Friday, June 27, 2008

Update on logistics issue

The logistics are no longer any problem at all...Dessie now refuses to let Sally go to the wedding with me as well.

So there will be plenty of room for Roma, Anya, Kinya and myself.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Acronym of the Day Dept

Q: What does D.A.M. stand for?

A: ...see the answer..."Mothers Against Dyslexia"

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Litterut Hedline of the Day Dept

Glad to know the folks over at the Wisconsin State Journal have been inspired by Tim Russert's example.

HT: Althouse

It's the New Towel Dept

As the rescuer said, "It certainly beats sending up a flare."

Pardon the Hitchhiker's Guide allusion in the title...on second thought, if you didn't get the allusion, then what is your problem?

HT: Ace's sidebar

Get Used To Disillusionment Dept.

I'd say that for Sean Penn, disillusionment is unavoidable -- and I think you, Gentle Reader, will have to agree with me, yea though thou art the truest of true believers in the Obamessiah. Jesus Christ himself would fail Penn's test:

"I hope that he will understand, if he is the nominee, the degree of disillusionment that will happen if he doesn't become a greater man than he will ever be." Um...oh, never mind, Sean.

[shaking head in bemused delight] Penn is, for us lovers of human folly, the gift that just keeps on giving. Do you remember his accepting an Academy Award a few years ago and giving the host a haughy lecture about how "Jude Law is one of our finest actors" -- having somehow, clearly, failed to realize that the host's throwaway line about Law in his opening monologue had been a joke? There's nothing funnier than a man who always takes himself seriously, and also suffers from inveterate rectal-cranial inversion. And by that standard, I defy you to find anybody on the planet funnier than Sean Penn. (I wish to goodness I could link to one particular Wikipedia parody site's article on Sean Penn, but that link would, alas, be too far over the line for this family-friendly blog.)

Now I'm going to have to go hunt up that Acadamy Award story or it'll bug me all night...

HT: Vodkapundit

UPDATE: The year was 2005, the host was Chris Rock, and here's the bit that got Penny's unmentionables all wadded, in which bit Rock argues that Hollywood should be pickier in its casting rather than settling for second best:

Clint Eastwood's a star, OK? Tobey Maguire's just a boy in tights. You want Tom Cruise and all you get is Jude Law. Wait. It's not the same thing. Who is Jude Law? Why's he in every movie I have seen in the last four years? He's in everything. Even the movies he's not in, if you look at the credits he made cupcakes or something. He's gay, he's straight, he's American, he's British. Next year he's playing Kareem Abdul Jabbar. You want Russell Crowe and all you can get is Colin Farrell? Wait. Alexander is not Gladiator. You want Denzel and all you can get is me? Wait. Denzel’s a fine actor. He woulda never made Pootie Tang.
Penn was one of the presenters later in the show, and here's his classic response -- and if you saw the clip (which doesn't seem to be on YouTube), you know that he was not joking in return, but was furiously, seriously honked off: "I just want to answer our host's question about who Jude Law is -- he's one of our finest actors."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Must-read news

A new anniversary to celebrate every year on the Peril's calendar: 16 April 1178 B.C., the day when Odysseus revenged himself upon Penelope's suitors.

Or at least, that's what these guys say. Then again, this could be another scholarly effort similar to the apocryphal story of the classics professor who labored twenty years to prove that the Iliad and the Odyssey were not written by Homer, but by a different Greek who happened to have the same name.

Point of family significance: my mother, when telling stories on herself, tends to refer to herself in the third person as "Penelope." I have no idea why.

οἱ δ' ἐφέβοντο κατὰ μέγαρον βόες ὣς ἀγελαῖαι:
τὰς μέν τ' αἰόλος οἶστρος ἐφορμηθεὶς ἐδόνησεν
ὥρῃ ἐν εἰαρινῇ, ὅτε τ' ἤματα μακρὰ πέλονται.
οἱ δ' ὥς τ' 6αἰγυπιοὶ γαμψώνυχες ἀγκυλοχεῖλαι,
ἐξ ὀρέων ἐλθόντες ἐπ' ὀρνίθεσσι θόρωσι:
ταὶ μέν τ' ἐν πεδίῳ νέφεα πτώσσουσαι ἵενται,
οἱ δέ τε τὰς ὀλέκουσιν ἐπάλμενοι, οὐδέ τις ἀλκὴ
γίνεται οὐδὲ φυγή: χαίρουσι δέ τ' ἀνέρες ἄγρῃ:
ὣς ἄρα τοὶ μνηστῆρας ἐπεσσύμενοι κατὰ δῶμα
τύπτον ἐπιστροφάδην: τῶν δὲ στόνος ὤρνυτ' ἀεικὴς
κράτων τυπτομένων, δάπεδον δ' ἅπαν αἵματι θῦε.

Then the hearts of the suitors quailed. They fled to the other end of the court like a herd of cattle maddened by the gadfly in early summer when the days are at their longest. As eagle-beaked, crook-taloned vultures from the mountains swoop down on the smaller birds that cower in flocks upon the ground, and kill them, for they cannot either fight or fly, and lookers-on enjoy the sport - even so did Ulysses and his men fall upon the suitors and smite them on every side. They made a horrible groaning as their brains were being battered in, and the ground seethed with their blood.
Ah, good times, good times.

UPDATE: Link fixed.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bummer for me, but congrats to her, I suppose

I had 7 Feb 2009 set aside on my calendar; that's when I was going to get to see Anna Netrebko sing the role of Lucia.

Then her fiancé -- by the way, how can anybody as pretty and talented as her go marry a guy named Erwin Schrott? Erwin Schrott?? I mean, seriously, I ask you, is there anybody on earth geeky enough to deserve the name "Erwin Schrott"?... Where was I? Oh, yes. Her fiancé had to go and get her pregnant, and now she's not going to sing the role.

[heavy sigh of self-pity] Well, congratulations to the both of 'em, I suppose.

(Just in case any of my readers don't realize it: the congratulations are serious; the self-pity is tongue-in-cheek. Not to insult anybody's intelligence; it's just that I've had more than my share of painful experiences in which somebody took seriously something the facetiousness of which I had presumed was obvious.)

And just to head off misunderstanding: the bummer for me is the fact that she's no longer going to sing Lucia, not the fact that she's no longer single.

I think raising your child in Canada now officially qualifies as child abuse

Why, in God's name, would any person who cares two cents about his children's character, or their access to religious viewpoints that do not suit the political prejudices and personal antagonism of unelected government officials, raise his children in the lunatic asylum that Canada has become? Just move already. How hard can it be to escape from Canada?????

Just to be clear on that first story -- and by the way, this is an updated version now that Ace has directed me to this fuller account, which just makes it even more appalling, but much more understandable (he can't move out of Canada because it's a divorce situation, I'm sure; so he's stuck with an ex-wife whose behavior is, shall we say, not what one would hope to see from a responsible parent):

1. He told his daughter -- his TWELVE-YEAR-OLD daughter -- to stop chatting on the web and posting inappropriate pictures of herself on MySpace.

2. She did it anyway.

3. He grounded her and told her she couldn't go on a school trip.

4. She ran away to go live with Mom, who had lost the custody battle and yet told the kid she could stay with her instead of making her go back to her dad, and also told her to go ahead and go on the school trip in defiance of Dad's wishes.

5. But the school said, "Look, we can't take her without her dad's permission."

6. So Mom gets her lawyer to take it to court on the grounds that the punishment was too harsh because "This was something that would never happen again in the child's life," and it was "really important," because "it was the end of a stage in her life." What stage of life was that again? Oh, yes -- she was graduating from ELEMENTARY SCHOOL!

7. So what does the judge do? She -- forgive the sexism but I was pretty bloody certain just from the screw-the-dad lunatic outcome that the judge was a woman even though the story didn't say so; so I searched the internet until I tracked down the name of Quebec Superior Court Madam Justice Suzanne Tessier -- she said pretty much, "Hey, the hell with the dad, he's being unreasonable; the kid can go."

I'm telling you, these Maple-Leafers have gone downright certifiable.

By the way, in case you didn't realize it, divorce sucks.

Monday, June 16, 2008

So, if I were rewriting "You Look Wonderful Tonight"...

...I'd torch that puppy up a bit, along the lines I laid out a few posts ago. Something like this:

It’s late in the evening
She’s wondering what clothes to wear
She puts on her makeup
She brushes her long blonde hair
And then she asks me, “Do I look all right?”
And I say, “Yes, you look wonderful tonight.”

The belle of the ballroom
No other girl half so fair
She’s dressed all in starlight
I can’t help but stand and stare
And then she asks me, “Do you feel all right?”
And I say, “Yes, I feel wonderful tonight.”

I feel wonderful because I see the love light in your eyes
And the wonder of it all
Is that you just don’t realize
How much I love you

We dance through the doorway
I carry her up the stair
Her eyes dark and yearning
She lets down her long blonde hair
And then I whisper as I turn out the light,
“Darling, you looked wonderful tonight.”
I tell her, “Darling, you look wonderful tonight.”
I say, “My darling, you were wonderful tonight.”

Since I've recently introduced moral concerns into my pop music analyses, I hereby hasten to say that my fictional narrator is a very happily married man.

Fair warning: I am nowhere near a good enough poet to get something satisfactory on the first shot; so I have every intention of coming back later and cleaning up certain parts I'm not really happy with. (For example, the fourth line of the final stanza was originally, "She wriggles her derrière..." The second draft didn't really work for me, either: "She says, 'Let's get you an heir...'") And when I do, I'm not going to bother marking updates or anything; I'm just gonna update it, blog etiquette be d----d. So there.

(I was kidding about the derrière and heir bit, by the way.)

Musings lyrical, musical and moral on "It Was a Very Good Year" (as sung by Sinatra)

When I was seventeen
It was a very good year
It was a very good year
For small-town girls
And soft summer nights
We hid from the lights
On the village green
When I was seventeen

When I was twenty-one
It was a very good year
It was a very good year
For city girls
Who lived up the stair
With all that perfumed hair
And it came undone
When I was twenty-one

When I was thirty-five
It was a very good year
It was a very good year
For blue-blooded girls
Of independent means
We rode in limousines
Their chauffeurs would drive
When I was thirty-five

But now the days grow short
It’s the autumn of my year
And I look back on my life
As vintage years
From fine old kegs
From the brim to the dregs
It poured sweet and clear
It’s been a very good year

This is very nearly a perfect song. To begin with, what looks in print like a simple rhyme scheme at the end of each verse is broken up by the musical phrasing, which turns the lines into something more like this:

When I was seventeen it was a very good year
It was a very good year for small-town girls and soft summer nights
We hid from the lights on the village green
When I was seventeen

In other words, the music turns half of the obvious rhymes in the lyric into internal rhymes, the end of one line seeming to rhyme with the middle of the next line rather than its end. But the complexity of the rhyme scheme, which could have caused the listeners to have trouble sensing the structure, is offset by the extremely careful parallelism of each of the first three verses: the first four lines of each verse are the same in each verse except for the age of the man and the sophistication of the girls. The next three lines differ widely in each verse – but those are precisely the lines that are rigorously rhymed. And then the verse is rounded off by repeating the first line of the verse and by reinforcing the lyrical closure with musical closure, as for the first moment since the first line of the verse the melody settles on the tonic and the harmony resolves into a major.

But while the fourth verse follows the same musical pattern, the sense is quite different. If you are an incorrigible oenophile then perhaps you thought of a wine vintage the moment he first sang the phrase, “It was a very good year.” But most of us don’t think that way, and so now the lyricist makes explicit the metaphor that underlies all three verses. Yet by the time that he tells us that the original sixfold repetition of the line, “It was a very good year,” has been meant to compare the various literal individual years of his life to vintages of wine, he has already radically shifted the metaphor: now, in this verse, the “year” itself has become metaphorical. It is his whole life, now, that is fancifully expressed as a year; and thus the verdict that he has passed piecemeal on individual years of his life can now be reused as a retrospective verdict on his life as a whole: the individual very good years have added up to a very good life.

A complex structure like this, when done perfectly (as it is here), makes you immediately want to go back and hear the song again; it is a different song once you can see it as a whole than it is when you're passing through it for the first time. Furthermore, it's a song that repays repeated listening, as you almost certainly will notice something the third or fourth time through that you hadn't picked out before. A very remarkable song indeed, and it's certainly no shock that it was one of Sinatra's permanent personal favorites.

Now, I started by saying that this is an almost perfect song. If you’ve been trying to figure out what the weaknesses were, you probably have one of two candidates in mind. One is the fact that, in order to get the rhyme for “dregs,” the lyricist has represented the vintage “wines” of his life as being stored not in bottles or barrels, but in kegs – which can’t help but make us, at least momentarily, think of beer rather than wine. And if you noticed that and thought I’d consider it an imperfection, you’re right; well done – it’s the only moment in the song at which the lyric jars.

The other weakness? Well, if you know me, you’re probably wondering why I’m not complaining about the morality of the song. Certainly the Troika would be protesting, given that they find it unspeakably infuriating that on at least 75% of the hip-hop songs they try to listen to while we’re in the car, I demand a change of radio station because I refuse to listen to such lyrics. That’s a post of its own, of course; but the Troika don’t understand why, “But I don’t care about the words, I just like the music,” is not accepted by Papa as a valid reason to listen to lyrics such as, say:

Shawty want a thug.
It started with a hug.
And the rest went like this.
I gave her neck a kissy kiss.
She gave my neck a kiss back.
I said we could do it like a stack.
I mean we could do it like a G.
On the couch in V.I.P.
Shawty, we can get it on.
I’m like shout out to the D.J.
For playing this song.
Girl, we could act like two damn fools.
Have everybody think we doing a dance move.
Call me, so I can make it juicy for ya.
Meet me in the bathroom and you could be my secret lover, girl.
And it started with a hug but now we making love in this club.
And we not gonna stop just because the people in the crowd are watching us.
Cuz we don't give a damn what they say.

That particular song, by the way, comes to you courtesy of the pride of St. John’s Downtown Church. Ladies and gentlemen, your Beyonce Knowles! Wonder what Pastor Rudy thinks of that one? Still, it could be worse; the Li’l Wayne / Beyonce version is the version that Kinya tries to convince me is “the nice version,” in comparison to the Usher version that is also currently getting tons of airplay. Even Kinya admits that Usher’s version – set, nauseatingly, to a syrupy sweet romantic melody – is a bit much:

…I'll set you free,
Sexually, mentally, physically, emotionally,
I'll be like your medicine, you’ll take every dose of me.
It's goin’ down on aisle 3, I'll bag ya like some groceries.
And every time you think about it, you gonna want some more of me.
Bout to hit the club make a movie yea rated R.

Have you ever made love to a thug in a club with his sights on,
87 jeans and a fresh pair of nikes on.
On the couch, on the table, on the bar, on the floor.
You can meet me in the bathroom, yeah, you know I’m trained to go.

Oddly enough, Papa refuses to listen to such lyrics in the car with his teenage daughters, much to said daughters’ mystification. But then obviously we come back to “It Was a Very Good Year,” and as my Troika would be pointing out triumphantly if they were part of this discussion, you can’t deny that all those “very good years” clearly involved a string of girls and a lot of (however euphemistically implied) promiscuous sex, and a further implication that some trading up was going on – with all that that, in turn, implies about how much value the narrator placed on the “small town girls” whom he made use of at the age of seventeen simply because nothing better was handy. That means that there were, at the very least, a string of break-ups to go along with the string of affairs, and while Sinatra’s own personal life boasted a string of amicable former lovers, we all know perfectly well that’s not the way it ordinarily plays out. Plus, Papa is an evangelical Christian who thinks sex outside of marriage is bad, period – so how can he like this song?

It’s a very fair question. And my answer is simply this:

Listen to the song.

For when you actually listen to the music of the song, you realize that, despite the fact that the words are making the claim that the narrator has had “a very good year” (i.e., a very good life), the music itself gives the lie to the sentiment. The music is gorgeous, to be sure – if my daughters want to know why I think it’s an abuse of language to use the term “music” to refer to the mechanical and unimaginative repetitions of, say, “Rag Daddy,” then they need merely listen to the melody line of “It Was a Very Good Year,” which I think would be extremely effective even if sung a capella (though certainly it works in Sinatra’s lushly orchestrated version with the secondary melody that is never sung, only played by the orchestra in between verses). A lovely melody? All in all a musical piece that would stick in your head even if you didn’t know the lyrics? Absolutely.

But I’ll tell you this – music less like the Ode to Joy can hardly be imagined. It is gorgeous, yes, but it is mournful, haunting, melancholy, even elegiac. I can easily imagine my own parents looking back on their wonderful marriage and well-spent life and singing the Ode to Joy (at least if I gave them an English version to sing rather than the German version). And when they do look back on their past, I don’t think you’re going to get much melancholy out of ’em; whatever their life-song winds up being, it won’t sound much like, “It Was a Very Good Year.” But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Sinatra himself, when summing up in song, on two separate occasions, his own life – a life which was, by the way, the closest you can possibly imagine anybody coming to living a life of sexual promiscuity with minimal emotional damage to self, lovers and children, an outlier of outliers in that respect – I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he gave us the melancholy of, “It Was a Very Good Year” and the narcissistic bombast of, “My Way,” rather than giving us any retrospective song that could reasonably be described as “joyful.” And of course most people who attempt the Sinatra lifestyle find it quite a bit more emotionally catastrophic than Ol’ Blue-Eyes himself did. In my father’s years as a pastor, preaching more funerals than I would care to count, “My Way” was one of the songs that most often showed up on the deceased’s list of Songs I Want Sung At My Funeral – and almost without exception, when “My Way” showed up on the list, the deceased was a sad-sack loser with a trail of disastrous personal relationships littering his life.

I have always liked the Jim Croce songs in which Croce creates a fool of a narrator who reveals his own stupidity to the listener, while clearly having no idea himself of what an idiot he is (“Working at the Car Wash Blues,” for example, or “Roller Derby Queen”). More interesting are songs in which you know that the narrator is a fool, but you’re not sure the singer has enough sense to have his tongue in his cheek – my impression is that Toby Keith, for example, has no idea that the main impression made by, “How Do You Like Me Now?” is that while the girl he’s singing to has made many mistakes in her life, she’s done at least one smart thing – she’s been careful to have nothing to do with Toby Keith. When you’re getting into the hip-hop genre you find that at least half the songs, especially the ones sung by males, absolutely revel in behavior that is reprehensible in every way – and the the singers clearly think that their self- and other-destructive behavior is something to be proud of. But by that time you’ve descended into such open brutality and obscenity that you can’t even laugh at it; it is foul pollution, in the original, numenous sense of the term.

I suspect that “It Was a Very Good Year” falls into the Toby Keith category: I doubt that Sinatra, at least, means the narrator to be taken as a fool, but while the lyrics do bespeak an immoral and fundamentally foolish narrator, they are neither brutal nor obscene. Great art does, however, have a habit of saying with power things its creator didn’t notice, because when art truly touches deep reality it may frequently capture accurately aspects of reality that the artist’s subconscious noted without his ever becoming consciously aware of them. And perhaps it’s even just an accident; perhaps the mood of the song didn’t seem “right” to Sinatra when he heard it and made it one of his first-tier signature pieces; perhaps he just thought, “Oh, that’s pretty.” At the very least he clearly didn’t say, “I like the words but the mood is all wrong,” of course. But in the end it doesn’t really matter much to me what is the precise history of the piece’s composition: as the composition stands, the music undercuts the sense of the lyrics and provides, at least for me, exactly the same sort of irony that the lyrics themselves provide in a song like “Working at the Car Wash Blues.”

In the end, “It Was a Very Good Year” winds up being what I think of as an “Ecclesiastes song.” You see, when you read the scriptural book of Ecclesiastes, you are struck very forcibly by how out of tune it is with all the rest of Scripture – it is a Biblical book written by a man who appears to have had little or no acquaintance with the God of the Bible. (It’s no coincidence that when the ultimately suicidal Ernest Hemingway found a book in the Bible that seemed to him to speak so directly to his situation that he rewrote it as a novel, that book was Ecclesiastes, or, in the Hemingway version, The Sun Also Rises. Try to imagine Hemingway rewriting the epistles of John in any form whatsoever – the very idea is absurd.) It is my personal opinion that God arranged for Ecclesiastes to be included in Scripture precisely so that godly Christians and Jews could see, incarnate in a powerful and worldly-wise but ultimately despair-ridden book, the limits of natural wisdom. I don’t think that this is at all the lesson that the author of Ecclesiastes, who seems to me to be as perfect a candidate for Limbo as one could very well imagine, intended to convey: he seems to me to be somebody who thinks he has everything figured out and he’s on a mission to share the bad news to all the people who aren’t blessed with his own intellectual prowess. But you can hardly convey what I think God’s real point is more effectively than by having somebody read, back to back, Ecclesiastes and then, say, the Johannine gospel and letters, or perhaps Ecclesiastes and then the Purgatorio and Paradiso.

In the same way, “It Was a Very Good Year” is, musically and lyrically, a practically perfect piece of craftmanship, but one that I think reveals rather more about the narrator than the craftsman intended to reveal, or even perceived himself. As someone who responds at a visceral level to irony, this, to me, greatly enriches and empowers what was already a remarkable song. And as far as the moral concerns – well, if you want to draw a moral lesson from it, then simply compare the haunting melancholy, however lovely, of the hedonist’s “very good year” to the soaring, transcendent, uncontainable ecstasy of the Ode to Joy. There’s a moral lesson in that, if you care to draw moral lessons from popular music – and it’s a moral lesson I’d be delighted for my children to learn.

The Peril defends liberals against a vile slander

Good heavens, this makes two Peril posts in a row in which I am on the liberals' side. My friend the Ghost is probably right this very instant buying stock in Infernal Space Heaters Inc.

Friends and family sure do help

Last week it occurred to me that my twentieth wedding anniversary was coming up (10 June) and that despite a year's worth of legal wrangling and a whole lot of money paid in legal fees, I was still, technically speaking, married. When you come from a family that has always had happy, lifelong marriages, you don't really plan to spend your twentieth wedding anniversary trying (but so far failing) not to be married anymore. So I figured, "Hm, I imagine I probably won't be in a very good mood...probably ought not inflict myself upon other people...tell you what, I think I'll go watch the Finals at a sports bar...don't particularly want to count how many beers I have...I'll see if Duane minds coming to get me." (Misery may love company but I never have had much respect for people who indulge their misery by trying to see how widely they can spread it amongst their friends and loved ones. Bad enough that your own day sucks without your running around trying to ruin other people's days too. That's just how I've always seen it. Not a big fan of whining; I much prefer the go-hide-in-a-hole-until-you're-better approach.)

So I made my arrangements and told the Troika not to expect me at home, figuring that was the considerate thing to do. Then the night before the anniversary I'm talking to my parents, and a couple of things happened to make me feel better.

(1) I realized I had done my math wrong and that it was only going to be my nineteenth anniversary, not my twentieth. Somehow it doesn't seem nearly as bad to have screwed up nineteen years of your life, as it seems to have screwed up two whole decades. So I felt irrationally better about that.

(2) My parents asked some question or other that led to the subject, and the following dialogue ensues:

ME: Oh, I'm actually not planning to be at home tomorrow night. Tomorrow's my wedding anniversary and all things considered I don't imagine I'll be in a very good mood, and I didn't want to be a jerk around the girls; so I'm planning to go watch the NBA Finals at a Sports Bar.

MY MOM (sympathetically): Oh, honey, I'm so sorry. I can't imagine how difficult that is for you. I wish there was something we could do to help. We'd love to be there [i.e., in Houston rather than in West Virginia] but we thought we'd be more help if we came down in July when the court hearing's going to be.

ME: That's okay, don't worry about it, I'll be okay.

MY FATHER (with a straight face, which I know even though I can't see it over the phone): You've always forgotten your anniversary before; why couldn't you just forget it this year, too?

This was such an excellent point that I spent the rest of the conversation bursting into chuckles, and all the next day, any time it occurred to me that it was my anniversary (which, actually, it didn't very often), I instantly thought of my dad's line and starting laughing all over again.

Now here's the thing that all the guys will understand instantly, and that will be further evidence to all my Gentle Female Readers that men are, in general, not entirely sane: what my dad said helped me out way more than what my mom said. Look, if I have to explain it for you, you'll never understand...

Anyway, the day of my anniversary, Duane and I carpooled to work, as is our wont, and when I dropped him off that evening he invited me in, suggesting that I play a little World of Warcraft. Duane and Desiree know perfectly well, and find it amusing, that I play World of Warcraft in a highly antisocial manner as long as neither of the boys happen to be online; so while WoW is for them a way to do something together and hang out with friends and family online, for yours truly it's a way to get away from people and recharge my personal-interaction reserves. So what Duane was really offering me was a chance to go into his study and hide from people. I figured I could at least check some e-mail and WoW-mail; so I took him up on it. But you know what? It's pretty hard to be around the Liongs and not feel loved, and besides I had spent the day laughing at my dad's joke rather than feeling cheated by the Fates. So when I did a quick personal emotional inventory I realized, I wasn't actually having a bad day or anything. And so in the end I sent Duane and Desiree out on an impromptu evening out without the kids (I think they went shopping), and I hung out with Deion and Danae and much rambunctiousness ensued, and los padres got back just about the time the girls were due to go to bed, and I went happily home, ready to climb into my own bed and go peacefully to sleep.

I pulled in and parked...and by the time I got out of the car, Kinya had bounced happily up to the car -- which never happens, and which means the girls had been keeping a lookout for me. "Papa, how was your day?" she asked with cheerful concern. I assured her that I had, in fact, had a good day. We started walking toward the apartment, and halfway there we were met by Anya, whose unvarying habit is to sit placidly in the chair on our landing smoking a cigarette and to wave a howdy at me as I walk up. "Papa, did you have a good day?" I smiled and said yes, and she actually tucked herself up under my arm and walked along beside me the rest of the way to the apartment. And I realized, "You know, these girls have actually been worrying about me." Which was, of course, ridiculously heart-warming.

So in the end, a day that I expected to be very difficult, turned out to be a very nice and pleasant day. And it's entirely because I have great parents, and great friends, and great (albeit teenaged, and therefore frequently frustrating) daughters.

Count your many blessings; see what God hath done.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"You Look Wonderful Tonight" lyrics, with musings on how first-class artists can give a song a complete makeover

It's not that easy to get the Portuguese part of the lyrics on the Bublé/Lins version, but I tracked them down here; many thanks to poster "Buble and I."
It's late in the evening
She's wondering what clothes to wear
She puts on her make-up
And brushes her long blonde hair
And then she asks me, "Do I look all right?"
And I say, "Yes, you look wonderful tonight"

A noite é de festa
E ela veste o luar
Me arrasta e me testa
Se sente uma superstar
E entào pergunta
Se eu estou em paz
Eu digo, "Sim,
I feel wonderful tonight"
There's a party tonight
And she's wearing the moonlight
She drags me along, then she leaves me behind
She feels like a superstar
And then she asks me
If I feel all right
I say, "Yes, I feel wonderful tonight"

I feel wonderful because I see
The love light in your eyes
And the wonder of it all
Is that you just don't realize how much I love you

I feel wonderful because I see
The love light in your eyes
And the wonder of it all
Is that you just don't realize how much I love you

De volta pra casa
Cansados de festejar
Me deita e me abraça
Me beija e nào quer falar

And then I tell her, as I turn out the light
"Darling, estavas linda até demais"
I say, "My darling, you look wonderful tonight"
I say, "My darling, you were wonderful tonight"
We get back home
Worn out from the party
She takes me to bed and embraces me
She kisses me and doesn't want to talk
And then I tell her, as I turn out the light
"Darling, you looked wonderful tonight"
I say, "My darling, you look wonderful tonight"
I say, "My darling, you were wonderful tonight"

UPDATE: Minor corrections made by self upon listening to the song with the lyrics in front of me and realizing a couple of the lines were out of order and not quite right. Also I took a shot at translating the Portuguese, which is probably laughable to anybody who is actually Brazilian. (Been a very long time since I was speaking amusingly clumsy Portuguese to our Brazilian exchange student Higro and to the delightful Papini family.)

By the way, I really like the line, "E ela veste o luar," which, if I'm not mistaken, means, "She's wearing the moonlight." If it doesn't mean that, then it should. In fact I hope it doesn't because that means I could use the line myself in a poem someday without being a plagiarist... Also, look at the subtle way Lins and Bublé play with the last line in its threefold repetition, especially with the tenses. "You looked look were wonderful."

I'm very dubious about my translation of the following two lines:
Me arrasta e me testa
Se sente uma superstar
I translated them:
She drags me along, then she leaves me behind
She feels like a superstar
I'm not sure that's right, but it's my best effort: arrastar means to drag somebody along in your wake, and while testar can mean to give somebody a quiz, its primary meaning is to go off and leave them. Basically, I think she's having one of those nights that a truly beautiful woman has every now and then when she realizes she's looking her best, and that everybody who looks at her is thinking, "Wow, she looks wonderful tonight," and that makes her even more vivacious and sociable than usual...and he just can't keep up with her. So she comes back to check on him, and he assures her that he's fine.

By the way, I mistranslated these lines to begin with because I mistakenly read arrestar rather than arrastar. And frankly, I think it's too bad that Lins used arrastar rather than arrestar. (Feel free to snicker at my presuming to correct a Brazilian jazz legend on his choice of Portuguese verbs in a song lyric, but I feel strongly about this one.) See, here's the image the lines evoked for me when I read it as arresta: they're at the party, and she's just gloriously beautiful, and she knows that she's looking her best, etc. But in the image that the (misread) line originally evoked for me, he's so overcome by how much she outshines all the other women there, that he just stops in his tracks and watches her in delighted adoration. And then she realizes he's not beside her anymore: "Hey, where did he go?" And she looks back and sees him standing back there where he stopped, looking at her with this oddly starstruck expression, and she comes back to him and asks, "Hey, are you okay?" -- and he says, "Oh, I feel great."

I realize that's not exactly what Lins meant...but too bad, because I love that image, and if Lins and Bublé could rewrite Clapton, then I see no reason that I can't rewrite Lins and Bublé. So when I sing along, I'll be singing:
Me arresta e me testa
Se sente uma superstar
By which I will mean:
She stops me dead in my tracks, she leaves me behind
She feels like a superstar
At any rate: personally, I think Bublé/Lins is lyrically a major upgrade from the original version, which is quite a bit less romantic and quite a bit more tongue-in-cheek. In the original version Clapton gets drunk and his lady starts worrying about him at the party ("Do you feel all right?" "Oh, yeah, I'm feelin' great"), and eventually she has to take his car keys and drive him home from the party and put him to bed -- without any implication, so far as I can tell, that she's planning to join him there anytime soon. It's amusingly self-mocking...but that's not at all what Bublé and Lins seem to me to be after. So the Bublé/Lins rewrite seems to me to involve a significant and deliberate shift in intention from the original. I'll go ahead and tack on the original lyrics here for ease of comparison:

It's late in the evening
She's wondering what clothes to wear
She puts on her make-up
And brushes her long blonde hair
And then she asks me, "Do I look all right?"
And I say, "Yes, you look wonderful tonight"

We go to a party
And everyone turns to see
This beautiful lady
That's walking around with me
[Bublé/Lins, in Peril's dubious translation:
There's a party tonight
And she's wearing the moonlight
She drags me along, then she leaves me behind
She feels like a superstar
And then she asks me, "Do you feel all right?"
And I say, "Yes, I feel wonderful tonight"

I feel wonderful because I see
The love light in your eyes
And the wonder of it all
Is that you just don't realize how much I love you

It's time to go home now
And I've got an aching head
So I give her the car keys
And she helps me to bed
[Bublé/Lins, in Peril's dubious translation:
We get back home
Worn out from the party
She takes me to bed and embraces me
She kisses me and doesn't want to talk
And then I tell her
As I turn out the light
I say, "My darling, you were wonderful tonight
Oh my darling, you were wonderful tonight"

Happy 20th Anniversary... my sister Stephanie and her husband Mike!

Congratulations, and well-deserved ones at that.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Peril high-fives the Daily Kos

It's a red-letter day over at Politics of the Peril.

(A bit of ranting goes on, because I feel very, very, very, very deeply about freedom of speech. Just sayin', you've been warned.)

Friday, June 06, 2008

"An incident on Good Friday" reposted at Contriti Corde


A retrospective: engineering jokes told at The Peril

Turns out I really like engineering jokes. Doing some research for my prior post, I was taken aback by how many engineering jokes I've tossed out there. So, for the convenience of my fellow geek types (especially the ones who have only recently begun reading the blog), here are a couple of old engineering joke posts, each of which have several jokes. Probably ten or so different engineering jokes in there, all told (haven't counted though and don't plan on it).

Several jokes; I especially like the software engineer's approach to car repair.

More jokes of a similar nature. I like the difference between mechanical and civil engineers.

Jokes Inspired by a Sermon Dept

Fr. Walter's sermon last Sunday reminded me of a couple of jokes that I don't think I've told on this blog; so now you're in trouble.

You are not to conclude from this that Fr. Walter's sermons are laughable.


Three priests from the Hill Country are having lunch in Austin. At a lull in the conversation, one of them says, "Fellows, I have a problem and I wonder whether you guys have any useful advice."

"What's the problem?"

"Well, a colony of bats has moved into the church attic and I can't get rid of 'em. I mean, I don't even know how to start...I borrowed the junior warden's shotgun and went up there and fired off a couple of blasts to try to scare 'em away, but they're still there plus now the roof leaks. So I'm afraid to try anything else and make the situation still guys have any ideas?"

The second priest is shaking his head in sympathy. "Brother, I know exactly how you feel -- I have the same problem, and I haven't gotten anywhere either."

"What have you tried?"

"Well, I went down to Callahan's and got me some live traps, and the sexton and I went and trapped all those bats and put 'em in his pickup truck and drove out past Blanco and turned 'em loose...and they beat us back to the church."

The third priest has been sitting placidly with his martini throughout the conversation. They turn to him. "So has the same thing happened to you?"

"It has."

"Did you figure out a solution?"

Unflappably: "The problem is solved."

They are very excited now. "How in heaven's name did you solve it??"

He leans comfortably back in his chair. "Well, it turned out not to be too hard when all was said and done. I just took all those bats, and I baptized 'em, and I confirmed 'em...and I haven't seen 'em since."


I had not realized until last Sunday that Fr. Walter had been an engineer at NASA (at least that's what I think he know how it is, you're sort of dozing and maybe you don't catch all the finer details of what the priest says...), and so I was led to wonder whether Fr. Walter is familiar with the debate about what kind of engineer God is?

Mechanical engineers claim God as their own, pointing to the skeletal system, the variety of types of joints, the ligaments and muscle structures. But double-E's come right back and say, nonsense, clearly God is an electrical engineer -- just look at the brain and nervous system, and try to imagine how far we still are from even beginning to understand what's going on inside there.

But civil engineers know the truth: God is a civil engineer. For who but a civil engineer would run a toxic waste line smack through the middle of a recreational facility?

UPDATE: It turns out I really like that last joke, as this is the third time I've told it on the blog (and the third version, of course, as I seem incapable of telling a joke the same way twice). This shows how air-headed I am: I was sure I had already told the first one, and spent I five minutes trying to find the (as it turns out, non-existent) previous post. But the second one, I didn't bother to look for because I knew I had never posted it. [shaking head in rueful hopelessness]

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Man Bites Dog Dept

Next thing you know somebody will do a Captain-Obvious scientific study like this one to prove that guys find it harder to make a distinction between the terms "backrub" and "foreplay" than girls do.

Okay, okay, I admit I'm just yanking Jim's chain. If I had serious comments to make on this I'd go make 'em on my devoted-to-politics blog.

Two phone conversations

[The Peril notes on his BlackBerry that he has missed a call from an unrecognized phone number, and politely returns the call. The mystery person answers.]


PERIL: Hello, this is Ken Pierce returning...

MYSTERY PERSON: Hello? Hello? I can't hear you.

[The Peril is trying to place the voice -- it sounds more like his daughter Kasia than like anybody else he knows but not quite.]

PERIL: Kasia, is that you? Can you...

MYSTERY PERSON: Okay, hanging up now...

[A long beep signifies that the phone is now ready to record the Peril's message, and the Peril perceives that he has just been listening to the sort of voice mail message that a person of less than full maturity would think unspeakably hilarious. He is mildly disappointed as he had thought his daughter was a bit further along than that stage; but then maybe it isn't her...but then who is it?]

PERIL [chuckles politely]: This is Ken Pierce, returning your call. I apologize, I can't quite place the voice, but I suspect maybe I should be saying, "This is Dad." At any rate, that's an inventive voice mail message. Call me back if you need to talk to me.

[Later that day the Peril's phone rings.]

PERIL: Hello.

MYSTERY PERSON: Hello, this is the person whose voice you didn't recognize.

[It still sounds remarkably, but not quite, like Kasia; the Peril temporizes.]

PERIL [laughs politely]: Okay. Interesting voice message you have there. What did you need?

MYSTERY PERSON: Can I talk to Merry?

PERIL [drawing the conclusion that this is not one of his own children]: Um, you haven't called Merry's phone. This is her dad.

MYSTERY PERSON: Well, this is Zach. [The Peril thinks: "Aha! Do we perhaps have a boyfriend here?" and also, practically simultaneously, "I doubt Zach would be flattered to know how much he sounds like a girl." Mystery Person, hereafter to be referred to as "Zach," proceeds in an aggrieved tone:] Why isn't Merry answering my calls?

PERIL [mentally amending "possible boyfriend" to "definite ex-boyfriend who hasn't yet clued in to his new status"]: Zach, I tell you what, would you like me to give you Merry's number?

ZACH [with an asperity somewhat incompatible with proper training in the expression of appropriate respect for one's elders, even the ones that don't happen to be fathers of young ladies upon whose virtue one has designs]: No, I have her number, I've been calling her. [petulantly demanding] Why isn't Merry returning my calls?

PERIL [very gently, because he does, after all, remember being a teenaged boy, and knows more than he wishes he knew about how cruel people who used to love one can be]: Zach, you know, sometimes girls just get that way.

ZACH [abruptly, perhaps realizing to whom he is speaking]: I have to go. Good-bye. [hangs up]

[The Peril looks bemusedly at his phone, then chuckles, shakes his head, and gets back to work.]

The Zen of Sarcasm Dept

Seen at my favorite coffee shop (I saw it years ago but had lost my copy of it):

The Zen of Sarcasm

1. Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead. Do not walk ahead of me, for I may not follow. Do not walk beside me either. Just pretty much leave me alone.

2. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a broken fan belt.

3. It's always darkest just before dawn. So that's far and away the best time to steal your neighbor's newspaper.

4. Don't be irreplaceable. If you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted.

5. Always remember that you're unique. Just like everyone else.

6. Never test the depth of the water with both feet.

7. If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments.

8. Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes.

9. If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not your sport.

10. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.

11. If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, that was a good investment.

12. If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.

13. Some days you're the bug; some days you're the windshield.

14. Everyone seems normal until you get to know him.

15. The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your pocket.

16. A closed mouth gathers no foot.

17. Duct tape is like 'The Force.' It has a light side and a dark side, and it holds the universe together.

18. There are two theories to arguing with women. Neither one works.

19. Generally speaking, you aren't learning much when your lips are moving.

20. Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it. (Alternative version: Experience is a cruel teacher; she gives you the test first, and then the study guide.)

21. Never miss a good chance to shut up.

22. Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.

And since we're waxing philosophical, here's a classic variation on the old philosophical chestnut of whether a tree falling in the forest makes a sound if there's nobody there to hear it:

If a man says something, and there's no woman there to hear him, is he still wrong?

A Guide To Guilt And Innocence Dept

Are you innocent? It depends on who the judge is.

At the Great White Throne Judgment (from the Apocalypse, for those of you who did not grow up Christian): guilty, but counted as innocent thanks to the vicarious merits of Christ.

In criminal court: innocent until proven guilty.

In civil court: innocent until the preponderance of evidence says otherwise.

In marriage: innocent until proven male...

Monday, June 02, 2008

Gratefully acknowledged

Duane came up to me a few days ago. Seems one of the people who are big fans of the kids has been worrying about what this whole divorce thing is doing to the smallest and most vulnerable, i.e., Rusty and Sally, and she wanted to help but wanted to do so anonymously. So she came up with the idea of going to Duane, swearing him to secrecy with regard to her identity, and using him as a go-between. And, having thus solved her communication problem, she asked me, by means of Duane, what she could do to help those two kids specifically.

Dessie's hours are pretty long and brutal, I am given to understand, and all single parents know that it can be tough to bring home the bacon and cook it as well; and so the result of some brainstorming on Duane and my part was the conclusion that, with summer vacation coming up and school breakfasts and lunch being now (literally) off the table, it would probably be a huge help to Rusty and Sally if they had a good supply of healthy food that they could fix themselves with little trouble and no help. Duane accordingly went away to make arrangements and then came back a couple of days later saying, "Okay, she went to Sam's and got some food for the kids and left it with me; so be sure you come pick it up this weekend."

So we go there to pick it up, and...well, see for yourself what he meant by "some" food:

I have plenty of, shall we say, challenging relationships in my life right now. It's not possible to express how much it helps to see people not just doing the right thing, but also going above and beyond the helps remind me that human nature is a multifaceted thing and that there are fine and good and unselfish people in the world. So, if you are Rusty's and Sally's anonymous benefactor and you happen to be reading this, please accept my and their very sincere thanks and admiration.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A shortcut window into the Peril's soul

If you want to know who I am when you dig all the way down, below the yuppie facade and the consulting wardrobe and the life spent commuting and flying to work in one big city after another and the years I still can expect to spend in Houston in order to get nine college educations paid for...well, Little Big Town seems to have written this song expressly for me, lyrics, instrumentation, three-part interwoven verbal byplay at the end, midnight train, muddy water (only it was Brushy Creek, not Camp Creek), and all.

So, this is pretty much me, right here.

Except I never did like to fish all that much.

I feel no shame
I'm proud of where I came from
I was born and raised in the boondocks
One thing I know
No matter where I go
I keep my heart and soul in the boondocks

And I can feel
That muddy water running through my veins
And I can hear
That lullaby of a midnight train
It sings to me and it sounds familiar

I feel no shame
I'm proud of where I came from
I was born and raised in the boondocks
One thing I know
No matter where I go
I keep my heart and soul in the boondocks

And I can taste
That honeysuckle and it's still so sweet
When it grows wild
On the banks down at old Camp Creek
Yeah, and it calls to me like a warm wind blowing

I feel no shame
I'm proud of where I came from
I was born and raised in the boondocks
One thing I know
No matter where I go
I keep my heart and soul in the boondocks

It's where I learned about living
It's where I learned about love
It's where I learned about working hard
And having a little was just enough

It's where I learned about Jesus
And knowing where I stand
You can take it or leave it, this is me
This is who I am

Give me a tin roof
A front porch and a gravel road
And that's home to me
It feels like home to me

I feel no shame
I'm proud of where I came from
I was born and raised in the boondocks
One thing I know
No matter where I go
I keep my heart and soul in the boondocks
I keep my heart and soul in the boondocks

You get a line, I'll get a pole
We'll go fishing in the crawfish hole
Five-card poker on a Saturday night
Church on Sunday morning

(Three-part interweave)
You get a line, I'll get a pole
We'll go fishing in the crawfish hole
(Down in the boondocks)
Five-card poker on a Saturday night
Church on Sunday morning

(Three-part interweave)
You get a line, I'll get a pole
We'll go fishing in the crawfish hole
(Down in the boondocks)
Five-card poker on a Saturday night
Church on Sunday morning

Say a little prayer for me...

UPDATE: Also, it wasn't poker; it was spades or forty-two (the latter being a sort of domino version of bridge).

UPDATE: Found I did not approve of the original version, which violated some standards I have set for myself on the blog (it sounded way too whiney, among other things), and therefore rewrote it.