My wife and I decided to go explore the 44th Annual Stone Mountain Highland Games and Festival. These events are apparently held all over the nation now, but Stone Mountain’s has proven some endurance. There was much that we didn’t see, for example competitions for Highland dance, harp, fiddling, piping and drumming, as well as various musical performances and sheep herding (done the next day). But here’s the summary.
First, there’s the story teller, looking and dressed for the role. He’s reviewing breakfast foods and whatever else that might either interest people or, better, persuade them to visit Scotland. With a face like that, there’s dozens of movies he should have been in.
The opening ceremonies had various people who are the head of clans or otherwise hold some sort of official status in Scotland or here. Aside from the kilt and requisite wardrobe, it seems a walking stick is a requirement. Clan shepherds, I suppose.
Once ensconced in their Officials booth, the music was queued with drums, fifes and, of course, bagpipes. How do you tell one bagpipe tune from another? By the titles.
The drummers use tenor drum sticks, essentially small balls at the tips, but with a handle wrapped so that they can spin them in the air when they raise their arm. It’s not done in unison, but, hey, it was something to watch.
After they had marched in, there was speaking and… Hey, with everyone watching, it’s a good time to grab a bite to eat!
We didn’t get our food from this vendor, but let it be known that I could have had haggis and was not man enough for it. Instead, we went to a vendor who had this: Fish and Chips, Meat Pie, and a Scottish Egg (located in the back of the photo). The egg is boiled, somehow wrapped in sausage, coated in bread crumbs, and deep fried. Eh, when in (almost) Scotland… why not? I had the Scottish Egg.
Not bad, but next time, it’ll be the fish and chips.
The main program interest for us was the athletic events. Participants are divided into men and women, and on the men’s side, at least, further divided into Professional Masters, Professional, and Amateurs A and B. Sunday would host the women’s division and a competition between clans. But first, it wouldn’t be a legitimate event without Renaissance Fair-looking flags:
Ok, must be legit. First observations were some amateurs taking some reps with the Stone of Strength. It’s 28 lbs. and made of granite. I have no idea how far they threw it, but it wasn’t far. The record is almost 40’ for the Stone Mountain competition. Each competitor gets three turns, with the farthest toss counting for their score.
Next up was The Weight – divided into two competitions using 56 and 28 lb. weights, attached to a short chain. There is a stick on the ground which is not a foot fault limitation but rather a hand fault – which should not pass the line before releasing the weight. Professionals seemed to take full two revolutions as they approached it for release.
The 56 lb. weight is also tossed for height in a separate competition. The records for distance are 48’ 10” and 95’ 5” respectively. Next up is the Sheaf Toss, where a 20 lb. sheaf of hay in a burlap bag is thrown using a pitchfork over a bar. The competitor fits the fork, and most took a couple of back and forth swinging motions before releasing it over their shoulders and hoping for the best. We saw a few clear the bar.
I don’t think that particular toss made it. And, lastly, there was the Caber Toss. The goal is to toss it end over end with the small end falling directly away from the competitor’s feet as it is released. A judge follows the competitor to essentially judge the fall somewhere between 10:00 and 2:00 on a watch face, with 12:00 being perfect. Most observed “tosses” failed to make it past the vertical, and a side judge would at least judge the angle that it reached. Helpers would place and hold the caber vertically while the contestant fitted it against his shoulder. He then has to measure the balance and get his hands under it unassisted. The judge can call for the contestant to drop it if it appears he’s losing control – as the referees, other contestants, and observers could be hurt. Several tended to waver around a little after the initial lift. How long they held it or with what speed they were walking when they made the toss didn’t seem to matter. The timing of the toss appeared to be the critical element, with the heavy end of the Caber already in motion as gravity does it work. Here’s a series of an almost perfect toss. The Caber was over 19’ and weighed about 150 lbs.
And, then there was people watching. Here, a gentleman wears his Scottish baseball cap and some standard American apparel.
I have no idea what authentic Scottish headwear is, but maybe this guy has it. It also begs the question of shoes – laced dress shoes or hiking sneakers… Hmm. I’d guess the latter when carrying the walking stick.
Wearing a kilt doesn’t mean that you have to go full-Scot, though.
This was the only sword I saw, but, hey, it’s a nice one, and otherwise it just sits on the den wall, right?
And, some people just wear whatever. But that’s okay.
Clan reunions are like family reunions, so many wore their respective Clan shirts.
My wife noted that there was no small number of red-headed children, so it seems as if some belong. Otherwise, there was a sense that the various clans, staked out in tents, are happy to have anyone join who has a name reasonably similar to the Clan name, if willing to join their club for a fee.
And, once you’re part of the family, you should go buy the clan plaid, right? It was definitely for sale (and, I believe, anyone can officially apply for a registered pattern for their family name for a fee as well).
There were other things for sale. Gargoyles and other creepy things:
Kilts. Here, a Georgia fan is probably looking to switch his allegiance to something more enduring.
As we were leaving, we watched a few more Caber tosses. The “pitch” had a slope to it that we hadn’t noticed earlier.
Cool stuff, but at $20 per person admission plus a $15 park admission, this was a “one and done” event for us. Still, it was a beautiful fall Saturday and a good outdoor experience.
The presidential debate is tonight, and I’d rather do anything else because it’s an unhelpful proposition to ask questions of two candidates that 1) do not answer questions in detail or in any helpful way and 2) are the living proof of the dumbing down of the American voter, which, sadly, affects people of all IQs.
I view this as the competition of the Corrupt vs. the Crackpot. If you’re confused, that’s Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, respectively. The first is a consummate liar and the latter is a celebrity without a filter who rarely can construct a sentence beyond six words. “Believe me.” It’s awful.
That said, it’s not as awful as the modern media, whose role in all of this should be to shed light into the darkness, exposing what the candidates would prefer to hide and, to the extent possible, hold them accountable. More than ever, the last few weeks have shown that the media, in aggregation, is a hitman on Trump. I don’t fault them for that. I fault them for not showing the same prosecuting tactics towards Clinton.
We all know Trump either has or used to have money. Going back 21 years, three pages of his leaked tax return shows that he filed a $916 million loss, thus avoiding payable taxes. I’d like to see that document, but even my expert Google skills show nothing other than what the New York Times says about them. So, we have a 21 year old tax return and a media that trumpets, without questioning, Mrs. Clinton’s charge that he unfairly uses the tax code to avoid paying “his fair share.” His response: It’s legal.
This is such a simplistic card to play, but it also incites anger towards the wealthy. If he’s rich, he should be paying taxes, right? Wrong. Taxes are for income in a single year, and it doesn’t surprise me a bit that Trump wasn’t successful that year, or however many others. Wealth isn’t taxed; income is. The media doesn’t bother to mention that, preferring the narrative that that the rich don’t pay their fair share.
However, I can find the tax return for the 2013 Clinton Foundation, at their own website. Let’s take a peek at the facts (with some rounding of numbers):
Line 12 – 2013 Revenue – $148M
Line 15 – Salaries/Compensation – $30M (none of which goes to Bill, Hillary, or Chelsea)
Line 17 – Other expenses – $45M – these are detailed beginning on Page 10, Part IX
So, Part IX:
Lines 1 and 3 – Grants to governments/organizations – $9M
Lines 5 –10 – Compensation and other salaries/wages – the aforementioned $30M
Line 12 – Advertising – $670K
Lines 13 – 16 – Office related – $11M
Line 17 – Travel – $8M
Line 19 – Conferences, conventions and meetings – $9M
Line 11(g) – Other fees for services – $7M – says see Form O for details
Form O (page 45 of the pdf) does not list any actual numbers. It has an extended narrative of launching programs domestically and abroad, and when it finally mentions actual $ expended, it appears their partners bear the majority of the load, for example the $12.5M program with Kenya to deliver reliable greenhouse gas data.
Another example is $30M that the Clinton Foundation “facilitated” in direct foreign investment to Haiti. That’s a sore subject with Haitians these days… The case studies go on and on (to page 63 of the pdf), but keep in mind that the total allotted expense contributed by the Foundation was $7M noted on Line 11(g).
It’s a non-profit, so no taxes were directly paid. That said, the plain statement on the first page amounts to $147M in contributions for the single year and $9M in grants and similar accounts paid, with an increase in net assets from $184M to $247M in a single year. A quick peek at their 2014 return shows another increase to $332M.
It seems this would be worth a little news – 6% of revenue going to grants/assistance in a non-profit that increases its assets by 34% a year. And what of $9M in conferences and $8M in related travel? It looks like some awfully good living for those working a non-profit life.
I’m not a tax form expert, but that’s how I read the numbers. Charity Watch somehow translates a very similar 2014 return to equate to 88% “of its cash budget” going to programs. It would be helpful to have an asterisk (*) to refer to make clearer what cash lies inside or outside of a “cash budget.” It seems simple, but obviously, it isn’t.
I was in Hartford recently and tried a new pub/restaurant for dinner on a Sunday night, free of the usual, but not unwelcome, compromises that comes with weeknight business dinners. To my surprise, there was a musical performer, and, better, they were good. Instruments were acoustic, so conversation was not overwhelmed, the music was crisply played, and the lead singer had an excellent baritone voice. Among other traditional songs, he sang “Michael Row The Boat Ashore,” a negro spiritual from South Carolina (not my words, but Wiki’s, lest I offend). I don’t expect to return on a Sunday night, but if I did, I’d plan a return visit as they play there weekly.
The timbre in the singer’s voice of “Michael” had potency, and earnestness of conviction to the lyrics which speak of spiritual yearning and freedom. It had been many, many years since I’d heard it, definitely at some childhood age, likely at a church camp. It was a pleasant recollection that puts the mind to wondering what other songs were sung… aside from “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” always an irritant.
More distinctly, I remember learning “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in kindergarten, sung on different beats between boys and girls or “sung as a round.” Cutesy. “Row Your Boat…” The lyrics had no meaning; it was all about getting the timing right among the four groups in which we were split. Both songs feature the rowing of boats and, hey, what’s that song about, anyway?
Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream
In perfect hindsight, the plain reading remains innocuous, but, hey, as adults, words mean things. Time to dissect.
“Row, row, row your boat” – I guess no one would row just one stroke, so three strokes make sense. Still, there’s an obvious repetition that suggests the labor required for movement. It’s not the same as joyously paddling a kayak, but in any case, perhaps it’s a metaphor for the the work and motion of living or even the passing of time.
“Gently down the stream” – Okay, you don’t have to row hard if you’re going with the current, so there is a definite feeling of going with the flow, stopping to smell the roses. More pointedly, it’s not rowing up the stream and all of the struggle suggested in that path.
“Merrily” x4 – It seems so obvious, but let’s check the definition.
These options offer legitimacy to both a harmless ditty or to a masterfully refined wooing, offered like the Child Catcher’s sugary sweets to those gullible kids in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
“Life is but a dream” – To be frank, this is the most troublesome line. Maybe, well, let’s see what else rhymes with “stream”… “scream?” No. “Cream,” “theme,” “steam,” “beam,” “scheme”…. no. “Dream” is clearly the best suited.
Five syllables to work with, how about “Go and live your dreams?” It could be tweaked, but at least it’s life affirming. The problem word is “but.”
Of the above, the adverb is clearly the best fit. Let’s see how it fits:
“Life is merely a dream.” “Life is no more than a dream.” “Life is nothing but a dream.” Well, the last one there is a failure as it uses the word being defined in the definition… In any case, it’s as obvious what the meaning of “is” is.
So, “life is but a dream.” Sigh. Yet another definition is needed for something so seemingly simple.
Well, the noun wins the contest, but that’s not very helpful. Miriam-Webster offers this: “An idea or vision that is created in your imagination and that is not real.” Life is not real? One might suppose that the life referred to is purported to be “dreamy,” but I’m not confident that, to borrow from the verb definition, “la-la land” is the best guidance for molding young lives. But you can choose that if you want. My choices for the phrase lie between a concise nihilistic philosophy or a metaphysical swing (and miss)at the nature of consciousness.
So, let’s paraphrase the available interpretations.
1) It’s a silly children’s rhyme that doesn’t mean anything, lacking any moral relevance or instructional value other than musical. It is only useful to occupy kids’ time so that they’re not more of a nuisance than they otherwise would be.
2) A morphine drip.
Do what you have to through life but
take the easy path.
Live without thinking of consequences
because life is not real
3) Simply understood.
Row your boat
Carefully because you’re going with the current
In a cheerful way
because life is as happy as a (good) dream. (Think… warm puppy!)
I’ll let you choose where the evidence points.
Spotify saves the day again, or at least the $10 I used to spend confidently for a new Drive-By Truckers CD. American Band, their latest release, has gathered significant pre-release attention for its intent to be a political album in an election year season of extolling the intolerable. Rolling Stone comments that “The result is more than a Clinton ad with Skynryd and Stones guitars… It’s political rock that never confused passionate commitment with smug certainty, asking more questions than it answers…”
That’s a particularly apt description actually. The band has long been able to craft their messages so that they’re spoken through relatable characters in difficult circumstances expressing an oughtness to life. There are problems though. The first is that while the narrative mines ample headlines for examples of “society gone wild,” it just echoes the frustrations of the political left (or right) that the change that was promised never arrived. Well, DBT, write about this, then. You get what you pay for in politics, and it’s not the American citizen that’s paying. And, politics doesn’t change the hearts, minds and souls of men, it just fractures the willingness of people who think differently to work together.
Failed or hopeful ideals are expected among artists though; they’re a mirror of our times. Pointing out questions without having answers is par for the course. Awareness. Education. Challenges to how a person thinks. It’s all good. You take that and put it on a music CD and, well, there’s this other expectation – a worthy musical vehicle to carry the message. And it’s here that DBT is failing. The band has seemingly convinced itself that their audience, as middle-aged as they are, is tired of screaming guitars and rock and roll aggression. They’re wrong, and hopefully they’re prepared for the consequences of posturing as folk singers when being a rock and roll band is what pays the bills. There isn’t a musical ear worm in the bunch, and the band’s two vocalists, who are always at their peak with raw expression, have somehow decided they are actually singers. So, sadly, this CD, like a newspaper editorial, is as timely as today and as enduring as yesterday’s news.
Suggested track: “Baggage”
An end of the year find in 2015 was a CD by All Them Witches called Dying Surfer Meets His Maker. It satisfied a music itch because it rocked hard, had a certain Led Zep aspect, and rose above competitors for its musical imagination, aggressiveness, sonic mixture, and at least somewhat interesting lyrics as far as obtuse mysticism goes. Overall, it sounded good, and I was eager to finally see them in concert. And, they were good enough that I persuaded my son to buy me a $12 ticket as a birthday present and tag along on a work night. My overall impression was that this band has what it takes to continue making some really fine music. It begins with lead singer and bassist/guitarist Michael Parks – great voice, appreciative manner, and he plays a bass that doesn’t just keep a rhythm but at times propels the music in interesting ways.
For all of the heavy licks, I would have expected their guitarist to wear the black T-shirts, long hair and whiskered faces of so many of their assembled fans. Ben McLeod instead is fairly static, clean cut, and seems just as happy to play to the drummer as the audience. Still, his sound is key to the band, at times backing off to give Parks vocal space, and at times splitting the ear drums.
Drummers sometimes keep a beat. Sometimes they’re clever. Rarely do they possess their kit. It’s a small set, but drummer Robby Staebler does just that. And, apparently trim drummers who go shirtless are babe magnets. He had his fans attention…
Their secret weapon is keyboardist Allan Van Cleave. Even when the band is playing a heavy hand, the keyboards are glue. And when they get into extended jazzier moments, he sets the tone.
The band has two full length albums, and they played essentially all of their better songs. The only thing missing was the harmonica from their recorded sound. They also played two songs, one of which sounded good and the other, something about coffee, was a disappointing throw-away rocker, kind of surprising given the care given the rest of their songs. The crowd was perhaps 150, pretty good for the middle of the week, and a visit to the East Atlanta Restaurant and Lounge is always fun, if just for the name (not the smoking bar area). In any case, no disappointments here – the band could have been pretentious, but they seemed to enjoy the music they’re making and, when they stretched a couple of songs for a jam, appear to find satisfaction in what they hear from the others. Without any single one of them, the band would be significantly less.
Favorites: “Talisman,” “Blood and Sand,” “Dirt Preachers,” Open Passageways” – I have yet to settle in on their earlier CD, which I, of course, bought. It has its highlights, but not as many as Surfer.
Sunday was a rather lackluster day. A friend and I began the day with a revisit with Mike Grell, author/artist of many of the Green Arrow comics and a number of comic series. Great tales of past bosses, editors, promises of fame and glory… in other words, the sordid tale of a working in the industry by a revered survivor, for the dozen or so gathered anyway. In any case, factoids included that for a comic to be successful, a print run would be 100,000 and 1/3 of them would have to sell. The conversation then went to comics originally being intended for 8-10 year olds and the resulting need for character development to satisfy teens and beyond. A point of pride for Grell was when his parents found out that he paid more in taxes than his father earned, thus ending pressure to find a real job.
We toured the Sales hall, noting moderately more walking space between the vendor aisles. That was a good thing.
And then it was off to “Robots in Pop Culture.” The speaker was Katie Correll, a self-described “maniacal engineer” and roboticist. Telling others her title, people frequently reacted with general concern for her as robots were evil. This prompted the fairly recently Masters graduate to pursue why this perception came to be. She set about classifying robot behavior in movies as either good or evil, to see what could be gleaned. The word 'robot' was first used to denote a fictional humanoid in a 1920 play R.U.R (Rossum’s Universal Robots), which put forward that robot drones drones are mindless, but sufficient to phase out humanity. Isaac Asimov introduced the term “robotics” in 1941, as a term applying mechanics and hydraulics to robots. He later adapted laws governing robot ethics which were positive.
Japanese movies such as Jet Jaguar, Doraemon (1969 manga animation), and Astro boy (1952 manga android) showed robots as helpful agents, possibly because the society had already experienced its apocalypse. They continue to be used widely in restaurants and concierge services. The short of it is that in 168 movies, she found robots to be 58% evil. When Star Wars arrived in 1977, robots suddenly became friendlier, as up to that point, robots had been 76% evil. In any case, the presentation wasn’t terribly formal, but I’m hoping she puts more work into the subject with TV shows and literature… with more pictures.
Her site is www.k80bot.com, and she’s done some interesting things already including working on automated performance stages.
Lastly, we attended a panel on “Designing Board Games” which was hosted by four people successful in the field, most notably the guy who imported Settlers of Catan for American audiences. ($$$). This was an awkward conversation, essentially suggesting that all there is nothing new under the sun, just repurposing an existing game for a new theme while introducing a different game mechanic for the one that aggravates you most in the other game. This was made most obvious by Thomas M. Gofton, conveniently not included in the picture below, an entrepreneur who hires a a bunch of designers to pump out movie or TV related games under studio licenses, such as the forthcoming update to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Just based on his smugness, I’ll look elsewhere for satisfying games. In any case, there were a host of people attending, presumably with their own ideas.
There are about 1,000 games introduced each year, and a successful game has to sell 3-4,000 copies to turn a profit. Also, no game should be built without plans for expansion sets if it turns out well. As games sell at around $50 each, good reviews play a huge role. A surprisingly enjoyable and humorous introduction to board games can be found on Wesley Crusher’s, oops, Wil Wheaton’s Table Top web series, featuring various guests. It makes up for his most notorious role, I think…
Anyway, that concluded the 30th anniversary of what began as the Dragon Alliance of Gamers and Players. Well done, though with 77,000 reported in attendance this year, one wonders how they can continue to grow by 7,000 participants each year. Perhaps next year should be Dragon Con: Critical Mass.
Saturdays at DragonCon are probably viewed by many as the peak of convention. Thousands descend from the metro area to watch the DragonCon parade, and those who are interested in costuming seem to prioritize Saturday to show off. And with a gazillion people there, it’s the perfect day to be seen.
The parade starts at 10:00 a.m., and a quarter of that sum arrive early enough, by 8:30 a.m., to grab VIP sidewalk curbing space to enjoy an unblemished and unblocked parade. Another quarter gazillion arrive over the following hour and 20 minutes, with the remainder arriving within 10 minutes of the start of the parade, often disappointed/incensed that they and their three year olds cannot see the parade from 8 deep on the sidewalk. I have sympathy for them, but not enough to negotiate my VIP placement. After several years of skipping the parade, I decided to go ahead and… it was worth it. There were the usual great costumes and a number of surprises, such as these two from Dire Strait’s “Money for Nothing” music video.
I’ll give those who desire to show off another few years to adapt to new shows/movies or otherwise be creative. After all, after you’ve seen one Stormtrooper, you’ve seen them all. Well, except this zombie one. In any case, you can see all my DragonCon pictures here.
After scrounging a lunch, I went to a panel in the Armory track called “My Sword is Better than Your Sword.” Oops. I arrived too late. But never fear, they decided they could shorten the content to two half hour sections if people would wait. So, sure. From that came a history of sword styles and their evolution through history with a “show and tell” for each step along the way. An interesting point was that Japanese katanas, which seem to enjoy a reputation for perfect swords, do not compare with the blades made by German blacksmiths whose excellent quality blades were not only made for a thousand years prior to the Japanese, but exported around the world. Essentially, central Europe made the blades, and a purchaser would go to their local armorer who attached the blade to the local hilt du jour. It was more interesting than you might think, and… hey, I’ll take a shortcut.
After that we were off to stand in line for about 40 minutes for the iZombie panel, not an unusual length for a wait for “celebrity” panels, but the only panel I attended where we had to wait more than 10 minutes. iZombie is a favorite show, where our heroine inherits the personality and occasional memories of the recently deceased, sufficient for enough clues to solve a murder mystery and have a few laughs along the way. Curiously, this works better on an episodic basis rather than the background arc of the company who caused the zombiepocalypse. In any case, the panel was interesting, fun, and like so many others, instantly gratifying and forgettable. Short of it is that when you go to these panels, you want to like the actors as much as you like their characters and comparing them them absent a script.
They also had many other subjects on this track, one apparently including the impact of an 18 kiloton plutonium surface detonation outside the Hyatt lobby. Perhaps a map will help to understand how far you need to run to experience less immediate lethal effects.
My last panel for the day was one that I “sold out” the year before. There are apparently many who wish to learn “How to Get Away with Murder,” a session led by several scientists, including a chemist and neuropsychologist. This was not quite as technically detailed as one might hope(?), but it was interesting nevertheless. Covered were polonium mixed with a drink, an unsolved mystery from Australia, and Jack the Ripper (DNA has suggested ancestors of a 23 year old Polish citizen). More to the point, how to dispose of a body. Hagfish, leaving a body for a bear if the body is ripe, hydrochloric acid (if the body is processed through a wood chipper first – surface area matters), and disposing a body using an animal crematorium at a vet or a pound. There you go. Remember to remove identifying parts of a body as well, such as fingerprints, teeth replaced joints, piercings, etc. And, if dropping a body into a glacier river isn’t convenient, remember, “Lye is your friend.” Oh, and if all else fails, just contaminate the crime scene with DNA from a crime scene Tech. How many were curious?
Ah, Saturdays at DragonCon!