For no particular reason, other than I saw Tom Waits’s name on my Rhapsody (scaredy-cat legal online music) list:

I remember hearing a country song/story called “Big Joe and Phantom 309” (en Español “Big Joe y Fantasma 309”) sometime in the ’70s. Hated it. Don’t know who was doing it — probably Red Sovine, who wrote it – but I hated it. There was something kind of smug and obvious in the story-telling. Then sometime in the late 1980s, my brother John put on a record that Kate had in her collection but I hadn’t listened to. Tom Waits, “Nighthawks at the Diner,” which was not a new album, with a live version of the same number. Wow, what a great track. Yeah, he hams it up. Still, he makes the song his own enough that you believe it really is his story.

“…Yeah, it was just about that time that the lights of an ol’ semi topped the hill
You should’ve seen me smile when I heard them air brakes come on
Yeah, and I climbed up into that cab where I knew it’d be warm
At the wheel… well, at the wheel sat a big man
And I’d have to say he must’ve weighed two ten
As he stuck out a big hand and he said with a grin
‘Big Joe’s the name, and this here rig’s called Phantom 309’

“Well, I asked him why he called his rig such a name
And you know, he turned to me and said
‘Why son, don’t you know this here rig’ll be puttin’ ’em all to shame
Nah, there ain’t a driver
No, there ain’t a driver on this or any other line for that matter that…
That’s seen nothin’ but the taillights of Big Joe and Phantom 309′
So we rode and we talked the better part of the night
And I told my stories and Joe told his
And I smoked up all his Viceroys as we rolled along
Pushed her ahead with 10 forward gears
Man, that dashboard was lit like the old Madam La Rue pinball
Serious semi truck. …”

Un Pez sin Agua

Sinagua“I feel like a fish without water.” The small type under “sin agua” says “Francisco, 5 años, descridiendo el asma.” It’s a billboard at the corner of 7th and Brannan streets in San Francisco. Kate says she’s seen English versions of it. It struck me just because of my (nearly lifelong) problems with asthma; and also because of the fact the disease seems to have become so prevalent among city kids now; the why of that still seems largely unknown, but one has to think it has got be due to basic environmental causes.

Happy 195th, Railsplitter

And to mark the occasion of the 16th president’s birthday, here’s an offering from the Chicago Tribune on a reputedly ugly — very ugly — Lincoln memorial:

“ASHMORE, Ill. — It turns out the world’s tallest statue of the tallest U.S. president, six stories of fiberglass and steel abandoned and vandalized in a shuttered campground, has another distinction. It is probably the world’s ugliest memorial to Abraham Lincoln.”

A check of online maps shows Ashmore to be just down, or up, the road from Embarrass, sitting in the triangle of wonder outlined by Champaign, Decatur, and Terre Haute, Indiana (a lesser land of Lincoln).

Spam Names

Well, I’ve saved up 28,953 or so absolutely no-good spam messages just to “analyze” them. The saving’s easy. The analyzing, like about everything else in my life beyond the involuntary functions these days, is hard. But while I’m waiting for that magic moment when synapses fire and I break free of inertia and begin spam analysis — it could happen this year — I see a story from last Thursday’s The New York Times (already in the paid archives) on one of my favorite spam subjects: The names of senders:

“Yours Not So Truly, J. Goodspam
By Lisa Napoli
“PURPOSES L. XYLOPHONIST sounds like my kind of man. Unique. Creative. Focused, with a hint of formality. … There is no way to be certain that Mr. Xylophonist is, in fact, a mister. Actually, it is a pretty safe bet he is not a person at all. …”

[Later, much later: Well, here it is at the end of October, and the spam analysis never happened. When TechTV shut down earlier this year, and I got booted out with almost everyone else, I simply deleted that wonderful storehouse of spam. On the other hand, I get plenty of new junk messages to ponder each and every day.]

Blog Break

As Scrooge once said, sort of, “It was a hiatus, nothing more.” The only remotely Dickensian pause was occasioned by a trip from one coast to another to visit friends in George W. Bush’s adopted hometown (Max and Nancy and Sean McCrohon. I flew to New York and drove down with my brother, John).

All the News, etc.

On February 10, 1897, The New York Times adopted its new slogan: “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” thus launching 107 years of ever-intensifying nitpicking by everyone who doesn’t toil for the Times. A relatively old example:  Lies of Our Times; shockingly, it’s a print publication. And a much newer one: the Wilgoren Watch; it’s dedicated to the pursuit of sloppiness and half-truths committed to print by the Times reporter covering the Howard Dean fiasco.

Stately Plump

It’s not too late to say “happy birthday” to James Joyce, who would have turned 122 today had he not died at the age of 59. As he once wrote:

“Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod’s roes. Most of all he liked fried mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”

There is, of course, more where that came from.

When Iraq wasn’t a threat

When Iraq wasn’t a threat

The way Colin Powell told it in February 2001, a while before the Bush administration decided the United Nations had done nothing to reduce the menace of Saddam, the U.N. sanctions had pretty much taken care of the big bad dictator:

“… Frankly they [the sanctions] have worked. He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors. So in effect, our policies have strengthened the security of the neighbors of Iraq. …”

Link by way of a colleague.

One Last Money Observation

Just for context: A brief note in a Washington Post story reviewing the fund-raising landscape (and how Kerry has been dumping lots of his own money or assets into the campaign):

In a signal of the danger for the Democratic nominee, President Bush reported $99.1 million in the bank as of Dec. 31, nearly seven times as much as the top five Democrats had together.

And Bush, who’s just tuning up for the race, spent more money than anyone: $33 million (to big spender Dean’s $31 million) through Dec. 31, 2003.