Thursday, January 13, 2005


My new computer has a DVD burner, and today I finally was able to demonstrate to my satisfaction that I can burn a DVD suitable for playing in the family player. There were all kinds of weird complications, and not every kind of digital video seems to work for burning. But the clip I finally got going was this amazing performance by Geri Reischl on "Pop! Goes the Country," the syndicated country music program. Reischl, you'll recall, was "Fake Jan" on "The Brady Bunch Hour"; and her selection, the Olivia Newton-John classic "Please Mister Please," is one of my favorites.

Let me know if you want to borrow my Geri Reischl DVD. You may keep it "Till some button-pushin' cowboy plays that love song."
There's probably a word for that

My favorite book right now is Richard A. Lanham's A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), a compendium of exciting figures of speech that you probably never knew had names.

Example (I wonder if President Bush knows there's a word for this?): prosonomasia, calling by a name or nickname.

What about this one: asphalia, offering oneself as surety for a bond. Example: in The Tempest, Miranda pleads with her father to make friends with Ferdinand: "Sir, have pity. I'll be his surety" (I, ii).

And this came up last night in a conversation about the song "Islands in the Stream," which has the line "No more will you cry": anastrophe, unusual arrangement of words or clauses within a sentence, often for metrical convenience or poetic effect.

Isn't this fun? I also enjoy the entry about logical fallacies, including this timely one, another standard of the Bush crowd: argumentum ad verecundiam, fallacy by appealing to reverence for authority, to accepted traditional values. Why the Left Hates America, anyone?
Bird is the word

I sometimes come up with sniglets, those self-consciously clever neologisms that in the early 1980s were promoted endlessly by Rich Hall, the late-night TV comedian. To be precise, I have formulated two:

automalull: Pause in conversation that occurs because one person has already gotten into the car.

amphotee: Photographic portrait so posed that the subject appears to be missing a limb.

Well, the fun continues.

scannui: Unease brought on by walking through a theft detection device, whether or not you have stolen anything.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Heavy reading

A Christmas gift I did not expect was my dad's 1952 edition of The Great Books of the Western World, a set of 54 volumes published by the Encyclopedia Britannica in collaboration with the University of Chicago. The books come with a reading plan, and their quaint purpose is to expose everyday folks to the likes of Plato, Kant, Gibbon and so forth.

I like the set because it reminds me of my undergraduate reading, about which I am sentimental. The designers of the U of C's core curriculum had the very same Great Books impulse as the set's editors, and there is substantial overlap. Thanks to my college instructors I can already check Thucydides off the list, and Milton and Boswell. And Freud, in spades: sometimes it seemed as though every college class the U of C offered involved reading Freud, which was appropriate given the famously repressed sexuality of Chicago undergrads.

Other of the Great authors I read in high school--Shakespeare, of course, and Sophocles. Still others I caught up with in graduate school: Hobbes, Machiavelli, Locke, Hume, Smith. And some I've never read at all--would you believe Homer?

Of course, I can't say that I've already begun devouring the Iliad (which, anyway, I seem to own already, in multiple editions). So are these books useful? Certainly I've enjoyed the introductory essays on the virtues of liberal education, and there's something weirdly comforting about having all these texts in one place.

But I'm also slightly wary: the very idea of Great Books is, of course, a controversial one. More than that, I worry that I run the risk of smugness. It's one thing, after all, to own a copy of Plutarch's Lives, quite another actually to read it.
My gift is my song

I have written before that the number one request at my country music shows is anything by Dwight Yoakum. That's true, but the other number one request is the theme from "Rawhide." Who doesn't love that song?

Head 'em up!

Monday, January 10, 2005

Just added

I thought we weren't going to play this show, but it's in the newspaper, so I guess we are. (This is how I learn about most of my shows these days.)

This Tuesday, Jan. 11, come see the World's Greatest Lovers, the honkytonk/disco band that's made up of the Hometown Sweethearts' incomparable Chris Boeger (bass) and Scott Beardsley (drums), the surpassingly fine pedal steel player Adam Davis, and yours truly on guitar and vocals.

The show's at the Slipper Club, 121 W. Main in Madison. Showtime is 9pm, and cover is $3.

Close the pod bay door, Hal

I got a spiffy new Windows computer for Christmas. I named it Tanya. That's Tanya as in Tanya Tucker, so it's pronounced TAN-ya, not TON-ya.

I'm trying to use Tanya responsibly. I run anti-virus software, and I mostly use Firefox, a browser that's more secure than Internet Explorer. And I regularly sweep my hard drive with not one but two spyware programs, but damn if the spyware isn't out of control anyway! After a mysterious and unwanted toolbar magically appeared on my desktop yesterday, I ran both spyware programs. They found a bunch of stuff that I indeed didn't want on my hard drive, but then I called up Windows Task Manager and discovered--spyware! I looked in C:\Program Files and found--spyware! I opened the Control Panel and checked out Add or Remove Programs and--spyware!

I've had it. A brand new computer! I'm trying to be careful! And still Tanya is infected. So far the worst symptom--that I'm aware of--is some slowness, but I know that the jerk programmers who write this crap are capable of far worse.

I feel creeped out and vulnerable. I read that Microsoft is about to release a program to fight spyware, but why should this one be any more effective than the two I already use? I suppose I could run all three, but what I want is not to spend still more time dealing with spyware. What I want is to use my computer for fun and profit.

The point is, adding yet another program to Windows will not solve the fundamental problem, which is that Windows is flawed. (There's a reason savvy nerds call it Windoze.) What I know about building operating systems could fit in my little fingernail, but I can imagine an OS that, for example, doesn't let programs install themselves willy-nilly.

Linux and MacOS are looking better and better. Not that I'll switch anytime soon. Probably. Maybe.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Happy birthday to me

For as long as I can remember I've known I share this birthday with Richard M. Nixon, the disgraced 37th president. In fourth grade we all wrote a report about a president of our choosing, and I gleefully chose Tricky Dick. The choice seemed to distress my teacher, Mrs. Brewer, but I figured the coincidence had to mean something. I wasn't the only pupil who looked for a connection: Kelly Taylor wrote hers on Zachary Taylor.

Unlike Jesus, I didn't found a world religion in my 33rd year. But he had some help.