Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mrs. S. has passed away

My wife Peggy, known as Mrs. S. in these parts, passed away in her sleep late this afternoon. She was only 48 years old.

Peggy had little use for the internets, except for Netflix, but she always appreciated the kind words of encouragement and support you gave her here. As I have said, I don't have the most readers in the blogosphere, but I have the best.

Activities at Pole Hill are suspended for the time being. I will return to blogging as I am able.

Random blogservations

Mrs. S. update: She's still feeling weak, and still sleeps a lot. Her neck is very sore bcause she's fallen asleep several times sitting up, which is not good when you've had neck surgery. When she's awake, she's frustrated because she tires quickly, and doesn't have the energy to garden, do housework or cook. Her next appointment with the neurologist isn't for another week, so all we can do now is sit and wait.


Things I've seen around and about: Via Corrente, James Dobson says that Barack Obama distorts the Bible. Imagine that. Presumably Dobson says that about anybody who doesn't agree with his own particular interpretations of Scripture.

Found at Show Me Progress: Turn off your screen saver. You don't have to worry about burn-in with flat screen LCD monitors, and all you're doing is wasting energy. Turn your monitor off if you're not using it.

Finally, if you're planning on travelling abroad this summer, be sure before you go to read up on the seven innocent gestures that could get you killed.


I'm planning to get around to George Carlin later this week. He wasn't just a comedian, he was one of those rare individuals who changed the face of our culture. I can't do him proper justice in these 15 and 30 minute sessions I squeeze in while at work. John Nichols does an excellent job of summarizing Carlin's influence, and be sure to check out the tributes from our friends Randy Raley and Brian Holland.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Cassie Hall update

Some of you Hillsters may remember Cassie Hall, the woman who had sex with her then-husband while their young son watched. Hall was apparently claiming that her husband had raped her, but the police found her story suspicious enough that both parents were booked for child abuse. We had a spirited discussion about this in the comments. Although it was generally agreed that the Halls weren't exactly the sharpest couple in the trailer court, there was some disagreement over whether the proposed five-year sentence was a bit much, or whether the Halls were sick perverts who deserved to have the book thrown at them.

Cassie Hall divorced her husband, found an even bigger loser for her new boyfriend, and proceeded to justify the opinions of those who felt she was sick and abusive:

A judge Friday sentenced an Edwardsville woman to 18 years in prison for her part in the brutal sexual assault of an 8-year-old male family member.

Sgt. Carol Doyle of the Madison County Sheriff's Department testified at a sentencing hearing in Madison County Circuit Court that Cassie Hall, 32, and her boyfriend committed many different sexual acts on the boy, including sexual penetration using sexual devices and forcing him to perform oral sexual acts on them.


The boy had been beaten and verbally abused, and lived in filthy conditions in a mobile home where several other families lived in the 3100 block of Sand Road, Doyle said.

The article also notes that Hall's current boyfriend, Jacob Fife, was a registered sex offender who had been given two years probation in 2003 for predatory criminal sexual assault and aggravated criminal sex abuse.

Nothing further to say here. The disgusting nature of these acts speaks for itself.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Grow up already, dammit

Cheap and easy visuals week continues at Pole Hill. According to Open Left, they were selling this button at the Texas Republican Convention:

The story checks out with the Dallas Morning News as well. Considering this bunch came up with this little jewel a few years ago, I guess we shouldn't be too surprised.

UPDATE: Our ol' buddy the Farmer, he ain't as nice as me:

Well, no, stupid. It'll be renamed the Plantation House. And every morning at 5:30 AM all lilly white Republicans will report to the big gate at the end of the turnround where they will be checked for head lice and scrumpox and ultimately consecrated by time into thralldom. And then it will be off to the National Mall to pick polyester until the sun goes down.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Still a good idea

I like this:

Creative vandals that they were, they even spray-painted a quote from T. S. Eliot.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Mrs. S. update

First, thank you all for your support and your kind words.

Mrs. S. has been home from the hospital since Tuesday, but she's still feeling weak. She's been sleeping a lot - she slept 18 hours Friday, and about 14 hours yesterday. When she gets up, she's still unstable. She fell again yesterday while I was at work, but it wasn't as serious as last week when she had to be hospitalized. She still has a big bruise on her forehead from this recent fall, along with 15 stitches right above her left eyebrow from the last fall that put her in the hospital.

The good news is that we believe that we have found a team of neurologists who are interested in helping her. Unfortunately, her next appointment with them isn't for two weeks. She sees our primary physician Wednesday for evaluation and to have her stitches removed.

My biggest worry right now is leaving her alone at night while I'm at work. It's hard for me to get off work, not because I don't have the time, but because we're so shorthanded, especially on the night shift, that it's difficult for me to get anyone to cover the shift.

There are several other things I can think of to write about right now, but I'm just too damn tired to do it. All I can think of doing right now is to help my wife to get better, and continue to hope that perhaps someone out there can give us some answers as to what causes these spells to occur.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Mrs. S. hospitalized

My wife has been in the hospital since Friday evening, thus the lack of activity in these environs of late. This was another of those seizure-like incidents where she suddenly goes limp and falls. When I came home from work Friday evening, I found her lying on the floor with a big gash over her left eye. She hit her head on the coffee table when she fell. When this happens, she keeps trying to get up, but only falls again, which makes things worse.

Right now she's in the hospital in fairly good spirits considering the circumstances. All we know so far is that she has pneumonia, and that she'll be in for another couple of days at least.

Things may be slow around here this week. It's hard for me to get in the mood to write when all this is going on.

UPDATE: Mrs. S. came home from the hospital Tuesday afternoon. She's improved quite a bit the past couple of days, though she still feels a bit weak and is shaky on her feet. While in the hospital, she talked quite a bit with a neurologist who has taken an interest in her and seems serious about finding out the cause of these episodes. It would be a great relief to both of us if we learned why these seizures occur and can find some way to prevent them or minimize their effect on her.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Bo Diddley

Rock music pioneer Bo Diddley passed away today at age 79. Diddley is best known for coming up with what came to be known as the "Bo Diddley Beat", a rhythm pattern that helped form the backbone of rock 'n' roll.

Diddley was born Otha Ellas Bates in McComb, Mississippi in 1928. He was raisedprimarily by his mother's first cousin Gussie McDaniel. While still a small boy, Gussie took him and her own three children to live in Chicago, where he was given his legal name, Ellas McDaniel. Stories abound as to how he came to be known as Bo Diddley, many of them told by Diddley himself. According to one story, Bo Diddley was a name hung on him by the local kids when he moved to Chicago. Another time, Diddley claimed he picked up the nickname during his career as an amateur boxer. Harmonica player Billy Boy Arnold said that the name was given to Diddley the day he signed his first recording contract. Other accounts claim it to be a variation of "diddley bow", a one-stringed instrument played by poor Mississippi Delta musicians.

Diddley's interest in music began when he started playing the violin at age 7. When he was 12, a family member gave him an acoustic guitar. Since his thick fingers wouldn't allow him to play more intricate patterns, Diddley developed a heavily rhythmic style, incorporating a "bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp" rhythm that he had heard in church, that would become his signature. Diddley also started building his own guitars, many with unusual square bodies, in shop class at school. He dropped out of school prior to graduating, though, and spent some years playing whatever gigs he could find, while working a series of odd jobs to make ends meet.

Diddley's career took a turn upward in 1955 when he recorded a demo record, "Uncle John", backed with "I'm A Man". The demo came to the attention of Leonard and Phil Chess, owners of Chicago's most successful R&B and blues label. The Chess brothers signed Diddley, but insisted that the raunchy lyrics of "Uncle John" be tamed down. (According to Billy Boy Arnold, who was also at that meeting, this is where the name "Bo Diddley" originated.) Backed by that signature beat, the new lyrics became a classic:

Bo Diddley, bought his babe a diamond ring,
If that diamond ring don't shine,
He gonna take it to a private eye,
If that private eye can't see
He'd better not take that ring from me.

The B-side, "I'm A Man", was a slow blues filled with sexual innuendo:

Now when I was a little boy,
at the age of 5,
I had somethin' in my pocket,
Keep a lot of folks alive.
Now I'm a man,
Made 21,
You know baby,
We can have a lot of fun.
I'm a man,
I spell M-A-N, man.

Both sides made the top 5 of the R&B chart, and also caught the attention of scores of restless young white listeners hungry for a new sound.

Over the next several years, Diddley would release a string of records that would come to be standards - "Diddley Daddy", "Pretty Thing", "Mona", "Who Do You Love", and "Road Runner", among others; all featuring the driving Diddley rhythm that was years ahead of its time. Despite the innovative genius of those records, Diddley would spend most of his life struggling financially. Although his records were popular at sock hops and on the R&B circuit, few of them gained much radio airplay. "Say Man", a wickedly humorous rap featuring his maracas player Jerome Green, was Diddley's only pop Top 20 hit. Early in his career, Diddley landed a spot on The Ed Sullivan Show, which in those days was essential for making it to the big time. The show's producers requested that he sing Tennessee Ernie Ford's "Sixteen Tons", but he performed his own "Bo Diddley" instead. After the program, an enraged Sullivan shouted that Diddley had double-crossed him, and threatened Diddley that he would never appear on TV again. Whether or not due to the influence of Sullivan, for years one of the most influential men in the entertainment industry, it would be another decade before Diddley made his next national TV appearance.

Although his records were seldom played on the radio, Diddley's fellow musicians took notice of the innovative "Bo Diddley Beat" and began to incorporate it into their own recordings. One of the first to do so was Buddy Holly, whose "Not Fade Away" was based squarely on Diddley's rhythms. A few years later, "Not Fade Away" became one of The Rolling Stones' first big hits, as the Stones led an army of British musicians well-schooled in Diddley's techniques in a conquest of the American charts. One of those early British beat groups, The Pretty Things, named themselves after the Diddley song. Bo Diddley songs were covered by everybody from The Who and The Yardbirds to The Clash and George Thorogood. In concert, Bruce Springsteen would often segue effortlessly from "Mona" to his own "She's The One", neatly pointing out the latter song's roots. On their LP Happy Trails, Quicksilver Messenger Service introduces their cover of "Mona" with the statement, "This next one's rock 'n' roll", which pretty much sums up the Bo Diddley influence on those who followed him. (Diddley's Wikipedia entry has a comprehensive list of artists that covered his songs, or were otherwise influenced by him.)

Despite his lasting influence, Diddley continued to have a hard time making ends meet. All the cover versions of his songs were of little benefit to him financially, as Diddley had long since signed away the rights to his publishing. He claimed that Chess Records owed him millions in royalties, while for their part, Chess said that the money had been paid out to Diddley in advances. Diddley never kept any records, so it was impossible for him to prove the money was owed. He lacked the shrewd negotiating skills of Chuck Berry, nor could he get by on sheer outrageousness as Little Richard did. Diddley paid the bills by staying on the road, for years playing gigs whenever and wherever he had the opportunity. He would pop up in some interesting places from time to time. In the 70's he served for a few years as a deputy sheriff in Los Lunas, New Mexico, and in 1989 he did the "Bo Knows" commercials with Bo Jackson for Nike Shoes, which is probably how younger folks best remember him. He also continued to record periodically, and in 1996 his A Man Amongst Men LP, featuring an all-star cast of backing musicians including Keith Richards and Richie Sambora, was nominated for a Grammy for Best Blues Recording. Diddley kept touring regularly until he suffered a stroke on stage during a concert in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in 2007.

Bo Diddley may be gone, but the beat he created will live on forever.

I also recommend checking out this excellent biographical sketch of Diddley published by the New York Times in 2003.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Kings of comedy

Just about everybody who was watching TV in the 60's and 70's fondly remembers Rowan And Martin's Laugh-In and The Carol Burnett Show. Both were classic examples of the type of comic variety programs that used to make up a big part of TV schedules back in the days of only three channels, rabbit ears, and getting up to change the station. In the last several days, we saw the passing of Dick Martin and Harvey Korman, two comic geniuses who each gave us many laughs over the course of their careers.

Martin had become best-known for his long-running association with Dan Rowan. The two met in 1952 and put together a nightclub act after the fashion of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, with Rowan as the worldly sophisticate and Martin as the good-natured buffoon. They worked their way up the pecking order, eventually earning appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and similar variety programs of the era. Martin also had a bit part on The Lucy Show as Lucille Ball's neighbor. Rowan and Martin filled in as summer replacements for Dean Martin in 1966, and went over well enough that NBC decided to offer them their own program.

Rowan and Martin, along with producers George Schlatter and Ed Friendly, had an idea for a new type of variety program. Although the duo's act was oldschool nightclub fare, the two were keen observers of the rapidly changing times, and along with their producers came up with the idea of a fast-paced, frenetic string of one-liners, sight gags, and topical humor delivered by a talented young cast, with Rowan and Martin's time-tested standup humor serving as the show's anchor. NBC had little confidence in the format, and programmed it against ratings titans Gunsmoke and The Lucy Show. Yet within six weeks of its debut, Laugh-In was the #1 rated show in the country, and would stay there through the rest of 1968 and all of 1969. The show launched the careers of talents such as Goldie Hawn, Lily Tomlin, Judy Carne and Arte Johnson. Laugh-In made catch phrases such as "You bet your sweet bippy!" and "Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls!" part of the national vocabulary, even getting Richard Nixon to come on the show to deliver a puzzled "Sock it to me?" Through it all, Dan Rowan did his exasperated best to keep loony Dick Martin on track.

Harvey Korman presented an altogether different style of comedy. While Martin was the good-natured, happy-go-lucky clown, Korman called upon a wide range of talents. He could be a pompous know-it-all, or the hapless clod Ed of the "Mama's Family" skits that originated on the Burnett show. Korman got his first big break as part of the cast of The Danny Kaye Show. After that show ended he joined Carol Burnett and for a decade was, in his own words, a "luminous second banana" on one of TV's best-loved variety programs.

While Laugh-In pushed the envelope with its fast pace and political humor, The Carol Burnett Show was a more traditional collection of skits and comic routines that seldom stirred any controversy. Burnett and Korman, along with Lyle Waggoner, Vicki Lawrence, and Tim Conway, made up one of the greatest comic ensembles ever. One of the cast's specialties was their parodies of movies and TV shows, sending up everything from Gone With The Wind (featuring Korman as Rhett Butler) to soap operas such as As The World Turns ("As The Stomach Turns"). The show won three Emmys, and was consistently in the top 10 of the ratings during its run.

Korman and Martin were successful in other ventures in the course of their long careers. Korman appeared in a number of movies, and was a favorite of Mel Brooks, who cast him in four of his comedies. Korman was especially memorable as the politician Hedley Lamarr in Blazing Saddles. Brooks said of Korman, "I had some real problems working with Harvey. I used to look past his eyes... If our eyes met, that's the end of the take. We would break up." Dick Martin continued his partnership with Rowan for a few more years; after the duo amicably split up in 1975, Martin also appeared in a few movies, but without much success. His friend Bob Newhart suggested that Martin try his hand at directing. Martin would prosper as a TV director in the late 70's and 80's, working on The Bob Newhart Show and its followup Newhart, as well as episodes of Family Ties and Archie Bunker's Place.

Each in their own way, Dick Martin and Harvey Korman made this world a little funnier, a little brighter, a little happier. Rest in peace, gentlemen.

For those interested in knowing more about these great comedies, I've found excellent sites pertaining to Laugh-In and The Carol Burnett Show.