Thanksgiving Repost


Things have changed since I originally wrote this (I made a couple of edits to reflect that).  But I’m still grateful for everything I was then, and more.  And if you’re as grateful as I am, please take a couple of minutes to visit The Greater Good sites (I get there through  You don’t have to buy anything or donate money.  You just click to give.  Give a little back.

I hope everyone has a happy day, without too much stress. Remember to be grateful every day, not just today.

I’m thankful for having all the basics, for food and shelter and clothing. I’m grateful for my health. That I have the luxury of fancy electronics and cable television. I’m grateful for all the wonderful people in both my real life and my virtual life. I’m grateful for the right to vote and free speech. So, thanks to whatever higher power exists, and thanks to everyone here (including me) that helps make all these things possible. And a special thanks to that poor turkey that gave up its life for my holiday meal.

Right now, I really grateful that I can listen to this wonderful song, the only Thanksgiving-themed song that is any good. And I hope you’ll be grateful that Arlo Guthrie spent nearly 20 minutes singing/talking about “Alice’s Restaurant.” Enjoy, and have a great time eating yourselves stupid.

“You can get anything you want at Alice’s restaurant (excepting Alice).”

“Stagger Lee”


Life has been interfering with blogging lately (nothing new there).  I’m not quitting; I’m just kind of busy right now, so I’ve been posting a little irregularly.

While I’ve been doing other things–cleaning, organizing, etc.–I’ve been listening to a newish podcast called Serial.  It’s a spinoff of sorts from NPR’s This American Life.  (The first episode actually aired on the radio as part of that series.)  The conceit is that they examine a real criminal case in which there may be some doubt.  The first series focuses on the 1999 murder of high school student Hae Min Lee, and the conviction of her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed for that crime.  They go back and talk to the people involved, as much as possible, providing recorded interviews and as many of the actual records of the case they can supply.  It’s kind of fascinating.

There’s always a he said/she said quality to criminal investigations (not that the main players are always men and women; I’m just using the phrase as illustration).  Things can get kind of murky sometimes.  Eyewitness testimony, memory, and circumstantial evidence can all be misleading, manipulated, faulty.  The “official” story–the one told by the courts and law enforcement–isn’t always the right story.  As we’ve seen with the Ferguson, MO case, what happened generally depends on your point of view.

There’s an old saying that there’s three sides to any story: yours, theirs, and the truth.  The sad part is, we’ll never really know exactly what happened between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson.  We already have dozens of versions told by everyone involved (with the tragically notable exception of Brown) and many told by people who had no involvement whatsoever.  As the story gets changed and twisted, written and rewritten, we get both closer to and further from why that cop shot that kid.  I know that what happened shouldn’t have happened, that’s about it.  Do I think Wilson is guilty of first degree murder?  No.  But he’s probably guilty of something like negligent or reckless manslaughter.  (That’s just my opinion; obviously, there’s no legal basis for what I just said.)  Was Brown totally innocent?  No.  But he was unarmed, and he was a kid.  And he was black.  This whole mess has brought the institutionalized racism of police departments across the country back into the spotlight, which is ultimately a good thing.  It’s not worth the price of a young man’s life, but at least we’re looking at the problem openly again.

How does “Stagger Lee” fit into all this mess?  Well, this song was based on a real murder case (click the link to read more details), and there’s been more versions of it than I can count.  The song itself has evolved and changed, although the basic facts of the case haven’t changed.  But a song isn’t really an accurate representation of reality.  What  happened between Stagger Lee and Billy isn’t really in doubt, but how it’s presented isn’t really the truth either.  And that’s what’s at the heart of any criminal investigation or trial: What is the truth?  Generally, there are enough facts and pieces of evidence that allow a relatively clear picture of the crime to emerge.  But not always.  And even when the truth is fairly evident, sometimes justice in this country belongs to whoever has the most power and money.  Mostly, we just want answers that make sense.

As a narrative, the song “Stagger Lee” makes sense, so we accept it as something like the truth.  But the few answers we have in Ferguson don’t make sense.  The stories don’t match up–not with each other, and not with the evidence.  That’s what makes it so frustrating.  There’s no closure, no resolution.  The anger that this case has stirred up is mostly justified, but the violence created from that anger has made things worse.  I don’t know what’s going to come of all this, but I do know that directionless anger aimed haphazardly won’t help solve the very real problems the case has illuminated.

Jimmy Ruffin


Another one of the great soul voices has been silenced.  Singer Jimmy Ruffin passed away on Monday in Las Vegas; he was 78.

Ruffin was the older brother of late Temptations’ singer David Ruffin, and collaborated with his brother on the 1970 album I Am My Brother’s Keeper (which must have been quite the vocal showcase).  His biggest hit, “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” is one of those great songs that transcends style and genre.  I’ve known that song all my life, known how good it was, but never really thought much about the artist that made it.  I’m not even sure I knew it was Jimmy Ruffin’s song until the news of his death today.  I just knew that song.

I think that kind of universality is a sign of the artist’s talent.  Something that could’ve been pigeonholed or labeled became ubiquitous instead.  It became something that could be played on virtually any radio station, in the background of any movie, in the soundtrack of anyone’s life.  It wasn’t a cookie cutter song by any means; I can’t imagine any other voice singing this wonderful song.  But the emotion behind it could be anyone’s.  Ruffin took a song that obviously meant something to him, and made it meaningful to everyone else.  That’s the best kind of art there is.

“Come and Get Your Love”


My only excuse for being absent the last few days is that I’ve been busy.  And it wasn’t even all work.  Saturday night found me over at a friend’s house watching movies.  Now one of these has not been officially released on DVD yet, so the title will go unnamed.  (My friend is not quite as concerned with, um, certain types of downloading, which is why this friend’s name is also going unmentioned.)  But if you know anything about the movie, you already know what it is.

I had totally forgotten that this was a pretty darn good song.  I’d also totally forgotten that Redbone was made up of Native and Mexican Americans.  Well, I’d forgotten there were Native Americans in the band; I had no idea some of the members also had Mexican American heritage.  Makes sense, since they were originally from Coalinga, CA (near Fresno, site of a pretty nasty earthquake back in the 80s).  “Come and Get Your Love” was their only real hit, but it was a good one.

This song was used to great effect at the beginning of Unnamed Movie.  It helped set the tone and establish one of the lead characters.  Music can help make a good movie even better, and I think the soundtrack to this movie really helped it.  Oh, it would’ve been a fun and entertaining film without the music; the music just gave it that extra jolt of pleasure.  (Another awesome tune at the end had me doing a little couch dancing.)  The songs were obviously carefully chosen to complement the story.  So I recommend getting a hold of a copy just as soon as it is officially released.

“A Comet Appears”


Today’s really cool news about the landing of a probe on a comet has got my mind on outer space (as opposed to being in outer space, which is the more common occurrence).  I was a little sad that it wasn’t NASA that did this, but also glad that the rest of the world is picking up where the U.S. seems to have left off.

There’s so little we know about the universe, so many utterly cool things to learn, that I don’t understand why any government wouldn’t want to be at the forefront of space exploration and research.  Maybe I’m biased, because my dad was an aerospace engineer.  But I think understanding the cosmos around us is kind of important.  It sucks that so many people think it’s a waste of time.

Wow, I’m kinda bringing myself down thinking about the lack of real scientific work being done in the U.S. today.  Between people who just want budgets to be bare bones and people who only want religious explanations to big questions, there’s been a real erosion of intelligent, cutting-edge research in pretty much all scientific fields.  That’s bad.  Real bad.  We need more smart people doing smart things.  Not just to solve immediate problems (although some solutions to climate change would be pretty freaking awesome right about now).  We need to keep learning about . . . everything.  The world, the cosmos, animals, medicine.

I think knowing stuff is just the best thing in the world.  Why wouldn’t you want to learn something new?  Let’s hope the Philae probe reveals some neat new knowledge.  And then let’s all hope people actually pay attention to it.

Big Bank Hank


One of the original members of the Sugarhill Gang has passed away.  Big Bank Hank, who’s given name was Henry Jackson, was 57.

Sugarhill Gang were not the first rappers, or the first Rap group.  Rap seemed to spring organically from the budding DJ/break dance scene in urban areas, specifically New York.  But they were the first Rap group to have a chart-topping hit with “Rapper’s Delight.”  While there were a lot of other artists, most of them unsung in the mainstream, who had more influence over this genre, Sugarhill Gang proved there was a market for Rap and Hip-Hop.  This helped make the genre more commercially viable and accepted.  That’s no mean feat, and they deserve credit for it.