Monthly Archives: December 2010

‘Knowledge is garbage.’

Whenever I run into a new word, or a word that I have to look up, invariably I’ll turn around and find that word in another place. It sits there on the page, or comes through the speaker, as if saying, “I’ve always been here. You were just too dim to notice.” Or maybe it says, “I’m your new friend. You can see me everywhere!!”

And so I was reading Gene Weingarten’s column in the Washington Post Magazine, where he’s saying that Google has turned knowledge into garbage:

“Information isn’t garbage, but being knowledgeable is severely devalued. It is nothing to aspire to or to take any particular pride in. The era of the know-it-all is over.”

Then he brings in Peter Sagal, host of NPR’s “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me,” who, recalling his SAT scores, says, “I definitely had a 780 in verbal. I missed one question, the meaning of the word ‘palliate.’ ”


My Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary. which I won in the 6th Grade spelling bee at Friends School in Detroit, says palliate means to reduce the violence of : abate; to cover by excuses and apologies: excuse.

Next day I’m reading “Bel Ami” a 19th century French novel of manners by Guy de Maupassant, and I come across this:

“Do you understand now how our acceptance of [the fortune] would be interpreted? It would be necessary to find a side issue, some clever way of palliating matters.”

No more palliating sightings since then, but I’m hopeful.

Happy New Year.



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Nixon’s gift that keeps on giving.

Richard Nixon, who else?It’s as if he stuck a note on himself that read, “Kick me around.” Even in death, Richard Nixon can’t seem to get along with others.

In his latest batch of released White House tapes, reported in the Washington Post, the 35th president  expands his circle of bigotry from Jews to cover blacks, Italians and the Irish.

“The Jews have certain traits,” the leader of the free world told an aide. “The Irish have certain — for example, the Irish can’t drink. What you always have to remember with the Irish is they get mean. Virtually every Irish I’ve known gets mean when he drinks. It’s sort of a natural trait. Particularly the real Irish.”

Presumably he was speaking of Irish Americans. The Italians, Nixon ruled, ” just don’t have their heads screwed on tight. They are wonderful people, but . . .” Nixon trailed off at that point, and perhaps we should be relieved. Later, he added, “The Jews are just a very aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious personality.”

The tapes were recorded in 1973. As for African Americans, Nixon voiced doubt to his secretary, Rose Mary Woods, about Secretary of State William Rogers’ belief that blacks were making significant strides in America.

“My own view is I think he’s right if you’re talking in terms of 500 years,” Nixon said. “I think it’s wrong if you’re talking in terms of 50 years. What has to happen is they have to be, frankly, inbred. And, you just, that’s the only thing that’s going to do it, Rose.”

My mouth is agape.

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Hey Keith, ‘Hey Joe’

As I was leafing through Keith Richards’ new autobiography, Life, before diving in, I found this offhand mention of how one of rock’s great guitarists got his hands on one of rock’s great guitar songs:

“And then, so [Richards’ ex-girlfriend] Linda [Keith] says, she also picked up a copy of a demo I had of Tim Rose singing a song called ‘Hey Joe.’ And took that round to Roberta Goldstein’s, where Jimi was, and played it to him. This is rock-and-roll history. So he got the song from me, apparently.”

Tim Rose?

While I had never gone searching for the origins of “Hey Joe,” I always  knew Jimi Hendrix wasn’t the first to record it. Once when the song was playing on the radio, my mom told me she had heard an earlier version of the song.  She couldn’t recall the singer, or when she heard it.  But I’ve always kept my ears open for that mysterious other version. Could Tim Rose, who I had never heard of, be the singer my mom meant?

So I began my online search. It turns out that both “Hey Joe” and Tim Rose have complicated stories.

“Hey Joe” rose from a tradition of folk songs in which an enraged man shoots his two-timing lover down. The creation of the song itself is disputed, although it was registered for copyright in the U.S. in 1962 by Billy Roberts, according to Wikipedia. A number of uptempo versions were recorded in 1965-’66, including one by the Byrds.

Rose’s version, by contrast, was slow and brooding.  Rose, who recorded “Hey Joe” in 1966, always maintained that “Hey Joe” was a traditional song that he had arranged. He died in 2002.

If you know Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” by heart, see how powerful Rose’s 12-string guitar version was, in this 1969 performance:

Here is an older Rose discussing and performing the song.  And an opportunity to put Rose and Hendrix side by side.

My mom died in 1986. She would have been 91 today.

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