Monday, February 28, 2011


Today was one of those days that could get me going on a pretty good rant. Initially, I thought about critiquing our over-reliance on technology and people's (myself included) lack of mindfulness, which is one of the concepts I've been focusing on over the past few years through reading various books and articles.

[And in this spot you can now grin or roll our eyes about how someone would write a blog post railing against technology.]

However, what I think I'm really focused on -- at the basic level -- is what Thoreau states in Walden about how our possessions possess us.

One of the books I'm reading right now is an edited collection from New Society Publishers called Less is More: Embracing Simplicity for a Healthy Planet, a Caring Economy, and Lasting Happiness.

What many of the authors in the collection are promoting is living with lighter ecological footprints while embracing Thoreau's aphorism of "Simplify, simplify." Many of the authors are in or are influenced by the Slow Movement, and they're trying to persuade readers to live more simple, less hectic, and more meaningful lives by focusing more on our inner lives than outward possessions. In other words, they want folks to fully enjoy their lives instead of what Wordsworth refers to in "The World Is Too Much With Us" as "Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;/ Little we see in Nature that is ours;"

Some of the selections venture toward the whiny liberal variety of changing the world for the greater good of all and the planet. I like that message in general but not the whiny, unassertive tone of the some pieces. And I say all this as someone who would be considered a political "liberal" (on most issues) even though I see both American political parties as screwed up and usually spewing hokum backed by corporate interests. Or, put another way, I see some truth to how Lewis Black describes them--that the Democrats are a "party of no ideas" and Republicans are a "party of shitty ideas." And when they "work together," one guy says he has a bad idea, and the other collaborates to make the idea even "shittier."

But now I've gotten on a political tangent/rant. Back to what I'm supposed to be doing...

Okay, so one of my favorite essays in the book so far is co-authored by two Professors of Psychology, Tim Kasser (Knox College) and Kirk Warren Brown (Virginia Commonwealth). In their "A Scientific Approach to Voluntary Simplicity," they inform readers of their social-scientific study comparing two different sets of Americans (200 people per set), folks who lead lives of "voluntary simplicity"--people who "had voluntarily chosen to earn less than they could earn and had voluntarily chosen to spend less than they could spend" (37)--and mainstream Americans. Both groups took a survey that asked them about how happy they were and their environmental choices along with the Ecological Footprint Questionnaire. In addition, they "also measured two variables that past research found were associated with happiness and sustainability: mindfulness and values" (38).

But the results were a little surprising since the book is called Less Is More, a tome about simplicity after all. They found that happiness and sustainable lifestyle choices "were indeed compatible" (39). However, as the professors relate, "While there is some evidence that Voluntary Simplifiers were happier than mainstream Americans and were living more sustainable lives, ultimately our statistical analyses showed that identifying as a Voluntary Simplifier (versus a mainstream American) was not as important as being mindful and being oriented toward intrinsic values (relative to materialistic values)" (39).

So you're probably asking what the heck does being "mindful" mean, right? Earlier in the article, they talk about the "growing body of research on mindfulness shows that people vary considerably in the level attention they give to their thoughts, emotions and behaviors, and that to the extent they are more mindful, they report a higher sense of well-being" (38).

As Kasser and Brown conclude, the findings show that "living more happily and more lightly on the Earth is not as much about whether people think of themselves as Voluntary Simplifiers, but instead is more about their inner life -- that is, whether they are living in a conscious, mindful way and with a set of values organized around intrinsic fulfillment" (40).

So what this essay takes me to is another comedian, George Carlin, who satirized the American "getting and spending" long ago.

Be sure to take care of your "Stuff." And you're supposed to get more of it, especially that newer stuff.

And while you're at it, buy some Thneeds, "which everyone, EVERYONE, EVERYONE needs!"

Friday, February 25, 2011

Music Friday: "Sunless Saturday"

What you see above is the cover of the first CD I ever bought. The fact that Fishbone's The Reality of My Surroundings was my first CD makes me think about all the cassettes I had, ones that I now wish I had MP3s of. I once had a massive collection of cassette tapes from The Who, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and many other artists.

[Tangent Alert]

Cassettes, baby, cassettes. It's a fun word to write because the format is an anachronism. Say the word out loud. It has gruff, guttural sound to it, like something the Visigoths would mutter before battle.

Anyway, Fishbone is still around, but the following albums--In Your Face, Truth & Soul, and The Reality of My Surroundings--are the ones I've listened to the most, especially the final two.

The band's sound was/is a fun amalgamation of soul, ska, funk, and hard rock/metal.

I saw the band a couple of times at the same venue when I went to college at Truman. A group of us traveled down to the Blue Note in Columbia. The first show was a Primus-Fishbone double bill, and the second was a Kyuss, Biohazard, and Fishbone affair. At the time, Fishbone playing with Biohazard seemed like a odd pairing, but it worked out.

To properly date the Reality album, this Friday I offer "Sunless Saturday" when the band played on The Arsenio Hall Show.

Remember that guy?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Here We Rest on April 12

It's not even March yet, and I'm jonesing for Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit's next album.

As Lightning Rod Records relates on its website, the album Here We Rest will be available April 12. Considering Isbell's dark and dry sense of humor, I'm surprised he didn't have it set to drop on April Fool's Day.

Why the heck do new albums come on Tuesday anyway? I've never understood why Tuesday is the day.

Anyway, the track listing goes like this:
1.) Alabama Pines
2.) Go It Alone
3.) We’ve Met
4.) Codeine
5.) Stopping By
6.) Daisy Mae
7.) The Ballad Of Nobeard
8.) Never Could Believe
9.) Heart On A String
10.) Save It For Sunday
11.) Tour Of Duty

I'm looking forward to it.

"A Singer and a Scientist"

This week in first grade, Hannah is the "Student of the Week." So she had to create of poster of herself with photos and information.

As you can see above, she's an active gal.

My favorite portion of the poster is where she relates her career goals: being "a singer and a scientist." The singer part represents an effect of watching too much of a certain program on the Disney channel and her growing interest in music. To direct her a little more productively into better music, I got her a cheap Hohner blues harmonica last week to complement the starter acoustic guitar one of the friends of Nasty family (thanks Fern) gave to her a while back. I'm looking forward to listening to some blues numbers and Americana tunes of her making.

But I'm most pleased by her interest in science since women are still underrepresented in a number of scientific fields.

And Hannah being a scientist is a better bet for supporting me when I'm a cranky old codger (now I'm just a cranky middle-aged codger).

Maybe she'll use time travel to figure out what kind of scientist she should be.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Music Friday: "A Boy Named Sue" & "Hey Good Lookin'"

This Music Friday goes out to my parents.

My dad went in for a heart procedure on Tuesday, and there were complications. Thankfully, they got a stent into the lower artery of his heart. That problem coupled with renal issues almost ended his life, but he wound up in the ICU. He's in a regular room now.

My oldest brother has been staying with my mom, who has had heart problems of her own combined with diabetes and being legally blind. Once my dad's turned loose from the hospital, they'll both go to an assisted living facility where they don't have to worry about cooking food and will undoubtedly get much more social interaction.

So the first song for today, "A Boy Named Sue," is for my dad, who likes Johnny Cash. The father-son relationship in the song is much different than my relationship with my father, btw.

And the second song for today is Hank Williams' "Hey Good Lookin,'" which is a song my mom likes to sing when cooking, a song indelibly linked to her in my mind.

We're headed up to Iowa this weekend to help in whatever way we can.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Why Valentine?

Over the weekend I read Steve Dublanica's Waiter Rant, which acts like a front end of the restaurant complement to Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential.

It's a fun and interesting book although it is a little narcissistic at times. As chance would have it, one chapter titled "The Box of Chocolates Saint" relates how Valentine's Day, as he says, "is one of the biggest scams going" (70) in the restaurant industry and also how it's a royal pain in the butt from a waiter's perspective. All those deuces. All the stress from customers.

Since Christianity was a willing and adept religion at co-opting other religions' seasonal celebrations, somehow a day of feasting for a Christian martyr got mashed together with the Roman mythology of Cupid, and the capitalists got ahold of the it later on.

But really, Saint Valentine? According to Dublanica, here's how the martyr met his maker: "It seems the pagan Roman emperor asked Valentine, a priest, to renounce his faith. Showing an appalling lack of survival skills, Valentine refused. The emperor, who I suspect was a bad tipper, rewarded Valentine's intransigence by having him beaten senseless with clubs and beheaded. While poor Valentine's bones moldered in the catacombs, he somehow ended up becoming the patron saint of engaged couples and happy marriages" (72).

There's a dark message here somewhere, I guess. But I'm not going that route.

I've never really gotten all that worked up about the forced holiday whether I was single or attached. But I do appreciate my loved ones.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Music Friday: "Twilight," "Sweetheart of the Rodeo," "Straight Lines," "Young Girl," & "Southern Pacifica"

Dawn Landes is a singer-songwriter I discovered not that long ago. When Justin Townes Earle performed "Harlem River Blues" on Letterman, Jason Isbell informed his "friends" on FB that Landes sang with Earle that night.

Since then I've been wearing out the two albums I have of hers--Fireproof and Sweetheart Rodeo, and I thought I'd provide a representative sample of her work: the haunting "Twilight," the uptempo "Sweetheart of the Rodeo," "Straight Lines," and the addictive "Young Girl" (video)/ "Young Girl" (live).

For a bonus, I've also thrown in Landes and Josh Ritter playing his song, "Southern Pacifica," in their kitchen.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dead Season of Sports

For a sports fan like myself, this time of the year is a dead season.

There's NBA basketball, but I don't watch that.

There are NHL games on, but I don't watch them either.

The only basketball games I watch until SEC tournament games and bits of March Madness are Alabama's nationally televised contests, which aren't all that plentiful.

National Signing Day for football programs was just over a week ago, and spring practice isn't even close to starting. The Tide signed another fine class, btw.

And pitchers and catchers haven't even reported to Arizona and Florida yet.

But this leaves plenty of time for research for my fantasy baseball team, The Schlitzophrenics.

So I troll the websites I trust about fantasy baseball, I scour stat projections, I plot draft strategy, I consider which injury-prone players I should take a chance on, I think about players I can draft in later rounds and get solid returns on investment.

This rotoseason marks ten years since I started playing fantasy baseball. A scan of my fantasy profile for the past nine years does not inspire confidence in my ability as a GM. Besides winning our private league in 2001 (my rookie season as a GM) and finishing 3rd in 2007, I've had monumentally mediocre seasons other years. In fact, many years I've finished 7th. With the league usually comprised of 13-17 teams, seventh is blandly middle of the road.

I'm tired of this. I'm really tired of not winning it all.

But sometimes I think I just overthink all this stuff. Maybe I should practice non-attachment and not hate past players who have screwed me in the past when I drafted them (Alex Rios, Hunter Pence, Carlos Lee, and others I'll not list, you're all bastards). Maybe I should not overpay for The Dreaded Pirate since I like him as a player.

So I'm considering some substantial tweaks to my basic draft strategy as the dead season engulfs me.

But I'm keeping Halladay (pictured above) for my first pick, which goes against conventional wisdom of fantasy baseball and reflects my passion for strong starting pitching.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Not Collecting

While I don't have very many shows I watch on a regular basis, one regular on my television viewing docket is American Pickers on the History Channel.

The show has Mike and Frank traveling around the country to scavenge through people's junk piles to score valuable finds. With all of the places these guys go to, I'm consistently surprised by how much stuff/junk that people collect/hoard. One guy on last week's episode related that once he quit smoking cigarettes and drinking, he had all kinds of extra money to play with, so he began buying stuff he liked. From a snarky perspective based on what the guy had acquired over the years though, the dude might have been better off drinking.

What the fellas on the show are looking for, of course, are all manner of antiques, and in particular they tend to be smitten by interesting signs, vintage motorcycles, oil cans, old toys, and on and on and on. All that stuff apparently sells really well.

What I consider from time to time when watching the pickers do their thing is that I don't collect anything. I used to. I had comic books and baseball cards, but I sold those when I was hard up for money years ago. The fact I used to have the issue of The Amazing Spider-Man when Green Goblin gets defeated for the first time (pictured above) smites a little bit.

I guess I have some hickory stick golf clubs down in the basement, but they aren't all that valuable. And I haven't played golf in years. It's used to consume my life--practicing every day, competing in tournaments, playing for the varsity team in high school, dreams of a pro career--but I now tend to agree with Twain that the game is pretty much a "good walk spoiled." And, hell, some golf courses seem to make disincentives for people to walk the course anymore, which is ridiculous.

But with collecting stuff, I have little passion for encasing comic books in mylar or hanging up old golf clubs even though both can be kind of neat if you have the right items. I have lots of books, but that's maybe that's more of an occupational hazard with my profession. It's not like I'm collecting rare books or first editions.

I guess I don't have the passion for collecting although I'm entertained and interested in what people collect.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Music Friday: "Another New World"

Since I'm sick, I've tried to think of songs that relate to sickness. And I got nothing. I could probably figure out something if I worked harder, but I'm tired. And my head hurts. So there.

In this situation, I'll go with self-referentiality and provide a grumpy-looking photo of the artist.

In my comments about The Punch Brothers a couple of weeks back, I mentioned that the band did an excellent version of Josh Ritter's "Another New World," a song about a misguided explorer.

Hope you enjoy "Another New World" and have a good weekend.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Random Notes from a Crank

I offer these random thoughts not in an attempt to get consolation from readers of the blog. Rather, I just need to air this stuff to get it out of my system.

See, first my daughter got sick, and then it hit my son. And of course I got the virus next.

The picture above is a direct effect of a three-year old getting up at 2am today, coming into my bedroom to ask me whether it's "wake-up time," and then him climbing into bed with me and kicking me in the side at random moments throughout the morning as I'm trying to sleep.

With the ice storm here in central Illinois, schools were cancelled on Tuesday, Wednesday, and the elementary school is still cancelled tomorrow. So tomorrow I'm staying home with the kids as I do work.

So here go some random notes, what you might consider the cranky doppelganger of my "Stay Positive" posts:

I love my kids, but when I have a massive headache with congestion issues, whiny requests don't play well with me. The whining is like strong jabs to my temples.

PBS Children's programming is solid stuff. In comparison to most of the crud the Disney Channel puts out, it's far superior and more educational. The fact that some people have tried to dismantle PBS in the past makes me angry. I should donate some money to the local PBS station, but the radio station associated with the college is downright horrible as I've related previously.

While I have the chills, at least the battery of my Macbook Pro will keep my thighs warm when I'm using it on my couch.

To anyone out there who might know, where are iCarly and Spencer's parents? Did they abandon the kids? Are they dead?

I went out to shovel with the kids this afternoon and quickly realized I can't do much. Instead of snow blanketing it, the driveway has a two-inch thick layer of ice. At least it's textured ice, so the cars can get some grip. I sprinkled around some salt in futility.

It depressing how many television channels I have and how little there is to watch. I know this has perhaps become a cliche, but it bears repeating.

I want to acquire a creature suit like the two guys on Wild Kratts and turn into a bear, so I can hibernate.

I need a man cave with a naugahyde chair in it. Poor Naugas.

I want a sauna in my basement.

Glenn Beck is a fear-mongering moron. In a Lyotardian sense, he presents himself as a "hero of truth" while also cultivating the cult of the "hero of freedom." And you could say the same for many liberal pundits.

It depresses me how some people will believe almost anything that comes in email form ~ you know, viral emails and such. This propensity for believing whatever one reads calls for information literacy on a massive scale, especially because of the Web where any fool can have a website and many do, yours truly included (beat you to it, clowns).