August 11, 2004


Identikit Heads:

That's the cover of the new Talking Heads best-of that comes out next Tuesday.

My grandfather, the whatsit.

When you're really truly Caucasian, it's very difficult to research your forebears. My grandfather was a North Caucasian Muslim, which more or less put him in a camp with the Abkhazians (you know, those <sarcasm>troublemakers</sarcasm> in Northern Georgia -- the Abkhazian Autonomous Region is Georgia's Chechnya). But my grandmother always called his people the "Adigay."

I figured this was a reasonable corruption from "Abaza" (more or less ethnically the same as the Abkhazians, but on the Russian side of the border), since I wasn't finding anything using that spelling. (It doesn't help that Russian transliterates in such varied ways.) I tried Adygay, which turned up one page in German; since my grandparents met in an Austrian work camp during WWII, it seemed reasonable to assume that was the German version of "Abaza."

Reasonable, but wrong. It turns out she had a cookbook (in Cyrillic) of "Adigay" recipes. Obviously someone besides the Germans used the name. Well, finally I tried a -- duh! -- direct transliteration of the Cyrillic, and succeeded:
  • This is an interesting Adyghe music site, with a couple links.
  • This is an interesting looking handbook to the Circassians/Cherkess (aka the Adyghe, who include the Abaza and the Abkhazians, among others).
  • Here's the Adyghe alphabet.
If you look at the photos at that first link, you'll see that they have REALLY COOL uniforms. I wish we could get married in the clothes these couples are wearing, eh, Diane?

I remembered being told about five years ago why they were called the Cherkess (which means "head-cutters") -- that they had this habit of resisting in very bloody fashion Turkish incursions in the old Ottoman days. Apparently, though, this isn't quite true:
    The word cherkess means "head cutter" which refers 

to military procedure of cutting heads of comrades who
died in the battle and taking them home.

Caucasian tradition prevents warriors from leaving dead
comrades in the battle field. This scary-sounding
procedure was caused by practical reasons - it's
difficult to transport the whole bodies while the
head itself can be transported home easily and
buried properly.

Cool -- they're pragmatists, just like me!

I'm listening to Adyghe internet radio at the moment -- they're doing some kind of special on al-Sadr (though I can't tell their feelings on him). This is an amazing world we live in.

August 05, 2004

Give it to 'em, Siggie!

Do "Freudian slips" really happen? Or has the concept, standardised into "fact" in the minds of many, merely confirm our unfair leaps to judgment of people who misspeak? I'm not sure exactly. It's something worth pondering. So is this:
"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we," 

Bush said. "They never stop thinking about new ways to harm
our country and our people, and neither do we."

August 03, 2004

Yet I alive!

It may be no "yes.", but I've always been impressed with the messy piece of doggerel Daniel Defoe wrote to end his A Journal of the Plague Year.
 A dreadful plague in London was

In the year sixty-five,
Which swept an hundred thousand souls
Away; yet I alive!
I have very little else to say on the matter, other than that I suddenly feel like reading the pair of plague books Dr. V- introduced me to: the Defoe book and Camus's La Peste. I've had a strong craving for Camus lately in general. Maybe it's time to finish reading The Myth of Sisyphus.

1969 in the sunshine

Quick takes:
Monster is REM's U2 album. The only problem is that it's 90s U2. It's actually better than 90s U2, though, so go figure.

What's the difference between a political song and a personal song? My tendency has always been to apply a strict reading to determine whether a song is political or no. There's an argument to be made that "Born in the USA" is a personal song, for example:
Born down in a dead man's town

The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that's been beat too much
till you spend half your life just coverin' up
But I posit a song with these lyrics:
"Well the welfare checks are all stopped up

and Medicare's just a big tin cup
Social security don't work no more
But the tax cut kings say, 'More more more'"
(This was just the first pair of couplets that came to mind; they do not represent my opinions or my poetic style.) Is this a personal or political song? Well, it does pass a strict reading -- no characters are mentioned to personalize it, and the narrator doesn't mention himself. It still seems to me that it's a personal lyric, though: there is a narrative voice, even if the character doesn't personalize his problems; there are connotative associations that lead the listener to believe that the narrator identifies with the poor and the old. Perhaps there are no real political songs, or maybe (since politics is the art of making as many people as possible happy) there can be no politics without the personal. If you have any thoughts on what a pure political song should be, please leave a comment.

Sudan continues to frustrate and depress me. Imbeciles of the world, waffle!

Um, wow.

Talk about your surprising discoveries. In 1997, David Byrne turned in a strong set with Feelings, a surprisingly personal album. Of the songs, by far the most powerful was "Dance on Vaseline", a song about madness, power, and organized religion (maybe music too?). (Yes, even a personal David Byrne song is odd.) Its lyrics are solid, for the most part:
I’m taking back the knowledge

I’m taking back the gentleness
I’m taking back the ritual
I’m giving in to sweetness

Oh preacher man
Shoot me with your poison arrow
But I dance on Vaseline
I’m trippin’ out
Workin’ on a revolution
Gon’ let the music in


Started in Oklahoma
You always think it happens somewhere else
This madness is attractive
Until the day it happens to yourself

& Power might seem sexy
But check her in the cool grey light of dawn
A legislative body
And all at once your lust for her is gone
(Alright, that quotage was a little extreme, but I like the lyrics, dammit). Anyway, as far as I knew, it was a creative, original song.

But today I know better. See, I bought Diane the 1990 Jerry Harrison (for the uninitiated, Talking Heads' rhythm guitarist and keyboard player) album Walk On Water a few months ago, but after a few seconds of the first three tracks, we decided it was too painfully 80s to keep listening to. Today, though, I took it with me to work. I was listening to each track, one by one, and again remarking the 80s-ishness of them all (this guy is a cutting-edge producer?!). But then I got to "I Cry for Iran", the sort-of title track of the album. It sounded better, it sounded good. The lyrics were rather dumb and manipulative ("I cry for children / I cry for Iran"), but the tune was really...

Wait. That's Dance on Vaseline.

So I went and checked the date of Feelings and then posted this. I'm sure it was subconscious plagiarism on Byrne's part, but it's so egregious that Dance on Vaseline should have been credited (Music: Harrison; Lyrics: Byrne).

August 02, 2004

"Never Again"

Yeah, never again. Never again will we allow the extermination of one ethnic group by another.

Er, the extermination of one ethnic group by another that looks more or less the same?

Hmmm... well, uh, um, Africa just doesn't count.

Did you know that Canada is complicit in this? 50,000 people, I guess, isn't enough to count as genocide. What would make it genocide, Pierre, 100,000? A million? The death toll is already 35% of the population of Prince Edward Island.