Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet..."

Via the, here is an interesting piece from The Guardian examines why pop songs are so short. Apart from the fact that in many cases it is simply our own good sense or the the Lord's sweet mercy that delivers us from the worst of what passes for pop music, this article takes a fresh look at typical examples and historical reasons, as well as notable exceptions.

In this latter category, he describes the background of and offers a link to an emotionally arresting recording by Gavin Bryars, entitled "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Worst Day of My Life...

You know, perspective is everything. Especially at this time of year it's important for us to be thankful for what we have and to say a little prayer for those whose lives are so much less fortunate.

A special thanks to my son, JP, for pointing me towards this timely reminder, on this, his 22nd birthday, no less.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Arlen Roth: Slide Guitar Lesson

Here's another short video lesson in beginning slide guitar technique, this time by Arlen Roth. Not only does he give great insight in the "how-to", he delivers some easy, great sounding basic licks. He is playing a Gibson SG, which is the model preferred by Derek Trucks, too.

Slide guitar is a lot of fun, but like he says, it's totally different than playing regular guitar.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

10,000 Hours, more or less

"In the early 90s, the psychologist K Anders Ericsson and two colleagues set up shop at Berlin's elite Academy of Music. With the help of the academy's professors, they divided the school's violinists into three groups. The first group were the stars, the students with the potential to become world-class soloists. The second were those judged to be merely "good". The third were students who were unlikely ever to play professionally, and intended to be music teachers in the school system. All the violinists were then asked the same question. Over the course of your career, ever since you first picked up the violin, how many hours have you practised?

Everyone, from all three groups, started playing at roughly the same time - around the age of five. In those first few years, everyone practised roughly the same amount - about two or three hours a week. But around the age of eight real differences started to emerge. The students who would end up as the best in their class began to practise more than everyone else: six hours a week by age nine, eight by age 12, 16 a week by age 14, and up and up, until by the age of 20 they were practising well over 30 hours a week. By the age of 20, the elite performers had all totalled 10,000 hours of practice over the course of their lives. The merely good students had totalled, by contrast, 8,000 hours, and the future music teachers just over 4,000 hours.

The curious thing about Ericsson's study is that he and his colleagues couldn't find any "naturals" - musicians who could float effortlessly to the top while practising a fraction of the time that their peers did. Nor could they find "grinds", people who worked harder than everyone else and yet just didn't have what it takes to break into the top ranks. Their research suggested that once you have enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it. What's more, the people at the very top don't just work much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder."

Excerpted from from Malcolm Gladwell's new book, Outliers: The Story of Success, reprinted from The Guardian. A fascinating read, this excerpt also discusses hockey champions, Bill Gates' career, and Mozart's childhood.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Everyone Can Go

This is an Associated Press photo from a couple of weeks ago showing religious pilgrims returning from a...uhm, pilgrimage to their home in Multan, Pakistan.

Click to enlarge.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Roasted Pears with Cheddar Crumble

Frankly, I'm getting annoyed at all of my favorite food websites because all they want to talk about is Thanksgiving dinner. I like Thanksgiving dinner as much as the next guy but, for me, from a cooking standpoint, it's just not that interesting. I know it's all about the turkey recipe, the stuffing, the cranberry something-or-other, blah, blah, BLAH! I'm beginning to fear it will be January before it gets creative and fun to read about cooking again.

That said, Mark Bittman, one of my favorite chef/authors, was on The Today Show this morning with some interesting, very simple soup recipes. Here's the link. And I don't think he even mentioned the word "turkey" one time.

Sorry, I didn't really mean to go all anti-Thanksgiving there. To make up for it, here is an excellent, healthy dessert recipe that I freely adapted from one of those recipe cards that they give away free in the produce section of the grocery. You just never know where you'll find an inspiring idea. Nancy requested it for this morning's breakfast, and it worked great. It is one of those dishes that looks fancy, but it is really incredibly easy.

Roasted Pears with Cheddar Crumble

2 ripe pears, halved, cored and seeded
2 tbsp. butter, approx.
1/4 cup of good cheddar cheese, grated
2 tbsp. granola
2 tbsp. Splenda brown sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat small baking dish with cooking spray. Place pears cut-side up in dish. Cover with butter, cover, and bake for 30 minutes.

Shortly before pears finish cooking, combine grated cheese and granola in small bowl.

Remove pears from oven, Uncover and spoon cheese and granola mix into and on top of pears. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Return to oven and bake for 10 minutes more.

Serve in bowls, pouring extra syrup over pears.  Serves 2.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tommy Tedesco Interview

Here is a link to an interview with Tommy Tedesco, one of the greatest studio musicians in the world. He passed away a few years ago and there is a new documentary about his work in "The Wrecking Crew," a storied group of musicians who played on quite literally all of the major record and important film dates in LA from the early 60's through the early 90's. I'm not kidding...I mean all of them. Check it out. He was so prolific throughout this time that I daresay, in this age of cable TV, there is likely always one or more movies or TV shows that feature his guitar playing.

Tommy Tedesco is revered among guitarists, in particular, for his unbelievable musicality and stylistic versatility. He had an astonishing ability as a multi-instrumentalist and was generally without peer in the LA studio scene for many years. He could literally play in any musical context, and he thrived on the high-stakes pressure of the high-dollar, two-takes-and-you're-done recording sessions. When I was in college at the University of North Texas, circa 1981, he visited and gave a master class/lecture on what it takes to be a professional studio musician. That certainly was one of the most memorable days of my college career and figures significantly into my lifelong pursuit as a guitarist.

Check out the links above, if you've got a minute or two, and you will be surprised and entertained. Tedesco was a fascinating character and a superb musician.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Crockpot Lambs Shanks for Two

As "empty-nesters," most often these days, I am fixing dinner for two. As I've mentioned previously, we really like lamb. Here is an excellent, simple recipe, adapted from this one found at

Lamb shanks are an economical cut of meat and should not be available at any grocery that stocks lamb.  It is a fairly tough cut of meat, though, and require a little special treatment. Slow cooking in a crockpot is an excellent way to tenderize any meat and the marinade in this recipe really helps a lot with this while preserving the wonderful, rich flavor.

First, the cast of ingredients:

2 lamb shanks
1 onion, sliced medium thin
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt
1/2 freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp olive oil
5-6 whole, garlic cloves,
4 ounces cleaned mushrooms, halved
3/4 cup red cooking wine
1/2 cup strong beef broth
1 (14 ounces) can diced tomatoes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp ground allspice


Chop and slice the veggies as specified above and shown here:

Coat lamb shanks with Worcestershire sauce, then sprinkle generously with sea salt and pepper.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and brown the lamb shanks.

Separate the onion rings and place in bottom of crockpot.  Place browned lamb shanks, along with any tasty scrapings from the skillet, into the crockpot on top of the onions.

Top with garlic and mushrooms.
In a bowl, mix together the wine, beef broth, tomatoes, oregano, basil, thyme, allspice, and bay leaf. Pour mixture over the vegetables and lamb shanks.  

Cook on low for 7 hours or until tender. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. 

When done, the meat will be fall-off-the-bone tender.  Serve with pan juices and vegetables.  The picture below also features a simple salad of wilted spinach, bacon, and tomato along with a slice of toasted Amish wheat bread and fresh butter.


Sunday, November 09, 2008

Indiana University/Bloomington 11/7/08

This past Friday, Nancy and I spent the day in Bloomington, visiting JP. While he was in class in the late afternoon, we wandered around the campus a bit, taking photos. Even though the full glory of autumn is a couple of weeks past, it was still really beautiful.

(If you click on the pictures above, most of them will expand.)

Update:  Nancy took some great pics....check them out here.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Bacon vs Fries!

Yeesh. If I lived in Denver I would have been all over voting split-ticket on this one. I'll reach across the aisle for bacon every time. It's good to see it was a landslide victory. There is no contest between bacon and fries.

h/t Amazon's Al Dente Blog (one of my favorite food blogs).

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Truett says to go vote.

World War II History

I stumbled across a series of fascinating and unusual articles at Spiegel Online covering Nazi Germany. Most of the pieces incorporate new and and ongoing research into various historical topics.

Titles include:
  • A recent trial of a 91-year old convicted Nazi war criminal who held up a pharmacy with a toy gun
  • A reassessment of the bombing of Dresden
  • New photos from concentration camps
  • A look at the surviving members of Hitler's "Lebensborn" program to breed an Aryan super-race
  • A study of the effects of rape trauma on the women of Eastern Germany in the last days of the war as the country was being overrun by invading Allied troops
  • New research about looted art treasures and literature
And many more...

Monday, November 03, 2008

Watershed Politics

Presidential elections bring to the surface a number of interesting aspects about our American society. They always reflect the complexity of our culture and how we as individuals perceive and relate to the key issues of our time.

One of the rights we enjoy as Americans is that we are free to vote for our leaders. Many voters find themselves compelled by their consciences or their circumstances to effectively reduce their voting criterion down to one specific watershed issue. For some, the issue is abortion, for others it is national security, for some it is national healthcare, and for others it is the economy. It might be all about immigration, or it might be about the war in the Middle East. But for many of us, it all boils down to one key issue. This is not a bad thing, in my opinion, and an essential part of the freedom we enjoy here is the privilege of expressing our own thoughts and our own personal convictions in the hopes of swaying others to our way of thinking. This is a type of thinking to which I can relate and, in fact, ultimately, my own voting choice condenses itself down to a single issue.

Unfortunately, this particular election's choices have revealed some unpleasant things about our society, too. I know of black voters who will vote for Obama for the sole reason that he is black. Nothing else matters to them. I know of white voters, ostensibly Democrats, who will not vote for Obama for the same reason. Nothing else matters to them.

There is a legion of middle-age feminists, too, who have completely twisted themselves into knots over the ascension of Sarah Palin. Many are unable to even speak in civil terms about the intelligent, ambitious, self-determining woman who has a very real shot at being the first woman to hold the second highest political office in American history. Her conservatism, her religious faith, her dedication to her husband and family, along with her repudiation of the traditional strident feminist ideology have made her a target of some of the most bitter, shrewish personal attacks by other women, on the basis of her gender. It is good that women are not voting for her simply because she is a woman, but it is pathetic to see the dialogue turn so ugly.

I could go on, but anybody who has been following the national narrative has seen these things. For me, the one watershed issue that it boils down to is quite simple. I am for freedom. I believe that history demonstrates that the more government we have, then the less freedom we enjoy. That makes me a small government guy.

The Democratic party, as part of its fundamental philosophy, believes that it is the function of government to take care of its people, to provide for all their needs, and to chart and guide the course of their collective future, ostensibly for the good of all. The Republican Party, in its fundamental philosophy, conversely, seeks to limit the size and influence of government on its constituents in the belief that freedom flourishes in the absence of governmental constraint. It is my observation that the Democratic Party is much better at serving its core belief than the Republican Party is. Under the predominant control of the Democratic Party, the government ALWAYS grows in size, scope, and power. This is part of it's mission. I say this without criticism or malice. It just reflects a different view of life. It is an inferior view, to my thinking, but it is the right of every American to believe what they want. Besides, when the Republicans are in charge, especially of late, government also grows, I'm very sorry to say.

However, in general terms, it remains a demonstrable, historical fact that liberals consistently seek to grow the size of government whereas conservatives seek to limit the size of government. It is that simple.

For me, this fundamental difference in ideology is important. The less government intervention in my life, the better. I believe that individual freedom is the basis of our democracy and I will always default to the party and to the people who share that belief.

So, yeah, this year, like so many ideological conservatives, the vote I am casting is not so much for the Republican party as it is a vote cast against the Democratic party.

For the record, I think it would be fantastic to have a black President...just not this black President.

It's the O-conomy, stupid.

This is a good quote, worthy of a link.

"Now, I'm not suggesting Obama intends to transform this nation into 1950s-era Soviet tyranny or that he will possess the power to do so. I'm suggesting Obama is praising and mainstreaming an economic philosophy that has failed to produce a scintilla of fairness or prosperity anywhere on Earth. Ever."

I'm really not stumping for any particular candidate. This is obviously not a political blog and I have little interest in swaying anybody. And if I were so inclined, it's safe to say that I'm a little behind the curve. Later today I have a post in which I discuss who I voted for (early!) and why. But the article above, that I read this morning, serves as an adequate preamble and suitable context for my post later.

h/t Instapundit

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Genoa Salami

One of the things I like best about authentic Genoa salami is that you know it's good because it tastes like something might be wrong with it's slightly spoiled or something. But it's not. Really.

It's great in scrambled eggs with a little sweet bell peppers. Here's a link to more info about salami in general, including links to recipes.