Oh man it’s cold. It’s miserable. Birch the Dog does not like the cold at all, possibly because he lacks meat on his bones; he comes in from outside dancing like someone who lost his concentration in the middle of a Tony Robbins fire walk: ow ow ow ow. Back to the vet on Thursday just to see if his guts are in order - check his weight, discuss his barfing. Twice this week. he gets a strange grimace before the event, and it makes him look as if he’s a GGI dog with a smile on his face.

Wife took him to obedience class tonight, where he learned “leave it.” This is the command for telling the dog to get away from that shoe he wants to carry away and gnaw on for amusement. Like everything else, it’s trickery - the command is reinforced with treats until they’re programmed, and then the treats aren’t necessary. The end result of the training is a series of commands predicated on rewards that stopped coming long ago.

Why should they be any different, you say. Oh come on, it’s not that bad.

“We discussed free will vs. determinism in Theory of Knowledge,” daughter said when she got home from school, and we were sitting on the floor playing with the dog. “Which do you believe in?”

“Free will,” I said. “But how do I know I really believe in it, right?”

“Well there’s the biological imperatives of the brain, the male brain that has certain reactions to stimuli, right?”

“And I don’t act on them. Or do. It is my decision.”

“But you’re not willing the original thoughts.”

“Granted. But I have an overlay of free will over instinct. Don’t trust anyone who says you’re a meat machine.”

Do dogs have free will? In a rudimentary sense, I think so. I tried to get Birch interested in the tug-of-war today but he was interested in something else; he chose not to bite and play. Later in the evening he decided this was a necessary thing to do. You could say he was just reacting to a prioritized stimulus - position of Wife here means food or a walk might be imminent, but anyone who’s spent a lot of times with dogs can see them work through things and decide.

Nah, you say. It’s basically the same thing over and over in the same patterns, habit and routine.

Like writing a blog in December about the cruelty of the wind. See also, 1997-2016.

Hey, I made that opening line happen of my own free will.

I should’ve appended this to yesterday’s piece, but it was going too long as it was (there was another section, just as interminable, about another piece the professor wrote). I wanted to anticipate a standard retort: why, after saying all these things, do you feel the need to VIRTUE SIGNAL by criticizing the president?

Because I don’t want to conflate approval of this or that initiative and/or criticism of his critics with approval of the man himself. The matter of his character may or may not be relevant to the matter at hand, but I’m going to join the fan club. That said, I don’t regard those who have fewer issues with the man to be fans. It’s a spectrum.

Wednesday was a good example of what’s good and what seems to go unnoticed - I like the embassy move. Full stop. As an ancillary matter, it’s the sort of thing he can do that requires no heavy lifting: just decline to sign the waiver, and it’s so. Crafting policy and pushing them through the process still doesn’t seem to be his long suit. It may seem petty to point it out, but this isn’t artful dealmaking, and I was told there would be artful dealmaking.

This entire episode has unhinged large swaths of the populace, and I am finding it salutary not to participate in the palpitations. Many years ago I adopted the “I, Claudius” policy.



I came into possession of a large work by this fellow, who is not Leon Weiseltier crossed with Fran Lebowitz:



You’ve probably enjoyed his work, either in 10cc or the videos he shot with his creative partner, Lol Creme. That is Kevin Godley, one of the lions of art pop. Godley and Creme gave 10cc its brilliant sound - those layers of voices on “I’m Not In Love,” which I recall provided a high school epiphany when I realized whoa, no, the singer actually is in love. The campy precision of “Things We Do For Love,” which was one of those songs that mocked the pop song at the same time it perfected it.

In high school they were just another radio band, and it wasn’t until the mid 80s when the Giant Swede introduced me to the album “Freeze Frame.” An odd person to perform the reintroduction; he wasn’t a prog guy at all, but he liked a few numbers, and the lyrics. I bought it, and was floored. I bought the one that came before, "L," and was floored again. It was some of the smartest, most melodic, perfectly produced prog I’d ever heard.

Now. Note the fatal words? Smartest. Because we like to be flattered by the music that assumes we get it. Perfectly produced, because we like to appreciate the technical aspects - but this was part of the appeal, because they built fascinating music structures.

They took forever to come up with the next album, Ismism. and it was . . . frustrating. One of those things that took years to learn to enjoy. (See also, New Muzik, Warp) The first song was about fast food and wanting hamburgers and seemed repetitive and stupid. Guys. Guys? Hello, what happened? I never realized that they took the music track and played it backwards for a much better song a few tracks later.

And then there was the Birthday song. Proto-rap about silly superficial people in the music industry. Okay. I know I’ve read about this before, how groups founder and die when they start bitching about touring or the low quality of people they are required to endure to stay in the business. (It is still a hilarious, nasty piece of work, and could not be released today.) You just give up on them . . . and then they come back with something like “Cry,” which is heartbreaking - up until the moment when they alter the voice at the end to pitch it up several octaves to underscore the artifice. Neo-functional mannerism!

Now and then I find a song they’ve done since, and I like it. One of those artistic consultations you’ll always admire for a few core works.

Which brings us . . . to Consquences.

It’s an absolute career-ender of an album, and as such is one of the more fascinating icebergs of its time. Did I say album? It was a four-disk album. A four-disk concept album about the end of the world with a plot and huge stretches of unfunny spoken scenes written and performed by Peter Cook, who was apparently hammered to hell by noon throughout the whole thing.



A snippet of the spoken-word opening.

Geography was not their long suit.



Anyway, it’s a mess. Came out as punk was hitting, and they said they knew they were dead, because punk was all about breaking four-disk concept albums across your scabby knee.

But. Did you like 10cc? Do you remember when they were on the radio? You’ll like this.




Last batch. Cast-off Santas. Not hardly as many as last year.


I think $14 is probably too much for that reindeer. The Santa with the painted face seems to be yelling at everyone to stop screwing around and get to work. At least he still cares.

After a few decades at this, it's just . . . just hard to muster the old enthusiasm.





Forty-three thousand souls. You might wonder if anyone named Dan was involved in its naming.

No. Well, it's complicated.

Wikipedia relates the origin story:

In 1728, English colonist William Byrd headed an expedition sent to determine the true boundary between Virginia and North Carolina. One night late that summer, the party camped upstream from what is now Danville, Byrd was so taken with the beauty of the land, that he prophesied a future settlement in the vicinity, where people would live "with much comfort and gaiety of Heart."

The river along which he camped was named the "Dan", for Byrd, supposing himself to be in the land of plenty, felt he had wandered "from Dan to Beersheba."

Elsewhere, Wikipedia says:

The name of the river was first recorded by William Byrd II in 1728, during an expedition to survey the Virginia border, though Byrd did not explain the reason for the name.

So, whatever. From some positions, it looks unchanged - except, of course, for the utter absence of people or industry.



Are you getting a five-and-time chain vibe from the building on the corner?



Any idea what it was? Another view reveals the rest of the story:


In thousands of small towns across the country stand empty embassies for a country that went out of business.



As for the structure across the street: Woah. That's a nicely scrubbed old classical file-drawer-style office tower.



"Danville's Finest Offices" says one history site; possibly still the case. It's ten stories tall and looks to be in excellent shape.

Plus, bunting!

Before the war, and after.


So much depends upon a red fire hydrant.



It wouldn't be an ordinary town without the brutal, ugly, dominating modern bank.



"We'll add planters to humanize it."

(architect fumes in silence, because the client JUST DOESN'T GET IT)

And what might this be?



Right: an Elks lodge. Two clocks for guaranteed accuracy!








"Who was that man?"

"I don't know, but that was the smoothest-talking stone vase salesman I ever met."


This I love.



Their website says: "There are plenty of interesting places to shop and eat in the River District, formerly Downtown Danville and the Tobacco Warehouse District, all bordered by Dan River. "

Formerly Downtown Danville?


Of course it's a bank. Nice sunlight anti-penetration feature in that window design.


Why were so many banks in medium-sized towns so ugly? Why did they go from a uniform, reassuring classic style to blunt, overblown, turgid concrete crap-boxes?



Nice little redesign. You can tell the bottom floor was done over in the 50s, although the name could hail from 10 or 20 years before.






It was antristin'. Lots of things went pretty well.

Repainted? Probably. Who cares?


It's an interesting place, with more to see. Here's a challenge: on Pinterest I found this picture named "1911 Cigarette Girl Danville VA."

Can you find its location today?


I can't. Here's a place to start. The town has a 3d map, and it's fun to fly around.


We stand on the threshold of the weekend! How did that happen again? See you tomorrow, and thanks for the visit.


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