What's So Supreme About It?

The Supreme Court today essentially decided that school integration is unconstitutional.

Here's what Clarence Thomas, who supported the majority decision, said in response to Justice Breyer's dissenting opion:

Contrary to the dissent’s arguments, resegregation is not occurring in Seattle or Louisville; these school boards have no present interest in remedying past segregation; and these race-based student-assignment programs do not serve any compelling state interest. Accordingly, the plans are unconstitutional. Disfavoring a color-blind interpretation of the Constitution, the dissent would give school boards a free hand to make decisions on the basis of race—an approach reminiscent of that advocated by the segregationists in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U. S 483 (1954). This approach is just as wrong today as it
was a half-century ago.

Let me help us parse this out. In the minds of 5 of our supreme court justices, including the one of African-American heritage, the same case and principles (ie., Brown vs. Board...) that made segreation unconstitutional also make INTEGRATION unconstitional.

That's right, folks: on Bizzaro world, segregation and integration am same thing!

Crikey, how I hate this decade.


I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass

When it comes to cool, there is no one -- no one! -- cooler than Nick Lowe. You can take your Miles Davises, your Kurt Cobains, your Dan Fogelbergs; nobody is more preternaturally, effortlessly, endlessly cool than Nick Lowe. Here's why:

  1. He looks good. Am I wrong?
  2. He does the crossword, apparantly.
  3. For a while, Johnny Cash was his father-in-law.
  4. He wrote the song "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding?"
  5. He wrote a rather good song called "Time Wounds All Heels."
  6. He wrote a rather good song called "All Men are Liars," in which he rhymes "Rick Astley" with "ghastly." Those who listened to pop radio in the 80's will recognize.
  7. He wrote a rather good song called "What's Shaking On the Hill?"
  8. After David Bowie released an album titled Low, Nick Lowe released an album titled Bowi.
  9. The UK version of the Nick Lowe album known in the US as Pure Pop for Now People was Jesus of Cool.
  10. He was alternative country before anybody.
  11. His English country band was called Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit.
  12. "I need the noises of distruction when there's nothing new."
  13. "Oh, heart: you motor of emotion!"
  14. "True love travels on a gravel road."
  15. In the late 70's, Nick Lowe, recording as "The Tartan Horde," put out a single called "Bay City Rollers We Love You!"
  16. He wrote a song about the death of Marie Provost.
  17. He was the producer for the first several Elvis Costello records.
  18. He was the producer for the first Damned record.
  19. In an A.V. Club interview from the Onion, he says of his two-year-old son, "he's a blooming nuisance, but he's a lovely fellow."
  20. I saw him play for free in a churchyard in Boston.
  21. He's WIDELY underappreciated.

Now go buy his new record, At My Age, from Yep Roc records.

Hurry Down Doomsday

Last Saturday, prompted by an early morning walk with my children, I wrote the following letter to my Alderman, with copies sent to the chair of Milwaukee's common council and the office of the mayor.

Dear Alderman D'Amato:

I am writing to protest the name of a business advertised to be coming soon to 2014 N. Farwell Ave., in the space formerly occupied by Sol Fire and La Casita restaurants.

While walking my 15-month-old twins past the property, I noted that the coming business -- advertised by hand-drawn signs -- is shown to be called "Pepe's Pink Taco." This is a clear and vulgar reference to female genitalia, one which does not even rise to the level of "double entendre." Restaurants like "Hooters" or "Cans," while having equally sophomoric names, at least pretend to refer to owls or beer cans. With "Pepe's Pink Taco," there is no second or acceptable meaning other than one which offends and coarsens our neighborhood. Also, unlike the city's locations for Hooters or Cans, this restaurant is not located in a chiefly commercial area; it is directly next to and across from residential properties.

Another indicator of how inappropriate a name this is can be demonstrated by typing the business' name into an Internet search engine: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&safe=off&q=Pepe%27s+Pink+Taco&btnG=Search.
As you'll see, the results (aside from a similarly named restaurant in Arizona) link to "Offensive T-shirts" and (sic) "sex tuna vulgar dirty funny." I shudder to think what sort of clientele might be drawn to such a name.

I live within two blocks of this establishment, and therefore I walk, ride, and drive past it nearly every day, as do my wife and children. While I do not relish the idea of having to explain this business' name to my children on some future date, what's particularly troublesome is that this business reinforces and profits from a cultural race to the lowest common denominator. The name is meant to shock and titillate, and does so at the expense of the civility of the neighborhood and at the expense of respect for women. This is not something to which I would willingly expose my children, most particularly because I believe it demeans and insults their mother, grandmothers, and all other women who fight against objectification and indecency.

I am a great believer in free speech, but I am also an advocate of responsible corporate citizenship. The proprietor of this business, whoever he or she may be, is only exercising one of those things, and I think it ought to be a role of city government and the Common Council to impress upon them the importance of the second.

If there is another person or agency to whom I should be addressing this complaint, I would be glad to know of it. I thank you for your attention.

Best Regards,
Brian Hinshaw
//my address//

Milwaukee, WI

To their credit, the alderman's office responded to me fairly quickly with information about when the referenced establishment would go before the licensing committee as well as other information that would help me form some small measure of protest.

It should be noted that, since the time of my original e-mail, other references to this establishment have appeared on the web, making my claims slightly inaccurate. One curious link turned up a message board discussion on milwaukeenights.com about my letter, even though I had not forwarded my message to that site nor given anyone else permission to do so.

At any rate, I logged some vacation time from work on Tuesday morning to attend the licencing board -- which turned out to be really interesting to watch, and is regularly broadcast on our local cable Channel 26. Since other licencing issues were taking up more time than expected, D'Amato convened a group discussion in the hallway between myself and other neighborhood representatives and the proprietors of the forthcoming business. There was some talk of noise concerns given the residential setting and the outdoor patio, but my concern about the name -- shared at least in part by other neighbors -- was largely waved away. The proprietors are clearly banking on the "shock and awe" (their words) of their name to draw in a "hip and edgy" crowd. My concerns about the coarsening of my neighborhood (to say nothing of my city, my nation, and our culture) weren't seriously addressed, although one of the proprietors made a confusing suggestion that I somehow utilize the V-chip on the actual world.

D'Amato closed the debate by (rightly) pointing out that this was a matter of taste and that the licencing board could not legislate a name change, what with freedom of speech and all that. I accepted (and continue to accept) this outcome, although I will retain my right to continue to mention that this business' choice of names speaks to a lack of neighborliness and a cheapening of civic culture with which I am forced to comply without the ability to, say, V-chip it away.

Anywhoodles, such was my experience throwing pebbles in the raging river of crass commericalism. What shall we do with all this useless beauty?

I hope Elizabeth Edwards, fighting a different front in the same war, has better luck.


Its a World of Laughter, a World of Joy

From ABC News:

Just this month, the government confirmed that an Ohio Air Force laboratory had asked for $7.5 million to build a nonlethal "gay bomb," a weapon that would encourage enemies to make love, not war. The weapon would use strong aphrodisiacs to make enemy troops so sexually attracted to each other that they'd lose interest in fighting.

Last year, scientists at Boston University developed brain implants that could steer sharklike dog fish with a phantom odor.

Why not a gay shark? And why not let him play drums in a pop band?

Nyuk nyuk nyuk.
Meanwhile, across the ocean, men and women of several nations are killed by the dozens.


Back to the Beach Where Your Clothes Were Stolen

I made you a mixtape on the internets:

  1. A Solid Bond In Your Heart -- The Jam (Extras, 1992)
    I am fueled by the idea that this world was made to share, but it never seems to work out...

  2. Smells Like Teen Spirit -- Paul Anka ( Rock Swings, 2005)
    I'm worst at what I do best.

  3. My Rights Versus Yours -- The New Pornographers (Challengers, 2007)
    The new empire in rags! The truth in one free afternoon!

  4. The Trouble with River Cities -- Pela (Anytown Graffiti, 2007)
    Float like a sparrow, T-top Camaro...

  5. The Other Side of Summer -- Elvis Costello (Mighty Like a Rose, 1991)
    From the foaming breakers of the poisonous surf to the burning forests in the hills of Astroturf.

  6. Wouldn't It Be Nice? -- The Beach Boys (Pet Sounds, 1966)
    We could be married and then we'd be happy!
  7. Pulling Mussels from the Shell -- Squeeze (Argybargy, 1980)
    Squiniting faces at the sky. A Harold Robbins paperback.
  8. John Saw That Number -- Neko Case (Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, 2006)
    His meat was locust and honey: wild honey, lord, wild honey.

  9. Valium Waltz -- The Old 97's (Drag It Up, 2004)
    You’re scoring her shipwrecks with fiddles and dobros.

  10. A Thousand Tiny Pieces -- The Be Good Tanyas (Hello Love, 2006)
    Let’s play this one out until it explodes.

  11. Every Day Is Like Sunday -- Morrissey (Bona Drag, 1990)
    Trudging back over pebbles and sand...

  12. Shouting Street -- Joe Strummer (Earthquake Weather, 1989)
    Say you found it in the garbage, say you got it out on Shouting Street, say you got it from Jim Jarmusch.

  13. Unisex Chipshop -- Bill Bailey (?)
    "Do you want salt and vinegar?" was what they made her say, but in the language of the ghetto that means "Help, I'm a woman in chains."

  14. Baby Faroukh -- Billy Bragg (England, Half-English, 2002)
    Walking, walking all on his own, Baby Farouk draws near.

  15. Minuit -- Ernest Ranglin with Baaba Maal (In Search of Lost Riddim, 1998)
    "Like bathing in the cool water of a fragnant ocean," as Joe Strummer described this song.

  16. Waterloo Sunset -- The Kinks (accoustic bootleg recording, unknown date)
    As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset, I am in paradise.
What are you listening to this summer?


We Are The Village Green Preservation Society

Yesterday evening, the extended family played street soccer on my sidewalk. It was just like one of those Kennebunkport touch football games, if the Kennedys were from Wisconsin, somewhat less fit, and had just eaten too much Chicken Marsala.

For my first Father's Day, I received a mammoth gas-powered lawnmower with a side-discharging mulcher. Mowing my lawn with this thing will be like filling a Honda Scooter with jet fuel, or like removing a mole with napalm. We had to borrow my father-in-law's van to pick up the gift, so my guesses along the way progressed from a Noel Spangler sculpture to a rear-mounted two-seater bicycle carriage to (as we pulled into the Sears parking lot) a new television.
My lawn-care empire starts now.

Here's a link to Lydia Davis' poem(?) "A Mown Lawn." Scroll down for it.


Deejay's Making Movies

Two more reasons to love America:

One: Archive.org's internet archive of sound recordings of live concerts (provided that the artist allows their concerts to be taped and traded). Some of these concerts are in obscure (to me) audio formats, so I recommend the link Browse Artists with MP3's.

Two: NPR.org's extensive list of live concerts and new music programming.

These are two great ways to expose yourself to new (to you) music without stealing.

I recommend:

  • A March 2007 concert by The Good, The Bad & The Queen at Washington D.C.'s 9:30 Club. (I should mention that this is a track-for-track live performance of the album, so it's an excellent way to listen before -- or instead of -- buying).
  • Songs by The Refugee All-Stars of Seirra Leone.
  • A concert by Neko Case in April of last year, also at the 9:30 Club.
  • Billy Bragg's concert in Alexandria, VA, including his inter-song commentary and his performance of Johnny Cash signing the Who's "Pinball Wizard," which should NOT be missed.
  • Longtime past concerts from Fishbone, Soul Coughing, and Camper Van Beethoven to name just three.
  • Ryan Adam's concert from October '98 at Nashville's Exit/IN, particularly his duet with Gillian Welch on Neil Young's "Helpless" with added percussion by dropped beer bottles.


Let's Have Some Music Now, Okay?

We apologize for all the text recently.
As recompense, please enjoy this picture.


Try Shaking A Box In Front Of The Queen

Last Friday, we went through the bookshelves to send as many poor darlings off to the used bookstore as I could bear. Heartbreaking, difficult, and sad. I resented having to do it. I made compromises, so that the modernist poets went into a box in the attic to reappear at some later date and the doubles (Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Collected Stories of John Cheever, Updike's Problems) were condensed. Books that were handed down to me were spared, because they've had the temerity and wit to make it this far.

Anyroad (as they said on "Rome"), we cleared out two full bookcases, their books awaiting the used bookstore with the first case gone to public trust and the second up in the attic, but it remains a tender wound.

Today is Flag Day, which always brings to mind for me two things: the Housemartins and an obscure 1989 Vintage (or was it Vantage?) paperback of Jay Gummerman's short story collection titled We Find Ourselves in Moontown. I read the book in early 1990, and it has since travelled with me across the city and the country, changing address with me at least ten times. I don't believe I ever read it a second time, but the story "Flag Day" -- the first in the collection -- has stuck with me.

It's a story about an elementary school teacher on the last day of the year, hosting a party in his back-yard for the students in his class. Being Flag Day, the students come dressed up in costume as one of the 50 states. One girl has covered herself with yellow marshmellows to represent the state of Iowa, and there's a big potato for Idaho, etc. Details aren't crisp -- it's been at least fifteen years since I last read the story -- but it's stuck with me. But last Friday, the Gummerman book went into one of the boxes headed, middle-passage like, final-solution like, to Half-Price Books and CDs.

At work on Wednesday, I saw that tomorrow (now today) would be Flag Day. And like a Madelaine cookie, they they were: that Housemartins song and the Gummerman story. This caused me to wonder what other works by Gummerman might be out there -- other collections or novels. But everything, it seems, is out of print -- the book of stories and a later novel, itself now ten years old. A lunchtime search of Google seemed to uncover only ancient book reviews. (To me, this seems creepy and weird, kind of like the search engine version of a ghost town. I hope he's still out there, still writing, maybe teaching.) Last night, while the children were bathed by their mother, I dug through our six moving boxes of doomed books, and rescued We Find Ourselves in Moontown.

(Similarly, a listing in Amazon for John Vernon, author of Peter Doyle -- my favorite novel of my 20's and, I would submit, the finest novel ever written about Napoleon's penis -- shows only one of his books in print, along with a lot of books that aren't his at all. Peter Doyle doesn't show up until the bottom of the page... Both books, and both writers, deserve better.)

P.S. Depending on how you're feeling today, I suggest a listen of either Tom Waits' "Hoist That Rag" or Johnny Cash's "Ragged Old Glory." And, of course, the Housemartins' "Flag Day." It's a waste of time if you know what they mean...

How'd You Get So Cruel and Reckless?

Bush Quit Drinking 'On His Own' : GOP Candidate Never Went to Meetings
Nov. 6, 2000

Republican candidate for president George W. Bush, like most who decide to quit drinking, did so on his own without help, press reports following the revelation of his 1976 DUI arrest reveal. ... "Well, I don't think I had an addiction," Bush told the Washington Post for a July 1999 profile. "You know it's hard for me to say. I've had friends who were, you know, very addicted. . .and they required hitting bottom [to start] going to AA. I don't think that was my case." ... It appears from all reports, that candidate Bush did abuse alcohol for a long period of his life, but in 1986 decided to quit, because it began to "compete for his energy."

But then, he also said he was not interested in nation building.


I Live By The River

Two Boys at Swim
We took Sam and Caleb to their Granny & Poppa's condo yesterday for their first dip in the pool. They took to it like little ducklings, if ducklings were wedged into inflated cartoon animals and made to wear Spiderman floaties over one of their wings.

Art, Rock, and the X-Ray Style

I'm still literate!

I finished reading a book this week! I hope that gets me a gold star from my library's summer reading program.

Although there was a bit too much focus on Joe Strummer's inner emotions, it's a worthwhile biography. In the book's NYTimes review, Robert Christgau complains that it spends too much time on Joe's non-Clash work, but having previously read Marcus Gray's book on the Clash, and having seen Westway to the World, and having been an avid fan of the band for the last 25 years, I was far more interested to learn about the pre- and post-Clash Joe Strummer. A lot of page space was spent on establishing that Joe suffered depression and that he had a dark side, and Salewicz seemed really interested in digging up long-term psychological after-effects of his brother's teenaged suicide despite the lack of evidence of same.

Somewhat surprising was the late-period drug use by Strummer, who never struck me as someone who would go in for ectasy and cocaine (though certainly a drinker). He's not presented as an addict, by any means, but there certainly seems to have been more recreational use of illicit substances than in your typical 40-something.

Reading the book led me to listen to the soundtrack to Julien Temple's The Future is Unwritten, which looks to be a film biography of late-period Joe (see also: Dick Rude's Let's Rock Again!). The soundtrack for Temple's film is mostly culled from tracks played on Joe's late '90s radio show on the BBC World Service. One track -- "Minuet" by Enerst Ranglin of Jamaica with Baaba Maal of Senegal -- is so fantastic and hypnotic that it has followed me from one CD player to the next over the last week or so. The song -- nearly seven minutes long -- feels like dropping your feet into warm surf, as Strummer himself says on the CD.

So even nearly five years after his death, Joe Strummer points the way.

The Fat Lady Sings

I, for one, liked the Sopranos finale. It hasn't been the best show on TV in awhile -- Deadwood and The Wire were better -- but I always appreciated how unpredictable and funny The Sopranos could be. I liked how the old neighborhood had become a ghost town, with most of Tony's associates now dead and/or gone. Uncle Junior's sorry state nicely suggested how even war's survivors can not win, and how A.J. -- after flirting with complexity -- turned out to be just as shallow and materialistic as we all suspected he would.

I see that a lot of people are curious about what the cat "symbolizes," but I'd rather just remain curious -- overt symbolism and its suggestion of clear, constructed meaning are the trappings of too many bad English teachers. (In a previous season, Meadow helped A.J. understand a Robert Frost poem by explaining that its snowy woods represented death. A.J.'s response: "I-I thought black meant death...")

Which is sometimes tue, because, as to the sudden ending, black = death. Why else show Meadow's trouble parking and thereby explain a lateness we don't actually witness?

Entertainment Weekly offers a swell recap and analysis here.