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LBJs


And so it begins, the first LBJ post of the 2017 campaign...

*First, let me note that Dixon's run in Quill Theatre's production of The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) ends today, and it has been a highly enjoyable time for him. The show has gotten great reviews, and it has given Dixon yet another chance to play Hamlet, though he has not yet done so in Hamlet, despite that fact that he has appeared and is even as we speak appearing in Quill's traveling production of Hamlet. (He's playing Laertes and one of the Players in the latter.) Here he is in Compleat Wrks, being mad, or perhaps pretending:

dixon compleat wrks.jpgAnd yes, those are my shoes. I'd better get them back.

*As one of the sponsors of Game Club at Seven Hills School, I have been refereeing and often playing a wonderful cooperative game called Pandemic. I first played it with Ian & Adriana while we were at the beach this past Thanksgiving, and I was lucky enough to get a copy for Christmas. The 7HS crew seems to be enjoying it, and one reason, I suspect, is that it's a game where the players team up against the game itself, trying to treat and eventually cure the four terrible diseases breaking out all over the globe, using their varied special abilities to exploit their resources in the best way possible. It's a challenging game, but it's definitely winnable, and it's one that everyone from grade 5 to grade 8 seems to be enjoying, so I'll recommend it here.

*Our local movie palace, the Byrd Theatre, is hosting classic films on Wednesday nights, and so far we've been to see two that I don't think I'd ever seen on the big screen before: The Philadelphia Story (a long-time favorite in our house) and To Kill a Mockingbird (which we saw with Kelly's mom while she was visiting.) The sheer pleasure of watching a great movie in a theatrical setting is one I had somehow managed to miss, but I'm really glad we're getting the chance.

*I don't think I'm alone in struggling to find the right balance between paying enough attention to politics and paying too much attention. I've seen several columns to the effect that Americans have long had the luxury of paying almost no attention to politics, which is an idea that a) applies almost exclusively to those Americans whose lives are most insulated from the vagaries of politics--i.e., those who are white, straight, male, and economically comfortable, and b) is frustratingly accurate for far too many people. These columns have, however, pushed the idea that we can no longer afford that luxury, and on that I'm in total agreement. The problem is that our current political landscape is so rife with fresh horrors--a veritable rain forest of the appalling--that one can easily focus too powerfully on one such horror, ignoring other equally horrific elements, or otherwise spend so much time and energy shifting one's gaze from horror to horror that dizziness, exhaustion, and/or despair can set in. I mean, for cabinet posts alone, I went through a whirlwind of outrage and Senator-calling that left me halfway unclear whether I'd already called Mark Warner about opposing Betsy DeVos, told Tim Kaine to oppose Jeff Sessions, or perhaps called Ben Carson and told him to oppose Mitch McConnell (which every American really ought to do on principle.) Needless to say, there are days when I feel blue, hot, and righteous in my resistance, while on other days I greet the news of the latest outrage the way I'd greet the news that the bridge is closed; it's not going to stop me from traveling where I need to go or doing what I need to know, but it's going to be a colossal frustration that demands more of my attention than I like, and it's likely to affect the way I do my job. Keep watching this space to see how well I manage the balancing act, and thanks for your patience while I work it out.

*If you're unfamiliar with Postmodern Jukebox, the re-interpretive musical collective directed by keyboardist/arranger Scott Bradlee, you'll probably want to spend a few minutes checking them out before reading the rest of this. Here, let me offer a few options:

*a vintage jazz version of Cage the Elephant's "No Rest for the Wicked"
*a New Orleans-style reworking of Guns n' Roses' "Sweet Child O'Mine"
*a bluegrass "barn dance" treatment of Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines"
*a 1950s doo-wop cover of Miley Cyrus' "We Can't Stop"
*a terrific jazz/blues revisiting of Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass" (with four-handed bass solo!)

Now that you've enjoyed that taste, let me inform you that the group delivers a terrific live performance. There are apparently multiple touring groups, so you may or may not see any of the performers above at your particular venue. (We did get Robin Adele Anderson, who sang the Thicke and Cyrus tunes above, and Casey Abrams, the singer/bassist on the Trainor cut). The basic idea, however, is consistent: to reimagine (relatively) recent pop songs in earlier styles. If that was all that was happening, PMJ would basically be a very talented cover band, but they deliver far more: it's a visual showcase for vintage dresses, tap dancing, physical comedy, and showmanship of every sort. On Friday we were treated to the sight of the insanely talented Chloe Feoranzo, a clarinetist/saxophonist who might top five feet, standing with a foot on Abrams' chest while delivering a blistering clarinet solo for "Sweet Child O'Mine," a drumsticks vs. tap shoes percussion contest, and a wide variety of booty shaking, as well as the amazing pipes of singer Dani Armstrong, whose version of Radiohead's "Creep" has to be heard to be believed. Even if you know nothing about these particular songs, you will enjoy your two hours. Trust me on this.

*Another musical triump of a different sort: in 1988, when I was working at Record Bar, one of the staff's favorite pieces of background music was the new album from Toots Hibbert, leader of Toots and the Maytalls. The album was titled Toots in Memphis, and it consisted of songs from the Stax/Volt vaults, including tunes by Otis Redding and Al Green, all done with a reggae spirit--not surprising, given that the rhythm section consisted of Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, and Mikey Chung. I bought the album, but a few years later, when we were short on rent, I sold a few CDs to cover the difference, and my copy of Toots in Memphis was one of the casualties. Little did I know that almost immediately the disc would become all but impossible to find, and I have spent the last twenty years hoping I might turn up a copy in a used bin somewhere, rather than pay the $40 a copy currently fetches on Amazon.com. Last weekend, I'm happy to report, such a copy finally turned up, and I am once again able to hear Toots & Co. cut loose on "Love and Happiness," "Hard to Handle," and "Knock on Wood."

*My life list went up by one, you'll be happy to hear, after a number of intrepid birders reported a large and nearly all-white gull hanging out on the James River near the T. Potterfield pedestrian bridge. I got up early last weekend and hauled my scope out onto the bridge to check out the reports, and as I looked out at one of the remaining supports from the original 9th Street Bridge, I saw it: huddled in amongst a group of Greater Black-backed Gulls was one bird with a white back and a black-tipped pink bill: a young Glaucous Gull. I also went looking for the young Painted Bunting that had been reported on Belle Isle, but I struck out; the Cooper's Hawk I saw hanging around the island was most likely responsible for that.

*For some reason, I am running out of socks. I have plenty of athletic socks, and even a fair number of woolen socks for hiking and/or skiing, but ordinary workday socks have begun to vanish. This must not stand!

*Finally, if any of you enjoy Mexican food, Asian food, and the fusion of the two, let me recommend an eatery in RVA that you must not miss: the improbably named Wong Gonzalez. Order the hot and sour soup. You will not regret it.


1:33 PM
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Say What?


My latest column for Audubon.org, in which Robyn Hitchcock and the Pigeon Guillemot meet the Great Vowel Shift in a desperate quest for a correct English pronunciation of bird names.

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12:07 PM
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At this juncture, roughly 125 hours into the Trump administration, I'd have to summarize my feelings by quoting the long-defunct comic strip Conchy: "There are times when you get no satisfaction out of being right." Our new president is doing more or less exactly what I feared he would, refusing to make even the merest nod toward transparency, issuing gag orders so we taxpayers can't learn from the scientists whose work we paid for, turning unqualified cronies loose on the government in order to strip each department of its ability to govern, and covering up his own quivering insecurity by having his spokesmen craft lies that don't even stand up to the breeze from one tiny hand waving.

And as a result of those anticipatory fears, I opted to spend last Saturday accompanying my wife in the Women's March on Washington. Thanks to Kelly's knitting skills, we were both properly kitted out in handmade Pink Pussy Hats:

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We did have to rise rather early for this trip--the bus left at 4:00 a.m.--but we were able to settle in at a table downstairs in Union Station and knock back a coffee or two and a few of Dunkin Donuts' eponymous treats. As the fog of morning faded, we observed other people arriving, and we weren't entirely surprised to see Pink Pussy Hats on a great many of them. In fact, just about everyone in the station seemed to be there for the protest, except for the people working there and one rather befuddled-looking white guy in a black jacket with orange piping. He was wandering around from table to table for some reason, but I didn't pay much attention to him at first because I was concentrating on putting some finishing touches on one of my signs:

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The asterisk at right, as any Yankees fan (such as one D.J. Trump) would know, is a reference to the apocryphal asterisk affixed to Yanks slugger Roger Maris' total of 61 home runs, after he beat Babe Ruth's record of 60 but took eight more games to do it. I wasn't entirely happy with it, though, because it didn't quite pop off the blue background; I probably should have used a star with six arms instead of eight. Still, when you were close to it, it was clearly an asterisk.

Not that Wandering Dude figured it out. "All right!" he said to me, beaming as he approached my table. "It's good to see something for the president in the middle of all these protesters!"

I looked up over my glasses at him. He was somewhere close to my own age, a bit ruddy-faced, with glasses and thinning reddish hair, and clearly sure that a fellow middle-aged white guy must be in the Trump camp. "I'm a protester," I replied.

That took him aback for a second. "Then what's the sign for? It says 'Forty-five.'"

"There's an asterisk," I pointed out. "And it's going to stay there until I'm satisfied by an investigation into Russian hacking into the election." 

He clearly had no idea what the asterisk actually meant, and with a bit of muttering, he wandered off to find someone else to annoy--someone smaller and less male, I suspect. Kelly is not a big baseball fan, but she was just as amused by this encounter as I was, and when she retold the story, she added the rhetorical question, "Dude, do you even SPORTS?" Her own sign was a lot more straightforward:

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One shocking development was apparent even in the station: the rest room lines were STAGGERINGLY long. Any observer could tell you the reason: the crowd was largely female, and ladies' rooms have fewer places for elimination than men's rooms. But even knowing that, the ladies' room was a good thirty minutes long... until the crowd made a collective and eminently sensible decision: for this morning, at least, the stalls in the men's room would be unisex.

The stall I ended up occupying, however, was bordered by a wall on my left and a guy on my right. And the guy was singing. Not belting, but singing audibly, with lyrics that could be identified even over the sounds of dozens of people moving in and out of the room. In fact, he was singing something vaguely familiar... "You want a piece of my heart, you better start from the start..." OH MY FUCKING GOD IT'S "WORKING FOR THE WEEKEND." 

On the list of bands I hate, Loverboy is near the top, and this song in particular is near the top of the list of songs I hate. And there I was, pinned down and immobile. I gritted my teeth and bore down, hoping to finish up quickly and make my escape, but the song went on, and I swear, it became a medley. The next tune was the Bangles' "Manic Monday," another tune I don't particularly love, especially when the singer interrupts himself to announce to the rest of the patrons that it was written by Prince. 

That seemed to derail him a bit, but before I could wrap things up, I was treated to a few more bars of something unrecognizable and a speculation that aliens had in fact taken over the White House. "Melania is from VENUS!" came the final verdict, and with a rapid flush, I was finally free.

It was time to head for the rally that would precede the March, so we bid goodbye to Union Station and carried our signs out toward the Capitol. We knew the stage was across the Mall at the corner of Independence and 3rd, but what neither we nor the organizers knew was how many people were assembling there. We came from the northeast and hit Independence just east of the Museum of the American Indian, whose beautiful curves and lines I had never seen in person:

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Unfortunately, that was as far as we could go--and the stage, much to our annoyance, was pointed in the other direction. We had arrived a half-hour before the speakers and performers would begin at ten, and we were unable to see or hear a single thing happening onstage for the next five hours. Exception: I was able to detect one slow, faint bassline, and when I asked aloud, "Is that 'Change Is Gonna Come'?" I was assured by a fellow protester that I was correct, and later research revealed the performer to be a very talented singer named Angelique Kidjo

So what did we do? We talked with each other, and with other protesters, and people-watched, and read everybody's signs, and took bunches of pictures, and questioned whether or not the women in the tree were taking off their tops (they were), and snarfed granola bars, and occasionally tried to push toward a different space before discovering there was no point, and started chanting "START THE MARCH!" every so often after the 1:00 start had arrived. We finally got moving at about 2:30, but until then, this is what we looked at: (Click on any sign to see a larger version.)

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The signs carried by the marchers, and by the people lining the march route (which ended up being altered a great deal, what with roughly 500,000 people showing up for a march that was supposed to top out at maybe 200,000) were the main source of our amusement and our inspiration. As frustrated as we felt by the events of the election, and as fearful as we were about the coming administration, we saw each sign as, well, a sign: a sign that we weren't alone, that there were thousands, even millions of people who felt as we did. It was a great comfort, and a memory to sustain us in our ongoing work to protect our nation's ideals, and its people, and yes, its sense of humor. Because over the next four years, we're going to need a sense of humor.

My two favorite signs from the march were both on display as we crossed the Mall toward Constitution Avenue. One was waved by a dark-haired woman, the other by a guy wrapped in a rainbow flag. They too were determined to maintain a sense of humor, or even absurdity:


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We trudged back to the station after about an hour on the move, planted ourselves in carefully-seized and -guarded chairs in the food court, gorged ourselves on Japanese noodles for a carb boost, and waited for our bus. It took us nearly an hour and a half in line before we boarded--not what we were really hoping for--and by a little after 10:00 p.m. we were back in Richmond.

I can't say I feel like a full participant in the Women's March, because so much of it wasn't directed at me--literally. Whatever words the speakers wanted to share with me went unheard as they echoed down toward the west end of Independence Avenue. But I very definitely feel like a full participant in the protest, and as I am daily given more and more to protest, I take comfort in thinking of the Americans who joined us, the ones who wanted to join us but couldn't, and the ones who will be joining us in the future. Because there will be a future. And I've seen some signs that make me feel it might be one worth fighting for.

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6:35 PM
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...yet.

But just in case, I'm going to DC for the Women's March tomorrow.

I want the Republicans in Washington to look out across that sea of faces and see that their strategy of depending on the support of middle-aged white guys may just turn around and bite them on the ass in 2018.

Or so I hope.

E pluribus unum, everyone. Resistance is not futile and dissent is patriotic.

Or, as Jimmy Buffett might have put it, "I've got my pink pussy hat/ I guess I wasn't cut out for Trump's in-au-gu-ral."

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10:27 PM
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So Long, Farewell...


...auf wedersehn, goodbye, adios, aloha, get the hell OUT of here, 2016.

No, it hasn't been an especially cheerful year, particularly since November 8th. I'm spending these last hours trying to draw strength and calm from a re-reading of a favorite book, Ursula K. Le Guin's Very Far Away from Anywhere Else, and looking forward to a dinner of black beans and yellow rice, a meal Kelly hasn't made in a while.

But I'm also trying hard to think about the good things that 2016 offered me. I got to visit Washington & Oregon, meet new friends, reconnect with old ones, and see scads of new birds. We adopted a new dog, who has given us joy in great quantities. My son got engaged to a simply delightful young woman who makes Kelly and me almost as happy as she makes him. I was able to get back to full-time employment, with the attendant boost in compensation. I bought (and have been enjoying learning to play) a Washburn AB10 acoustic bass guitar. My family gathered at Emerald Isle for a wonderful Thanksgiving and celebration of my father's 80th birthday. And I've been able to get a semi-regular gig writing for Audubon.org.

None of that will disappear in the orange-colored fog that prepares to descend upon it. But it may be harder to see.

In the meantime, everyone have a safe and happy new year. We've got a lot of work to do.

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7:16 PM
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Another piece at Audubon is up, this one concerning the intersection between birds and superheroes and why it's not the most upscale intersection.

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If nothing else, this image should help explain why they changed Sam's uniform.


9:14 PM
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Spades


Well, then.

Taking the last month off from blogging was not my original goal, but every time I started trying to type words on the screen, it was only a few keystrokes before I began a full-on George Carlin litany: "The thing about Trump is that he'll almost certaiSHIT PISS FUCK CUNT COCKSUCKER MOTHERFUCKER AND TITS."

I mean, I've been disappointed in my fellow Americans before. I've been ANGRY at them before. Heck, in 2004, I found out a relative had voted for Bush, figuring we shouldn't change leadership in the middle of a war. After the steam finished pouring from my ears, I simply pointed out that this was a war of choice that Bush had STARTED, and that by this logic, every President should start a war during his first term to guarantee his re-election.

But this, I think, is the first time I've actually been ashamed of my fellow Americans. 

Ashamed and slightly afraid.

The two are linked because the decision to cast a ballot for Donald Trump requires that one of two things be true.

First, a Trump voter may not understand what he's voting for. He may not have followed Trump's career over the past thirty-odd years. He may not understand that the one consistency in Trump's character is his naked, unyielding self-interest. His purpose in running for President was not to do anything on behalf of his country, his party, or his voters; his purpose was to enrich himself, either monetarily or in terms of ego gratification. His conduct over the last month--dabbling in conflicts of interest that would have disqualified any other candidate, upsetting international relations with casual phone calls, setting a murderer's row of foxes in charge of our nation's henhouses--makes no sense for anyone who puts his own interests second to principle, pragmatism, or humanity. The Trump administration shows every sign of making kleptocracy an art form, and the deepest recesses of our pockets have been opened up for his predation.

Making all this worse--and more ironic, if you're capable of achieving that much distance from the situation--is that the same people who voted Trump under the impression that their votes would flush Washington clean of the offal that has clogged it for years also voted to keep that same offal in office; the House and Senate remain in the hands of the same Republicans (with only a handful of exceptions) who've been clogging our national pipes. Instead of getting a new plumber or even a new plunger, they've supplied us with a shiny new toilet seat and are content to leave everything else alone. The expectation that said offal is going to work to rein Trump in is simply laughable; what has EVER served to rein him in? His fellow GOP candidates couldn't do it; the media couldn't do it; and the voters have shown no interest in doing so themselves. Mitch McConnell may have plenty of spine when it comes to obstructing a black Democrat, but he's a total invertebrate when it comes to dealing with Republicans in power. Hell, he's already refusing to recuse himself from the confirmation debate when his own wife comes up for a Trump cabinet post--THAT is exactly how much principle he has.

In short, the Trump voter may only now be starting to see the writing on the wall, despite the fact that it's been written in gigantic letters of flame reading MENE, MENE, YOU CANNOT BE FUCKING SERIOUS since the 1980s. That's a feat of ignorance that requires careful preparation over many years, and I am frankly ashamed that so many of my countrymen have been so diligent.

But there's a second possibility: they did this on purpose.

And that's the part that scares me. Because that means they knew about the misogyny, the bigotry, the cozying up to actual self-identified Nazis, the cronyism, the admiration for the very regime that hacked into the American political process for its own purposes, the obfuscation of finances and taxes and interests... they knew about all that.

And they voted Trump anyway.

Look, I'm a white, straight, married male citizen with a steady job and no immediately visible traits that would make me a target of abuse in Trump's America. And if I'm scared of what could happen, I can only imagine what nonwhite, queer, female, naturalized, impoverished, or disabled Americans are feeling right now. Whether this presidency was obtained through the actions of fools, or knaves, or both, it promises to be one that does real and potentially permanent damage to our nation, its reputation, and the planet on which it lies.

I'm not urging you to panic. I'm not urging you to be complacent, either. I'm urging you to be ready to pick up your spade and get to work. Organize. Speak out. When you can, vote. Protect the vulnerable. Disturb the powerful. Heed the words written a few years back by a great American--Lin-Manuel Miranda, a Hispanic American with colleagues of every gender, sexuality, and ethnicity:

"We're in the shit now. Somebody's got to shovel it."


3:18 PM
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Election Day 2016


Here's my Tweetstorm from last night.  


1 As a straight, white, married, middle-aged Southern male, I'm presumably right in the middle of Trump's target zone. Why am I voting HRC?


2 Well, for one thing, I'm pretty liberal on social issues. I have no love whatsoever for the religious right.


3 For another, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool feminist, so Trump's personal misogyny is disqualifying even if I liked his policies


4 But at the core, I just don't feel the terror some old white dudes seem to feel about demographic changes in the US.


5 It's kind of like the Copernican Revolution. The math is telling us a truth: we're not the center of the universe.

6 We never WERE the center of the universe. But we built our system to tell us that comforting lie for as long as possible.

7 But now the lie is no longer tenable. We can either cling to it uselessly, lashing out at those who speak the truth...


8 ...or consider the marvels contained by a universe where we're not the center--and therefore not alone.


9 To be the center is to be the lone pivot, with nothing and no one beside you. Isolated. Distant. Untouched.


10 How much better to be part of something--one of many planets orbiting many stars, making up a fantastic universe.


11 There's a reason our national motto is E PLURIBUS UNUM. No person, no group alone can make something greater than itself.


12 If you want to transcend yourself, you need others. You need more than just yourself. You need partners.


13 So that's what I want: to be a partner to those who aren't just like me. To make America greater than I can make it alone


14 I don't want to make America great again; it's great without me. But even if it's less white, less male, less straight...


15 ...I believe it can be greater than a straight white male America ever was. And I welcome those who'll help make it so.


16 Thanks. Let's get to the polls, y'all.

And I mean all y'all. /end




8:18 AM
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Thagomized


Things are still pretty busy, but here's my latest piece for Audubon, in which Thag Simmons meets the Ring-necked Duck.

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4:24 PM
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Lord of the Wings


It's been a busy fall so far, not least because I've been working on some pieces for Audubon.org, one of which went live today.

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If you've read this blog before, you'll know that Tolkien, birds, and Tolkien-related birds make up a significant portion of its contents. Here's hoping this latest commentary on those topics meets with your approval.


5:29 PM
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