On James Comey and the Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

life_and_death_of_colonel_blimp

God help us, James Comey, the man who did more than anyone not on the Trump campaign to get Donald Trump elected is everywhere.

He shows up on Stephen Colbert, on 60 Minutes, on my twitter feed constantly.  I swear to God, I thought I saw him riding in the passenger seat my car, the H.M.A. Victory, explaining to me why he had to send the immediately leaked letter to Congress about re-opening the investigation into Hillary’s e-mails.

I don’t think Comey is the devil.  I just he fucked up catastrophically.  And, I think, after reading the memos that just got released, he wasn’t up to the task of dealing with Trumpism.  Hell, I don’t think anyone was in 2016.

The Republicans certainly weren’t- they eventually learned to ride this bought of Nativism all the way to the White House and a continued majority on the Supreme Court.  Hillary Clinton, in the end, wasn’t either.  In the Republican primaries, she was trying to boost the Trump campaign, thinking that he would give her the best chance to win.  I had similar thoughts back then.  I thought that, well, he’s such a disaster, we could never elect him President, let the Republicans nominate a birther, and see what happens.

I was wrong.  Everyone was wrong.  We were preaching the rules of the old game, and, in the meantime, Trump was spitting and cursing his way to victory.

Everybody acted like Trump couldn’t possibly win, and they all covered the butts against the possibility that the ring wing nutters would say they were biased against Trump.  Comey could release information about an investigation into Hillary Clinton just before an election, but didn’t dare release information about Trump.  A man like Sean Hannity could rail against bias in the media, while being, my God, up to hill gills in conflicts.  Trump could say and do every monstrous thing and feed his fevered swamp of a base every miserable hateful thing, but it’s fine.  He has never going to win.  These are the rules of the game, the system would never let this kind of a man wield actual power.

Until he won, of course.  And spat in the eye of everyone who thought that he was violating decorum.  He gave his base what they wanted.  And maybe we forgot the real rules of the game of America- we are, and have always been content, for terrible things to be done, so long as they are being done by the correct people.

I keep on coming to back to the most powerful speech in one of my most favorite movies, The Life And Death of Colonel Blimp.  It’s a movie about a stodgy old British General, who has lived an old and honourable life, and wants to continue fighting WWII in the same honourable ways.  Here, read Roger Ebert’s essay on it- it’s what introduced me to the film.

Here’s what Ebert had to say in that essay:

“The friendship between Clive and Theo is traced for 40 years. They meet again at a German prisoner’s camp in England, after World War One; Theo ignores Clive and stalks away, but the next day calls to apologize, and is a guest at a dinner of British establishment types at which, gentlemen all, they assure him his homeland will be rebuilt: “Europe needs a healthy Germany!” When the two men meet again, it is after the German has fled his homeland in 1939. In a long speech all done in one take, the explains why he has chosen England over his birthplace. Walbrook’s acting here is sublime with its mastery of tone and mood, and this speech, more than any other, explains why Churchill was wrong to oppose the film.”

The film has it right, in the first couple of lines spoken by the Prussian in that speech.  “The enemy is different, so you have to be different, too.”

Here, listen:

Comey, Hillary, me, you, and pretty much everybody else was preaching the rules of the game while Trump and his goons were laughing at us.

This is not a gentleman’s fight against Trump.  He’s got his nasty form of American authoritarianism and racism going strong with his base.  And, to borrow a line from the movie, if we lose, there won’t be a return match next year, perhaps not even for a hundred years.

Comey and Hillary played by the rules of the old political game.  They lost.  “If you preach the rules of the game, while they use every foul and filthy trick against you, they’ll laugh at you.”  Comey, and Hillary, thought, as the film suggests, that war starts at midnight.

The only good news is- Mueller plays as a federal prosecutor.  The rules of that game aren’t fair, as all of the various people indicted by Mueller, and now, Mr. Cohen are learning.  It’s legal, but far from a fair fight.  The main advantage that Trump has is that he can fire the investigators.  And he’s getting nearly unlimited cover from his Fox News and the Republican Majority in Congress. God help me, I’ve tended to think of Mueller’s crew as the last knights of the Old Republic.  And if those indictments ever start coming, it’s going to be a knife fight, winner take all.

And it won’t be a gentleman’s fight.  There’s a reason so many liberals are counting on Mueller to fight the good fight- no one else seems to be up to it.  But in the end, it’s going to need to be the people that get us our of this mess.  Between you and me, it was the people that got us into this mess- Trump took advantage of the fact that no one thought so many people would vote for such an awful man.

If we’re lucky, we’ll have a chance to surprise with our decency.

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Why you (yes, you!) Should Become an Anglophile!

I occasionally get asked my acquaintances and friends, in a mildly awkward tone of voice, “So, uhh, Scott, uhhh, what’s with all the English stuff?”

My good friends know better than to ask me.  They are apt to get a long soliloquy on the glories of the Queen of England, and imminent collapse of their so-called Republic.

That’s all silliness of course.  Don’t believe a word of it.  The real answer is…it’s a lot of fun.  So, here now, I’m going to explain the top 7 reasons why you should become an Anglophile.  Maybe not quite as strong an Anglophile as me, that’s perhaps leaving the tea steeping for a bit too long, but a moderate Anglophile.

7.  Tea time!

This is a super fun part of being an Anglophile.  It’s like a smoke break, but slightly healthier.  And you get tea, and cookies!

Think of tea time like a bit of meditation.  You take, perhaps, 15 minutes out of your day.  Sit down, brew some tea properly with boiling water.  Eat a very small sandwich- refresh your spirits.

And once your finished with this little awake cat-nap, the caffeine, the glorious caffeine shall kick in, and you shall ready to go and fight some more for the Queen of England!

6.  You get to believe in England!

Now, this is a tricky one.  It’s not as though you are getting devotion to the real England, with all it’s many faults and unspeakable historical crimes.  You instead get devotion to a mythical, made up sort England.  Where you get to take the best aspects of it, and…believe in the purity and goodness of it.

It’s…a bit like a religion, I’m afraid.  You have to turn off a little bit of your logical brain to make it work.

And there are no formal churches here in the colonies.

However, it does turn the entire country of Great Britain into one very big church!  Every inch of England is sacred, and you get to step in the footsteps of the saints of your religion.  (I would, of course, be very cautious about which heroes of the Empire you worship.  I like Admiral Nelson and various Plantagenet Kings and Queens.  The actual British Empire was a nasty and terrible thing so, so best not think that Clive of India was a good man or anything.)

England!

5.  The Union Jack Flag!

Look at this glorious flag!  Zounds!

Union_Jack

Three wonderful crosses, together! The most beautiful flag in the world and, as an Anglophile, you get to make it part of your essence!

If you look closely, you may notice that the diagonal stripes are slightly offset and uneven.  Those red diagonals are the red saltire of St. Patrick.  When they were added to the glorious Union Flag, they didn’t want to simply put them on top, which would imply superiority to the Scottish cross of St. Andrew that it lies on top of.

Because they are off-set, you can semi-secretly flip the flag!  And should you be a right and true Anglophile, you can flip the flag, and true believers will see your signal of the off diagonals, and shall come to your aid!

As an Anglophile, you get this flag as your emblem!  Zounds!

Wear it well, fellow, Anglophile!  Don’t dishonour the Queen while you go about in Her Colours!

 4.    The eccentricity!

Oh my!  One of my favorite things about being an Anglophile!  It’s an excuse to go off and be eccentric.  What’s that you say?  Scott’s gone up a tree, and is fighting imaginary Frenchmen with his swordcane?

No, he’s not gone mad!  He’s just being an eccentric Englishman!

There is room yet in this world for silliness, absurdism, and merriment.  Being an Anglophile will only encourage those wonderful notions.  Should you want to go and recite poetry to no one, or to everyone, why, worry not!  An Anglophile is allowed, nay, encouraged.  Go become a bee-keeper who solves mysteries, if you like.  Just look at the silly sense of British humour that was infected this good world.  It’s nonsense, glorious nonsense.

And being an Anglophile will only encourage those notions within your heart.  I cannot recommend enough the wonderful joy that comes from this sort of this.

To eccentricity!

2.  The properness!

There is, of course, a time and a place for properness and manners.  And being an Anglophile will give you the skills necessary to utilize these critical tools of human civilization to the fullest.

Manners are not about knowing what fork to use.  No!  They are about governing human relations.  Most of the time, they are used to make other people more at ease, to show them kindness, and let them know they are welcome.

Only in the darkest hour would one unsheathe the more dangerous side of manners- the cutting edge of solitude on those who would, those rare, damned bastards, deserve it.

There is such a thing as a Gentleman in this world, even in the age of our current President.  And as an Anglophile you can strive to become the highest sort of gentleman- one who stands up for the weak, who fights for just causes, and is a servant to society.

This is all part of being an Anglophile, my friends!

You get to be absurd and proper!  It is mighty!  It is glorious!

1.  The Queen of England!

tdih-feb06-2-HDung queen

Listen- I think that the Queen of England may have given a bad sense of how good a Monarch could be.  Let’s face it- these are antiquated relics of another age that aren’t worth the lavish lifestyle’s that the public supports.

It’s all a little silly, really.  And yet there remains the Queen of England, so dutifully goes off an d waves at the crowds, gives her Christmas speeches, and does her best to appear a beacon of decency.

I suspect that even for a monarch, she is a bit of relic.  A relic of a relic, I suppose.

And yet.  There is a stability and decency to Her Majesty.  And she is a very real, living link to the past.  She carries with Her all of history of England and its Monarchs behind her.  There is a real power to that much history carried forth by one woman.

And you, as an Anglophile, get to toast her, if the fancy should strike you.  I’m not saying that you need to decorate your room with bubble head of Her Majesty, as I have done, or that you need to toast to your franco-phile mother-in-law “God Save the Queen.”

But I would urge you view Her Christmas message.  There is something good, kind and stable at Her wishing everyone a Happy Christmas.

Here is her first televised Christmas message, from 1957.

I like these words.  I think you will, too.  here’s an excerpt:

“At this critical moment in our history, we will certainly lose the trust and respect to the world if we just abandon those fundamental principles which guided the men and women who built the greatness of this country and Commonwealth today we need a special kind of courage not the kind in battle but a kind which makes us stand up for everything that we know is right everything that is true and honest we need the kind of courage that can withstand the subtle corruption of the cynics so that we can show the world but were not afraid of the future it has always been easier to hate and destroy to build and to cherish is much more difficult.”
I think there’s something decent and worth fighting for there.  Certainly viewed through rose coloured glasses, but few ideals aren’t viewed that way.
What little more I can say about being an Anglophile is that it is tremendous fun all around, and I recommend it highly to you.  Perhaps we can have some High Tea sometime, and trade stories about various famous Englishmen and women.
Hip hip Huzzah, my friends, and here is to the Queen of England!
Hip hip Hurrah!  Hip Hip Hurrah!  And God Save the Queen, and Her many loyal servants, including, of course, S. Montgomery Priz, English Explorer Extraordinaire!
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On getting through Law School

God help me, I just submitted my application for graduation to law school.  God willing, and the completion of my final 7 credits this semester, I will graduate in May, and be sitting for the Illinois bar in July.

If I pass that bar exam, I’ll be sworn in as an attorney come Late October, or so, and be a baby attorney.  I have future plans, but that’s not what this post is about.

This is about law school!  Listen:  I read 1L and the Paper Chase before I entered law school, and I steadied myself for a fairly miserable 4 1/2 years as a part time student at John Marshall Law School.

judge scott

And I was, as I often am, fairly wrong about that.  Don’t get me wrong- working and going to law school is a lot of bloody work.  Particularly if you insist on also being a part time circus student and occasional performer.  And get married.  And so on.

But God damn, I’ve enjoyed being a law student.  I am going to miss going to John Marshall.  I don’t know if I’m going to enjoy being a lawyer, but I do know that I have enjoyed being a student there.

Ok, a couple of reasons for that.  First off, I have a job, and have a steady income.  So, I haven’t needed to worry about money the way a lot of students have to.  Second, I’m a scholarship kid, and I don’t have any the terrible burden of student loan debt hanging around my neck.

But that doesn’t actually go into why I’ve been happy there.  I think the root cause of it is…I’m good at being a law student.  Like, I get to go to class (after doing the reading) and get to participate in a group setting where I discuss cases and law.  I get positive feedback.  I don’t make a fool of myself very often, and I think that I contribute to the class discussion.

In a way, that I hope, is not a jerky way.  We’re all just trying to get through this, after all.

I’ve participated in various ways, and tried to be the best student I could be.  I was on law review, and wrote a paper that I am proud of on…a possible Native American claim to 160 acres in Chicago?  Well, I think it’s a good paper.  It’s in the deep end for me, but it’s an interesting historical dive, if nothing else.  Who doesn’t like a dive into adverse possession of federally protected Native American Treaty land!  You can read it here:

https://repository.jmls.edu/lawreview/vol50/iss1/4/

I got appointed to be Managing Editor of the John Marshall Law Review, and wrote a second article with a Professor (which is just about to go to print!).  It was on Restorative Justice, and the good works of the international Community of Sant’Egidio.  I have many, many thoughts on the Criminal Justice System and its cruelties, and, you can read about them when the paper is published.  I even got to travel to Rome to study with the Community in person.

(That was…something.  They had me speaking in front of hundreds of Italian High Schoolers about the abolition of the Death Penalty.  I spoke about the history of Illinois terrible history, and what the high schoolers could do, even in a country that abolished it decades ago.)

I’ve also, almost uniformly, really liked my Professors at John Marshall.  I might’ve gotten lucky a bit, but they have been a great bunch of supporting Professors who have done a good job preparing me, I think, to be a lawyer.  Or, at least, pass the bar exam.

I was a paid research assistant for a Professor, and that was also fairly enjoyable.  I’d research and find out interesting topic for him, and then discuss them with him every two weeks after annotating and summarizing them for him.  That was great!  And I got paid for doing it!

My Professor co-author of that second paper even helped me with an internship at the Federal Defender’s Office in Chicago.  That place is amazing, and a wonderful place to work.  They do very good work for very desperate people who are under investigation by the full force of the federal government.  (Who also have some of the very best attorneys available.  God help you if a AUSA is investigating you.  They are very good at their job, and it is not an even playing field.)

This final year has been a bit calmer.  I’ve been a research assistant for a different Professor, helping him with a Habeas petition.  Those are always long shots, but it is, straight up, and attempt to try and get a man out of prison for murder based on evidence of his innocence.

That’s a good reason to go to law school- to get the chance  to spring an innocent man out of prison for a murder sentence.

Listen:  There remains good reasons why someone should go to law school. even in the face of student debt, the shrinking job market, and the difficulties inherent in going to law school.  If you become an attorney, you get the power to help people in a way that you can’t as a non-lawyer.  There are hundreds and thousands of ways to make your life miserable as both a law student and a lawyer (I only have hearsay evidence on that second one.)

But there is some nobility left, and some good to be done in the world, if you make sure that you make a living at it.  And don’t let yourself be tethered to a firm that will eat your soul.  And don’t…and so on.

But God Damn, I have enjoyed being a law student.  And I’ve enjoyed John Marshall.  And soon enough- onwards and upwards!  (I hope.)

 

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Tom Waits Albums, ranked from Top to Bottom, Part 1. (The Top 5!)

And some of you know, I love me some Tom Waits.  He’s my current favorite musician.  I love his craziness, I love his bad jokes, I love the sorrow in his voice, I love that he seems to have been birthed whole in a junkyard wearing a tattered fedora, and I love that he’s weird.

I also love that he’s been in love with a woman for a very long time, and has written some of the best love songs about her, with her.  (And she is his song writing partner.)

Here is a list, then, along with my annotations, of all the Tom Waits albums I can think of, from Tom, erm top, to bottom.  You may have different favorites.  That’s cool.  There’s plenty of Waits to go around.  But sometimes it’s fun to discuss art we like, and what we love, and why we love it so.

1. Mule Variations-  This is the first Tom Waits album I ever bought, back in 2003.  I don’t even know how or why I bought it- I don’t think I ever heard a song of his on the radio or read about him.  As near as I can tell, it just appeared one day in my possession in 2003.

And, oh, what an album.  It is weird and lovely.  It starts out with Tom…rapping about being big in Japan, and clambers on from there into clanking songs.  There’s a lovely ballad called Hold On, and a sad song about having an empty house without love. There’s the goofy and eerie spoken word piece, and the first 10 songs of the album are a good to great Waits album.

And then it gets to the last 6 songs, and the album goes sad, wild and wonderful.  There’s the lovely little ballad about being separated from the one you love called “Picture in a Frame.”  I’ve hummed this song when I was lovesick, and when I’ve been in love.  Next up is the weird and wonderful song about delicious idolatry, Chocolate Jesus.

And then the of three lights out amazing songs, “Georgia Lee.”  It’s an impossibly sad song about a girl being found dead in the woods, and the silence and impotence of God.

I once did a trapeze act to it.  I went to be the saddest act that I could be in a show I was hosting in my usual goofy childish act.  I wanted it to be shocking that I was doing something so damn sad, to a song whose chorus is “Why wasn’t God listening, why wasn’t God there, for Georgia Lee.”

I don’t know if I entirely succeeded, but it was something to put together.  Here!  Watch!

Oh boy, that was sad.

The next song is a grindhouse, junkyard song.  I don’t know what a Filepino Box Spring Hog, and I don’t want to know.

But the last two songs, they are something special.  “Take it with me when I go” is just…it’s what love is.  It touches your soul, and it doesn’t go away.  You carry them with you, and they give you strength.  It sustains you in the darkest hours.  It is a song about True Love, which can not be beaten, in this life or the next.

And the final song.  Oh, my words.  Oh my many words.  “Come on up to the House” is its name, and I think that it’s the most amazing song I’ve ever heard.  It’s a Gospel song, at it’s heart, about adversary, about overcoming your own weaknesses, the cruelty of the world, and so on.  It even quotes Thomas Hobbes, for goodness sakes.  It is a song of power and wonder, that could only be sung with the burden of experience and woe that lives in his voice.

It’s astonishing.  Have a listen.  Listen listen listen and behold it’s wonders:

My word.  I have always wanted to do a circus act to that song, and have always been unable to make something worthy of it.

One day, Scottie P., one day.

Standout tracks:  Come on out to the House, Georgia Lee, House Where Nobody lives.

That’s why it’s my favorite of his albums, among many.  But come, I have said too many words on this album.  Let us turn to another wonder.

2.  Swordfishtrombones- Oh, this is a corker of an album.  It’s famous for being the first really weird album from Mr. Waits.  His label passed on it, and it is the breaking point between drunken singer songwriter and his madman of the junkyard phase that’s still going on.

It’s got weird and short instrumentals.  It’s got lovely little love songs.  It’s got jazzy little spoke word interludes like Frank’s Wild Years, and the groovy and mysterious title track.  It takes you into this weird little world that Waits have lived in ever sense.

He ascended on this album.  It’s nutty and wonderful.  And it’s full of love and explorations.  He’s figuring himself out, and he’s doing it with the new love of his life.  I hope I can make something this beautiful with Lisa.  I’ve read a whole book about this album, and I still don’t know what a swordfishtrombone is.  It’s nuts and wonderfl and perfect.  Have a listen!

Standout tracks:  swordfishtrombones, down down down, Johnsburg Illinois

3.  Heart of Saturday night- This is maybe the most consistent and solid of Tom Waits’s early albums.  It’s got that nightclub feel to it, and songs drenched in vodka sodas and hanging out too late.  To me, it starts out at the beginning of a night out, with New Coat of Paint, and slowly winds down.  It’s got two weird and wonderful songs in the middle of it- Fumblin’ With the Blues and Diamonds of my Windshield.

Save yourself the cost of a night out, and put this album on with a drink in your hand.  Start out strong, looking all dapper in new suit, and wind down till you’re conversing with the ghosts of old hangouts.  I love it.  And Shiver me Timbers is a wonderfully sad song that I use to listen to a lot more when I was sadder.  Now I’m happy, and it’s just a little wistful about old times.

4.  Small Change- This is another older Tom Waits Album.  I think it’s less consistent that Heart of Saturday Night, but it’s high points are lights out.  The first two tracks…they are amazing.  Tom Traubert’s Blues might be the saddest song I’ve ever heard.  Again, a song I loved more when I was sadder.

The second track is something out of another world, too cool for me to live in.  Listen:

That baseline!  Holy shit!  That never ending baseline that just keeps going as he goes on a kamekazi run against advertising.  In the liner notes for the album, it suggests that you send 10 dollars to a hotel in California is you want the lyrics to the song.  I remember that this song came on late one night after a late night dodgeball game, and it got me hooked.  Just completely.  It sank itself into my lip, and has been dragging me along in the water ever since.  Is there a cooler song ever written?  I DON’T KNOW, AND I DON’T WANT TO FIND OUT.

There are other songs on this album, song really good.  But they pale compared to the white hot brilliance of those first two tracks.  Bad Liver and a broke heart has got a bunch of great lines, and some folks swear by invitation to the blues but…ah, hell, go listen to step right up again.  HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT THAT SONG IS AMAZING.

Standout tracks:  STEP RIGHT UP, Tom Traubert’s Blues, the piano has been drinking.

4.  Rain Dogs- Howlll!  Howllll!  I once saw a commercial for the album.  Mr. Waits was explaining how a rain dog is a dog who has been out in the rain so long that it’s lost its smell of where it came from.

There are so many great songs on this album.  Maybe it’s better than Small Change.  (But then again, STEP RIGHT UP!). Singapore is my wife’s favorite song, and with good cause.  Yo ho!  Let’s go off on a pirate adventure, with the three eyes Tom Waits!

Let’s get drunk together, Tango till We’re Sore!  Let’s go…and have some Time to remember all the memories.

I love the lyrics of that song.  Here’s my favorite part:

“And they all pretend they’re Orphans
And their memory’s like a train
You can see it getting smaller as it pulls away
And the things you can’t remember
Tell the things you can’t forget that
History puts a saint in every dream”

It’s a lovely little ballad.

The album culminates in the deep howl of a song, a Grand Weeper called Anywhere I lay my head.  I didn’t know humans could make those kinds of sounds and not be dying.

Jesus, what a fucking song.  And that New Orleans play out is just the perfect ending to the song.  Man, that guy can do it sometimes.

Standout tracks:  Time, Anywhere I lay my head, Singapore

5.  Orphans, Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards- This is a 3 cd collection of his unreleased songs.  Not every track is a winner, but considering how many there are, most are.  The first two cds are my favorites- the third one goes a little too far down the rabbit hole for my taste, but it can be fun.

The last time I got dumped- a decade ago- I used to listen to a song on here called Goodnight Irene.  My girlfriend’s name was Eileen, so I’d sing it with her name instead.

You should not sing this song with the name of a recent ex.  Trust me.  I had to stop singing it eventually, just to keep myself together.

But it’s a lovely collection of songs, particularly the Grand Weepers Second Cd.  It even has the most optimistic song that I know to sing in the darkest times- You can Never Hold Back Spring!  In these admittedly Dark Times, it’s important to hold out hope for better times.  Things can and will get better.  Even in the coldest winter, spring, and everything it means, are headed our way.

It’s a song that keeps the light going, that helps you hold onto the things that matter the most to you.

Have a listen:

There is love, and there is happiness in this world.  There are puppies, and there beautiful, wonderful people in this world.  More common than we think.  There is still wonder, and even in the dead of Chicago winter, with  a monster in charge of the free world, Spring is still coming.

Ain’t no holding it back.  Hold onto that feeling.  There’s a quote form the most recent Twin Peaks book that I love, from the letter the log lad wrote to be read at her funeral.  It’s a lot like this song:

“So may I offer a suggestion:  When a dark age comes, just as you would at night, hold the light inside of you.  Others, I can tell you, have already learned to do the same.  In time, you will learn to recognize the light, in yourself and others.  In this way, you will find each other.  Together, you will make the light stronger.

The truth I know as sure as the dawn:  Darkness will always yield to light, when the light is strong.”

There are few things darker than a dark Tom Waits songs.  But there is hope, too, and love, so much love in them.  They struggle, the fight, and you don’t know what’s going to come out on top most albums.

One more song from this album.  There’s a straight up love song on this second CD, “Never let Go.”  But it’s coming from that deep, true place that Mr. Waits can tap into.  It’s not a sappy, stupid love.  It’s true.  It is dense and powerful that makes Tom stronger and makes Tom Tom.  He’s struggling, but he’s going to be all right.  He’s got and is in love.  Lovely.

There are plenty of songs about Heartache on this collection- World Keeps Turning is almost impossibly sad about lost anniversaries, but I like when he is singing about his True Love.

Standout Tracks:  You can never hold back spring, Never Let go, Goodnight Irene, World Keeps Turning.

Obviously, I love Tom Waits music.  And these are my five favorite albums of his.  What are yours?  I’d love to hear from you.

I’m going to..sooner or later, do the next five.  Which are also great.  (I basically at least like every album he’s ever made except one, and even that his a few songs I like.)

Until later, my dear Constant Reader.

 

 

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This belongs in a (very sad) museum

Last night was the final “That Belongs in a Museum” for a while.  Some friends of mine put together this wonderful event where normal folks bring in interesting items that they believe belong in a museum somewhere.  It’s a show and tell storytelling event, as they say, and it’s a wonderful event held in a super arty bar that was wonderful fun while it lasted.  You’d bring an item in, tell everyone about it, and then name the museum (preferably fictional) that the item belongs in

I’d gone to a bunch of them, and I’d brought such items as a stolen brick from the old Pullman factory (I said it belonged in the “Museum of Stolen Items that really Belong to the Thief”, as my great-grandfather worked there and deserved a small keepsake- here’s a link to the event’s link to); my grandfather’s gold teeth that the undertaker pulled out before he was buried (find out more here, a picture of that same grandfather naked in a bathtub in World War II (here’s a link to that one) ; three wonderful coins that were in my grandfather’s collection; the amazing Scottini puppet that my friend made for me; and the flower that Amanda Palmer gave me while I was talking to Neil Gaimon.

Last night I gave my final presentation at the event, and I decided to go with an artifact that was intensely personal to me.  Fair warning, dear constant reader:  this is a very sad story about a dog dying, and why i kept this twice chewed through end of her leash.  This is basically what I told the audience last night, perhaps a little cleaned up, and now with the advantage of me not fighting back tears on stage.

Ahem.

This past winter I went to the British National Naval Museum in Greenwich.  Greenwich is a lovely part of London- it was the wonderful observatory on top of the hill, has all sorts of little shops, including a pie ship that serves delicious eels, and most impressively, it has the Naval Museum.  And in that Museum they have what my wife calls the shrine to my favorite British hero, Admiral Horatio Nelson, the destroyed of Napoleon’s dreams.

In this shrine are such items as bits of the ship, the flag, Nelson bloody undergarments, and, most impressively, Nelson’s uniform from the Battle of Trafalgar.  Here is my kneeling beneath it:

scott and nelson

This is an impressive artifact.  If you look closely as it in person you can even see the bullet hole that the accursed French sniper made, which killed Nelson a few hours later.

“At least I have done my duty,” Nelson said after learning of the battle’s smashing result.
“Kiss me Hardy,” and then he died.

This tattered old uniform tells a story.  It’s a powerful one that meant a lot to Britain during a dark time of the Napoleonic war.  It’s not just a battered old Vice Admiral’s uniform- it is a story of action, sacrifice, and the salvation of a nation.

Most museum pieces are not like this.  They can’t tell this kind of story- they don’t have this kind of power- because most objects don’t have that kind of power that is universal.  Most artifacts are personal.  Their meaning may just have that kind of emotional weight to one or two people.  That’s it.  But those stories still matter, damn it, and I think there should be a museum of objects that matter to just a few people, where those stories can be told.

This is one of those stories:

Here is a picture of a chewed through leash.

cicero leashIf you look closely, you will see some duct tape where I repaired it after a puppy chewed through it.  If you look closely at the duct tape, you will find tiny puppy teeth marks where the puppy tried to chew through it again.  When the duct tape proved too difficult, the puppy moved down the leash, and chewed through a little further down, leaving me with this stump off a leash.  I’ve had this artifact for ten years- I put it in a plastic baggy along with some lead British soldiers that an ex-girlfriend gave me.  It usually lives in a closet, forgotten mostly.

Sometimes I choose to not forget.

The dog that did this was not my beloved Atticus, who I have had for ten years.  The dog who did this was a six month old yellow lab puppy by the name of Cicero.  Here she is.  She was beautiful, sweet, playful, and full of energy.

cicero

She deserved better than me, which isn’t entirely fair to me, but not entirely unfair either.  She was full of infinite grace, energy, and love.

Listen:  there was once a terrible night in North Carolina.  I lived in a little house with a woman who soon stop loving me next to scary, hilly woods.  There was a big in the house.  My girlfriend wanted to squish it, but I said no.  Catch it between a cup and a newspaper, and we’ll let outside, to go and live.

We had a screen door.  It didn’t close automatically.  We lived on a busier street that we should have.  There were buses and trucks that ran down this little two lane road up to Chapel Hill.  I was always terrified that I was going to get squished when I pulled my car out of the driveway.  I couldn’t see past a row of bushes near my driveway.  I was nearly hit a few times by trucks going to fast down Columbia Street, but I always got out of the way in time.

I opened the door main door, then I opened the screen door, my hands containing the cup and the newspaper with the bug in between.

Cicero bolted out.  I dropped the bug, and started to chase after her.  She went into play mode- free at last!  A bus was heading north down Columbia St.  I froze at the door, hoping that Cicero wouldn’t dart.

She darted.  Right under the bus.  I may have never been squished, but she was.  The bus stopped down the road.  My dog was still.  The bus driver came out, wondering if he’d hit anyone.  I told to go back to his bus, to leave us alone, my dog was dead.

I picked up her body.  I remember thinking that maybe I could bring her back to life, if I could just put her stuff back inside her.  They looked like sausages.

She was not coming back.

We put her into a garbage bag.  We knocked on the door of my basement neighbor, and begged for the use of a shovel.  I was covered in her blood, and must have seemed like a maniac.  I was wearing my favorite pair of pants.  I threw them out as soon as I could, I wanted nothing, nothing to do with it all.

He understood.  He lent me his shovel.  I started digging behind the house.  They was a little flat area behind behind the house, before it went into a steep hill that Atticus would later drag me down for fun.

I dug as deep as I could.  I didn’t want any animals digging her up.  I owed her that.  Dig deep, and bury the dead well.  Save yourself the horror of having to bury them again.

No animals, to my knowledge, ever dug there.  I checked every week.  We eventually put a grave stone there, given by my girlfriend’s mother.  It wasn’t disturbed till much later- I did my part well.

We got a new dog.  My beloved Atticus, who I got, eventually in the break-up after my girlfriend fell for another man.  I moved back to Chicago, thank God.  My house was abandoned after we were given notice by the state to vacate- they were expanding that scary road that killed my dog, and they needed to demolish the house to do so.

There’s nothing left of the house, or the grave behind it.  It’s now all under asphalt.  Whatever grave was there, is there no more.

But I kept this leash.  It’s an artifact, a reminder of a very sweet dog that I let down a lot time ago.  I don’t know exactly why I kept it- I think it’s a reminder of that dog.  She was sweet and kind, as we all should be.

It’s important that such creatures be remembered.  It’s why I said my piece at the event last night, and why I’m writing this now.  Her grave may be gone, that house may be gone, but I can still see her tooth marks in the remains of her leash.

I’ve done better with Atticus, a dog who is as sweet as Cicero was.  (He is named Atticus because Atticus was Cicero’s best friend in antiquity.)  I try to do my best with him.  I try to do better with my wife than I did with my then girlfriend.  I try to do better with my house that I have a mortgage on than I ever did with that little house in that far away land.

I think there’s a place for such person, powerful artifacts.  I think it’s important to remember the stories that are important to normal people, not just the Important Stories, like how Admiral Nelson won the Battle of Trafalgar before he was shot dead.

And of course, it this little leash were to go into a museum, it would be a very sad museum.  The Museum of Good Dogs who died too soon- a sad museum where we could remember our friends, and remember their memory one last time.

Please excuse me.  I’m going to stop writing this, and go and pet Atticus for a little while.

 

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Things I find Beautiful Part 5- Clarence Darrow’s Closing Argument for Leopold and Loeb

There are lot of things very wrong with our criminal justice system.  I think it’s fair to say that America, unique among developed countries, has instituted a monstrous system of mass incarceration that targets minority populations.

The most grotesque feature of this system is the continuance in some of our states of the death penalty.  The sanitized killing of another human being by the state.  There’s a little bit of blood on all of our hands over it as Americans- we tolerate this destruction of another human life, as though this ritual cleansing of a murderer will do anything for our society.  It doesn’t deter, it doesn’t heal the victims, all that it does it give us a small measure of revenge.

This argument has been made for a very long time.  Better men than me have made it.  For my money and time, the most eloquent and impassioned speech against was Clarence Darrow’s closing argument in the Leopold and Loeb case.

I am, of course, in law school.  I like, and admire Clarence Darrow, and despise the death penalty.  I think every attorney wants to be able to argue against injustice- to rail against something that it truly monstrous.  To not only argue against it, but make a difference.  To save a life, is possible, and make it matter that you were there in that courtroom.

Most attorneys don’t get to make that kind of argument, at least not often.  But Clarence Darrow did, and my word, do I admire his closing speech.

Clarence Darrow’s argument for humanity and civilization, in the face of barbarity and cruelty, by both his clients and by the criminal justice system is beautiful.

Clarence_Darrow_cph.3b31130.jpg

There was no real defending the boys, not on innocence.  They had confessed to a monstrous crime- the murder of a young boy that they knew from the neighborhood.  And they did it to prove themselves the superior men- that they, proud boys of Hyde Park and its University of Chicago (at for Leopold.  Loeb was from Hyde Park, but attended the University of Michigan.)  These two clowns, these buffoons of criminality believes that they could commit the perfect crime as prime examples of Nietzsche’s  Übermensch.

And then they went and immediately confessed to it after the police picked them up after Leopold left his eyeglasses at the scene of the crime.

Some supermen.  I suggest that your average hoodlum from a tougher neighborhood of Chicago could’ve beat the rap.  Most of them know that the first thing you do in a police interrogation room is ask for an attorney.*  Leopold, of course, was going to attend Harvard Law School, after a trip to Europe.  Too late young man, too late!

Darrow decided to defend them to take a stand against the death penalty, to save his clients from the Cook County gallows.

Darrow entered a plea of guilty, and asked for a bench trial.  He avoided a Cook County jury, and hoped to convince the mind of just one man, Judge John R. Caverly, to give his clients a life sentence.

The sentencing hearing lasted 32 days.  The prosecution put on witness after witness describing the despicable deeds they had done.  Darrow put on psychiatric testimony to mitigate the death sentence that was looming.

And Darrow concluded his case by giving a 12 hour speech.  He considered it the finest speech he ever gave.

In that speech he makes a case for civilization, for decency, and for an optimistic belief that we are capable of progress beyond our barbaric history:

“I have heard precedents quoted which would be a disgrace
to a savage race. I have seen a court urged almost to the point
of threats to hang two boys, in the face of science, in the face
of philosophy, in the face of humanity, in the face of experience,
in the face of all the better and more humane thought of the
age.”

He goes into the details of crime, and how stupid and pointless it was.  That the boys were not in their right mind.  He argues for medical treatment, not vengeance:

“I have heard in the last six weeks nothini but the cry for
blood. I have heard raised from the office of the state’s attorney nothing but the breath of hate.
I have heard precedents quoted which would be a disgrace
to a savage race. I have seen a court urged almost to the point
of threats to hang two boys, in the face of science, in the face
of philosophy, in the face of humanity, in the face of experience,
in the face of all the better and more humane thought of the
age.”

“And do you think you can cure it by hanging these two?
Do you think you can cure the hatreds and the maladjustments
of the world by hanging them? A You simply show your ignorance
and your hate when you say it. You may here and there
cure hatred with love and understanding, but you can only add
fuel to the flames by hating in return.
What is my friend’s idea of justice? He says to this court,
whom he says he respects-and I believe he does-your honor,
who .sits here patiently, holding the lives of these two boys in
your hands: “Give them the same mercy that they gave to
Bobby Franks.”
Is that the law? Is that justice? Is this what a court
should do? Is thia what a state’s attorney should do? For
God’s sake, if the state in which I live is not kinder, more human,
more considerate, more intelligent than the mad act of
these two mad boys, I ‘am sorry I have lived so long.
I am sorry for these fathers and these mothers. The mother
who looks into the blue eyes of her little babe cannot help but
wonder what will be the end of this child, whether it will be
crowned with the greatest promises which her mind can imagine
or whether he may meet death from the gallows.
All she can do is to raise him with care, to watch over him
tenderly, to meet life with hope and trust and confidence, and
to leave the rest with fate.”

And that’s how we adjourned the first day, because he was taking 3 days to give this speech.

He picked up on the second, where he left off.

“I can think, and only think, your honor, of taking two boys,
one 18 and the other 19, irresponsible, weak, diseased, penning
them in a cell, checking off the days and the hours and the
minutes until they will be taken out and hanged.

Wouldn’t it be a glorious day for Chicago? Wouldn’t it
be a glorious triumph for the state’s attorney? Wouldn’t it be a
glorious triumph for justice in this land? Wouldn’t it be a
glorious illustration of Christianity and kindness and charity?
I can picture them, wakened in the grey light of morning,
furnished a suit of clothes by the state, led to the scaffold,
their feet tied, a black cap drawn over their heads, placed on
a trap door, and somebody pressing a spring, so that it falls ,
under them, and they are only stopped by the rope around their necks. It would surely expiate the placing of young
Franks, after he was dead, in the culvert. That would bring
immense satisfaction to some people. It brings a greater satisfaction
because it is done in the name of justice.”

He is, of course, putting the system on trial.  And he goes, God bless him, to go into English history, which will always make my ears perk up.  We inherited a lot of law and culture from the English, included their cruelty in law.  But we’ve sometimes failed to pick up their tendency to reform the rougher edges of the law:

What happened? I have read the life of Lord Shaftsbury, a
great nobleman of England, who gave his life and his labors
toward modifying the penal code.
I have read of the slow, painful efforts through all the ages
for more humanity of man to his fellow man. 4 I know what history says, I know whlat it means and I know
what flows from it, so fAr as we can tell, which is not definitely.
I know that every step has been met and opposed by prosecutors,
many times by courts. I know that when poaching and petty
larceny was punishable by death in England, juries refused
to convict. They were too humane to obey the law, and judges
refused.
I know when the delusion of witchcraft was spreading over
Europe, claiming its victims by the millions, many a judge so
shaped his cases that no crime of witchcraft could be punished
in his court. I know that it was stopped in America because
juries would no longer convict
I know that every step in the progress of the world in reference
to crime has come from the human feelings of man. It
has come from that deep well of sympathy, that in spite of all
our training and all our conventions ,and all our teaching, still
flows forth in the human breast. Without it there would be no
life on this weary old planet. And gradually the laws have been
changed and modified, and men look back with horror at the
hangings and deaths of the past.
What did they find in England? That as they got rid of these
barbarous statutes crimes decreased instead of increased, and
and as the criminal law was modified and humanized there
was less crime instead of more. I will undertake to say your
honor, that you can scarcely find a single book written by a
student-and I will include all the works on criminology of
the past-that has not made the statement over and over again
that as the penal code was made less terrible, crimes grew less
frequent.”

It’s a long speech, and I have probably tried your patience too long.  But his closing passage sings to me.  It speaks of a better age, of a better justice system, of better men than we.

Here, listen to his final closing argument.  This won the day.  He saved his clients’ lives, whatever they were worth, and spared not only them, but also Chicago.  It spared our fair city from having another killing upon its hands.  We have a terrible history with the death penalty in this city.  We’ve killed a fair number of innocent men.  But here, listen to Mr. Darrow’s final plea, as he saves two wretched lives from the gallows:

“I am pleading for the future; I am pleading for a time when
hatred and cruelty will not control the hearts of men. When we
can learn by reason and judgment and understanding and faith
that all life is worth saving, and that mercy is the highest attribute
of man.
I feel that I ought to apologize for the length of time I have
taken. This may not be as important as I think it is, and I am
sure I do not need to tell this court, or to tell my friend Mr.
Crowe, that I would fight just as hard for the poor as for the rich.
If I should succeed in saving these boys’ lives and do nothing
for the progress of the law, I should feel sad, indeed. If I can
succeed, my greatest award and my greatest hope and my greatest
compensation will be that I have done something for the tens

of thousand of other boys, for the other unfortunates who must
tread the same way that these poor youths have trod, that I have
done something to help human understanding, to temper justice
with mercy, to overcome hate with love.
I was reading last night of the aspiration of the old Persian
poet, Omar Khayyam. It appealed to me as the highest that I
can envision. I wish it was in my heart and I wish it was in
the heart of all, and I can end no better than to quote what he
said :

‘So I be written in the Book of Love,
I do not care about that Book above.
Erase my name or write it as you will,
So I be written in the Book of Love.'”

God bless, Mr Darrow.  How I love those closing paragraphs.  He is arguing for a better world, and it gives me a little hope to read those lines.

The whole speech can be read here, along with the prosecutors closing argument.

Thanks, as always for reading!  I hope that you found this speech to be as beautiful as I did!

*Obviously, this case is pre-Miranda.  But even in the 1920s, an Attorney of the caliber that their families could hire could have gotten them out of the interrogation room, especially with as little evidence as the cops had.

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Things I find Beautiful Part 4- My Dog, Atticus the Excellent!

The hardest things about dogs is that they are so much more limited than we are.  We get them at some point in our lives, and they go through their entire lives so much more rapidly than we do.  I got my dog, Atticus, when I was 26 years old, and he was a three month old puppy.

He’s grown up, and is now a ten year old glorious dog.  But he’s gone grey in his muzzle, and is showing his age.  He now longer jumps quite as high as he used to, and our runs together gets shorter before he wants to just walk along.  If I’m still around, he will pass from the earth in maybe 3, 4, 5 years, 7 or 8 if I’m really lucky.  And I’ll still be around, and older man, and lesser for having lost him.

But he’s still around now.  Currently begging for a bit of baked beans or tomato soup that are my lunch.  His eyes are focused, like a laser, upon the bowl that contains my food.  I know that he’s rather ill when he no longer wants to beg food from me.  He is sweet and kind and gentle, particularly with little kids.

Atticus is one hell of a dog.  He is one hell of a beautiful creature.  Let’s enjoy some photographs of him:

 

crazy puppy

I got Atticus when I lived far away from Chicago, in a place that became very lonely for me.  He was my companion.  Twice a day trips to the dog park- puppy Atticus demanded it!

And I was happy to go with him.  If you are lonely, and you can swing it, I can recommend enough getting a dog.  Having a loving creature he needs to be taken care of, and will take care of you, is immeasurable.

And he was so tiny back then!  Look at him!

tiny puppy

Also, look at how incredibly goofy looking I was.  None of my clothes fit.  None.  And I would wear those Adidas Samba shoes till they fell apart around my feet.  In that picture, you can see some woods behind me.  Although we were near a University, there were these dense, deep woods a block away.  Atticus loved going into them, with me attached.  If you got through the first couple of layers of trees and kudzu, there was a little circle of trees where you could hang out, and the world was still.  If you went further north on that little street, you would find yourself on a little path, surrounded by trees.  Although the road was only 15 feet away from you, the trees would block all light from coming through.  It was terrifying, but Atticus liked going up that path.  I would get scared, but he would carry me through.  One night, imagined that a bully from not long before would be there, to jump out at me.  I had nicknamed him “Doug the bum.”  (No one reading this would know him.)  But Atticus, the happy little puppy, kept on going, and we always got home safe.

Eventually I came back to Chicago, but I came back without Atticus.  I came back without this adorable puppy:

puppy ears

He eventually was returned to me by agreement.  Thank God!  And he moved in with me to the Ukrainian Village in Chicago, where he, no doubt, obtained a taste for eastern European food.  (He is mostly lab, so it is accurate to say that he was born with  taste for pretty much every type of food.)

licking chops

This is a recent photo of him, waking me up, and licking his chops.  I snapped a photograph of him.  Puppy!

He is also amazingly kind and gentle with kids.  With tiny children, he will just stand there and get petted.

kid friendsHe knows how to be gentle, even if he is not always gentle with adults.  (He leaps up on people to say hello.  He just, so badly, wants you to know that he likes you.)

jumping puppy

That is the standard greeting in Chicago, no?

I have so many stories I’d like to tell you about him, before I forget all his glories.  Did I mention that he sings?  He does!  He sings along with Lisa, as she plays her saxophone.  Here, have a listen:

Puppy dog!

When I first got him, over ten years ago now, I imagined what my life would be like when he passed away.  Fifteen years, perhaps, from that date?  Would be a happy 40 years old, kids of my own that would have to grapple with death for the first time?

I don’t know yet.  He lives, breathes, and plays happily.  howling atticus

He’s even helping us with music sometimes:

piano atticus

Always ready to hunt down the nefarious agents of Rahm, the dastardly squirrels!

hunting atticus

He even has adorable puppy dog friends, like sweat pea!

sweet pea atticus

And Max, Lisa’s parents’s excellent doggie!

atticus with max

And even dear departed doggie friends, like his giant friend Gavin:

gavin atticus

I hope, I pray, that I get a bunch of happy years with puppy dog.  I don’t know what I would have done without him, the sweetest, greatest dog in the world.

Atticus, you are one god blessed beautiful dog.  Proof alone that humanity can build something of worth, that there remains kindness, gentleness and play in the world.

couch atticus

Puppppppy!

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