Monday, January 31, 2011


An 8-year-old Saudi girl addresses the powerful Egyptian President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak. Meanwhile, more than 250,000 protesters have violated the curfew and are calling for Mubarek's resignation. The unpopular security forces have withdrawn to protect the palace; they've been replaced by the army, a drafted force that seems to support the revolt. They have refused to fire upon the people, and demonstrators chant, “The people and the army are one hand.”

According to the New York Times, "The Army’s announcement — delivered on state TV with no elaboration by its official spokesman — declared that 'freedom of expression through peaceful means is guaranteed to everybody,' and promised to recognize the 'legitimate demands' of the protesters."

This is a significant show of support, and indicates opposition forces are strengthening. Egypt, the strongest US ally in the region, is hardly a democracy, and Mubarek has run the country uninterrupted for the past thirty years. In case you think propping up America-friendly dictators is a thing of the past, dig a little deeper. Sure, the US would rather not lose an ally but it would seem grossly hypocritical to support the notion of democracy in the Middle East without supporting this peoples' movement for democratic reform. Traditionally, Mubarek has quelled protest with an iron fist, and torture is common in his jails. In the typical geopolitical devil's bargain, the US has ignored his violations of human rights in the name of US interests. This time around, Mubarek's first response to the civil unrest was to shut down the internet and meet protesters with bullets and water canons, but the protesters refused to be intimidated, and now with the army refusing to fire upon them, Mubarek is scrambling. He announced a "new government," and replaced Habib el-Adly, "who is widely despised by protesters for brutality shown by security forces," with a retired police general, Mahmoud Wagdi, but that wasn't enough, and even more people filled Cairo's Tahrir Square ("Liberation Square").

Tomorrow, organizers expect a "march of millions" and a general strike.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


1969. The zenith of US troops in Vietnam, with a conniving and paranoid Richard Nixon at the helm, and massive anti-war moratoriums in the streets. The My Lai Massacre is exposed, and Life Magazine runs a full-color spread of bloody bodies, shocking photographs of more than three hundred unarmed women and children killed by Lt. James Calley and the men of Charlie Company, 11th Brigade, Americal Division, United States Army. The Chicago Eight conspiracy trial begins with Black Panther Bobby Seale chained to his chair, and across town fellow Panther Fred Hampton is murdered in his sleep by Chicago police.

1969. The Beatles give their last public performance, and are busted on the Apple rooftop by London police, but they manage to release Abbey Road, and "Come Together" and "Something" fill the the airwaves. James Earl Ray pleads guilty to assassinating Martin Luther King. The war rages on, and the The USA is divided between a liberal, anti-war peace camp of youth and minorities, and a flag-waving Republican "Silent Majority" who support the war, Nixon and "law and order." The conservatives see the civil rights movement as a threat, and Nixon speaks in code about "welfare mothers" abusing the system, infuriating his base, firing up the angry hardhats to bust some heads, stirring up his ground troops much in the way of today's Tea Party. Not to be outdone by the Black Power movement, AIM Indians occupy abandoned Alcatraz to draw attention to the plight of Native Americans. In another world, Joe Namath and the NY Jets win the Super Bowl after Broadway Joe's brazen prediction. "Easy Rider" is in the theaters, and "Midnight Cowboy" will win Best Picture. Apollo astronauts walk on the moon, and half a million people go to Woodstock to celebrate peace, love and music where Jimi Hendrix plays an incendiary "Star-Spangled Banner" replete with bomb blasts and feedback missiles.

1969. Pianist Les McCann and saxophonist Eddie Harris take the stage at the Montreux Jazz Festival and capture the turbulent times in a song that becomes a classic. The songs starts innocently enough with just a drummer and piano--and, as if tipping his hand, Less McCann quotes a little "Aquarius"--then launches into a fiery jazz diatribe expressing anger and militancy, loss and disillusionment, the war, the Movement, and a painfully divided nation. More than any phony speech from Tricky Dick that year, this is really the State of the Union Address.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Well, I met a little girl in a country town. She said, "What do you know? There's Slim Harpo." Born in Louisiana, Slim recorded for the mighty Excello Records, the outfit that also recorded Lonnie Brooks, Lightnin' Slim, Charles Sheffield, Roscoe Shelton and Lazy Lester. Later on, Slim was "discovered" by the rock generation and his tunes were covered by The Yardbirds, Pink Floyd, Them, ZZ Top and the Rolling Stones, who played a killer "Hip Shake" on "Exile on Main Street." No matter. The best Slim was always Slim himself. Now throw out all your stupid records and get some Slim Harpo today!

Slim Harpo


In a fascinating interview at "Big Think," technology writer Nicholas Carr reminds us that writing has only been around for a couple millennia, and in that time we've jumped from papyrus to iPad (or in my case a Kindle 3G). Obviously, the experience of reading has changed over the years, and in more ways than might be immediately apparent. For example, the spaces between the words.

Carr says that the first writing, on slates and papyrus and even early handwritten books, was written in continuous script. No spaces. Readers used a lot of energy just to separate the words in order to read them. Finally, spaces between the words were "invented."

"And it was only in around the year 800 or 900 that we saw the introduction of word spaces. And suddenly reading became, in a sense, easier and suddenly you had the arrival of silent reading, which changed the act of reading from just transcription of speech to something that every individual did on their own. And suddenly you had this whole deal of the silent solitary reader who was improving their mind, expanding their horizons, and so forth. And when Guttenberg invented the printing press around 1450, what that served to do was take this new very attentive, very deep form of reading, which had been limited to just, you know, monasteries and universities, and by making books much cheaper and much more available, spread that way of reading out to a much larger mass of audience. And so we saw, for the last 500 years or so, one of the central facts of culture was deep solitary reading. The immersion of ourselves in books, in long articles, and so forth."

One could argue that the spaces between the words, which allowed for a private experience, helped create the individual. People were suddenly separate, grappling with deep personal thoughts, experiencing cognition as individuals. People had private experiences before this, of course, but not in such a dedicated and deliberate fashion. The intimacy of the book allowed people safety to think alone, unhindered by social cues, free from groupthink.

TV, on the other hand, might carry us back to olden times. Media expert Marshall McLuhan may have been the first to suggest that television, being once again a shared, group experience, may destroy the private space created in the Age of Print. That age was waning, he said, and soon we would become global villagers.

Carr agrees technology may turning us into neo-primitives. "With the arrival – with the transfer now of text more and more onto screens, we see, I think, a new and in some ways more primitive way of reading. In order to take in information off a screen, when you are also being bombarded with all sort of other information and when there links in the text where you have to think even for just a fraction of a second, you know, do I click on this link or not. Suddenly reading again becomes a more cognitively intensive act, the way it was back when there were no spaces between words. And as a result, I think we begin to lose the ability to read in the deepest, most interpretive ways because were not kind of calming our mind and just focusing on the argument or the story."

But don't fret. You can still read. There are plenty of wonderful books out there to challenge and boggle the mind, brilliant philosophies and histories and works of fiction. Fortunatelytherearestillafewspacesleftbetweenthewords...

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In case you don't have enough time to read books, slates or papyrus, "Cool Tools" has done an amazing job putting together a list of the greatest magazine articles EVER. Check out their list HERE.

The formidable Paris Review has recently posted all their interviews with writers online, a celebrated feature since the 1950s. From William Faulkner to Robert Crumb, the writers spill their guts and share their tricks, Check them out HERE.

Project Gutenberg has done an amazing job collecting 33,000 free books you can read on your Kindle, iPad, Nook, Android, iPhone, Sony Reader or any other electronic book reader. Visit their website HERE.

Then again, if you don't have an eReader (and even if you do) you can still visit a bookstore (we suggest a local, independent bookstore) or a public library, still one of the best ways your tax dollar is spent.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Sam Cooke would have turned eighty this weekend if he hadn't been murdered back in 1964 at the age of thirty three.

Cooke had one of the greatest, most distinctive voices ever recorded and he became known as the King of Soul. He first gained attention in the Soul Stirrers, a gospel group, and then he crossed over to pop and had huge hits like "You Send Me," "Cupid," "Chain Gang," and "Bring it on Home to Me." After his murder at the Hacienda Motel, songs that had been on the shelf were finally released, including "A Change is Gonna Come," a soulful protest song that is regarded as his greatest composition. To hear this classic, click on a play button at the upper right of this blog page.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


The summer between fifth and sixth grade, our family moved to Corvallis. My father was working on his Master's Degree at Oregon State. It was a hot summer. I rode my bike all over campus and beyond into farmland, and when I wasn't riding my bike I was reading, pouring over the stacks at the public library on Monroe Street. I covered a wide swath. I worked my way through regular books from the adult stacks, history and social science, adventures and war stories, fiction and science fiction. Up till then, I'd experienced sci-fi in movies--generally cheesy late night creature features, but that summer I read the "classics" from Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury and Robert Silverberg, A. E. Van Vogt and Frank Herbert. That summer, I learned the unlimited possibilities of outer space. My infatuation with sci-fi didn't last much longer, but that season it was a perfect fit. I'd ride to the library, load up on books, and then hit the city park where I'd sprawl out on the grass and explore infinity, alien life, rockets and ray guns. In my nearly sixth grade brain, I'd sometimes miss the philosophical questions and morality plays the writers were exploring, but most of the time I'd get the general idea. Dressed in spacesuits, protagonists acted out questions of tolerance and militarism, segregation and the Cold War, peace and the possibility of nuclear inhalation. Sci-fi may be set on a distant planet, but of course it's really commenting on the here and now. Rod Serling's subversive "Twilight Zone" was also a big part of my mental make-up. If nothing else, it put me into the habit of asking "what if?" Those days are long gone but once in a while an interesting science fiction movie comes along that looks like fun. You have to suspend disbelief with science fiction--lot's of disbelief--but sometimes it's worth it. Here's a weird looking trailer for a movie coming out. It looks pretty far-fetched. What do you think? Want to go to the movies?

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Something to wake you up: the amazing Nicholas Brothers dancing to music from Cab Calloway's band in the 1943 film, "Stormy Weather." Definitely caffeinated. Fred Astaire said this performance was "the greatest dance number ever filmed." Who can argue with Fred?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Last weekend, we saw more than 150 paintings, sculptures, drawings and photographs from the collection of the Musee National Picasso in Paris. Predictably, it was brilliant. Around every turn there was something to boggle the mind and soothe the soul. Picasso reinvented himself, and reinvented art, so many times it was like an amazing group show. The show ended Monday, so now you have to see it in Paris.


As Shakespeare noted in Twelfth Night, "some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them." Still others--well, one, anyway--have their greatness writ large with an even greater writing instrument, a pen of epic proportion, and that's Jim Woodring. Don't get me wrong; Jim is well-known for his visionary cartoons, but something about this mighty pen--a gorgeous, perfectly balanced seven foot dip pen with an ornate brass-plated nib that Jim painstakingly designed--has fired imaginations far and wide. Its initial unveiling at the Gage Academy of Art was attended by hundreds of eager fans and curious gawkers, shifty artists and pantaloons and cutpurses who jockeyed for position as if this were a piece of the true cross--and some were even so lucky as to hoist the pen themselves and attempt to make their mark. It wasn't easy. At first, even Jim had a hard time wielding the implement and he cursed the fluid dynamics calculations provided by the scientists, grumbling that this was a failure, that all was lost, but then he took another tack and the viscosity was adjusted and the pen performed admirably. The crowd hushed and then cheered. Outside, horses stamped and whinnied. As if on cue, it started to snow. Since that Sunday afternoon, the pen has been written up in all the local fishwraps and venerable blogs, and everywhere from Boing! Boing! to The Economist. Yes, The Economist. To my knowledge, this is the first time the arcane art of pen and ink--not to mention a giant pen--has graced the pages of that austere publication. I imagine a good portion of their readership squinted and harrumphed at the audacity of such whimsy sandwiched between their serious articles on geo-politics and high finance, but who knows? Maybe it tightened up their wigs. (To read their version of events, click here) In any event, the Nibbus Maximus has captured the hearts and minds of all good people, and it will undoubtedly prevail against the doubters just as it would against all giants and windmills that might be giants. Calamus Gladio Fortior.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Dylan performs "Maggie's Farm" (edit), "One Too Many Mornings," and "Mozambique" from the Rolling Thunder Revue, 1976.

Bob Dylan dreamed up the Rolling Thunder Revue after "Blood on the Tracks." He'd just finished a king hell tour backed by The Band in 1974, but this would be different. He was working on a new album, what would become "Desire," and all summer long he'd been showing up in the old folk clubs in the Village, unannounced, to play a few songs just like in the old days. He wanted to bring back some of that spirit. Why not bring this on the road? Just gather up some old friends and play a string of small venues? If the '74 tour was a supersonic jetliner, Rolling Thunder would be a ramshackle gypsy wagon, part Commedia del'Arte and part sixties last hurrah, a raggedy collection of troubadours in masks and facepaint who magically appeared, played, and then disappeared like thieves in the night. Why not? Expect the impossible! So they painted an old-fashioned circus banner and made some phone calls. Dylan asked Joan Baez to come along, and Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, poet Allen Ginsberg, playwright Sam Shepard and Mick Ronson from Bowie's band. At one point or another Joni Mitchell and Bruce Springsteen tagged along.

It was different from the big stadium rock tours of the day, and Dylan's enthusiasm was contagious. For the first time in years, lucky crowds heard songs that hadn't been released, strange new songs. So far, the only song that had been heard from the upcoming album was "Hurricane," which was rush-released to help raise awareness of Ruben "Hurricane" Carter, a black boxer unjustly imprisoned. Live, the song was red hot and featured the wild gypsy violin playing of Scarlet Rivera. There was passion and poetry and wild new music. Spirits were high.

As luck would have it, I saw the Rolling Thunder Revue in Providence, Rhode Island. During a cross-country a road trip in a Dodge van, we picked up a longhaired hitcher who was wild-eyed with excitement. "Are you going to see Dylan?" He explained Dylan was playing in a few hours in Providence--it had just been announced on the radio--and since we were outside Boston we had to skedaddle. At that point, we only had two playable eight-tracks (yes, eight tracks), one of Clapton live, and the other Dylan's latest record, "Blood on the Tracks." We made it somehow. The place was jammed. Met David Blue, who was milling around inside chatting up some girls. Allen Ginsberg was there, too, old graybeard in a brown suit and sneakers, looking like Whitman in the supermarket, a lonely old grubber poking among the meats and eyeing the grocery boys. Which way did his beard point tonight? I shook the poet's hand and muttered something about "Howl," and he wanted to explain, but I got out of there and found my seat, high in the bleachers, a last minute perch. We didn't stay there long, but drifted down to the floor, where someone saw me snapping pictures and let me sit in his third row seat for a few songs.

Dylan performs "Tangled up in Blue" on the first leg of the Rolling Thunder Revue, autumn 1975

The curtain came up to Dylan and Baez, on a set of old couches and lamps and rugs--a cozy living room. Old friends. During the course of this amazing show, Dylan unveiled new songs "Sara" and "One More Cup of Coffee," "Romance in Durango" and "Isis." I've seen many wonderful concerts over the years, seen many of the heavy groups, the old school and the punks, the jazz players and classical musicians, but I'd have to say this show ranks at the top. Part theater, part road show, part party, a loose group of friends that for one moment in 1975 I became a part of by sheer luck.

The Fall of 1975: Dylan and Allen Ginsberg visit Jack Kerouac's grave during the Rolling Thunder tour.

After the first leg of the tour, in the autumn of 1975 in the Northeast, Dylan took the Rolling Thunder Revue across the south in 1976. This second leg wasn't as astounding as the first, and the band grew tired--some of the magic was lost but there were still wonderful shows. This clip was filmed on the last day of the tour, in Fort Collins, Colorado. It's outside, and it's raining. Dylan's ex-wife has shown up unexpectedly--they would soon divorce after years of breaking up--and this added to the backstage drama of the scene. For whatever reason, Dylan pours his heart and soul into this show. He's on fire and enunciates his lyrics like a condemned man shouting his last words. This was his final say.

An hour-long film of this final Rolling Thunder show aired on network television in September of 1976. I watched it in a big hippie living room full of children and dogs in Kettle Falls, Washington, a stone's throw from the Canadian border. Another time, another place. Everyone settled down as Dylan strode onstage and sang a fiery "Idiot Wind," and it was like a State of the Union address. He's like that. At key points in my life (yours, too?) Dylan manages to compress life's freewheeling experiences into lyrics and music. That sounds too obvious, and to say Dylan just writes songs is like saying Michelangelo makes some carvings. Yeah, he writes songs all right. And he's not bad. But you really had to be there.

Bruce Springsteen, John Prine, and Bob Dylan backstage during the Rolling Thunder Revue, 1975

Monday, January 10, 2011


Cornel West, Princeton Professor and author of "Brother West," speaks words of wisdom. "Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and raised in Sacramento, California, West graduated Magna Cum Laude Harvard University and went on to complete his Ph.D at Princeton. The winner of numerous awards, including the American Book Award, he has also received more than twenty honorary degrees." Now shut up and listen.

"You've got to sustain some kind of passion, and therefore the great bluesmen and women from Tony Morrison to white ones like Tennessee Williams to Bruce Springsteen on the vanilla side of town, along with Bob Dylan, or on the chocolate side of town, you know, it could be Leroy Carr or Curtis Mayfield or Aretha Franklin -- they are prisoners of hope. They're neither optimists nor pessimists; they are prisoners of hope because they care. As long as you care, and there's one little precious child out there with sparkling eyes, you've got to do something. And if you don't, the rocks are going to cry out. That's why Coltrane kept blowing his horn, my brother, because if he didn't blow his horn the rocks were going to cry out. That genius cared."

To hear his entire talk, click here.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


So far, six people have died and Congressman Gabrielle Giffords struggles for her life after being shot at point blank range by a deranged shooter. Nineteen people in all were shot at a public meet and greet outside a Safeway in Tucson.

Sheriff Clarence Dupnik (shown above) of Pima County makes the connection between the tragic violence and the politicians and pundits who make a living fanning the flames of hatred. Some Republicans are eager to point out that Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and their Tea Party ilk didn't pull the trigger, but they have helped create an overheated climate of threats and violence that helped set this up.

Conservatives are saying this has nothing to do with right wing talk radio or the virulent state of politics in America today, or even the specific political climate of Arizona. They say that this lone gunman was unbalanced (and of course he was) and that Rush and Beck and Palin and all the amped-up tea party types didn't pull the trigger. True, but slimy. There are consequences for stirring people up, and Giffords has been under attack for a while. Maybe this sniper acted alone, guided by voices in his head, but the voices of talk radio and political advertisements surely added to that cacophony, and it's disingenuous to say those well-payed pundits who egged on the crazies, and cashed their checks, don't have any responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

Some background: Gabrielle Giffords was one of the twenty Democrats who were elected in 2008 and voted for health care reform and were then targeted for defeat by Sarah Palin in a "takebackthe20" campaign that included a map )above) showing each congressional district in cross-hairs -- as in a gunsight. Recently, "an attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords by a group called Conservatives for Congress hoodwinks viewers with selectively edited clips from a House hearing earlier this year. The TV ad, which has been running in the Tucson market, lampoons the Arizona Democrat for asking Gen. David Petraeus about the military’s use of alternative energy sources such as hydro and solar power in Afghanistan."

Not long ago, Gabrielle Giffords spoke out about Sarah Palin's violent rhetoric and the Tea Party threats and attacks.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Nervous? Tense? So are the animals! It seems that every day there are more news stories about masses of animals dropping dead, or behaving weirdly. Entire flocks of birds have dropped from the skies, whales have run aground gasping, crabs have jumped into boiling pots, and so on. It's enough to make rational people shout Armageddon and start crying about the Book of Revelations. What next? Locust? Well, before you start babbling about the seven seals and the mark of the beast and pale riders, take a chill pill.

There must be a logical, scientific explanation. Has to be. This isn't the Bronze Age, for godsakes, and we're not about to start wearing sackcloth and join a cult. Even so, the stories are piling up. Thinks about it. On New Years Day, thousands of red-winged blackbirds fell dead from the sky in Beebe, Arkansas. Just before that there was a report that "hundreds of thousands" of fish were found dead in the Arkansas. According the the Baltimore Sun, two million fish dropped dead in the Chesapeake Bay. The Associated Press reports that "state biologists are trying to determine what killed an estimated 500 birds that littered a quarter-mile stretch of highway in Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana." It just gets weirder. Okay, we're not convinced that "end-times" are here, but it's pretty clear there is mucho tension in the Animal Kingdom.

For questions of animal tension, we turn to the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. Back in 1963, Hitch visited the theme of animals behaving weirdly in his suspense classic, "The Birds." if you haven't seen it put it on your Netflix cue immediately. Or watch the clip (above) in which the film has been sped up to play in just one minute--perfect for nervous, on-the-go types who can't sit still for an entire full-length film. Then relax. Animals can sense fear.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


"You know, if I listened to Michael Dukakis long enough, I would be convinced we're in an economic downturn and people are homeless and going without food and medical attention and that we've got to do something about the unemployed."

That was Ronald Reagan, but it could have been any Republican idiot. Insensitive and wrong. Today, the GOP moves into Congress, and the insensitivity will continue. Using misinformation and fear of change, the GOP has managed to manipulate most of its supporters into voting against their own interests. I say "most of" because if you're a billionaire, voting Republican isn't against your interests. Then it would make sense.

“If Americans ever allow banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks will deprive the people of all property until their children will wake up homeless” Thomas Jefferson

You may have heard of Jefferson, though no thanks to Republicans on conservative schoolboards across the country. To them, Jefferson is persona non grata, and insufficiently Christian to boot. According to the New York Times, Jefferson has been removed from the Texas school books because, well, basically he isn't "American" enough." To quote the Times:

"Cynthia Dunbar, a lawyer from Richmond who is a strict constitutionalist and thinks the nation was founded on Christian beliefs, managed to cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century, replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone. (Jefferson is not well liked among conservatives on the board because he coined the term 'separation between church and state.')" NYT, 3/13/10

Yes, with the help of the Republicans we're heading for an idiotocracy.

Have you hear of Ted Williams? No, not the ballplayer. Ted Williams is a former radio announcer who panhandles on the side of Interstate 76 in Columbus, Ohio. Ted is homeless. He recently spoke with a Columbus Dispatch reporter and the video went viral. Let's give the last word to Ted:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


The DeVoto Martini from Claire Thomas on Vimeo.

Martinis seem like the quintessence of high society--a dry, sophisticated drink in an exquisite cocktail glass, elegant as the Chrysler Building, bright and silvery and ice cold. The books are full of clever quotes from dry, sophisticated drinkers, Algonquin table quippers, Mad Men, regatta yacht types and movie stars and the elegantly wasted, so much that the average drinker might experience a wave of class wooziness when confronted with the drink and stick to beer. They'd be missing out. Or they've learned a little about martinis--that dry, for example, is best--but why?

According to food writer Christoph Reilly, "The 'drier equals less' myth was further enhanced by the rich, powerful and famous. For Winston Churchill, a martini consisted of pouring a glass full of cold gin while looking at a vermouth bottle, a drink now called a Churchill martini. Likewise, Alfred Hitchcock's recipe called for five parts gin and 'a quick glance at a Vermouth bottle.' I guess Hitchcock's martini was drier than Churchill's since he didn't look at the Vermouth as long. Drier still was General Patton, who suggested pointing the gin bottle in the general direction of Italy. Hemingway liked to order a 'Montgomery,' a martini mixed with 15 parts gin and only 1 part vermouth. Supposedly, Field Marshal Montgomery needed 15 to 1 odds before going into battle."

This is all part of the Great Martini Myth. A good martini is simple--perfectly so--and mixing one requires more confidence than skill. Yes, the original was gin though vodka variants are now considered valid by everyone but the worst snobs, though no one worth their salt would consider the apple-tinis and chocolate-tinis, the peachtinis and peppertinis, and the rest of those too sweet sorority girl drinks masquerading as martinis that are actually closer to daiquiris. There is nothing wrong with a daiquiri, mind you, but it's not a martini. This New Years Eve, I mixed some drinks for friends and it was amazing how many people loved a good martini (the way I make them) but had no idea how on Earth to mix one. I hate to demystify the mixology of the celebrated drink, but after a couple drinks I'll spill all my secrets. So in the spirit of DIY, this quickie video gives it away. Watch it.

Now everyone knows Robert Benchley (a dry martini of a person, if ever there was one) famously quipped "Why don't you get out of that wet coat and into a dry martini?" Someone else at the round table said that martinis are like breasts: one is not enough and three is too many. We've heard Dorothy Parker say that after two martinis she's under the table, and after three she's under the host. We know that Bond preferred them shaken not stirred, but don't order one like that. Ask the bartender to make a martini--dry, if you prefer--and let him or her mix it however they like. A good bartender should make a good martini. For starters, have a gin martini and three olives. Next, skip the olives and try one with a curl of lemon peel. See what you like.

Oh, and let me remind you that martinis are strong. They are basically all alcohol. Don't gulp them. Don't drink them and operate heavy machinery. Don't drive automobiles after drinking even one. And certainly don't drink them on an empty stomach. Eat something first. To help us with eating, let's turn to martini enthusiast Robert Benchley in a short "educational" film from 1939.

Monday, January 3, 2011


Hey, Video Rangers, here's an important message from Captain Video. Listen up, kids, and be sure to follow the Captain's advice. It's easy as pie.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Happy New Year, faithful reader! Greetings to you and yours on this very first day of 1/1/11. From where I sit the sun is streaming through the windows and last night's reveries are fading faster than an old jean jacket. What a night! We ate hopping john for good luck, we laughed, we danced, we toasted the new year, we kissed at midnight. Now the dawn comes up like thunder and we survey the battlefield in the misty morning light. The fires are all out. Coffee is brewing. I vaguely remember the promises I made last night but they're like songs from a half-forgotten dream: eat less sweets, relieve stress, get more exercise, all that good stuff I firmly believed last night that i will try to live up to from this day forward. God willing and the creek don't rise I'll have a novel finished by summer. I'll make more artwork this year, and that must co-exist with this literary schedule, so there will be plenty of paint and pots of ink and crumpled paper in the coming year. And yet I'll be less messy. I plan to spend more time with my girlfriend Wendy, and more time enjoying my friends and family, and less time blowing gaskets about the seemingly endless stream of numbskulls and puritans and tea-baggers who want to ruin everything I hold dear. Don't get me wrong, I shall not become beatific and forgiving instantly. I'm only human, after all, and I'll probably still raise my voice at the screen and those spoiled pundits who infuriate me (there I go again) but I'll try to sublimate that rage, chill it Sicilian-style, and transmute it into new creative work. I'm not giving up on a better world--I still believe in that, though not in a corny kumbaya sort of way--I'm just not raising my blood pressure if I can help it. I have a plan. It goes something like this and I advise you do the same. Get plenty of rest. Express yourself. Go easy on dessert. Read great books, maybe write one. Paint some pictures. Draw. Dance. Enjoy all the laughter and wit and courage and beauty all around you. And if that doesn't work, go back to bed and try again. Good luck.