Blabbings about family, community, sustainability and life from Frederick, MD.

Funky India – Jazz Fusion July 16, 2007

Filed under: frederick,music — tobymurdock @ 3:49 pm

On Saturday I went and saw Satabdi Express at my church as part of its Second Saturday concert series that my friends Butch and Ed organize.

Every band says that they are a “unique fusion of blah, blah and blah.” But these guys are truly a unique fusion.

First, they are dead-serious jazz artists. Great stand-up bass guy. And then the kind of serious, precise drummer who uses the brush drumsticks and gets his head really close to  the cymbals as he taps on them ever so slightly.

But then the guitarist, Dave, plays a hybrid western guitar-Indian sitar. It has 19 strings. You can see it above. And he plays it with a bottleneck slide.

The result is fantastic. After a long day in the sun at the lake with the fam, this concert was a far-out, meditative experience. I bought the CD and continue to jam to it. You can jam to it here yourself:


Let’s Choose The Courageous Guy July 11, 2007

Filed under: education,obama,politics — tobymurdock @ 4:29 pm

Article in the Post today about Obama and the National Education Association (the teacher’s lobby).  The NEA is having their convention, and all of the presidential candidates are filing through, and they’re all telling the attendees, of course, just what they want to hear.

Except Obama. He’s supporting merit pay for teachers. And all of the union members are denouncing him for it.

Our politics are paralyzed. No big ideas are realized. Not even desperately needed changes occur. Instead, cowardly politicians who pander to fears instead of inspiring hopes wrestle for points in opinion polls. And nothing happens.

Merit pay is a great idea. I’m all for it. But the point is that I’m all for the candidate who will be courageous, advocate what is really needed instead of what is popular. Next year, let’s be sure to choose the courageous guy.


Welcome Noelle July 10, 2007

Filed under: Children,family — tobymurdock @ 11:03 am

I haven’t yet written about the biggest news in my life of late: the birth of our daugher Noelle on June 22.

Her arrival was a long road with some crazy twists at the end, especially for my anesthesia-foreswearing wife.

But she is here and well loved by her family, especially her big sisters, as shown above. In fact, we have huge surpluses of love in our family and it will never be in short supply for her. Especially as she remains a little doll that actually moves, squeaks, and is alive!


Bad News Tuesday June 19, 2007

Filed under: Children,co-housing,Community,devolution,Environment,Sprawl,transit — tobymurdock @ 4:54 pm

Some bummers today in the Washington Post.

First, all of the moron energy convened in Fairfax County yesterday as they decided definitively to have the Metro line in Tyson’s Corner to run above ground.  To the defense of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, I think they would have all preferred a tunnel, but complexities regarding federal-state-local government dynamics (oh, how we need devolution!) prevented it. The end result is that hideous, pedestrian-repellent, ugly, post-modern, unlivable abomination that is Tyson’s today will remain . . . a hideous, pedestrian-repellent, ugly, post-modern, unlivable abomination. It is obvious: the contrasting results of the Orange line in Arlington County (below ground) and Fairfax County (above) is a famous case study.

Anyhow, there is another article in the Post about how the current generation of kids spends so much time indoors that they have no connection with Nature.  Oh Jesus. What could be worse. There’s much one could say here about the need for conservation, open space. That’s the obvious part.

But the more subtle and interesting part is on the parenting side. First is the need to have kids’ lives not so scheduled so that they have the time to experience Nature in an unstructured, spontaneous way (how pathetic to even have to describe it that way). More challenging is the need to have the courage to allow kids to roam about–the neighborhood and in Nature–in an unsupervised way. This takes faith in your kids, instruction, and the development of neighborhoods where everyone is keeping an eye on everyone’s kids: something that is becoming a relic (oh, how we need co-housing!). But it is the only way that kids can get out of their programmed, indoor existence and have a relationship with Nature: remembering that “Nature” is not some other category of life, but rather that it IS life, it is everything we come from, live on, and return to.


Photo on Flickr from zuki12


Summertime Perfection June 18, 2007

Filed under: Children,Community,family,frederick — tobymurdock @ 12:35 pm

Many of our friends and their kids camped out at Greenbrier State Park this weekend. With Noelle coming, we didn’t spend any nights there, but we were there from 10am to 8pm on Saturday.

What a day! Sunny, pleasant in the upper 80s.  Canoeing. Guitar and singing. Hanging out on the beach.

My best memory of it was heading across the lake on the canoe towards the end of the day. Breeze had died down and the water was smooth and glassy. The image of the mountains that ring the like was reflected in the water.

Awesome! I’ll take that one with me all week. And just 20 minutes from home. Thanks Frederick County!


Kid Camping May 25, 2007

Filed under: Children,Environment,family,frederick,Friends — tobymurdock @ 6:04 pm

On Mother’s Day weekend a number of other dads and I took all of our kids camping in a shelter on the Appalachian Trail in Frederick County.

It was great to be able to get the kids in the outdoors. And great to be able to do so so close to home.

And great, of course, to hang out by the fire after the kids went to bed.

Though it was a long night and a bleary morning.


Country Prodigies Dowtown May 9, 2007

Filed under: frederick,music — tobymurdock @ 1:47 pm

On Saturday Kita and I went to the West Side downtown saw Brennen Leigh, a country duo that we’ve seen before (forgive my horrible camera phone shot).

They a brother-sister pair and are insanely talented. Brennen has a beautiful country voice that has twang and “yipee-kai-yea’s” but is also strong and smooth. She switches off between guitar and mandolin. Seth is a pickin’ freak: he is playing a base line with his thumb while doing a melody with his fingers, all at turbo speed. He’s someone that has complete control of his instrument and can truly do whatever he wants with it.

They play really, really old-school country, the kind that is rarely played anymore. It is extraordinary music when it is played by such talented musicians. Kita and I discussed how the evening makes you feel proud to be American given what a beautiful art form our country has uniquely produced.

The nice thing about such small shows is, among other things, being able to talk to the artists. Brennen and Seth are really nice, but as always it is alarming to learn how hard going it is for the small-time musician. Especially Brennen & Seth who play a genre that is not perceived as popular today. Alas, the crazy music industry.

I’ve told them that they are much better live than on their CD’s; they jam much more live. Nevertheless, here is one of their songs, “Give It Up to Jesus”:

It was yet another great night in our beautiful city. The streets were packed with restaurant, gallery and concert goers. There was a great blues band playing in the street. Best was the old-school, chrome microphone and fedora on the steel-guitar playing lead singer:


The Book of Our Future April 20, 2007

Deep Economy, Bill McKibben’s new book, does the best job of laying out the social and environmental ills of our day and the path to fixing them. Put another way, it is hard to think of a more important book.

“Social and environmental ills” is a poor phrase. The word “Environment” is often thrown around in the context of political issues, like “Transportation” or “Education.” We’ve become so abstracted from our natural existence that “the Environment” seems to sit appropriately lined up side by side those other “issues.”

However we distance ourselves from it, the reality remains that we are creatures living on a planet, depending upon that planet and one another for our existence. And in that context, the environment and our society is EVERYTHING: it is our lives themselves and the existence of our species and fellow living creatures. And it is at that profound level that McKibben looks at our ills.

McKibben begins by explaining how for all of human existence, MORE has always meant BETTER. More warmth, more shelter, more nourishment, more resources always rightly meant a better life. Humans used their minds to generate MORE, and certain principles of economy, efficiency and capitalism became the best ways to organize and operate to produce MORE.

The invention of the steam engine in 1712, the first industrial use of fossil fuels, marked a profound change in humanity’s ability to produce MORE. The solar energy of eons, stored in fossil fuels, was unlocked for human use.

After three centuries of fossil fuel use, however, things have changed–at least for the industrialized world. For the first time MORE does not necessarily mean BETTER. In fact, no only do we have more than ENOUGH, but MORE is more and more yielding WORSE. Specifically MORE is:

  1. generating more social inequity
  2. destroying our planet and our existence upon it. Global warming is the attention-grabber here, but it goes beyond that. Modernity’s use of fossil fuels and other natural resources is simply unsustainable.
  3. breaking the bonds between one another, hollowing our communities and our humanity. Interdependence is a good thing, and we’ve lost it.

The problem is that the correlation of MORE to BETTER is so deeply ingrained in our collective psyche is it unfathomable to break the connection. So we go on, building houses that are TOO big and TOO far apart, driving our cars TOO much, working TOO much, eating TOO much food that is TOO processed, living in TOO mobile, TOO global of a economy and society. I’ve read many books on the destruction of the environment or on the dearth of community in our day, but I’ve never before read a book that ties the two together so eloquently, tracing it all to the excesses of fossil fuels and the pursuit of MORE.

McKibben of course recognizes that capitalism and democracy are the best ways to organize society. In fact, many detractors, hoping to see McKibben as some freakish communist, would be surprised to know McKibben to be a Sunday school teacher (liberalism and Christianity can co-exist; they can even thrive–consider the radical Christ was in his day). The solution that he proposes is “localism” — living in smaller communities, within regional economies, in a life that is somehow a little less competitive and a lot less fossil fuel dependent.

While some Vermont antecdotes paint a nice picture of what localism might look like, how this occurs exactly is a question he does not fully answer–he never gets much beyond the construct of a farmer’s market. It makes me think of latter 20th century Latin American economies that tried to become “localized,” to stay capitalist but be entirely self-sufficient with huge tariffs. That was a huge flop. To turn your back to global competition seems like a bad idea.

So figuring out this balancing act–reducing the scope of our economy, the scope of our lives to something more human in scale, while recognizing that competition and openness are the best drivers of beneficial cooperation in our society–is a question left unanswered. It will continue to be pondered here.

An easy answer is peak oil. The global economy can only function because of cheap, abundant energy. If the supply of fossil fuels tightens and the the prices rises dramatically, getting our TV’s from China (that contains parts shipped in from Holland, Brazil and Indonesia; built by workers fed on food from the U.S., Canada and Russia) no longer works that well. Localism would be forced upon us.

But such a calamity is not to be wished upon the world. Instead of a shock, let’s hope such a transition happens gradually over a long period of time. But while the delay would prevent economic disaster, our souls and environment will continue to rot. Somehow we all need to see the benefits of a more localized society and voluntarily move toward it.

Reading Deep Economy would be a good start. I hope you do it.


The Big Picture in Iraq April 16, 2007

Filed under: iraq — tobymurdock @ 1:09 pm

Pictured above is Ret. Marines Gen. John J. Sheehan, who wrote a column in the Post today. He was asked by the White House to become the Middle East war czar, but he declined, and in the column he gave his reasons.

He said that there were three major strategies at play. He describes #1 and #2 and then here describes the third:

The third strategy takes a larger view of the region and the desired end state. Simply put, where does Iraq fit in a larger regional context? The United States has and will continue to have strategic interests in the greater Middle East well after the Iraq crisis is resolved and, as a matter of national interest, will maintain forces in the region in some form. The Iraq invasion has created a real and existential crisis for nearly all Middle Eastern countries and created divisions among our traditional European allies, making cooperation on other issues more difficult. In the case of Iran, we have allowed Tehran to develop more policy options and tools than it had a few years ago. Iran is an ideological and destabilizing threat to its neighbors and, more important, to U.S. interests.

Of the three strategies in play, the third is the most important but, unfortunately, is the least developed and articulated by this administration.

Incredible and tragic that even the guys that the administration is trying to hire so clearly see the folly of our approach in Iraq, but the administration itself does not. Although we never should have invaded in the first place, once we had done so, we should have an idea of what we’re trying to achieve. And that is not simply trying to subdue a country somehow and then naively think that democracy is going to sprout.

Anyhow, this guys is not going to do the job, and nobody intelligent is going to either. Basically we’re screwed.


Things Fall Apart April 11, 2007

Filed under: Economy,globalization — tobymurdock @ 1:00 pm

Harold Meyerson presents an interesting story today in the Washington Post about one of our country’s big box retailers:

On March 28, Circuit City announced that it was laying off 3,400 of its salesclerks. Not because they had poor performance records, mind you: Their performance was utterly beside the point. They were shown the door, said the chain, simply because they were the highest-salaried salesclerks that Circuit City employed.

Their positions were not eliminated. Rather, the store announced that it would hire their replacements at the normal starting salary.

One can only imagine the effect of Circuit City’s announcement on the morale of the workers who didn’t get fired. The remaining salesclerks can only conclude: Do a good job, get promoted, and you’re outta here.

It was, in short, just a normal day in contemporary American capitalism.

This just is not going to work. It is an unsustainable condition in our society. Economists, business leaders, whomever, have to come down from the theory and view the reality of our humanity.

Capitalism as we know it has served humanity well for centuries. But I think that is has passed some threshold in the U.S. Its efficiency has become excessive. It no longer is serving the interests of society as a whole. And what the upper strata of America does not realize, I think, is that we are a democracy. Our capitalism works well because the consensus of our country allows it to do so. Cultural intertia–a well-bred American devotion to capitalism–is buying time to allow our systems to go on unchecked. But eventually the popular will is going to mandate changes to how things function.

What should that change be? Meyerson goes on to suggest typical liberal tweaks. I don’t know if they are the answer. And of course the inverse of capitalism–socialism–has been proven by the 20th century to be a grand failure.

I think it is yet something different. To me it is also tied to the environment, as fossil fuels behind the scenes have really been what has enabled our social and economic perversion. Maybe Bill McKibben has some thoughts . . .