Sunday, November 30, 2008

FridaySunday Frank: The Teheran Symphony Orchestra Rehearsing Dog Breath Variations + More Frank Love In Honor of Zappadan

Maestro Zappa's music may not yet be widely-known in these parts--certainly the vast majority of it never hit America's commercial airwaves, save a handful of humor songs--but in Europe, Scandinavia, South America, and even the Middle East, fans and musicians alike listen to, and are inspired by, Zappa's rock, blues, jazz, fusion, and neoclassical compositions.

Tribute bands abound in Finland and the Czech Republic, and some of the world's most talented musicians continue to study and perform challenging classical pieces like Dog Breath Variations (as above, in which video members of the Teheran Symphony Orchestra tackle the complex piece) and Outrage at Valdez.

I'll be posting a goodly amount of Frank Zappa material this month, in honor of Zappadan--December 4-21--when "all our blogs belong to Zappa". (As if I needed an excuse!) Info here:

Finally, here's a double dose (so to speak) of FZ wit: Joe's Garage followed by Why Does it Hurt When I Pee?

Happy Sunday, all.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Simplisitc Drug Testing Kits Yield False Results and Wrongful Arrests

Quod me nutrit me destruit*, indeed.

So, what's in your wallet (or handbag or toiletry kit)? If you're traveling out of the country any time soon--hell, if you're simply driving around in this one--you'd be wise to rid your bags and carryalls of any organic chocolate bars, natural soaps, and health-food-store deodorants. Read this, be horrified, and for goodness' sake, be careful:

For Nadine Artemis and Ron Obadia, August began with plans for a family vacation in Minnesota. The vacation ended with the two Canadian citizens being led through Toronto's airport in handcuffs, locked up and separated from their baby.

"We were dumbfounded," Artemis says. Police told them they could be facing years in prison for exporting narcotics, because 2.5 pounds of material found in their carry-on bag tested positive for hashish. "All we knew was that we didn't have drugs."

They were telling the truth. They didn't have drugs. They had chocolate.

The couple were caught up in what civil libertarians, public defenders and some narcotics experts say is a growing problem: the use of unreliable field drug-test kits as the basis to arrest innocent people on illegal drug charges.

The inexpensive test kits are used by virtually every police department in the country and by federal agents, including Customs officers at the nation's borders. The kits test suspicious materials, and a positive result generally leads to an arrest and court date, pending more sophisticated tests done after the sample is sent to a lab.

The kits use powerful acids that react with the substance in a plastic pouch. If the liquid turns a certain color, it is a considered a positive result. But a number of legal products and plants test positive: chocolate for hashish; rosemary for marijuana; and natural soaps for the "date-rape drug" GHB.

"The tests have no validity," says former FBI narcotics investigator Frederick Whitehurst. And as more organic products come on the market, "the potential for civil rights violations when these presumptive tests are out there is phenomenal."

Although police have been using the field test kits for decades, "there's no regulation, no oversight that these drug tests perform in any way," says Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps President David Bronner, whose products have tested positive for GHB.

With the growth of organic and natural foods and products, experts say arrests may increase.

"We are alarmed by the growing number of people who have been taken to jail for simply possessing organic products," says Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association.

On Aug. 29, Artemis and Obadia, founders of Living Libations, a company that makes organic and natural food and beauty products in Haliburton, Ontario, were cleared of the charges when lab tests showed they were simply transporting chocolate. [...]

So far, the couple's legal bills have topped $20,000, covered in part by Bronner's company.

As you can see, I'm not joking about the need to be careful. As someone who routinely carries (at least) a bar or two of organic dark chocolate in her handbag--more if I'm flying, in case I need to share it with cranky people during inevitable delayed-on-the-runway scenarios--and furthermore, who has Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Soap in her shower and her travel toiletry kit, let me tell you, this story sent chills down my spine.

No, we shouldn't have to modify our own normal and perfectly legal behavior in order to avoid being falsely accused and expensively imprisoned--this is America, yes? The fault for these outrageous miscarriages of justice lies clearly in the laps of the test-kits' manufacturer(s), as well as those law enforcement and customs personnel who awarded them the lucrative government contracts to make the kits. Kits that don't test for a specific substance, by the way, but rather, just identify a general classification to which a substance belongs.

Poppy-seeds fallen from your morning bagel, or evidence of something more sinister? The test kit will err on the side of un-Constitutional.

On the other hand, I'm certainly not willing to risk being thrown in jail and separated from my sons--and then forced to spend a fortune on legal help to prove my innocence--simply because I love chocolate (which I do, very much) or because I like the wake-me-up scent of mint in my bath products.

Allen Miller of Forensic Source, which makes kits, says they find "families of chemical compounds" and are not meant to be definitive. Any arrest should be the result of good investigative police work, Miller says.

But Adam Wolf of the ACLU says "police officers and drug-test companies should not subject our constitutional rights to a game of chance."

*What nourishes me kills me.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

If We Took All the Bones Out, It Wouldn't Be Crunchy!

Ah, the Whizzo Chocolate Assortment sketch--one of my favorite food-related Python bits. I almost posted the vomiting-and-exploding gourmand scene from The Meaning of Life, but thought better of it when Sons Two and Three ran from the room shrieking Ewwwwwww. Hey, we're a pretty tough-tummied crowd around here, but even so, that sketch hit a little too close to home, shall we say, on a feasting day like today. And I wouldn't want to be responsible for dampening anyone's appetite.

Crunchy frog it is, then.

And as for me, I'm thankful for the mushroom shepherd's pie--with no lark's vomit and no anthrax--that I'll be making this afternoon; for the crisp, holiday-appropriate temperatures despite the brilliant sun pouring down on the garden where the boys are shooting hoops right now; and for family and friends far and near, there and here. I hope you all enjoy a peaceful, warm, and delicious day, too.

Happy Thanksgiving from my family to you and yours,


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cruelty and Liberal-bashing, Each and Every Day of the Year!

Oh dear. Thirtysomething pom-pom girl and granite-countertop-detector Michelle Malkin, along with several other *OXYMORON ALERT* beautiful conservative women (I left out the word narcissistic so as to avoid piling a redundancy on top of the oxymoron) have troweled on a few pounds of pancake and lipstick and draped themselves in tens of thousands of dollars worth of dead rodent mustelid skins in order to pose for a calendar called Pretty in Mink.

Of course, the majority of Madame's commenters are taking this as their cue to spout off (so to speak) about the unparalleled hotness of the Mses. Malkin, Coulter, and Carpenter etc., and--amusingly--to drone on and on about how "horribly ugly", "unfeminine", and "hairy" we liberal women are.

At the risk of stating the obvious, methinks these basement-dwellers really need to get out more.

Sigh. This sort of stuff almost makes me want to put together a calendar of our own, considering how many beautiful liberal women I know personally, as well as how many famous beautiful liberal women there are out there--I mean, Scarlett, Angelina, etc. etc....whom are these people kidding? (Yeah, I know.)

Being a lefty, though, I can't help but remind myself that so doing would be terribly unfair. Because even without the assistance of a Vaselined lens and heavy-duty beauty lighting, women--and for that matter, men--who care about things like housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, promoting social justice, protecting the environment, ensuring equal rights and freedoms for all--for starters--are possessed of a certain incandescent beauty *SENTIMENTALITY ALERT* that shines from within. This is something that can't be artificially recreated in an individual whose identity is so deeply invested in things like championing pre-emptive war; fanning the flames of (and forever reigniting) anti-immigration sentiment; approving of and even joking about government-sanctioned torture; ignoring (tacitly approving?) the erosion of the middle class via Bushian deregulation, disproportionate taxation, and state-approved polarization of wealth; and calling for the curtailment of rights of whichever class of people he or she deems unworthy of said rights--up to and including the internment of innocent American citizens not charged with any crime.

Ugly is as ugly does. And insofar as I'm aware, no-one has invented a lens, filter, or Photoshop trick that works on the soul.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

FridaySaturday Frank: Penguin in Bondage; Italian TV, 1972

As I've said before, I think this particular FZ lineup is my all-time-favorite, mainly due to my fondness for Ponty's violin riffs.

Yikes, what a week. First, I was treated to a cable news loop of the governor of Alaska "pardoning" a turkey and then holding soundbite court in front of an active turkey guillotine manned by a rubber-gloved executioner, the whole scene made surreal and cringe-inducingly funny by what are surely the best breaking news subtitles ever; mad props to whichever dry-witted, animal-loving MSNBC geek(s) put those together.

Next, to my (guilty) dismay, I learned the boys are going to be In The House--while Mama goes Out The Mind--for the next ten days. Hey, whatever happened to the old four-day Thanksgiving thing? When I was your age...

And then, it got really, really cold in Florida. No seriously--low-forties-Fahrenheit-cold. And while I'd normally be all excited about the rare opportunity to dive into the vintage sweater stockpile that's been thirty years in the making--and maybe even debuting the awesome boots I bought two years ago while having one of my fits of tropics-denying (note to self: talk R into taking me out tonight, preferably someplace where said boots will be appreciated)--this year, I'm feeling the chill as never before. Especially in my poor hands and feet. Brrr.

AND as long as I'm whining: here we are in 2008, with change heading to Washington and stores putting tracking devices on my chocolate bars, and still (still!) no winter-wear company is making modern-cut long underwear for low-slung jeans--no, all you can find, online and off, is pair after billowing pair of elasticated, high-waisted "Mom jeans"-style long johns (When you've given up giving it up...Mom Jeans!) in which--and honestly, I cannot repeat this often enough--I would not be caught dead. Hey, clothing makers: there's a huge number of blue-toed, shivering and skinny post-Boomer women out here having cold flashes as we hit our forties. Fancy making quick sales and long-term customers? Then design some low-waisted, close-fitting long johns that I can wear under jeans on days like today without looking like, well, like a penguin in bondage.

Off with me to the grocery store, then. I have a feeling they won't have run out of Tofurkey just yet; Thermacare handwarmers are another story.

Bon Weekend, everyone!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dear President-Elect Obama: Please Support Organic Food and Farming

Joan Miró
The Vegetable Garden with Donkey

Members of the Organic Consumers Association are writing to President-Elect Barack Obama--go here to add your signature--and setting forth recommendations for policy and personal initiatives aimed at creating "a healthy, sustainable, just, and organic future" for America.

President-Elect Obama is in the process of formulating policy, assembling his transition team, and considering nominees for Secretary of Agriculture, among other important positions. The Secretary of Agriculture is responsible for directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its $90 billion annual budget, including the National Organic Program, food stamp and nutrition programs, and agriculture subsidies. Obama throughout his campaign, and since his election, has stressed that he wants to hear from the public in order to formulate his policies. Let’s all take him up on this invitation. [...]

[Excerpted from the letter:]

1. Plant a working “Organic Victory Garden” on the South Lawn of the White House, to symbolize your commitment to locally-based, solar-based organic agriculture, with surplus food going to local food shelves.

2. Hire a well-known organic chef, such as Nora Pouillon or Alice Waters, to prepare healthy organic meals for the White House and staff, including vegetables and herbs from the White House Organic Victory Garden.

3. Increase food stamp benefits so low-income Americans can afford high quality organic foods. One way to do this would be to double the value of food stamp debit cards for fresh food purchased from farmers markets.

4. Restore consumers’ right to know by publicly supporting mandatory labeling of Genetically Engineered foods, with regulations similar to those now in place in Europe, Japan, and other nations.

5. Expand incentives for small and mid-sized organic farms and for farmers and ranchers who wish to make the transition to organic. The organic sector currently represents at least three percent of our current food purchases, therefore it deserves at least three percent of USDA program funds and incentives.

6. Appoint Michael Pollan, or another well-known advocate for organic agriculture and the relocalization of our food and farming system, as the new Secretary of Agriculture.

7. Provide funds and incentives for urban food access programs that connect organic farms with urban retail stores, providing fresh produce and vegetables for America’s inner-cities.

8. [Redirect the existing multi-billion dollar crop subsidy system away from commodities and biofuels and instead towards energy-efficient, greenhouse gas sequestering organic crops, especially fruits and vegetables.]

9. Strictly regulate factory farms, Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO), to sharply reduce or eliminate their damage to the environment and public health.

10. Fast-track the Employee Free Choice Act to assure that farm labor and other workers are guaranteed the right to form a union at their place of employment.

I can't add a thing--these are, quite simply, excellent recommendations. I'm sure you'll agree: sign here. (Thanks!)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Making Progress Making Things

Things won are done;
joy's soul lies in the doing.
--William Shakespeare

So how are we all this week, after having clung for dear life to nonexistent safety bars and taken a seemingly never-ending ride on the E-ticket Presidential Rollercoaster in the extravagantly overwrought amusement park that is American Politics? (Baby-boomer Brownie points to those who know what E-ticket means; more kudos still to those who also use the term brownie points--ha!)

I imagine that my own emotions today--a mere week since I sat in the local Obama office, biting my nails and making last-minute reminder calls--are not all that different from those of anyone else who worried, watched, and wept last Tuesday.



A tiny bit of disbelief, given all that we've witnessed in elections past (especially in Florida).

Intense pride, given all the racist blather I'd seen, heard, and read these past two years, that America had elected a brilliant man to its highest office, based on the content of his character instead of the color of his skin.

A need to e-mail or call every single person to whom I've ranted about W et. al. over the past eight years and say something articulate and deeply intellectual like Woo-hoo! AIEEEE! Can you believe it? Oh my God, can you believe it? YEAH! YES WE CAN!

And this: a profound sense of disconnectedness mixed with the certainty that I must now get down to the business of creating things. While reflecting on my obsessive politics-following habits, I realized how little else I've written about, how little else I've created. There is a rack of vintage dresses that need altering or re-working, but for years I've been less than inspired, shall we say. There is an entire novel outline sitting on my hard-drive; there are several new-but-unopened recipe books piled up in the kitchen; there are literally hundreds of note-cards--each of which is inscribed with an idea (and sometimes several ideas) for poems, stories, and designs--lying in and around my desk.

Good grief, I must get busy. Where the hell have I been? Okay, other than the laundry room, I mean. And the car. And the pediatrician's office. And the grocery store. And, of course, the computer and the MSNBC.

President-elect Obama says we must once again become a nation that makes things. And since I'm not an engineer, an architect, or an automobile designer, I'm going to interpret the word "make" as create, and the word "things" as meaning not only energy efficient cars and buildings, but also literature, art, and music.

So, then, inspiration trumps relief, burnout, exhaustion, disbelief, and even euphoria (hey, we all know euphoria is a temporary gig, right? How much could we ever get done if we humans were euphoric all day, every day? Think of all the dancing shoes we'd be wearing out, one pair after another...). I am inspired to get my metaphorical ass in gear. I will finally learn Dreamweaver; I will at last learn to use my new camera; I will begin to tackle some of my vintage projects (maybe I'll photograph them!) and most of all, I will write.

Anyway, before I frighten myself with all these plans, I'd like to share a couple of favorite election night images you may have missed. Ezra posted the first one just as the election was called for Barack Obama; the second comes from a terribly cute website, Cats for Obama (H/T Lisa at Cogitamus).

So, how about you? Now that you can breathe (somewhat) more easily, secure in the knowledge that a smart, competent grownup will soon be running things, what sort of creative work will you dive into with wild (or even mild) abandon?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


I am off to help out at the nearby Obama office--working the phones or knocking on doors, or both--but I wanted to pop my head in the door to say how proud I am today.

Proud of all the wonderful people I've met--in grocery store lines, at parent events, and while out on the town--who get it. Proud of my fellow liberals; proud of the many conservatives I know who are putting country before party and voting for a Democrat for the first time. Proud of our extraordinary, brilliant, history-making candidate, Barack Obama. Proud of my American husband and my American children.

Proud of America.

I'll be back this evening with observations (and maybe even a few photos). Go and vote! And if you've already voted, volunteer as much as you're able--even if it's just giving a neighbor a ride to the polls.