The Rocket's Red Glare

In the first few minutes of this American Independence Day, I was awakened by the sound of fireworks in the beach parking lot across the street from our home.  As my senses cleared, I recognized the whoosh of rockets being launched and the visceral boom as they exploded high in the night sky.  Through my bedroom window, I could see the misty air light up with colored bursts, and I realized that someone had put some real time and money into this lightshow.  These weren't bottle rockets and firecrackers, but professional pyrotechnics, fired with purpose and artistry

The air was almost foggy after a day of intermittent rain, so the globes of color from the aerial shells were softened and enlarged, making them even more spectacular.  The deep thud of mortar shells as they were fired signaled the intended rhythm of the fireworks show, followed up with the fountains of colored stars and cascades of glowing sparks

Fully awake, I expected each burst to be the last.  Professional fireworks like these are both expensive and completely illegal in the state of Massachusetts, two good arguments for brevity.  But the beautiful display went on and on.  I watched for half an hour from my bed before moving out onto the deck for a better view. As I settled outside, I witnessed the arrival of three police cars with their lights ablaze. 

Our bold but slightly foolish enthusiasts didn't stand a chance since the grand finale was in progress just as the police rolled into the lot.  They were literally caught red-handed with a spectacular display of comets and starbursts filling the sky.  I heard muffled but commanding voices over the police public address loudspeaker and then, as the last trailing stars faded, silence filled the night once again.

And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?

-Francis Scott Key


Be well and have a safe and happy weekend.

Happy Independence Day

To our lovely Merkin friends, who have the independence and freedom to believe what they want without punishment, something you would all do very well to remember, and not take for granted. On this day, I'd like you all to do me a favour and think about what it truly means to be free, and whether your government is doing all it can to safeguard your freedom, or making it worse. Ask yourself why Bush is still blocking an investigation into 9/11, why he sat there for over 5 minutes in the classroom when decisions had to be made FAST (, why he won't even pay the poor bastards who give their lives in Iraq a decent wage (

Think about your freedom. Don't give up any of that freedom for the illusion of security, don't take it away from others for the illusion of justice, and don't tell me I'm stupid and in league with the terrorists for disagreeing with the leader of your country, who is not you, you have your own fucking thoughts and opinions.

Have a great day/weekend, enjoy your turkey, enjoy your freedom.

Fotze, No Idea, The Twits & Dalygo Abortions @ The Esplanade Hotel

The main reason I went tonight was that I haven't seen the Twits play at the Espy for ages and never in the Gerswhin room (I usually see them in the front bar.)

Even getting to the Esplanade Hotel from my house was a bit of an achievement as I had drunk about half a bottle of vodka (mixed) and then decided to walk down to St Kilda where the pub is. Thankfully I decided to get the tram as I couldn't feel my feet properly. I also got Macca's for dinner (it's the 4th of July after all) as I reckon it would taste the same coming up as it does going down. It also may have something to do with Greasy Joe's across the road being so expensive (I wanted the money for buying drinks.)

Importantly I also decided to take my HULK HANDS along to the pub to see the reaction and to give them a good workout. The results were better than I expected with lots of blokes wanting to try them out and all the punk chicks coming up to talk to me which would never happen usually.

Before the first band started playing I went down to the front bar to see the first couple of songs from a band called Jack Rabbit and the Pubic Hares. If the Twits weren't playing upstairs I probably would have gone to see them as they have some good songs.

Fotze (AYYYY!) sounded pretty good even though I couldn't really hear what they were singing about. It's a punk gig so that doesn't really matter.

The crowd seemed to get a little bit bigger when No Idea took the stage. Steely from the Twits also shook their beers up to piss them off (they have a friendly rivalry with the Twits that led to a pie fight at one gig after someone used a toilet at stage during a CD launch.)

During their set I also met all the of the band members from the Twits and showed off my HULK HANDS (Fred Negro had a go at them.) Steely mentioned something about the emails I sent them and the HULK HANDS but I don't really know what he meant.

The Twits were great as always even though they only had a 35 minute set. Most of the time was spent throwing beer over the crowd. The smoke machine also overloaded and you couldn't see the band at one stage.

Fred even got to get out the cantaloupe to have sex with it for T.I.T.S. (This is the show) which is the gag he used to do with the Fuck Fucks. Fudge was asleep out the back though so it wasn't really the same without him yelling "PARTY! PARTY! PARTY!"

Dayglo Abortions from Canada (who also liked the HULK HANDS) had a truly warmed up crowd after the Twits. I don't think they are used to the crowd being so reserved though as they had to yell at everyone to come forward.

The highlights of their set included "Release the prisoners", a song written especially to get the women in the audience to show their boobs to the band (it didn't work.) "Big Ass Truck" was a trucking song with a difference. "America Eats it's children" was a political song that seemed fairly relevant now from what I heard. The encore was a song about Canada which they changed into being about Australia and ended up yelling "Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! OI! OI! OI!".

At one stage I saw the lead singer kick some bloke in the head (he didn't really mind) and the moshers at the front got more active towards the end of the set.

I also ended up meeting some people who said they used to go to high school with me, but I didn't remember them. They acted like idiots anyway.

A good night and a perfect way to continue the four day film and music bender that started on Thursday night with two Hong Kong movies (East is Red & God of Gamblers the Return) and continues over the next two days with the Melbourne Underground Film Festival and Shonkytonk.

Okay, the main reason I posted this daylog is to direct your attention to this page:

...of the official site for Patrick McConnell's comic strip Mutts, wherein his delightful title panels are shown next to the thing that inspired them. You may want to take a gander if art and whimsy are your thing.

Warning: I vent my brain in the next few paragraphs. They may not make much sense.

I guess I also want to grouse a bit about the Chatterbox conversation of yesterday. The subject was, unsurprisingly, patriotism. Most people seemed agin' it. Some asserted that being born an American, Mexican, Irish or what have you is an accident and nothing to feel any pride in; ditto one's ethnic heritage or family tree. Even mainstream views of history came under fire, with narrative (with its implications of meaning and purpose) being derided in favor of a view of history as meaningless eruptions of cause and effect. I've heard this argument before, from someone who took it to the next level by vehemently declaring that all beliefs that impose meaning on an arbitrary cosmos are illusions, and when we cast off those illusions that there's any meaning to existence, then we are truly free to do what we want. What that could possibly be was never made clear, as I realized I was talking to a dedicated enemy of Life and excused myself.

Here's my feeling. As human beings, one of the things we're wired to do is give things meaning. Which entails processing events through thoughts and words, and putting them back out there as narrative. In this way we spin straw into gold; and pointing out that our base material is straw fails to persuade me that gold is without value. I mean, maybe it all depends on your taste-and I admit I have an especial fondness for tale-telling--but given the choice I would rather have an existence that's warm and glowing with the gold of meaning than live in a stone-walled dungeon with a pile of cold straw in the middle, myself reduced to a mere observer of straw. And given that this property we have of bringing the universe to life through our reason, intuition, and imagination seems to be the way we're built, I'm not sure why I should consider this gold-spinning endeavor a bad thing.

Loquacious also unfurled his Humanist flag and called for the end of the artificial division of humanity into nation-states, but didn't offer any other sort of organizing principle in its place so I'm not sure what he was getting at. Maybe he'll node his thoughts on the subject since the catbox is a severely limited forum for these ideas.

To summarize: though when I was much younger I despised things like regional pride, and pride in one's cultural heritage and ancestry, my experiences since then have led me to believe that in healthy amounts these things make life better, and their absence makes life a small and mean thing. So I'm for 'em.


Patriotism is not jingoism.

Happy Independence Day.

If you are in the USA, you will probably be going to watch fireworks tonight, in celebration of your country's independence from mine. Enjoy yourselves - political freedom is a wonderful thing. We won't be having fireworks here for another four months and one day. On November 5 we'll be lighting up the skies on Bonfire Night to celebrate the thwarting of a terrorist plot against the government, back in 1605. It'll be a great event, no doubt, but it's a negative celebration, marking the absence of a terrible disaster. Those who were convicted of involvement in the Gunpowder Plot died horrible deaths at the hands of the English authorities. Britain no longer has the death penalty, but we burn Guy Fawkes in effigy still. It makes for a fun evening out, but the underlying story is negative.

America's celebrations today mark a positive achievement - the establishment of a political order based on the love of liberty and self-determination. If America were to follow England's lead, we might one day see the fireworks on September 11 instead. Don't do that. We hear a lot about what 'will mean the terrorists have already won'. Well, if the focus of national identity and expression shifts from a true celebration of freedom and independence to a spirit of opposition to the terrorist boogeyman, the terrorists will have won. Don't let your enemies change you, or you risk becoming the thing you hate. 16th- and 17th-century Britain saw a whole series of shifts of political and religious orthodoxy, including several ruthless purges 'in the interests of national security', and a civil war. Each succeeding regime inflicted on its predecessors' supporters the same injustices its own supporters had had inflicted on them before.

Small wonder, then, that diverse religious groups from Britain fled to the New World. Their legacy has been a nation whose founding principles rose above that cycle of oppression. Over the centuries between then and now, those principles have come closer to being a reality. Every now and then, a retrograde step is taken. Senator Joseph McCarthy took one. But the steps forward, by Republican and Democrat alike, are what makes America truly great today. Concentration on military might or economic prominence obscures this point. Let's all hope the steps continue to be forward. Celebrate your independence today.

It just so happens that on the morning of July 4th, my car refused to start. Now, this wouldn’t have mattered all that much, except that I was the only person in the house that weekend, and I’d put off all my various errands until just then, and I had the car all packed with what I needed and ready to go. You know those days when you’ve got everything planned out and its going to be perfect, except that right at the very beginning things weren’t working out.

Our landlady’s Lexus SUV wouldn’t jumpstart mine, and none of the brigade of neighbors who, in these parts, are by some unseen force dispatched whenever someone is in need managed to fix the problem, either, as-seen-on-TV just plug and go car battery rechargers notwithstanding. So this leaves me, on perhaps the biggest of national holidays, dialing around the Whitesburg phonebook and trying to remember whether Dry Fork is one of those little towns that really ought just to be part of Whitesburg (like Ermine, where the Walmart is), or is halfway across the highway and up two hollows.

Eventually the car got started, thanks to Dry Fork really being just up the road a ways and the fact that for twenty-five dollars (twenty-four, if you don’t have exact change), Jimmy will drive over with his seven-year-old son in their wrecker and jumpstart your car for real. An hour or so of driving around nowhere in particular to recharge the battery later, and half an hour or so of listening to WMMT (where “that patriotic message was brought to you from our friends at”), I’ve done my errands and headed home. But all this commotion meant that I got started on cooking dinner late, and headed out the door late for the hike I’d been planning all day, and ended up starting to walk up Town Hill at nine at night, just when it was getting so dark you couldn’t see your nose in front of your face, at least in the thick brush.

Town Hill isn’t really owned by anyone: to be precise its a patchwork of property owned by so many people that nobody can manage to buy enough of a piece of land to actually build anything. Which isn’t all that unusual up in this part of the country, though it seems strangely wonderful coming from more densely populated areas to find a place that isn’t really a park, but just a great big beautiful piece of land that you can freely roam around and do just about whatever on top of.

Its this kind of place that makes rural America so distinctly different from urban America. There wasn’t any particular planned event to draw them up, but wandering around on the vast flat space on top of the hill were practically half the population of the towns below. Just seemed right, this being the Fourth. People from Big Cowan and Little Cowan and Whitesburg and Craft’s Colley were tooling around on ATV’s or sitting around cases of beer shooting off fireworks. Dean or Tom or somebody or other had “a tent and a mattress – heck, three mattresses, and y’all can use them all you want.” And in spite of the three copperheads that he killed just the other day, Tom and his friends and their girlfriends drove up the rutted road in their pickup along with everyone else – you can see off into the misty night for counties around and every little town makes a glow in the rolling hills. It’s the kind of scene I would invent a metaphor for, were I a better writer. Instead, you’ll have to come up for yourself sometime and look, except that you probably won’t find it all that interesting, since the real beauty of the place is that its nothing out of the ordinary: just a little bit up the ways past the house where my mentor Michelle lives, past a few overly alert guard dogs and up some old car tracks until you start to level off, and think you’re suddenly in a different state (this is an old strip mining site, and restored strip mines are “beautiful… like Australia!”). At any rate, something changes inside you when you can walk for miles and not see anybody at all, when you darn well better remember how to get back to where you came from because cell phones don’t work and you’re just following some train tracks across the countryside (different hike, mind you).

I had to walk back down when the trail was pitch-black for the trees, and crossing under the interstate you could truly imagine the trucks as they passed overhead were some beings entirely mysterious and sinister, and not see the piles of pigeon dung and be corrected. The first lights of town were so bright, about thought I'd walked into the biggest city on earth -- but they wrapped around me and guided me home, right past the corner where "Bo Caudill -- Incomplete" lay in rest.

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