Thursday, December 29, 2011

Troubling Events at 75 Meters

I listen to shortwave radio. I realize this is an odd anachronistic hobby for a 39 year-old suburbanite who should be empowering himself with yoga, reality television and crap purchased from the Apple Store. But long ago I had a shortwave radio in high school, a time before the interwebs were capable of delivering live streaming of any radio station you could fathom. Perhaps I listen to shortwave radio now to re-experience the wonderment that I felt then, alone in my room, pulling in signals that seemed to arrive from anywhere and everywhere, as though through some magical cypher.

I have a Grundig G3. It is an amazing little machine, and well worth the $129 it costs. It is able to pull in many international broadcasts as well as aeronautical communications and amateur broadcasts. I must confess to being most intrigued by what I might find discussed by Ham Radio operators. As I got back into shorwave, it was easy to presuppose that amateur broadcasts were ocean of anti-government Obama-haters, writhing in the seats of their remote Ham Shacks, imploring any and all who might be listening to prepare for the End of Times.

I spend most of my time on shortwave listening to Hams. I track their call signs and document everything I hear. I do this mostly out of curiosity - it's interesting to see the vast distances from which I can pull in a signal on such an unsophisticated receiver. And to my surprise, most Hams are enormously likable and listenable men (I've only heard one female amateur operator). Rather than spewing venomous political crap, they mostly are looking to make connections with other Hams to discuss the shortwave conditions in the ionosphere and the effectiveness of their antennae. And once these connections are made, Hams generally just converse about their lives - what they're doing that day, how the weather is, what they're planning to do next summer.

I've been listening and documenting religiously for almost a year now. But now, due perhaps to the oncoming shift and uncertainty popular culture believes Planet Earth will endure in 2012, the Ham universe has taken a decidedly darker direction.

On December 11th, I was listening at 3827 kHz on the lower side band. A Ham operator was delivering a long religious speech, which at times seemed mildly anti-Semitic. Other Hams were trying to break into his broadcast, either by speaking or by sending out Morse code. Still, other Hams began attacking those Hams who were looking to disrupt this broadcast. A consistent voice trying to counter the religious broadcast was met with another countering voice decrying his attempts by repeating: "That's an ARRL Member jamming a legal QSO" (meaning 'hey - that's a licenced operator trying to disrupt a legal broadcast').

It was all very unsettling. Since then, I've encountered other hotbeds for political diatribes, most infamous being 14313 kHz during the daytime. These exchanges are nothing more than verbal versions of any anonymous internet comment board. But there's something scary and sinister here. Hearing the actual voices of their adversaries doesn't seem to deter the anger these men feel. One would assume that the anger a man might feel for another man who does not share his viewpoint might be assuaged if the two men, rather than conversing through the blindness of an internet chat room, could actually hear one another's real voices. This is not the case, unfortunately.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Best Reads of 2011

It's been a little over three years since I started Slimbo's Shelf. I never really gave any thought to how long it would last when I started this blog. This, of course, was a time when blogs were relevant. Now, amid the constant flurry of ever-changing interweb social media, blogs seem to have gone the way of the cassette tape or fax machine.

Yet I carry on. The only alternative to writing on this blog is to continually write in my notebooks. I have a stack of these spiral notebooks in my closet. One might mistaken them for artifacts of my old school days, but oh no, sir. These are the ramblings of a contemporary suburban madman. I don't remember what's been written in half of them, but they are densely packed with my words. Occasionally, I'll mine out an idea from these dusty tomes, perhaps to transpose into an idea I'll work through here, on this blog where it goes unread amid the ocean of unread blogs that now populate our fair planet.

Ah, fuck it. Let's talk about what Slimbo read in 2011.

Super Sad True Love Story - Gary Shteyngart. Written between 2006-2009, this story portrays a New York riddled with materialistic protagonists obsessed with their hand held devices trying to understand love amid a New York severed by income inequality protests while the US Government defaults on its debt. This work is oddly prophetic of our current lives, as we pretend to be amused by Occupy's theatrics, all the while commandeered by whatever devices Apple tells us we must possess on cue.

At Madame Swann's - Marcel Proust. As noted before, I am continuing my lifelong quest to read all of Proust's work. In this installment, young Marcel finds love with Gilberte, loses his love for Gilbert and eventually transitions into his love of Albertine. In the midst of all this, he spends WAY too much time obsessing on dresses and flowers. Just sayin', sports fans. Sometimes, I read Proust believing I'm ingesting the greatest writing ever executed in any language. Sometimes I want to smack him. I'd like to think you, my imaginary readership, feel the same about me.

The Bishop - Anton Chekhov. Free on Kindle - download it now! This story chronicles the last thoughts of a bishop marooned in a country parish as he lives out his final days. Death comes to him suddenly. Palm Sunday, he is fine but by Easter he will be dead. His terrible and beautiful musings are juxtapositioned against the rituals and mystical comforts of Holy Week. The Bishop is one of the most moving stories I've ever read. It is a simple, albeit heavily Russian, exploration of life's meaning written as Chekhov himself was dying.

Yondering - Louis L'Amour. I picked this up in Utah and it seemed fitting to read rugged old school man-fiction while I was out there absorbing the mysterious power of those towering Rockies and windswept plains. For an East Coast guy, being there was exhilarating (Wow, I think I grew a few hairs on my chest just writing that - call it Slimbo reaching out to Red State readers). I've got a soft spot for L'Amour. He toiled in the WPA Writers Project with Jim Thompson, whom I hold in enormously high regard. I over-idealize men like these two. I'm too ready to romanticize about the obstacles they faced as they were maligned as Reds by the years that followed WW2 as the Red Scare choked off the oxygen to the gray matter of our national intelligence. In reality, these were just two guys looking to make a buck, any which way they could. Thompson never made the bucks he should have, but L'Amour tapped into the post-war machismo volcano that yearned for his Westerns - validations of American manliness, once the M-1 rifles went silent in 1945.

Yondering is not typical L'Amour, though. These are short stories of varying settings, but all adventures pitting strong hard men against indomitable odds, scoffing at death. Each story is a homage to Hemingway and/or Jack London. Each story avoids the need to explain the existential meaningless of violence and each story veers ever so gently to some formulaic articulation of American exceptionalism and red/white/blue righteousness. Ah shit, who am I to judge? Reading this made me want to go back in time and be 19 again. These stories made me want to piss away all the plastic conventions and scour planet Earth inch by every nasty inch.

Conquest of the Useless - Werner Herzog. This is a painstakingly detailed account of the filming of Fitzcaraldo, as gleaned from the journals of German director Werner Herzog. The Shelf offered a slice of Conquest's offerings in this post. To complete Herzog's unbelievable vision for Fitzcaraldo, wherein he executed the impossible feat of towing a ship over a mountain, Herzog had to navigate the "obscenity of the jungle" while also manage the departure of his initial leading man, Jason Robards for the blessed, yet cursed presence of Robard's replacement, the ever insane Klaus Kinski.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Hey Look, it's the World's 7th Largest Army

Mattathias Schwartz reported something astonishing in a recent article in The New Yorker. He reported that just as Mayor Bloomberg was sending in the world's 7th largest army to break up the Occupy encampment at Zuccoti Park, the Occupy Movement's leaders were themselves preparing to break down camp for the winter and call it a victorious 2011.

But now, thanks to the heavy-handed tactics endured, the circus must continue for Occupy to save face. All in all, I've been following Occupy with the same detached bemusement I hold while watching my New York Mets play the Yankees. I know it's all going to end bad for the good guys, so why bother getting excited about anything.

Still, I think Occupy can claim victory right now. Just this week, the President (finally!) gave an impassioned speech addressing the vast polarization of wealth and power in this nation that is likely going to bring the end of our democracy if something drastic is not done. Did the enduring presence of Occupy finally enable Obama to find his spinal structure? We don't know.

On a more local level, some jackbooted brainwashed freak is going around my town and posting up signs that say, "Don't Believe the Liberal Media". I find the rhetoric delivered by these signs ironically parallels Mao's playbook from the Cultural Revolution. This horseshit really annoys me. It's one thing to make the conscious decision to turn on Fox News and allow a plutocratic fascist like Roger Ailes to fill your brains with hourly inputs of batshit. But to bring the narrative onto the telephone poles in my town is an affront to my pursuit of happiness (it's also a violation of section 110.3 of the town code). Tag sales and lost kittens - that's what telephone pole postings are for, and if that freakshow Michael Moore ever tried to post something here, I'd be ranting the same rant.

Now it seems, some ambitious countering bastard is going to each one of these signs and spray painting over it. Or at least he (or she) is spray painting over the words 'Liberal Media'. So the signs just say, "Don't Believe". Rather a dour outlook on the human condition isn't it?

And everything does look dour. 2012 is almost here and good God what a hell of a year it's going to be. We're going to have to watch as all of America must choose between giving the editor of the Harvard Law Review another four years to do whatever the hell it is he does; or do we hand the nation over some morally bankrupt enabler of the aristocratic corporate class?

I'm beginning to hope those Mayans were right and that 2012 holds nothing more for us than to be blasted into stardust by some roving rouge asteroid. But I am still undone by this unanswerable question: if the Mayans were so great at predicting the end of our world, how come the sucked so bad at foreseeing the end of their world?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Insane Propagation

I don't know what's going on but I'm finding I'm getting VHF/UHF reception I've never gotten before. On just my little Radio Shackl Pro-404 scanner, I was able to pick up a repeater from Southern Florida on 420.692 MHz. Hams from California, Tucson and the Carolina's could be heard clearly. On top of that, I heard this while listening to the scanner in my car - I didn't even have a mobile antenna hooked onto the scanner, just a ducky (albeit, a 800 MHz antenna, slight upgrade from the ducky that came with the unit). Anybody who has any idea what's going on, let me know.

12/29 Footnote - what I was picking up was repeater network. Radio geeks can read about it here.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Why No One Is Hiring

This article is old, but it's worth another look. To summarize, John Allison, chairman of BB&T loves Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. I mean he LOVES IT!!! So much so that he makes his executives read it. And BB&T donates millions to the 'Ayn Rand Institute', whatever the hell that is.


Now, I don't own any stock in BB&T, but if I did, I'd sell it immediately. Christopher Hitchens perhaps put it best about Ayn Rand - Americans don't need further instruction on being selfish. It's in our DNA. But I would not want anything to do with any organization, especially a corporation, that operates on the premise that the individual takes priority over the collective.


Allison seems to think that if he breeds a culture of self-righteous government-haters, he's going to yield optimum results. That may make for some cute Carolina water-cooler banter with lively comparisons of our president to Mao levied some lovely starched shirt corporate scratch-golfing Glenn Beck jackboots. But if I were to commit the grave sin of imagining myself as a business owner, I'd be a little bit concerned if all my best employees were nihilistic self-servers.

We have a major problem. No one is hiring. A company that had 20 employees in 2007 fired five of them. Now the remaining 15 do the work of 20. And corporate profits are strong, incredibly strong throughout America. Shareholders snicker and feed bullshit to the executive boards of the corporations that serve as their personal ATM machines. Don't hire anyone back - claim it's still a crisis. All bullshit. The economy has returned but the 1% who own a quarter of America are itching to claim a full half of it.

It looks as though President Barack Obama has given up fighting. And it may very well be that our nation's next leader might be yet another Texas governor who conveys his worth by way of his inarticulation and intellectual disinterest. 1% of our nation commands 25% of its wealth. Corporate profits have enjoyed six straight quarters of double-digit growth, yet our population has been brainwashed to believe we need yet another Texan of sub-par intelligence to deliver us from an evil president who spends his days plotting to persecute America's precious yacht owners.

Conservatives love to lament an alleged cultural relativism that existed briefly in the 1960's. But now we're reaping the ill effects of an enduring moral relativism that infests our nation's boardrooms that masks itself as free-market righteousness.

Obama has given up. The dream is dead. We're doomed.

Friday, September 9, 2011

New York Films - 9/11/11



THE NIGHT BEFORE


On the night of September 10th, 2001, I was making my way across lower Manhattan to a small theatre where a short film was premiering which my cousin had edited. My office was in the World Financial Center (across the street from 1 World Trade Center), and I figured I'd walk the journey to the East Village because back then, no logical transportation route (symbolically enough) connected the financial district of Manhattan to it's (then) most raw artistic center.


This proved to be a mistake. The skies opened up in a torrential downpour. I sprinted from awning to awning, all the way my feet slogged through six inches of water. Having lived in Manhattan (thank you God) for six years, I can honestly put forth that Mother Nature never levied an onslaught onto Manhattan as she did the evening of September 10th, 2001.


By the time I got to the premier, the film was over. My uncle (my cousin-editor's dad) approached me cautiously. He took one look at me and seemed unsettled by my soggy appearance. And with a voice loaded with concern, and perhaps something else, something possibly foreboding, he held the back of my neck and asked, "Are you okay?"


THE DAY OF


I watch clips on YouTube. Just as it has become the informal repository of a wide reaching tapestry of our culture, it has also become a peripheral chronicler of history. There are hundreds of clips uploaded about The Day. And most, unfortunately, are compilations of the systematic hysteria of America's lust for conspiracy: the tragic 'inside job' pornography. I had to sit through endless misfires of these abominations but then I finally found what I was looking for. There is only one film clip I've ever encountered that does it - that captures the sound that the planes made. It is a deafening sound that I can only describe as a manhole cover being dropped on your head.


We talk about the life before and the life after. When everything changed. And so I cling onto films - not films of The Day, but films that captured New York before The Day. There is a brief blessed time when something is yours, before your big boom and film helps us to soak in the artifacts that unleash memory. There was a time when New York was mine, and I was the king of the universe and we all, all of ignorant sleeping America, felt we could walk through the raindrops.


SOME TIME EARLIER

In the past few weeks, thanks to my insomnia, I've lucked upon a number of my favorite New York films on late night cable: Hannah and Her Sisters, Mo'Better Blues, Moonstruck, Bright Lights Big City. These capture a New York a little over a decade before September 11th, when the city was just emerging from the abyss of the 1970's and the Guilianification of the 1990's was a long ways off. I remember seeing these films when I was marooned in Memphis, incongruously forging a new identify as a Southern teenager. These films brought be back to my roots and planted seeds for where I wanted my future to be.


There is a precious time capsule in the backdrops of these films. Films set in cities do this for us. When Michael J. Fox is standing outside a Fifth Avenue department store window gazing up at the mannequin molded after the wife who has left him, I now just look at the cars going by in the background and am fascinated at the flowing river of the automotive past. It's incredibly refreshing to see a New York where stores and restaurants were not overrun by national chains (there's not a Starbucks in sight and characters are (gasp!) forced to patronize local delis and eateries). Furthermore it's most refreshing to watch New Yorkers working at desks without computers and sustaining existence without handheld electronic devices.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Severed Head

Iris Murdoch's A Severed Head is the third of her books I've read (the other two being The Black Prince and The Sea, The Sea).


Severed Head is essentially a heady, intellectual, painfully English version of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. Murdoch presents, as she always does, inordinately interesting and intelligent characters so above you and I in all matters with the exception of their inability NOT to be driven insane by love.


Martin has both a mistress and a wife he loves. Much to Martin's surprise, his wife tells him that she is leaving him for her therapist. Martin is devastated. But why? Should he not just build a new life with his mistress? Of course not. Because love is not about the other, but about the elevation of the self. And romantic happiness, in Murdoch's world, is entirely rooted in the self. Happiness comes not from what two people can give to one another, but from something far more pessimistic. It's a blunt but not unrealistic view of the reality of relationships.


Love is a complex and semi-diabolical landscape in Murdoch's work. The blunt mechanics of sex are almost entirely absent in her stories - even the suggestion of it is hard to extract. But the all encompassing obsessiveness which love unwittingly inflicts on humanity pervades her stories and nearly derails the lives of her characters. The reader, at least this one, is always left with a tremendous sense of unease. I love her work - being an unabashed anglophile helps.

From Frederick



"You missed a very dull TV show about Auschwitz. More gruesome film clips. And more puzzled intellectuals declaring their mystification at the systematic murder of millions. The reason why they can never answer the question How could this happen? is that it's the wrong question. Given what people are, they question is Why doesn't it happen more often? Of course, it does - it subtler forms.



"It's been ages since I sat in front of the TV, just changing channels to find something. You see the whole culture: Nazis, deodorant salesmen, wrestlers, beauty contests, the talk shows...eh, can you imagine the level of a mind that watches wrestling?



"But the worst are the fundamentalist preachers - third rate con men convincing the poor suckers that watch them that they speak for Gee-sus. And to please send money - money, money, money, money.



"If Jesus came back today and saw what was going on in his name...he would never stop throwing up."

Monday, September 5, 2011

Slimbo's Sports Update

Summer is over. The New York Mets are, as they so often in the month of August and September, entirely out of the contention for post-season action. Furthermore, thanks to the Wilpon's dealings with Bernie Madoff, the franchise continues to be financially adrift, most likely to be sold to the first poor bastard who thinks this $1 billion nightmare is a good bet.


So what else is there for Slimbo to cogitate upon? What else is there to distract him from the mountains of rejection letters, and stacks of paintings which have all congealed into one sticky stack amid the summertime storeroom heat?


Well, hockey has presented an interesting conundrum. Due to the geography of my birth I have long declared my allegiances to the New York Islanders. Now, rightfully so, the citizens of Long Island have declared that they do not want to refurbish my team's god-awful arena with taxpayer dollars. And so, logic would dictate that we should not expect the Isles to stay with us, considering the deserving citizens of Quebec who lustily wish to give the Islanders a new home. Ca va, I suppose. [By the way - I'd appreciate if all 2.5 of you Slimbo's Shelf readers could take a moment and see the poll on the right. Help me pick my new National Hockey League club. (Who the hell am I kidding? No one reads this fucking blog, except for graduate students looking to pilfer my genius as they complete their paper on Heinrich Boll) Okay, Rolf, pick a team then!!]

It doesn't matter. I don't even think I like hockey. Hell, I just think I started rooting for the Islanders when I began my lost years on Wall Street, laboring for the overlords, all of whom where NY Rangers fans. I was clearly turning my back and stomping on the graves of the proletariat working-class sensibilities that had brought me and my family forth from centuries of impoverished oblivion. Whether toting golf clubs or building databases, I have done nothing with my professional life but betray every ennobling tenet of Christianity and democracy that has made Western Civilization tenable. All I ever seem to do is whore myself out to the bad guys. I guess rooting for the NY Islanders gave me me some slight wedge upon which I can maybe, just maybe feel as though I was siding with the good guys for a change.


But what about the New York Football Giants? Hell, I don't know. And I don't think I care, really. All of New York is abuzz for the New York Jets right now. This makes sense. The Jets have a formidable team, an outsized identity and that elusive muse: momentum, the most important key to success in the NFL. The Giants are sputtering, hoping for the best, while praying to elude the tapestry of injuries that has become the franchise's annual Waterloo.

When I was a kid growing up, my father and older brother were passionate Jets fans. Unfortunately, my choosing the Giants lacks any noble source other than the need to differentiate myself from the two older males in the house. Still, I am glad I chose the Giants. Sometimes people (very reasonably) point out the contradictory identity of being both a Mets and Giants fan. That's fair. I wish the ubiquitous Jets-Yankees hybrids with whom I share Westchester County were subject to an equal scrutiny but I shouldn't be bitter.


I will say this - to equate the New York Giants with the New York Yankees bears no logic whatsoever. Aligning the two might have made sense in the 1950's, however in the past few decades, there could be no two dissimilar entities. In their present incarnation, the New York Yankees are the black hole of parity in the Majors. The Giants, on the other hand, helped to usher in the modern day profit sharing structure of the NFL, owing much to the vision of late owner Wellington Mara. The Yankees are all that is worth hating about New York: hubris, greed and entitlement. The New York Football Giants on the other hand, are a throwback to a more gentlemanly atmosphere, sometimes to detriment of their own success.




But the most important sport on the immediate horizon is my son's soccer team, for which I am an assistant coach. Last year they went undefeated in the fall season and then never won again once they'd been bumped up into the upper division in the Spring. No task is worse than facing eleven nine year-olds after a loss and regurgitating the worst of lies: 'it doesn't matter who wins' and 'it's just as important how you play as if you win'. I wish like hell that those things were true but they're not and my kids see right through me as kids always do. They already seem to know that the bully who kicked their shins and knocked them over to score the game winner that beat them will most likely succeed in life without recompense. They know it all already and see I'm full of shit. I just hope they believe me when I tell them I love them. And that I'm proud of them.

Slimbo's Proust Update

Some time ago, I announced my intention to read every volume of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time. I'm proud to say that unlike all my other endeavors in the arts, I have not given up on this one.

I decided to read Lost Time shortly after I gave up on my training for the NYC Half Marathon. Since then, it seems I've given up on a lot of things: drawing, writing fiction, painting. I find I'm unable to do anything anymore except cook meals, chase after my children and bide my time, laden with guilt, watching the years clip away amid the benevolent soul-crushing reality of office work.

But I'm still reading Proust.

And thus far, I've completed:


  1. Combray

  2. Swann in Love

  3. Place-Names: The Name

  4. At Mme Swann's

I am also keeping a journal of the most memorable quotes, which some time in the future, I'd like to chronicle further here, however I'll share just one.

Marcel, when pondering the death of his romance with Gilberte, the pretty young girl he saw through the Hawthorns at Combray who has now grown to into the young girl who torments his days in Paris, Marcel puts forth this wisdom encapsulating the quandary of being a teenager in love: "Because you are now in love with someone who will one day mean nothing to you, you refuse out of hand to meet someone who means nothing to you now, but whom you will one day come to love, someone whom you might have loved sooner if you had agreed to an earlier meeting, who might have curtailed your present sufferings (before replacing them, of course, with others)."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

We Aint' Got Time For Burger King!!!



You find odd things on YouTube. We all do. For whatever reason, your searches take you places you didn't think imaginable. It's not unlike life itself. I won't go into how I found Angry Grandpa. I just did. That's all that really needs to be said.


Somewhere in South Carolina, a young man realized the profound entertainment value of his very profane and undiagnosed bi-polar father. A website now exists filled with short films of a man now known as Angry Grandpa. Some of these films are simply five or six minutes of Grandpa speaking to the camera about current events. Sometimes they are (staged) events - Grandpa gets his washing machine repossessed, Grandpa has his cigarettes entombed in Jell-O, Grandma leaves Grandpa. Usually the highlight of the film is Grandpa launching off into an epic screaming fit of transcendent rage.


These short films fall under the genre of do-it-yourself reality television, the underside of the artistic democracy afforded by the web. And in the great American entrepreneurial spirit, this young man has created a product from nothing and now (hopefully) reaps some reward.


Reality television in its mainstream, corporate media network manifestations is a horrendous abomination. Sometimes I think network executives sit in offices envisioning new ways to feed images of vapid, self-absorbed bourgeois cretins to a populace whom they must believe to be in some long-sustained coma of mental inactivity. And to be fair, Angry Grandpa videos often serve to present an even baser goal. Events unfold in his trailer park in rural South Carolina, so we all get to point our fingers and ferment our own self importance.


But THIS FILM (<- click to play on YouTube), is different. (Warning - there is generous profanity in this film).


The film captures Angry Grandpa on a grocery shopping excursion with his son (filming the sequences) along with his grandsons. I don't know why, maybe they just did a good job, but the events don't feel scripted. The mundane agenda of the story allows for the personality of Grandpa to organically present itself. And despite the obtusely troubling sight of small children witnessing and absorbing such titanic amounts of profane language and hostile behavior, I find in Grandpa, an elusive yet palatable warmth. I can't help liking him.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The West Memphis 3 and Mass Hysteria



Today, the West Memphis 3 -Jesse Misskelley, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin, are free men. They are men now, just a few years younger than I am, though their entire adult life has been spent behind bars after having been convicted for the 1993 murders of 3 young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas.


Without going into great specifics, the mutilated bodies of three second grade boys were found in a patch of woods just south of Interstate-40 as it passes north over the sparse housing that makes up West Memphis, Arkansas. West Memphis lies on what I can only describe as the flattest patch of America the imagination can conceive. Travelling east, you leave the elevated bluff of downtown Memphis to arrive at West Memphis, a conglomeration of rest stops, truck facilities, fast food joints and budget motels. Beyond this oasis, the eye looks to the horizon and no matter what the time of year, a blurring haze prevents you from ever seeing an end to this steepe of stagnation.



Jesse Misskelley was the first link to the apprehension and conviction of the West Memphis 3. The case was beyond anything the West Memphis Police had ever handled. A female informant steered them to the 16 year-old Misskelley, a boy beset by learning disabilities and a 72 IQ. Misskelley confessed to the murder after a 12 hour interrogation session, of which only the last 45 minutes were recorded. No member of Misskelley's family were present nor was any legal representation. From Misskelley's 'confession' Jason Baldwin was implicated as was Damian Echols who ultimately would be portrayed as the ringleader of this horrific act. The prosecution put forth alleged satanic worship as the motive for the murders, though not one shread of physical evidence, DNA or otherwise, linked the three the the crime scene.



I was home for the summer in Memphis, Tennessee when all this happened in May and June of 1993. I was between my junior and senior years at Syracuse University. Though still technically living there, I was beginning to distance myself from Memphis and the South in general. Our time together was coming to an end. There were elements of the South I loved, its pockets of authenticity and soulfulness, yet my East Coast wanderlust had enacted a divorcing mechanism that brought me, perhaps wrongly, to compartmentalize what had been my home into stereotype and hyperbole.



So when the West Memphis 3 had been captured, I paid little attention to the story, despite the hysterical coverage from local television and The Commercial Appeal. But the photograph above, I do remember. This picture was taken from an abandoned cotton gin in the vicinity of West Memphis. As is often the case, this derelict place had become a magnet for local teenagers drinking or doing drugs. But it was here, locals alleged, that satanic rituals occurred.


In the South I recall there was a voyeuristic cultural obsession with teenage sin undeniably derived from the region's evangelical undercurrents. Teenagers, heavily segregated from a racial standpoint, were further homogenized by a restrictive culture of conformity. Within this environment, teenagers seeking to stand out and receive attention found a ready means to provoke with the occult. Black clothing, pentagrams and the like, served as the greatest shock value in a community that is so focused on Judgement Day.


There are many horrors here. The death of three children, of course at the forefront. Three men, convicted by the court of popular opinion, lost the best years of their lives. And then there is the pervading reality that had the three boys apprehended been the children of millionaires, there is no question that they would not have served a day in jail. But they were from one of America's poorest communities where it was acceptable to convict them based the clothes they wore and the music they listened to, and then forget them entirely.


The release of the West Memphis 3 is mostly attributable to HBO Films' production, Paradise Lost. This documentary gave a brutally honest portrayal of the vapidity of the case against the three boys and the stark reality of life in West Memphis. Most of all, the acclaim the film received galvanized a world-wide effort to free the West Memphis 3. It is an incredible example of what art can achieve.


The convenient conviction of the West Memphis 3 enabled a backwater mentality to point its fingers, thump its bibles and congratulate itself on its piety. And all the while, the local media outlets could publish photos like the one above, feed the beast of hysteria and poison justice.

Not surprisingly, like all things in the public area, the release of the West Memphis 3 has been politicized, just as the Casey Anthony trial was. A quick scan of the reader comments submitted to FoxNews.com and commercialappeal.com reveal claims that a miscarriage of justice has occurred, all attributable to the seditious effect of liberalism in our nation today. The celebrity attention the case brought has been met with suspicion, further fueling a cultural divide. Will the hysteria ever end?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Return to the Past



Above, you will see the opening match of WWE's Smackdown World Tour's visit to the Westchester County Center in White Plains, NY. What you see here is a 12 man, Over-the -Top-Rope Battle Royal. The winner of this endeavor (who happened to be a gentleman named, Heat Slayer) got to fight Ezekiel Jackson for the WWE Intercontinental Championship.



I don't know how familiar you are with the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment). I don't even know if anyone actually reads Slimbo's Shelf. I tend to think no one does, but if I do net a reader or two, I imagine him to be a beleaguered graduate student in the wee small hours, lusting after my pointless pontifications on unloved literature to complete some seemingly pointless assignment. (Well, I don't know if that's always the case, but for all you bastards in Warwickshire, UK who had to write about Heinrich Boll, you're welcome!).



So here I am: Slimbo - the lonely voice amid America's saturated fat of ignorance - the man all five of you have pinned your intellectual hopes upon. Now he has created a post on Vince McMahon's evil empire of gratuitous violence.


Well, not exactly. The truth is, my father took me to see wrestling (then called the 'WWF') at the Westchester County Center in 1983. I saw Jimmy 'Superfly' Snuka fight Don "Magnificent' Muroco and at that point, it was the highlight of my existence.


I'm entirely okay with my son watching wrestling. There is, ingrained in every boy's DNA, a need for superhero mythology. Wrestling takes comic books into three dimensional entities, offering a world where there are clear-cut good guys and villains who all battle out scripted bloodless bouts. If I had any complaint with today's incarnation of the WWE, it is that is that there are too many drama side stories and far too much pyrotechnics.


So our recent evening at the Westchester County Center offered a fantastic surprise. I should preface this by saying that the County Center is an ancient building holding only a few thousand seats. In light of the enormity of the WWE, I didn't expect they'd send any wrestlers of note for such a small venue. To my surprise, almost all their main headliners were there - Wade Barrett, Shamus, Ezekiel Jackson, Mark Henry, Heat Slayer and Ted DiBiassi Jr. The evening was capped off with a fantastically scripted match between WWE Heavyweight Champion Christian and the viscerally entertaining Randy Orton (Christian retained the title via disqualification).


But the greatest element of the evening was the simplicity of the setting. There were no excessive video screens and fireworks and the smallness of the venue forced the performers onto the audience. This was most satisfying with the villains whose sneers and shouts of 'shut up!' could be clearly felt by all. Mark Henry even ripped up a sign a small child had made while delivering a glare that could turn blood into ice. It was wonderful. I could close my eyes, and if only the air could have been filled with cigarette smoke, I'd have said it was 1983 all over again.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mike Gibson's Bluegrass Gospel Hour

In our digital world, it makes no sense to listen to shortwave radio. But listening to WBCQ's broadcast of the Mike Gibson Bluegrass Gospel Hour, broadcast from Bessemer, Alabama is precisely why I listen to shortwave.

Gibson's voice is akin to Garland Bunting's (of Bull Durham fame) and his calm, folksy delivery is a welcome change from the usual voices of Biblical shortwave radio, consumed with righteous venom and lusting for armageddon. Gibson speaks very little and is there to present the music, not to preach.

His selections feel right out of the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou. This is sublime, beautiful and pure Americana. These broadcasts are transportive and listening to them delivers the sense that you've stepped back in time. I wouldn't want to listen to these broadcasts on any digital or streaming device. My receiver, pulling in at 5050 kHz from a thousand miles away, with all it's atmospheric static, is the best way to listen to Mike Gibson.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Overwhelming and Collective Murder



If you've never seen a German having a bad day, I'd invite you now to watch this video of director Werner Herzog describing the jungles of South America. Granted, if you were stuck in the jungle with Klaus Kinski, you'd be pretty grumpy too.

I love just about everything Herzog does and could listen to him speak for hours. This clip was taken while Herzog was shooting Fitzcaraldo, an endeavor beset by every kind of mayhem you might imagine. Herzog's main point is that we have over-idealized nature and made it cute, denying its essential texture which, if truly understood, would horrify us from our suburban perspective. My favorite bits:

"...the birds are in misery. I don't think they sing, they just screech in pain."

"A land that God, if he exists, has created in anger."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My friend Kafka

Lately, I haven't been writing at all. The Shelf has been woefully neglected. I'm not sure if this neglect has brought any real static to any one's life. Either way, I am now skulking back to you. There has been a tapestry of consternation that has kept me from you dear reader, and I can only describe as 'Kafka-esque'.

Some weeks ago, I went to my magnificent, taxpayer-supported public library and picked up Kafka's Dairies 1914-1923. My only lament was that I had to return this book which I have now decided is an essential text for me as I continue with you all on this planet, trudging through our collective mortal coil. Again and again, Kafka's inner thoughts echo my own: I can't do it, I can't do it, there's just no way...

Kafka's diaries absolutely and beautifully articulate a pain, doubt, ennui and anger that keeps any artist from executing a consistent and constructive product. Kafka was a beautiful spirit, burdened by his inability to escape life's banalities and dark spots. Yet somehow, through some blessed intervention, his voice has been heard.

A note on this copy - bought off of Amazon for $.01 plus $3.99 shipping. It's old and smelly. Just as it should be.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Summons to Memphis



When I learned that Philip Carver, the protagonist of Peter Taylor's A Summons to Memphis, had moved to Memphis, Tennessee when he was thirteen years old as a result of his father's job, I knew I had to read this book. I'd learned of Taylor by listening to NPR's program Selected Shorts which featured his short story Porte Cochere. I was spellbound by Taylor's anachronistically formal yet soothing Southern cadence. Listening made me reconnect with my own time living in The South, a time where so much happened so quickly, where I'd ultimately transition into the blessed larva stage of American manhood. Yet this phase was so fleeting and so disjointed from core processes that would eventually define me. So my memories of Memphis are intense yet ephemeral. They are frustratingly difficult to conjure. They come to me as cryptic missives from the other side of a wall that is loaded with potential danger and ultimately, unconquerable.



The Carver family of Summons have settled in Memphis as Father Carver has been defrauded out of a business partnership in Nashville. My own family settled in Memphis from the more distant world of New York. And it was not failure that brought us there but rather, a lucrative opportunity for my father. There is little that parallels Phillip Carver's story and my own - other than the abyss felt by a boy headed to an alien Memphis, understanding that he must somehow make peace with the place that would be his new home, for better or for worse.


Father Carver then proceeds to derail the respective happiness of his children as they bloom into adulthood. The story begins later with this patriarch now wishing to remarry after the death of the Carver matriarch. As the story unfolds, all the Carver family ghosts unravels slowly, indicating the root of the offspring's hostility surrounding this old man's final peaceful desires. Phillip has removed himself as much as possible, living in New York, but his two sisters are hellbent on thwarting their father's last oasis of happiness and demand that Phillip make an appearance to aid them.


Phillip and I are inexplicably intertwined. Memphis is a place that we both fled for New York. Still, something claws us back. For Phillip, there are immediate fires in Memphis that need his attention. For me, the fires have long extinguished, yet in my own Proustian quest, I kick the embers, hoping for some small spark that might replicate experience and sensation.

Radio Shack Scanner 404



A few weeks ago, my family went to Hawaii to visit my in-laws. I could not join them as work forbade me (quite literally, I should add) to join them. While they were gone, I was quite lonely so for reasons that are not entirely clear, I bought a Radio Shack Scanner 404.



The scanner's features boast that it can deftly pick up police, fire, aircraft, maritime as well as amateur radio activity. The truth of the matter is you get a good deal of police and fire coverage, sporadic amateur traffic and limited aircraft activity if you happen to be sitting in the parking lot of an airport.



Nonetheless, still a good pick up. I'd recommend to all you writers out there with writer's block. Sometimes, everything I hear seems to be nothing more than administrative codes, but then you hear stories of runaways, or calls for police to assist a woman whose apartment door was open and now she's too afraid to go in. It's all real and happening right now.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Broken Ships



I was first hired by Lehman Brothers in 2001. For Wall Street, Lehman was a somewhat egalitarian place to be. I relished that I worked in the working man's Wall Street firm. My job was in expense management. They let me retreat into my life's centering identity: the little boy in the basement building models. For Lehman, I would construct mathematical labyrinths that would reveal where the firm could save money.

The culture of Lehman was such that no one should do one job for more that three or four years, lest they become jaded and stale. This was one of their few clairvoyant cultural tenants. So after four years in expense management, I had to find something different to do in the organization.

In 2004, Lehman acquired the asset management firm, Neuberger Berman. For years Neuberger Berman had been primping itself for acquisition and now finally, it was complete. Their CEO who'd orchestrated this enveloping quickly cashed out and left town, leaving behind a company filled with bitter employees who despised this Lehman Brothers who'd acquired them.

It was decided my next career path would be that of Lehman's ambassador to Neuberger Berman. I would entrench myself with them and facilitate the mechanics of their new environment. It was a disastrous move.

All from Neuberger Berman who encountered me despised me and repelled my attempts to integrate their process into the new Lehman order. I was hated by everyone at Neuberger Berman and their public stoning left me viewed as incompetent by all I'd left behind at Lehman.

Perhaps my memory's only redeeming attribute of Neuberger Berman is Roy Neuberger's dynamic support of the arts. He once said his two passions were art and finance. (I've never understood this statement as to me, it is akin to claiming passion for animal slaughter and vegetarianism in the same breath. Yet, I will forgive him for this as the offices of Neuberger Berman were filled with wonderful works of art).

Among these works were several enlarged photographs of giant tanker ships being broken up on the shores of India. These photographs were in a conference room on an upper floor. I first saw these while attending a meeting hosted by man whose throat upon which I wished I could mercilessly drive my foot. Seeing the images of broken, beached behemoths made me reflect on the enormity of my own disappointment. I'd been brought into this world by creators of enduring benevolence, and yet here I was giving the best years of my life to some of planet earth's worst denizens.

Those broken ships were enormous. And they were me. And then I painted this.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Death of bin Laden

My recent post discussing the first baseball game in New York after the 9/11 attacks dealt with the collective experience of 9/11 but only in a very peripheral sense. Of course, now circumstances are such that I must again discuss this event, something I'm never completely comfortable doing. Although my experience that day was not insignificant, there are so many others whose loss, horror and transcendence from this tragedy has been articulated with more eloquence than anything I might offer up.

Osama bin Laden is dead. On the morning of 9/11, as I was fleeing the World Financial Center, after everyone had concluded that the act of flying two jetliners into a building was not the result of profound negligence, I tried to imagine who was responsible. Saddham Hussein or Osama bin Laden - these were the obvious culprits we all discussed as we made our way north up the West Side.

I'd made my way out of 3 World Financial Center with Donal Lanaghan, a barrel chested Irishman. "I'll tell you one 'ting," Donal offered in his sandpaper Dublin accent, "we're going to step on someone's neck for 'dis!"

Later as we got closer to Chelsea Peers, a man was standing in the median of the West Side Highway screaming. He'd passed into a zone where he was communicating to no one but himself, doing so at the top of his lungs. "We gonna take those mutha'fuckahs out TO-NIGHT!"

His was a primal outpouring, enormously necessary. Although the shock of the events of the past hour had not yet worn off, I could not help but to ask the question in my mind, "who exactly are we going to take out and where are they?"

It was almost exactly at this moment that I watched the South Tower go down. It was an all encompassing sight; a waterfall of debris and deafening sound. A jet fighter (I believe an F-15) split the sky above us and despite the fact that we'd just witnessed one of the world's most massive buildings collapse within seconds, the crowd on the sidewalk erupted into fist pumping frenzy. At this point I looked to the Hudson River, imagining that if the end of the world was now upon us, I should just leap into the water and submerge myself as the flames of Armageddon raged above me.

SUNDAY

I was nursing a beer Sunday night when a good friend, a producer for CBS News, sent me an email which read: 'turn on the news - something big is about to go down'. I yawned at this message, turned off my Blackberry and went to bed.

Of course the next morning, I'd realize all that had happened. Like everyone, I immersed myself in the ocean of news reports and commentary. As the details unfolded, they seemed more unreal. The operation seemed so flawless, as though it'd been contained in PlayStation 3 rather than the world of our shared reality where nothing is ever easy and clean.

That night I watched wrestling with my son. I have no problem with my son's adoration of the WWE - at his age I was enthralled with wrestling. It is a Jungian expression of the collective pre-adolescent fixation of superhero mythology. Between the comic-book unreality of childhood and the harsh reality of adulthood, that barren wasteland devoid of superpowers - there exists wrestling, a world populated by players who are clearly defined as good or evil in a flesh and blood semi-reality enjoying scripted outcomes and bloodless battles.

Monday night, all WWE performances were sure to incorporate bin Laden's death into their bombastic routines, ultimately resulting in fist-pumping 'USA' chants. My son watched all this and asked me who bin Laden was. Fighting against the imagery of the wrestling I found it near impossible to succinctly explain to him who bin Laden was: a son of a millionaire who'd fallen under the spell of extremism. A man who some thirty years ago fought in Afghanistan against Russia, America's then enemy now ally. A man who declared war against America, a nation where he'd eventually unleash a horrific terrorist attack using plane crashes - America the nation where his own father died in his childhood. From a plane crash.

The WWE program's fist pumping patriotism was gratuitous and boundless. It echoed in an audience filled with young men, many of whom were children on the morning of 9/11. On Sunday night we also saw spontaneous celebrations on college campuses as a result of bin Laden's death. Again, these kids have no recollection of 9/11, yet seem to most acutely revel in his death. Perhaps in his death they see a cure for the amorphous and implacable malaise that has permeated our culture in the last decade.

I think back to that screaming man in the median of the West Side Highway on that September morning. His rage articulated the start of an ellipse that would require completion. And despite the questionable tactical significance of bin Laden's death, his dramatic demise completes our national anger. A new chapter of heroic mythology is created. And it would be impossible to carry on without it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

11175 kHz EAM

Last night I was dialing on the shortwave and came across an Emergency Action Message from Andrews Air Force Base similar to this one. Creepy

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

9/21/01

A few days after September 11th, I was sitting on a cardboard box, sharing a cubicle with a co-worker in Jersey City. The company I worked for had been located mainly in the World Financial Center with a few floors in the North Tower of 1 World Trade Center. A corner of 3 World Financial Center had been lopped off by the collapse of 1 WTC and we would never return there. The phone rang and I picked it up. "Hello?" a southern female voice asked. "How are you?" "Just fine, how are you today?" I answered. "How are you? Are you okay?" the voice plaintively asked back. She was from Georgia and she worked for a company that leased us our photo copiers. She'd given herself a week, and was now taking to the unfortunate task of asking how many, if any of her copiers were still around. Midway through our conversation, she apologized for having to call for this matter and started to break down crying pleading to me that she and everyone she knew were thinking about us all the time. I didn't quite know how to react other than to thank her and give her a few minutes. On September 21, 2001, the City of New York hosted its first major public event since the 9/11 attacks that felled the Twin Towers. As is fitting for Gotham's great metropolis, this event was a baseball game.

And even more fitting that this game should be played between the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves. Normally this match-up delivers bowel-distending unease but something happened before this game started that made me, your neurotic and psychotic Mets fan, take pause.


Before the game, both teams were announced and they took the field along the baselines - the Mets along the first base side, the Braves along the third base side, aligning with their respective home and visiting dugouts. Much to Major League Baseball's dismay, the Mets were wearing FDNY and NYPD caps in lieu of their uniform caps. They would wear these for the duration of the season.


During the national anthem ceremonies which paid tribute to all who'd lost their lives on 9/11, the back outfield opened up and dozens of bagpipers marched onto the field playing 'Amazing Grace'. Everyone wept. Watching at home, I wept. Fans in the stands wept. Mike Piazza wept. And then, just before the game began, I saw something I never knew possible - the Mets and the Atlanta Braves met in the infield and embraced one another. I thought of the woman from Georgia who'd I'd spoken to on the phone and I hoped that she was a Braves fan and that she'd be watching right there at that moment.


That night delivered a great game. The Braves were winning 2-1 going into the eighth inning until Mike Piazza delivered a 2-run blast to left-center. It is, to me, the most significant home run by a New York Metropolitan. Ever.


And more miraculous was Armando Benitez being able to shut the Braves down in the ninth. Among his strikeouts was BJ Surhoff, shown here taking a bat to the Shea Stadium visitors' dugout after the game. Class.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

From Pete Hamill

"Willie Mays ran the bases, carrying all those summers on the forty-one-year-old shoulders, jogging in silence, while people in the stands pumped their arms at the skies and hugged each other and even, here and there, cried. It was a glittering moment of repair, in a city that has been starved too long for joy. Don't tell me New York isn't going to make it. Willie Mays is home."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Shame

Representative Peter King (R-Long Island) has opened up his dog & pony show 'hearing' on the threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism. The threat of homegrown terrorism is real, however considering they just arrested the neo-nazi who planted a bomb at a MLK Day parade in Spokane (which fortunately didn't go off), it'd make sense that King open his inquisition to the radical right as well. Don't hold your breath, though.

(Separately, thank you mom and dad for getting us the hell out of Long Island).

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A New Antenna


This didn't work out so well. I've had some success improving my receiver by attaching some lengths of wire to the built in telescopic antenna. So I figure, more wire, better reception, right? Not quite.

Here in this picture you can see I have about 25 feet of 18 gauge stranded wire attached to the built-in antenna via an alligator clip. I then have the wire headed into a tree off my deck.

It all seemed like a good idea but I think it was too much to overload the small receiver (Grundig G8). Guess I'll have to buy a bigger receiver!!

Other recent shortwave listening highlights:
  • I mentioned bizarre weather reports on my last post that I was hearing at 3413kHz and 3484kHz. I've since learned these are aeronautical weather broadcasts from Shannon, Ireland and New York, respectively.
  • Last night at 3:05UTC, I was listening to two lunatics broadcasting at 3215kHz. Their show was essentially a long rant against Canada. Canada, really? Have insane radio hounds run out of things to hate that they have to go against Canada?
  • 3880-3880kHz - picked up Hams from Missouri and Colorado.
  • AM900 CHML - vintage radio broadcast.
  • 14280-14347kHz - another mystery. It's too garbled for me to make out but it sounds like broadcasters in dialogue, quickly, somewhat urgently responding back to one another. One kept repeating a phrase, almost in cadence. I'm stumped so drop me a comment if you have a clue.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Leather Man

I first inflicted the Leather Man upon my family some thirty years ago. I was in third grade at Wampus Elementary School in Armonk, New York. We'd had an assembly in the cafeteria that day. An odd looking man stood before us, as we students were chatting away, clearly not ready to give this gentlemen our full attention. He had shaggy hair and wore a long woolly sweater. Although our visitor was from a local historical society, he looked as though he was from another time and place.


Finally our guest held up a large turtle shell, about the size of a manhole cover. He then pulled out a thick stick and struck the shell three times. The strikes reverberated throughout the room, even over the sounds of a hundred chattering children.


"That is the sound you would hear...when the Leather Man would come upon your home!" Our assembly became deathly silent. It is a testament to the power of effective story tellers because I don't know who this man was, or if he still is lives, but because of that seizing introduction, I have never forgotten the Leather Man.



Who was the Leather Man? He soon became somewhat of a joke in our family because I came home to my family dinner table that night and gave a breathless word-for-word replication of that amazing man's story. The Leather Man was a hermit who lived in the late nineteenth century. He made his rounds in upper Westchester County and western Connecticut, constantly wandering from farm to farm. He'd beg for food by day and sleep in caves by night.

The Leather Man spoke little and tended to communicate through gestures and grunts. He was presumed to be French based upon a prayer book he carried with him. No one knew where exactly he came from, what his name was or why he wandered. If he were asked a personal question, he was most likely to quickly make his exit.

In absence of a formal name he was known as the Leather Man as his outfit, head to toe, was made of boot leather and was believed to have weighed 60 pounds. Some historians have theorized that the Leather Man was autistic or perhaps suffered from Asperger's, based on his inability to socialize while maintaining a wandering routine that became almost mathematical in its predictability.

The Leather Man died in Briarcliff Manor, just a few miles from my house. The small cave where they found his remains has now been overrun by developers building mansions for hedge-fund overlords. (Okay, I know that this is a bit extreme of me and I don't know the exact spot where the Leather Man's final cave was, but I do know that Trump mowed over a large swath of Briarcliff Manor to build a golf course and housing pods for the magnanimous).

A recent article appeared in the New York Times prompted a frantic phone call from my mother: "Slimbo, it's the Leather Man!" She was delighted to see her whimsical boy's obsession manifest itself decades later. It appears someone wants to exhume the Leather Man to see if testing his remains could provide some answers about his life. Many people believe this to be a severe violation of the one thing the Leather Man treasured: his secrets.

I tend to agree. The world needs the Leather Man as he was - an enigmatic wanderer who, amid all our national obession with industriousness and convention, chose simply to exist on his terms and live inside himself. Some mysteries don't merit solving as they are beautiful in and of themselves.

Some Nice Shortwave Surprises

Since my last posts about shortwave radio, I've come across some nice surprises:



  • 3413 hHz / 3485 kHz - In my last post, I spoke of these frequencies as being enigmatic and mysterious. I've since learned that these are aeronautical weather reports broadcast from Shannon, Ireland (3413 kHz) and New York (3485 kHz).
  • 5050 kHz - WWRB (from Manchester, TN) - Saturday night seems to be when all the ultra right wing religious squakers take a break, perhaps gearing up for their Sunday jihad. So Saturday night, I happened upon some beautiful vintage bluegrass gospel music on WWRB. It was like a time capsule coming through the ether. I heard a wonderful rendition of Precious Lord, Lead Me Home (which by the way, I would like sung at my funeral, should anyone be keeping track).

  • 5755 kHz - WTWW from Lebanon, TN - again the Saturday night mellow existed here as well. Some slightly more contemporary religious music, but still very beautiful and non-pretentious.
  • AM 1120 - Picked up a broadcast of a hockey game - Buffalo Sabres vs. Edminton Oilers.
  • 7285 kHz - China Radio International - a young hip broadcast called Roundtable Discussion. The struggles of gentrification in urban areas and the suddenly unaffordable rents for ordinary working folk and young struggling workers. Gentrification in Beijing. They speak of it as though they'd just discovered an exotic animal in a rain forest. Welcome to capitalism, kids. I guess it ain't all Happy Meals and small business loans.

  • 9625 kHz - been picking this up in the early morning hours. CBC (Canadian) broadcast in Inuktitut coming from Sackville, New Brunswick. They almost sound Russian. I doubted my trusty frequency guide when it clued me into that this was CBC - then I heard the broadcaster give a weather report and I heard them say "minus 41".

  • AM 1260 - I think...I think...I may have picked up WDKN from Dickson, TN. That would be a pretty epic feat for a little Grundig G8.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Shortwave Radio Update





Earlier, I announced that I'm back into listening to shortwave radio. Most Shelf readers at this point are saying, 'oh, great...Slimbo has finally lost it'. Female Shelf readers might be logging off for good as I've confirmed the worst of their nerd fears.

Intense solar storms are interfering with shortwave radio transmissions right now so I suppose it's a good time to follow up on this topic.

The image above adorns page one of my shortwave listening log. You have to keep a log of what you hear, when you hear it and at what frequency you received it. Otherwise, you can not make sense of anything. Here's goes:


1. What I've found on my radio falls into three categories: (1) AM stations I would never find normally, (2) Ham Radio operators in my general area and (3) world band broadcasts from around the globe.


2. The illustration above was inspired by the endless religious fanatics who broadcast on shortwave, all lusting for the End of Times / 2012 / New World Order.


3. As I browse through my log, here are some highlights:

9980kHz - As I mentioned, shortwave frequencies are filled with apocalyptic, droning biblical doomsday fanatics. They all hate President Obama and the end of the world is a'comin'. But then there is Brother Stair. Check out his Wiki page, then come back to me.

You're back? Awesome. I don't know what it is about Brother Stair - maybe it is the ancient cadence in his voice. I just find him so listenable. He claims to be broadcasting from "a farm in South Carolina". Sometimes he has a gaggle of followers with him who emphatically yell 'Amen, Brother, yes!' whether Stair is describing the end of times or a trip to the store.

11820kHz - Now on the other end of the spectrum is the recitation of the Holy Quran, as broadcast on this frequency most afternoons from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Mixture of spoken word and cantation.

7415kHz - WBCQ, The Planet. Great show on the weekend called Trailer Trash Radio. This show alleges that it is broadcast from an actual trailer somewhere in the woods of western Massachusetts. One show was a conversation between members of the janitorial staff of Amherst College. Another show played various versions of Tex Williams' vintage country ditty, Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette.

6000kHz - And again on the opposite end of the spectrum, Radio Havana, Cuba's English language broadcast. This is Castro's version of Voice of America, blasted towards American in full force - always a very strong signal here on the East Coast. Most of the broadcasts either document mundane agricultural updates or the failings of the United States. (One is reminded of Garrett Morris's Chico Escuela: Bad Stuff 'Bout The Mets.)

AM Band - late at night I'm able to pull in a crazy array of AM stations:
  • AM700 - WLW Cincinnati
  • AM 720 WGN Chicago
  • AM 750 WSB Atlanta
  • AM 760 WJR Detroit
  • AM 780 WBM Chicago
  • AM 800 CKLW Windsor, Ontario
  • AM 810 WEDO Pittsburgh
  • AM 840 WHAS Louisville
  • AM 860 CJBC Toronto
  • AM 900 CHML Hamilton
  • AM 1020 WKOK Pittsburgh
  • AM 1030 WBZ Boston
  • AM 1060 W(cbs) Philadelphia
  • AM 1090 WBAL Baltimore
  • AM 1110 WBT Charlotte
  • AM 1120 W(cbs) St Louis
  • AM 1140 WRVA Richmond
  • AM 1180 WHAM Rochester
  • AM 1210 WPHT Philadelphia
  • AM 1440 WDOW Dowagiac, MI
As you can see, I've pulled in a lot and there's still plenty of holes amid the frequencies I've yet to fill in. Of course, you don't need to have dozens of AM stations in America because (with a few valued exceptions) AM programming is essentially all the same - (i) what to be afraid of, and (ii) shit that's just plain ol' made up.

3875kHz - 3885kHz - This appears to be the best range of frequencies to pick up Ham Radio (Amateur) Operators (licenced folks who transmit from home). I got spoiled in my first real opportunity to listen to Hams in early February as a Transmitter Rally was underway. I heard from amateur broadcasters checking in their call signs from New Hampshire, Upstate NY, the Ohio Valley, West Virginia, all the way down to Tampa and Alabama. Very impressive - and interesting personalities.

As with anything, the great mysteries exist between the official frequencies. There are allegedly several active numbers stations, but I have as of yet to find them. At kHz, 3415 and 3485, I can barely make out a droning voice rendering weather report, but have no idea from where it originates. Sometimes while dialing I'll just come across a massive data transference that sounds somewhere between a fax machine, a satellite dial-up and a machine gun. Some frequency rages are just jammed intentionally. What's there?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Another Giant Head

It is said that Donald Trump is mulling an ownership stake in the New York Mets.

I want to make this perfectly clear. The only swollen, bloated head I want in Citi Field is Mr. Met.

Seriously - between this and his CPAC appearance wherein he hinted at running for President, I'm not sure which terrifies me more. It is unfortunate that with the passing of George Steinbrenner, Trump feels the need to replace the role of insane plutocratic, narcissistic New York baseball owner.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

February 2011



This painting has been sitting in my basement for months, unfinished. I got sick of looking at it. I didn't paint from an actual set-up, just the quick sketch I did at the bottom. It takes me so long to finish a piece that fruit usually rots by the time I get any progress done.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

For Sale. Not Cheap.

The New York Times has run a series of articles today about the NY Mets and their unfortunately deep ties with Bernie Madoff. It seems that the Mets, breathtakingly inept at most everything, seem to be one of the few Madoff investors to make money. A lot of it, in fact.

Now a $1 billion dollar lawsuit is being brought against the owning Wilpon family.

The real heartbreak doesn't come with a prospective sale of the team. For me, the heartbreak is this: The Yankees built their new stadium drawing upon tax dollars, and the Mets did not. But now it seems their ability to build that stadium (a stadium mind you, so ornate that I can no longer afford to visit with my children) on the backs of defrauded investors.

Mets Seek Right-handed Pitiching!


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Grundig G8 Traveller II

My mother tells the tale. When I was a baby, it was near impossible to get me to go back to sleep after my midnight feeding. Now being a parent, I understand this dark void that overtakes you when exhaustion grips your very sense of being and the child in your arms simply will not sleep. But a few times when my mother would regale this motherhood battle story, an interesting detail would be included and it has always stuck with me.

"I'd listen to the radio," she'd say, "and at that hour of the night, I got a very interesting station from North Carolina." I'd always remembered this strange detail and it's left me with a sort of awe that the now antiquated science of radio could, in the wee small hours when the whole wide world was fast asleep, circumvented the ionosphere and sent an exhausted lady in Long Island a distant, mysterious message.

I only bring this up now because inexplicably, I've bought myself a world band radio: a Grundig G8 Traveller II. I'd owned a world band radio once before. It was a gift from a girlfriend (really, why would a girlfriend give this as a gift? But who cares - it was clairvoyant in a way.) I'd no clue what to make of the thing when I got it but I soon fell in love with the meditative practice of putting on headphones and getting lost in its orchestra of frequencies. I brought this first radio with me when I moved to NYC in 1994 but two months after I moved in, my apartment was robbed. Almost everything I owned (which wasn't much) was stolen, this radio included.

And now, sixteen years later, I have finally replaced the world band radio with this Grundig G8. I suppose I can best describe listening to shortwave radio as casting a net. You may get Radio Bulgaria or Voice of Croatia. You may get Radio Havana. You may get China Radio International or Radio Taiwan International. You may get a crazy redneck broadcasting from a bunker in Kentucky. You don't know what you will get, but you will get something.

The logical question follows - why listen to shortwave radio when essentially any radio station can now be accessed on the web? This is a valid question. I suppose it all boils down to this: whatever you want to find is on the internet. You create wishes and then you seek solutions, often picking through a choice of solutions that best aligns with your initial expectations.
- With shortwave DX'ing (and that means 'dialing' - new lingo I've learned), you don't know what it is you're looking for. You have to give in to the calming, patient process of moving through the kilohertz. You'll come upon something. Maybe it's a ham radio operator in Ontario. Maybe it's Deutcshe Welle. You have to figure this out. The internet exists to spoonfeed you exactly what it is that you want. Shortwave has now come forward as a place where you don't want anything, you just seek for the sake of seeking.
- Amid the fuzz something may come through. Is it just the cold mechanical ping of data transference or is it a voice? For me, I get lost in the numerology of frequencies - which are active during the day? Which ones do I track at night? There are infinite points of data to memorize and my mind finds this calming. Though I am in the safe confines of my home, I am hashing through the ether, seeking out some form of answer to the age-old question that has plagued man since he first emerged from the cave to look out at the stars - 'is there anybody out there?'