Thursday, December 31, 2009

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

And there's a hand my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o thine,
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught,
For auld lang syne

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

- Robert Burns

A Little Toddy for the Body

Hot Apple Cider Toddy

3 cups apple cider
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, softened
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
8 graham crackers
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 teaspoons rum extract
2 cups non-dairy whipped topping
4 whole cinnamon sticks
4 shots bourbon whiskey
Heat the apple cider in a non-reactive saucepan.

In a bowl, combine the softened butter, brown sugar, ground nutmeg, cinnamon, and ground cloves. Whip until the butter becomes creamy and the ingredients are incorporated. Place the graham crackers and pumpkin pie spice in a plastic baggie and crush with a rolling pin. Combine the rum extract with the non-dairy whipped topping. In a footed coffee glass, place a single cinnamon stick and a slice of spiced butter. Pour 1 shot whiskey into the glass. Ladle the hot cider to fill the glass. Garnish with a dollop of rum-flavored topping and a sprinkle of graham cracker crumb mixture. Serve warm.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Green Hills of Earth

I'm currently reading The Green Hills of Earth, a story collection by Robert A. Heinlein. I'd read a few of the stories before, and the title story is one of my all time favorites. It makes me cry every time I read it.Containing some top notch poetry, "The Green Hills of Earth" tells the tale of Rhysling, sometimes baudy troubadour of the spaceways, and how in the end he became both a poet and a hero. The other stories of this volume don't rise to the lovely heights of "Green Hills," though "The Long Watch" comes close, but they are well worth reading, clunky old fashioned tech and sometimes equally old fashioned ideas of social relations not withstanding.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


I just finished Uncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Struggle for the Soul of Science by David Lindley, a concise and accessible, indeed enjoyable, account of Quantum Theory's antecedents and of the ferment surrounding its development and early years. Lindley brings the personalities involved to life, not only those of the subtitle but also Max Born, Erwin Schrodinger and others. To my mind, he doesn't give Paul Dirac nearly enough credit or space. On the other hand, apart from Bohr he concentrates primarily on German speaking scientists.

As well as a useful history on its own account, Uncertainty serves as a helpful backgrounder for the interested layman whose grasp on the actual Science and Math of Quantum Mechanics is a bit vague. Thanks to Lindley's book, I have returned to The Strangest Man with some hope of being able to follow Dirac's discoveries.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Happy Christmas

Christmas Wreath

I hope everyone had a joyous and peaceful Christmas Day and is having a happy Christmas Week.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

Double Star

Overnight I read Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein. Mind you, I would have preferred to sleep overnight. However, since that was not possible - Heaven only knows why! - reading this tale of a young actor who is, not entirely by his own consent, drawn into the performance of his life was a rewarding alternative activity.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Volunteer Photographers Help Military Families Share Holiday Love

Everyone, those who approve of the U.S. wars on Iraq and Afghanistan and those who don't, can appreciate this story of volunteerism and the spirit of Christmas.

Photographers Lend a Hand With Portraits of Military Families

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Riddle of the Sands

I'm just finishing up The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers. It's a wonderful book with engaging characters and an absorbing, exciting storyline.

Two young Englishman, Davies and Carruthers explore the islands, sands and sholes of Germany's North Sea coast in Davis' small yacht, the Dulcibella. The sailing and geographical details in and of themselves make the tale enthralling, but there is much more to The Riddle of the Sands than a tale of daring seamanship. This is also a story of mystery, intrigue and romance.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Last Christmas

Last Christmas, I gave you my heart
But the very next day, You gave it away
This year, to save me from tears
I'll give it to someone special (2X)

Once bitten and twice shy
I keep my distance but you still catch my eye
Tell me baby do you recognise me?
Well it's been a year, it doesn't surprise me

(Happy Christmas!) I wrapped it up and sent it
With a note saying "I Love You" I meant it
Now I know what a fool I've been
But if you kissed me now I know you'd fool me again


(Oooh. Oooh Baby)

A crowded room, friends with tired eyes
I'm hiding from you and your soul of ice
My God I thought you were someone to rely on
Me? I guess I was a shoulder to cry on
A face on a lover with a fire in his heart
A man undercover but you tore me apart
Oooh Oooh
Now I've found a real love you'll never fool me again


A face on a lover with a fire in his heart
(Gave you my heart)
A man undercover but you tore me apart
Next year
I'll give it to someone, I'll give it to someone special
special, someone, someone
I'll give it to someone, I'll give it to someone special
who'll give me something in return
I'll give it to someone
hold my heart and watch it burn
I'll give it to someone, I'll give it to someone special
I've got you here to stay
I can love you for a day
I thought you were someone special
gave you my heart
I'll give it to someone, I'll give it to someone
last christmas I gave you my heart
you gave it away
I'll give it to someone, I'll give it to someone

We Are All One

DR. ERIC CHIVIAN, Center for Health and the Global Environment Director, Harvard Medical School: There are natural extinctions way before humans showed up. But it is clear that the extinction rate now is 100 to 1,000 and even more times what it was before.

Nobel Laureate Explores Links Between Climate Change, Biodiversity

Thursday, December 17, 2009

In India, Battling Global Warming One Stove at a Time

This is a swell idear. I very much hope it catches on.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It is sunny most mornings in Khairatpur, but you can hardly tell, at least not until some time after everyone's had breakfast. That's because here and in millions of villages in the developing world, food is cooked with wood or cow dung. The soot or black carbon from incomplete combustion causes not only lung disease, but global warming, says climatologist V. Ramanathan, who is with the Scripps Institution at the University of California, San Diego.

In India, Battling Global Warming One Stove at a Time


"What is given to you you are always afraid will one day cease to be given,
but what you give you can give for ever."

"A work of art is like a human being,
the more it is loved the more beautiful it grows,
reflecting the gift of love like light back again to the giver."

~ Elizabeth Goudge, The Bird in the Tree
pages 47 and 69

Thanks to listener for both the photo and the quotations.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Glass Hammer Mini Reviews

Journey of the Dunadan
GH's first album, Journey of the Dunadan is based on The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. "Derived from" might be a more apt phrase, since the storyline of the album diverges markedly from that of the novel. With plenty of varied, memorable and, above all, whistlable melodies and interesting lyrics, this album introduced the tradition of excellence for which Glass Hammer has become justly renowned.

This dark fantasy is based in part on C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia and in part on the books of his Space Trilogy. But the underlying story, like those of most GH albums, was dreamed up by founding members Fred Schendle and Steve Babb. And, it is indeed dark and dreamlike. There's evil here, fighting to overcome goodness and love, just as it does in our lives. Here, however, it is embodied in a magician called Liusion, whose power surges through the music, hypnotic and seductive. In the end, though, Perelandra escapes or, does she?

On to Evermore
Liusion is once more at work in Longview, wrecking lives, breaking hearts, and trying to bring about the reign of the darkness of hatred and fear. Though there is darkness and sorrow in On to Evermore, there is light as well and the hope of redemption.

There is, of course, also much great music, both instrumental and vocal. The album is also noteworthy for the debut of Walter Moore, longtime GH
drummer, as a lead vocalist.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Halfling's Holiday in Bree Review

Glass Hammer's Steve Babb has written a story to accompany and explain the band's latest album, The Middle Earth Album (June 15, 2001), in which he chronicles the unexpected adventures of Mr Hamson Brandybuck, grocer, of The Shire.

Like another hobbit of whom we have heard, young Mr Brandybuck has more about him than meets the eye. This is evident upon his introduction, which finds him peacefully fishing more than a mile outside the village of Bree. Though his cousins have told him it is unwise to wander in the wild lands, and though he has heard reports from both dwarves and rangers that unfriendly creatures are about, Hamson is unconcerned, even scornful. A fishing expedition beyond the village, in broad daylight, rates as the tamest of adventures. Or, does it?

Hamson's modest adventure suddenly turns into something rather larger than he can handle, and his prospects of getting out of Chapter One in one piece seem bleak, but for the timely appearance of a Mysterious, clairvoyant stranger. As Hamson is to discover,, this "man with the silver sword" has a knack for turning up in the right place at the right moment. For now, though, he sends the hobbit off home to supper and disappears.

And there Hamson's adventures would have ended, but for his decision to have a talk with Dwalin Ironfist, and the decision of a pretty young southerner to have a talk with the dwarf at the same time. It is during this conversation that we learn of Hamson's other, less worldly calling. He is a poet and song writer; apparently of some reputation, since the Glass Hammer guild, a popular band of minstrels with a more or less steady gig at the Prancing Pony, know many of his songs. More importantly, to the story anyway, this encounter draws both Hamson
and Dwalin into a dangerous adventure involving the pretty and reckless maiden, a troll, and that same hero with the silver sword.

Mr Babb writes with verve and panache, and not a little originality, weaving together elements familiar both to Fantasy readers, and especially J.R.R. Tolkien fans, and to Glass Hammer fans. In particular, long time GH listeners will recognize Balin Longbeard as the hero of a song from Journey of the Dunadan, GH's first album. Here, as the saying is, the legend comes to life. Mr. Babb presents a fine piece of fan writing here, melding the original material all but seamlessly with the given setting and context, while providing helpful if not entirely essential background for the album. That is, one may enjoy The Middle Earth Album without reading the tale; but, reading the tale gives added depth and coherence to the album.

The tale is not wholly without problems. The heroine's mode of dress would certainly have shocked Professor Tolkien, for instance. but, both it and its consequences are amusing, and the author is careful not to cross the line between amusing and raunchy. There is nothing implied about her here beyond that the young lady is, in fact, very young and rather foolish. Her daring and thirst for adventure, while unusual, are not without precedent in Tolkien's writings. At the same time, the happy ending both for Hamson and for his friends is most satisfying. We look forward to more tales from Mr Babb, both with and without GH albums to go with them.

The Middle Earth Album Review

According to Glass Hammer's Steve Babb and Fred Schendle, The Middle Earth Album (June 15, 2001) was recorded, at least in part, live at a concert given by the band in the village of Bree, the Breeland, Middle-earth. And, who am I, a humble fan, to argue with Steve and Fred? They also say in a RealAudio interview on their official web site that many of those in the audience already knew their songs and were able to sing along. Again, incredible as this claim sounds, who am I to argue; especially when the evidence is there on the album. We do not hear Barlyman Butterbur introducing the musicians as he introduced Strider's The Way to her Heart on Journey of the Dunadan. Nonetheless, apart from this regretable omission, the inn atmosphere is unmistakable and embracing.

The album has the feel of a cross between a Medieval fair and a folk concert. This is not surprising given the nature of Middle-earth, which is a pre industrial, bucolic sort of place inhabited by Elves, dwarves, hobbits and, of course, men. The inhabitants take music quite seriously, and made the band welcome, or so the listener gathers. The rowdy but good natured audience comments and joins in the chorus of several songs with gusto.

Indeed, this is very much an audience participation affair. I was sorry to find that the entire album was not recorded live at the Prancing Pony. However,
the several studio tracks maintain the live Folk feel. I don't understand the wizardry of recording, but I know that the studio tracks blend seamlessly with the live tracks, being all but indistinguishable except for the absence of background pub noise and applause.

Along with the usual suspects, Steve, Fred, Walter Moore, and Brad Marler, several of the studio tracks feature the Glass Hammer girls, Suzy Warren, Felicia Sorenson, and Sarah Snyder. Their voices form interesting textures and contrasts of timber with the usually all male GH vocal ensemble. It's a pity that we don't
here the audience's response to the girls. We do, however, hear their response to Fred and Steve, which is positive if somewhat disorderly.

In contrast to his vocal absence from Chronometree, Fred is very much in evidence on this album with several lead vocals, some nice ensemble work, and a couple backing vocals. As comfortable with a lyrical love song as with a hard driving number, here he proves himself equally at home with Folk style ballads as with Prog.

Dwarf and Orc, a comic account of Balin Longbeard's assault on the king of the goblins' cache of beer, and The King's Beer, an encomium to peace and Barleiman Butterbur's famous brew, seem particularly popular with the audience at the inn, as does The Ballad of Balin Longbeard. This last will be familiar to longtime GH fans from its appearance on Journey of the Dunadan.

Also familiar is This Fading Age, a lament for Gandalf the Grey which, to my continuing mystification, first appeared on On to Evermore. I'm glad to see it here. Like a plant set amid its native habitat, on this album its loveliness is no less though differently set off than where it is an exotic. And, This Fading Age is lovely. Lyrics combining hope and melancholy set to a melody that is, in Tolkien's phrase, sad but not unhappy capture well the conflict felt by the Galadrim, the tree folk of Loth Lorien, between the slow moving time of their enchanted land and the tumult of the outside world. Here Susie joins Fred, Steve, and Walter, her sweet, light, and slightly husky mezzo making the song seem even more ethereal and Elven than in the original version.

The band departs from the Medieval/Folk style only once for what is, for my money, the best song of the album. Sweet Goldberry, a musical interpretation of Tolkien's poem The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, features the signature GH sound and lead vocals by Walter Moore. Lighthearted yet deeply felt, this song expresses the sustaining love between Tom and Goldberry. Walter's clear, intense solo, with backing vocals by Fred and Steve, brings the familiar story vividly
to life.

Indeed, each of the songs on the album tells a story though, unusually for GH, the album as a whole does not. This is because it is part of a larger story, one written by Steve. Rangers, Dwarves, Trolls and Maidens or A Halfling's Holiday in Bree tells how many of these songs came to be written and of a hitherto unknown facet of GH's activities. Though one may enjoy The Middle Earth Album on its own, the story lends context and added interest to this album that looks both back to the band's roots and forward to further growth lyrically, musically, and in the realm of storytelling.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Chronometree Review

According to Glass Hammer's official web site their new album, Chronometree (May 1, 2000), is an affectionate spoof of 70s Progressive Rock. This should be immediately evident to anyone who grew up in and absorbed the atmosphere of the 70's (to say nothing of older and wiser souls) even if, like mine, their understanding of Progressive Rock trends of the day was all but nil. There's a feeling in this album that even I recognize as not just familiar, but comfortable, as if a part of myself were externalized and crystallized in the music. The first listen felt like coming home; though, with a half rueful, half selfdepricating smile.

This is not surprising, since Fred Schendel, whose project the album principally is, is some two months younger than myself, having been born in March 1964. As isolated as my disabilities made me during my growing up years, clearly I absorbed the essentials of the same world Fred grew up in.

The melodies, the arrangements, and the production/presentation of this album are all superb, the lyrical sections blending seamlessly with the louder, more turbulent sections, the whole presentation creating and sustaining a dreamlike atmosphere. Only the self-consciously mannered musical and vocal presentations and the slightly silly lyrics give away that Chronometree is a takeoff.

An Eldrich Wind, my favorite track, illustrates the point very well. The song has a beautiful, haunting melody supported by a sensitive, almost minimalist arrangement which relies heavily on the guitar. Meditative, sweetly melancholy, the song leads you into that state where memory and dream, past, present and future become one and your heart is open, yearning for what is beyond.

Or, it would, if you didn't pay too much attention to the lyrics and the way they're presented. apparently mesmerized by watching his record (or more probably the label on the record) spin, Tom, the hapless hero of the album's storyline, falls into a trance like state in which he believes that voices from beyond this world are speaking to him through the music, calling him to a higher reality in other worlds. That is, he has a mystical experience. But, though it seems very rich and wonderful to him, it seems just a touch inauthentic and laughable to the outside observer, the listener, though I can't help also feeling just a bit sorry for Tom.

His mystical experience would seem, if his slurred speech and insistently earnest manner are anything to go by, to be made up of a Pot high, loneliness, and a desperate longing to belong somewhere and to have something of his own to cherish. Probably all of us, including those who have never tried Pot, can relate to this state of mind. And we smile in our greater experience and wisdom, knowing that he has been called to nothing beyond a nap.

Perhaps younger listeners miss this obvious though gentle point. And, though this knowledge adds a dimension of fun to the album, I suppose it is not strictly necessary for enjoyment. However, to state the obvious, Chronometree is a progressive rock album about listening to progressive rock.

It's also about the dangers of taking any art form too seriously, and of taking oneself too seriously. To Tom, Chronometree reveals itself as the revolutionary new science of time. But, in the end, it reveals itself as nothing more nor less than the science of wasting time. Tom is a sort of cross between Don Quixote and Linus Van pelt waiting for a Great Pumpkin who never arrives.

Whether regarded as spoof or straight Prog this, Glass Hammer's latest effort, displays their talent to great advantage. I'm a great fan of Fred's and so, wile enjoying his keyboard wizardry, I was disappointed that he seems to have no vocal presence at all on the album. However, Brad Marler's vocal work, if not a sufficient substitute in the view of the Fred-smitten, is certainly up to GH's usual standard of excellence.

The increased prominence of guitars, besides fitting well with the album's theme, builds on work familiar to GH fans from Journey of the Dunadan, Perelandra, and On to Evermore. The orchestral passages, too, indeed the album as a whole, seem familiar and yet delightfully new as GH continues to grow and develop, as any dynamic organism will. Chronometreeis a worthy successor to the band's previous discs, crowning earlier accomplishments, while foreshadowing future triumphs.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

'I Am Not in the Entertainment Business' and Other Rules of MacNeil/Lehrer Journalism

This is how it's done, boys and girls. It's called being a class act. It's also called integrity.

Signing off of Friday's broadcast, Jim Lehrer outlined the journalistic mindset that has driven the program for 34 years and will continue to guide it when its fifth iteration relaunches Monday as the PBS NewsHour:

JIM LEHRER: People often ask me if there are guidelines in our practice of what I like to call MacNeil/Lehrer journalism. Well, yes, there are. And here they are:

* Do nothing I cannot defend.

* Cover, write and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.

* Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.

* Assume the viewer is as smart and as caring and as good a person as I am.

* Assume the same about all people on whom I report.

* Assume personal lives are a private matter, until a legitimate turn in the story absolutely mandates otherwise.

* Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories, and clearly label everything.

* Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes, except on rare and monumental occasions.

* No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously.

* And, finally, I am not in the entertainment business.

Here is how I closed a speech about our changes to our PBS stations family last spring:

"We really are the fortunate ones in the current tumultuous world of journalism right now. When we wake up in the morning, we only have to decide what the news is and how we are going to cover it. We never have to decide who we are and why we are there."

That is the way it has been for these nearly 35 years. And that's the way it will be forever. And for the NewsHour, there will always be a forever.

Friday, December 04, 2009

A Little Sunshine

This lovely picture was taken by our very own listener.