Thursday, April 30, 2009

Spy Cam


I broke my little spy-cam the other day (don't ask how, that's classified information!)
I was a little wary of it when I first brought it home nearly three years ago, its design was quite a departure from my old film-burners, indeed, it was and remains a quirky departure from the cookie-cutter sameness of most digital cameras. I grew to love that little spy-cam, I brought it into places where a full sized slr would be obnoxious (or barred at the door) and got lots of movies, hours of audio, and thousands of pictures; many of which ended up here, illustrating a blog-post.

I do have got a big camera, the complexity and size of it keeps it in its bag most of the time. There's one thing I can say for modern camera designers: they sure know how to engineer the fun out of taking pictures.

I did some research into getting another small camera. There are newer models of this style, but with more frills my old one had. The picture quality of all small-sensor cameras is about the same, they sort of hit a plateau about three years ago. A new one of this quality would run about $300; with extra batteries (I wouldn't have less than two for any camera) and needed accessories I'd be looking at about 4 bills. What's a prudent shopper (read as: tightwad) to do?

I found a factory-warranty refurb of my old model for $125. With any luck, Batty the spy will soon be back in business.

A far cry from my first camera:

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dylan in a Minor Key

At a time in my life when I have been revisiting the works of Bob Dylan a new album by the Bard of Hibbing has been released. I have never been a rabid Dylan fan, much less a Dylanologist and certainly never a Dylan garbologist. Nevertheless, when I was but a fourteen-year-old schoolboy, my "linguistics" teacher, Mr. Robert Pierce, introduced me to Bob, even going so far as to bring in magazine articles about him and quoting his song lyrics. On my shopping spree last week-end I picked up three of his early albums and, doggone it, Mr. Pierce was right! He is pretty darn entertaining!

His latest effort picks up where his last album (Modern Times) left off-
bluesy shuffles, ballads and even an endless boogie at the end. Writing with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, these songs flow like the banter at an after-hours jam session. World weary (Beyond Here Lies Nothin', Life is Hard), but yet not ready to give it all up (I Feel a Change Comin' On, It's All Good), songs of banal truths are given new meanings within the context of Bob's delivery. His most organic band performs as if it had been grafted onto Bob's nervous system, with David Hildago's (Los Lobos) accordion giving the whole affair a timeless feel.

The best record of 1909?

This music isn't for everyone, it isn't even essential for fans. But it is honest and grounded, and if this were to be Bob's final effort (at the age of 67) it is interesting to compare it with his first album, Bob Dylan, recorded when he was twenty. That album is also full of songs about death (In My Time of Dyin', Man of Constant Sorrow, Fixing To Die, Song to Woody, See That My Grave Is Kept Clean); when looked at together both albums become bookends to a brilliant, if sometimes erratic career.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Top Shelf

Life on the top shelf can be lonely for seldom used porcelain. The short vase on the left does join us once in a while when we have cut flowers from the summer garden. Our poor teapot's role has been usurped by the microwave. I know that it is just not the same, but then, I've never had much of a taste for tea.

Pottery has the last laugh, however. Throw it in a whole in the ground or sink it in the ocean and it will persevere for eons; unchanging and ready to hold the ephemera which we cherish so dearly.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Monday, April 27, 2009

Shopping Blues

Needed a bit of hardware over the week-end, so I ended up in the large shopping center east of town. The area where the center was built was farmland not so many years ago, when it was developed it became a hodge-podge of nondescript buildings in sort of a Mission-meets-Hollywood style. They laid a spagetti-maze of asphalt roads between the stores, evidently in an attempt to cause a suggestible shopper to stop along the way, distracted by the numerous trendy theme shops.

What a difference a few years make. The center never was fully occupied, lately stores have been closing every month. I stopped in the big sporting goods warehouse store- it was in the final stages of a going out of business sale and was nearly empty except for the fixtures, which were also on sale. The big box electronics and appliance store was half-empty, with large areas of interior devoid of merchandise, very eerie. I stopped into the large chain book and media store. They were closing out all their CDS and DVDs at 50% off. They had been picked over pretty well, I've read that the parent company is not expected to last another year.

So what's the future for this place? Let it return to farmland? Re-purpose the existing structures, and if so for what? Detention centers for illegal aliens? Prisons? I don't think those will be growth industries, either, at least not the way they used to be. I'll just have to get used to getting more of my stuff from UPS and Fed-Ex trucks, I guess.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Friday, April 24, 2009

Drunken Dreams

There stands the glass
That will ease all my pain
That will settle my brain
It's my first one today
One thing that I seem incapable of dreaming about is drinking, or feeling intoxicated while dreaming. Do alcoholics dream of booze? Whenever I do drink more than my usual one or two, I don't recall dreaming at all. In my (semi-)reckless youth I don't recall ever having any dreams while high either. I have had dreams of smoking, however, and in it I vividly recalled that rush from that first big drag. Perhaps that is why nicotine is such an addictive drug, it stimulates the nervous system as it works its way into one's metabolism. Drinking, on the other hand, just sort of beats one's consciousness into oblivion.
There stands the glass
That will hide all my tears
That will drown all my fears
Brother, I'm on my way
More potent vision-inducers seemed to cancel out dreaming activity for me as well. The natural dream state is not an induced one- excepting for perhaps a bout of indigestion after a heavy meal; e.g., Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend. A lot of people drink themselves to sleep, perhaps so as not to dream...
There stands the glass
Fill it up to the brim
Till my troubles grow dim
It's my first one today

~Webb Pierce

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Travel Dreams

If the third time is a charm, what would the fourth time be?

The dreams I have of Iceland never stop. Not every night, but once, twice, maybe more times a week. Every week. What experience there remains unfulfilled? After three visits, each one more intense than the previous, I could be setting myself up for a major disappointment. In light of the Kreppa, I know that everything has changed. But change is good, right? I could "sneak" over for four or five days- I've already got credit card points enough for both flight and car rental- if I wanted to see some new countryside. I'd like one more go at the Airwaves festival as well, but what I've read about its finances is not encouraging. A theater week-end in October would be heavenly, however.

The good thing is that these kinds of dreams can sort themselves out, if one only lets them "cook" for a while. For now, I'll watch and wait.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sex Dreams

Art students, 1914, Saint Paul, Minnesota, Wanda Gág at far right 

 Whether populated by Inncubi or Succubi, co-workers or past lovers, sex dreams are a curious mixture of desire, hormones and the sub-conscious. Be they emotional, clinical, or just plain ridiculous, they offer a fleeting glimpse into a forbidden Eden…

   Wait a minute...

   You didn't actually think I was going to share one of my sex dreams with you, did you?


   Sorry, but I'm not Professor Bawdy.

   Sweet dreams...

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

On the Town - Part II

It was a dark and stormy night. Well, it was blustery and cold, perfect weather to attend a screening of the film White Night Wedding (Brúðguminn), directed by Baltasar Kormakur. We were on the east side of the river for the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Film Fest- now in its 27th year, still hopelessly disorganized, but a great way to see films from around the world. White Night Wedding is a loose adaptation of Anton Chekhov's Ivanov.

This tale of a miserable professor and his marriage woes has been turned into a dark tragicomedy set mostly on Flatey, a small island off the Icelandic coast. The mixed time line of the film, which could be a bit confusing for some viewers, unfolds slowly then gradually comes to a climax in a riotous wedding scene. Of course, any dramatic production which includes the sublime Laufey Elíasdóttir and a nearly-naked Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (I've seen three of them now!) is OK in my book. There is even has a cameo from my favorite girl group. It should be on IFC in the future, it is also Iceland's 2009 submission to the Oscars. Highly recommended.

The showing we went to was oversold, they may reprise it in May...

By Professor Batty

Comments: 5 

Monday, April 20, 2009

On the Town - Part I

Minneapolis is "the big city" for us now. We lived there for years, but now have lived away, in a small town, for a longer time. It is a "partner" to Saint Paul, also known as "The Twin Cities" (or as we call them- Sodom and Gomorrah.)
Regardless of my hick-town phobias, the riverfront district has its charms. Once a milling and industrial area, the river in downtown Minneapolis was all but hidden from the daily lives of its citizens. It has undergone extensive restoration and renovation, it is now full of walkways, vistas and other civilized attractions.

Our equine friend (pictured above) was hard at work while we strolled the stone arch bridge before a delightful dinner at Spoonriver, followed up by music and dancing at a nearby club.

The Spring social season has arrived, more tomorrow...

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Potty Professor

I made mention of my dwindling vices the other day,
so I today I thought I'd feature another one of them-
my ever-expanding collection of Commercial™ Anodized
Aluminum pots and pans (now known as Calphalon
.) All of my life I had struggled with
cheap mis-matched cookware. About five years ago I
requested a set of decent pots and pans for Christmas
and I've never looked back. I cherish this set; it is
nearly indestructible and every so often another piece
will show up at the thrift store(!) sometimes new(!!)
and usually for about 20% of retail(!!!) They aren't
non-stick- you've actually got to think about what
you're doing while cooking- but I love 'em.

Today's acquisition (front right, bottom):

An adorable little 2 1/2 quart dutch oven with lid- $10.

Previous acquisition (front center, bottom):

Fajita pan: $3.80

Previous previous acquisition (rear right, top):

Mini-Wok: $5.80

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Amazon Gone Wrong

I've always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with It made it waaay too easy to buy books. Because it runs on computer programs and deals with tens of thousands of vendors, things can go wrong. Their recent "de-ranking" fiasco concerning books about homosexuality (Ellen Degenres: A Biography, for one) and subsequent ineffectual response has prompted me to rethink my use of Amazon for any purchases. If you are in business, and use a sales ranking feature in response to customer searches, you'd better get it right.

In the words of one anonymous commenter:

...this emphatically was NOT a one shot flip. Every author I know on line on queer studies and anthropology and other social science e-lists and bulletin boards agree that it's been going on for weeks. Who Cares? So What? Normal humans who respect literature, the arts, science, education, history, and other humans and anyone interested in basic human dignity, truth, justice, in families, care when arbitrarily a whole swath of human life and thought and work is censored, erased, demeaned and denied. That is who cares. If you don't care there is something really wrong with you: it's part of you which has been censored, your heritage, your life, your humanity. If we are human, we all have the responsibility to protect humanity wherever it is or isn't.

Interestingly, there once was a GLBT bookstore named Amazon in Minneapolis. They tried for years to retain their duly registered name, only to be crushed by The BIG Amazon.

Money is the only thing Amazon understands. Until this situation is rectified, I'll spend mine elsewhere.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Friends Of Bill (Holm)

There was a tribute to Bill Holm Tuesday night. Minnesota Public Radio graciously hosted this get-together celebrating Bill and his life at the Fitzgerald theater (the home of Prairie Home Companion, the radio show that Bill appeared on numerous times.) Bill has been featured here at FITK several times.

Many of Bill's close friends- fellow poets, musicians and writers- assembled on stage in a rousing start to the ceremonies and downed shots of Icelandic Vodka with the audience members in the "spirit" of Bill. There were many stories about Bill, Bill on tape, and Bill's poetry read by others. His publisher of 25 years, Emilie Buchwald, spoke at length about their relationship and announced that there will be one more book of poetry by Bill coming out.

Phebe Hanson, a poet who toured Minnesota with Bill
in the Poetry Out Loud series in the 1970s,
gently chastised Bill for breaking his promise to her-
a promise to sing an old Norwegian hymn at her funeral!

Dan Chouinard and Maria Jette performed duets
of classical music that Bill loved.

Robert Bly read a new poem about Bill. Twice.

At the end a brass band led everybody out with a
New Orleans-style version of The Sweet Bye and Bye.

As I walked out into the balmy night air the cold hard winter
seemed but a distant memory; but the spirit of Bill was within us all.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 4 

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Four Steps

Oh! But your smile makes me want to reciprocate. A million smiles. I can see the multitude of our progeny in your dimpled cheek. Whatever you want, I'm powerless to refuse.

I am charmed.

What? A plan? Tell me more, my mind wants to join my heart. A million questions, the Devil is in the details. Tell me more.

I am persuaded.

And now? Why are you standing so close? I can hear your heart beat. A million vibrations. Touch me. Take me.

I am seduced.

Yes. Yes. Yes. A million times yes.

I am lost.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Monday, April 13, 2009


The Fish can Sing (originally published in Icelandic in 1957 as Brekkukotsannáll) is, for most readers, probably the most accessible Halldór Laxness novel.

This coming-of-age story centers on the orphan Álfgrímur and his relationship to his very small world—indeed, almost all of the story takes place within a radius of about 2000 meters! This small area is, however, rich in characterization and momentous events. Each of the episodic 41 chapters exposes Álfgrímur to some new lesson about life; lessons which he takes to heart as he comes to grips with the modern world and his role in it.

Gardar Holm, a ‘world famous’ singer who may be Álfgrímur’s father, appears from time to time—in a sense he represents Laxness himself—a world traveler who is not exactly what he seems. Álfgrímur may be thought of as personifying Iceland at the turn of the twentieth century, waking up from a solitary existence, ready to go out and make a mark in the world. Gardar’s talks with Álfgrímur exist on several levels of meaning: personal, artistic, political, moral and emotional. Despite this, the tone of the book is generally lighthearted and is quite funny at times. The characters who drift in and out of Álfgrímur's life ground it; their faults and foibles reveal basic human dignities.

All in all a wonderful book, the translation (by the esteemed Magnus Magnussson) seems to capture Laxness' deceptively simple style; certainly well enough to completely charm this reader- for the third time!

Check out Rose's review, I've touched upon this book before in FITK.

I must add this small sample from the chapter When our Lykla Calves. One of the guests staying in Brekkukot is “… the woman from Landbrot” who has come there to spare her children the sight of her dying. She is on her deathbed, trying to dictate a letter to Álfgrímur; a final letter to her children:
“When our Lykla calves,” said the woman -
“When our Lykla calves;
Yes, when our Lykla calves:
If it’s a bull,
If it’s a little bull-calf,
Then Nonni must grind peat for his bedding.
Each morning and night: dry peat.
But if it is a heifer, as we all hope,
She is to be called Rosa.
We shall give her a pint of milk every feed;
No, wait, let's make that two.
We must not be mean to her.
It will pay dividends in the long run, dear children.
It’s good to put some groats in too.
And boilings from the fish-pot do no harm.
Some people put coffee-dregs
Into the calf’s slops; that's said to be wholesome,
But more for cud-chewing than nourishment.
Have I written that she should be called Rosa?
Oh, how messy all of this is,
There isn’t a slightest trace of order in it;
We’ll tear it up and try again;
When our Lykla calves.
When our Lykla calves.
When our Lykla calves.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 7 

Friday, April 10, 2009

You Talkin' to Me?

My vices (excepting Blogging, of course) have become so quiescent of late that I fear I may be sliding down a slippery slope into dullness. My secret thrill these days is to skip lunch and have a soft-serve ice cream cone instead. I had stopped by a MacDonald's for one of their $1 cones, made of skim milk, sugar and air; cheaper but almost as tasty as a DQ and fewer calories as well. I was sitting at a table, happily licking away while reading a newspaper when a mid-30ish man dashed in the door ran up to me and said "Is that your station wagon outside?" I said yes and he continued "My kids said you hit my vehicle with your door."

I specifically remembered parking and exiting very carefully because an SUV was straddling the line.

"I didn't hit your car, did you see a mark?"

"No, my kids told me you hit my vehicle!"

"Don't you think you should look at you vehicle?"

He ran out and then back in.

"You hit my vehicle! Come out and open you door and I'll show you where your door hit it!"

It was obvious that I was dealing with someone looking for a fight. Perhaps he had dinged his door himself and was looking for someone to stick the bill on. Outside, he was almost hopping.

"See, see the mark! You hit it!, Open your door!"

I calmly opened the door. The SUV had rubber running boards which stopped my door several inches away from the finish. The "mark" was about six inches higher than the top of my door.

"I didn't hit your car."

He was furious now.

"You're lucky you didn't hit it!"

"I'm lucky?" I didn't hit your car! I think you're crazy!"

"Say it again, say it again! I'll show you who's crazy!"

I felt that I was deserving of an apology, but I suspect that that this type of person wouldn't be able to grasp the concept. I felt sorry for his kids, but not too concerned. When I was a child it seemed that most of the dads were on an emotional hair-trigger, ready to spill into a rage over any trivial offense- real or imagined. Most of us made it through OK.

Maybe the guy just got laid off, who knows?

There are stories in the news everyday about guys snapping.

Maybe he had a gun in his SUV?

I shut my car's door and retreated to the restaurant.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 4 

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Historic Site No. 22

Waverly, Minnesota                                                                                             1975

Or so the sign said. It was just an old tavern in a storefront. The pickled turkey gizzards on the counter may have had historical significance, but the beer was fresh, cold and American. A pool table, some locals, and the four of us from the city out in "Green Acres", it became the place to be on a rainy fall afternoon. It was the home town of Hubert Humphrey, LBJ's VP and then Minnesota senator. He didn't drop in. We had our beers and shot the breeze, a good day wasted. A wasted good day.

It may not have been culture, but it was someplace.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Partial Citizen

Norm Coleman, defeated in his bid for reelection to the US Senate from Minnesota, has vowed to continue his appeal to have the election results overturned, thereby blocking the seating of Al Franken. Norm says he's doing this to help the "disenfranchised" voters who may not have had their ballots counted. The recount, done with unprecedented media scrutiny and openness, wasn't good enough for Norm and his Republican handlers. The result of his legal manuevering is that now all of the citizens of Minnesota are disenfranchised- having only one representative and one senator we are only two-thirds represented in congress- partial citizens as it were, less than equal. Estimates from political analysts are that this charade will continue until September.

Of course, these appeals are just a way to keep Al Franken's filibuster-busting 60th vote out of the Senate. Norm is in personal financial and legal trouble with an inflated mortgage and an ongoing slush-money investigation- allegations which include the funneling of money to him through his wife(!). He has become a pathetic figure in politics, without principles and beholden to a fading GOP elite, disregarding the constitutional rights of the citizens of Minnesota.

Regardless of politics, Norm could do the right thing. He could concede the election, as he said he would do in November. He would be ruined politically and financially, of course, but he could regain at least a shred of personal integrity. I may be only two-thirds of a citizen, but at least I'm not half a man.

By Stephen Cowdery

Comments: 3 

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


All of the disturbing trends of the last few months have left many of us searching for answers. The failure, or rather the irrelevance, of Capitalism in light of the ongoing financial crisis has been so abstract as baffle even otherwise glib economists and commentators. Iceland has been at the forefront of this, and seems to be groomed for the role of "whipping boy" by larger and more powerful countries (i.e. the UK and the USA.) The IMF came to the "rescue" or did it really? In this excellent article by Michael Hudson, Iceland's situation and its options are clearly outlined. Far from being an isolated accident, Hudson shows how this is the direct result of a concerted effort by a group of bankers and financiers to perpetuate and expand their wealth and power. It is a long article, but clearly written. And it isn't only about Iceland, it's about how everyone in the world is being affected by these ruthless and immoral policies. The fallout from this article and interviews on Icelandic Television is growing, with the Icelandic blogosphere on fire and articles in the Huffington Post as well.

Highly recommended.

Thanks to Alda, for that and other pertinent links. You won't see this in-depth analysis in U.S. media any time soon.

By Stephen Cowdery

Comments: 0 

Friday, April 03, 2009

Ay, There's the RUB...

UPDATE: as of 2014 these site are almost all defunct. Most are still accessible, although RUB is not. I've left this post up for the curious.

   There is a bookmark I've had for as long as I've been blogging. I'm not proud of it, nor am I ashamed. "Recently Updated Blogs" shows the last ten minutes of new posts as monitored by Blogger- usually several thousand. It is a torrent of undigested and unfiltered muck and dreck from the blogosphere. Full of porn-sites and hucksters, families, fools and failures, it links to almost every sort of human expression and even touches downright incoherence at times.

   Still, when my brain-functions are minimal (comfortably numb) this internet equivalent of TV channel-surfing has its rewards. When I started this mess in April of 2004, RUB was a strange and wild place. Teenage anorexics, mad scientists, poets and dreamers, all liberated by the blogging explosion. I found many brilliant blogs on the site then; some of whom continue to be my favorites, while others I discovered burned brightly for a short time and then faded out.

   I don't visit RUB very often now, I'm afraid that its golden age is over. Yet, I still find a "nugget" now and then as I sift through the gravel.

Recent links found via RUB:

Mariah Carey Is My Kurt Cobain
, a mixed-media art site, in Spanish, NSFW!

Pinky Diablo and his Singing Grubworm, outsider art from the Dallas-based Pinky.

Overheard in New York, commercial site, pretty slick, some entries are hilarious.

Dull Tool Dim Bulb (Winkel), arcane Americana, sometimes quite charming.

Vintage Pulchritude, thematically presented antique nudes, NSFW!

Some of my long time faves first discovered on RUB:

Big Mouth Strikes Again, Glasweigan tech and culture writer Gary. Since 2004

Comica, fine writer and occasional contributor to FITK. Since 2004

Reshma Sanyal, also a contributor, her blog is private now, although you can still find her delicious cooking blog. Many of her posts have been reprinted here. 2004-2008

Sharon Spotbottom, comic stick-figure, hopefully only on sabbatical, Sharon was nothing if she is anything. 2006-2008

If Charlie Parker Were A Gunslinger, There'd Be A Whole Lot Of Dead Copycats
, photo-impressionistic history of popular culture. Since 2004

There have been many more, of course, but I'm not a link pack-rat. I've been on other people's computers who have had THOUSANDS of book-marks! Outside of my long-term favorites, I have no qualms about letting a site go. If it is any good, I'll probably run into it again, the modern Internet is far bigger than I could ever fully explore.

Or care to.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Urban Cat

Minneapolis, April, 1979

No matter how unruly the terrain, the well-bred urban cat
always appears to be dressed in high style. Betty, our
long-departed feline housemate, would always check the
garden in the spring for rodents or an occasional young
rabbit. Betty was the queen of the neighborhood, I've
written about her before. One night, as I returned home
from a gig, Betty was cavorting in the front yard,
dancing in a most peculiar, stylized manner. Around her
an audience of about a dozen cats was arrayed in a
semicircle. I called her name gently, but Betty never
broke character and continued her performance.

When I asked her about it the next day she just
yawned and then took a nap.

A North Fifth Street Story

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Warehouse District

Minneapolis, 1972

When I moved in on the northern edge of Minneapolis' warehouse district, the district itself was starting to be redeveloped. These streets used to bustle with hundreds of workers and, if you went back far enough, teams of horses. There was still meat-packing done in these old buildings in 1972, but they would soon be demolished, the land ultimately used for huge parking ramps for the Target™ Center Arena.

In 1934 these streets were the battleground in a bitter labor dispute that shaped Minnesota politics for years to come.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

                                                                                     All original Flippism is the Key content copyright Stephen Charles Cowdery, 2004-2024