Friday, March 16, 2007

Friday Random Ten

hit random, take the top ten

Po' Lazurus - - - Son House
St. James Infirmary - - - Cab Calloway
Come Dancing - - - Kinks
Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning - - - Odetta
Take This Waltz - - - Leonard Cohen
Back on the Chain Gang - - - Pretenders
They Can't Take That Away From Me - - Fred Astaire
Lay Lady Lay - - - Bob Dylan (live bootleg)
Biko - - - Sweet Honey in the Rock
The Rocky Road to Dublin - - - Cheiftains (with the Stones)

hit random twice take the top bonus

We're All Mad Here - - - Tom Waits

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Words and Music, The Irish Rover

This is such a rouser that I will print the lyrics. There's a traditional audience participation thing with this song. Don't be surprised if you find the lyrics in parenthesis shouted back at'cha' it's all in good fun. Plus, you can chew them out the first time they miss their cues. I have been known to upbraid audiences that don't get into this stuff by saying

Oh, I forgot, we're in ----------. Everybody in -------- is too cool to do silly stuff like sing along. They're going to carve it on their tombstones, they never had any fun in ------------, but Lord, they were Cool.

Without any further ado. Since you have the Clancy's version of the melody immediately below I won't be botherin' to post that link.

In the year of our Lord, eighteen hundred and six
We set sail from the fair Cobh of Cork. (bragh Cork!)
We were bound far away with a cargo of bricks
For the fine city hall of New York.

In a very fine craft, she was rigged fore-and-aft
And oh, how the wild winds drove her.
She had twenty-three masts and withstood several blasts
And we called her the Irish Rover.

There was Barney McGee from the banks of the Lee,
There was Hogan from County Tyrone. (Bold Tyrone!)
And a chap called McGurk who was scared stiff of work
And a chap from West Meade called Mellone.

There was Slugger O'Toole who was drunk as a rule
And fighting Bill Casey from Dover.
There was Dooley from Claire who was strong as a bear
And was skipper of the Irish Rover.

We had one million bales of old billy goats' tails,
We had two million buckets of stones. (Big Stones!)
We had three million sides of old blind horses hides,
We had four million packets of bones.

We had five million hogs, we had six million dogs,
And seven million barrels of porter.
We had eight million bags of the best Sligo rags
In the hold of the Irish Rover.

We had sailed seven years when the measles broke out
And the ship lost her way in a fog. (Great Fog!)
And the whole of the crew was reduced unto two,
'Twas me self and the captain's old dog.

Then the ship struck a rock with a terrible shock
And then she heeled right over,
Turned nine times around, and the poor dog was drowned--
I'm the last of the Irish Rover.

Have fun with this one. The Pogues sure did.

big brass ones

Set Up for St. Paddy's Day

I don't do much behind St. Paddy's day anymore. Some pals from the celtic music scene in L.A. are playing the Mesa Ampitheatre on Saturday night. They've asked me to come, maybe sit in. I'm going. They're a great bunch of kids, and it felt really good that they remembered and asked an old fart like me to join them. I'm taking MedskoolGirl and her buddy Aruna.

I love these guys. Liam Clancy is one of the most powerful singers of Irish music going. Tommy Makem (on the banjo) is a prince.

The Irish Rover is a classic.

big brass blog

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Yet Another Book Give Away!

Hooray! This is also because I was a total failure when Blog Against Sexism day came around last week.

I have just finished a significant memoir by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She was born in Somalia, at a very young age due to her father's revolutionary politics her family became refugees. On and off living in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and Kenya. She chronicles her personal journey.

One of the things that impressed me was how she managed when writing about her childhood she kept the simple clarity of a child. The impressions of Saudi Arabia are given through a child's perceptions.

Her journey continues until she flees to Holland. There, she lies to avoid an arranged marriage (she has already been subjected to genital excision by her grandmother) and receives first asylum, then citizenship. She is elected to the Dutch Parliament and journeys beyond the belief in Islam.

There are many controversial opinions. She derides the inability of most Muslim immigrants to the Netherlands to assimilate or even fully benefit from the openess and culture of Holland.

She has been disowned by her family. She has been under a fahtwa order of death ever since she wrote the film by Theo Van Gogh Submission. Theo Van Gogh was shot, his throat cut, and a note vowing the same for Ayaan Hirsi Ali was nailed to his chest with a dagger.

Over and over she, in a matter of fact voice, lays out the reasons behind her opinions. She never states them as a valid, unarguable truth, but that they are her beliefs and should be discussed.

She is currently living in the United States, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, she is still under protection, around the clock, from the Dutch Secret Service.

Again, this is a significant work. The passage that describes her excision is chilling in its matter of fact presention of something so horrific.

Now, to the contest.

Name a strong, woman in your life. One who showed courage and the ability to stand against traditions, social norms, or even God and gave you that same strength when you needed to fight a good fight.

Leave your entries in the comments. I will send a copy of Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali to the winner. I can't really say what the critera for this will be, I promise that it will be arbitrary and most likely unfair. Like art and pornography, I will know what the winner is when I see it.

big brass blog

Vanilla Pound Cake

Since we are in spring break week with no school and both of their parents work during the day, my niece and nephew have been spending the day, and most of the evening at my place. My niece wanted to do some baking, as usual, I said "Sure, what would you like to make?" She wanted a vanilla cake. I figured a normal white cake or a yellow cake would do, but she was adamant about the vanilla "You know, with the beans."

A little digging through my Nana's old recipe boxes produced this. On the index card that holds the recipe is this notation Annie Peaches adored this with nut butter spread. Nana's nut butters were the stuff of legend. Especially when you remember that her food processing equipment was the hand cranked (usually kid's hands) variety. So, from Nana's kitchen, through mine, to yours.

A note of warning. This recipe makes your house smell voluptuously sinful. You will be forced to defend your work throughout the cooling process. Cutting into these before they have cooled and settled will destroy the delightful pound cake texture and make them dry and crumbly. If you cut a slice while it is still warm from the oven you will be forced to consume the entire loaf right then and there. Forwarned is forearmed sez I.


1 large vanilla bean, split and spread
1 cup milk, room temperature
4 cups cake flour, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder (I make my own as I need it. 1/2 portion baking soda, 1/4 portions of cream of tartar and cornstarch. I've never been able to determine if I do this because it works better or if it's just another piece of evidence of my anal retentiveness)
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt (salted butters use iodized salt, a dessert baking nono)
2 cups unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2-1/2 cups vanilla sugar (to make vanilla sugar, put the husks of scraped beans in an airtight container of sugar)
6 jumbo eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 350°.

Put the milk and the vanilla bean in a small pan and scald. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.

Sift the flour again with the baking powder and salt onto a sheet of wax paper.

Cream the butter on medium until fluffy. Cream in the vanilla sugar. (if you don't have vanilla sugar increase the vanilla extract by 2 teaspoons but be sure to put some up for the next time)

Continue beating on medium and add in the eggs, one at a time, remembering to scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure an even blending. Add in the vanilla extract.

Remove the bean husks from the scalded milk, along with the milk skin. Use a demitasse spoon to scrape all the little vanilla speckles you can back into the milk.

Add the sifted dry ingredients and the milk alternately. Beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Beat on medium until completely smooth and blended (about five minutes). (if you think that the aroma is brutally beautiful right now just wait until it hits the oven)

Pour into three buttered and lightly floured loaf pans (baker's secret spray will do just fine here). Bake on the lowest rack of the oven for sixty minutes, or until a tooth pick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean and dry.

Cool in the pan, on a rack for ten minutes, then turn out of the loaf pans and cool for at least another twenty minutes on the cutting board. You might as well finish the cooling on the cutting board because these aren't getting much further than that. If you are planning to give one of these away, wrap it very closely with plastic wrap. These will freeze just fine. Just make sure you thaw them out still wrapped in the refrigerator or they get soggy.

To serve, slightly warm thin slices of pound cake and drizzle with your favorite dessert sauce, or a nice Créme Anglais. You can use this just like any sweet bread, you can use it to line a trifle. When I am feeling especially indulgent I have been known to trim off all the crusts, cut it into fingers and dip those into tempered chocolate. (there goes today's afternoon!)

My niece thoroughly approved of the results. She said "Nana is very proud of us today."

Indeed she is, my darling.

Big Brass Blog (a no vanilla zone if ever there was)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Review of 300 (all the good stuff said comes from teenagers)

Well folks, I took one for the team.

300 could have come close. Even factoring in that it was taken from a comic book, even factoring artistic license, even taking three teen age boys, it was hard to sit through.

The history was twisted and wrong. I couldn't see a reason for that. They overdid the opposition. There weren't any elephants, had they been there the ground that was chosen would have negated any impact they might have had, yet, there were not only elephants they were cartoon elephants.

They missed a lot of good things they could have said. In many ways the picture they gave of Sparta was closer to the "SpartaLand" that the Romans set up after defeating Philip of Macedon. The Romans also focused on the harsh training of the Spartan boys. They went straight for the Sado-Masochism without any thought of how it turned out the most feared fighting culture of the day.

You also would have thought that the battle was the Spartan's idea. They participated at the request of their old rivals the Athenians. They only sent 300, the rest of Greece (which really wasn't an entity, it was city by city, voting to send what volunteers they could) sent close to 8,000. There was a lot of loose talk about fighting for "freedom" which was truly not a Spartan ideal. As a matter of fact their military was mostly used to keep their slaves (mostly other Greeks from Messina) in line. They were a small monarchy. Much like the American South, the slavery that they based their economy on held them back. It took so much time, effort, and military expense to keep the inefficient slave labor on the job that they missed out on a whole lot of riches to be had from trade and commerce. They were slave drivers who were content to lord over their hirelings in relative squalor all the while complaining about the effete airs and dangerous freedoms of Athens (who twenty years previously had kicked some serious Persian ass at Marathon which the Spartans declined to participate in with even a token force). They also have the Spartans talking about how the Athenians are homosexual child molestors, then go to battle wearing speedos. Historically, the Spartans made homosexual initiation part and parcel of barracks life. On their wedding nights their brides dressed like cadets. But, the whole homosexual angle was no big deal to the Greeks. As long as your inclinations didn't interfere with your married duties they really didn't care.

It was the Athenian admiral Themistocles (who gets zero mention here) who kept the Persian fleet at bay, finally bringing the whole invasion down at Salamis. Leonidas and the Spartans made a suicidal glory stand that had little, if any, tactical or strategic impact. Psychologically they might have put some doubt in the Persian minds, some hope in the minds of the Greek allies, but, Athens still got burned.

There is some really lurid crap about the oracles of Greek religion. Making them like pagan strippers. It's pretty rude, but, hey, nobody believes in the Olymipic gods anymore so I guess it's fair game.

The whole movie, when they aren't fighting their cartoon fights (had they even tried to make it slightly realistic there would have been gore to spare from showing a hand to hand battle with seven foot spears and swords) is stupidly trite.

Even some of the most historic moments were twisted around and lost their meaning.

The most blatant of these was when they totally misrepresented the context of the laconic quip of Diekenes. In the original Heroditus account a Greek scout reports that he has seen the archers of the Persians taking their practice. He says that their arrows blot out the sun. Diekenes says "Good, then we shall have our battle in the shade." It's gallows humor. The Spartans knew they were expected to die. Every one of the Spartan similars that was at Thermopolye was the father of a son. That was what the Spartans did when there wasn't much chance of returning alive. It kept the bloodlines going. In the movie he says it angrily to a Persian envoy. Again, it was a twisting that I couldn't see a dramatic reason for.

The teenagers loved the action and the gore. They loved the bare tits (even cartoon tits can excite these boys) on the oracle. They loved the ass kicking fire of the Spartan women (which was pretty accurate).

I recommmend passing on this one. It's really not worth the money. The action is cartoonish and lurid. The script is stupid and factually unsupportable. The part that puzzles me is why they did it at all.

It will be too easy to rent in about four months. After two weeks of people coming out and talking about what a dog this is it will go to cable right away, and be out for rentals soon.

They are also making a live (real people with a minimum of CGI) version of Stephen Pressfield's Gates of Fire. Let's wait for that one.

3 B's

Review of 300 On Hold

I am a history geek. Stuff like the politics and tactics surrounding a battle like Thermopolye really bring this out in me. I was instantly suspicious when I saw the trailers for 300, but I figured, this might encourage some folks to find out what really happened.

My initial feeling is that what happened at Thermopolye doesn't need any pumping up. It doesn't need a bunch of special effects. It certainly doesn't need any parallels to what's happening in Iraq. There was enough stupidity, hubris, double dealing, doomed from the start vision, and pure ass ring tailed warrior courage to spare with what really happened.

I've read several reviews. A danger signal on a movie like this is when they talk about "gorgeous to watch," or, "really brings out the effects." Hayzeus diomio, how about talking about what goes on? Huh?

So, here's what I did. I've lined up three teenaged boys to come with me. I'm sure that, even though two of them are also history geeks, I will get to see what the target audience feels about it.

Coming up sometime tonight, a review of 300, with the perspective of three teenage boys thown in to mellow my curmugeonly cynical snark.

3 Beez

Fun Stuff To Do says I'm 4% Stupid! How stupid are you? Click Here!

(the 4% stupid margin explains the one time i voted republican)