Monday, February 12, 2018

Golden Hour at Wyandotte County Lake

During one of our warmer days in January, I was at Wyandotte County Lake during the golden hour.

This picture looks best if you click on it and see it in a larger frame.

Sometimes, no matter how cloudy it may be this winter, the sun drops below the clouds as it sets and casts a golden glow for a few minutes.

I find myself wishing, occasionally, that I had a better view of the setting sun from where I live.

This particular day started out cloudy, too, until the late afternoon when the sky cleared. I wasn't fast enough to get a longer line of ducks moving above the water.

Although some people I know rely on the camera in their phone, I recommend commuting with a camera in the car for those moments that occur but for an instant.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Reading in 2017

During 2017, I added 37 books to my LibraryThing account, which brings my total to 942. It probably is obvious that I very seldom visit my local library. I actually find it difficult to locate what books I want to read through my local library, even when using interlibrary loan.

My wife has a few hundred more books than me. We had bookshelves installed in her home office a couple of years ago. Because that amount of storage wasn’t enough, she has books stored in other rooms throughout the house, such as the living room, the bedroom, and the kitchen. We have worked on adding more of her books to LibraryThing but haven’t yet finished that task. We were up to something like 1300 when we stopped.

I prefer to keep more control over my books and want them close at hand. For that reason, most of my books are stacked or shelved in my home office. There is little extra room because of the number of books and CDs. I have hopes of adding a larger bookcase to my home office once I make the trip to Surplus Exchange in Kansas City and peruse the used business furniture that is sold at a discount. Going vertical will let me add more books to this small space.

Although I see myself as a minimalist and have gotten rid of some excess stuff and plan to rid myself of more, I cannot see myself ever giving away or selling my books. I see myself as the equivalent of a character in the movie Fahrenheit 451, that is, someone who hoards books.

Once again, during 2017, I reached my average and read 22 books during the year. I thought I might have finished the 23rd one before the new year. It will take me a few more nights of reading before I finish reading Ivan Doig’s The Bartender’s Tale.

The average 18-29 year-old American, I have discovered, reads 9 books in a year while older Americans tend to average 13 books in a year, with college graduates, according to some sources, reading as many as 17 books in a year’s time. There are, of course, exceptions because some Americans don’t read any books at all. According to Pew Research, 26% of Americans in 2016 had not read a book in the previous year. These kinds of figures are very depressing.

Despite my son’s interest in video games, he still managed to grow up as a reader, preferring mostly fantasy, science fiction, and history. He gave his parents books for Christmas in 2016. His Mom got Madam President, which I read, too, and which describes Edith Wilson’s efforts to run the country when President Wilson was bedridden after suffering from a stroke. My wife and I think that the book was commissioned in the hope of Hillary Clinton assuming the role as president. Overall, the book is repetitive and contains very little research into Edith Wilson’s role as president. There apparently isn’t much documentation of what exactly Edith Wilson did in running the country, aside from preventing members of Congress from visiting her husband.

His Dad got The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell, which described the FBI’s capture of Brian Regan, who had buried top secret government material in the hope of selling it to the Russians. It is quite a good spy story. That book led to my reading The Puzzle Palace, a detailed history of the creation and early years of the National Security Agency. I was surprised to learn that Harrogate in England contained a NSA facility. Some of the kids I knew in high school, a boarding school for American dependents whose fathers, either civilian or military, were assigned to duty in England, Scotland, Ireland, or Iceland, lived in Harrogate during vacations. We were usually ignorant of what our fathers did for a living. I also started reading Secret Sentry, a more current history of NSA, but I haven’t yet finished that book.

Some of my reading during the year involved music. For my birthday, my son gave me The Sound of the North, a book that analyzes the emergence of jazz in Norway in the 1960’s, the influence of folk music, and the growth that jazz has seen in Norway during the past five decades. My own introduction to Norwegian jazz began in the 1970’s with Bobo Stenson and Jan Garbarek’s  Dansere. Another book I read is Ashley’s Kahn’s The House that Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records. My own preference for Coltrane’s music ends with Crescent (1964), which is downplayed in Kahn’s book. Kahn, on several occasions, describes Shirley Scott’s collaborations with Stanley Turrentine, and these passages led to my seeking out some of her earlier work from 1963 on the Prestige label.

My interest in issues related to the earth, the environment, and our own health led to my reading such books as Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, Caitlin Shetterly’s Modified: GMOs and the Threat to Our Food, Our Land, Our Future, and Jeff Goodell’s Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future, all of whom, as I tell my students, employ their own observations and experiences in support of their research. I also read Killer Clothes and Not Just a Pretty Face with the intention of finding research questions for my students to pursue in their essays.

As someone who frequents library sales, I usually manage to pick up one or two books at these sales. At one local book sale, I found a copy of Sentinel of the Plains: Fort Leavenworth and the American West. During the summer when I was saddled with forty student essays every two weeks, I still managed to read a few pages of the Sentinel of the Plains every night before going to sleep. That book contains the wrong month and the wrong year in which Abraham Lincoln visited Leavenworth. Even so, I wasn’t aware that Carrie Nation had died in Leavenworth in a hospital that, ironically, housed patients who were suffering from alcoholism or drug abuse. The location of that former hospital now contains Buffalo Bill Cody Park.

One book that shaped my reading for much of the year is Elliott West’s The Essential West, a collection of essays addressing such things as the experiences of children growing up on the Plains in the 19th century and the changes in the lives of the Cheyenne after their adoption of the horse. Within the essay titled "Stories," West describes the creative work written by the sons and daughters of those initial Euro-Americans drawn to the American West. Although familiar with the work of William Kittredge and Terry Tempest Williams, I hadn’t heard of Ruth McLaughlin or Ivan Doig. As a result, I quickly read Ruth McLaughlin’s memoir of growing up in eastern Montana, Bound Like Grass.

Later, when perusing the titles at a book sale sponsored by the Honor Society at the college where I teach, I discovered Ivan Doig’s novel Work Song, which is the second book of a trilogy containing the character Morrie Morgan. I also read the two other books in the trilogy, The Whistling Season and Sweet Thunder. That reading led me to Ivan Doig’s memoir This House of Sky, which introduces those images and motifs that populate his novels. My copy of Doig’s memoir was a first printing from 1978 and one that apparently had been stored in an attic because each page came loose, and left a dusting of dried glue on my chest, as I was reading the book. I am surprised that I overlooked This House of Sky when I was riding Wallace Stegner’s The Big Rock Candy Mountain and Angle of Repose, A.B. Guthrie’s The Big Sky and The Way West and William Kittredge’s collection of stories, We Are Not in This Together. I have since started reading Doig’s The Bartender’s Tale, which, as I said, I am about to finish. My son gave me a copy of Doig’s Ride with Me, Mariah Montana for Christmas in 2017. I am tempted to give him a copy of The Bartender’s Tale next Christmas. It’s described as teen fiction on the back cover and is narrated by a twelve-year-old boy who, along with his twelve-year-old friend Zoe, makes a number of observations regarding sex and the strange world in which adults live.

It isn’t like me to read three or four novels in a year. Except for occasional collections of poetry, I have mostly been reading nonfiction for about fourteen years now. The current political environment in America makes me want to lose myself in a novel, for about an hour at the end of the day, and to think about the lives of fictional characters. Maybe this return to fiction will let me get to some of the books that I have neglected to read, such as Leslie Silko’s Almanac of the Dead, Frank Waters’ The Man Who Killed the Deer, or O.E. Rolvaag’s Giants in the Earth.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Jazz Albums that Captured my Attention in 2017

Jazz albums that have captured my attention during 2017 and that deserve mentioning appear below.

The Roc, Daniel Herskedal (Edition Records). Daniel Herskedal has created an excellent successor to Slow Eastbound Train with his most recent album. The Roc, in its song titles, often refers to travel, and there are now specific places named along the journey, such as “Kurd, Bayat, Nahawand to Kurd,” “Hijaz Train Station,” and “The Kroderen Line.” Herskedal also explores myth in “The Roc” and “The Afrit.” Despite the presence of “The Kroderen Line,” which is a reference to a lake and a village in Norway, the album coheres in its exploration of Middle Eastern place names and myth. The Roc gets my recommendation for album of the year.

Green Moss Black Sand, Sigurdur Flosason & Lars Jansson Trio (Storyville Records). The alto saxophonist Sigurdur Flosason has created an album inspired by the landscape and weather of Iceland. The album as a whole emphasizes the role of the quartet. The saxophone carries the melody while the other instruments, particularly the piano and the bass, are highlighted in these songs. Created by musicians from Iceland and Denmark, this album gets its inspiration from nature in one specific place while reflecting the music that was created in places like Philadelphia and New York almost sixty years ago. This album, in its approach, recognizes the tradition and adapts that tradition to its own needs.

Renewal, Baldvin Snaer Hlynsson (Self Produced). This debut recording by Baldvin Snaer Hlynsson, on piano and Wurlitzer, opens with the hypnotic “Omar Gudnason,” where Einar Scheving moves between time keeping and explosions of sound. Hlynsson is joined by two more established musicians. Valdimar Kolbeinn Sigurjonsson plays double bass and has appeared on recordings by Sigurdur Flosason. Einar Scheving, who has also recorded with Sigurdur Flosason, plays drums and percussion and has gained international attention with his releases Cycles (2007) and Intervals (2015). It’s as if these more experienced musicians are welcoming Hlynsson. Ari Bragi Karason on flugelhorn and Bjarni Mar Ingolfsson on electric guitar deserve mention as well, both of whom figure prominently on “Sund milli strida,” for example.

Timi til kominn, Olafur Jonsson (Self Produced). Considered Olafur Jonsson’s debut recording, Jonsson previously appeared on the album Jonsson & More, which, with the exception of Eythor Gunnarsson, featured the same people on bass and drums, that is Thorgrimur Jonsson and Scott McLemore, respectively. The difference, presumably, is that Olafur Jonsson is now performing his own songs.  These songs of his are particularly strong and highlight both Olafur Jonsson’s work as a leader and the contributions of his rhythm section. Olafur Jonsson’s tenor saxophone on the ballads “Dreyminn” and “Minning,” for example, deserves attention.

Wolf Valley, Eyolf Dale (Edition Records). Wolf Valley is an album that I overlooked in 2016. I am including it in this list of 2017 recordings because it deserves mention and generates excitement for his upcoming release in 2018. Songs like “Furet, “Ban Joe,” and “The Creek” may draw in the listener initially. Eventually, the quieter songs like “Fernanda” and “Sideways” reveal their loveliness.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Calling for Changes

I often have to shake my head at how stupid our governmental officials are in this country. It’s unfortunate that it doesn’t take intelligence to get elected as a member of Congress or as president. Drastic changes need to occur. I think that the following changes need to be made before this country will truly reflect a democracy, that is, a government in which each person has a voice and a government which is concerned with the welfare of the average citizen, regardless of national origin, ethnicity, gender, religion, or economic status. I am ultimately calling for larger government because one of the few ways to reduce the influence of the billionaires and corporations that rule this country is to create a strong government that can stand up to the billionaires and corporations for the betterment of each person. There needs to be an overriding belief held by each member of Congress, and by the president, that government exists to help the average citizen. I call for the following changes to be made. These changes would be a way to make this country a more progressive place, one which cares for its citizens, its environment, and the planet as a whole.

1. Reduce military spending.

2. Limit the military’s role outside of the US and stop its peacekeeping role throughout the world.

3. Reduce the number of military bases and lily pads overseas.

4. Reduce the stockpile of nuclear weapons and eliminate weapons using depleted uranium.

5. Stop selling weapons overseas.

6. Move billions of dollars formally spent on the military and its 800 bases overseas to provide free college for every citizen, to upgrade the infrastructure, including high speed rail, and to promote Green energy.

7. Pay off the $1.2 trillion dollars of student loan debt.

8. Limit the term of every senator and every member of the House of Representatives to 8 years and prohibit those former senators and representatives from seeking election in the future. Once one has served eight years, one has no other chance of ever serving again.

9. Provide an equitable tax system for every citizen, business, and corporation. Businesses and corporations are taxed, in part, according to how much damage they inflict on the nation’s water, soil, and air and how much they use the nation’s infrastructure—roads, bridges, etc. Corporations that primarily import their products are taxed as if their products were made in this country.

10. Provide free health care to every citizen.

11. Make abortion legal in every state. Provide free contraceptives.

12. Ensure that women’s wages are comparable to what men make in similar positions, aka equal pay for equal work.

13. Provide a basic universal income to every citizen over the age of 21.

14. Raise the minimum wage to $15.

15. Reduce the amount of dollars spent on foreign aid except when responding to natural disasters or shortages of food.

16. Eliminate the Electoral College. Let the popular vote decide who becomes president.

17. Reverse Citizens United so as to reduce corporate control of the election process.

18. Enact and enforce limited gun control.

19. Give the EPA more control over protecting the environment.

20. Rejoin the Paris Accord and make environmental protection a major concern of government.

21. Reduce corporate control of the FDA. Exhibit greater control over artificial food dyes, phthalates, formaldehyde, and bisphenol-A, for example.

22. Reverse the appointees, legislation, and executive orders made by Trump, and the GOP, since January, 2017.