Today I celebrate a quarter-century of atheism.

A quarter century? Why yes. Here is an entry from my journal 25 years ago today:


October 28th, 1984 10:58 PM Sunday

God. I used to believe in God. But do I now? I don’t think so. I can’t see any reason to. And if I must accept the existance [sic] of God simply by blind faith, why the Christian God? I don’t know. Religion has become very confusing. I’ve been strongly conditioned to believe in God. I can use this to explain away any feeling that there is “supposed to be” a God. But it also makes it harder to reject Christianity.

Goodnite — BPE

At the time I wrote the journal entry, I was a mere whelp of 17 years. I still remember when it dawned on me that I was Christian by mere accident of birth. This revelation and its consequences were deeply painful for me, and remained so for years. (My greatest regret, in retrospect, is that I did not share my thoughts with my parents. I thought it would cause Mom unnecessary grief. Yet, how arrogant of me to think this way — to suppose that my own mother who gave me birth couldn’t handle a frank discussion of spiritual matters.) Since then I’ve progressed through a number of stages in my thinking. What began as a simple exercise in logic soon undermined everything I believed; I spent years reconstructing myself on a different foundation.

So today I call myself an atheist (no, not an agnostic) but of course that’s only one of many labels I might put on myself, and it’s only describes what I don’t believe. That’s what I’m celebrating today — my apostaversary, if you’ll pardon the neologism. It’s the anniversary of my apostasy, my falling away from the faith in which I was raised. In some ways I feel that my life-journey beagn with that negation. It was difficult but necessary, and nothing about it felt like a choice at the time.

I know many people have negative associations with the very term, “atheist.” And, it must be confessed, some atheists behave in a way that feeds that negative image, angrily denouncing the deeply held beliefs of others, eager to deny any value to the variety of religious experience. At the same time I recognize that some religious teaching is coercive and corrosive and harmful and frankly immoral. Just as I don’t want to be lumped in with all atheists, so I try to avoid lumping all religious experience together. Over the years I’ve learned better. There are religious philosophies that are not theistic. There are conceptions of God that I can respect. Most of all, I believe in the value of the sacred. It makes perfect sense to me that certain places, certain times, even certain people should be held apart and considered special, revered, reverenced. I wouldn’t want a world without that.

My experience of atheism has encompassed a broad range of emotions. Pain, sorrow, fear, anger, defiance, confusion, ambivalence, acceptance, compassion, humility, wonder, ecstasy. I’m sure I could write an essay on each of these moods, but in keeping with recent practice I thought I might let the music do the talking. Here are not one but two mixes so you can choose your poison.

First, how about some stereotypical snarling angry defiance? NSFW!

And if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, here’s a mix that I hope might catch some people off guard, songs that are, for the most part, gentle, mellow, laid-back. I think these songs capture the sense of melancholy and humor and even the romantic side of the atheist heart.

Believe me when I say I’ve felt every bit of emotion expressed in every one of these songs over the years.

Life Has a Way of Sneaking Up on Me

Oops. I thought we had a couple more weeks before we closed on the houses we are buying and selling. But when exchanging text messages with my Realtor, she mentioned a date much sooner than I’d anticipated, when I will in fact be at a conference and unable to spend the day signing papers. Then came the query: “Are y’all packed?” Um — no. We haven’t even started.

So now we are all running around in a proverbial frenzy trying to rejigger a schedule everyone can live with. Complicating matters is the fact that we can’t buy the house we’re moving into until we sell the house we’re in now, and our buyer really doesn’t want a post-occupancy situation. We are asking our seller to consider allowing a bit of pre-occupancy with our deposit as collateral. I hope that works.

And to think just yesterday I was savoring the delicate nuance of my mixed emotions over this entire prospect. No time for that now. Obviously I am preparing to enter full-on crap-in-my-pants panic mode. I’m certainly far too busy to assemble a mix for this situation.

Our move date is tentative at this point, but looking like Saturday November 7th. I’m considering it a personal challenge to see how many people I can get to help, under the well-known theory that many hands make light work. I’m curious to see what kind of crowd can be generated via the power of social network sites. That’s right, we’re crowd-sourcing our move! Ideally I’d like to have enough people such that each person only has to carry one item. But that might get expensive if I throw in pizza and beer as added enticements.

So much to do. So little time!

PS: On the plus side we locked in a good APR on our new mortgage: 4.875%!

Six Point Six

The results of last week’s venous blood test came back Friday, indicating our daughter now has 6.6 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood. That’s a bit of welcome good news, since it’s a significant reduction from the 13 or 14 indicated by her preliminary screenings three months ago.

Had to stretch a bit, but there’s a mix for this occasion too.

However, let’s not rush to celebrate too quickly. It’s not a clean bill of health. There are still multiple reasons for concern.

For one thing, there’s never been a lower limit established for lead exposure. It seems any amount has been associated with cognitive deficits, so the only truly good number is zero. However, zero is not realistic, at least not for us, perhaps not for anyone. The Centers for Disease Control have established the level of concern at ten, but even they admit that’s somewhat arbitrary. It’s just a nice round number. Some scientists believe it should be lowered to five.

Another cause for concern is that blood tests such as this only measure recent exposure. The insidious thing about lead and other heavy metals is that they get stored in body tissues long-term. Lead gets into the bones and can hang around for a very long time, affecting development. There is some grim clinical evidence suggesting that once a level of lead exposure is attained, the damage is done, and subsequent lowering of levels in the blood doesn’t really help much.

We still don’t know where our daughter is/was getting lead into her system. The most frequent way kids in old houses get exposed is through lead paint dust, which is indistinguishable from regular household dust. Young bodies metabolize lead at something like five times the rate of adults, and we are talking about really small amounts here. Lead is measured in micrograms, which is about 1/1000th of a grain of sugar. Trying to control for something that small is enough to drive a person crazy.

Over the past three months we’ve taken several steps. I remediated the doorjamb. We stopped bathing the girl in our old clawfoot tub; in fact, we’ve stopped even letting her in the upstairs bathroom. We pretty much have kept her out of the back yard, too. We switched her from tap to bottled Kentwood water. We take our shoes off when we come in the house. Xy’s been mopping religiously every other weekend. All of these efforts may have resulted in the lowering of her blood lead level — but we don’t really know for sure. We’ll never really know.

To address the accumulation of lead in body tissue, I’ve had her on a mild regimen of cilantro and chlorella extract. I put a few drops in her water and she thinks it’s “juice.” Cilantro is supposed to get the lead out of the tissues and back in the bloodstream; chlorella is supposed to bind with heavy metals and promote their excretion. There is some clinical evidence to support this, and I figure any harmful side-effects should be minimal. After all it’s just a little herb and algae.

So to reiterate, 6.6 is not a clean bill of health but it is a step in the right direction. This latest result does give us reason to hope that maybe, someday, things will be alright.

If you’ve read this far perhaps you’ll indulge me as I verge political. I was listening to a talk radio pundit the other day. He was talking about Lil Wayne, who recently copped a plea to “attempted possession of a weapon in the second degree,” whatever that means. He was worried that our right to carry firearms was being impinged upon. He brought up the notion of what you’d do if someone kicked in your door and assaulted your family. He responded preemptively to critics who say we are overprotective of our children. Sure, he said, maybe it’s a vanishingly small minority of families who actually experience the nightmare door-kicked-in scenario, but it’s exactly these folks we must consider as a matter of public policy.

OK, let’s say we grant the door-kicking bogeyman legitimate status for purposes of developing public policy, despite the fact that we recognize his statistical improbability. What then should be our attitude toward factors which are less theoretical? What should we do about threats to the safety of our children which are not only ubiquitous but entirely preventable? In fact public health policies have been enormously successful in reducing the amount of lead poisoning in children, but we could still do better.

For example, there have been several times over the last months when I or my neighbors have been alarmed by people dry-sanding their old homes, letting lead-paint dust fly everywhere. This isn’t technically illegal here (though it probably should be) but there are ordinances specifying safety procedures that are generally ignored. Getting the city to enforce even its own weak laws is difficult at best.

I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re not going to take real environmental threats seriously and act accordingly, don’t come talking to me about bogeymen. I offer this as someone who lost a friend to a gun-wielding home invader. I know that sometimes the bogeyman is real, and we have to confront the problem of violence. But it’s not the only problem we face. Unless a person also takes these other threats seriously, I’m liable to dismiss that person as a posturing hypocrite, a fear-monger looking for cheap political points.

It’s much easier to get people riled up over an imaginary assailant than an invisible toxin. But which is really the greater threat?

Halloween 2009 Premix

Here at work we had our Hallowe’en social hour yesterday afternoon. I supplied the music; unfortunately we didn’t have the bandwidth to play this over the internet. Hopefully you do. So here’s a halloweenish mix of thirteen tracks including music by Andy Forray, Bauhaus and Body Odor.

Warning: This mix contains three covers of a certain classic vampire song, plus the original. Yup, four versions of the same song. It’s my favorite song in the whole world, and I personally can’t get enough of it. All four versions are pretty awesome, and somewhat different, but consider yourself warned.

Unfortunately people noted the Halloween decor in our office wasn’t quite up to the level of years past.

Olivia and the Disembodied Head

That’s because our ever-attentive administrative assistant is back in the hospital. I don’t know whether to call it a relapse or complication or what, besides which I don’t really want to air someone’s private medical details in this venue. All I want to say is that everybody here misses her, and we all hope she makes a speedy recovery.

Personally, even though I miss O—, I wouldn’t miss the ostentatious, over-the-top, faux-creepy decorations. That sort of conspicuous consumption is really not my style. Halloween is the number two biggest holiday after Xmas in terms of spending, mostly on candy and plastic junk manufactured on the other side of the planet. Meanwhile, it seems to me the essence of what make Halloween cool gets more obscure with every passing year.

When I trotted out my old essay on this subject last year, I garnered the following comment:

The crapification of holidays and perversion of the origins, sadly, is not limited to Halloween. Not even close.

The permanent adolescence of the American adult may have something to do with it. When we were kids, this was a kids’ holiday. Now it’s adult.

But that’s not quite my point. I never thought of Hallowe’en as a kids’ holiday. If anything, I was objecting to how it’s been turned into kiddie fare. Don’t get me wrong, I think kids and everybody should be able to groove on the spooky vibes emanating from All Hallow’s Eve. But that very spookiness is increasingly attenuated by the drive to sanitize the holiday and capitalize upon it.

Yeah, Christmas too. Bah. Boo. Boo hoo.

Twenty Months

Dear Persephone,

You are twenty months old today, and growing fast. One day recently I picked you up from daycare and I swear I could tell you’d grown substantially since that morning.


You’re growing in other ways as well. You stacked nine blocks into a tower. That may seem like a small feat, but it wasn’t too long ago that the very concept of stacking was elusive, and even after you learned how, you didn’t have the manual dexterity to make a tower of any height. Now you can make a tower as tall as yourself.

Well… that was an exaggeration. But you get the idea.

A couple months ago I made a list of all the words you know, but I couldn’t do that now. There are too many. Also you’ve gotten pretty good at repeating anything we say. So it’s difficult to know what words are really yours, and what’s just an echo, but it’s clear that your vocabulary is increasing. It’s particularly adorable to hear you attempt big words like tortellini or cock-a-doodle-doo.

What Does a Rooster Say? by Editor B

You still don’t string words together in a sentence much, but you’re starting to do that. You said, “Bye bye Mama” the other day.

Even so, you are now more than capable of carrying on a conversation. It’s clear you understand far more than you can articulate yourself. You’ve been able to follow simple instructions for some time, but now you’re able to do more complex multistep tasks — when you feel like it.

You are developing a strong will. A couple days ago you didn’t want to get in your bicycle seat for the ride home from daycare. You insisted on walking the whole way. Nine blocks is quite a distance for a little girl like you. I carried you across major intersections, and held your hand when we crossed the smaller streets, but you protested strongly each time. You wanted to walk, on your own. I allowed that; in fact, I encouraged it. I think it’s good for you to be able to assert yourself and get a little exercise.

But when you tried to pull the same thing the next day, I had to lay down the law. It takes a long time for you to walk that far, and unfortunately I didn’t feel I had the time that day. It made me wonder: Why are we always rushing around in such a hurry? It would be a better life, a better world, if we felt we could slow down and walk home at toddler-speed.

You’re at a new daycare. One of the main attractions was the meal service: freshly prepared, locally grown, organic, vegetarian. They say you are eating extremely well. In fact, they are all amazed that such a small child can eat so much. You’re the youngest one there, and everybody has taken a proprietary interest in your welfare, even the other children. You seem to be thriving there, though a couple minor incidents have given me pause for reflection. I’ll recount them here, not to make a big deal out of nothing, but so that some day, when you read this, you might have an understanding of where my head was at.

  • A couple times I’ve come to find you and the other kids gathered around a monitor watching an educational video. I’m not a control-freak, and I don’t think I’m overly protective. Parents can agonize over the deleterious effects of a thousand different things, but I’ve focused only on two: lead and video. The former has been a source of some frustration and anxiety; as for the latter, that’s based on a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics. They say not to let kids watch videos until they’re at least two years old. They cite a study which offers fairly convincing evidence that early exposure to video is correlated with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. So we’ve steered clear of the baby genius video industry, though we’re by no means fanatical about avoiding all exposure to television. I did talk to the daycare admin about this, expressing my desire that you not be plopped in front of a monitor for the next few months at least. They said they’d comply but I’m not sure they are.
  • One day when I picked you up you had a book in your hand with the title, Jesus Loves Me. The daycare is housed in a church, after all, so perhaps this shouldn’t have come as a surprise. But then your previous daycare was also housed in a church, and we never encountered any religious literature there. I hasten to add that I like this church a great deal. They have opened their doors wide to the community as we attempt to rebuild after the floods of 2005. My nonprofit meets there regularly. I even have a key. And I’ve often said I don’t want you to be a stranger to the inside of a church. Nor am I necessarily opposed to the glorification of Jesus as a culture hero, as that can be done in many ways, some good and some bad — the devil’s in the details. This was just one of those little things that surprised me, but I didn’t do or say anything about it.

Speaking of books, your new favorite book is Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. It’s a great book, but the strange thing is you seemed to connect with it just as the movie version came out into the theaters. Personally I can’t imagine how that book could be made into a movie, but it’s getting some good reviews. However, there’s no way you could know about that. So it’s kind of a weird coincidence.

I’ve been teaching you the alphabet and the numbers and the colors all at once. You don’t quite have the hang of it yet. Your answer to “how many?” is always “two!” and all colors are blue (or purple) as far as you’re concerned, but you are clearly learning. Just yesterday you started repeating all the numbers after me, and you’re able to pick the first three letters of the alphabet out of a lineup. I’m also teaching you the musical scale, do re mi. That’s a lot of fun. And we’ve got word books that you enjoy, especially My Very First Book of Words by Eric Carle.

More? There’s so much more. When you want more food or drink, you demand it: “More!” Only in your diction it comes out a little funny: “Moy!” Anyway, I could probably sit up all night writing about your twentieth month of life, but it’s late and this letter is already too long and I need to go to bed.

Underground Study

I found and scanned an old photo from my files. Here’s Brian Jones and I getting into a serious subterranean study session.

Study Pit

I’m not sure who took this photo. Possibly Shelley Richmond aka Michelle Richmond Vallejo. Circa 1988? Anyway it’s at Greene Hall, Collins Living Learning Center, Indiana University, Bloomington.

Naturally there is some music for underground study: Eight low-key instrumentals, including Jay Sanders, Halo Manash and Hellvete. A two hour study session. This one’s dedicated to and inspired by my friend David, who said he liked some of my more mellow laid-back mixes as good music for studying. Dig in, and by all means let me know what you think.

Speaking of studying, Xy got buried under a mountain of schoolwork. She found out yesterday that her grades were due, well, that day. Oops. She’d thought she had ’til Wednesday. Not sure where the screw-up occurred, but she was up ’til 3:00 AM tallying and computing and entering data. Then to top it off, overnight the temperature dipped down to 48ºF, triggering the no-start bug in our car’s anti-theft system. (I’ve written about this extensively.) It’s amazing Xy wasn’t in a worse mood this morning. Perhaps it was our daughter’s smiling face that restored her sense of proportion.

And further on the underground school tip, yesterday I got to tag along with Howie to Our School at Blair Grocery. This is a radical education project in the Lower Nine that looks mighty interesting. Check out their blog.

Strange Mail

I got a strange e-mail from an old friend today:

I’m sorry for this odd request because it might get to you too urgent but it’s because of the situation of things right now, I’m sorry for this odd request because it might get to you too urgent but it’s because of the situation of things right now, I’m stuck in london with family right now, we came down here on vacation , we were robbed, Worse of it is that bags, cash and cards and my cell phone was stolen at GUN POINT, it’s such and crazy here in london , i need help flying back home, the authorities are not being 100% supportive but the good thing is we still have our passport but dont have enough money to get on flight ticket back home, please i need you to loan me some money till im back home to pay back , i will refund you as soon as i’m back home, I PROMISE

On first read, my impulse was to help my friend. But I always pause at the prospect of shelling out some cash, and that pause allowed me time to reflect.

It’s all very generic, this plea for help. There are no corroborating details in this message, nothing that proves it’s actually from my friend. (Is she even traveling in London? Well, it’s possible — I don’t know her well enough to keep tabs.) Yes, it’s coming from her e-mail, and it has her signature attached, but that’s not conclusive. Perhaps her account or address book was hacked.

A quick net search on the first line of text revealed that this is indeed a known scam, a phishing scheme of sorts.

So, be careful. Don’t fall for this scam. If a friend asks you for help, pause and ask yourself if it’s really them or just an automated script.


I was curious as to how Obama’s visit to New Orleans might be covered in the national media. Would it serve to re-focus attention, however briefly, on our recovery efforts? Perhaps the national economic situation trumps concerns about rebuilding one particular city?

As it turns out, though, there just wasn’t much media coverage at all. (Despite a surprisingly harsh write-up by Eugene Robinson.) The media was distracted because a kid hid in an attic for a few hours while a balloon floated around.

The whole thing is now revealed to be a hoax, but of course that doesn’t stop the coverage; it merely multiplies it. Now the hoax is the story. The real joke is on us, of course — all of us. We seem to have lost our grip. It’s almost like we, as a society, are helplessly riding on a runaway balloon, and all anyone with half a brain can do is relax and try to enjoy the scenery as it rushes past below us.

So in honor of Balloon Boy, here’s a mix to accompany your ride.

Of course there is the possibility that we, as a society, are not hostage to a runaway balloon at all. Perhaps we are hiding. In a box. In the attic. Don’t you think it’s time we came down?


Dad with Cognac

Holy frijoles, my dad is 75 years old today. What kind of gift could I possibly give the man who gave me half his genes? It will come as no surprise that I decided to make him a mix.

This is a bunch of music that was either recorded in 1934, composed or published in that year, or has some sort of connection. For example, there’s the classic “Stars Fell on Alabama” as performed here by the inimitable Sun Ra. The song was written in 1934 by Frank Perkins and Mitchell Parish; Sun Ra’s version came out in 1989, I think, but his musical career began in 1934, so it all fits together.

It may seem silly to focus on the year of birth, since the person in question doesn’t tend to remember too many details of that time. For my part, I was born in 1967. Do I feel any deep resonance with the events of that year, the spirit of that time? Well… Actually, to tell the truth, heck yeah, I sure do. That was the Summer of Love, and even though I was technically born in the winter, still I’ve always considered myself an honorary member of the Age of Aquarius. (In fact I was born on the cusp of Aquarius, but I digress.) Numerous authenticated hippie-boomers have verified this for me.

So I think it’s entirely possible that understanding of ’34 might give me a little insight into the mysterious man who is my father. Let’s see… the rise of the Nazi Party… the Night of the Long Knives… John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Bonnie and Clyde had their famous cross-country rampages and were all killed that year.

OK, so maybe I’m not learning much about Dad here after all.

But it was also the year that brought us Flash Gordon, the Apollo Theater, the Three Stooges, Lil’ Abner, the Soap Box Derby, and — of course — my father. That’s pretty impressive.

Happy birthday, Dad. Glad you’re in good health, and I hope you enjoy the mix. Oh, and that very last track? You may be wondering about the connection, but actually it’s the most germane of all. It features Rico Rodriguez on trumpet, and it’s his 75th birthday today as well. Hooray!

Best of 2007 (Musical Redux)

On the last day of 2007 I posted some of my favorite music. I quickly removed the link because I realized it was not, in the strictest sense, um, legal. I am nothing if not law-abiding.

It recently occurred to me that I now have a legal alternative, so here’s the mix.

29 songs and audio oddities that helped me make it through a dark and difficult year. Lots of painful memories — but also some sweetness. We lost a friend, but our daughter was conceived that summer. This mix reflects that range of emotions.

Hats off to 8tracks for figuring out how to do this legally. I don’t know of any other site or service that has accomplished this.

Added Bonus: Here’s one of my favorite photos from 2007.

Wormy Thing

OK, enough nostalgia for one day. Tomorrow I hope to reach back even further, all the way to 1934. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Presidential Visitation

President Obama is visiting New Orleans today, so here’s a mix (warning: some dirty lyrics).

This is a silly thematic mix. The associations are simple and obvious and not necessarily germane to today’s visit. Some of the tracks are about Bush. And just to avoid any confusion (and, hopefully, any visits from the Secret Service) I do not advocate any acts of violence, despite a couple of those song titles.

I suppose presidential visits of this nature are largely symbolic affairs, but symbols have power too. Many New Orleanians are anxious over the brevity of Obama’s visit, as he will be here less than four hours. It’s his first visit here as president, and we feel we deserve more attention. Things are tough all over, and we know that, but New Orleans was the site of the biggest disaster in the history of our nation, and that story isn’t over by a long shot. We’ve still got a lot of recovery work ahead of us. And like it or not, some of our key recovery issues are inextricably federal in nature.

I wonder how this visit plays to the rest of the country. I wonder which symbolism is more important, the local or the national.

I wanted to go to this rally for “Category 5 Levees and Coastal Wetland Restoration” this morning. I contemplated taking Persephone with me. But for various reasons I decided not to deviate from our regular schedule, so I just took her to daycare and went to work as usual. Ah well.

If I had a moment of the president’s time, I’d probably say something about the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act. And I’d definitely say something about the need for reforming the US Army Corps of Engineers.

One Day Later: Eugene Robinson is calling this visit the biggest disappointment of Obama’s presidency.

Raucous ≠ Rock

Here’s a frenzied mix of raucous rockin’ music — but there’s a catch, of course: There’s no actual rock music here. No punk, no metal. Some folk, world, jazz, electronic, hip-hop. Some of the R&B, country, gospel and industrial arguably verges into the rock idiom. And there’s a heavy metal cover in here too. But it’s a piano trio! Almost an hour of music by Art Ensemble of Chicago, Wilson Pickett, Benga and others. NSFW.

This is offered as a counterpoint to yesterday’s exercise. please let me know if you enjoy.

Avant Mellow

Avant-garde music has a bad rap for being screeching and unpleasant. Here’s a mix that proves otherwise.

Some of it is still weird, thankfully. And all of it is beautiful, to me. Sometimes it helps to know a bit about what you’re hearing. That track by Katie Peterson? That’s the sound of a glacier melting. “Starry Night” is a duet of sorts with Mazen Kerbaj improvising on trumpet while the Israeli air force drops bombs around his apartment in Beirut. The long electronic piece by Pôle was part of a project from the mid-1970s, in which albums “were sold door-to-door by students and other young people in the poor neighbourhoods of Paris.” Strange but apparently true.

And then there’s Zero Kama. According to the liner notes, “All instruments to be heard on this album were exclusively made from human bones and skulls by the hand of Zero Kama.” I’m really not sure if I believe that, but I can’t argue with the music. A great album from 25 years ago.

Of course it’s always possible to take issue with my choices, especially when it involves a term as nebulous as “avant-garde.” Some people will say that, for example, a Beatles cover would be automatically disqualified. But when the artist is Marc Ribot? You can make up your own mind.

I’m all alone at the office today, so it’s a good time to crank this stuff.

In other news:

  • We got a buyer for our house. They completed their inspections, requested a few repairs (all very reasonable) which we will be making. They just need to get the house appraised and then this deal should be a lock.
  • I’m a little concerned about the repairs being made to the house we’re buying. Rather I’m concerned because they haven’t begun work yet. If they don’t get on the stick soon it will be difficult to close the deal in time.
  • So it looks like this move may actually happen after all — though it could still be derailed. I’m predicting though that we will celebrate Thanksgiving in the new place.
  • Surprise, Monday (yesterday) was Columbus Day, which meant the daycare was closed. I only figured this out Friday evening. No problem, I was able to stay home and take care of Persephone. We had a fine day together, and as it turns out this is “fall break” at the University; classes aren’t in session and campus is very quiet. So I don’t think I was missed.
  • Bought a new bike. No, the “old” one wasn’t stolen, but it was having problems, despite not being old at all. I took it in last week for some work. The rear wheel was out of true and turned out to have several broken spokes. They repaired it but warned me the wheel looked to have issues. Sure ’nuff, it went out of true again over the weekend, so I was back at the shop Monday. They are sending the wheel in to have it rebuilt. In the meantime though I’ve got to have a ride, so I decided to buy the cheapest thing I could find, a $250 Elektra cruiser. It’s heavy with no gear shift and pedal brakes. And you know what? It’s great.
  • Speaking of bikes, I got a front-mounting child seat for the girl. Plus a toddler-sized helmet. It’s just about the cutest thing, and she loves riding so much that she now throws a fit when I use some other method of transportation. I’m still very cautious about riding around with her, but it seems to be working out OK, and I think this can provide a safe transit between home and daycare.
  • We went to see the Big Easy Rollergirls vs. the Southern Misfits Saturday night. We left at the half because it was getting to be someone’s bedtime, but the score was something like 82-5! Always a fun time.

Also, I’m presenting for FOLC tonight at the PRC. Here’s a sneak peek at the slideshow I’ll be using.

This was developed by our former secretary, who put a lot of work into it. After nine months it needs an update; the information is no longer entirely current. Still, right now it’s the best we’ve got, and it’s what I’ll be using.


Here is a mix we listen to in our house when someone passes on.

We listened to this last night after getting news that Xy’s grandmother Pauline had finally slipped away after a protracted struggle.

My notes indicate Pauline appeared only in a single episode of our TV show, namely “A Day in the Life,” ROX #63.

Pauline made a brief appearance in ROX #63

Unfortunately this show isn’t on-line yet, but faithful viewers may recall Pauline was not very impressed with her granddaughter’s salsa.

Pauline’s presence loomed large in other parts of the series and my life. She designed the achingly hip jacket Xy wore in ROX #29. And of course it should never be forgotten that she footed the bill for our puppet-show wedding as seen in ROX #41.

It struck me that as Xy no longer has any living grandparents, so too Persephone now has no living great-grandparents. Since two of our friends and contemporaries also lost grandparents over the last couple weeks, it’s feels like the end of a generation.

I understand there will be no funeral. She didn’t want one.

So long, Pauline. You will be missed.

Song My Parents Taught Me

Apropos of nothing at all, here’s a mix of songs my parents taught me.

Mostly these are songs I remember hearing my father sing while he did dishes or what have you. I think of my parents as pre-rock’n’roll but that’s not exactly true. You’ll hear some early rock hits here as well as the old vocal groups from back in the day. These songs stuck with me for years and I still sing some of these myself. Maybe some day my daughter will learn them too.

I burned this mix to a CD and sent it to my parents a few years ago before a visit. They listened to the disc on the drive down and attempted to fill out a little form I’d devised, “Name That Artist.” A fun game, and they scored impressively well.

I said these were mostly songs my father sang, but there are a couple glorious exceptions. See if you can catch them.

Double Plus Ungood

I wish I had the good taste and self-restraint to only post mixes of “good” music, or music that I really like. But unfortunately I don’t, and here’s the proof: fifteen tracks of dubious quality on a science fiction theme.

I love science fiction, but this mix is pretty awful. (My apologies to the artists.) Listen at your own risk. Actually one of these songs I kind of like; you can try to guess as you suffer thru the rest, if you choose to actually listen to this mix, which of course you shouldn’t unless you are a glutton for punishment or share my sense of perversity. (My apologies to the listener in any case.)

I’ve been collecting music with science fiction themes for a while. Putting together a “best of” mix is a daunting task. So a year ago, more or less, I compiled a “worst of” mix, which I gave away as boobie prize at my science fiction reading club. But even a “worst of” mix presents a challenge, as I discovered. You see, there’s (at least) two kinds of bad. There’s perversely-interesting bad, and then there’s just-plain-boring bad, and who wants to listen to that? Today’s mix is derived from that earlier effort and hopefully focuses on the former. Still no excuse.

Geekin’ Out

So what is it I do anyway? Lots of different things. For example: Today I’m leading a faculty workshop on Firefox 3.5, so here’s a mix of awesome cyber-geeky pop tunes.

And here’s sneak peek at the slideshow I’ll be using.

(I’m still working on this so it may be a little unfinished in places.)

I thought this would be a good program to offer faculty because the web browser is emerging (if it’s not there already) as the most important application for more and more people. We can do more and more via the web, and the browser is the main tool we use to interface with the web. But many people have only a very basic operational understanding of what a browser is and how it works. They can accomplish simple tasks, but may become befuddled if things get complicated, and they don’t know how to work efficiently. A browser like Firefox has a lot of features that are probably unused by most people. There’s a lot of power that remains untapped.

For example, I’ve noticed that when I’m working with faculty, I can often find information we’re looking for on the internet much more quickly. This is not because I’m smarter than them — it’s my privilege to work with very intelligent people — but rather because I’m more comfortable and conversant with the tool we’re using. A basic understanding of web architecture and search technology helps, of course, but those are fodder for other workshops that I’ve done in the past or plan for the future.

I’ve never done a straight-up browser workshop before. It’s perhaps so obvious that I simply overlooked it. As for which browser to promote, Firefox was the obvious choice. It’s my preferred browser, and I recommend it often. Here’s hoping the workshop is helpful.

Honored to Be Here

Today I’m being heaped with honors for working here ten years. Of course I’ve got a thematic mix for this occasion.

(Though it should be noted this is a silly assemblage of tracks which have no cohesion other than their titles. I haven’t even heard most of this music. So, all disclaimers can and do apply.)

If I had a suit I’d have worn it. I put on my best pants — you know, for the kind they call “slacks” — and my best shirt. Unfortunately my bike’s in the shop, and it’s swelteringly humid here in New Orleans, so by the time I walked to work I was quite literally drenched. That’s not an exaggeration. My under clothes were soaking wet. Fortunately I keep a spare set of everything in my office.

I was able to get my shirt dried out in time for the convocation. I put on a cool vintage tie Xy bought me a year or so ago which has a burning oil lamp on it. I don’t think I’ve ever worn it before. The oil lamp signifies education, or illumination, or something, in my mind at least.

Yes, I’m proud to work at a university, because I believe in education. I believe in our mission. Hell, in this economy, I’m just glad to have a job, much less work that I enjoy. Pretty much every single day for the past ten years I’ve been amazed they pay me to do what I do. The other day I remarked to Xy that my job was the best thing we had going for us. Her reply: “It’s the only thing we have going for us.”

I headed over to the Barn, which is the campus nickname for the gymnasium. They pinned a boutonnière to my lapel and marched me in the procession. They have this ceremony every year on Founder’s Day, but this is the first time I’ve seen it up front. Of course, as a ten year employee I’m still on the lowest rung. They also recognized those who’ve been here 15, 20, 25, 30, 35 and 40 years. I remember a while back there was a groundskeeper who made 50, if I recall correctly. I know I’m a sentimental old fool, but those kind of things always get me a little misty-eyed.

Humorous aside: They called my co-worker J—’s name for 30 years, and she wasn’t even in the building, nor was her name printed in the program. Yes, she started 30 years ago, but she had six years elsewhere and then came back. She gone round and round with HR about this, and she thought she’d gotten it straight and would be honored next year for 25. And I hope she will!

Recognizing employee anniversaries was only one part of the convocation. The choir sang, the band played, speeches were made. Seniors got their robes. Freshmen were awestruck, I’m sure, by the pomp, to say nothing of the circumstance. As an added bonus, they unveiled the winner of a logo contest for the University’s new Quality Enhancement Plan which is focused on reading. I’d completely forgotten about this, so it was a real treat for me because I’m the guy who suggested the contest in the first place. Too bad my design (“word is born” in the shape of a cross) didn’t win. I could have used that $500 gift certificate.

The singing of the Alma Mater always makes me feel weird. In four years of undergraduate plus two years of graduate study at Indiana University, I never once sung the school song, or heard the president speak, or really had any experiences that made me identify with the institution. And though I like the small, intimate, family feel of the University where I now work, where I now feel at home, still singing the school song seems a little too much like patriotism to me, a little too 1984 if you know what I mean. I’m kind of allergic to that stuff. I wonder how that happened.

Tonight I’m taking wife and daughter to a special banquet for honorees.

Skylar Fein Rocks

Here’s a li’l art rock mix in honor of the fun we had over the weekend.

I took Persephone to City Park Saturday morning, and we had a ball walking around the Big Lake. (Thanks to the Trust for Public Land for the recent improvements.) After that we visited the New Orleans Museum of Art, which is still free to Louisiana residents. There’s a photography exhibit there that’s well worth checking out. But even more so we really dug Skylar Fein’s Youth Manifesto. That is some fun, poppy, punk-rock art. Persephone especially liked the Grey Ghost Gallery where she could draw on the wall with chalk.


It was such a blast that we went back with Xy the next day! I read that the opening for Youth Manifesto featured a rock’n’roll band that was shut down by the police, which I think is kind of hilarious.

High class event at New Orleans Museum of Art

Rock on, Skylar Fein.