I don't think this has ever happened before

I've actually seen a majority of the films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. And I saw them all at the independent theater in my neighborhood. I've seen three: Brokeback Mountain, Capote, and Good Night and Good Luck, and to be quite frank, I don't know who I'm pulling for yet. All three were terrific films, with powerful performances, as testified to by the fact that Ledger, Strathairn and Hoffman also got Best Actor nominations.

And since Jon Stewart is the host this year, I might even watch the awards show.

Hah! Gotcha with that one, didn't I!

This should be interesting.

Monkey is playing in her school's performance of "Seussical" this afternoon and evening--playing in the orchestra, that is--and for the first time since she began performing, my ex and I will witness our daughter's playing.

My ex and I don't have a bad relationship. We divorced after six years, and frankly, we were glad to get it over with, so it was more of a relief than anything else. But even so, especially in the last 6+ years since I left Louisiana, we haven't spent any significant time around each other.

Tonight, however, we'll be in a theater, and then afterwards at dinner. Amy's family will be there, as will my ex's partner. It's going to be interesting.

Friday Randon Ten
Actually, right now I'm listening to the Grateful Dead, which Amy is playing on her computer, but here's the next ten songs on my random list, for when I do put them on.

1. Overkill--Laszlo Bane I really like this cover of the old Men At Work song, largely because Colin Hay comes in for the last verse. He has such an eerie voice.

2. Cross Road Blues--Robert Johnson On the Complete Recordings, this is the alternate take, and if you can tell me the difference before listening to the two of them, you're a bigger dork than I am.

3. Not Fire, Not Ice--Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals What's happened to him? About four years ago, he was everywhere. We saw him put on a hell of a show in Memphis, but he's dropped out of sight as far as I can tell.

4. Fortune Teller--The Iguanas Very low key song. So low key, in fact, that the vocals are practically inaudible

5. Red Apple Juice--Spider John Koerner Koerner is the best thing to ever come out of Spider Robinson's stories, even better than his "That's Amore" punning song.

6. Love of My Life--Cowboy Mouth "She used to be fine, but now she's funky." That line meant a lot to me at one point, but I can't remember why anymore.

7. Terrible Vision--Rhett Miller A friend gave me this song a year ago at least, and I'll be damned if I can remember it.

8. Poor Poor Pitiful Me--Warren Zevon I haven't heard a lot of Zevon, but I don't think I've ever heard a song of his I didn't want to hear again.

9. Friar's Point--Susan Tedeschi Sort of Bonnie Raitt-ish, but she seems to strain her voice a little more than Raitt does.

10. Write Me Back Fucker--Sleater-Kinney They're just a kick-ass band, plain and simple.
Whatcha got?

Thursday Night Poetry
I'm about Bloggered out. I'm not tired of blogging, mind you--I'm tired of the agony of trying to post to this system. It seems to be down as often as it's up.

But who am I kidding? It's free, and I've been here for two years now (very nearly--my blogoversary is in less than a week). I've got history, man!

I missed Thursday Night Poetry last week because of the funeral, but I'm back, reminded that I need to send the poet featured here tonight an email about this. Chelsea and I met at the University of Arkansas where we were both MFA students. She was a year ahead of me and her husband got the student run radio station up and going (KXUA, where I was a deejay doing the weekly Blues Excursion as Big Poppa Love Monkey). She sent me an email a week or so ago letting me know about her book--I'm sort of on the outskirts of the Arkansas Network--so I ordered it and got it two days ago. I haven't had the chance to read it fully yet, but when I do, I'll have a fuller review of it. I chose this poem strictly for the title:

In Praise of the Florida Manatee

Propeller-scarred and hugely obsolete
lover of all things slow--too slow in love,
your copulation being no simple feat;
fat disregarder of the world above
that lower realm of tepid, blue-green murk
that winds from springs to waters further south;
unlikely gymnast; Darwinian quirk;
heir to the dodo's fate, the dinosaur's;
a future fairy tale; a constant mouth
pausing mid-bite to snooze along sea floors;
long-suffering forgiver of abuse;
ungainly blend of elephant and cow
and bearer of an old man's battered brow,
you ask for nothing, serve no earthly use,
you simply live, and are, and show us how.

On a side note, I got an email tonight saying I've been short-listed for a poetry prize, so if you have any good thoughts to send, I'll gladly take them.

A new addition to the blog world

I feel a bit like a god-uncle to this one, as it was my occasional badgering of frequent commenter Walrus that got him to bug his buddy to start The Sandwich Machine, which will be going live soon. There's an introductory post up now, but Walrus is in Sausalito until Friday, at which point he will hopefully begin blogging regularly. I'll get him on the blogroll as well.

It's Up!

I've been the biggest goober since I got the email from Perigee accepting my poem, but it's up and looks very nice. I'm very proud to have my work there. No direct link--sorry, but that's the way the site is set up, but enter Perigee, click on Poetry, and find the poem titled "Buffalo River 2002" by Brian Spears and you've got me. (Check out the other poetry too, by all means. But, you know, especially mine. :) )

A reversal of a bad decision

No, soldiers aren't coming back from Iraq, and taxes aren't being raised on the rich, and Alito's nomination hasn't been pulled in favor of a person with, you know, a soul, but it's something.

Some time back (and I'd have sworn I blogged about it, but I can't find the reference), the US government decided to deny Cuba's baseball team the needed entry visas for them to compete in the World Baseball Classic. Why? Because, in the words of Scott McClellan, "Our concerns were centered on making sure that no money was going to the Castro regime and that the World Baseball Classic would not be misused by the regime for spying."


Well, the money end of it was taken care of when Castro said that any profits would go to victims of Hurricane Katrina, so that only left the spying angle. I don't know if Cuba actually did anything to alleviate the State Department's concerns over spying--my guess is that this statement had more to do with the decision.

After the initial rejection, the International Baseball Federation threatened to withdraw its sanction of the tournament if Cuba was not allowed to participate. International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said this week that any future U.S. bids to host the Olympics would have to ensure there would be no restrictions on participating nations.

Due in part to our nation's general ability to see beyong the parameters of its own ass, our interest level in the Olympics seems to correlate directly with its being hosted in the US. For instance, how many people outside hardcore winter sports fans know that the Winter Olympics crank up in less than a month and that they're being held in Torino? If they were being held in Lake Placid again, like they were 22 years ago, we wouldn't be able to escape it. So I'd be willing to bet that NBC, among others, head Rogge's statement, and let the administration know that they'd sure appreciate it if Cuba got the visas they needed. Call it a hunch, but it fits well with Friedman's general structure of the flattened world--the US doesn't want to take itself out of the Olympics supply chain, so it concedes on the smaller issue of the ridiculous Cuba embargo.

I'll have a fetish hobby after all

First it was Nikon, now it's Konica Minolta.

TOKYO, Jan. 19 (Reuters) - Konica Minolta Holdings said on Thursday it would withdraw from the camera and color film businesses, ending one of the best-known brands in the photography world.

As part of the surprise move, Konica Minolta said it would sell a portion of its digital single-lens reflex camera assets to the Sony Corporation for an undisclosed sum and cease production of compact cameras by March.

The company said it would stop making photographic film and color paper by March 2007, withdrawing from a market that has been shrinking more than 20 percent a year as a result of the spread of digital cameras.

In all honesty, this worries me. Don't get me wrong--I like digital cameras too. I bought my first one about seven years ago (and immediately took an embarassing picture of myself that I then forgot to erase) and while I've never spent big bucks on one, would consider doing it if I had the disposable income.

But there's nothing quite like film for me, the anticipation that comes from bringing film to the developer, the smell of the paper as you open the envelope, the delicate way you hold the prints so as not to smudge them. Maybe it has to do with the delayed gratification that you don't have with digital, I don't know, but I just really like film, and I don't plan to stop shooting it.

But I'd be willing to bet that my hobby is going to get quite a bit more expensive in the coming years.

This is why

posting has been light recently. I'm going to miss you Payton. You made a lot of the adults around you better people, and there's not too many people who can say that.

I'd forgotten what it feels like

to get a poem accepted, and that it's the poem I wrote for Amy makes it even more special. In about four days from this post, Perigee will publish "Buffalo River, 2002" in their January issue.

Damn, it feels good.

Wiretaps make strange bedfellows

Two groups are planning to file lawsuits against the Bush administration over the warrantless wiretapping program. Both groups hope to get the courts to order an immediate end to the program. The Justice Department is expected to mount a vigorous defense, according to the New York Times.

As right-wingers no doubt expect, one of the groups filing the complaint is the ACLU--the other is the Center for Constitutional Rights. But look at the client list for the ACLU:

One of the A.C.L.U. plaintiffs, Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute, said that a Stanford student studying in Egypt conducted research for him on political opposition groups, and that he worried that communications between them on sensitive political topics could be monitored. "How can we communicate effectively if you risk being intercepted by the National Security Agency?" Mr. Diamond said.

Also named as plaintiffs in the A.C.L.U. lawsuit are the journalist Christopher Hitchens, who has written in support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; Barnett R. Rubin, a scholar at New York University who works in international relations; Tara McKelvey, a senior editor at The American Prospect; the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; Greenpeace, the environmental advocacy group; and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the country's largest Islamic advocacy group.

The Hoover Institute is one of the oldest conservative think tanks in the US. Hitchens used to be a left-winger, but discovered the money was better on the right and has been one of the Bush administration's biggest cheerleaders. The American Prospect is a liberal not-for-profit, and you all know about Greenpeace.

This is one of those issues where I feel there ought to be real common ground between true conservatives and liberals who worry about personal freedoms. Unfortunately, true conservatives have been drowned out by their scaredy-cat brethren who are trying to make al Qaeda look like an amalgamation of Hitler, Stalin and AIDS all rolled into one.

Friday Random Ten

I'm teaching two sections of Interpretation of Poetry this term, and my second class has a cluster of guys all in the same fraternity. Now, I was in a fraternity as an undergrad, so I'm not automatically indisposed toward them, but I've also had experience with groups like this in classes, so I was expecting the worst, especially the way they were carrying on before class started.

But if yesterday is any indication, they're going to be the strength of the class--they weren't shy about making comments about the poems we covered, and their comments were, on the whole, pretty insightful. I'm pleasantly surprised.

So here's the list--random play, first ten songs.

1. Coconuts--Widespread Panic
2. Little by Little--Susan Tedeschi
3. Blacking Out the Friction--Death Cab for Cutie
4. Crazy Love--Ray Charles with Van Morrison
5. The Meeting--Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe
6. I'll Take You Back--Little Charlie and the Nightcats
7. Dear Catastrophe Waitress--Belle and Sebastian
8. 32-30 Blues--Robert Johnson
9. You Make it Hard--The Iguanas
10. Snake Lake Blues--Derek and the Dominoes

Let's Hope This Spreads

Good for Maryland, and good for the Democrats who pushed this issue.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Maryland legislators voted Thursday to enact a first-in-the-nation requirement that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. spend more on employee health care. The measure, touted as a money-saver for the state-supported Medicaid program, takes effect despite the governor's veto of the bill.

As has been documented extensively by lots of people, Wal-Mart Watch among others, Wal-Mart has a tendency to dump their workers on state health care systems, all the while raking in billions in profits every year. Wal-Mart, of course, doesn't like this bill, and neither do Maryland Republicans.
A Wal-Mart executive called the bill a poorly worded mandate for a single company. Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mia Masten said Thursday that the bill "could be the beginning of a slippery slope."

"We believe everyone should have access to affordable health insurance, although this legislation does nothing to accomplish that," said Masten, who said the retailer may partially pull out of Maryland if the bill becomes law.

She said Wal-Mart was unfairly singled out because of "partisan politics" and that Medicaid's problems go beyond the behavior of one company.


But House Republican Leader George Edwards called the measure an unwarranted intrusion into private enterprise.

"If you don't want to work for Wal-Mart, no one's twisting your arms. Go somewhere else and work," Edwards said.

Now, Wal-Mart, despite their executive's protestations to the contrary, was not singled out as a corporation. Had any other major business done as crappy a job in providing health care, they'd be dunned by this law as well--and it is possible that some other corporations may try to use this law as an excuse to drop their contributions (although if the market hasn't done it yet, I don't see this making a big difference).

Wal-Mart has said that they may consider pulling out of Maryland, and if they drop below 10,000 employees in the state, they won't be forced to pony up a meager 8% of their payroll either to their employees or to the state. I don't know how many employees Wal-Mart has in Maryland, (If I read the article more closely, I'd have seen that the number is 17,000) but if this means they have to close a store or two, is that a terrible thing? Local businesses probably won't bitch too loudly, I'll bet. Wal-Mart will pony up the cash--the amount of profit they'd lose from reducing the number of Maryland stores to where they would only have 10k workers far outweighs their health care expenses.

Thursday Night Poetry

So after taking a week off, I'm back with a poem from a long-dead poet. To excuse that, especially in light of the anger I feel toward magazines like The New Yorker who decide, every so often, to devote some of the limited space they provide for poetry to little known poets like Elizabeth Biship, I say that this situation is different, because I'm posting a poem in translation, and the translation was published only a few years ago by my old friend Geoffrey Brock.

The poet is Cesare Pavese, and I'll be teaching Geoff's translation side by side with the one included in the text I chose for my Interpretation of Poetry students. The poem is "Grappa in September."

The mornings pass clear and eserted
on the river's banks, fogged over by dawn,
their green darkened, awaiting the sun.
In that last house, still damp, at the edge
of the field, they're selling tobacco, blackish,
juicy in flavor; its smoke is pale blue.
They also sell grappa, the color of water.

The moment has come when everything stops
to ripen. The trees in the distance are quiet,
growing darker and darker, concealing fruit
that would fall at a touch. The scattered clouds
are pulpy and ripe. On the distant boulevards,
houses are ripening beneath the mild sky.

This early you see only women. Women don't smoke
and don't drink, they only know how to stop in the sun
to let their bodies grow warm, as if they were fruit.
The air's raw with this fog, you drink it in sips
like grappa, everything here has a flavor.
Even the river water has swallowed the banks
and steeps them below, in the sky. The streets
are like women, they grow ripe without moving.

This is the time when each person should pause
in the street to see how everything ripens.
There's even a breeze, it won't move the clouds,
but it's enough to carry the blue smoke
without breaking it: a new flavor passing. And tobacco
is best when steeped in some grappa. That's why the woman
won't be the only ones enjoying the morning.

Saving the food

I learned what little I know about cooking Louisiana food from reading stories by local writers, by watching the mothers of girlfriends, and by experimenting on my own, and without bragging, I can say that I make a mean potato soup and a pretty decent gumbo.

There is no way to overestimate the power food has on south Louisiana's culture. Sometimes I think that the reason grandmothers exist down there is to make sure everybody gets fed to stuffing, and the restaurants are a large part of that.

So I worry when I read articles like this one in today's New York Times about the gentrification of New Orleans food.

I appreciate what the big name chefs have done to spread the gospel of good cooking. It means that I can get a good meal in most parts of the country now, for starters. It means that when I go to a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale and I see gumbo on the menu, I don't reject it out of hand (though I don't exactly get excited, either).

But the bottom line is that it's not the Emerils and the Prudhommes who exemplify Louisiana cooking. It's Leah Chase and Willie Mae Seaton, it's Vera's, it's Rocky and Carlo's, muffalettas from the convenience store on Highway 190 east of Thompson Road, and the shared cooking knowledge from all those families who have now been spread to the four corners of the country or lost to the silt and storm surge and the indifference of national government.

I appreciate what Mr. Edge and Mr. Elie are doing for Mrs. Seaton, helping her get her place back up and running, and reclamation projects like that are necessary, but I have to wonder if they'll be enough.

An optimist would say that the diaspora of Louisiana cooks will help spread the word, and it may, but even if that's the case, there's still a great loss, a price to be paid.

My one sports post for the year

I'm coming up on my second blogoversary, believe it or not, and I guess that means it's time I talk about sports, since my first post ever was about the Superbowl between the Panthers and the Patriots.

So today it's about the baseball Hall of Fame, and the selection today of Bruce Sutter.

It's a shame, in that limited world of sports, that it has taken the baseball writers this long to recognize Sutter's contributions to the game, and an even greater shame that Goose Gossage isn't in there yet.

Yes, I know that the save as a statistic is a joke in a lot of ways, and that there are lots of closers who have gaudy stats but don't belong in the Hall, but that's certainly not the case for either Sutter or Gossage. Scott Miller makes the case far better than I can, since he uses statistics and stuff, so here's the case I'll make for Gossage.

Gossage was the closer for the Yankees when I was a kid, and then, as now, I hated the Yankees. At the time, I'd glommed on to the Dodgers as a fan for some unknown reason--I was like 9 at the time and only saw baseball on tv, and it seemed that Dodgers were always on tv. Those were the years of Ron Cey and Steve Garvey and Dusty Baker, and of course, they seemed, to my ten year old self, to always be playing the Yankees in the Series. And the one name I hated hearing was Goose Gossage, because I knew the second he came to the mound, the game was over, and all the rooting in the world would be futile.

He was the whole package--tall, long-armed, and mean looking with that long mustache that framed his chin, and he made my baseball heroes look like chumps. He was a monster. I gave his baseball card away because I didn't want to be polluted by him--I think I thought his power would bleed my Steve Garvey card dry.

But what it really comes down to for me, outside the stats that I think make Gossage a lock for the Hall, is that childhood feeling of awe I got when I saw him stride to the mound in the pinstripes, a Goliath I wished some first baseman David would strike down, and who, it seemed at the time, always left David laying face down in the dust.

Hurrah! Hurrah!

I will never have to worry about my troll again.

Annoying someone via the Internet is now a federal crime.

It's no joke. Last Thursday, President Bush signed into law a prohibition on posting annoying Web messages or sending annoying e-mail messages without disclosing your true identity.

In other words, it's OK to flame someone on a mailing list or in a blog as long as you do it under your real name. Thank Congress for small favors, I guess.

This ranks up there with "no beer on Sundays" as one of the most useless and unenforceable laws of all time. Anyone want to start a pool to see how long it will take an overly sensitive blogger to try to get someone who blasts them for being an idiot tossed in jail?

The Garden Spot
Amy's been nesting lately, and along with that comes gardening. We have a flower bed in the front of our apartment that has, until now, been basically weeds. We went to a local nursery a few weeks back and got a variety of plants for the front--the pink flower below (don't ask me what it's called--it's a pink flower) was blooming nicely today so I took a picture of it.

This, however, is our coolest new toy--we have a little space on the side of our place, a patio of sorts where we have a grill and will soon have a replacement for the table and umbrella that was destroyed by Hurricane Wilma. But this is a solar-powered fountain, called a Solar Cascade from Smart Solar. The panel and the pump are really efficient, and since we're in Florida, solar energy isn't exactly scarce. It doesn't have a battery right now, but that's something we can add later if we want to.

Friday random ten

Posting's been light this week because school starts next Monday and I'm up to my ears in new syllabi and new readings for the composition students. Time to get back into the swing of things.

Side note: my sister called today and said that our granddad's surgery seemed to be a success. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor a couple of weeks ago, and I thought his surgery was today, but it was yesterday. The doctors removed a lump from above his ear and put radioactive chips in there to work in concert with the rest of the treatment, and they expect him to make a full recovery. He's 82 and still kicking.

And so on to the list. You know the drill--random play on the iTunes and the first ten, no dropping songs to keep from looking dorkish.

1. My Ride's Here--Warren Zevon
2. Ball and Chain--Big Mama Thornton
3. Here I Sit In Prison--Cowboy Mouth
4. Hip Gahn--Lord Buckley
5. Easy Way Out--Eliot Smith
6. Tupelo--The Subdudes
7. I am a Man of Constant Sorrow--Ralph Stanley
8. Petootie Pie--Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
9. Santeria--Sublime
10. Overkill--Men at Work

So whatcha got?

Yeah, but now what do we do with it

You see above my most major accomplishment over the winter break--a photomosaic jigsaw puzzle Amy bought on a whim. The first night it was open, the three of us gather around the card table, searching for border pieces, and when we finished that section, we felt a sense of accomplishment.

Then the obsessive side of my nature kicked in. Everyone else lost interest for the most part--Monkey helped a little, especially at the end, but it was all me, squinting my eyes at the enclosed poster to find where the pieces I'd pulled from the box fit into that bastard of an image. One night I got so lost in it that I stayed up past five in the morning cramming puzzle pieces into place.

Amy will never buy another jigsaw puzzle, I'm fairly sure of that. And that's one of the many reasons I love her so.

Happy New Year y'all
From your old pal Incertus. Last year wasn't bad, all things considered, but here's to a better 2006. My main resolution for this year: have a manuscript to send out to book contests where I'm proud of every single poem in the book.

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