Break out the Seegers (This life is for Squirrels)

29 January, 2014 at 4:21 pm (music, new hampshire)

Pete Seeger has died, and the New York Times article about his legacy is really quite amazing. I don’t have any particular relationship with the man or his music, but as an avid follower of the late-90s folk/pop revival, I’m a conceptual fan of the ’60s folk revival and therefore a transitive fan of the Guthrie/Seeger revival axis that made that possible twenty to thirty years beforehand.

blog_1401_pogo_seegerWhile I was duly impressed with the accounting of the songs he tweaked and rewrote and influenced that have become so much the foundation of the current American songbook, I was even more interested in how much the obituary leaned on the affect that his Communism (or communism, as he is oft-quoted as saying he was a “communist with a small ‘c.'”) affected his career. The Times spoke of it, to my ear, matter-of-factly and without judgement, which is what I’d hope for in what I consider to be a post-ideologue age. However, I’m aware that while my perspective on the perceived threat of Communism is a young man’s viewpoint — I take the view of Bob Hillman and Dan Bern — people who were alive and feel that labored under the scarlet shadow of the Red Menace feel very differently about it.

In fact, in 2001 when a plaque to memorialize the New Hampshire members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was to be installed in the State House, a wave of anti-Communist protesters spun and chittered their way out of the woodwork to prevent anything that might impugn the name of proper soldiers by dint of association or proximity. I was shocked that people cared so much, that they still needed to make sure anyone with Communist leanings would receive no proper American recognition.

With this startling impression lingering in my mind, I was therefore further surprised to just read so many mentions of Communism — or even communism — in Seeger’s obit without any accompanying outcry about his having performed in the “We Are One” inaugural celebration for President Obama. It seems like such obvious fodder for the NObama crowd: that the Socialist president had a card-carrying member of the Communist party — a man who was called before HUAC and held in contempt of Congress — play at his inauguration. I’m surprised some of the usual suspects over at You Are Dumb or The Colbert Report didn’t mouth off about how indicative of a booking that really was. (When Colbert had Seeger on as a guest I thought there would be some more talk about his Communist past, but the interview rambled on a different way. And Colbert is enough of a gentleman in real life that despite having tried to amp up the competition when he and Seeger were both nominated for the same Grammy, the post-mortem gloating or character assassination will likely be minimal.)

So did it not happen? Did I not notice? Or, being that it’s not the sort of content with which I populate my newsfeed, I simply wouldn’t have encountered it myself, I’d only have read about it via third-party commentary, and there wasn’t any of sufficient prominence. A brief search later, I found a small number of examples, and they seem both harmless and petulant. Which is, in it’s way, pleasing.

Related Links:
+ The post title is a reference to Lines Upon A Tranquil Brow from Songs of the Pogo
+ Download “Children of the Cold War” by Dan Bern at

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BRIEFLY: Don’t Take Maine For Granite

25 August, 2009 at 3:25 am (film, new hampshire)

Dear Tony Scott, and the producers, writers, and FX team for Enemy of the State:

If your second-tier bad guy is going to be a conservative Republican from New Hampshire — and why not? There’s a fine pedigree of inspiration to justify the characterization — don’t have a scene where your ex-NSA tech genius pulls his address off of his phone records and shows his residence as being in Maine. MAINE! That’s an outrage!

Oh, and I see that the IMDB points out that the zip code for Maine on his address is for Washington, DC. And as the screencaps below show, his name changes from “Sam” to “Steven”. Last I knew, Samuel wasn’t a derivation or nickname of Stephen, as one is Hebrew and one is from the Greek. Well done, everyone. Well done, indeed.

Congressman Albert from New Maineshire, D.C.

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Obligatory Birthday Post

30 November, 2008 at 6:21 pm (benjamin, new hampshire)

It’s November 30th. Yay me, and all that.

Okay, now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about AT&T. Upon purchasing the iPhone this summer, I was told by a sales representative (consider the source and caveat emptor and all that) that AT&T would have extended its 3G network into southern New Hampshire by November.

I’m not saying that this was a selling point for me, as I was already going to pony up for the damn thing, but it was a nice bonus. All reports about how much using the 3G network burns up the iPhone’s already limited battery, while I was looking forward to being able to do a little web-browsing whilst in remote and portable locations, I was not looking forward to loading tiny, tiny images at dial-up modem speeds. So the future existence of 3G, with all its drawbacks, was a definite hatch mark in the plus column.

Billboard: 'New England is AT&T CountryWell, November is officially over, and there’s not so much of a sniff of 3G in NH according to my antenna. Peter reports that if he’s standing in a particular corner of one of his flatmate’s bedrooms, he can sometimes get 3G… but basically the evidence is not there. So I turned to the official AT&T portion of the world-wide web to see what they had to say about their services in my little corner of the world. A billboard adjacent to I-93 outside of Boston trumpets that “New England is AT&T Country“, a marvelously funny little bit of trumpeting considering that it was only recently that iPhones were officially available in Vermont considering that there was absolutely no AT&T wireless coverage available in the hidden valleys of the Green Mountain State.

Dan Frommer posted a well-Dugg map of AT&T coverage areas dated July of 2008, and had an additional, more popular map dated October of that same year. But AT&T has an online map of their own, that allows you to search down to street level how good the coverage is in your area.

AT&T Service Map for Concord, NH

The darker the orange, the better the reception. The blue on the right-hand map indicates 3G availability. And it’s an astounding piece of fiction. There is no 3G in Concord that I can find, and certainly a big swamp of it surrounding my apartment. And I’m bloody lucky to get three bars anywhere in my building, and to see that lovely deep orange right on top of my thumbtack indicating the “best” coverage is eye-rollingly inaccurate. The previous links to the Digg maps may be out of date, but they are more consistent with my experience on the ground, holding my phone towards the sky, squinting and hoping for a signal from above. Maybe some day the reality will match AT&T’s claims, maybe… Perhaps by next November 30.

EDIT: By sometime in mid-to-late December, which is to say, within a couple of weeks of writing the above, I did indeed have 3G in most, if not all of Concord. So the map was just a little ahead of the actual schedule of implementation. Not bad, AT&T… not bad.

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Springfield is here.

22 July, 2007 at 6:25 pm (dear diary, film, new hampshire)

Went to the world premiere of the upcoming Simpsons movie last night, and am overflowing with stuff to say about it, despite the fact that I haven’t written about anything on this blog for, literally, months. And yet this movie — or, more accurately, this event — has me brimming with commentary. So expect three or four (depending on how I organize it) posts about the film and the premiere and the Springfield hometown search. Once I’m done with that, I plan on backfilling the emptiness of my previous silence with some stuff I planned to post and never got ’round to. More on that in a future post! Goodness, I have prolific plans!

As has been fairly widely reported, the definitive location for The Simpsons‘ Springfield has been chosen. Creator Matt Groening had frequently said that the reason he chose the name for the town was that it was so omnipresent — Wikipedia informs us that there are Springfields in 34 of the United States, including one in New Hampshire, which probably shouldn’t surprise me, but does (I’d never heard of it, certainly, but who is intimately familiar with the names of towns of under a thousand people in Suffolk county? Not I, in any case). A joke in the film’s trailer is that from the peak of a local mountain one can see the four states that border Springfield: Ohio, Nevada, Maine, and Kentucky… thus helping to solidify the town’s non-location. However, as one of the many promotions for the film — including turning 7-11s into “Kwik-E-Marts”, Dunkin’ Donuts Simpsons varieties, ancient pagan chalk outlines, et al.a competition was held in USA Today to determine, once and for all, the actual location.

Welcome to Springfield, VTThirteen of the many and varied US Springfields were listed by the paper as possible candidates, and each had submitted a brief video as to why their location deserved the honor. And, against most expectations, Springfield, Vermont was chosen by popular vote. Clear skies, rolling mountains, deep winters, and a local nuclear power station may have all seemed convincing physical aspects, but it seems from the number of votes that it’s likely that people watched the video and found it to be the most amusing of the possible options. Apparently, some people thought that Oregon had a lock on it (I would have assumed Illinois, myself), as Groening is an Oregonian originally, but they only came in third place.

So it’s Vermont. And on 21 July, slightly less than a week before the film opens around the globe, 20th Century Fox shuttled in two SUVs of writers and staff in order to inaugurate the town’s official relationship with the show, and to present a plaque that stated as much. Vermont, in turn, gathered together the members of the Vermont Film Council, the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, and a couple of state senators to preside over the occasion and to pass over the key to the city town to Groening and producer James L. Brooks.

The disparity between the public’s reaction to their local officials and the more Hollywood power set was pretty noticeable. Clapping was polite but brief for the senators, and laughter at their jokes and Simpsons references was almost nonexistent. Applause for the creators and crew was voluble and sustained, even for people like Mike Scully and Al Jean, who can’t have been household names for a group of people who kept on pronouncing Groening like “Groaning”. But their very connection to the show was sufficient to bring the glamour, particularly evident when both Groening and Senator Peter Welch used the exact same line in their prepared remarks (“As Homer would say: ‘Woo-hoo!'”), and the Senator got no love for his attempt to reach out to the people. Some young teenagers who were standing near me in the crowd were complaining about the sheer number of local dignitaries and politicos that needed to thank people and confirm their association with the event. “Who cares?” one muttered to his cronies. “Bring on the Simpsons guys!” And even though none of the vocal talent was in attendance at the event, they were riveted by the presence of these West Coast VIPs.

Reference: the Rolling Stones perform at Bloom County Elementary SchoolHere’s the thing these kids are too young to realize: you’re basically required to namecheck sponsors and include local influence in these things, no matter what kind of event it is (see the Bloom County excerpt for a parallel example). These events don’t happen without the work of focused individuals exerting their personal and professional influence to grease wheels and make calls and get people thinking about, talking about, and acting on whatever needs to happen in order for something to take place. This didn’t “just happen”. And while the event itself was not run with the sort of efficiency or consistency one might have preferred, it didn’t organically fall into shape or spring up like a forest mushroom. The people these kids wanted to see were there because of the efforts of the people they didn’t care about. And the people they didn’t care about were damn well going to make sure that you associated them with this event. Just like political candidates are constantly churning through The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, US Senator Bernie Sanders and VT State Senator Welch (who’d really like to trade up to Congress) would love to be associated with the success of the campaign to bring The Simpsons to Vermont, or just to have some small name recognition at all with the show’s target audience.

In fact, the whole event, before the film actually began screening for the lucky lottery winners, felt like a fascinating combination between a political stump speech and a town fair. With the road shut down and the booths of local wares lining the sidewalks, it felt like a street fair, right down to the rock cover bands and the insipid cheerleading by a local “comedian” and radio/TV personality. On the other hand, the thanks yous had a certain political hucksterism to them. Amidst all the ludicrous claims that “We knew all along that we were the real Springfield”, was the underlying message that Springfield, Vermont and Vermont in general could really use a shot in the arm. Otherwise you wouldn’t have Senator Sanders saying, “This day is about showing the whole darn country that Springfield, Vermont is a strong community!”

Ned Flanders gestures to Maine, which does not share a border with VermontUm, no… no, it’s not, Bernie. That’s a nice spin on why Vermont got the votes over the other twelve candidates, but the day is about Fox and NewsCorp advertizing their new movie, and they’re using you to do it. If you get something out of it, then they’re happy for you, but your claims of strength make you sound a little desperate, a little worried.

One last note: yay, Vermont, and all that. But you certainly cannot see Maine from the top of a peak of a local mountain. You know why? Because Maine does not share a border with Vermont. Vermont borders New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New York. Maine borders New Hampshire… and nothing else. It is, in fact, the only state to share a border with only one other state. So if Springfield is in a state that borders Maine, then I don’t give a damn what the readers of USA Today think, it has to be Springfield, New Hampshire. Take that, Vermont! Snookered by your own sponsor!

EDIT: There were fourteen candidates, not thirteen. An article talking about the thirteen other Springfields lodged the incorrect number in my head. Please add one to all references to twelve and thirteen in the above posting. Ta.

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RETRO: Fifty-State Initiative

31 May, 2007 at 5:59 pm (comics, new hampshire)

Marvel Comics has announced that, after the events of the much-touted Civil War series, the super-hero universe will be enacting a “Fifty-State Initiative” project, creating a set of locally-themed super-heroes for each state. Because, much like the Department of Homeland Security, they believe that each state is vulnerable to attack and needs gobs of money thrown at the problem to pretend that it’s been solved.

Regardless of how many super-hero stories have taken place in New Hampshire (come on, eager readers… I challenge you to name just one), this is simply part of Marvel’s schizophrenic approach to their world management. A very short time ago 99% of the world’s super-powered mutants were de-powered in an “event”, leaving a scant 198 costumed characters still viable for a bout of spandex violence. This was done, apparently, because in order to fill the plotlines of several dozen comic books every month, Marvel writers had gotten into the lax habit of simply creating a new batch of villains and making them mutants. Easy! If mutation is a massive shortcut that means we don’t have to think out origins or motivation, but only have to come up with some cool-sounding codenames and a bunch of vaguely-distinct costume designs, then it’s as simple as “ta-dah!” The Marvel comics universe was hugely overpopulated with these shortcut villains, and getting rid of them in a broad sweep matched well with the editorial tone of the current administration, mixing the super-real with a grounded, human series of character studies. It made the setting of the comics more mundane, and therefore should make the super-powered abilities of the remaining characters seem more spectacular by contrast.

It didn’t and it’s not difficult to intuit why, but as a basic idea as to the tone that Marvel comics should be setting, it’s not a bad idea. But that’s why this Fifty-State Initiative doesn’t make a damn bit of sense. We’ve just gotten rid of hundreds and hundreds of super-characters. And now you want to create, out of whole cloth, hundreds of super-characters? I mean, with the exception of Rhode Island, you can’t have just one super-dude patrolling an entire state… it’s geographically unmanageble. So you have to have teams in each state, which means four or five new characters time fifty states… And you’re right back with the overpopulated universe you just got rid of. Well done, Marvel.

Why do I bore you with all this nonsense? Merely to mention that I greatly prefer Threadless‘ fifty-state project. Threadless has chosen 107 national and international locations, spectacles, and landmarks that they want people to stand in front of whilst wearing their fave Threadless t-shirts. Bizarrely, the New Hampshire location is the little-known Museum of Family Camping. Still, we’re on the map! And I have trundled off the Museum to dutifully have my picture taken in its environs. Additional pictures may be taken in front of Massachusett’s Salem Witch Museum and the Ben & Jerry’s flavor graveyard in Vermont, if I am able to get my act together. Still more pictures, for those people too far away from a particular locale: on a roller coaster, submerged under water, with a celebrity, in front of your city’s welcome sign, or with any Paul Bunyan statue. Now that’s an initiative I can get behind.

Seated inside the Museum of Family Camping

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8 January, 2007 at 1:48 pm (dear diary, new hampshire)

Much has been made of the recent weather in New England. My own circle of correspondents and contacts have been woeful about the lack of skiing and the general lack of season that has pervaded this grey, warm winter. I have responded in a characteristic and contrary way, enjoying the lack of difficulty of movement that snow and ice afford. I do worry about environmental impact — particularly with regard to local organisms. Will plants bloom too early to be pollinated? Will animals lose out on important food resources that are tied to a seasonal cycle? As much as I am enjoying the lack of snow, I do enjoy the New Hampshire niche of plants and animals and landscape, and would be disappointed to have its cast of characters change permanently with the climate alteration.

Still, as it’s snowed twice this season and I’ve gotten in a car accident during one of those days, I’m hesitant to actually endorse a substance that increased the difficulty of ordinary movement.

Today was a another day of rain, which I enjoy because it makes me want to drink tea, and tea is one of my primary sensual pleasures in life. Even consumed daily, a new cup of piping hot tea is a thing in which to regularly luxuriate; each one has its essential and simple now-ness. It demands time and attention. While snowfall provides a sense of the cancellation of sound, muffling and restricting the ability of noise to travel, which creates a curious sense of vast vide, the low percussive white noise of rainfall soothes me immeasurably. And since there’s less after-effect than snow, one’s pleasure doesn’t need to be tempered by the awareness of the eventual chores to follow.

The one downfall of today’s rain is the impenetrable blanket of clouds that ruined one of my standard daily neatnesses (it’s not a miracle or a mitzvah, but it is a minor marvel). When I leave in the mornings, the light is weak, and the sky a pervasive midnight blue, and by the time I arrive at work, the sky is light and the sun has achieved clarity. People who dislike winter hate the getting up in the dark and the driving home in the dark, and it’s quietly pleasurable to get to work earlier than many people (7:05am) and still have the sky have transformed from dark to light between stepping in and out of my car. I have only rarely seen sunrises that were spectacular; most tend to be chill and lacking in any dramatic effect. But — again — the simplicity of the fact that, yea, there is light, brings me cheer.

This post would be best topped off with a photograph of the morning full moon from the middle of last week, hovering high over the horizon and glowing with enough light to make one think it was a pale morning sun. Unfortunately, I wasn’t carrying at the time, and so this post is picture free. But it was lovely. “Irreducably complex”? Not remotely. It was simple. Amusingly, it reinforced something I had been surprised to see portrayed in Berkeley Breathed’s unfortunately repetitive Opus strip:

Opus' proof of the absence of God

Right, enough sentimentalism. I’m off for a wee cuppa.

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NH Constitutional Amendment

28 October, 2004 at 3:10 am (body politic, new hampshire)

On November 2nd, when New Hampshire voters will be carefully filling in ovals with Number 2 pencils and wondering if we’re still a battleground state that people will be watching carefully on the Big Map to see if we, litmus-like, turn red or blue, there will be a Constitutional Amendment tacked on at the end of the ballot.

The question is asking voters to indicate whether they support a change in the New Hampshire Constitution, one that, depending upon who you ask, either limits or clarifies the power of the NH Supreme Court. The question provides voters with a dense, but reasonable-sounding piece of legalese after asking

Are you in favor of repealing and reenacting Part II, Article 73-a of the constitution in order to clarify that both the judiciary and the Legislature have the authority to regulate court practices and procedures…

You’ll notice that there isn’t actually a question mark anywhere forthcoming, despite the initial “Are you” preface that would seem to demand it. Grammatics aside, this is a stupid bit of deliberate confusion. Anyone who’s done any work in statistics or research will tell you that a question that asks if the constituent is in favor of a repeal creates a dual-vector, a vague confusion as to what is actually being asked. At the end of the indirect question, voters aren’t sure if when they mark “YES” they are supporting the thing they just read or in favor of getting rid of it.

This is either a spectacularly bad piece of wording, or it’s a deliberate attempt to confuse readers and thereby skew results.

And, lastly, voters are asking to substitute language when they have no easy means of comparing the revised statute to the original. You’ll note the question only provides the revision and provides no clear idea of what the original language indicated. The average voter therefore has no idea for what he or she is voting. But that’s okay, because the NH State Legislature has provided a helpful “Voters’ Guide” that describes the purpose of the amendment. But wait! Said “Guide” also fails to cite the original language from Article 73-a of the NH State Constitution. The guide, in fact, only states the benefits of the proposed amendment, and lists none of the controversies or possible conflicts that such a change might create. And since the “Voters’ Guide” was printed and distributed by New Hampshire’s Department of State, one would hope that it wasn’t producing and distributing materials that could be construed as lobbying for the creation of unequal power between the branches of government!

Luckily, the NH Civil Liberties Union filed suit agains the producers of the Guide, and it is no longer available for download from the NH State Department website.

As a public service here today, I’d just like to quote, in their entirety, the Constitutional Article, as it stands, and the proferred revision.

November 22, 1978 Version of [Art.] 73-a.

[Supreme Court, Administration.] The chief justice of the supreme court shall be the administrative head of all the courts. He shall, with the concurrence of a majority of the supreme court justices, make rules governing the administration of all courts in the state and the practice and procedure to be followed in all such courts. The rules so promulgated shall have the force and effect of law.

Proposed November 2, 2004 Version of [Art.] 73-a.

[Court Practices and Procedures.] The chief justice of the supreme court shall be the administrative head of all the courts in the state. The chief justice shall have the power, with the concurrence of a majority of the other supreme court justices, to make rules of general application regulating court administration and the practice, procedure, and admissibility of evidence, in all courts in the state. The legislature shall have a concurrent power to regulate the same matters by statutes of general application, except that such legislative enactments may not abridge the judiciary’s necessary adjudicatory functions. In the event of a conflict between a rule promulgated by the judiciary and a statute enacted by the legislature, the statute, if not otherwise contrary to this constitution shall prevail over the rule.

As a bonus, a link to articles from the Portsmouth Herald and Boston Globe about the controversy, in which it is alleged that the amendment is politically inspired by people who are unhappy with both the State’s decision on school funding, and the way in which the decision was made. Chief Justice David Brock and Supreme Court Justice Joseph Nadeau both oppose the measure, but then, they would, wouldn’t they. Then again, they’re probably best qualified to, *ahem*, judge what effect the amendment would have. However, the best thing I’ve seen on the whole shebang is from the NH Bar Association, which is good reading. Unfortunately, the site seems to be down at the moment, so the prior link is a Google cache. Still, good analysis.

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I am not making her up.

5 March, 2004 at 3:22 pm (literary, new hampshire)

I have solid, incontrovertible evidence that when Dave Barry tells his weekly readers that he is not making this up, he is — in fact — not making it up. Friend and former colleague Claudette Knieriem was name-checked as someone who sent in a ludicrous advertisement that appealed to Mr. Barry’s “Mr. Language Person” persona.

I just want to note, because I never get tired of mentioning this, that the ad originally appeared in Manchester’s The Union Leader, which was called by Hunter S. Thompson “America’s worst newspaper.” (p54.) Quite a claim to fame, say I.

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Vanity Plates

20 May, 2002 at 2:07 pm (dear diary, new hampshire)

New Hampshire reputedly has a greater percentage of personalized license plates, or “vanity” plates, than any other state in the Union. Apparently, one of the freedoms we live with or will die without is the freedom to express ourselves in six or fewer alphanumeric characters. Which, while it isn’t anything to be proud of — you should have heard me bellowing obscenities at the hapless fool who decided to choose QUIGON as his license plate — means I spend an inordinate amount of time deciphering people’s bumpers.

Sitting behind a car with the plate IMOK, I spent about thirty seconds asking the driver — rhetorically — what, precisely, he mocked. Then I got it.

And now you know who you should all mock.

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13 May, 2002 at 2:06 pm (film, new hampshire)

My first-ever letter to a newspaper was printed on Sunday in the Concord Monitor. Instead of feeling proud, I feel somewhat ashamed. I didn’t write about the crumbling state of something-or-other, I didn’t lash out against stagnant conservatism, I didn’t call attention to the gradual suburbanization of the New Hampshire wilderness. No, I fact-corrected a smarmy, useless front page fluff story about the success of Sony’s new Spider-Man movie.

I am such a bloody nerd.

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