Friday, September 29, 2006

Just ain't right.

There is something really sick and perverse about having to be dragged kicking and screaming to the beach when you are in the middle of a college semester.

The name of this perversity: RESPONSIBILITY.


High Rotation:

Elvis Costello - Mighty Like A Rose

Elvis Costello - The Delivery Man

Bob Dylan - Love and Theft

Bob Dylan - Modern Times

Hank Williams III - Lovesick, Broke & Drifting

Peter Griesar - Superfastgo

Beck - Mutations

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Thoughts on "Tar Baby"

On November 20, 1931 Bessie Smith recorded "I Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl" for Columbia Records. The song was written by C. Williams, J. Byrne and D. Small.

The lyrics:
Tired of bein' lonely, tired of bein' blue,
I wished I had some good man, to tell my troubles to
Seem like the whole world's wrong, since my man's been gone

I need a little sugar in my bowl,
I need a little hot dog, on my roll
I can stand a bit of lovin', oh so bad,
I feel so funny, I feel so sad
I need a little steam-heat, on my floor,
Maybe I can fix things up, so they'll go
What's the matter, hard papa, come on and save you mama's soul
'Cause I need a little sugar, in my bowl, doggone it,
I need a little sugar in my bowl

I need a little sugar, in my bowl,
I need a little hot dog, between my rolls
You gettin' different, I've been told,
move your finger, drop something in my bowl
I need a little steam-heat on my floor,
Maybe I can fix things up, so they'll go

(spoken: Get off your knees, I can't see what you're drivin' at!
It's dark down there!
Looks like a snake! C'mon here and drop somethin' here in my bowl,
stop your foolin', and drop somethin', in my bowl)

I once asked local pianist Bob Bennetta how black artists like Bessie Smith and Jellyroll Morton seemed to get away with so many racy songs decades before the Smothers Brothers would be kicked off the air for saying "damn." In retrospect the Smothers Brothers were not the best example for a lot of reasons, but Bob skipped to the underlying point with his answer. Black artists didn't get as much flack for explicit lyrics because such songs help propagate the image of black people as wild sex-crazed vulgar animals. It probably also should be considered that the blues didn't have the kind of commercial following that jazz did, nor with its three-chord rhythm did it show the kind of eloquent structural sophistication that made black jazz artists like Armstrong and Ellington so intimidating to white people. Still both the blues and jazz were considered "devil music" in their early years by both white and black people.

Was Bessie Smith trying to propagate the image of black people as primal beasts of id? Of coarse not! The beauty of Bessie to me has always been her image of glory through defeat. She portrayed the battered woman, the broken hearted woman that knew her man wasn't treating her right but couldn't find the strength to leave him. Her power was in her ability to portray the weak and wounded condition of many woman through her own troubles. She was Janis Joplin before Janis was even born, riding that midnight train to Georgia when Gladys Knight was hardly old enough to buy a ticket. When many popular black artists were living up to stereotypes of the "yes massah" happy worker that were expected of them, she was just pure Bessie, wanting some doggone sugar in her bowl.

Still, perhaps we shouldn't sing such songs now. Perhaps we shouldn't even use slang terms like "jellyroll" and "sugar bowl" now. We should be appalled that Bob Dylan gave the lewd song a nod with his recent work "Spirit on the Water." Clearly it is derogative... right?

That's kind of the logical dilemma I'm finding with the use of "tar baby" (or "tarbaby" as it is sometimes written). I hardly had a toe in the waters when Tony Snow was roasted for his use of the term. Though looking back at his words now, I'm wondering if I've missed some key peace of context.

"Tar Baby" comes from The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story, the second tale in the first of the Uncle Remus books. These stories were adapted by Joel Chandler Harris from African American folk tales. Harris invented a black dialog which is now considered derogatory. Considering his defense of slavery, and stereotypical portrayal of the old black narrator, it would certainly be difficult to argue that Harris was not a racist. However, let us not overlook that his authorship is in this case limited to the adaptation and presentation of The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story and the many other stories in his collection. If there has been serious academic accusation to the authenticity of these stories as African American folk tales, I am certainly not aware of it. With that in mind let us consider the basic story of tar baby and its raw images.

The tar baby is in fact made of tar and other sticky substances and is dressed with clothes to appear as a person. When Brier Rabbit passes him on the street, he is insulted that the Tar baby does not address him. You shouldn't need to have studied the Harlem Renaissance to recognize this confrontation. It was common at the time for black people to have to step out of the way and politely greet any white person walking down the street. When the inert tar baby does not respond to the Brier Rabbit, he furiously strikes him. Being made of tar, the rabbit's paw sticks to it. The more the rabbit strikes the tar baby, the more he is stuck to him. To me, that's a wonderful image in itself. Talk about you rubber and glue defiance!

Let's take a step further back to look at the context of this confrontation. The Tar Baby was made by Brier Fox and Brier Bear to trap Brier Rabbit, the significance of this is certainly disputable, though it reminds me of the themes later expressed in Dylan's "Only A Pawn In The Game" where those in power keep a leash on poor ignorant whites by exploiting their racism. (I admit it's certainly a stretch, but I can imagine that Mr. Zimmerman would be pleased by a biblical interpretation of the brier patch that provides the rabbit's escape from his captives.)

Considering the actual story, I fail to understand what is racially derogatory about the term "Tar Baby." The term is not a descriptive title like "uncle" or "boy" nor does it refer to black people in a negative light like the term "Ni**er rigged" does. It is a simply a reference to an African American folk tale. Sure, it was presented by a racist, but until someone can prove that he created the tar baby, I fail to see the relevance of that. And even if he did write the story, it is nonetheless a classic where despite its racial tones there is nothing clearly racist about the actual tar baby. My textbook for Survey of American Literature featured several Uncle Remus stories, when there apparently wasn't enough room for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. To use the phrase and know what it means simply shows that one has read it. Where are the legions of people outraged at the popularity of Lovecraftian imagery that has coiled its tendrils around virtually every medium of entertainment since the 1980s? After all, his work from the 1920s was at times repulsively racist (read part 3 of Herbert West: Reanimator).

I admit it has been a while since I read the story. Maybe I'm not looking at some bigger picture. These are my thoughts as I stand, and I really do want to understand this if I'm worng. It is simply not in my nature to sit quietly when I'm told not to say something. I need a reason; I've got to ask why. My favorite area of literature is books that have been banned because I'm always interested in both the power of words and the fear of them. If you think I'm wrong then please, let's discuss it. I sincerely don't understand the opposing argument. It wouldn't matter if I were completely unacquainted with Jackson Landers or if it were a Republican like Tony Snow; I'd still be asking what makes this a racial slur.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

"Kenton Ngo you're my hero"

Been pretty darn busy lately. When I have visited the blogsphere, my attention has been elsewhere from the amendment. So I've somehow managed to miss the Virginia4marriage hand advertisement till now.

What struck me about the pro Marshall-Newman amendment ad was how it didn't beat around the bush about the fact that this is a specific religious groups' agenda being put into our constitution... but Ngo's protection joke made my day.

Something I can't get my head around is how some proponents constantly insistence that gay marriage is wrong because the purpose of marriage is reproduction. I can understand (regardless of how much agree or disagree) their insistence that children should be born in wedlock, but not that this is the purpose of marriage. It's always struck me as more of a perk than the purpose.

I've been to quite a few weddings. A couple of them were less conventional, but most were pretty standard Southern Christian weddings. I've listened to a lot of wedding vows. Some were traditional, some written by the bride and groom, but not a single one mentioned childbearing. Some used possessives (usually mutual though), but at the core of all of them was love and commitment. love and to cherish, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live?

Or the similar love and to honor, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, till death do you part?

At no point in any marriage have I heard the minister mention childbearing, only love. The closest you can come to saying that they do so is that it is traditional to consecrate the marriage by having sex on the honeymoon. This consecration however seems more tradition (and logical since most religions forbid sex prior to marriage), and is never mentioned in the actual ceremony. In fact, the official consecration is usually a kiss, an act of affection.

Marriage is about love and commitment, not reproduction. If it were you would have to not only forbid the right to marriage from homosexuals, but also from all who'd wish not to have children and all who are incapable of reproduction. But wait... wouldn't that be unconstitutional? And isn't it really none of your business what they do with their bodies and their marriage?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Motrin IB is my new friend

I've developed a real nasty neck problem. We think it is from lugging my backpack around with all of my text books in it (since all my classes are on the same day). A good chunk of my weekend has consisted of being in a world of pain trying not to move much till I can go to the chiropractor.

Till then, I've discovered the wonder of Motrin IB, which seems to take me from a fetal curled dizzy mess, and return me to a person that can type this many words without being miserable. Now I've just got to get a weekend of work done for tomorrow.

Friday, September 15, 2006

That's not good... that's not good at all.

The way I see it, if the Pope really didn't mean to insult Islam with his comments, then he's not the sharpest Pope in the drawer. If he meant every word of it the way it came out, the vatican might want a new Pope, cause this guy is going to cause some big time trouble. If he wanted to talk about religious violence he should have looked at his own faith's bloody past first and foremost, from there he certainly could have brought things to the more topical state of Islam. Any way you cut it though, saying that Muhammad brought nothing but evil is just not smart. We've got enough religious termoil in the world right now without cracking open the crusades all over again!
“The emperor comes to speak about the issue of jihad, holy war,” the pope said. “He said, I quote, ’Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”’
What the heck was he thinking?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Some thoughts on hunting and development

Often throughout my teens, if someone asked me about hunting I would give the impression that I was against it. To an extent this was true. Though I think as time has passed, to say that I am against hunting would not be entirely accurate. The truth of the matter is that some hunting is essential. With virtually all of their natural predators extinct, deer populations have skyrocketed. This reality has often been given disservice by representatives that stress only the troubles that this causes for humans, such as the raiding of crops and increase in car accidents. The fact that deer can cause car accidents when crossing roads is certainly a serious issue, but too often those that stress this refer to expenses for damage to vehicles, let alone that they can sometimes result in fatalities for humans. This focus leaves some animal lovers saying, "what about the deer?" which is often followed up with a brief soapbox on how they have more right to be here than we do.

So what about the deer? Well for starters, those car accidents often kill a lot more deer than humans, and all too often it is not as quick and painless a death as a well-aimed bullet can deliver. But the bigger issue here for anyone genuinely concerned about the well-being of deer are the problems that overpopulation bring to the deer themselves. Deer are coming closer and closer to peoples’ homes as a result of natural food shortages. Though tomatoes and other veggies are certainly more tempting then their normal diet, deer normally tend to avoid human residences when they can. As the population continues to grow, many of the deer have no choice but to venture deeper into denser residential areas. To make matters worse, we encourage this by developing subdivisions further into the county. Deer are by nature edge dwellers. Their natural habitat is at the edge of forests near fields and streams. The more we develop in the counties, cutting down trees for subdivisions and chain stores, the more we encourage the deer to dwell closer to highly trafficked areas. The collision is nearly unavoidable, with the only checks and balances being hunters, vehicular collisions, and ultimately starvation. Of the three, which seems the cruelest?

Obviously the poor developing strategies of Charlottesville and Albemarle County need to change. As it stands, instead of really developing the land more densely and practically like that of the city, across the bridge to Pantops shopping center and all down 250 East we’ve simply dropped one big shopping center after another. As a result older centers like Pantops, which the community have come to recognize as a part of the area, have started to dwindle from their former state against bigger competitors. For example, Video Club’s new release shelf is now often speckled with soft porn, finding the only way to compete with Blockbuster is to exploit their no NC-17 policy. Now, I don’t have a general problem with a video store having an adult section, but this upfront presentation of it deters a more diverse patronage.

Another fun feature of this developing is the deterioration of convenience. People like my family, that come into town by way of 20 North now have to go a little extra ways through traffic to reach the new pharmacy across from the recent Giant shopping center. Overall it seems we have to do much more driving up and down 250 now, and can expect to do much more as smaller shopping centers like Pantops are beaten out. When you consider gas prices, this is a little annoying. The same has been happening for years up along 29 North, and in both cases as commercial chains spread sporadically further out along these main roads, the sub-divisions are right behind them when not already ahead, developing deeper into the woods of the rural county, where deer await the new forest edges they will produce.

Though even if we do come around to better managing development, what has already been down is bad enough. With no predators and abundant edge land, the population is and will continue to grow out of control unless hunters thin the herds. This is what largely brought me around to accepting hunting in this area. It is something that is simply necessary under our current circumstances. I’ve also never really opposed hunting for survival/meat. After all, when you consider both how much meat a single healthy deer has and the numerous problems that arise from industrial livestock, hunting can be a very health and ecologically smart thing to do. Plus... I really do like venison.

Many of the things that turned me off to hunting so much during my teens have not really gone away though. Like most children of the 90s I grew up influenced by the cultural backlash against ideas of machismo. The idea that boys grow up to shoot guns, play football, and womanize away at the same college their daddy and their daddy’s daddy went to. Hunting simply didn’t have a good image. It went hand in hand with the idea that every member of the NRA had a bomb shelter for WWIII. And though this has died down quite a bit, the root of these exaggerations is still very present: hunting for sport. The idea that killing an animal that has very few means of defense with a high power rifle somehow makes you a man. This right of passage simply doesn’t work in modern times the way it did in tribal societies. A deer is not a heard of buffalo and a rifle is not a spear. Shooting a deer to prove one’s manliness is right up their with sports car compensation. There simply is nothing I can respect about modern killing for sport. I can respect marksmanship. I can respect the skill of a good hunter, but not this thrill of the kill, the strange pride of posing with a disemboweled carcass. It seems lacking of respect for the creature, and it certainly didn’t come with much real danger to the hunter to accomplish. Furthermore, hunting for sport is thus a blood sport, which I am wholly against all forms of, even if when done by professionals hunting would have to be the least cruel blood sport.

The other issue I have with hunting is not so ideological, but simply practical. I have found nothing more annoying about hunters than their frequent complaints at the shrinking of deer. Time and time again I’ve heard hunters talk about how deer in Vermont used to be huge, but now might as well be called pygmy deer. The same has now happened in Virginia. Looking outside my window I can see three to seven deer in the back yard most days; the adults are so small that they probably only come up to my waist! (I’m 6’2 for anyone trying to estimate their height.)

The problem is very simple. Hunters not only act as population control, but they also serve as eugenic control. In a natural predator-prey relationship, the predators pick off the weaker and sickly members of the herd, making the gene pool better with each generation. Hunters do the exact opposite. They always go after the big bucks and thus the gene pool has less of them each generation. If hunters would simply go for the frailer bucks and leave the big boys to do their thing, hunters would find that after a few generations, the overall population would be much healthier, with “small deer” being closer to what is currently considered a prize buck. It simply makes sense to do this. Though smaller deer become more compatible with their growing numbers, the overpopulation is not something that even pygmy deer can get around.

We need hunters. Their reputation with newer generations has the potential to get better, and if some mindsets are slightly altered with respect to approach with present and future generations, they could easily become not only more effective but respected as the necessity that they are.

For additional reading on the effects of subdivisions colliding with the rural county and hunting, see Jackson Landers’ article (and his update) on Jim Camblos and his proposed law to prevent people from discharging firearms within 200 yards of a building.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Vote NO... it's the conservative thing to do!

Really busy and don't have time to comment on this right now, so if you haven't read it yet, hop over to David and Vivian's articles.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Goodbye Steve Irwin

I know a lot of people figured that Steve Irwin's luck would run out some day. I guess what makes it so shocking is how it really did happen.

I grew up watching The Discovery Channel before it became "The Chopper Channel." Before we had cable I spent most of the time (that I wasn't devouring movies and video games) playing by the creek, catching snakes and bugs, watching deer in the daytime and bats at night. I had pet spiders (literally thousands at one point) and would add crawfish and other cratures to my fishtank whenever I found them. I wanted to be a marine biologist when I grew up so that I could swim with sharks. I've evoked all kinds of reactions from my mom, knocking on the door with everything from five-foot blacksnakes and eight-inch slugs around my arms, to a flying squirrel on my shoulder. I was, am, and will always be an animal nut.

Like many, I've made no shortage of jokes about The Crocodile Hunter over the years, but also like many I really did think the guy was great. Before he came along it looked like all the wild life programs I grew up watching would be a thing of the past. Most natural habitats are not exactly getting any bigger and public attention, particularly with youths, was starting to dwendle so much, you'd think most animals were already extinct. Steve made wild life fun and interesting again. He enaged a whole new generation and risked his life nearly every moment doing it.

When watching the man talk... what else could you do but call him crazy or poke some other joke at him? How else can you approch some one that enthusiastic? It has to be fake, right? It must be a for the kids.

But anyone who has really watched enough of his programs knows, it wasn't. He really was that gung ho about animals and his and... well... EVERYTHING! He also had very serious moments as well. It wasn't like the man had a chemical inbalance. Anyone that ever saw the beached whale episode has seen him in a situation where he was powerless. He just didn't avoid things affecting him the way most people do; he didn't grow up into another dull orator about lions talking their pray. I guess someone just forgot to tell him you're not allowed to say "wow" after the age of twelve. He was a forty-four-year-old kid with an energy that seemed to come from another planet.

When a celebrity dies, people always say things like their hearts go out to the family. Maybe they mean it, or maybe it's all they can think to say. But I do find myself thinking a lot about his now. He and his wife were one of those great couples to watch on TV. You'd have to be a pretty bitter person not to smile at Steve's enthusiasim in interviews about being a father. It's pretty sad to think that was taken away from his kids.

44 is too damn young to die when you're doing so much to make the world a better place. Seems redundant to say he's going to be missed.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The mailbox... is bouncing

I'm having a bad day. Most of the real reasons why I'm having a bad day I'd rather not get into. In part because I'm beat and in part because... meh.

Anyway, the reason for this post is that among the things going wrong, my webmail seems to be bouncing everything but SPAM and Netflix. At first it was just mygirlfirend (which ain't good) but now blogging circles and mailing list are getting bounced. It's not very clear why some pass and some don't.

Anyway, until I can unleash the wrath of the brother in law upon it. Emailing my normal accont is risky business.

Use my other more recent one if you know it, my college one if you remember it, or drop me a note here.

I'll try to get this sorted out as soon as I can.

Battered amendmet

For a while now it has looked like the debate over the Marshall-Newman amendment affecting domestic violence cases was one that the proponets had in the bag.


David strikes again!