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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Movie Defense and Theological Treatise: Stranger Than Fiction

Carol and I went to see another movie sans child over the past weekend. It's Stranger Than Fiction, which is a film where Harold Crick, played by Will Ferrell, hears a voice in his head. It also features Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, Linda Hunt, Tom Hulce (all but unrecognizable) and Tony Hale (Arrested Development's "Buster" Bluth).

We liked it very much. You'll laugh, you may cry. Go see it. I particularly related to the baker who feels cynical about her government, played by Gyllenhaal.

One of the criticisms I've read about this film is that the Zach Helm-penned work seems very much in the style of writer Charlie Kaufman. In fact, the CRITICAL CONSENSUS at rottentomatoes.com is:
"A fun, whimsical tale about about an office drone trying to save his life from his narrator. The cast obviously is having a blast with the script, but Stranger Than Fiction's tidy lessons make this metaphysical movie feel like Charlie Kaufman-lite."

Feh.

I've seen three Kauffman films: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), which was my favorite movie of that year, and which Carol also loved; Adaptation (2002), which seemed to lose its way, both Carol and I felt; and the very fine Being John Malkovich (1999). Like "Stranger Than Fiction", they're all "quirky", in-the- head films, but the similarities are superficial, I feel.

If anything, it is more like The Truman Show (1998), written by Andrew Niccol. Both feature a character played by an actor best known as a comedian - Jim Carrey in "Truman" - and both feature a force who controls the action, a character who is a godlike being. The powerful entity in The Truman Show with the not-insignificant name of Christof, played by Ed Harris, is a reflection of predestination, or, in the words of the Messiah in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, "Everything is fixed, and you can't change it." Christof, when Truman discovers the secret, gets to say one of my all-time favorite lines in all moviedom, "Cue the sun!" (A former pastor once did a sermon entitled "Cue the Son" after this movie came out.) Christof is a remote, calculating character whose existence Truman is unaware of for most of the film.

Whereas, Ana Eiffel, the neurotic, chain-smoking novelist suffering from writer's block, played by Thompson, is very present in Harold Crick's life. He hears her all the time, though he doesn't quite know what it means. As with most people who hear voices, others think he's crazy, but ultimately, there is dialogue between creator (and especially her surrogate) and her creation. I don't want to give away plot points, but I've assigned theological role for the characters played by Hoffman, Latifah, Hulce, Hunt, and even Harold's watch. Maybe I'll address this after the movie's been out a while.

The other main criticisms are whether it's a comedy or a tragedy, which I find unnecessarily reductivist (in other words, what does it matter?), and the ending, which I think the movie comes by honestly.
***
A positive review from USA Today.

Tom the Dog loved it!

The NPR reviewer is a fan, too.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Television, Part 2: November 2006

I'm waiting in front of my bank Monday night for some bank officials to fix the ATM when I see the local ABC affiliate, WTEN-TV - Channel 10, taping a segment with some folks from an ambulance company. It took at least a half hour to get what was likely a 90-second segment. What struck me, though, was the ambulance pulling out with the siren going and the lights flashing JUST so the cameraman could get a good shot! The siren and lights came off a block later.
***
I've been enjoying the continuing saga about Tom the Dog trying to get onto a game show called 1 Vs. 100. The first and only time I've seen the show was for 20 minutes on CNBC on Thanksgiving night. Hey, Tom, how do those lifelines (or whatever they call them) work?
***
A show I HAVE seen once or twice, JEOPARDY!, finished their celebrity tournament last week - I finished watching it only yesterday - which was fun because I had strong rooting interests daily. In order:
R-rooting to win; T-thought would win, W-won
Carson Kressly R (who only lost because he bet poorly)
Regis Philbin TW
At least the dreadful Nancy Grace didn't win

Jane Kaczmarek RT
Curt Shilling
Doug Savant W -I guess I shouldn't underestimate someone named Savant

Sam Waterston RT
Kathyrn Erbe
Christopher Meloni W

Neil Patrick Harris TW
Bebe Neuwirth R
James Denton

Isaac Mizrahi
Harry Shearer RW
Soledad O'Brien T

Miguel Ferrer W
Steve Schirripa
Harry Smith RT

Brian Stokes Mitchell R
Drew Lachey
Dana Delany TW

Martin Short R -who was a TERRIBLE player
Mario Cantone W
Joely Fisher T

Scott Turrow TW
Susan Lucci
Paul Schaffer R

Hill Harper
Margaret Spellings
Michael McKean RTW

So two of my rooting interests - both from "Spinal Tap" - won, though I've always liked Dana Delany and Neil Patrick Harris as well. Five of the ten I thought would win actually won.
***
The folks who do the advertising rates haven't been able to get an agreement with advertisers over how to count viewing via DVR, according to the November 13th Ad Age magazine. For adults 25 to 54 in DVR homes - comprising at least 10% of the viewers - on the prime TV battleground of Thursday at 9 pm ET, Grey's Anatomy gets a 7.9 rating in real time, but if one adds the real time viewers PLUS those who watch it within seven days, the number jumps to 18.2. Likewise, the numbers for the original CSI are 6.2 and 14.2, respectively. For non-DVR homes, the numbers are 10.4 and 9.4, respectively. This means that viewing for this audience segment is 75% higher for Grey's and 51% higher for CSI in DVR homes. I watch probably 95% of TV timeshifted, even the evening news, which I watch after Lydia's gone to bed.
***
I saw 60 Minutes from a week and a half ago, all about Ed Bradley, and the ABC News piece on Bradley's funeral, and got sad all over again. He was good friends with Jimmy Buffett? Makes me respect Jimmy Buffett a whole lot more.
***
I noticed that Elizabeth Vargas has filled in for Charles Gibson on ABC's World News on a couple Fridays and Thanksgiving Day. I wonder if it's awkward. If Bob Woodruff hadn't been injured in Iraq, it's likely he and Vargas would still be co-anchors, even with her difficult pregnancy, rather than her being the substitute anchor.
***
There are a number of DVDs out this fall. The most intriguing to me is M*A*S*H - Martinis and Medicine Complete Collection of the 11 seasons. This was one of my Top 10 shows. But it's not the $200 (or slightly less) that's the sticking point, it's whether I would actually watch it enough to make it worth my while. I just haven't watched most of my DVDs or VHS tapes much in the past three years. Surely, if I did, I'd also be inclined to get another of my Top 10 shows, Homicide: Life on the Street - Complete Series Megaset, which is retailing for nearly $300, though available for about half that.
***
I've been watching less and less television, still something north of 10 hours a week. But I started the season thinking: "Well, this looks interesting, and THAT looks interesting, and so-and-so recommends the other." But the winnowing has begun, and I'm surprised by two of the dropped programs.

The one I'm not is The Nine. OK, the bank is robbed, then they get out, and live their lives. Their post-hostage lives aren't very compelling, and I just don't feel like being drawn back into that bank again and again, where I KNOW the guard and one of the tellers will be killed.

30 Rock: Lots of people whose opinion I respect like this show. Oddly, the best way to explain my disdain for it is to describe a scene on the OTHER Saturday Night Live-inspired show, Studio 60. Simon and Danny, at the former's urging, go to a club to see a black comedian. Simon, who is a black performer on Studio 60, sees the schtick for less than a minute, then walks out. Watching Tracy Morgan on the second or third episode of 30 Rock doing some jivin' riff, I said, "I don't need this," shut it off in mid-episode, deleted it, deleted the next yet unwatched episode, and removed it from the DVR recording schedule. I thought Tina Fey, who I really like, was pretty undefined as a character, and whatever charm Alec Baldwin brings was not enough to stay with it.

Ugly Betty: I REALLY wanted to like this show. The local TV critic likes it, Lefty likes it, Mrs. Lefty likes it. I was...bored. I think it was that I didn't LIKE anyone on the show, really, except Betty. Her boss was a boor, her neighbor who got into a fight over a proof that Betty took home was obnoxious, her family members were cyphers. Then there are the folks we're SUPPOSED to not like, the Vanessa Williams character, her henchman, and Betty's office nemesis.

Conversely, my favorite show, surprisingly, is Men in Trees. It's less because of Marin, Anne Heche's character, who may be the least interesting major character on the show, but it's the rich crew of supporting folks, with very interesting backstories. ABC's moving it from the Friday night desert to Thursday after Grey's Anatomy, at least for a while. Of course, if they move it AGAIN, as is rumored, it'll be three time slots in one season, a good way to kill off a show.

This means that Six Degrees, which I'm still watching, is on hiatus until sometime in January. The local TV guy described this thusly: "The cast (including Jay Hernandez and Erika Christensen and several unfamiliar faces), but this series doesn't do enough to make us care how or why these people are crossing paths." I would say "The cast (including Hope Davis and Campbell Scott and several unfamiliar faces)..." And it is the two cast members of The Secret Lives of Dentists that have kept me interested enough, so far.
***
The other new show I'm watching is Brothers and Sisters. It's a real family values program.
The BROTHERS:
The youngest is an Iraq war vet with a drug issues and a problem with relationships.
Another brother is a gay lawyer with a problem with relationships.
The other brother is married, nags his baby brother, but uses the sperm from both his brothers to get his wife pregnant because he's "shooting blanks"
The SISTERS:
Republican talk show host who supported the war, but who tried to get her brother out of going back again.
The head of the family company with a VERY patient husband and a couple kids.

The father of this tribe, who owned the company, died in the first episode, and the kids try to protect their mom from her late husband's flaws (fiscal impropriety, a long-time mistress with whom he had a child).
Oh, the widow's brother now has a romantic feelings for his late brother-in-law's mistress.
Can you say soap opera? Yet, the family members do love each other, try to protect each other. I'm watching it mostly for Sally Field as the matriarch.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Television: November 2006

I think the removal of Lost from the schedule in the middle of November - smack dab during that evil construct known as sweeps month - was a bold move. Its replacement, Deja Vu, I mean Day Break which I won't watch, seems to be doing OK , ratings-wise. Will this become a new model, especially for serialized shows?
***
Some people get SO bent out of shape when their show's pre-empted or is in rerun or doesn't start right away. Not I. I'm perfectly happy that Scrubs won't start until this Thursday. It'll still be 22 episodes - and three pregnancies.
***
I'm SO happy Dancing with the Stars is over. I don't think my wife fully realized that I was upstairs working on my blog, when she (and often, Lydia) were watching it, for a reason. So, the answer to the question, "Do you want to see Emmitt Smith's free-style dance? It's REALLY good!" is NO, thank you. Now, it's skating season, during which she tells me that I'll really want to see some woman skater lifting her male partner over her head. That answer is also in the negative.
***
There's a new show called My Boys, which starts tonight on TBS. I'm thinking of watching the pilot because I am interested in the notion of men and women as friends. Most of my friends are female, and have been since I was 10. But the real selling point is that Jim Gaffigan appears in it. I'm not sure I've ever seen his stand-up that people know rave about - he's been on Conan O'Brien and David Letterman about a dozen times each - but I have liked him in series such as "The Ellen Show" and "Ed".
***
I've been reading a lot about different forms of apologies. Lots of people do the "I'm sorry if I've offended you" in a way that it appears that it is YOUR fault for being offended. In that context, I thought Michael Richards' apology for his racist rant was sincere, public (already removed by YouTube at CBS's request, alas), and quick (although not quickly enough for this columnist). The Letterman show may not have been the best venue, though, since he was not actually present in the studio, so people thought it was supposed to be a humorous bit. So he goes on Jesse Jackson's radio show,as he did a couple days ago, he goes on something else, etc. The added benefit is that, in time, and continued honest contrition, perhaps it'll go the way of Hugh Grant's indiscretion, forgiven if not forgotten.

The peculiar aspect of this story, which I read Saturday, is how Kenny Kramer, the inspiration for Cosmo Kramer, Richards' character on Seinfeld, has gotten "15 to 20 interviews" about the incident. Kenny Kramer's statement: "I know the public is smart enough to realize that Michael Richards' personal actions in no way reflect on the character he portrayed on television or me, Kenny Kramer, the real person that the character was based on." So he says. Surreal.
***
Conversely, FOX's apology over the O.J. deal reeks of "see how sensitive we are in responding to your needs, public!" as opposed to "What WERE we thinking?"

Truth is, though, when the book/TV show package was first announced, it had no appreciable effect on me, other than, "Eh, FOX being tacky again." I received unsolicited e-mails wanting me to tell NewsCorp and/or Simpson I wasn't going to buy the book or watch the show. Well, I wasn't going to watch the show, and I'm not going to buy the book - they exist, and I've read in the Wall Street Journal that some have sold on eBay for $100 or more, with someone offering to sell it for $1000 before it was taken down - but I wasn't moved to sign online petitions. Now, after the cancellation, there's the post-mortem. If you look at the Amazon discussion site about this book, you'd think it was 1995 all over again, with discussions of guilt/innocence and race, with a new twist: censorship.

Oh, see what IS on e-Bay.
***
I have officially ODed on Rachael Ray. Those of you not from around here (Albany, NY) may only know her from her various Food Network programs, her new Oprahfied syndicated show, and her appearances on other shows, not to mention magazine articles and now boxes of Nabisco crackers, fercrinoutloud. But folks from my area have already seen her for a couple years as the spokesperson for a local food chain (Price Chopper) and a furniture store. Still, I do feel sorry for the local gal makes good, as she now appears on the cover of the National Inquirer; her husband allegedly cheated on her.
***
Those Capital One ads are very deceptive. Over a year ago, the Minnesota Attorney General's office filed legal action against the company. And a recent Business Week article really lays it out:
By offering multiple cards, the lender helps land some subprime borrowers in a deep hole and boosts its earnings with fee income.

When Brad Kehn received his first credit card from Capital One Financial Corp. in 2004, it took him only three months to exceed its $300 credit limit and get socked with a $35 over-limit fee. But what surprised the Plankinton (S.D.) resident more was that Cap One then offered him another card even though he was over the limit -- and another and another. By early 2006, he and his wife had six Cap One Visa and MasterCards. They were in over their heads.

The couple was late and over the limit on all six cards, despite occasionally borrowing from one to pay the other. Every month they chalked up $70 in late and over-limit fees on each card, for a total of $420, in addition to paying penalty interest rates. The couple fell further behind as their Cap One balances soared. Even so, they still received mail offers for more Cap One cards until they sought relief at a credit counseling agency this May...

Credit card experts and counselors who help overextended debtors say there's nothing crazy about it. Cap One, they contend, is simply aiming to maximize fee income from debtors who may be less sophisticated and who may not have many options because of their credit history. By offering several cards with low limits, instead of one with a larger limit, the odds are increased that cardholders will exceed their limits, garnering over-limit fees. Juggling several cards also increases the chance consumers may be late on a payment, incurring an additional fee. And if cardholders fall behind, they pile up over-limit and late fees on several cards instead of just one. "How many more ways can I fool you?" says Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law School professor who has written extensively on the card industry. "That is all this is about."

Consumers may not be the only ones who are unaware of Cap One's ways. Its practice of issuing multiple cards to some borrowers with low credit ratings doesn't appear well-known in the investment community. And just how much Cap One relies on fee income, vs. interest, is a mystery, since, like most lenders, it doesn't disclose that. All credit card companies have become more reliant on fee income in recent years, but in a report issued in 2002, William Ryan, an investment analyst at Portales Partners, warned that Cap One's earnings could be "devastated" if regulators cracked down on multiple cards or fees...

In a written response to questions, Cap One acknowledges that it offers multiple cards. "Our goal is to offer products that meet our customers' needs and appropriately reflect their ability to pay," it says. The company also stated: "Within our current U.S. portfolio, the vast majority of Capital One customers have only one Capital One credit card with a very small percentage choosing to have three or more cards." Spokeswoman Tatiana Stead declined to offer precise numbers or to say whether households with three or more cards were concentrated among "subprime" borrowers, who have low credit ratings.

UNDER THE RADAR
The nation's fifth-largest credit card issuer, with $49 billion in U.S. credit card receivables as of the end of June, McLean (Va.)-based Cap One is a major lender to the subprime market. According to Cap One's regulatory filings, 30% of its credit card loans are subprime. Representatives of 32 credit counseling agencies contacted by BusinessWeek say that Cap One has long stood out for the number of cards it's willing to give to subprime borrowers. "In the higher-risk market, no lender is more aggressive in offering multiple cards," says Kathryn Crumpton, manager of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Milwaukee. Other big card-industry players that do subprime lending include Bank of America, Chase, and Citigroup. Representatives for Chase and Citigroup say they do not offer multiple cards to subprime customers. (BofA did not respond to inquiries.)

Last year, West Virginia Attorney General Darrell V. McGraw Jr. filed an action in state court seeking documents from Cap One related to its issuance of multiple cards, as well as other credit practices. Other than that, however, Cap One's practices do not appear to have drawn regulatory scrutiny. A spokesman for the Federal Reserve, Cap One's primary federal overseer, declined to comment about Cap One, but said that in general the regulator doesn't object to multiple cards. Still, Fed guidelines warn multiple-card lenders to analyze the credit risk tied to all the cards before offering additional ones...

Analysts, including Carl Neff, ratings director on card securitizations for Standard & Poor's, say Cap One tells investors that it carefully controls risk by giving such borrowers only small lines of credit. Indeed, the largest percentage of Cap One's 28 million credit-card accounts, 43%, have balances of $1,500 or less, according to its SEC filings...


So, several states are alleging, the notion that one won't get hit by high fees by using Capital One is not supported by Cap One practices. "What's in YOUR wallet?" Indeed.
***
From MSNBC: A seven-minute video about The Beatles' LOVE album that I hope you can open; I could at work, but not at home. It features George Martin and his son, the two surviving Beatles, and the two Beatle widows.

Monday, November 27, 2006

(Local) music, music, music, mostly



Before that, though, I should note the passing of someone I met only once, Dave Cockrum, who died this week. The cover pictured is for the X-Men Chronicles, published by FantaCo in the early 1980s. As editor of the publication, I arranged with Dave, the artist who helped revive the X-Men, to have the cover drawn and sent up to us. Unfortunately, Dave got a little behind. So I took a train from Albany to NYC, to the Marvel offices, and met Dave. He gave me the painted cover - WHICH WAS STILL WET! He was very pleasant and apologetic. I carried the cover carefully on the subway back to the train station, then back up to Albany.

Read more about Dave here (November 26) and here.
***
As part of the Victorian Stroll in downtown Troy, St. Paul's Choir and guest singers [including me] will once again perform Messiah, DECEMBER 3 at 4 o'clock. It should last until about 5:30 p.m.
***
I'd probably cast out of my church choir if I didn't mention that we're doing our annual VESPERS service:

The Chancel choir and orchestra of First Presbyterian Church, 362 State Street, Albany, under the direction of Victor Klimash, will perform Mozart’s Vesperae de Dominica as part of an Advent Vespers service on Sunday, December 10, at 7:30 p.m.

Soloists include Deborah Rocco, soprano, Fiona McKinney, alto, Paul D’Arcy, tenor,
and Allan Kirk, bass . In addition, the orchestra will play two Symphonies de Noel by Michel-Richard de Lalande. For further information, call the church at 449-7332 or check the website at http://www.firstpresalbany.org/index.html.

The program is free. Parking available on the street or in Washington Park.
***
The 15-year old daughter - a girl I've known all of her life - of an old friend of mine plays the French Horn for the Empire State Youth Orchestra. On Thursday December 7 a portion of any purchase one makes at the Wolf Road Barnes & Noble will be donated to ESYO. You'll need a voucher, and I'll e-mail one to you.
***
Emmanuel Baptist Church, 275 State St., Albany announces a holiday concert, "The Three Divas of Christmas", featuring local vocalists, Bienvenida Baez, my bud Deborah Rocco, and Alaina Warren Zachary accompanied by Michael Clement. It will be held December 16, 7:30 p.m. A reception will follow. Suggested donation is $15 plus a non-perishable item for the food pantry. 465-5161

This is a benefit for the renovation of Emmanuel Baptist Church. An urban church, nearly 175 years old with a gothic, cathedral-like structure, Emmanuel is creating a very different worship space and a new designated space for the FOCUS Interfaith Food Pantry which is housed at the church.
***
Finally, The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilts will be on display in Albany at the Empire State Plaza from today through Friday. The display is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 27th, Tuesday, Nov. 28th and Thursday, Nov. 30; from 9 a.m. to 8 pm on Wednesday, Nov. 29th; and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 1, 2006. This display is a partnership of the New York State Department of Health, the Capital Region of the NAMES Project and HIV/AIDS Community-Based Organizations. The display is part of observances for World AIDS Day, December 1, 2006. I'll be working on Thursday from 1 to 5 p.m. this year.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Lydster, Part 32: Brought to You By the Letter L


It's only been in the last month or so that every time Lydia sees a capital L, she says, "That's my name!" And it's not only her initial she's glommed onto. Every A represents her friend Alex, e.g.

EVERYTHING with a right angle is an L now. She took a bite out of a Wheat Thin from the corner, and the resulting figure: "That's my name!" She sees a check mark and proclaims the same. We have these refrigerator magnets which we've been using to trace her name. OK, just the L, so far.

It only occurred to me after she was named that her initials are the same as my father's. Those of you with degrees in psychology: please discuss, and get back to me about the existential significance of that.

The interesting thing about child development is that it 's so non-linear. On the same night (Friday) we're off at Grandma and Grandpa's and she asks to use the toilet, rather than the potty for the first time is the same night she decides to sleep with Mommy and/or Daddy again.

Anyway, she's more interesting to me all the time. Happy 2 2/3, my child.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Finding My Religion QUESTIONS

From this:
Gandhi said that if India was to live in peace we must recognize the value of every religion. India is a nation that has been home to all the religions in the world. Four religions were born there -- Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. And we have many Christians and Muslims, as well as members of other faiths.

More than 100 years ago, Swami Vivekananda said that we have to accept the idea that all religions are different paths leading to the same God. Gandhi accepted this proposition, and in his ashram people recite prayers from all religions. They start with a Buddhist hymn, follow it with a Hindu hymn and then comes Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, Christianity -- all religions, one after another. The whole congregation prays all of these prayers.

There are two layers of religion: One is the basic fundamental [ideas], and the other one consists of superficial ritual exercises. If you go to the basis -- speaking truth, being honest, being compassionate, loving thy neighbor -- these are common to all religions. The differences are superficial; one may have a different hairstyle, and one may have some mark on the head. Unfortunately, it is for these superficial differences that people are fighting.

We are all small people, and we have made our gods small. The Christian thinks Christ belongs to him. The Hindus think Rama and Krishna belong only to them, and the Muslim thinks Allah belongs to Islam. And so on. But this isn't correct. Once, when Gandhi was asked, "What is your religion?" he said, "Well, I am a Hindu, I am a Muslim, I am a Christian, I am a Sikh -- I follow the basic principles of all religions.


There's a scene in the movie Gandhi that one of my preachers mentioned a couple weeks ago in her sermon. A reporter asked Gandhi him why he had never become a Christian. He answered, "If I had ever met one, I would have become one."

So, the questions, at the beginning of the Christian period of Advent, are:

1. Why do you identify with your particular religion (or lack thereof), and particular form of that religion? (Christian Baptist, Orthodox Jew, Sunni Muslim, etc.) Was it a function of upbringing, or was it a choice made later?

2. What do you think of other major religions? Are they interesting, but not the real deal, or are they each a different path to enlightenment?

I became a Presbyterian six years ago, but grew up as a member of the A.M.E. Zion church, before my theological walk through the wilderness, where I was exposed to everything from Baha'ism to Unitarianism to various forms of Christianity, before settling in as a Methodist again. I feel as though there's a lot to be said for the (non-fundamentalist) visions of many religions.

Or am I dealing with blind ecumenism?

Friday, November 24, 2006

EPA Library Commits Hari-Kiri

EPA Is Hastily Disposing of Its Library Collection

This is a story I read about on the Business Librarians' listserv. It was confirmed by a friend at the EPA, who notes:
"We will lose a great number of reports that are only available as paper copies, and I have no idea what they plan to do with the books. Supposedly we have electronic access to journals (which is great when it works), but many of the ones I have needed aren't the ones to which we subscribe. Sigh."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is frantically dispersing its library collections to preempt Congressional intervention, according to internal emails released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Contrary to promises by EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock that all of the former library materials will be made available electronically, vast troves of unique technical reports and analyses will remain indefinitely inaccessible.
Meanwhile, many materials formerly held by the Office of Prevention, Pollution and Toxic Substances (OPPTS) Library, in EPA’s Washington D.C. Headquarters, were directed to be thrown into trash bins, according to reports received by PEER. This month, EPA closed the OPPTS Library, its only specialized library for research on health effects and properties of toxic chemicals and pesticides, without notice to either the public or affected scientists.


See the order to destroy (“recycle”) OPPTS library materials (PDF)

Read the letter posted by an anonymous employee rebutting EPA claims (PDF)

View the email about inaccessibility of EPA contractor documents (PDF)

Look at the email from the manager of the OPTTS Library (PDF)

Peruse email outlining concerns about how library restoration may be “futile” (PDF)

Examine the appropriations sign-on letter from Senators Boxer and Lautenberg (PDF)

Trace the unfolding developments in EPA’s drive to shutter its libraries

Source: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)

Oh, in case you were wondering, Marcus Peacock comes to EPA from OMB.

"PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch [noted] EPA studies show the cuts will actually lose money due to additional professional staff time that will have to be spent tracking down research materials now assembled by the libraries... In a mass letter of protest signed this June by representatives for 10,000 EPA scientists and researchers, more than half the total agency workforce, employees contend that the library plan is designed to "suppress information on environmental and public health-related topics."

"What is going on inside EPA is positively Orwellian," concluded Ruch.
***
Some so-called "Christian right" group is calling for a boycott of Wal-Mart today and tomorrow, because the retailer offers gay couples health benefits. Since I boycott Wal-Mart ALL of the time, I'm conflicted, because while I opppose the rationale for the boycott, I would applaud its result.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

I'm Thankful For...


My mother, sisters, and nieces.
My in-laws.
My friends, including those I've never met in person.
A reasonable amount of intellect and curiosity that lets me be a good librarian.
An appreciation of an eclectic selection of music.
Being born in the United States, where I can freely kvetch about my government - at least so far.
Massages.
Good food.
Technologies that make my life more enjoyable, from the CD-burner to the blog.
Watching baseball in October, football in January and college basketball in March.
The beauty of arithmetic.
My church.
Most of all, my wife and my daughter.
Happy Thanksgiving!
***
Are these really the Five Best Thanksgiving movies?
***
The lyrics of Alice's Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie. And, Alice's website.
***
I hope it isn't true that GALACTUS IS COMING! He eats EVERYTHING.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Wonderful predictability


Thanksgiving used to be hard for me. I don't mean in the "I hope my stuffing turns out all right" kind of way, but more in the gypsy, I-don't-know-where-I'll-be sort of way. I haven't spent it with anyone in my nuclear family (parents, sisters) since 1972. My parents moved to North Carolina in 1974. When I was working retail (1980-1987), I always worked so-called "Black Friday", so going far was never an option.

1980- With my girlfriend at the time and her son, but clearly at a point prior to breaking up, which happened four days later. That girlfriend used to, and probably still does, remember JFK in her blessing; the assassination was 43 years ago today.

1983- With with what turned out to be a short-term girlfriend, awkward first meeting of her family in the Bronx. We broke up about five weeks later.

1988- Don't specifically remember, but I do recall getting a phone call telling me that my friend Nancy was dying of cancer; she passed on New Year's Day, 1989.

1994- Awkward first meeting of the girlfriend's family. At least we didn't break up until a year and a half later. (And we got back together - that was with Carol.)

1996- Invited to Thanksgiving dinner a few days earlier, then at the last minute, the offer was withdrawn, for reasons I never understood. I sat home, sulked, and ate Chinese takeout. The only year since 1973 I've watched both NFL games in their entirety, which is NOT necessarily a good thing.

It's not that every Thanksgiving was a bad experience. 1982 at the home of my previously-mentioned friend Nancy with other "orphans", 1987 with an Alice's Restaurant number of folks in Oneonta, a couple years in a row with friends Steber and Jean from church in the early 1990s.

But since 1998, it's either been at our house, or more likely, at my in-laws. A certain predictability. For this regularity, I am most thankful.
***
I'm thankful for Robert Altman, who died this week. I've seen only a handful of his films, all in movie theaters, but I've enjoyed each, in their own way:
MASH (1970), California Split (1974), Vincent & Theo (1990), The Player (1992- probably my favorite Altman film), Gosford Park (2001), A Prairie Home Companion (2006) . I tried to watch the acclaimed Nashville (1975) this summer on TV, but wasn't able to do so. I wondered if he was a director who needs to be seen in the cinema. Then I discovered that he used to be a TV director. Surely, I saw some of episodes of The Millionaire, Maverick and Bonanza that he piloted. I'll try Nashville again sometime.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Peanuts (not the Snoopy variety)

I'm sure I said so at the time, but when Lydia had her peanut allergy reaction, it was the most nervous I ever was as a parent, worse than the time we took her to the ER when she was 1 and she was upchucking repeatedly.


This is how Lydia looked after her bout with peanuts. We were thisclose to taking her to the ER, but with the advice of our doctor, who was thankfully on call, we held off. Fortunately, she got better relatively quickly. Lydia's Uncle Dan found some websites and some relevant content regarding peanut (and tree nut) allergies.

MAJOR SOURCES OF PEANUTS AND TREE NUTS

• Peanut Butter • Mixed Nuts • Cold-Pressed Peanut Oil, & Walnut or
other Nut Oils
• Anything labeled "Nuts" • Peanut Flour • Almond Butter • Cashew Butter
• Peanuts may also be called "Ground Nuts"
HIDDEN SOURCES OF PEANUTS AND TREE NUTS
• Pesto • Egg Rolls • Sauces and Gravies • Hydrolyzed Plant or Vegetable
Protein
• Nougat, Marzipan, and other Confections • Prepared Salads • Chocolate
and other Candies • Salad Dressing • Baked Goods • Breakfast Cereals like
Granola and Muesli • Frangelico and Amaretto Liquors • African, Chinese,
Indonesian, Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese Cuisines • High energy bars • Grain breads


Some hidden sources of peanuts:
Arachis oil is peanut oil.
Artificial nuts can be peanuts that have been de-flavored and re-flavored
with a nutty taste, such as pecan or walnut.
Peanut butter, peanut flour.
Mandelonas are peanuts soaked in almond flavoring.
Cold pressed, expelled or extruded peanut oil.
African, Chinese, Indonesian, Mexican, Thai, and Vietnamese dishes often
contain peanuts, or are contaminated with peanuts during preparation.
Dishes to avoid include: baked goods; candy; chili; egg rolls; enchilada
sauces; flavoring; marzipan; nougat, and sunflower seeds.
Foods sold in bakeries and ice cream shops are often in contact with
peanuts.
Many brands of sunflower seeds are produced on equipment also used for
peanuts.
Keep in mind most experts recommend peanut-allergic individuals avoid
tree nuts.


Fortunately, and surprisingly, Lydia is not allergic to tree nuts, but this is good to know.
***
After my last mention of allergies, I got this message:

Hello, I was doing some research on peanut allergies and came across your blog. My name is Stephanie. I have a 2 year old daughter, Sophia, with a peanut allergy. We live in Fort Plain NY. It about 40 minutes west of Schenectady. I'd love to set up a playdate for the two girls- it'd be great if Sophia had a friend her own age with peanut allergy as well. (I know this sounds weird- since its on the internet- but its genuine:) Hope to hear from you!!

The problem is that, literally, I have no idea who sent this, other than the markers in the message. It was sent as an anonymous message, so I cannot even reply, one way or another.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Citizen Green, Are You Depressed?

You Passed the US Citizenship Test

Congratulations - you got 10 out of 10 correct!

I'm on a roll. I aced the AARP test, and now this one! Just like a political science major should.
Your Depression Level: 32%

You may be depressed.
While you can be moody, your moods generally fall within the range of normal.
It's up to you to decide if you're depressed... or if you're simply having a bad week.

I was checking this since we ARE in my least favorite time of the year. Where the heck is the sun? It feels like early onset of seasonal affective disorder.

More likely, it's because I haven't played racquetball for five weeks because of my wrist injury. I've had two X-rays; no break. I got the results of an MRI on Friday; no tearing, meaning, essentially, that there's nothing wrong, except that if I lift a gallon of milk with my right hand, or pour from it, it still hurts like hell. Turning motions, such as trying to open an apple sauce jar is nearly tear-inducing. Typing at length gives me the same feeling I had when I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome in 1991.

Meanwhile, my doctor posits the possibility that my right knee, which I cannot kneel on without excruciating pain, may be wrecked. Forever.
Forever, and that's a mighty long time
But I'm here 2 tell u
There's something else
The afterworld

A world of never ending happiness
U can always see the sun, day or night
...
in this life
Things are much harder than in the afterworld
In this life
You're on your own

And if de-elevator tries 2 bring u down
Go crazy
.

I just realized that I have to go find the 12" vinyl, seven-minute version of "Let's Go Crazy" by Prince in my collection, and play it. REALLY LOUD.
***
Ruth Brown died. She's a member of the Rock Hall o' Fame, but really an R&B legend. I'm listening to her perform with Bonnie Raitt, even as I'm writing this.
***
I was jazzed to get a response on my Royal Guardsmen piece last night from one of the Royal Guardsmen!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The All-TIME 100 Albums

Here's the list. Here's what I have:

2000s
Elvis: 30 No. 1 Hits-Elvis Presley-BMG/Elvis, 2002. Isn't it a bit of a cheat that there are so many compilation albums from an earlier era in this decade?
1990s
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road-Lucinda Williams-Universal, 1998. Like a lot.
OK Computer-Radiohead-Capitol, 1997. Don't listen to a lot.
Time Out of Mind-Bob Dylan*-Sony, 1997
(What's the Story) Morning Glory-Oasis-Sony, 1995
Achtung Baby-U2*-Island, 1991
Nevermind-Nirvana*- DGC Records, 1991
Out of Time-R.E.M.*-Warner Brothers, 1991
Phil Spector, Back to Mono (1958 - 1969)-Various Artists-Abkco, 1991
Ropin' The Wind-Garth Brooks*-Capitol, 1991
1980s
Document R.E.M.*-I.R.S. Records, 1987
Sign O' The Times-Prince*-Paisley Park, 1987
The Joshua Tree-U2*- Island, 1987
Graceland-Paul Simon*-Warner Brothers, 1986 On LP and CD
Legend- Bob Marley and the Wailers-Island/Tuff Gong, 1984
Purple Rain-Prince*-Warner Brothers, 1984 On LP and CD
Stop Making Sense-Talking Heads*-Warner Brothers/Wea, 1984 On LP, and fairly recently. I saw the Talking Heads on this tour, at Saratoga. GREAT concert.
The Great Twenty-Eight-Chuck Berry MCA, 1982 On LP
Thriller-Michael Jackson Sony, 1982 On LP
1970s
London Calling-The Clash*-Sony, 1979 On LP and Japanese import CD
Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols-The Sex Pistols-Warner Brothers/Wea, 1977 On LP, but not listened to much.
Rumours-Fleetwood Mac*-Warner Brothers, 1977 On LP. Not a favorite album of some folks I like.
Hotel California-The Eagles-Elektra/Wea, 1976 On LP and CD
Songs in the Key of Life-Stevie Wonder*-Motown, 1976 On LP and CD
Born to Run-Bruce Springsteen*-Sony, 1975 On LP and CD
Horses-Patti Smith-Arista, 1975 On LP
Call Me-Al Green-The Right Stuff, 1973
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road-Elton John-MCA, 1973 On LP
The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust-David Bowie*-RCA, 1972 On LP and CD
Exile on Main Street-The Rolling Stones*-Virgin, 1972 Would have made a great single album.
Talking Book-Stevie Wonder*-UMG Recordings, 1972 On LP and CD
The Harder They Come-Jimmy Cliff and Various Artists-Island, 1972 On LP and CD
Blue-Joni Mitchell*-Warner Brothers/Wea, 1971 On LP and CD

Hunky Dory-David Bowie*-RCA, 1971 On LP, won from my college radio station.
Led Zeppelin IV (a.k.a. Zoso)-Led Zeppelin*-Wea International, 1971 On LP

Sticky Fingers-The Rolling Stones*-Virgin, 1971 On LP and CD
Tapestry-Carole King-Ode/A&M, 1971 On LP and CD. I bought the Sticky Fingers and Tapestry LPs on the same day in 1971 or 1972.
What's Going On-Marvin Gaye*-Motown, 1971 On LP and CD
Who's Next-The Who*-Mobile Fidelity, 1971 On LP and CD
After the Gold Rush-Neil Young*-Reprise, 1970 On LP, though I now have a digital copy
Bridge Over Troubled Water-Simon and Garfunkel*-Columbia, 1970 On LP, though most of the songs appear on the S&G CD box set, which I have.
Plastic Ono Band-John Lennon*-Apple/EMI, 1970 On LP and CD
Moondance-Van Morrison-Warner Brothers/Wea, 1970
1960s
Abbey Road-The Beatles*-Capitol, 1969 On LP and CD
Bitches Brew-Miles Davis-Sony, 1969 On LP
Stand! Sly & the Family Stone Epic, 1969 On LP
The Band-The Band*-Capitol, 1969 On LP and CD
Astral Weeks-Van Morrison-Warner Brothers/Wea, 1968
At Folsom Prison-Johnny Cash-Sony, 1968 Bought in the 1990s after rediscovering JRC.
The Beatles ("The White Album")-The Beatles*-Capitol, 1968 On LP and CD
Are You Experienced-The Jimi Hendrix Experience-Experience Hendrix, 1967 On LP
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band-The Beatles*-Capitol, 1967 ON LP and CD
Blonde on Blonde-Bob Dylan*-Columbia, 1966
Pet Sounds-The Beach Boys*-DCC, 1966 On LP and CD
Revolver-The Beatles*-Capitol, 1966 On LP and CD
Highway 61 Revisited-Bob Dylan*-Columbia, 1965 Purchased in this century.
Rubber Soul The Beatles*-Capitol, 1965 On LP and CD
1950s
Kind of Blue-Miles Davis-Sony, 1959

That's 58 out of 100. Some of the artists on the TIME list (Aretha, Robert Johnson, Sam Cooke, Frank Sinatra), I have a box set of their music but not the specific discs mentioned. The ONLY thing on my "must get" list is:
Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music Ray Charles ABC/Paramount, 1962
The * means I have so many of this artist percentagewise, in relation to their total output, that it's a bit of a cheat to count. Given the number of LP/CD designations I have, I shan't worry as much about certain, let's say, technological innovations.
***
This is what Tosy has from the list.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

It was the best, it was the worst QUESTION

Don't remember what I was looking up, but I came across a bunch of worsts, such as The Films Considered the Worst Ever. But being such an upbeat guy, I don't want to dwell merely in the negative. So:

1. What is the best advice you've ever taken? What is the worst?
For me going to library school - OK, being nagged to go to library school was clearly the best. The worst: taking a job I knew I shouldn't have taken. I ended up in a car accident on the way to it, and I think karma was telling me something.

2. What was the best present you ever received? What was the worst?
Certainly, one of my favorites was when I was 16 and people put a bunch of very nice thoughts on pieces of colored paper and put those in this container. I was supposed to take out a piece every day, and I did.
My least favorites tend to be the ones with conditions tied to them. I won't get any more specific.

3. What is your best month? Your worst?
My best is March. I suppose that may come off as egotistical, since my birthday is in March. But it is the hope of winter turning into spring, Lent to Easter. I happen to love listening to Requiems (Mozart, Rutter, Faure, Brahms, et al.) And now Lydia was also born in March, so there's even MORE reason.
My worst is a bit of a cheat in that it's bifurcated. It's the couple weeks between Election Day, when I discover that candidates I wanted to win lose instead, and Thanksgiving. Lots of dead leaves and gray skies. That is to say, around now. Then it's the couple weeks between shortly after New Year's, when I realize how cold and dark it is, and the middle of January, when I see slow, but visible progress toward more daylight.

And heck, if you want to talk about good and bad movies, who am I to stop you?

Here's another thing you can answer, those of you with Blogger: How do I go all day with five or fewer hits every hour yesterday, then go, from 6 a.m.: 13, 26, 36, 24, 32, 26, then five or fewer the rest of he day? It's as though a bunch of people came to see some piece of mine (maybe as a result of Fred's invitation of November 15), then all left just as quickly. It's peculiar. Speaking of Fred, he gets to the bottom, as it were, of his SpongePants SquareBob obsession here.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Mom is 79


Mom's in reasonably good health, living with one of her daughters and one of her granddaughters in North Carolina. It was great getting to see her several times this summer as she visited Binghamton, her hometown, and Albany. I don't see her nearly enough, with her down in NC and us in the Empire State.

Since her birthday is always during the week of the Great American Smokeout, I'll tell you one story on the topic. My mother never smoked, though my father did when I was growing up. One day, my mother purloined a pack of my father's Winstons and my sister Leslie and I talked with her about smoking. (Baby sister Marcia was probably in bed by then.) So, we sat around the kitchen table and attempted to smoke cigarettes, the three of us. Naturally, we all just coughed. But neither Leslie or I really ever became smokers.

So, see, you did well, Mom. Happy birthday from your favorite son.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

What a Drag


If I thought hectoring people about cigarette smoking would get them to quit, then hector I would. But, as a friend of mine, who I used to nag, and who ended up quitting, but on her own, said, "You have to want to quit for yourself, not for someone else."
(See how much more understanding than I was last year.)

Still, my physical tolerance is still very low, and getting worse each year. Smokers smell badly to me, I've noticed yet again on the elevators in the building I work in. Smokers taste terrible; yes, I HAVE kissed smokers, though fortunately not lately. Smokers don't look cool; they look like adults with pacifiers in their mouths. Smokers often sound terrible, with the cough and the rasp. So, please keep your secondhand smoke away from me.

When the governments want to try to balance their budget and, at the same time, create a financial disincentive to smoke, you'll get no complaint from me.

Today's the Great American Smokeout. If you quit now, think of all the money you'll save. Oh, yeah, and since lung cancer is the most preventable form of cancer death, your life and the lives around you.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Royal Guardsmen: from the Red Baron to RFK to Osama bin Ladin

This piece really is the logical follow-up to my Tom Clay mention, and Fred Hembeck's reply. To some degree.

Somehow, in my youth, I owned one album by the Royal Guardsmen. Yeah, yeah, the group that did all of those Snoopy songs. I don't remember buying it, so maybe someone bought me "The Return of the Red Baron", which had the distinction of being the only one of the four albums they put out that the time that didn't have the dog from Peanuts on the cover.

Actually, by that time, I had become slightly annoyed with the Snoopy-fication of the newspaper strip, so maybe that's how that particular LP ended up in the collection. Or maybe it's that the group had the same initials as I do, I don't know.

It was an OK album. But it had one song "Wednesday", a/k/a "Any Wednesday", that I really liked. It had lovely harmonies. You can hear about 30 seconds of it here. Also, it fit my day of the week collection:
Friday on My Mind- the Easybeats
Another Saturday Night - Sam Cooke
Sunday Will Never Be The Same - Spanky and Our Gang
Monday, Monday - the Mamas and the Papas
Ruby Tuesday - the Rolling Stones
(I didn't have a Thursday song. Actually, I wrote a Thursday song. It was terrible. And off topic.)

Like most of their non-Snoopy songs, "Wednesday" stiffed on the charts, getting up to #98. I like it so much that I went to iTunes to buy it. Alas, only some Snoopy song there.

So after the failure, and in spite of the Florida band's resistance, their producers got them ANOTHER Snoopy song. I got this description in an e-mail dashed off by Grand Comics Database board member, and more specifically in this context, FoF (Friend of Fred), Mike Catron:

Laurie Records released "Snoopy for President", which started out with a spoken word introduction of a German-accented newscaster (the Red Baron himself) announcing the candidates for President in the United States during that primary season, among them, of course, "Kennedy".

As this site notes, the song was released mere days before RFK's assassination. (It also describes the record label's off-again, on-again relationship with Peanuts creator Charles Schulz.) OK, here's something weird. According to my Billboard bible, Snoopy for President first charted on 7/13/68, a full month AFTER RFK was killed. Of course, it was only on the charts for two weeks and only got to #85, w/ the B-Side, "Behind the Lines" on Laurie 3451. Then, this note: "a slightly different and shorter version issued on Laurie 3541 (A)," which failed to chart. But I wonder if some radio stations switched versions.

This link notes: Laurie 3451 mentioning the candidates for 1968 in the intro; Laurie 3590 in 1972, Laurie 3646 in 1976, both without the spoken word intro.

So they tried to re-release the song for each of the next two Presidential campaigns, but it didn't even bubble under the charts.

Mike Catron recalls: I have no idea whether it was still getting airplay at that point but I continued to listen to my little 45 from time to time and it always made me a little sad to be reminded of such a dark moment -- and the melancholy of what might have been -- on what would have otherwise been a silly little song with an especially uplifting moment at the end.

I was fascinated to find this on the Royal Guardsmen blog:
In 1966 the United States Government was in the mind to send troops to defend the idea of Democracy, in a country divided. The men and women of our armed forces needed understanding from the folks back home, but they didn't get much. They seldom heard good news, the times were turbulent and home was far away. The Royal Guardsmen gave them a song to scramble to.

Seriously, I'd love to hear from any Vietnam-era vet and hear if you thought the antics of Snoopy and the Red Baron were songs to scramble to.

Independently, Mike and I both found a neat little tie-in that relates directly to Fred's piece. Check out this excerpt from an interview with members of the Royal Guardsmen:
ET: I think "Mother, Where's Your Daughter" is one of the best songs you ever recorded.
BILL: That was written for us by Dick Holler. He also wrote "Abraham, Martin, and John", which was originally supposed to go to us. According to Barry, that song was written for us but they reneged and gave it to Dion so Dick Holler wrote "Mother, Where's Your Daughter" for us. It was any attempt to get us away from the Snoopy thing.
BILLY: It was an attempt to pacify us.
BARRY: I liked that one and I think that was an interesting time, too. I'm not really sure about all the politics of it but Laurie Records was pretty fat cat at that time, we had really helped them get back on their feet. I did the original demo of "Abraham, Martin, and John" with Dick Holler and Phil said we could have the song. Two weeks later, I came back down and Dion was doing it. That really broke my heart. We had three years of making lots of money for Laurie and we were hoping we could get out of the bag but it just wasn't going to happen.


The Abraham, Martin & John that Dion did, that Tom Clay and Moms Mabley(!) covered, was supposed to be a Royal Guardsmen song, maybe that non-Snoopy hit they so craved. Since it didn't happen, soon thereafter, the group and the label parted ways, all of which is documented in the article.

Which brings us to Snoopy vs. Osama, "The new Royal Guardsmen 40th anniversary Snoopy recording." List Price: $3.95. Somewhat ironically, given their disdain for being trapped in Snoopy-land in the 1960s, the song was written by members of the reunited band.

From the Royal Guardsmen blog:
Our guess is when the soldiers heard Snoopy vs. The Red Baron, it became a song to rally around. Today is no different, our fighting men and women have the same needs, even 40 years later. We want to give them what they need in a song. Compassion for the underdog, the feeling of usefulness, confidence and the motivation of success will go a long way in helping morale and lifting tspiritsprits. When you couple it with the American iconic humor of a heroic dog named Snoopy, you can't go wrong. The formula was successful 40 years ago. With a fresh sound, why not today?

You can read the lyrics here. Maybe you can even hear an excerpt, though I cannot. Here's the chorus:
Osama Bin Laden keeps runnin' away
Snoopy's gonna find him.....one of these days
And when he does... (and when he does)... ya know we're all gonna sing
Good bye Bin Laden and the end of your terrorist ring.


And the final verse:

Then up ahead.... in a cloud of dust
Stood ol' Bin Laden just lookin' at us
Snoopy smiled and aimed..... then he fired his gun
TAKE THIS Bin Laden now you.... won't have to run


This is NOT the dog to whom the Red Baron said, "Merry Christmas, my friend."

Last word to Mr. Catron, because it pretty much mirrors my own sentiment:
Snoopy vs. Osama I don't get. In the song trilogy (for you it's a trilogy, for me it's a quadra-something), the Red Baron turns out to be a decent guy, even a likeable character. I can't see the same thing happening for Osama Bin Laden...
Bin Laden is just too grim and is current, instead of being a mythologized figure from a previous generation. (This was the era of Enemy Ace and Hogan's Heroes, after all.) Pairing Snoopy with Bin Laden, to me, is just nasty. Very un-Peanuts. Very un-Schulz.


Next time, the Grass Roots! (Kidding, Fred!)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Sherwood Schwartz is 90

Yes, I know. Sherwood Schwartz was the purveyor of some schlocky television shows. But some of them were shows I actually watched. A lot.

While he had worked on a number of shows before, Mr. Schwartz first became known broadly for Gilligan's Island a 1964-1967 program that may have been terrible - I almost never watch it in reruns - but which, like many folks at the time, used to view religiously. Its cultural impact has never entirely subsided. Not only did Sherwood Schwartz produce Gilligan's Island, he co-wrote its iconic theme, which, I've learned is in ballad meter, "commonly found in ballads, has stanzas of four iambic lines. The first and third typically have four-stresses; the second and fourth have three-stresses and usually rhyme (Horton, 1995)."

Of course, I've provided links for both opening and closing themes (audio and video) for 1964 and 1966. The significance of the theme is reflected in the number of times it has been parodied. Here's one in the style of N'SYNC. Another is called Dracula's Isle. And, of course, the king of Gilligan reference, Weird Al Yankovic.

But my favorite was a single that I actually own, a song by Little Roger [!] and the Goosebumps called Stairway to Gilligan's Island - there's link to an MP3 of the song there.

I've been reading about the disappearance of the TV theme. (Grey's Anatomy, which USED to have a theme, is a prime example of the lost art.)

While Gilligan was still on, Sherwood Schwartz created It's About Time, a show about astronauts landing in prehistoric times. It lasted only one season, 1966-1967, yet I remember the lyrics, also by Mr. Schwartz.

Given that, I have to make another confession: NOT ONCE did I ever see a first-run episode of The Brady Bunch, the 1969-1974 program that Sherwood Schwartz produced and for which he co-wrote the theme. I've caught it sporadically in syndication.

As much as I watched Gilligan, I never watched any of its goofy-sounding follow-up TV movies - the Harlem Globetrotters? - but I HAVE happened upon some Brady-related reunion fare, though I couldn't tell you what.

Anyway, happy 90th birthday, Sherwood Schwartz!

Oh, yeah: Mary Ann.
***
I'm quoted in a blog about yesterday's important event.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Who Am I?

You Are 12% Capitalist, 88% Socialist

You see a lot of injustice in the world, and you'd like to see it fixed.
As far as you're concerned, all the wrong people have the power.
You're strongly in favor of the redistribution of wealth - and more protection for the average person.

I THINK I got this from Chris Black, but I could be wrong. I DO see a lot injustice in the world. And until recently, all of the wrong people DID have the power. (And some of them are still around.)

You Are Likely a Second Born

At your darkest moments, you feel inadequate.
At work and school. you do best when you're evaluating.
When you love someone, you offer them constructive criticism.

In friendship, you tend to give a lot of feedback - positive and negative.
Your ideal careers are: accounting, banking, art, carpentry, decorating, teaching, and writing novels.
You will leave your mark on the world with art and creative projects.

This is very interesting, actually. I'm a first born, but any number of people who have met me and my sister Leslie together think that she, who is 16 1/2 months younger, is the first born. Also, my parents lost a child a couple years before I was born. In any case, the first four lines are pretty dead on. But I'll NEVER be a carpenter or decorator.
***
And lest, I forget:

HAPPY ODD COUPLE DAY! "On November 13th, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. That request came from his wife. Deep down, he knew she was right, but he also knew that someday he would return to her. With nowhere else to go, he appeared at the home of his childhood friend, Oscar Madison. Sometime earlier, Madison's wife had thrown him out, requesting that he never return. Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?"

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Underplayed Vinyl: Neil Young

I do requests, apparently.

Some guy wrote me: "I was thinking about how cool it would be if you did a feature like Gordon highlighting an album a month that you may love (and who knows, only have on vinyl)." At first, I was resistant to the idea; I mean, Gordon already does a fine regular piece. Then I thought, "Maybe it should be "Albums in my vinyl collection that I used to play a lot, but haven't played in a while,' which would be quite a mouthful as a title."

Thus was born "Underplayed Vinyl". Oh, yeah, I decided the once a month would fall on the birthday of the artist, or at least a member of the group. And maybe I'd look at more than one disc.

First up, Neil Percival Young, who turns 61 today, and his first album, cleverly titled Neil Young. OK, that's a little cheeky, but after being in a band as contentious as Buffalo Springfield apparently was, maybe an eponymous title was called for.

Confession time: I learned about the existence of this album through Three Dog Night. "The Loner" appears on their first album, the one with "One" on it. I had already purchased Neil's "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" and "After the Goldrush", and quite possibly "Harvest". I noted the "The Loner" did not appear on any of them, and so I hunted this album down, bought it, and played it.

Was I disappointed.

After hearing the instantly accessible subsequent LPs, I was rather confounded by this moody, low-keyed album. Even "The Loner", which TDN really rocked, sounded strange. But then repeated listens brought out the stark, fragile beauty of the album. "The Old Laughing Lady", while possibly done better live a quarter century later, caught my ear, as did the lengthy last tune, "Last Trip to Tulsa". Then "I've Been waiting for You." Eventually, the whole aural pastiche started making sense to me, and I grew to appreciate this album all the more. Still, it would have fared better in my collection's playlist had I heard it before albums 2 and 3, and possibly 4.

By 1981, I was used to following Neil wherever his muse took him. Still, I'm not sure what to think when I heard re.ac.tor. It was raw. It was rough. It was intentionally distorted at times. I liked it immediately, especially "Opera Star". I thought the lyrically minimalist, grunge-inspiring "T-Bone" was especially a hoot. The aural assaults, and his use of synthesizers (horrors!) were tempered by some short sweet tunes.

I started reading the reviews, which, as I recall, were pretty brutal. I began to wonder if maybe my tastes had gone south.

Then I thought, "The heck with it," and played it all the more, as loudly as possible.
***
These are the answers to Lefty's Friday Three Questions for November 10th, which I attempted to post at 4:30 pm Friday, but couldn't because of some techno-glitch:

1. I was born in Binghamton, NY, spent my first 18 years there, plus for a few months in 1977. I've lived in Albany since 1979, or 27 years. Albany's more my home, in part because the highway construction has altered Binghamton to where it's no longer second nature to get to places.

2. Islands: Manhattan, Long, Barbados, probably others.
Grand Canyon: not yet.
The desert: seemingly so, but I'm not remembering specifics.
The two oceans: yes.
Outside N Am? no.

3. I have no idea. The sunset RIGHT now is pretty spectacular.

Lefty is also looking for opinionated people for the 2nd Annual Brownies Award Open Nominations, which has NOTHING to do with food, despite the misleading, and yummy-looking, photo.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veterans Day QUESTIONS

















On Armistice Day
The philharmonic will play
But the songs that we sing
Will be sad
-Paul Simon


Three events from last weekend color my view of this Veterans Day. One is a Friends of the Albany Public Library luncheon commemorating the release of Portrait of War: the U.S. Army's First Combat Artists and the Doughboys' Experience in WWI by Peter Krass. What was evident in the book from the author's presentation is that the U.S. government, which hired eight artists to go to Europe, wanted the war depicted in a certain, heroic, way. (American general Jack Pershing, though, sided with the artists' desire to be more realistic.) This mindset of war has been around for a very long time. Remember the source of "killing the messenger", when the leaders would literally have struck down the soldier who would bring bad news from the front. The glorification of Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman is hardly new.

Another item was a speech by Phyllis Trible at my church who spoke about how stories of domestic violence permeate the Bible. One example was Judges 19, where a man throws out his concubine to save himself, and she ends up being be gang-raped and killed. This reminded me that in so many wars (Darfur comes immediately to mind), there is a different sort of war violence placed on the women. This is done presumably to terrorize. But then what explains things such as American soldiers raping and then killing a teenage girl, and then killing her family?

The third is a sermon I read about Abraham and Isaac. It cites Bob Dylan's Highway 61, reason enough to mention it, but it's this quote that got me: "warfare is a form of child sacrifice, where nations offer up their children because, like Abraham, we believe that's what we're called to do."

I suppose my point is that "War IS hell", should be avoided at almost all costs, for even wars that most people would consider "just", unintended consequences abound.

Which leads, inevitably, to these questions:

1. What circumstances, if any, would justify a "just war"?
2. What wars would you say were "just"?
3. What can WE do as individuals to stop or prevent war?

I'm asking because I really don't know, especially about the third question.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Job Search


No, not mine.

For whatever reason, I have found myself involved in a number of search committees over the years. I rather like it, but I always feel responsible to the organization to make sure that I've done my due diligence.

Here's some things I've learned over the years:

Be on time, or a few minutes early. If they're scheduling back-to-back interviews, it's likely that the latecomer will get the short shrift.

If you go into an interview, they ask you what you know about the organization, and you reply, "Not much", they've already decided to pass on you, even if they talk to you another 30 minutes. Look at the website of the company you're seeking to work for.

Interviewers really like it when you remember their names. Writing them down is O.K., if your memory is poor in that regard (and they have seven people in the room!)

If they tell you they're hiring for a particular time frame, and you tell them you're available in that time frame, and then you decline because you're really not, you'll tend to really tick off the interviewers for a good long time.

Don't be surprised to hear the standard interview questions such as, "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" You might seriously consider at least mentally preparing an answer for that one.

In general, answer the questions you are asked, rather than the one you want to have asked. But don't go on too long.

Certain foods should be avoided before an interview, foods that can land on one's clothes or stay in one's breath.

If you seem bored at the interview, assume your boredom is contagious.

There's a subtle difference between looking people in the eye and staring them down; one is good, the other, not so much.

Confident is good; cocky - "I've already got THIS job sewed up" - is not.

There are lots of places with Job Interview Tips. Consider actually using them.

Only recently had I heard about Performance Based Interviewing. This includes sample questions that are dependent on the level of the job.
***
Ed Bradley of "6o Minutes" was cool. No, it's not because of the earring, or the huge 'fro he had as a younger reporter.

It was because when the CBS News reporter did certain stories with musicians or other creative people - his piece on Lena Horne was his favorite - you felt the affection he felt for the artist and the respect the artist had for him. Yet he could also do the hard news interviews, such as Timothy McVeigh, with directness and passion. Ed never seemed full of himself, unlike some in the news industry.

Ed Bradley died yesterday at the age of 65, and I'm bummed. Video here.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Some sleep-deprived post-election advice

To all candidates running ads: Yeah, Negative ads seem to work. But is that what you want as your legacy?

To the voters, disgusted with negative ads: You may not know that in 1800 Thomas Jefferson's opponents claimed that the anti-Federalists would "burn churches and murder opponents" to get the White House. So, those promises that negative campaigning will go away? Don't believe 'em.

To Donald Rumsfeld: I'm sorry, Mr. Secretary. This will sound harsh, and probably ageist to boot, but when I'd see you on those Sunday morning news programs, you'd use words, but they didn't SAY anything. I started to think of you as a doddering old fool. So, enjoy your retirement. Here are some well wishers.

To the President of the United States: Your ability to baldly prevaricate about Rummy's status in your administration, even as you were planning his departure, gives me some...apprehension.

To What's-His-Face: THANK YOU, THANK YOU for your attack on Michael J. Fox. You've gotten Democrat Claire McCaskill elected Senator from Missouri.

To Michael J. Fox: THANK YOU, THANK YOU for your classy response to What's-His-Face.

To Tennessee Republicans: Thank you for reminding us that race still matters in America. (Wink, wink.)

To Nancy Pelosi, incoming Speaker of the House, and third in line to the Presidency come January: I'm happy for you. You wrangled Democrats to have some party discipline. My wife, I must say, is THRILLED with your upcoming new job, as I suspect many women (and men) are.

To Howard Dean, chair of the DNC: Congratulations on the 50 State Strategy, without which the Democrats would never have won the Senate in 2006.

To Bernie Sanders: Congratulations on your election to the Senate, the only independent. (Joseph Lieberman belongs to the Connecticut for Lieberman Party).

To Congressman-elect John Hall (D-NY, via Orleans): I read that you didn't want to play your guitar much in public during your campaign, for fear that people wouldn't take you seriously as a candidate. Well, go play your guitar, since it's a stress reliever for you.

Do you ski? Since you are now going to be in the tradition of singer-songwriter-politician Sonny Bono, PLEASE be careful around trees.

To the press release: a belated 100th birthday!

To John Wiley & Sons: "Crackberry" as word of the year, eh? There's one addiction I DON'T have. Yet.
***
Links from Gay Prof and this person Chris Black linked to.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Cars

I've long had an attraction to songs about cars from Beep Beep by the Playmates to Drive My Car by the Beatles to Cars by Gary Numan (the instrumental opening is often running through my head) to Fast Car by Tracy Chapman, the songs have often held sway. Heck, I'm listening to that Rik Osacek group even as I write this.

Yet, I've never actually been interested in actual cars, and I don't know cars. Few questions do I duck if I can at work, but ones about motor vehicles -unless it involves statistics or regulations - tend to make M.E.G.O.

At least when I was a kid, I knew that all the Chevy cars started with C, such as Chevette and Corvair, and even I knew that Ford made the Mustang ("ride, Sally, ride"). Now, if you give me a car model, my chance of correctly identifying the make is about 1 in 5. Maybe. I loved the VW Beetle because it was SO easy to identify - the old one, not the new one - but I knew people who could tell the difference between the 1964 and 1966 model, e.g., unfathomable to me.

My wife has had this 1997 Ford Taurus since she was working for a credit union association, traveling all over the Northeast. When she left in early 1999 to go back to school - and not so incidentally, to get ready to marry me - she bought the car with 50-something thousand miles on it. It continued to serve her, and us, well.

But somewhere north of 120,000 miles, small things started taking place. First, a lot more dings, and a little rust, then more substantial things (don't ask me what - she told me, but I have no memory of car stuff).

So, it came to pass that Carol found herself in the market for another car this fall, when a series of knocks, electrical problems, and notably a gas leak would cost about $2000 to fix.

My wife began studying cars with the passion I associate with a horse racing handicapper. Not one generally known as one to use the Internet, except as it specifically applied to her job, she was spending so much time online that it was becoming difficult for me to even blog. (Horrors!) She looked at Carfax, the Kelley Blue Book Cars.com, Enterprise Car Sales, plus dealers' websites.

She went to at least three dealers, test drove at least a half dozen cars. She asked if I wanted to go along. Not particularly. I DID care about how much it would cost, but she is the far better fiscal agent in the household, so I pretty much trusted her to determine what kind of car she wanted and whether we could afford it.

Ultimately, in September, she bought her first non-American car. Truth is, I simply cannot remember the model with remembering that it has something to do with Bryan Ferry - oh yeah, the Avalon. By whomever. And it's a good car.

There's a part of that old Taurus that I think Carol misses, though. And even I was a little sad to discover that the Taurus is no longer being made. How the most popular car turned into an automotive also-ran would be astonishing to me if I understood cars at all.

And we BOTH have the problem that if we didn't have the ability to use the remote unlocking mechanism and/or be able to see the license plate number, we STILL wouldn't really RECOGNIZE our own car in the midst of other vehicles of similar color and shape.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

These are a few of my favorite cities

It's Election Day. I've already voted, so I've nothing more to say on THAT topic. At least, for a while.
***
I warned Greg that I would steal his idea of favorite cities, and so I have. The trick is: can I find ten I like? There are several cities I've been to, Houston and Miami for two, that I really despise. Then there are a bunch more, such as Portland, OR; Seattle, WA; Baltimore, MD; and Austin, TX that intrigue me. I picked more than 10 because some of the cities are small, and may not qualify in Greg's mind.

14. Detroit - Yeah, I know it has the second-highest murder rate, after St. Louis, but when I went there in 1998, to visit a friend, I went to the Motown Historical Museum, a bunch of Henry Ford-related exhibits, and got to see a rather desolate Tigers Stadium before it was torn down.

13. Cleveland - When I went in 1998, it was a LOT cleaner than I would have imagined. Loved the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and to be able to see into the Jake, when the city's baseball team used to sell out for the whole season.

12. Boston - Even though I've had some problems there, I enjoy the whole historic Revolutionary War thing. Last there in 1994.

11. Philadelphia - Haven't been there in 25 years, though I went down several times between 1975 and 1981, as a matter of affairs of the heart. I'm a sucker for the Liberty Bell.

10. Concord, NH - A lovely little city that Carol and I visited in 2003, and did the historic touristy thing.

9. Galveston - It's an old rundown city, but I have wonderful memories of waking up at 5 a.m., and watching the tides thunder in towards the piers. Also enjoyed the conference in 1995 tremendously.

8. Madison, WI - Went to a conference there in 1988, organized by Capital City, the comic distributor at the time. There were beautiful little lakes abounding. Reminded me a little of Ithaca, NY, a college town I enjoy visiting.

7. San Diego - A bit of a surprise for me, in that I used to HATE the place, when I'd tool around the place in a car, having no sense of where I was. But since they've installed light rail that goes practically to Tijuana, my respect for the old Spanish charm outweighs the generally conservative political climate (and boring 72 degree meteorological climate). Been there several times - my sister lives in the area - most recently in 2005.

6. New Orleans - I've only been there once, in 1995, but had a grand time with some folks from Michigan. A decadent place; I mean that in a good way.

5. New York City - Considering it's only 150 miles away, I don't go there nearly as often as one would think. As a kid, I was down there all of the time visiting relatives, and family was the motivation for two of my last four visits; another was to see a Broadway show, and the last time was to go to an antiwar demonstration in February 2003. I lived in Jackson Heights, Queens for four months in 1977, and I would take the subway often, just to see where it would take me.

4. Washington, DC - I've been to Washington a lot, once as a kid doing the tourist thing, then several times at demonstrations (antiwar, antinuke, an anniversary of the 1963 March). Most recently in 1998 to take the JEOPARDY! test, to do the tourist thing again - notably the FDR Memorial - and to visit friends.

3. Portland, ME- Carol and I went there in March 1999 and got snowed in. We really enjoyed a movie and lunch place, but generally, it was the whole nautical feel of the place.

2. Savannah, GA - I went to a work conference in 1998 or 1999, and my father drove down from Charlotte, NC and we got to just hang out with a few of my friends, walking around the historic city - easy access by foot to a lot of interesting places, eating good food, and having a great time. My father seriously thought of moving there.

1. San Francisco - Only been there once, with my sister Leslie, in 1987 or 1988, but I remember traveling all over the area on the BART, seeing Chinatown, taking a cable car, and looking down Lombard Street, about which Bill Cosby did a famous routine I used to listen to as a kid: "They make Lombard Street go straight down, but they're not satisfied with you killing yourself that way. They put all these twists and curves in there. Then they put flowers in the road where people have killed themselves [trying to drive down]." Though not in the city, I did get to go to the Oakland Coliseum that year and see the A's play.
I like the area, too. My niece graduated from Berkeley a couple years ago, so some of the family got to hang around there.

I noticed - no surprise - that most of these places are on bodies of water. Must be the Piscean thing.


So, I took one of those online tests and got this:
American Cities That Best Fit You::
60% New York City
55% Boston
55% Philadelphia
55% Washington, DC
50% Austin


Four cities on my list, and one I want to visit. Hmm.