the course of those two days, have a visit with a dear friend, and watch football with a couple of friends and/or family members.  I'll make bread, we'll cook good food, and M. and I will have some not-busy time together.  What's not to look forward to in all that?

Speaking of watching football, this is, here in the US, Superbowl Weekend.  That means many of us will be watching a football game on Sunday afternoon.  Others will be watching commercials.  Superbowl commercials are so lucrative (and costly to air) that an entire publicity industry has spun up around them.  There are adds about Superbowl adds.  These commercials pre-release to news programs to get pre-game airtime and chatter.  They create "previews" of the commercials to air before game day and on the Web.  And people really will tune in just to watch the commercials.  Like the old cliché from folks who subscribed to Playboy magazine "just for the articles,"  some folks will watch the Superbowl "just for the commercials."  Monday workplace talk will be a mix of folks discussing the game itself and those who are reliving and rating the commercials.  For weeks after, people will intentionally seek out and re-watch the "best" of those commercials over the Web.

I have to repeat that: people will intentionally seek out and re-watch the commercials.  There are several possible doctoral thesis in that sentence, folks, just parsing what that says about us as a people.

Then there will be the game itself, which I confess I will enthusiastically watch.  I love watching football.  I fought it for years, knowing how commercial, violent (for a compelling and measured take on this, check out this NewYorker article), and detrimental to our education system the game has become, but I finally acknowledged that I was a football fan and gave in.  I watch football whenever I can.  Cop-out or common sense –– I don't know.  Feel free to judge me, for whatever it's worth.

Speaking of judging, my take on the drive's soundtrack today: conflicted.  It started off with some most-excellent Brazilian samba (every day should start with samba, it's perfect ease-into-the-day music, both smooth and rhythmic) followed by some lilting pop-rock.  Then the tempo (and volume) plunged to dark contemporary classical which was immediately followed by some aggressive hip-hop.  Finally, The Weepies closed out the set with folk-rock.  A playlist that required deft volume control here and there and which, to be honest, did not play all that nicely together.  Still, it was interesting.

The full playlist:

 - Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto: Doralice
 - Travis: Driftwood
 - Kronos Quartet: Tenebrae: Second Movement
 - Common Market: Certitude
 - The Weepies: Hideaway

- Posted via iPad

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Thursday is a pretender, or a matador, or false educational promise

It's Thursday, which means it is almost Friday but not quite.  We still have two-fifths of the classic work-week to get through, which makes Thursday a bit of a pretender. Thursday shouts, "Look–the weekend is almost here!" when really, it's still two full work days away.  A bit like a matador whipping his red cape away from us just as we rush in to gore it, realizing too late it was only a false target.  And I bite every week, spurred on by those few occasions when Thursday becomes Friday (when I have Friday off) and I nail that damned matador and get quickly to the weekend.  But mostly, Thursday the Pretender wins.  I catch a bit of this feeling in the poem The Spanish Hour by J.D. McClatchy when he writes:

The tic tac of balance wheels
will first make him drowsy,
then dream of his uncle, the matador,
saved by his pocket watch
when a jewel-driven bull
nodded off during a pass.

After a couple of days of glorious (albeit cold) all-out blue-sky sunshine, we're back in the normal grey and dripping weather.  Got a top-down drive home yesterday afternoon, though; the first one I've managed in a looooong time.

No post yesterday as I had an all-day leadership team retreat and had the iPod set to shuffle just Sigur Rós tunes.  All day in a cheap plastic chair is rough on the back, but it was a good and productive retreat.  I really like the way these things are moving on our campus.  Now if we could just get even a little stability out of the state budget and various proposals for plugging the revenue shortfall.  None of them are good news for colleges or students.  It is clearly time to stop pretending that we, as a nation, provide access to education for all.  By the end of this next biennium it will take a large amount of cash or student loans even to complete basic educational goals/needs at a community college, even more at a state four-year.  If only we could get a small fraction of the corporate and agricultural subsidies that continue to undermine our health and economy.  We get what we pay for, and we're paying big bucks to those that already have them these days.  Our nation is becoming the Thursday of educational promise.

While I was out of the office yesterday my office's lighting made a very nice self-adjustment.  It's one of those typical institutional efficiency-built offices with fluorescent ceiling light on a grid that ensures even lighting across all surfaces and also, in the days of laptop and tablet computer screens, ensures overhead glare at all points in the office.  Today the light immediately over my desk has died and only my small desk task lamp illuminates that surface directly, with softer indirect lighting from the rest of the ceiling grid.  I like it - I'm leaving those lamps burned out.

The music this morning was mostly quiet and contemplative, apart from the first song out of the gate, or rather, garage.  I don't know if my copy of A Ghost Is Born is flawed or if the album really is this way, but most of the tracks on this album are heavily muted.  They sound like a poor recording, flat and dull, despite the great musicianship.  I may have to borrow someone else's copy to compare.  Two tracks from one album again this morning: lazy iPod.  Good stuff, though.

Here's the full playlist:

 - Wilco: I'm a wheel
 - Sigur Rós: Fljótavik
 - Ludovico Einaudi - Monday
 - Jeremy Fisher: Jolene
 - Ludovico Einaudi: Uno

-Posted via iPad

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

So it goes

Tuesday, dark, clear and cold, with the temperature sitting at 32º F right now.  Yesterday's shake it off/push through it attempt worked and this morning I feel like I've already had my morning cuppa mate.  So it goes.

This morning's playlist was mostly old-school.  Even the Train track was laid back.  Speaking of Train, I think my iPod has a thing for that band.  I have a few of their albums, fewer than I do of several other artists. Yet, I feel like I get at least one Train track (no pun intended) every time I spin up shuffle mode in the iPod.  So, as they say, it goes.

Short post today, so here's how it went:

 - Kurt Elling: The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing
 - The Beatles: Love Me Do
 - John Denver: This Old Guitar
 - Train: Blind
 - Charlie Haden: En La Orilla Del Mondo