"We like camping better!" --Raymond Alexander Kukkee

view of the north shore Critter Pond, KOA Canandaigua NY [c] 2009 jcb

Tuesday Trivia meets the Friday Song

Sometimes when you miss a deadline, you have to crunch your assignments together. You might call it cheating; but the results can be interesting. Returning readers know that my regular Tuesday Trivia posting is missing in action. However, it's already Saturday night here, so my Friday Song write-up is also late. I had to ask myself: should I trivialize the Friday Song? Or, should I set the trivia to music? Easy choice, obviously. Let's talk about more than one song, then. I'm sure that will turn out trivially. (Is that even a word? Trivially? I'm not sure.)

Country music has taken an interesting turn in the last few weeks. Well, maybe it's been longer than that. As usual, we have to point first blame in the direction of my favorite groundbreaker, Gretchen Wilson. You know Gretchen; she's the one who made it cool to be trailer-trash. Rich trailer trash, now. She's also the same artist who followed up Redneck Woman with When I Think About Cheatin'. The second song was actually about deciding against cheating, but Gretchen started something none-the-less. There was a time when every country singer sang about cheating, but things got all military and patriotic there for a while and pushed the whole subject aside. Not for long, though. A whole slew of artists have returned to the fold; and they're talkin' about cheatin' again.

Time was, all the cheating songs dwelled on sadness and broken hearts. Times have changed. The focus has shifted to what I'll call "she'll be just fine without that jerk" compositions. I've even written here in the past about one or two of these. George Straight's brilliant She Let Herself Go (currently number 3 on the charts) comes to mind. Canada's sweetheart, Terri Clark, was Mad for Awhile; but things got worse from there. Clark's latest release tells the story of a young mom who's bum of a partner walks away. She Didn't Have Time, with the help of a well-crafted video, shows us good things happen to she who waits. This song's single mom struggles to raise her very young daughter alone, through ballet class and tee-ball, while working full-time. Only a flat tire and luck finally hooks mom up with a studly guy to brighten her world. I wasn't worried, though; I knew the mom would triumph in the end.

That's the new trend, and it's definitely a positive one. For years we heard about scummy men who left their women lost and alone. We even heard about heartless women who left their men behind. (The guys always wanted the walk-away girls to come back. The reverse was rarely true.) That just ain't the way things work no more! Now the lovely songstress, Sara Evans, has joined the party. Evans, happily married and mother of three, has released a powerful single called (surprise!) Cheatin'. The refrain says it all: "You should have thought about that, when you were Cheatin'."

Her companion video clarifies any misconceptions we might have had about the dirtbag ex-husband described in the lyrics. He's a dirtbag, and he got what he deserved! More to the point, story-wise, the woman got the best end of the deal. She's driving his slick pick-up truck, living in his house, and generally lovin' life. He, meanwhile, is driving a clunker, living in a rented trailer, and eating pork and beans. Dirtbag. You have to see the video to enjoy this guy-basher. I'm a guy; and I'm man enough to enjoy it, I think.

Two other artists' current releases deserve mention here, as well. Miranda Lambert's hot new Kerosene reveals a lot of bitterness, but hints at better days ahead. (This one will probably get more discussion as a full-fledged Friday Song.) Nashville newcomer, Danielle Peck, offers up (Jesus Loves You) I Don't. You don't have to be a musical genius to figure out the message in that one. I Don't doesn't clearly say the girl gets the best of the break-up; but she certainly knows her mind. And she's not taking his calls, either, I'll bet!

You might think I'm being sarcastic here, but I assure I'm not. Lots of guys really are scumbags, and lots of women end up as single moms. That's reality, every day of the week. It's not funny, and there's enough pain to go around for everyone involved. (Yeah, I'm speaking from experience here.) The guys have had their say in the past, over and over again. So I'm happy to see the perspective shift to "her side." I think it's best for all concerned when things work out well for women who've suffered bad relationships. When there are kids involved, especially little kids, it becomes even more important. And, finally, like anything else involving important life issues, it's good to talk about it. That's one of the beautiful things about popular music: we listen, we consider, and then we talk about the message. That's a win-win, in my book.

[Artists' links, and some source material, courtesy of CMT.com.]

Tuesday, er, Thursday Trivia: assorted!

If only there were thirty-six hours in a day! Or, is that "my, how time flies"? Good thing no one is paying me for these posts. I'd have been fired by now. But I have been busy. Give me that much credit, anyway. As you can see by the lead-in post which I've 'stickied' to the top of this page, I've been dabbling in book selling at Amazon.com. It's not difficult, but there is so-o-o much to learn, unless one wishes to operate in ignorance (not advisable as a sound business model). Then there's that whole get-up-and-go-to-work-every-day thing. Yeah, it's a drag (sometimes), but the daily grind keeps my creditors happy. Excuses, excuses... Tonight's column is actually dedicated in the fashion of syndicated columnist Sydney Harris' Things I learned while looking up other things, which he published about once a week years ago. I always liked that title, and used to read those articles religiously. (I'm not certain, but I think Mr. Harris has gone on to his deserved reward. I could look it up...)

Now, then, I'll mention three interesting things I learned while perusing this month's Discover magazine (which I'm pretty sure is a primary source for Jeopardy questions each month). I discovered this magazine originally at my chiropractor's office; it was good reading while waiting for my turn. The articles are short but very well written and cover a broad range of topics under the heading of Science. Here are three snapshots from this month:

Astrophysicists have detected information from a star (or quasar, maybe) which dates back to the supposed beginning of the universe. They place its age at about three and a half billion years (less than our planet), but its light began the journey to here ten billion years ago. In other words, this stellar object is roughly ten billion light years from Earth. That is, to me at least, an incomprehensible number. Even using the fictional 'warp speeds' used to drive the plots of Star Trek, no one can imagine ever traversing distances that outrageous. If you had some really good pot, maybe you could make some sense of it, but I doubt it.

Dolphins have really bad dandruff! According to an article discussing the incredible speeds that these mammals can reach, dolphins shed their entire outer layer of skin at the rate of once every two hours. Marine biologists believe that all that skin-flaking serves an important purpose for the porpoises (ouch!). Studies using fluid-dynamics test methods (using glitter to represent dolphin-dandruff) appear to demonstrate an advantage: the flakes change typical drag-inducing patterns of turbulence somehow, reducing the drag. Scientists have pondered dolphins' apparently inexplicable swimming speeds (they can sprint at nearly twenty-five knots!) for most of the past hundred years. How cool is it that dandruff may be an important component of the answer? This could be huge for NASCAR--how about glitter-covered racecars? Hey, it could work!

Last for tonight, there was an intriguing new investigation into an old topic: did the Spanish conquerors in the New World really wipe out millions of Aztec natives? When Hernando Cort├ęs and his band of military adventurers first reached what is now Mexico, they entered a land populated by at least twenty million natives. In the decades following their invasion, that number was reduced to about two million. Guns and steel only account for a fraction of those horrific losses; the rest have traditionally been attributed to disease, especially smallpox, thought to have been introduced to the defenseless natives by the invading Spanish.

However, new translations of well-regarded historical documents from that period tell a different story. King Phillip II had sent a Surgeon General of sorts to the New World, a man with impeccable credentials (for that era). The doctor interviewed hundreds of victims and performed dozens of autopsies. He diligently recorded his observations in Latin, but those extensive records remained lost from modern awareness for over four hundred years. Brought to the light of contemporary review, and subjected to new scrutiny, those descriptions don't support the smallpox hypothesis. So what was the disease which (apparently) decimated the Aztecs? Hemorrhagic fever--like Ebola and Hantavirus, which is spread by rodents (not Spaniards). Enlightening, and scary. There is neither cure nor treatment for this sort of plague, not then and not now.

Friday Song Revisited: Carrie's on top!

Earlier this week, radio trade numbers showed an amazing accomplishment for our latest American Idol, Carrie Underwood. Her double-platinum debut CD, Some Hearts, has now broken all sales records for winners of this popular star-making show. The best part Carrie's success is that she did it her way, based on her own strengths. Here's what I wrote about her breakout single, Jesus Take the Wheel, last month: Carrie U, Photo courtesy of CMT.com ©2006

A few days ago, Larry King asked Carrie Underwood where she got her big break. I'm pretty sure she mentioned the thirty-million-plus audience who saw her win American Idol somewhere in her answer. Kelly Clarkson has ridden her first place to huge success; and country singer/ex-Marine Josh Gracin (fourth-place winner) is now an established chart-topper. I can't vouch for Rubin and Clay (who basically tied the year they won), but if you win the Idol competition you have at least an excellent shot at stardom.

The difference with Carrie U. is that she is doing it her way. Her first big single is driving up the charts now, and it's a surprising winner. Idol fans expect a lot of Whitney Houston from their darlings. They'll have a long wait from Underwood. Her idol, vocally, is obviously Martina McBride. And Martina is all Country. Based on Carrie's first release, she's all Country, too. The big guns behind the Idol machine may be a bit miffed, but music is music in the end. And a gold record is the same color in all formats.

Underwood's single, Jesus Take the Wheel, rolls right down the middle of the Country road (if you'll pardon the obvious metaphor). Strict three-verse structure, strong hook, and soothing chords run the show. Lyrically, this song rings a strong Christian ballad bell. Wheel is an inspirational story about a young, single Mom whose car (and life) is out of control. (Read the title again now.) Underwood, however, takes these staid standards and loads in her stunning vocal power. You don't have to be a Sunday-steady or a Country die-hard to love this record. You will fall in love with Carrie, though, if you listen for just a couple refrains. She is the real deal, regardless of where her big break came from.

Jesus Take the Wheel will do well despite its potentially narrow audience. The enormous exposure provided by the glittering American Idol stage makes Carrie Underwood's name familiar and opens all the right doors. The rest is up to Ms. Underwood. She is young, strong, appealing, and oh-so talented. No reason for comparisons of Carrie to Martina to be embarrassing to Ms. McBride at all. Carrie may not be exactly what Idol had in its pop-oriented mind, but I believe that she will do them proud. She'll do it her way, and you will like it, even if you don't like American Idol. Carrie can take that to the bank.

Please Pass the Peanut-brittle

I haven't written much about Christmas, mostly because the holiday was just fine and very nice. I was able to spend some serious time with my boys, too. The weather was ordinary, if a bit spring-like. We kept mostly to ourselves, except for a very nice afternoon on New Year's Day spent with most of my side of the family. That was fun. We didn't get a chance to skiing or take a cruise, or anything cool like that. My wife and step-daughter did attend a very good theatre production, though: Sheer Madness, at the GEVA Theatre downtown. It's an extremely long-running play that originated here but has played all over the country, very funny and interactive as well.

I wanted to talk about peanut-brittle, however. With the boys here for the holidays we did some serious shopping, and one store featured boxes of peanut-brittle for, um, peanuts! Sorry, bad pun. I grabbed a box because I hadn't had that kind of candy in years. I cracked the box and poured a bowl to munch on during one of the fifty or so college "bowl" games that played during our week of vacation. (Maybe it was the Piggly-Wiggly/Toro Snowblower Bowl; I really can't recall.) I slipped the first super-sweet bite into my mouth and felt a whole flood of childhood memories rush in. Peanut-brittle was a rare treat when we were growing up. I think it was the type of goodie that my dad would bring home from a business trip, but maybe that's just my faulty recollection. I'll say this--the stuff stills sticks to your teeth just the way it used to!

We were four kids plus Mom and Dad squeezed into a small ranch house in a one-light village. My mom didn't work until we were all in high school. We drank powdered milk with dinner (hated it) and had a regular rotation of traditional Irish meals (we never went hungry!). Candy, however, was not a cupboard staple. Candy came home with Dad in a paper bag, rarely as part of the regular grocery run. Sometimes he'd bring us one of those (seemingly) enormous bags of plain M&M's. I have vivid memories of the four of us dividing that treasure on the dining room table. We counted by fives or tens until the very last few. We fought over the "good" colors, as if they tasted any different. There were always more brown ones than red, orange, green, or yellow. We also had lighter-brown ones (tan?) that were few and far between. No blue or purple, at that time; at least I don't remember any blue ones. We boys ate ours the first night. The girls, however, managed to savor their stash. Days later my sister Kay would still have at least half of her original share. I don't know how she resisted the temptation, but it sure was torture for me.

The only other big-deal treat that I remember is Ho-Ho's. They were bigger then, and more chocolatey. I'm pretty sure there were at least ten to the box, too, not the eight they give you today. Ho-Ho's were truly special. They came in a wonderful shiny metal-foil wrapper, which we would smooth out and use for origami. But that was only the beginning! In the same way that every kid had a certain way of eating Oreo's, we cherished our Ho-Ho's. If you were careful, you could peel all the hard-chocolate outside off, and eat that first. That left the devil's-food cake middle with two delicious chocolate ends. Those ends were usually bitten off one at a time. Then you had to make a choice: do you go ahead and eat the yummy outside first, or could you take the time to unroll the rest of the cake center to reveal the creamy filling? Eating one Ho-Ho could take as long as fifteen minutes, back then. Now, if I get some for myself I get the cheap imitation ones and just wolf them down. Those were simpler times, and we didn't have much for entertainment, did we?

My kids won't have any of those silly food-memories. Their bellies are full, and we spoil them with too many treats of too many kinds. (Their dentist sends us Christmas cards.) They are bombarded with entertainment and fast-food choices. I'm not sure they even liked the peanut-brittle. Who knows what funny bits of memory will occur to them during a Christmas break twenty or thirty years from now? Ah well, as long as they have someone special to share those thoughts with, it'll all be good.

Revisiting a dog's life

I was a little harsh with last night's posting. Today is Friday, and a Friday Song is due. Nothing strikes me as worthy this week, though. I did buy Miranda Lambert's acclaimed Kerosene CD, after hearing comments like "best debut album ever" on CMT. Haven't listened to it yet, but I'm sure it's wonderful. I will keep a sharper ear to the radio, at any rate. I've let at least two Fridays go by without a nomination. I could use some help, if you're interested. Click my email link to submit a song for consideration.

So let's get back to the whole dog thing. Dogs are wonderful; that's a known fact. (Is that redundant? hmm...) My first dog died before he was six months old. That was Scotty. My second dog was a treasure, but he was killed by a motorist, too. We didn't have leash-laws back then. That was Brownie, a lovely and brilliant border collie. If you own a border collie, you know how incredible that breed is. Gary Paulsen's final chapter in My Life in Dog Years is devoted to his BC, "Josh," who is alive and well (unlike most of the other dogs he writes about in that book). I mentioned my third dog last night, too: Champ. He was a regular collie. I learned the hard way that big collies like Champ need acres of room to roam. By the time we lost Champ I was pretty much at three strikes. I was seventeen.
2 boys and a dog
I'm sure there are thousands of people who feel they could not live without a dog in their life, especially people who have no children. I'm just not one of them, and I have kids. My boys have a dog, at their mother's house. Her name is Zelda (as in The Legend of...); she's a shepard-mutt with the strength of a bulldog and the disposition of a pussycat. I'm sure the boys would be devastated if anything were to happen to Zellie. She nearly drowned last winter when the ice gave way beneath her on a family-owned pond. My oldest thought about diving in after her but wisely decided in favor of the local volunteer fire department. Thank God. I'm also sure that Zelda would gladly sacrifice her own life to save one of my boys, if it were possible and necessary for her to do so. She likes me, despite my casual indifference.

I haven't had a dog of my own for about ten years now. The most recent one was banished after she bit the afore-mentioned eldest son--bit his nose in anger. That just ain't acceptable behavior. That dog had skin problems, which may have contributed to her unpleasant attitude. I'm trying to remember her name and hitting one of those annoying mental walls that will bother me a great deal more when I'm much older; I'll worry that dementia is creeping in. (So far, I almost never misplace my car-keys or forget where I was headed before I get there. Knock on wood.) I think if I was going to miss having a dog, then I would miss it by now. Certainly, owning a cat is no substitute for a proper dog. But I don't yearn for doggy companionship much these days. Please don't hate me for that.

Would I get another dog someday? Probably, if I lived somewhere rural. I think all dogs (at least the ones you can't carry around) deserve room to run. I feel sorry for big dogs who are cooped up in suburban homes on a quarter-acre. Plus you have to walk them on leashes and pick up their poop with a baggie. I'll bet they hate that. I'd hate the plastic-poop-bag duty. (Minor pun intended, there.) I used to take my last living-with-my-parents dog running with me. He loved it, and he kept me moving right along. I don't think I had to use a leash for that, then, either. Seems to me he used to keep left without a tether. It's been a few years, so my memory on that issue is a bit hazy. (No, that doesn't bother me, either. Yet.) Anyway, we're looking for a place in suburbia right now. I'm definitely not getting a pooch with "miniature" in his breed name. On the other hand, I wonder if the cat will be moving with us? Hmm. If it were strictly up to me, well, um. I'd better leave it at that, for tonight anyway.

OK, it's Thursday Trivia

The holidays are suddenly passed, and I'm back to work, still buried in an over-booked calendar. Tuesday's job lasted well into the evening, and my fingers were too tired to type. Those are my excuses. At least the dog didn't eat my homework, but I don't have a dog anyway. I used to have a dog, when I was younger. The first one got hit by a bus; his name was Scotty. My second dog, a wonderful Border Collie, was struck by a car while we waited for the schoolbus. He died later that day. I had a regular Lassie-style collie, too, later on. His name was Champ, after "Champ, the Gallant Collie"--a book I read when I was about twelve. Champ needed far more space than we could give him. I think he went crazy.

I finished a sweet little book last week, My Life in Dog Years, by Gary Paulsen. My younger son, Nick, recognized the author's name immediately. Paulsen writes for school-age readers, but his style is fine for adult reading and his content is amazing. This guy has lived a very interesting life. In the final chapter he mentions that he's had "hundreds" of dogs. The book highlights the more entertaining and intelligent of those. Nicky read it in about two hours flat. Sadly, I've never had a dog worth writing about. I will anyway, though--write about my dogs. (Wow, just call me "Mr. Language Guy"!)

You hear the phrase, a boy and his dog, now and then. Meaning, I suppose, a boy needs a dog. Or dogs go with boys. Something to that effect. I never really got that concept. Don't get me wrong--I loved my dogs, and even mourned their passing. But I don't miss them. Maybe I'm missing an important dog-gene. Or maybe I need a bigger yard. I do miss having someone around to pick up the table scraps I drop. We have a cat for now. She acts like a dog--around me, at least. Cats aren't as much fun as dogs; but they're not nearly as needy, either. I can take them or leave them, too. See, I haven't actually written about my dogs, after all, have I? That's probably for the best. I promise next week's Tuesday Trivia will be posted on a Tuesday. Maybe it won't be quite as trivial as this week's piece. Then again...

Happy New Year, one last time!