Lyrics, Dreams, the Internet, But No Politics

Yesterday on Twitter, somebody started a thread asking for people to post the best opening lyrics of a song. The first entry I saw was from “Thunder Road”, a wonderful song: “A screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves”. That’s a good opening line, but it doesn’t even rhyme with what comes next.

Idle hands and an idle mind led me to look at the opening lyrics for another wonderful song: “Surf’s Up” (which I didn’t put on Twitter). Van Dyke Parks wrote the words for Brian Wilson’s music:

A diamond necklace played the pawn
Hand and hand some drummed along, oh
To a handsome man and baton

But there was a problem. The Genius lyrics site shows the third line as:

To a handsome mannered baton

There’s a note that says these were the original lyrics. Somebody else marked that as “a stretch”. I quickly acquired an account on Genius and put in a correction, based on the fact that most people say it’s “a man and baton”, those are the words Carl Wilson seems to have sung on the original recording, and contemporaneous sources don’t disagree:

At home, as the black acetate dub turned on his bedroom hi-fi set, Wilson tried to explain the words. “It’s a man at a concert,” he said. “All around him there’s the audience, playing their roles, dressed up in fancy clothes, looking through opera glasses, but so far away from the drama, from life—‘Back through the opera glass you see the pit and the pendulum drawn.’”

The 1971 Beach Boys LP had a lyrics sheet, but, having moved on from vinyl, I sold that album years ago. The other side of the lyrics sheet showed parched earth, counterintuitively for a group that still called themselves that and an album with a metaphorical reference to the ocean in its title. I didn’t have the old lyrics sheet, but the internet, as it so often does, came through:


Expanding the image revealed that, yes, it’s “a man and baton”. Victory was mine!

(The album was released at that brief moment in time when Mike Love, shown in the middle there, was willing to appear in public without a hat — the long beard compensated for his thinning on top.)

I thought that was the end of the matter (although scientific, historical and aesthetic matters never really end). Further research revealed that no, it’s not that clear what the lyrics are supposed to be.

Eight years ago, a contributor to a Beach Boys message board wrote:

For the record (pun intended) Carl got the lyrics wrong when he copied them down listening to Brian’s demo. It’s . . . “a mannered baton”.

And there it is, in the 2011 box set, The Smile Sessions:

thumbnail_20210215_172453 (2)

A handsome mannered baton! Victory is no longer mine!

But what are a song’s lyrics anyway? If there’s a conflict, are the lyrics what the composer originally had in mind? Or what was first performed for the public? Are the lyrics what was written on the original manuscript or what everybody sings today (such as this guy or this other guy)? There is no definitive answer.

Fortunately, in most cases, there is no conflict. Consider “The Star Spangled Banner”. Nobody argues whether it’s “bombs bursting in air” or “bombs bursting for air”. We all know the words (for the most part).

This brings me to a very brief account of last night’s dream. Two men with great voices were singing our national anthem in a big stadium. One of them made a mistake. He sang “bombs bursting for air”. That’s all I remembered when I woke up.

I mention this because there was an article this week called “For the love of America, stop playing the national anthem before sporting events”. The writer’s thesis is that “it’s not an act of genuine patriotism, it’s a ritual of joyless conformity”. The article was in response to a small controversy:

This week, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban confirmed that for the entirety of the current National Basketball Association’s season and preseason, the national anthem wasn’t played prior to his team’s home games. No one had noticed until Cuban confirmed it with The Athletic.

The NBA told The Athletic that given the bizarre and difficult circumstances of the pandemic era, they were fine with teams deciding how to conduct their pre-game operations. But after conservative pushback the league quickly relented, as did Cuban, and just like that we’re back to the business-as-usual of acting out a quasi-religious devotion to a tuneless song about war.

Personally, I like singing the national anthem with a big crowd. It’s one of the times I feel patriotic. And it’s always interesting to hear somebody sing it in public, wondering if they’ll remember the words.

The only reason I found this dream interesting and why I’m sharing it now is that it’s one of those times when it looks like a person’s brain put two and two together and came up with something else. My brain was apparently doing its nightly cleanup. It found a memory of an article about the national anthem and another memory about the questionable lyrics to a song and combined those fragments into a little story about somebody screwing up the lyrics in front of thousands of people (who could be the thousands of people who see stuff on the internet). Dreams don’t necessarily mean anything but it’s nice when they seem to.


China On the Rise

The Atlantic has a typically long article about China’s construction of an enormous radio telescope:


Almost twice as wide as the dish at America’s Arecibo Observatory, in the Puerto Rican jungle [recently destroyed], the new Chinese dish is the largest in the world, if not the universe. Though it is sensitive enough to detect spy satellites even when they’re not broadcasting, its main uses will be scientific, including an unusual one: The dish is Earth’s first flagship observatory custom-built to listen for a message from an extraterrestrial intelligence.

[It’s] the world’s most sensitive telescope in the part of the radio spectrum that is “classically considered to be the most probable place for an extraterrestrial transmitter”. After the dish is calibrated, it will start scanning large sections of the sky. If such a sign comes down from the heavens during the next decade, China may well hear it first.

If that isn’t enough, they’re planning to put a radio observatory on the dark side of the Moon, where there is even less interference from terrestrial radio waves.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the Chinese have a “rail-linked urban megastructure” that required the country to pour “more concrete from 2011 to 2013 than America did during the entire 20th century” The country “has already built rail lines in Africa, and it hopes to fire bullet trains into Europe and North America, the latter by way of a tunnel under the Bering Sea”. The author of the article marvels at “smooth, spaceship-white” trains “whooshing by . . . at almost 200 miles an hour”.

China built the world’s fastest supercomputer, has spent heavily on medical research and planted a “great green wall” of forests in its northwest as a last-ditch effort to halt the Gobi Desert’s spread. Now China is bringing its immense resources to bear on the fundamental sciences. The country plans to build an atom smasher that will conjure thousands of “god particles” out of the ether, in the same time it took CERN’s Large Hadron Collider to strain out a handful. It is also eyeing Mars. In the technopoetic idiom of the 21st century, nothing would symbolize China’s rise like a high-definition shot of a Chinese astronaut setting foot on the red planet. Nothing except, perhaps, first contact.

China’s gross domestic product is still only about 2/3 of America’s, but they’ll probably spend more on research and development than we do in the coming decade.

When we saw the Soviet Union as our competition in the 50s and 60s, we got busy. The Soviet Union no longer exists.

Today, there are more than 100 cities in China with populations over one million. China is making its presence known.


In the Aftermath of January 6th, a Terrible Story

From The Washington Post:

District of Columbia police officer Jeffrey Smith sent his wife a text that spoke to the futility and fears of his mission.

“London has fallen,” the 35-year-old tapped on his phone at 2:38 p.m. on Jan. 6, knowing his wife would understand he was referencing a movie by that name about a plan to assassinate world leaders attending a funeral in Britain.

The text confirmed the frightening images Erin Smith was watching on live stream from the couple’s home in Virginia: The Capitol had been overrun.

Six minutes after Smith sent that text, a Capitol Police officer inside the building shot and killed a woman as she climbed through a smashed window next to the House chamber.

Smith, also inside the Capitol, didn’t hear the gunshot, but he did hear the frantic “shots fired” call over his police radio. He later told Erin he panicked, afraid rioters had opened fire on police, and wondered whether he would die.

Around 5:35 p.m., Smith was still fighting to defend the building when a metal pole thrown by rioters struck his helmet and face shield. After working into the night, he visited the police medical clinic, was put on sick leave and, according to his wife, was sent home with pain medication.

In the days that followed, Erin said, her husband seemed in constant pain, unable to turn his head. He did not leave the house, even to walk their dog. He refused to talk to other people or watch television. She sometimes woke during the night to find him sitting up in bed or pacing.

“He wasn’t the same Jeff that left on the sixth. . . . I just tried to comfort him and let him know that I loved him,” she said. “I told him I’d be there if he needed anything, that no matter what we’ll get through it. I tried to do the best I could.”

Smith returned to the police clinic for a follow-up appointment Jan. 14 and was ordered back to work, a decision his wife now questions. After a sleepless night, he set off the next afternoon for an overnight shift, taking the ham-and-turkey sandwiches, trail mix and cookies Erin had packed.

On his way to the District, Smith shot himself in the head.

Police found him in his Ford Mustang, which had rolled over and down an embankment along the George Washington Memorial Parkway, near a scenic overlook on the Potomac River.

He was the second police officer who had been at the riot to take his own life. . . . 

Newly released audio from D.C. police at the riot shows how police were overwhelmed. “Multiple Capitol injuries, multiple Capitol injuries,” one officer screamed over his radio. Later an officer shouted, “We’re still taking rocks, bottles and pieces of flag and metal pole.” And an officer pleaded for help: “We lost the line. We’ve lost the line. All MPD [Metropolitan Police Department], pull back to the upper deck, ASAP” . . . 

Hours after the siege at the Capitol had ended, Smith later told his wife, he found himself with other officers outside a hotel where insurgents were believed to be staying. Their orders were to arrest any who came outside, at that point breaking a citywide curfew imposed by the mayor to restore order.

At 9 p.m., he told two supervisors he was in pain from being hit by the pole, and he was sent to the Police & Fire Clinic in Northeast Washington, run by a contractor and the first step for nearly every officer injured on the job.

He checked in at the clinic at 10:15 p.m., according to records shared by his family.

On his police injury form, he wrote: “Hit with flying object in face shield and helmet.” He added that he “began feeling pain in my neck and face.”

He checked out 1:31 a.m. on Jan. 7, his status listed as “sick,” though no diagnosis is noted. Erin does not know if he told the staff about any emotional issues.

“He told me it was chaos,” she said of the clinic. “There were so many people there.”

Erin has questions about her husband’s care at the Police & Fire Clinic. She said he told her he was seen for only about 10 minutes when he returned Jan. 14 and was approved to return to work the following day.

She wonders whether there were indications of a serious head injury or signs of emotional distress, and she is seeking his complete medical file. Police officials would not comment on specifics of Smith’s visit, citing privacy laws. Representatives for PFC Associates, which runs the clinic, did not respond to an interview request.

Smith didn’t talk much about the details of what he experienced during his hours at the Capitol, Erin said. She didn’t press, but even from the little she learned, she thinks the images she saw on live stream did not fully capture what police experienced. Before the riot, the family’s lawyer said, Smith had not been diagnosed with or exhibited signs of depression.

Erin is convinced the trauma of Jan. 6 made the thought of returning to policing unbearable for him. . . . 

Experts caution suicide is not typically due to a singular event, even a traumatic one, and precise reasons are generally rooted in a wide variety of factors that are often never fully understood. . . . 

Smith’s family attorney said the officer did not attend any counseling sessions while he was on sick leave. He also said no one from the department reached out to Smith about attending. . . . 

How One Insurrectionist Got There

#CapitolSiegeReligion is a Twitter hashtag that refers to the intersection between the attack on the Capitol and religious beliefs. Peter Manseau is a curator of religious history at the Smithsonian and has been writing about it. Yesterday, he shared the story behind one of the insurrectionist’s actions. Facebook had a major role:

One month later, there’s still a part of #CapitolSiegeReligion I think needs more attention. Some religious media & evangelical leaders no doubt share a measure of the blame. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that the attack was the result of thousands of individual choices… To understand those choices I’ve been reading FBI charges, looking for mention of religious motives. That’s how I found Mike Sparks [of Elizabethtown, Kentucky], accused of being the first to enter the Capitol through a broken window. After the attack he declared Trump would remain president “in Jesus name”.

The day charges against him were announced, I had a look at Sparks’ Facebook page, which has now gone dark. What I saw there was fascinating: a record of one man’s transformation into an unlikely insurgent. A single chronicle of radicalization that may shed light on others.

Sparks was of course taken in by all the election lies. But what we need to understand is that his transformation started long before that. Last summer he posted a long video testimonial wrestling with a new anger he feared was rising in him & clearly naming its source: Facebook.


“I consider myself a devout Christian,” he said, but he knew he hadn’t been sharing “godly things” on Facebook. “I’ve even said I’d shoot that person in the head, I’d shoot this person in the head… I’m not showing the love of Christ.” Friends began to worry; many unfriended him.

As he saw it, the problem for him began with Black Lives Matter. Images of protests across the country had pushed him over the edge. Framed by conservative media on Facebook, those images convinced him the time for spiritual war was at hand. “It’s good versus evil now,” he said.

It wasn’t just the images, it was that they felt inescapable. The same platform his family used to share photos was now driving him mad. “Facebook is where they’re feeding this anger and hatred,” he said. “They’ll find out what you are for or against & they’re gonna feed anger.”

Social media in Sparks’ description is a tormentor: an active, personified force that may do some good, but mostly means you harm. Facebook became for him the site of a clash with himself, relentlessly giving him dire warnings of threats posed to his family and his country.

“I’ve noticed that my phone has been in my hand more than my Bible,” Sparks confessed. “I’ve been locked in on my Facebook watching all this stuff play out and I get angrier and angrier.” He apologized & promised to do better, wondering if he should quit social media altogether.

“I’m not going to let my anger overtake me anymore,” he said. “I’m going to get in the word of God like I should be doing anyway, and get back to the me that smiles more. Because I got wrapped up. I got wrapped up in Facebook.”

In the end, he did not quit Facebook. His posts about BLM soon gave way to posts about the election and his refusal to accept the results. When Trump himself posted “JANUARY SIXTH, SEE YOU IN DC!”, Sparks shared it to his page, adding “I’ll be there.”


According to the FBI, not only was Sparks there, he took part in one of the day’s most notorious incidents: when rioters chased Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman.


At Sparks’ arrest, he wore a t-shirt citing Ephesians 6:11: “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” It’s worth asking how much being “wrapped up in Facebook” led him see the Capitol attack in those terms.


Elizabethtown man charged in connection with Capitol riot arrested. Michael Sparks is in federal custody at the Oldham County Detention.

Understanding January 6 on an individual level is not easy. Yet it’s an important part of making sense of the problem we face: Trump is gone, but how many angry men are still staring at their phones, wondering when the battle raging inside them will break out into the world?

It’s Time To Fix English Again

The House impeachment managers have submitted an 80-page “trial memorandum” explaining why the former president should be convicted in the Senate and disqualified from ever occupying a federal office again. It describes the ex-president’s lies regarding who won the election and his encouragement of the mob that attacked the Capitol. It also explains why it makes perfect sense from a legal, historical and practical perspective for the Senate to convict impeached officials even though they have left office.

In response, the creep’s lawyers have submitted a 14-page response that’s too stupid to discuss (although it will give most Republican senators an excuse to vote against conviction). 

Anyway, here’s a specific issue I want to discuss. It’s a grammatical problem with the U.S. Constitution. This is the troublesome passage:

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. . . . Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States . . . 

Since you can’t remove somebody from office after they’ve left office, there seems to be a problem here. The former president’s lawyers (who are unlikely to ever receive a dime from their client) put it this way:

Since the 45th President is no longer “President,” the clause ‘shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for…’ is impossible for the Senate to accomplish, and thus the current proceeding before the Senate is void ab initio [“from the beginning”] as a legal nullity that runs patently contrary to the plain language of the Constitution.

So, although other officials have been convicted by the Senate after they’ve left office, and barring someone from holding office again used to be the main reason for impeaching somebody, as opposed to removing them from office, and almost all experts on the Constitution say it’s totally fine to convict somebody after they’ve left office, and presidents could commit all kinds of High Crimes and Misdemeanors near the end of their term if you couldn’t convict them after they left the White House, the “plain language” of the Constitution does include that three-letter word “and”.

If only James Madison, George Washington and their colleagues had used the phrase “and/or” instead of “and”! Judgment against an official would extend to removal “and/or” disqualification. There wouldn’t be any room for confusion. The Constitution’s meaning would have been perfectly clear.

Unfortunately, nobody at the Constitutional Convention was familiar with the phrase. The first known use of “and/or” occurred in 1853, sixty-four years after the Constitution was written. 

Alternatively, the framers could have used “or” instead of “and”, giving us “removal or disqualification”. But then some lawyer would have claimed that an official can’t be removed from office and disqualified at the same time. They’d argue that the Senate would have to choose between the two options, either one or the other (understanding “or” in this case as the “exclusive or”, meaning one or the other, not both). 

In the near future, we’ll learn how all this plays out in the Senate. Nobody seems to think 17 Republican senators will agree to convict the demagogue, and without 50 Democrats and 17 Republicans voting “Yes”, he will escape judgment again.

Going forward, however, I have a suggestion. We English speakers need to adopt a single term for what’s called the “inclusive or”, i.e. the meaning of “or” that implies “this or that or both this and that”. It’s rather amazing that it took hundreds of years for somebody to invent “and/or” to do the job. But since it’s not a word — unlike hyphens, a slash isn’t ordinarily used to combine other words — we need a new word to take on this function. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I suggest “andor” without a slash. “Andor” sounds the same as “and/or” and after a while it wouldn’t look weird.

This isn’t the first time I’ve argued for a change like this. Four and a half years ago, I pointed out that we should change the way we use quotation marks. I won’t go into the details again (you can review my argument at length here), but instead of writing sentences like these:

He said “Go away.”

I can spell “cat.” 

We should write them like this:

He said “Go away”.

“I can spell “cat”.

The quotation mark should go in front of the period, not after!

So far, my quotation mark suggestion hasn’t exactly taken the world by storm. Maybe I was simply ahead of my time. At any rate, please do consider adopting my suggestion from today andor my suggestion from 2016. (See how incredibly easy that is?)