Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"The Light is on for You"

News from the Archdiocese of Washington and other dioceses around the country. We are all sinners. We need to get back to telling people about it. There is a new "campaign" underway to get Catholics back into the confessionals. "The Light is on for You" invites us to "celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation," inviting us to "experience God's mercy and forgiveness."

The Archdiocese of Washington has a whole webpage devoted to the sacrament of confession. Here you can find everything you need to know about confession, which you might have forgotten. You can find a list of parishes and priests to go and unburden yourself to. It reminds us this is the season of Lent and that churches will be open on Wednesday evenings from 7:00 to 8:30 for confession.

I will admit to being a lapsed Catholic. I honestly could not tell you the last time I went to confession. It might have been when I was confirmed (as a teenager). Then again, I already expect to go to hell, the only question is whether I get to drive the train.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Road Rage In the News

I commute to work every day about 13 miles, primarily using the Capital Beltway. There are some occasions when I can easily see the opportunity to "flip out" on my fellow drivers. We all surely have in our pasts an incident of road rage that we are not proud of. I'm also a "New York" driver, so my tolerance is already lowered. I am really peeved by the driver I refer to as "shoulder suckers." A shoulder sucker is one that will ride the shoulder of a road to avoid traffic and congestion on the main roadway. I will often move to the right lane and position my car half on the shoulder to keep "shoulder suckers" from getting past.

Recently an incident captured the headlines here in DC regarding a woman accused of road rage. A North Carolina woman hurled a McDonald's cup of ice into the car of a fellow driver who had cut her off was sentenced to probation after a hearing in Loudon County, Virginia. The incident took place last July on Interstate 95. No one was injured. The woman is a mother of three, with a husband serving in Iraq, who had planned to go to nursing school. She told the Washington Post, "Now people are going to see me as an angry, road rage, convicted felon. And it really upsets me, I must have been wrong . . . but seriously, God. Lesson learned. Lesson learned is one hour in this place." Gee, ya think?

We spend an inordinate amount of time in our cars. There is certainly going to be more circumstances where these types of events will take place. There are countless websites out there dedicated to road rage, including this one. There is most certainly a level of anonymity that we all enjoy in our cars, but the human factor will eventually come into play for us one day. How will we handle it? I hope to do better than I have reacted in the past.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Recipe: Carmelitas

This recipe comes from my wife's friend. She originally published it here on her blog.
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup oats
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 3/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup caramel topping
  • 3 T flour

Mix first 6 ingredients together. Pat 3/4 of mix into bottom of 8X8 pan. Bake at 350 until golden brown (about 20 minutes).

Spread chips over baked mixture. Mix the flour and caramel together until smooth and pour to cover chocolate, making sure to not to let the caramel touch the side of the pan. (It will burn.) Crumble the remaining dough over the top. Bake until golden brown (about 20 minutes).

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Top "Forbidden" Books

When Sidney Sheldon died on January 30, there was a column on about "racy reading" that EW staffers had indulged in as teens. My wife might admit to you that number 2 got her into trouble in elementary school and number 1? Still creeps me out.
  1. Flowers in the Attic - V.C. Andrews (1979) - referred to as an "incest classic" - see? creepy.
  2. Forever - Judy Blume (1975) - adolescent love with real intercourse that many girls were passing under their desks.
  3. The Godfather - Mario Puzo (1969) - readers cited in the column p. 27, where Sonny gets his groove on with a bridesmaid in the bathroom.
  4. Chances - Jackie Collins (1981) - well if anyone knows racy, it's her.
  5. The Clan of the Cave Bear - Jean M. Auel (1980) - In the words of the column, two words: Prehistoric Porn.

Now, I'm off to watch the Oscars.

Reviews: Mark Russell at Ford's and Music and Lyrics

It was a big entertainment week for me last week. In addition to getting out to a movie last Sunday, on Thursday this week, I had the opportunity to work at Ford's Theatre for a performance by Mark Russell. For twenty-three years (he reports) he has been bringing his political satire and piano playing to Ford's. He is an equal opportunity skewerer, making sure to take shots at both sides of the aisle. He concludes his run at Ford's tonight. Check out his website and you'll get a taste of his humor, although without the piano, you aren't getting the full Russell. Try to make a point of catching him next year at Ford's.

The movie that my wife and I went to see with our best friends was Music and Lyrics, which our best friend pointed out could also be titled the "Andrew Ridgeley Story." Hugh Grant plays, Andrew Fletcher, an 80s pop icon who has been reduced to "Battle of the 80s Has-Been Stars" - facing off in a ring against Tiffany or Debbie Gibson. The "80s videos" alone are worth the price of admission and the realization you will come to that Hugh can actually sing.

He is given the opportunity to write a song for a pop star (read: Brittany before the shearing and the outright craziness), but he doesn't know how to do lyrics, he's a melody man. Enter Sophie Fisher, played very well by Drew Barrymore, who is an aspiring writer who suddenly shows Andrew that she is an excellent lyricist. Madcap hilarity ensues with some playful loving back and forth thrown in.

An amusing side note, during the movie, Fletcher gets a gig at Adventureland, an amusement park on Long Island. Trust me people, the place exists. How do I know? I broke my leg there in 1985. Someday I'll tell you all about it. Meanwhile, go see the movie, it's good mindless fun.

Why I'm Not Surprised It Snowed Today

Last night, upon going to bed, I was prepared to wake up this morning to sleet and freezing rain, similar to the type of weather that afflicted the DC area about two weeks ago. And yet, when I awoke this morning and looked out the front door, I noticed that the precipitation was changing primarily to snow after a slight coating of sleet.

The weather forecasters had spoken of snow but only for a brief time, and yet by late morning, more than four inches of fluffy white snow had come down. Now as to why I am not surprised.

My mother loved snow. She was known to do secret snow dances in the basement to try and get larger snow totals. Her birthday was March 22 and she always reminded people to get her presents early for she always asked for snow for her birthday. Growing up, we learned to watch out the window to see if the snow was "coming the right way." A good snowstorm on Long Island brings flakes from north to south.

I had plans today to go to church. Yes it is the first Sunday of Lent, but it is also the first anniversary of my mother's passing. I felt it only fitting that I slogged out to church in six inches of "freezing rain." I just wish my mother had waited to dance until tomorrow morning. Now I'll have to go to work.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Who Can You Trust?

There is a new survey out from the Ponemon Institute, a research group, that rated federal agencies based on the trust felt by the American public. Believe it or not, the Postal Service was rated as the most trustworthy agency by the American people. It should be noted the factors for the trust is how well the agency can safeguard people's personal information (Social Security number, birth date, employment, etc.).

Those agencies that deal with homeland security and intelligence fell in 2007, as well as the Veterans Affairs Department, which has had some difficulty with their computer equipment.

Here are the most trusted federal agencies:
  1. U.S. Postal Service - 83% (up to #1 from #2 last year)
  2. Federal Trade Commission - 80%
  3. Bureau of Consumer Protection - 79%
  4. National Institutes of Health - 71% (up seven spots from 2006)
  5. Census Bureau - 68%
  6. Internal Revenue Service - 67% (down seven spots from 2006)
  7. Social Security Administration - 67%

And the bottom of the list:

  1. National Security Agency - 19%
  2. Central Intelligence Agency - 21%
  3. Department of Homeland Security - 22%
  4. Office of Attorney General - 23%
  5. Transportation Security Agency - 25%
  6. Department of Justice - 29%
  7. Department of Veterans Affairs - 31% (down an incredible 41 slots)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Banner Day - February 20

As previously noted here, my workplace offers on its internal webpage a banner section with events occurring on the particular day in history. Today, February 20, offers three events worth discussing.

On this day in 1839, Congress prohibited dueling in the District of Columbia. Would that some disputes could still be settled this way. "Don't Mess with Texas," indeed. Also, it's a good thing I work in Maryland and that the practice has been prohibited, as there was some discussion of a throw-down with a colleague over the validity and tastiness of our respective wives' Pecan Bar recipes. I was willing to admit that his wife's were good but quite different from my wife's and that I preferred my wife's to his.

On this day in 1933, President Herbert Hoover laid the cornerstone of the National Archives Building. He said, "This temple of our history will appropriately be one of the most beautiful buildings in America, an expression of the American soul." It's a very nice building and the contents are really good, too. After the establishment of the FDR Presidential Library, Hoover, who was enamored with the system established by Roosevelt, joined the presidential library system and serves as the oldest-served president to have a presidential library under the auspices of the National Archives and Records Administration.

On this day in 1962, astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth, flying aboard the Friendship 7 Mercury capsule. I am the Brave Astronaut after all. The man that made millions of little boys in the 60s want to be astronauts when they grew up. I have a colleague who works at the Air and Space Museum who has met him and reports that he is a really genuine guy. And no diapers were evident.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Mardi Gras Recipe: Gateau de Crepes

It was always nice to have two occasions when I could have crepes growing up. They usually came around the same time. After Candlemas Day, the next occasion was Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, marking the start of Lent.

Here is another way to prepare crepes (from the New York Times). This is a truly decadent dessert.

Gateau de Crepes

For the crepe batter
  • 6 tbsp. butter
  • 3 cups milk
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 7 tbsp. sugar
  • pinch of salt

For the vanilla pastry cream

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, halved and scraped
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
  • 3 1/2 tbsp. butter

For the assembly

  • corn oil
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp. sugar or more
  • 3 tbsp. Kirsch
  • Confectioners sugar

The day before, make the crepe batter and the pastry cream. Batter: in a small pan cook the butter until brown like hazelnuts. Set aside. In another small pan, heat the milk until steaming; allow to cool for 10 minutes. In a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the eggs, flour, sugar, and salt. Slowly add the hot milk and browned butter. Pour into a container with a spout, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Pastry cream: Bring the milk with the vanilla bean (and scrapings) to a boil, then set aside for 10 minutes, remove bean. Fill a large bowl with ice and set aside a small bowl that can hold the finished pastry cream and be placed in this ice bath.

In a medium heavy-bottomed pan, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch. Gradually whisk in the hot milk, then place pan over high heat and bring to a boil, whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes. Press the pastry cream through a sieve into the small bowl. Set the bowl in the ice bath and stir until the temperature reaches 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Stir in the butter. When completely cool, cover and refrigerate.

Assemble the cake the next day. Bring the batter to room temperature. Place a nonstick or seasoned 9-inch crepe pan over medium heat. Swab the surface with oil, then add about 3 tbsp batter and swirl to cover the surface. Cook until the bottom just begins to brown, about 1 minute, then carefully lift an edge and flip with your fingers. Cook on the other side for no longer than five seconds. Flip the crepe onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. Repeat until you have 20 perfect crepes.

Pass the pastry cream through a sieve once more. Whip the heavy cream with the tablespoon sugar and the Kirsch. It won't hold peaks. Fold into the pastry cream.

Lay 1 crepe on a cake plate. Using an icing spatula, completely cover with a thin layer of pastry cream (about 1/4 cup). Cover with a crepe and repeat to make a stack of 20, with the best looking crepe on top. Chill for at least 2 hours. Set out for 30 minutes before serving. If you have a blowtorch for creme brulee, sprinkle the top crepe with 2 tbsp. sugar and caramelize with the torch; otherwise, dust with confectioners' sugar. Slice like a cake.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Why Do I Do This to Myself?

I bought a book the other day while perusing at Vertigo Books (here's their blog!) in College Park. I highly recommend the shop if you are in the area. There is certainly something to be said for the small, independent bookstores. The book was 5 People Who Died During Sex (and 100 other Terribly Tasteless Lists. As an archivist, I crave information and love the list. Plus having worked at the Rockefeller Archive Center in New York, I knew a bit about Nelson Rockefeller's departure from this world.

But anyway the first "chapter" of the book is titled "Choice Cuts" and deals with culinary facts, including among others:
  • 10 National Delicacies (those Indonesians love their monkey toes)
  • 10 Food-related Deaths (In 1818, Abraham Lincoln's mother, Nancy, is reported to have died after consuming milk from the family cow, which had recently been grazing on some poisonous mushrooms)
  • 10 Historic Drunks (who knew that Noah, according to the Old Testament, was the first person to get drunk).

My wife would like to see some footnotes and/or sources for these lists, but that's a blog entry for another day. I write today to say this was not the book to pick up and read this first chapter after last night's culinary adventure.

As some of you may recall, yesterday was our good friend's 40th birthday and they planned "The Night of 1000 Clams." It's possible I ate that many. In addition to the clams, the "fish camp" served up a variety of fish-related dips and spreads (crab dip, herring in sour cream) and then the main course featured lobster tails, clams, and shrimp. There was also rice and mac and cheese (God, why?!)

Of course cold beer goes well with seafood, so I had a few of those, but wisely stopped in time to avoid that sickness. If I was going to get sick, I wanted to make sure it was the food and not the booze. Another friend and blog reader would be happy to report he had four bottle caps in his shirt pocket and the fourth beer went unfinished.

So as we finished dinner, I immediately saw the need to lie down. Thank God there was presents before dessert, allowing for a little digestive time before bringing on the cake and other sweet treats (snow day cookies - raspberry linzer and oatmeal) as well as a chocolate trifle with Kahlua and Heath bar in it. It's possible they may have been trying to kill me.

Needless to say, the best wife ever drove home, but I made sure to declare that it was not because I was alcoholically impaired, but gastronomically distressed. So what did I do today? Popcorn for lunch at the movies, followed by an outstanding lamb dinner and ice cream sundaes for lunch. I feel as if I might have to bounce into bed tonight.

And so I leave you with the final list from that first chapter, "Choice Cuts" - "Gluttons for Punishment: Twenty World Eating Records:

  1. 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes
  2. 57 cow brains in 10 minutes (does that make you smarter?)
  3. 3.5 pounds of cooked dog in 18 minutes, 10 seconds
  4. 100 yards of spaghetti in 28 seconds (that's a hell of a slurp)
  5. 12 slugs in 2 minutes
  6. 28 cockroaches in 4 minutes
  7. 60 earthworms in 3 minutes, 6 seconds
  8. 100 live maggots in 5 minutes, 29 seconds (urp!)
  9. 2 pounds of eels in 32 seconds
  10. 144 snails (that's a gross to you and me) in 11 minutes, 30 seconds
  11. 12 bananas (with peel) in 4 minutes, 14 seconds
  12. 13 raw eggs in 1.4 seconds
  13. 65 hard-boiled eggs in 6 minutes, 40 seconds
  14. 7 quarter-pound sticks of salted butter in 5 minutes (I might have had that much in the melted variety last night)
  15. 5.75 pounds of asparagus spears in 10 minutes (Man, how long do you think their pee smelled?)
  16. 6 pounds, 9 ounces of cabbage in 9 minutes
  17. 1 gallon, 9 ounces vanilla ice cream in 12 minutes
  18. 6 pounds of tinned Spam in 12 minutes
  19. 3 onions in 1 minute
  20. 4 32-ounce bowls of mayonnaise in 8 minutes (how many fistfuls is that?)

I Couldn't Get into College Today

Nor could I afford it evidently. A new report out lists the most expensive colleges in America, and DC's own George Washington University is leading the way at $39,000/year. This is of course before they get a book or a slice of pizza at Luigi's.

According to data (and an article on MSNBC's website) from The Chronicle of Higher Education, which tracks college costs, the 10 most expensive schools in the country averaged a tuition rise of 52 percent from 1999 to 2006 — nearly triple the 21 percent rise in the U.S. cost of living during the same period. George Washington's $37,820 tuition is 82 percent of the entire median annual family income of $46,326.

Here is a list of the top ten, according to Forbes Magazine:
  1. George Washington University, Washington, DC - 2006-07 Tuition: $37,820
  2. University of Richmond, Richmond, VA - 2006-07 Tuition: $36,550
  3. Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY - 2006-07 Tuition: $36,088
  4. Kenyon College, Gambier, OH - 2006-07 Tuition: $36,050
  5. Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY - 2006-07 Tuition: $36,030
  6. Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA - 2006-07 Tuition: $36,002
  7. Bennington College, Bennington, VT - 2006-07 Tuition: $35,250
  8. Columbia University, New York, NY - 2006-07 Tuition: $35,166
  9. Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT - 2006-07 Tuition: $35,144
  10. Trinity College, Hartford, CT - 2006-07 Tuition: $35,130

I went to the University at Albany for my undergraduate degree, which currently costs $4350 per year for New York residents (which I was). Out-of-state and international tuition is currently $10,610. Room, board, and fees costs is $10,194 per year. I received my Masters in Social Studies Education from the C. W. Post campus of Long Island University, where current graduate tuition costs $790 per credit.

All of this is compounded by the fact that I don't think I would be able to get into college today. My mother used to do interviews for prospective students for Brown University and I would overhear what these students were doing outside their academics and I would need help picking my jaw up off the floor. God, when I was in high school, the most I worried about was getting in to the sold out movie on Friday night. The making of these "automatons" can't be good. This is of course coupled with trying to get into colleges once considered "safe." Maryland residents used to be able to regard the University of Maryland as their "fall back safe school" but now it has become increasingly hard to get into not to mention the costs, currently pegged at nearly $8000 for in-staters and more than $21,000 for out-of-state residents.

God, I hope my son is smart or really athletic.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

What's on Your iPod?

Quite frequently, the group that I have lunch with will turn our discussion to music. There are a lot of eclectic tastes represented at the table and there is usually some call for a work radio station. It leads me to the question, what are you people listening to? A frequent addition to blogs that I read is a notation of what people are listening to or the last songs they heard, or some variation.

First of all, I am still getting used to the whole iPod generation. As with TiVo, once I had it, I don't know how I lived without it. I have a 4 gig nano (in silver). It is about 3/4 full. I have a nice Christmas playlist that has gone into hibernation until needed next December. As of today, I have 635 songs on my iPod (out of an expected 1000 songs). The majority of the songs that are on the nano are from my own CD collection. But I have also become a big fan of the iTunes free download of the week. It makes me feel hip to download what the kids are listening to. But it sort of gets negated when I go looking for songs by Paper Lace or Looking Glass.

So what are you listening to? What albums were you spinning growing up? Do you even know what a 45 is? I have only recently relinquished my cassette collection and have now more CDs than I had tapes. And now, I don't know how I live without my iPod.

Before divulging my playlists, I'll start by telling you about the several podcasts I subscribe to. I wasn't sure if I would like the podcast genre, but I greatly enjoy it.
  • offered a number of podcasts that I listened to, including the All-Time 100 albums podcast, the Time person of the year, and a Campaign 2006 podcast.
  • I listen to the Road to the White House podcast, which keeps me informed on the all too early presidential campaign.
  • Although I read it in the New York Times magazine every week, I also download "The Ethicist," the weekly column by Randy Cohen. The Times has a number of good podcasts also.
  • I download the Onion Radio News. It's hilarious.
  • In that same sarcastic vein, I listen to the "President's Weekly Address." However, it has nothing to do with the current occupant of the White House.
  • I also listen to two NPR programs, "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" and "This American Life"
  • Until the beginning of February, I was also listening to Paul Harvey's broadcasts, including "The Rest of the Story." Shades of my childhood.

Coming soon, I will offer you an insight as to what songs I listen to regularly. Tell me what you are listening to.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Pitchers and Catchers Report Today!

It's snowing here in DC today, with freezing rain expected overnight. The federal government shut down at 2:00pm, sending us all home at the same time. Sorry there, ADR, you burned that credit time for nothing. The chance of working tomorrow is looking more and more like it will be a snow day.

Yet, south of here, in warmer climes, the baseball season is coming out of hibernation. Pitchers and catchers report for spring training today. Here are the things to watch in the upcoming baseball season.
  1. Barry Bonds. The steroid king needs only 22 homers to breaks Hank Aaron's home run record of 755. Let the campaigning for an asterisk next to his name begin in earnest.
  2. The Cubbies, a team that will be the focus of a JAL-SAA Tour event in August, has heavily invested in the offseason, getting a new manager (Lou Pinella) and snatching Alfonso Soriano from the Nationals. Will it be enough to stop the World Series drought (no title since 1908)?
  3. Pitchers, pitchers, pitchers. Everybody needs them and the NL West went out and got some good ones, including the Diamondbacks, who brought Randy Johnson home from New York. One wonders what the rest of the league will do for someone to start on opening day.
  4. Over in the AL, the Boston Red Sox managed to win the price war for the best thing in Japanese baseball, pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, he of the "gyroball."

Locally, the Nationals are lining up behind rookie manager Manny Acta. Problem is, the line's a little short and VERY untested. The team, which finished last in its two seasons here in DC, can only get better, right? Problem is, the guys on the squad, most of them weren't here for those other two seasons, so they don't know that. Of the players that will report to Nationals camp, only three, that's THREE, were with the Nationals all of last year (For those keeping track, Chad Cordero, Jon Rauch, and Ryan Zimmerman).

For the Orioles, they have their own woes. Chris Benson, who was to be the Orioles opening day starter is likely lost for the season with an injury. They went out and grabbed the Mets Steve Trachsel and need to pull together a rotation behind Erik Bedard and others. It's a must as the bullpen has nothing but tumbleweeds in it right now.

It should be, at the very least, interesting. I think I'll go rent Major League.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Update: Woodrow Wilson Was a Real Man!

A item in Sunday's Washington Post noted that it was more than 90 years since the Wilsons (Woodrow and Edith) had graced the pages of the gossip columns. And yet a never-before-published love letter (again courtesy of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in Staunton, Virginia, which I mentioned Doctor Grayson's letters in a previous post).

The letter was sent from Wilson to the Washington widow, Edith Bolling Galt, who would become Wilson's second wife in 1915. Edith was attempting to draw Wilson out of his grief after the death of his first wife, Ellen, in 1914. The letter is from the summer of 1915 and is fairly mundane in its contents:
"Best wishes for a delightful trip. Hope every experience of it will be delightful and refreshing and that you will all keep well."

The letter is signed - "Tiger"

Tiger! We stipulate for the record that Wilson is a graduate and was president of Princeton, but the teams did not become the Tigers until after he graduated. Now, now, Woodrow, really.

Recipe: Devil's Food White-Out Cake

This cake is going to be the center of our friend's birthday this coming Saturday. It comes from a cookbook they got for Christmas and which she promptly identified this cake as the one she wanted for her birthday. My wife has made a trial run and has made GREAT cake. The frosting is still being worked through. It's a big process. The recipe comes from Baking: From My House to Yours. The cake being made is the one on the cover.

For the cake:
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/4 sticks (10 tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk or whole milk, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 4 ounces semisweet or milk chocolate, finely chopped, or 2/3 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips
For the filling and frosting:
  • 1/2 cup egg whites (about 4 large)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract

Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8x2 inch round cake pans, dust the inside with flour, tap out the excess and line the bottoms with parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To make the cake: Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle, or a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugars and continue to beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla; don't be concerned if the mixture looks curdled. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the melted chocolate. When it is fully incorporated, add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, adding the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the milk in 2 (begin and end with the dry ingredients); scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and mix only until the ingredients disappear into the batter. At this point, the batter will be thick, like frosting. Still working on low speed, mix in the boiling water, which will thin the batter considerably. Switch to a rubber spatula, scrape down the bowl, and stir in the chopped chocolate. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops with the rubber spatula.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating the pans at the midway point. When fully baked, the cakes will be springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the centers will come out clean. Don't worry if the tops have a few small cracks. Transfer the cake pans to a rack and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up. (The cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.)

When you are ready to fill and frost the cake, inspect the layers. If the cakes have crowned, use a long serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to even them. With the same knife, slice each layer horizontally in half. Set 3 layers aside and crumble the fourth layer, set the crumble aside.

To make the filling and frosting: Put the eggs whites in a clean, dry mixer bowl or in another large bowl. Have a candy thermometer at hand.

Put the sugar, cream of tartar, and water in a small saucepan and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, cover the pan and boil for 3 minutes. Uncover and allow the syrup to boil until it reaches a 242 degrees on the candy thermometer. While the syrup is cooking, start beating the egg whites.

When the syrup is at about 235 degrees, begin beating the egg whites on medium speed with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer. If the whites form firm, shiny peaks before the syrup reaches temperature, reduce the mixer speed to low and keep mixing the whites until the syrup catches up. With the mixer on medium, and standing back slightly, carefully pour in the hot syrup, pouring it between the beaters and the side of the bowl. Splatters are inevitable - don't try to scrape them into the whites, just carry on. Add the vanilla extract and keep beating the whites at medium speed until they reach room temperature, about 5 minutes. You should have a smooth, shiny marshmallowy frosting. Although you could keep it in the fridge in a pinch, it's really better to use it right now.

To assemble the cake: Put a bottom layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or on a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Using a long metal icing spatula, cover the layer generously with frosting. Top with a second layer, cut side up, and frost it. Finish with the third layer, cut side down, and frost the sides and the top of the cake. Don't worry about smoothing the frosting - it should be swirly. Now, cover the cake with the chocolate cake crumbs, gently pressing the crumbs into the filling with your fingers.

Refrigerate the cake for about 1 hour before serving. (If it's more convenient, you can chill the cake for 8 hours or more; cover it loosely and keep it away from foods with strong odors.)

Friday, February 9, 2007

February is Black History Month

Two articles in Thursday's Washington Post contained both archival content and pertinent topics on Black history.

The first article involves a librarian at a local school library here in Rockville. Linda Crichlow White found a collection of photos in the basement of a 91-year old cousin. While the article describes White as being in "full-on librarian mode," she really was in "full-on archivist mode." She has been spending her time going through crumbling photo albums, recognizing family members and realizing she needs to update her family tree.

As is often the case, most of the pictures are unlabeled. She was able to determine the bulk of the photos were taken in Boston around the turn of the century, in the early 1900s. She shared the photos with Aaron Schmidt, who oversees the photo collection at the Boston Public Library, he was stunned. Never before had a private citizen brought such a large collection of photos to the library's attention.

A portion of the collection will go on display Saturday at Zawadi, an African goods retailer here in DC. White is OK with parting with the photos, although she is unsure of the financial value, and remarked, "Most of these people are not my family members. They're in-laws." Schmidt is also negotiating to buy some, if not all, of the collection and bring it to BPL.

White believes the photographer is a great-great-uncle Charles H. Bruce, who she compares to James Van Der Zee, who photographed much of the Harlem Renaissance. White's parting words in the article? "Get older relatives to help you catalogue your pictures."

The second article concerns a project to conduct oral histories with African Americans. The initiative is called the Story Corps Griot Project. The major focus will be on World War II veterans and those involved with the civil rights movement. This project is the largest effort to collect oral histories from African Americans since the Federal Writer's Project in the 1930s.

Off to Sin City (East Coast League)

I'm leaving tomorrow for an overnight in Atlantic City, New Jersey. My best friend from high school is getting married in March and his bachelor party will take place tomorrow night into Sunday at various locales around Monopoly town.

The male cone of silence does not permit me to divulge the details of the weekend, but I am sure drinking and gambling will play roles.

Perhaps I will get lucky and find that financial independence I seek . . . stay tuned.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Bulletin: Woodrow Wilson Was a Sick Man!

An article in Saturday's Washington Post detailed the illnesses that afflicted the twenty-eighth president (read the article here on the Wilson Library site). The severity of Wilson's debilitation came to light in the correspondence of the Wilson's personal physician, Cary T. Grayson (seen here at right with Wilson), which was recently donated to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in Staunton, VA.

The correspondence revealed that Wilson underwent an operation for a breathing disorder in 1918, at the height of World War I. The operation detailed the removal of polyps from the president's nose. Only Grayson, Edith Wilson, a nurse, and a White House usher were privy to the operation.

The Grayson papers came to the library from the Grayson family and make the first major donation of papers to the library. Grayson met Wilson on Inauguration Day 1913 and was a constant companion of Wilson's until the day Wilson died in 1923. After Wilson's debilitating stroke in October 1919, Grayson was one of the few people that still saw Wilson regularly.

The stroke, suffered as Wilson was trying desperately to secure passage of the Treaty of Versailles and ensure the US entrance into the League of Nations, changed the course of the nation. The treaty was ultimately rejected by the Senate in March 1920.

Wilson's incapacitation came at a point in history when the 25th Amendment (dealing with presidential succession) did not yet exist. Many historians believe that Edith Wilson ran the country as she controlled access to her husband after the stroke. Now it seems that Grayson, who literally had his finger on the pulse of the president, may have wielded a great deal of influence as well.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Wal-Mart, meet Tivo. Tivo, meet Wal-Mart

I love TiVo. It has revolutionized the way I watch TV. If you talk to my wife, she will tell you that I resisted getting it for a long time. Then I caved. Publicly, I say here: I was wrong, she was right.

Now, today, news from the retailing giant, Wal-Mart, that they will join forces with TiVo to offer digital movies that can be downloaded to your TiVo for watching in your home. You won't have to buy the physical copy of the movie, it will reside on your TiVo's hard drive.

Shortly after the announcement, Amazon announced it would offer a similar service.

Let the revolution continue! Now I won't miss my Netflix account!

Astronauts Gone Wild!

I am, as my postings state, the Brave Astronaut. However, I have no affiliation with the space program or NASA. I only went to a school that had a team named after some earlier astronauts. I like the space program, think that NASA is underfunded and should work to explore space more. The shuttle fleet continues to age and you don't hear much about what is happening in Houston or Cape Kennedy.

Until this week.

Pick a news outlet. Go to Google News and type in "Lisa Nowak." Unless you have been living under a rock this week, you are no doubt aware of the sordid details that have come to light in what is being described as the NASA love triangle.

In a nutshell, Lisa Nowak, who grew up here in Rockville, where I live, was a model student, who wanted to be in space. Evidently, too much (or too little) oxygen has pushed her around the bend. Nowak left her home in Houston (where she is married with children) and drove to the Orlando airport (we'll put aside the diapers she wore on the 11-hour trip, that's a whole different story) to accost another woman, Colleen Shipman, who had a relationship with another astronaut, Bill Oefelein, and tried to kill / kidnap Shipman.

Nowak, was arrested on charges of attempted murder and attempted kidnapping. She was returned to Houston, where she has been relieved of her duties and subjected to additional psychiatric testing.

Surprisingly, NASA is revising its psychological screening of astronauts after Nowak was charged with attempted murder. And to think that last week, the biggest problem the space program had was about money.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Chili Cook Off Recipes

The Super Bowl was yesterday and a perfect day for chili. In last week's Washington Post Food section, two writers offered up their chili recipes. Here are both. See which one you like best. Both chilis can be made in advance and refrigerated for up to four days or frozen for one month.

Chili Con Carne
  • 6 dried ancho chili peppers, rinsed
  • about 4 cups hot water, plus more as needed
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 to 2 1/4 pounds lean stew meat or chuck roast, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 4 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. onion powder
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp. ground cumin
  • cayenne pepper (optional)

Cut or tear apart the ancho peppers, discarding seeds and stems. Place in a dry skillet over medium heat and toast for 5 minutes. Transfer to a blender, add 1 cup of water and blend until smooth. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven until it shimmers. Season the meat with salt and pepper to taste, then add just enough meat to the pot to avoid overcrowding. Cook in batches, stirring frequently, for 3 to 4 minutes each, or until the meat starts to brown.

Return all the meat to the pot, add the garlic and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until the meat has browned all over and the garlic has softened. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion powder, stirring to mix well. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the oregano, cumin, and reserved ancho chili puree, stirring to combine. Add enough water to cover the meat by 1 inch. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 6 hours, stirring occasionally, then uncover and use a spatula to mash and break up the meat. Cook, uncovered, for another hour or two or until the chili has become quite thick and the meat has almost melted into the liquid. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and cayenne pepper, if desired. Serve warm, with accompaniments of your choice.

Weeknight Chili

  • 2 tbsp. mild extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, trimmed and cut into 1/4 inch dice
  • 1 large stalk celery, peeled to remove strings and cut into 1/4 inch dice
  • 3 to 4 tsp. mild chili powder
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano, crumbled
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 1/4 pounds ground beef (80 percent lean)
  • one 8-ounce can tomato sauce / 1 cup homemade tomato sauce
  • one 15- to 16-ounce can red kidney beans with liquid
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 4 to 6 slices day-old crusty Italian or French bread, for serving (optional)

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy pot over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the onion, carrot, and celery, and cook about 10 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Resist the urge to stir frequently, so the vegetables will caramelize rather than steam. Add 3 tsp. of the chili powder, the salt, oregano, 1/4 tsp. of the cayenne pepper and the garlic. Cook for 1 minute. Push the vegetables to the outside edges of the pot, increase the heat to medium-high, and place the ground beef in the center. Use the edge of a wooden spatula or spoon to break the meat into 3/4 inch pieces. Sear the beef until it begins to brown on the bottom, don't stir it until the beef sears and you see steam rising. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the meat is no longer pink.

Add the tomato sauce and the beans and their liquid. Rinse the tomato sauce can (or container from leftover sauce) with 1 cup water and add it to the pot along with the bay leaf. Bring the chili to a rolling boil, then quickly reduce the heat to low. Taste; add 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper for a spicier chili or 1 tsp. chili powder for a deeper flavor. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the largest pieces of carrot are tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Discard the bay leaf. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

If serving over bread, tear 1 slice of bread into 3/4 inch pieces and place in the bottom of each wide, shallow soup bowl. Ladle the chili on top, serve hot.

Bon Anniversaire to the Pompidou Center

Spotted in the Washington Post on February 1, 2007:
The Pipe Dream Realized: Paris’s Pompidou Center Turns 30

I’ll over look the second “s” in the headline for the moment to comment on the controversies surrounding the Pompidou Center in Paris when it was completed and what is rocking the French art world these days.

In 1977, when a new building opened in Paris, it attracted a great deal of controversy at the time for its avant garde design. In the city of light, a new museum decorated with brightly colored pipes rose in the “new Paris.” Here we are now, thirty years later, and the Georges Pompidou Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary. It has become one of Paris’ most recognizable monuments. It holds the largest collection of modern and contemporary art in all of Europe. It is France’s second most visited museum, after the Louvre.

The current controversy, now that Parisians have gotten past the building design, are plans to expand the Pompidou Center to Metz, a city in the northern part of France, and a center in Shanghai, China. These plans, along with plans for a “mini-Louvre” in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, has galvanized the French art world, with protests saying that politicians are “hijacking art for strategic and economic ends.”

As for the Center itself, it was conceived by French President Georges Pompidou (1969-1974), who envisioned a center that would become a magnet for the arts in Paris. The Center that bears his name also holds a library and a center for music research. And, despite the wailing of the French people when it was completed, was so popular that it had to be extensively renovated from 1997 to 1999. It had been designed to handle approximately 5,000 visitors a day and instead saw more than 25,000 a day. In the past 30 years, more than 150 million people have come through the doors.

A Super Sports Day

Yesterday was, of course, Super Bowl Sunday. Yes I watched, no I am not happy with the outcome, but, yes the Colts played better and deserved the victory. And that is all I will say about that. There was not much point in watching after the opening play anyway . . . I was not all that impressed with the commercials, although my two favorites were the Blockbuster one (with the mouse) and the "rock / paper / scissors" Bud Light commercial. If you missed any, the nice folks at iFilm have them all online here.

The day started with me planning to go to the grocery store to get a few last minute provisions for the big game. Can you really watch the Super Bowl without little hot dogs and Pizza Rolls? Right before leaving though, we received a call from one of my wife's colleagues. Her husband works for the Washington Capitals and she was calling to offer us tickets to that day's game, starting at 1:00pm (this was about 11:30am). My wife was starting to decline, when I piped up that I could pull this off (a quick run to the store, off to the game via Metro, and back in time long before football player introductions). So off I went.

The quickest shopping trip (including a beer run - separate places in MD, still getting used to that) and back to drop off the groceries. Then off to pick up my brother in law and then to the subway station to get on the train. We made it to the Verizon Center and into our seats before the first face off.

The game featured the Capitals taking on the New York Islanders. Astute readers of this blog will note that I have no use for the Islanders, having been raised to follow the only true team from the New York City area, the Rangers. Things would be a lot better off if the NHL would revert to the original six, although I would be amenable to including the 1967 expansion. There is a part of me that refuses to acknowledge the four cups won in the early 1980s.

The game itself was rather humdrum. Each team scored a goal but the bigger excitement was the "glass guys" who came out on five separate occasions, including once to replace a pane of glass fractured from a Caps shot on goal. With the score tied at the end of regulation, the game headed into overtime. After that five minutes, the game moved to the "shootout," something I had yet to see. Basically it is three penalty shots for each team. One team is selected to shoot first (in this case it was the Caps) and the two teams alternate until three shots have been made by both teams. If the two are tied after the six shots (yesterday it wasn't) it goes to sudden death with the team notching a goal in the round over the other winning the game. But as mentioned, the Caps scored once in the shootout and the Isles scored none. So the Caps won the game 2-1.

Home from the game to get the rest of the pre-game, pre-show. Got to see Billy Joel sing the National Anthem (in the rain) and then the start of the game (in the rain) and the first time ever an opening kickoff was returned for a touchdown. As I said, from there it sort of just went downhill.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Adieu, Mr. Floppy - Fare Thee Well

That versatile piece of plastic-covered tape that most of us grew up with is going away. PC World, one of the largest commercial retailers in Europe, announced it will stop selling floppy disks as soon as their existing inventory is depleted. Dell Computers stopped putting floppy disk drives in their computers four years ago.

Hey, floppies aren’t that bad. I even remember using 5¼” disks when I first started using computers. I was carried around a stack of floppies for some time as it was the way to backup your files. My wife, who started a new job today, threw away a stack of floppies partly because of the article, and partly because it was unclear if the material could even be retrieved or read today.

Of course, the new preferred medium for backup today is the CD-ROM. But I will still hold a soft (hard?) spot for that little piece of plastic that held my Word Perfect documents, my Lotus 1-2-3 “documents,” and backups / saved games from games that had been loaded on my Commodore 64 from those 5¼” floppies.

And let us not forget Matthew Broderick’s extensive use of floppies (the big ones) in playing “global thermonuclear war” in the classic 80s hit, War Games.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

The Day the Music Died

Today marks the 48th anniversary of the "Day the Music Died," the moniker given to the day of the plane crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.D. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. There has been much speculation and discussion about the crash and the circumstances, including a recent article there was gunfire on the plane prior to the crash. J.D. Richardson's son was petitioning to have his father's body exhumed to check for gunshot wounds.

Of course, much has been made of Don McLean's song "American Pie" and its "historical" lyrics. McLean has steadfastly refused to divulge his own interpretation, leaving the rest of us to dissect the song. Herewith, from a variety of Internet sources is a breakdown.

American Pie is rumored to be based on the name of the plane on which the three were killed. It is said that the song is a tribute to Buddy Holly and commentary on how rock and roll has changed in the years since his death. Ironically, according to McLean, the song is not about Buddy Holly but was dedicated to him.

Verse 1:
A long, long time ago...
"American Pie" reached #1 in the US in 1972, and the album containing it was released in 1971. Buddy Holly died in 1959.

I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And, maybe, they’d be happy for a while.
Sociologists credit teenagers with the popularity of Rock and Roll, as a part of the Baby boomer generation, they found themselves in a very influential position. Their shear number were the force behind most of our country's recent major transitions. McLean was a teenager in 1959 and he begins by simply commenting that the music had an appealing quality to him as well as the millions of other teens. McLean also had an intense desire to entertain as a musician. His dream, to play in a band at high school dances, was the dream of many young boys who wanted to make people dance to Rock and Roll.
But February made me shiver
A reference to February 3, 1959.

With every paper I’d deliver.
Don McLean's only job besides being a full-time singer/song writer was being a paperboy.

Bad news on the doorstep;
I couldn’t take one more step.
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride,
Buddy Holly's wife was pregnant when the crash took place; she had a miscarriage shortly afterward.

But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.
Since all three who died on the plane were so prominent at the time, February 3, 1959, became known as "The Day The Music Died."

So bye-bye, miss American pie.
Likely a reference to the rumored name of the plane. "Miss American Pie" is "as American as apple pie," so the saying goes; she could also be a synthesis of this symbol and the beauty queen Miss America. Either way, her name evokes a simpler time in American life when these icons held more meaning. She is the America of a passing era, and McLean is bidding her farewell.

Drove my Chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
And them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singin’, "this’ll be the day that I die.
this’ll be the day that I die."
"Drove my Chevy to the levee" alludes to a drive "along a levee" mentioned in a series of popular 1950s Chevrolet television commercials sung by Dinah Shore. Also may be a reference to the three college students whose murder was the subject of the film 'Mississippi Burning.' The students were attempting to register as black voters, and after being killed by bigoted thugs their bodies were buried in a levee. Them good ol' boys being: Holly, Valens, and the Big Bopper, They were singing about their death on February 3. One of Holly's hits was "That'll be the Day"; the chorus contains the line "That'll be the day that I die."

Verse 2:
Did you write the book of love,
"The Book of Love" by the Monotones, a hit in 1958."Oh I wonder, wonder who... who, who wrote the book of love?"

And do you have faith in God above,
If the Bible tells you so?
There is an old Sunday School song that goes: "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so" McLean is reported to be somewhat religious.

Do you believe in rock ’n roll,
The Lovin' Spoonful had a hit in 1965 with John Sebastian's "Do you Believe in Magic?". The song has the lines: "Do you believe in magic" and "It's like trying to tell a stranger 'bout rock and roll."

Can music save your mortal soul,
And can you teach me how to dance real slow?
Music was believed to "save the soul" and slow dancing was an important part of early rock and roll dance events. Dancing declined in importance through the 60's. McLean was asking many questions about the early rock 'n roll in an attempt to keep it alive or find out if it was already dead.

Well, I know that you’re in love with him
`cause I saw you dancin’ in the gym.
Back then, dancing was an expression of love, and carried a connotation of commitment. Dance partners were not so readily exchanged as they would be later.

You both kicked off your shoes.
A reference to the "sock hop." (Street shoes tear up wooden basketball floors, so dancers had to take off their shoes.)

Man, I dig those rhythm and blues.
Before the popularity of rock and roll, music, like much elsewhere in the U. S., was highly segregated. The popular music of black performers for largely black audiences was called, first "race music," later softened to rhythm and blues. In the early 50s, as they were exposed to it through radio personalities such as Allan Freed, white teenagers began listening, too. Starting around 1954, a number of songs from the rhythm and blues charts began appearing on the overall popular charts as well, but usually in cover versions by established white artists, (e.g."Shake Rattle and Roll," Joe Turner, covered by Bill Haley; "Sh-Boom, "the Chords, covered by the Crew-Cuts; "Sincerely," the Moonglows, covered by the McGuire Sisters; Tweedle Dee, LaVerne Baker, covered by Georgia Gibbs). By 1955, some of the rhythm and blues artists, like Fats Domino and Little Richard were able to get records on the overall pop charts.In 1956 Sun records added elements of country and western to produce the kind of rock and roll tradition that produced Holly.

I was a lonely teenage broncin’ buck
With a pink carnation and a pickup truck,
"A White Sport Coat (And a Pink Carnation)," was a hit for Marty Robbins in 1957. The pickup truck has endured as a symbol of sexual independence and potency.

But I knew I was out of luck
The day the music died.

Verse 3:
Now for ten years we’ve been on our own
McLean was writing this song in the late 60's, about ten years after the crash.

And moss grows fat on a rollin’ stone,
A possible reference to Bob Dylan, whose "Like a Rolling Stone" (1965) was his first major hit. It could refer to rock and rollers, and the changes that had taken place in the business in the 60's, especially the huge amounts of cash some of them were beginning to make, and the relative stagnation that entered the music at the same time. Or, it could refer to the Rolling Stones themselves, many musicians were angry at the Stones for "selling out."

But that’s not how it used to be.
When the jester sang for the king and queen,
The jester is Bob Dylan, as becomes clear later in the song. There are several interpretations of king and queen: some think that Elvis Presley is the king, which seems rather obvious. The queen is said to be either Connie Francis or Little Richard. An alternate interpretation is that this refers to the Kennedys - the King and Queen of "Camelot" - who were present at a Washington DC civil rights rally featuring Martin Luther King. (There's a recording of Dylan performing at this rally. The Jester.)

In a coat he borrowed from James Dean
In the movie "Rebel Without a Cause," James Dean has a red windbreaker that holds symbolic meaning throughout the film. In one particularly intense scene, Dean lends his coat to a guy who is shot and killed; Dean's father arrives, sees the coat on the dead man, thinks it's Dean, and loses it. On the cover of "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan," Dylan is wearing just such a red windbreaker, posed in a street scene similar to movie starring James Dean.

And a voice that came from you and me,
Bob Dylan's roots are in American folk music,with people like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. Folk music is by definition the music of the masses, hence the "...came from you and me."

Oh, and while the king was looking down,
The jester stole his thorny crown.
Likely a reference to the decline of Elvis Presley and the rise of Dylan (i.e. Presley is looking down from a height as Dylan takes his place). Consider that Elvis was is the army at the time of Dylan's ascendancy and a common Army marching song sings, "Ain't no use in looking down, ain't no discharge on the ground". The thorny crown might be a reference to the price of fame. Dylan has said that he wanted to be as famous as Elvis, one of his early idols.

The courtroom was adjourned;
No verdict was returned.
This could be the trial of the Chicago Seven.

And while Lennon / Lenin read a book on Marx,
Most likely John Lennon reading about Karl Marx; figuratively, the introduction of radical politics into the music of The Beatles.

The quartet practiced in the park,
There are two schools of thought about this; the obvious one is The Beatles playing in Shea Stadium, but note that the previous line has John Lennon doing something else at the same time. This leads to a possible explanation of the line being a reference to the Weavers, who were blacklisted during the McCarthy era. McLean had become friends with Lee Hays of the Weavers in the early 60's while performing in coffeehouses and clubs in upstate New York and New York City. He was also well acquainted with Pete Seeger; McLean, Seeger, and others took a trip on the Hudson river singing anti-pollution songs at one point. Seeger's LP "God Bless the Grass" contains many of these songs.

And we sang dirges in the dark
A "dirge" is a funeral or mourning song, so perhaps this is meant literally...or, perhaps, this is a reference to some of the new "art rock" groups that played long pieces not meant for dancing. In the dark of the death of Holly.

The day the music died.

Verse 4:
Helter skelter in a summer swelter.
"Helter Skelter" is a Beatles song that appears on the "White" album. Charles Manson, claiming to have been "inspired"by the song (through which he thought God and/or the devil were taking to him) led his followers in the Tate-LaBianca murders. "Summer swelter" could either be a reference to the "Summer of Love" or perhaps to the "long hot summer" of Watts.

The birds flew off with a fallout shelter,
Eight miles high and falling fast.
This refers to the Byrds who helped launch David Crosby to super stardom. The Byrd's song "Eight Miles High" was found on their late 1966 release "Fifth Dimension." They recorded this song when some of the groups members were considering leaving (some of the groups members actually left the group because they refused to fly in an airplane). A fallout shelter was sometimes referred to as the fifth dimension because of the 1950's fascination with sci-fi and the futuristic appearance of a fallout shelter. This was one of the first records widely banned because of supposedly drug-oriented lyrics.

It landed foul on the grass.
One of the Byrds was busted for possession of marijuana.

The players tried for a forward pass,
Obviously a football metaphor, but about what?It could be the Rolling Stones, i.e., they were waiting for an opening that really didn't happen until The Beatles broke up.

With the jester on the sidelines in a cast.
On July 29, 1966, Dylan crashed his motorcycle while riding near his home in Woodstock, New York. He spent nine months in seclusion while recuperating from the accident. This gave a chance for many other artists to become noticed.

Now the half-time air was sweet perfume
Hmm, could it be . . . Drugs? Although that may be too obvious. It's possible that this line and the next few refer to the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The "sweet perfume" is probably tear gas.

While the sergeants played a marching tune.
Following from the thought above, the sergeants would be the Chicago Police and the Illinois National Guard, who marched protesters out of the park where the Convention was being held and into jail. Alternatively, this could refer to The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Or, perhaps McLean refers to The Beatles' music as "marching" because it's not music for dancing. Or, finally, the "marching tune" could be the draft.
We all got up to dance,
Oh, but we never got the chance!
The Beatles' 1966 Candlestick Park concert only lasted 35 minutes. But at this point The Beatles were not "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" until 1967. Or, following on from the previous comment, perhaps she was considering the hippies who were protesting the Convention. They were known for playing their own folk music.

`Cause the players tried to take the field;
The marching band refused to yield.
Some folks think this refers to either the 1968 Democratic Convention or Kent State. If the players are the protesters at Kent State, and the marching band the Ohio National Guard.
This could be a reference to the dominance of The Beatles on the rock and roll scene. For instance, the Beach Boys released "Pet Sounds" in 1966 - an album that featured some of the same sort of studio and electronic experimentation as "Sgt. Pepper" (1967). The other Beatles reference here refers to the Monkees. The Monkees were merely actors (or players), they were not a true band but a fabrication attempting to replicate The Beatles. The players tried to take the place of the Fab Four but the band wouldn't step down. Or finally, this might be a comment that follows up on the earlier reference to the draft: the government/military industrial-complex establishment refused to accede to the demands of the peace movement.

Do you recall what was revealed
The song's most ambiguous line. Some have suggested that it refers to John Lennon and Yoko Ono's 1968 release entitled Unfinished Music No. 1—Two Virgins—on the cover of which stands the two artists, naked as the sun; others have said that it refers to the widespread rumors a little later of Paul McCartney's death; while most choose not to wrestle with this line at all. But in the context of the pivotal 1968 riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, this line is most likely speaking of the Chicago police department's brutality there, revealing the dark underside of one of our most cherished institutions. Blow number four—another day the music dies.
The day the music died?

Verse 5:
Oh, and there we were all in one place,

A generation lost in space
Some people think this is a reference to the US space program, which it might be (the first moon landing took place in '69); but that seems a bit too literal. Perhaps this is a reference to hippies, who were sometimes known as the "lost generation," partially because of their particularly acute alienation from their parents, and partially because of their presumed preoccupation with drugs (which was referred to as being "spaced-out.")

With no time left to start again.
The "lost generation" spent too much time being stoned, and had wasted their lives.

So come on: jack be nimble, jack be quick!
Probably a reference to Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones; "Jumpin' Jack Flash" was released in May 1968.

Jack flash sat on a candlestick
Perhaps a reference to the Rolling Stones Candlestick Park concert

Cause fire is the devil’s only friend.
It's possible that this is a reference to the Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil." An alternate interpretation of the last four lines is that they may refer to President Kennedy and the decisions made during the Cuban Missile Crisis; the candlesticks/fire refer to ICBMs and nuclear war.

Oh, and as I watched him on the stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rage.
No angel born in hell
Could break that Satan’s spell.
While playing a concert at the Altamont Speedway in 1968, the Stones appointed members of the Hell's Angels to work security (on the advice of the Grateful Dead). In the darkness near the front of the stage, a young man named Meredith Hunter was beaten and stabbed to death -- by the Angels. Public outcry that the song "Sympathy for the Devil"(because of "satan's spell") had somehow incited the violence and caused the Stones to drop the song from their show for the next six years. This incident is chronicled in the documentary film "Gimme Shelter."

And as the flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite,
The most likely interpretation is that McLean is still talking about Altamont, and in particular Mick Jagger's prancing and posing and "climbing high" while it was happening. Or the bonfires around the area could provide the flames. The sacrifice is Meredith Hunter. It could also be a reference to Jimi Hendrix burning his Stratocaster at the Monterey Pop Festival, but that was in 1967 and this verse is no doubt set in 1968.)

I saw Satan laughing with delight
If the above follows, then Satan is Jagger.

The day the music died.

Verse 6:
I met a girl who sang the blues
Janis Joplin

And I asked her for some happy news,
But she just smiled and turned away.
Janis died of an accidental heroin overdose on October 4, 1970. It may also be Roberta Flack. It's rumored that she wrote, "Killing Me Softly" in response to this lyric in his song.

I went down to the sacred store
Where I’d heard the music years before,
There are two interpretations of this: The "sacred store" was Bill Graham's Fillmore West, one of the great rock and roll venues of all time. Alternatively, this refers to record stores, and their long time (then discontinued) practice of allowing customers to preview records in the store. It could also refer to record stores as "sacred" because this is where one goes to get "saved."

But the man there said the music wouldn’t play.
Perhaps he means that nobody is interested in hearing Buddy Holly's music? Or, as above, the discontinuation of the in-store listening booths.

And in the streets: the children screamed,
Could be "Flower children" being beaten by police and National Guard troops; in particular, perhaps, the People's Park riots in Berkeley in 1969 and 1970. It is possible that this refers to the Vietnamese children. Life magazine was famous for publishing horrifying photos of children in Vietnam during the Vietnamese War.

The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed.
The trend toward psychedelic music in the 60's? Or again the hippies who were both great lovers and poets who would then be crying because of the difficulties of their struggle and dreaming of peace.

But not a word was spoken;
The church bells all were broken.
It could be that the broken bells are the dead musicians: neither can produce any more music.

And the three men I admire most:
The father, son, and the holy ghost,
Likely Holly, The Big Bopper, and Valens or perhaps JFK, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy. It may also be simply the Catholic aspects of the deity. McLean had attended several Catholic schools.

They caught the last train for the coast
Could be a reference to California religions, or it could just be a way of saying that they've left (or died -- western culture has used "went west" as a synonym for dying). Or, perhaps this is a reference to the famous "God is Dead" headline in the New York Times.

The day the music died.

Friday, February 2, 2007

RAINdrop: Gary Peterson Subdues Intruder

For those of you in the archival world, you know what a RAINdrop is. It is named from Peter Kurilecz's popular Records and Archives In the News (RAIN), which he posts to the Archives listserv. Occasionally, others will see a news item in their local papers and post them to the list if Peter does not. This story is too good not to share.

Trudy Peterson, former acting archivist of the United States, and her husband, Gary, live on Capitol Hill. According to the Washington Post, in an article titled, "A Police Chase, An Intruder, A Frying Pan And an Arrest," the Peterson's had just finished dinner when they heard what they believed to be a police chase taking place outside.

Opening his back door, Gary Peterson saw a helicopter and many police officers. He then saw a teenager enter his backyard. Peterson shouted, "He's in here" to officers from his back porch. The teenager then ran into Peterson's kitchen where the two were now face to face.

So Peterson grabbed a frying pan and clocked the youth on his head! Peterson recalled later, "I think he was shocked. I don't think he expected somebody like me to haul off and whack him."

The teen, a 17-year old, was suspected of armed robbery and shooting at police. After being hit by Peterson, ran from the kitchen into the basement of the house and barricaded himself in. He surrendered after a 2 1/2 hour standoff and a conversation with his grandmother.

Commander Diane Groomes of the 1st Police District called Peterson a hero. The situation could have easily gone differently, especially given the youth may have been in possession of a weapon other than a loaded frying pan. Groomes was also quoted about Peterson, "We liked his choice of weapon."

The Great Kennebec Whatever Race

Astute readers of this blog will note I challenged one of the readers, Archivalist, who toils "somewhere in Maine," to tell me everything he knew about the race that occurs on the Kennebec River each year. This in response to a post on the Bangor Public Library's reference work.

I spent most summers in Maine and my mother had family that lived in Hallowell, overlooking the Kennebec. Watching the race is quite the experience. I would go so far as to say I relived the experience at the conclusion of the SAA Annual Meeting last year in Washington, DC, but I still can't talk about that.

Archivalist accused me of promoting some elitist agenda for the upper crust of Maine society. He could not be further from the truth. Perhaps it was my use of the word "regatta" - for that I apologize. The Great Kennebec Whatever Race takes place every year in June and, I have learned is actually codified in the Code of Federal Regulations. The things you can find out when you have a good search engine . . . but does it float?

[Code of Federal Regulations]
[Title 33, Volume 1]
[Revised as of July 1, 2002]
From the U.S. Government Printing Office via GPO Access
[CITE: 33CFR100.108]

[Page 257]


Table of Contents Sec. 100.108
Great Kennebec River Whatever Race.

(a) Regulated Area. That portion of the Kennebec River, extending bank to bank, between the Maine Route 126 bridge (at latitude 44-14 North, longitude 69-46-15 West connecting Randolph and Gardiner, Maine) to the U.S. Route 201-202 bridge (at latitude 44-18-43 North, longitude 69-46-26 West in Augusta, Maine).

(b) Special Local Regulations. The following requirements will be placed on vessels operating within the regulated area during the effective period of regulation:

(1) All persons on board any vessel which does not possess a valid state registration or federal documentation shall at all times wear a Coast Guard approved Type I, II, or III personal flotation device (lifejacket).

(2) Spectator and/or transiting vessels shall not exceed five (5) mph or ``NO WAKE'' speed, whichever is slower.

(3) All vessels shall exercise extreme caution when operating near parade participants and shall be alert for disabled craft and persons possibly falling overboard.

(4) All vessel operators shall immediately follow any instruction given by Coast Guard patrol personnel.

(5) Coast Guard Auxiliarists will be patrolling the regatta to advise participants, spectators, and transiting vessels of the content of these regulations. (c) Effective period. This section is in effect from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on June 30, 1996, and each year thereafter on a date and times specified in a Federal Register notice. If the event is canceled due to weather, this section is effective the following day.

[CGD1 89-026, 54 FR 30036, July 18, 1989, as amended by CGDO1-96-016, 61 FR 26105, May 24, 1996; CGD 96-052, 62 FR 16702, Apr. 8, 1997]