A Fraughtful Year

December 28th 2011

 2012 is fraught. It is absolutely fraught. It is the most fraught year since 2011, and we all know how fraught that was.

The good news is that it’s a bit shorter than most years. It ends on December 21st, rather than on the usual date ten days later. Or so the Mayan calendar suggests, since that’s the day the calendar ends upon.

Somewhere around here I have a World Almanac for 1966 which I’ve kept all this time because it recounts the glorious World Series win by the Los Angeles Dodgers over the Minnesota Twins. Yes, I probably should get professional help for that. But here’s the thing: the calendar section there ends on December 31st, 1967. Did the world actually come to an end then, and the Nixon years were just a bit of post-ectoplasmic tummyache?

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Solstice 2011

Dies Natalis Invicti Solis

December 22nd 2011

Every December, I write a “Solstice piece”, and the theme is the same; this is the turnabout point, from now on, the days are getting longer, and eventually it will be spring.

Of course, there’s another element that I tend not to dwell upon. And that is that the Solstice is also the first day of Winter. And it’s just going to stay winter for another 90 days or so.

In fact, in eastern Canada, among other places, old man winter blows right through the Solstice and keeps right on intensifying. The snowiest and coldest month is often February, not December. For folks who depend on nice weather for their comfort and ease—and that’s most of us—the worst is yet to come. It will be a while for the days to be noticeably longer, and in the far north, it may be weeks or even a month or two before the first brief glimmer of blue sky to the south reminds people that there’s still a sun down there somewhere.

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A Hitch in Time

The world loses a philosophical giant

December 18th 2011

 About six months ago, I got to see a video of Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of Britain, in debate. I had seen Blair give speeches, and duck and weave on the fly during the Parliamentary Question Hour. I knew he was articulate, could think fast on his feet, and had a encyclopaedic memory. I used to watch him speak and debate, and then watch then-President Bush, and wonder if America had any future at all.

I expected the debate to be a clash of the titans. I knew what a formidable force Hitchens was, but I also knew the man was ill, and I was taken aback when I saw him, hair gone because of the radiation treatments and swollen and puffy from the steroids. His voice was raspy from the cancerous outrages his esophagus had taken.

I also knew that Blair, who could argue convincingly for principles he did not believe in, would be arguing for ones that he did believe in now. A freshly minted Catholic, he had come out of the denominational closet the day after he stepped down as Britain’s PM and it was now legal for him to do so. (It’s still illegal for a Catholic to be Prime Minister in Britain, which shows they can be profoundly stupid, too).

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Trumping the Newt

Nyuk nyuk nyuk

December 12th 2011

 I watched Mitt Romney offer a bet of $10,000 that he wasn’t out of touch with the common man, while the Republican crowd cheered the idea of child labor, and I reflected for about the thousandth time that the GOP debates were probably the best thing Obama could have hoped for for the 2012 campaign.

I’m not quite sure what the people who came up with the idea were striving for. Obviously, they wanted to publicize the policies of the people running for office, and those of the GOP as a whole. The trouble is they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. The debates have done a spectacular job of publicizing the views of the candidates and the reactions of the Republicans watching the debates, and it’s safe to say that at this point, there’s more gleeful Democrats watching the debates than there are Republicans.

Having your front runner come out and double down on the crazy by imploring the country to replace union janitors with five year old children is pretty bad. Hand a typical five year old a bottle of bleach and a bottle of ammonia and tell him to go clean the floor, and pretty soon you’re going to end up with a dead five year old, and worse, the floor will still be dirty. But you will save money.

I don’t guess I even have to say who came up with that one.

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Piracy on the IPs

Gootchy gootchy goo

December 8th 2011

Let’s say that one day, I’m at a yard sale, and I spot a crate full of 78s. They’re cracked and warped, but there’s about 50 of them in there, missing labels and so on, and because I’m a fan of Swing Era music, I buy the whole lot for 25 cents and take it home, hoping to find a jewel in the rough.

And I find a song, “Boobie Baby” by Gootch McKinnerson. Gootch was an old jazz trumpet player who died in a freak accident in Europe in 1943 when, stoned, he picked up and tried to lick a wolverine. But before that, he cut several records, including “Boobie Baby,” which jazz aficionados all agree is the greatest example of trumpet playing by a man who thought he was playing a tuba in the history of jazz.

It came out in 1937, and made the top 100 for a week. Then it was quickly forgotten, and shortly after Gootch’s death, the record company went bust, and Gootch’s family, who were all also jazz musicians, had forgotten by 1947 that Gooch had ever existed. So “Boobie Baby” has a mythical status among jazz fans. There’s a couple of old jazzmen from New Orleans who could hum a few bars once, but beyond that, nobody knows quite what it sounds like.

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