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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Super Bowl QUESTIONS


1. Do you watch the Super Bowl? (That's American football, BTW.) If so, is it for the commercials, the game or the halftime entertainment? Do you have special food for the occasion?

And speaking of halftime, don't you find it interesting that it is The Who performing when the game is on CBS, since The Who provide the theme songs for all those CSI shows on CBS, such as CSI: Las Vegas, CSI: Miami, CSI: New York, CSI: Kalamazoo, and CSI: Portland (both the Oregon AND the Maine shows).

If you don't watch the game, do you have a ritual for that? I had friends who always went to the movies on Super Bowl Sunday.

And those of you outside the United States: can you even access the Super Bowl?

2. Do you know how to write 44 in Roman numerals?

3. Do you have a rooting interest? I'm pulling for the New Orleans Saints, who have NEVER won a Super Bowl, and I can imagine would be a psychological boost to the city post-Katrina. I wouldn't be devastated if the Indianapolis Colts won, and they are rightly favored.

4. What do think of the Pro Bowl, the all-star game of the NFL, being played the week before the Super Bowl (i.e., today), instead of the week after? Strategically, it makes sense to have an all-star game during the season, as it takes place in most other sports. On the other hand, since the players from the Super bowl won't be playing the game, and they were the best two teams all year, it's a bit of a lesser product.

Football 101.
***
A couple Who covers - Betty LaVette and the Ukulele Orchestra.


ROG

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Fred Hembeck is 57


It my friend Fred's birthday. Not quite sure what new to say, so let me (mostly) recapitulate:

Fred Hembeck is a comic book artist/cartoonist/storyteller whose narratives often involve superheroes interacting with a character named Fred Hembeck. His early work was compiled in a magazine published by Eclipse Comics, which I remember purchasing at a comic book store in Greenwich Village in New York City in 1979.
Fred's second collection was published by FantaCo Enterprises of Albany, NY, and I met Fred at the store in February 1980 at a signing, a couple months before I would end up working at FantaCo myself. Eventually, Fred would do seven Hembeck publications with FantaCo, including an expanded version of that first Eclipse edition.

Fred would also grab the attention of both Marvel and DC. For the former, he did the Fantastic Four Roast, with Fred MCing the event. He's possibly best know, though, for Fred Hembeck Destroys the Marvel Universe, where Fred...well, what the title says.

During this, Fred and I became friends, with shared passions for the Who, the Beach Boys, and especially the Beatles, and also television and other popular culture.
But when Fred and his wife Lynn Moss moved out of the area, I lost track of him. I know I learned about the birth of their daughter Julie in 1990 secondhand, and quite possibly a couple years after the fact.

But I'd keep tabs on Fred through various sources from time to time.Fast forward to October 2004. I'm at the Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, where I see Fred's and my mutual friend, going back to the FantaCo days, Rocco Nigro. Rocco says, "Have you seen Fred's blog?" Well, no, but in point of fact, I had never seen ANYONE'S blog. I had HEARD of blogging, but like most people who had heard of it but had never seen it, I had poo-pooed it out of hand. When I actually READ Fred's blog, however, I was captivated. Not only did I read it every day, I read all of the stories he had written from the very beginning of his blog back in January 2003. His voice was right there; it was as though he were talking to me back in the day.
Eventually, I contacted Fred and we established an e-mail friendship. I suggested a couple ideas for some blog pieces, which he used.

I also looked at his blogroll. Having gotten totally out of comics since 1994, I started reading and eventually following comic blogger folks such as Mike Sterling, Greg Burgas and Lefty Brown, all with whom I have some contact to this day.
Then I came across the now late comic book writer Steve Gerber's blog on Fred's blogroll and that pushed me into starting my OWN blog on May 2, 2005, which Fred generously plugged more than once that first year or two. So to say that Fred is responsible for me blogging would not be an overstatement.

Somewhere along the way, Fred and I decided to meet. There's a MidSummer's party in upstate New York my wife and I have attended frequently. so, for about three years in a row - but not, alas, in 2009 - the day after the party, we'd travel over to Fred & Lynn's house for the afternoon. Fred and I would speak in some blogging and pop culture shorthand that occasionally left our wives mystified.
Ever since the folks at Image put out THE NEARLY COMPLETE ESSENTIAL HEMBECK ARCHIVES OMNIBUS in the spring of 2008, I've seen Fred at various comic book shows, once in Saratoga Springs, but usually in Colonie, both near Albany. Frankly, seeing Fred is the primary reason for going, along with our friend Rocco; I might even have an ADD sighting.

I do wish Fred had time to blog more often. He was a daily guy for a number of years, but he's only posted six times the first 28 days of this month. But he's had a good reason: he's been compiling a new feature on his blog: Hey, Did I Tell You About That MOVIE I Saw Recently? Fred's probably seen more movies in the past 10 months than I've seen in the past 10 years.

The best thing about today is that, for the next five weeks, Fred is older than I am!
So go to his page, buy his book (900 pages for $25; the FantaCo stuff is only about a quarter of it) or purchase some artwork, and then go draw a squiggle on your knee - no, the real Fred does NOT have them.
Happy birthday, effendi!

One of the things Fred and I have done in the 21st Century is to make mixed CDs to exchange. Four that Fred did focus on the late 1960s and early 1970s, and I played them all this week. One interesting song, in no way a reflection of Fred himself, of course, is King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man.


ROG

Friday, January 29, 2010

January Rambling

Busy month coming. Black History Month at church, and I'm doing two adult ed sessions. One will be helping to hone my presentation at the Underground Railroad Conference in Troy, NY at the end of the month.
***
The one weekend I won't be doing BHM stuff, I'll probably be here.
***
Finally gave blood on January 18. I was scheduled to donate two or three times before that, but just didn't feel up to it. The four months between donations is the longest I've gone since I had to pass for a year when I got rabies shots. The weird thing is that twice in a row, I got reminder cards about my donation six to eight days AFTER I was scheduled to donate; unhelpful AND a waste of money.
***
I was in the home office. There was this thin book that was falling off the shelf. Turned out to be The Connoisseur’s Guide to the Contemporary Horror Film by the late Chas Balun, an item I hadn't thought about in years. When I was working at this comic book store called FantaCo, we sold many, many copies of the item. I went over to Steve Bissette's site to let him know about this, and wouldn't you know, but that he had just written about Chas and that very booklet! How odd.
***
ABC-TV is plugging this new show called The Deep End, about some young lawyers. The voiceover says, "From the network that brought you Grey's Anatomy", as though network affiliation is a reason to watch the show. Yet it DOES remind me of Grey's in that there's a guy under water; Meredith Grey practically drown a couple seasons ago. I shan't be watching; hey I got 85% of my DVR capacity used up.

This reminds me of a poster SamuraiFrog wrote about, the text of which was "from the studio that brought you THE PROPOSAL." as though anyone would go to a film for that reason. Goofy.
***
This incredible machine was "built as a collaborative effort between the Robert M. Trammell Music Conservatory and the Sharon Wick School of Engineering at the University of Iowa. Amazingly, 97% of the machines components came from John Deere Industries and Irrigation Equipment of Bancroft, Iowa.
***
A resource guide re Haiti.
***
Anyone know the shelf life for amoxicillin capsules? Wayne John wanted to know.
***
Another SF-found piece, on gay marriage, a satire.
***
Thom Wade reminds me why I'm not a Mormon
***
The Brand Identity Guru says The Bachelor and Bachelorette Brands Can’t Be More Racist. I don't watch, but I'd be interested in the thoughts of those who do.
***
Was Jack Benny in the movie Casablanca? Mark Evanier doesn't think so, but he's not sure.
***
What Could Have Been Entering the Public Domain on January 1, 2010 under the law that existed until 1978 . . . Works from 1953.
***
Hard to find music and movies.
***
Salon finally figured out the joy of the Kennedy Center Honors. See also Kennedy Center Honorees at the White House.
***
Scholar Ladies a video response to Single Ladies by Beyonce.
***
Finally, the wife is trying to keep the daughter away from aspartame, the stuff in Equal and the other little blue packets, at least in the US, at least it is most of the time. And the stuff shows up in the darnedest places, such as packaged fruit cups one sends the daughter to school with.
But I've discovered that the DelMonte fruit cups, e.g., uses sucralose, the substance in Splenda and the other items in the yellow packet. Anyone aware of health issues for children with sucralose?


ROG

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Lacking Grace


I got my Bank of America credit card bill last week. I had had a balance of $54.01, and I paid it off. Or so I thought. I get the bill and I have a balance of $1.50. I figured that, damn, I must have miscalculated the payment, maybe transposed some digits. Nope. I'm now being given the privilege of paying a buck and a half per month as a "Minimum financial charge." I did not notice this in the ream of papers that BoA had sent me recently to keep me informed of my "protections" in light of the new credit card legislation, before which they hiked my credit card rate. (Which is only one of the reasons I always pay it off in full.)

Now, I never actually applied for a Bank of America card. It's in my possession because BoA, in its acquisitive phase, bought the bank I DID have a credit card with. So I'm not feeling a great deal of loyality for these folks. Still, I have over a quarter of my credit with them. And, as I've noted, all of it available. Well, except for $1.50.

Then last weekend, I watched The Daily Show with Jon Stewart from earlier in the week. His guest was Jim Wallis, the editor in chief of Sojourners magazine, which is a "progressive Christian commentary on faith, politics and culture. It seeks to build a movement of spirituality and social change."

Wallis, who was touting his book Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street, explained that the bonuses paid out this year - $150 billion from six banks - could "erase the budget gap in all 50 states", or prevent or postpone foreclosures until 2012. But these bonuses are a symptom of a larger problem: the erosion of underlying values. He says "we won't get an economic recovery without a moral recovery" as well.

But what really struck me was his notion that the banks, such as BoA, had been offered grace by the US government, and by extension, by the American people. The response by the large financial institutions, Wallis noted, has been a distinct lack of grace. So, Jim Wallis fired his bank, Bank of America.

With BoA nickle and diming (and six quartering) its customers like that, I can do nothing but the same. Goodbye, Bank of America.

Watch the clip here.

"Higher standards," indeed.

ROG

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW: Up In The Air


Ken Levine, Emmy winning writer/director/producer declared Up In The Air his pick for movie of the year. I saw few enough 2009 movies that I couldn't say. I will posit, though, that the movie is the best 2009 movie I've seen thus far.

What I don't know is what I can tell you that you don't already know without revealing spoilers. I'm particularly cognizant of that, because when I saw it back on January 9, right after the opening of the new Delaware Avenue branch of the Albany Public Library, I went home and told my wife what I thought was an obscure piece of information. But the next day, after she went to see the film, she declared that my tiny mention helped her figure something out that I regret that she sussed out.

Surely, you know that the film stars George Clooney as a guy emotionally at arms length, who hates his 43 days a year at home, being much happier being a VIP on planes, car rental places and hotels. His job is to come into towns, fire people because the management of the companies are wussses, and move on. Vera Farmiga is his detached near-equal. Writer/director Jason Reitman had previously made Thank You for Smoking and Juno, both of which I enjoyed, and he has adapted the screenplay from Walter Kirn's novel of the same name, which I did not read.

You may have read how real out-of-work people were filmed talking about their laid off experiences, not knowing initially that they were being recorded for a movie. It was quite an effective technique. However, J.K. Simmons, a character actor you'll likely recognize as J. Jonah Jameson from the Spider-Man movies, Chief Pope from The Closer, or Juno's dad, is also compelling.

I should mention that Vera Farmiga was featured in a story in the local paper because she lives in not-that-far-away Ulster County, NY.

A review wondered if a family event was necessary for the film, and decided in the end that it was. Whereas I thought that event was critical. (That was vague.)

Ultimately, I think two additional factors, other than the writing, directing and acting, really wowed me. One is that the current economic downturn made this movie just right for its time, much the way The China Syndrome, coming out just before Three Mile Island in 1979, made it very topical. The other thing, probably counter-intuitively, is that while George Clooney played a character named Ryan, he also was George Clooney, noted movie star. And some part of my brain wondered if Ryan would AND George will end up alone; somehow this made it even more interesting.
ROG

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Lydster, Part 70: Remote Control


The daughter has learned how to use the remote control on the DVR. Neither her mother nor I showed her; she just picked it up by observation. She's particularly fond of pausing or reversing her program so we can see something on her program that amused her, and thought she should share with her parents. Sometimes, I'm truthfully not all that interested, but it's useful nonetheless to see how her mind works.

One time, I was in the kitchen, listening to, but not watching ABC News. She had wandered into the living room and was captivated by this graphic that showed how it snowed so much somewhere in the upper Midwest that it would bury a car. The graphic of the increasingly covered vehicle fascinated her. And she needed to share; it was sorta interesting.

Actually, I need to be more mindful when she's around and I have control of the remote, trying to catch up on the news. There was a recent story about a drone strike that killed 20 people; fortunately, there were no graphics. She was drawing something and I didn't think she was paying attention. Still, she asked me, "Daddy, were they all bad people?" After thinking, "Oh, crap," I said, honestly, "Well, probably not," which seemed to satiate her for the moment.

Another time, I didn't think she was paying attention was while I was watching the 11 January JEOPARDY!, almost certainly after 11 January.
FACTS & FIGURES $1200: Researchers have found more than 40,000 of the dust type of these microscopic bugs in 1 ounce of mattress.
She turns to me and says, "Dust mites!" She didn't reply in the form of a question, but she was correct. This pleased me greatly.
***
She knows I blog about her and as I was musing about what to write. She suggested that I tell that Sunday morning, she wrote notes saying "I love you", and put them on her mother's and my pillows. OK, I'll write that.

ROG

Monday, January 25, 2010

B is for Beatles Butchers


If you grew up in Great Britain or many other countries in the 1960s, your collection of Beatles albums looked one way, but if you were coming of age in the United States during that period, your Fab Four LPs looked very different. And, regardless of country, if you are younger, with your first exposure to Beatles albums the 1987-era CDs or later, which followed the British system, those albums made for the American market might mystify.

Here are some cogent facts:
1. The Beatles first (British) album, Please Please Me, on Parlaphone Records, was rejected by its US affiliate, Capitol Records, in the summer of 1963. It was then released, missing two songs, in the US as Introducing the Beatles, on Vee-Jay Records; it was a dud.
2. When the Beatles finally DID make it big in the US, early in 1964, Capitol put out the album Meet the Beatles, featuring nine songs from the Beatles' SECOND British album, With the Beatles. (The covers are similar, with the lads partially in shadow.)
3. American albums were almost always a) shorter - 11 or 12 songs, rather than usually 14, and b) almost always had to have a single - in the case of Meet the Beatles, I Want to Hold Your Hand plus a couple B-sides - because the American packagers figured the kids wouldn't buy the albums without the hit song. Conversely, in Britain, the single and the album were largely separate entities.
4. As a result, there were more US albums than British ones. The Beatles Second Album on Capitol consisted of the remaining five songs from With the Beatles, plus various singles - notably, She Loves You, plus B-sides and EP cuts. This is why, when you heard live recordings of the Beatles in the United States, they would inevitably refer to a song as from "our last album" or the "album before last." They knew the package they had put together was going to inevitably be rearranged in the States.
5. Even albums with the same NAME didn't always match up. Help! in the UK had 14 songs, seven from the movie (on Side 1, for those of us old enough to remember vinyl) and seven others (on Side 2). Help! in the US included only the seven songs from the movie, interspersed with instrumentals from the movie soundtrack. Some of those other songs landed on an earlier US album called Beatles VI.
Rubber Soul, US and UK, had 10 songs in common. The US version included two songs from Help!
Which brings me to an album that did not exist at all in the UK, Yesterday and Today (or "Yesterday" ...and Today, as it was often rendered. It is the very first album I ever bought in a store; previous albums I got from the Capitol Record Club, by mail. It cost $2.99 at the Rexall drug store/pharmacy.

Here is the song list (with YouTube links that I know all of you unfortunately cannot access); all songs by Lennon-McCartney, except as noted:

Side one
Drive My Car (from Rubber Soul) – 2:30
I'm Only Sleeping – (from Revolver) - 3:01
Nowhere Man (from Rubber Soul; also released as a US single) – 2:45
Doctor Robert (from Revolver) – 2:15
Yesterday (from Help!; also released as a US single) – 2:08
Act Naturally(Morrison-Russell) (from Help!; also released as B-side to "Yesterday") – 2:33

Side two
And Your Bird Can Sing (from Revolver) - 2:01
If I Needed Someone (George Harrison) (from Rubber Soul) - 2:24
We Can Work It Out (released as a single) – 2:15
What Goes On (Lennon-McCartney-Richard Starkey) (from Rubber Soul; also released in the US as B-side to "Nowhere Man) – 2:51
Day Tripper (released as flip side of "We Can Work It Out" single) – 2:50

That's right. The Capitol compilers cynically took three songs from the NOT-YET-RELEASED Revolver album to fill out this package. Worse, they took three Lennon songs of the 14, leaving John only two lead vocals on the 11-song US Revolver album. I had wondered about that at the time.


Which is why, when Yesterday and Today was released with the cover that looked like what was pictured on the left, it was thought that the Beatles were rebelling against the folks at Capitol for butchering their albums. This was NOT the case. As the Wikipedia narrative suggests the Beatles were merely tired of doing another set of conventional pictures and agreed to photographer Robert Whitaker's ideas for more avant garde imagery.

The covers were printed, and at least a few were sold before Capitol pulled the album. They made replacement pictures that went over the controversial image, but they weren't flush with the cover underneath. Thus the "butcher cover" has become very valuable. The album lost money for Capitol because of all the extra work and expense.

I recall reading in some pop music magazine of the time that John Sebastian, then from the American rock group The Lovin' Spoonful, said that his favorite song on Rubber Soul was Drive My Car. Well, I snooted, EVERYBODY knows that Drive My Car was on Yesterday and Today. Yes, I was right, but so was John Sebastian, who must have had access to the UK version.

I liked Y&T well enough, though TWO Ringo leads (Act Naturally AND What Goes On) was one too many. But in retrospect, I wish Capitol Records had put other songs on there instead of the songs from Revolver, such as I'm Down (B-side of the Help! single), and/or the single Paperback Writer/Rain, or even earlier songs that had never shown up on a Capitol album prior to the band's breakup, such as There's A Place, Misery, From Me To You, or A Hard Day's Night.

It should be pointed out that the Beatles were not the only British artists to receive this treatment from their American label. Donovan also had his catalog altered, as did the Rolling Stones. Check out the playlist for the different versions of the Stones' Aftermath album, for instance.

Interestingly, after Revolver, Capitol started putting out the UK albums (Sgt. Pepper, the white album, Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road and Let It Be) as the Beatles had originally imagined them. Perhaps they were finally realized the albums weren't just commodities.

There were two box sets called The Capitol Albums. The 2004 release contained the first four albums, and the 2006 edition the next four. Y&T was the ninth Capitol album. I never knew why they didn't release the first FIVE albums, then the second FIVE.

ROG

Sunday, January 24, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW: Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Squeakquel


When i was about six years old, I remember that we owned the single The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late) by David Seville and the Chipmunks on Liberty Records; it had a greenish label. I loved that tune, and i could do a reasonable imitation of the holiday song.

Somewhere along the line, Alvin and his brothers became television stars in both the 1960s and 1980s. Still, I was mildly surprised that there was going to be a movie, starring Jason Lee, Earl of NBC's now canceled My Name Is Earl. The 2007 movie was a big hit, grossing over $200 million in domestic sales, despite reviews that were tepid at best. I didn't see it.

This meant, naturally, a sequel. When I took the daughter to the Princess and the Frog, Lydia laughed at the previews for Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. She had such a lousy time at the Disney movie on January 2 that we went to see Alvin 2 on January 9.

It was terrible. My daughter loved it.

Basically, the story finds a way to write out most of the David Seville character, stuck in a French hospital, putting the rodents (voiced by Justin Long as Alvin, Matthew Gray Gubler as Simon, and Jesse McCartney as Theodore) end up under the care of a slacker nephew (Zachary Levi of NBC's Chuck) who plays video games constantly. Meanwhile the Chipmunks are sent to high school. The principal (Wendie Malick of the former NBC show, Just Shoot Me!), who has a chipmunks tattoo, is counting on the group to win the big prize so help save the school's music program.

Meanwhile, the Chipmunks' former manager has discovered three female chipmunks, dubbed the Chipettes (voiced by Amy Poehler, Anna Faris and Christina Applegate), to compete against Alvin and his brothers. And they look remarkably like the Chipmunks.

There's more, but not worth retelling. When I say the film was bad, I don't mean the picture was out of focus. I mean that there was little care taken in creating a coherent, interesting story. Cynical cinema making. Yet, this movie is bound to hit $200 million in less than a month.

The appeal for my daughter, I suppose, was the music, retreads of popular songs such as Single Ladies. There were only four people in the theater when we went, and the other two had left, so the daughter got to literally dance in the aisles. I'm glad she enjoyed it, though a rodent imperiled briefly made her nervous.

Oh, and for you completists, I should note that there's a scene at the very end, after the credits; it is NOT worth waiting for.

How long will it be before the daughter regrets this post?

Oh, one more thing. Why is it Alvin and the Chipmunks? Is Alvin NOT a Chipmunk? Or is this like Diana Ross & the Supremes, somehow?


ROG

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Earl Warren Would Have Hated the Citizens United Ruling



The disturbing 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United vs. the FEC this week is based largely on the notion that a corporation be legally considered a person, with the same rights of freedom of speech. This was based on what I always a convoluted interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment, the "equal protection", post-Civil War amendments designed to prevent states from discrimating against newly freed black slaves. (Arthur at AmeriNZ rants about this here.)

What would Earl Warren, the California governor nominated as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by President Eisenhower (reportedly, to his lasting regret), and who served from 1953 to 1969, think of this new ruling? He would have opposed it vigorously. How do I know? I asked him.

Not about the current situation of course; Earl Warren died in July 1974. But the spring of 1973, I took a political science course, and one of the things our professor Ron Steinberg arranged was a meeting by the now-retired author of such landmark rulings as Brown v. Board of Education (equal education regardless of race), Miranda v. Arizona (police to advise suspect in custody of rights), and Reynolds v. Sims (one person, one vote).

Earl Warren spoke to us about many of the cases his court dealt with. As I recall, he seemed optomistic that the court, by then under the jurisdiction of Warren Burger, would continue to open avenues for historically discriminated-against individuals.

Then we got to ask him questions. Dry-mouthed, I rambled some question based on research I had done. It clearly wasn't apparent what I trying to get at. Finally, I asked him if he thought the Court's long-time assertion that a corporation was a person was consistent with the legislative intent of the Fourteenth Amendment. He got agitated, apparently not with me, but with the core of the question. "My, no!" he exclaimed. He thought it was a great overreach, not at all consistent with what the amendment was designed to do.

I'm confortable asserting that Earl Warren would have HATED this week's ruling.



ROG

Friday, January 22, 2010

David Paterson and Twitter

I was on Twitter, that bane of some people's existence, this week, when someone online recommended that I follow David Paterson. He's the governor of my state of New York, so I thought: why not?

What's interesting is that his site is GovPaterson2010, and goes back at least to mid-April 2009, which suggests that he was thinking about re-election way back then. At the same time, it looks like a site that someone governing would have, talking a lot about the stimulus money. A mixed message, I think.

To confuse the issue, there IS a site GovPaterson, which discusses Paterson's son's arrest quite a bit recently. Evidently it's not the REAL site, because it's followed by only one party: GovPaterson2010.

So who else IS David Paterson following, on that roster of 222 people? A number of politicians, of course, from the verified White House and Barack Obama sites to the likewise verified sites for the governors of Massachusetts and California.

Mayor of Albany Jerry Jennings tweets though not since before the 2009 general election. I found remnants of Jim Tedesco's failed congressional race, as well as follows of former presidential candidates such as Al Sharpton and Bill Richardson.

US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's verified site has over 1700 followers but she follows no one. Meanwhile, US Senator Chuck Schumer's first and last tweet is: "Just joined Twitter!" (5:02 PM Nov 19th, 2008); gotta work on that, Chuck.

Governor Paterson uses a number of news sources, including CNN Breaking News, The Huffington Post, WNYT (NBC-TV affiliate Channel 13 in Albany), Albany News, All Over Albany, The Daily Beast, The Hill (congressional newspaper), Glenn Greenwald, Stephen Colbert, and the verified account of ABC News' Chris Cuomo, the brother of the state's Attorney General; speculation suggests Andrew Cuomo may challenge Paterson in a primary for governor.

David Paterson follows the Working Families Party, an actual political party in NYS. I'm trying to remember: did Eliot Spitzer and Paterson get their endorsement in 2006? Other interests include grassroots politics, state history, gay rights and women's health.

There are three celebrities being followed, the latter two verified: Star Jones, Esquire, former host of the TV show The View, Joy Behar, current host of The View, and household goddess Martha Stewart.

How does who you follow on Twitter reflect on you?
ROG

Thursday, January 21, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW: The Blind Side


Seems that I either don't see films, or I do see films and don't seem to have time to actually review them.

Way back on New Years Day weekend, the wife and I got a babysitter and went to see The Blind Side, written and directed by John Lee Hancock, based on the Michael Lewis book I did not read. I HAD been getting a lot of information about this film quite a bit, though as much in Sports Illustrated as I did in Entertainment Weekly. Incidentally, The Blind Side refers to a quarterback getting hit while he's not looking and the import of an offensive tackle protecting the QB's vulnerability.

The movie tells the true story of Michael Oher (pronounced like 'oar', played by Quinton Aaron), a large, undereducated and mostly homeless black young man. He gets taken in by the Tuohy family, who are white, specifically by Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock), with her husband Sean, a successful restaurateur (played by an almost unrecognizable Tim McGraw) succumbing to his spouse's single-minded compassion. Their two kids, the boy S.J (Jae Head) and the girl Collins (Lily Collins, who looks amazingly like the young woman she portrayed) go along with the mom's mission, S.J. quite enthusiastically.

The family, and some insightful teachers, help Michael fulfill his potential, both in class and on the football field. Michael also helps the Tuohys to learn about themselves. Oher eventually becomes an All-American offensive left tackle at Ole Miss and a first round draft choice with the Baltimore Ravens.

I liked it. Indeed, both my wife and I enjoyed it more than some critics (70% positive on Rotten Tomatoes), who used terms like "utterly unsurprising, unchallenging feel-good flick mostly ignores larger social concerns in telling its implausible tale." Even some positive reviews suggest that it's a predictable "feel-good sports/biographical drama...by-the-numbers. Yet for the most part, this cinematic 'comfort food' goes down pretty well."

There was also criticism from more than one corner of the "institutional racism" in the film, that it is "rich white folks with big heart save poor black kid" that "needed to be more sociably responsible in its portrayal of blacks," and that "all black people are not ghetto waiting to be saved." I'm rather torn on this point. It's true that most of the black people in this movie were poor and from the ghetto- Michael's birth mother was a drug addict - and that the major black character, other than Michael, was a particularly obnoxious dude. All of this is true, yet I don't know how much responsibility a single film is supposed to balance the portrayal of black people. My sense is that, prior to Michael, the Tuohy's didn't KNOW black people, so the folks they DID see fit the stereotype. Was the writer suppose to inject an upwardly-mobile black person, other than the woman from the NCAA?

Interesting note: many of the recruiting coaches, such as Phillip Fulmer, Lou Holtz and Nick Saban, play themselves, and I read in SI that not one of them is still with that program, noting the rapid turnover of college football head coaches. The real S.J. Tuohy, who's now 16, has been razzed by opponents of his basketball team that his daddy needs to adopt someone for his team because "You suck!" And Michael Oher has been hazed by his Ravens' teammates over the sentimentality of the film; I was pleased that in his last game of this season, he was getting kudos from the commentators for his play.

In any case, this movie lives or dies largely on Sandra Bullock's portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy and she's totally convincing in the role. Ms. Tuohy also liked it, commenting that she was pleased that Ms. Bullock had "nice ta-tas."

ROG

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

QUESTION: How's Obama Doing?


Since it's the anniversary of the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama, the obvious question for you folks: how's he doing? When he gave an interview with Oprah Winfrey in December, he gave himself a B+; he must have been grading on a curve, because I'm thinking more like C+.

The good:
Pretty much his very first act was to sign an order extending the time women who had been systematically discriminated against in pay to seek redress.
He set a tone of more international cooperation rather than "America's way or the highway."
He promised to close Gitmo, though I think he could have waited on ANNOUNCING it until he had actually lined up the places the prisoners would be transferred to.
He ended torture. I know that there are those who think banning "enhanced interrogation methods" makes the US less safe; I so totally disagree.
He took responsibility for the failing in his administration, notably Christmas airline near-disaster (cf, his Homeland Security chief's tone-deaf pronouncement that everything had gone right).
And I shouldn't understate the impressive nature of his comportment.

The bad:
Yes, he was dealt a touch economic hand. But he always seems to side with the big bankers on deregulation when he should have been putting the screws to them. The dissatisfaction from people on the left and the right on this one topic may be the failed legacy of this Presidency.
The Afghanistan war; I'm willing to be proven wrong on this.

The ugly:
Health care. I support the ideas that Obama put forth in the campaign. And I agreed with the notion that hit had to be done early. Yet, apparently afraid of Clinton Health Care Disaster, Part 2, he instead left it to Congress to flounder around the topic, undercutting what I believed was the most important idea - single payer - making the bill weaker and mushier. And now, with the US Senate race in Massachusetts, Teddy Kennedy's seat, the health care guru's seat, falling to an obstructionist Republican, health care seems to be dead for the foreseeable future. It was bungled - badly. I'm talking Jay Leno at 10 p.m. badly.
Race. The one "teachable moment" became a "beer summit," a bit of a joke.

Now to be fair, there was a lot of poisonous lies (born in Kenya, a Muslim, a socialist/fascist/communist) that too many people were eager to believe. That doesn't help governing, though there was a point when I thought that since so many people were accusing him of being a socialist, he ought to act more like one, rather than the centralist he tends to be.

I'm sure there are other issues I'm forgetting. What say you re: BHO?

ROG

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A is for Africa


Here's one of my pet peeves: people referring to Africa as a country. It's a CONTINENT with over 50 countries. It's the second largest continent in size with 20.6% of the earth's land mass compared with 21.4% for Asia and 15.8% for Europe, 14.7% for North America, 12% for South America and 9.7% for Antarctica. It's also second, albeit a distant second, in population with slightly under a billion people (14.5%), compared with Asia's over four billion (60.4%), with 10.9% for Europe, 7.9% for North America and 5.8% for South America. (The remainder is Australia and Oceania, which includes New Zealand.)

Yet I do understand the disconnect. It is a place that had largely been dominated by forces outside its borders for about a century. The map from circa 1914 (above) shows only two independent countries on the whole continent, Ethiopia in the east and Liberia on the western horn. In the 1930s, Ethiopia had been "annexed" by Italy, until after World War II.

I well remember this map of Africa in my classroom. The time period we talked (very little) about Africa was probably c. 1965, but the map must have been c. 1960 or even earlier, because it looked a whole lot like the top map, except that Egypt was independent, and the areas once controlled by the Germans were in British or Belgian hands. Here's a list of the year when each country became independent. But those independent countries carved up sometimes arbitrarily have led to a great deal of internal clashes and even civil wars.

Still, there are situations that are endemic to Africa or at least to sub-Saharan Africa. Everything from the need for potable water to the necessity of economic development. For instance, the growth in Internet connectivity has been tremendous on the continent, but still lags far behind the rest of the world. And, of course, HIV/AIDS continues to be a massive problem.

Arthur at AmeriNZ has noted another issue, one that has barely made a dent in the news, at least in the United States. 38 out of 53 African countries are engaging in a rampant homophobia that, in Uganda, for instance, looks like "kill the gays" legislation. (And because I think someone might bring it up, I'll note that the vast majority of HIV transmissions in Africa occur during unprotected heterosexual sex.)

Still, there is much beauty in the cultures of Africa. The presentation of the honorific kente cloth, for instance, is a custom that my church participates in.

Africa is large, diverse place, and it may be dangerous to make too many generalizations.



ROG

Monday, January 18, 2010

Two Sides to the Same Racial Rhetoric

There's a lot of noise that's been made this week about comments made about Barack Obama, by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid over a year ago, and by former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. To my mind, they are just two sides of the same coin.

Reid, it is reported in a book, referred to Obama as a "light-skinned" African-American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." It's in the same category as Joe Biden's 2008 description of Obama as "clean and articulate." Whereas Blagojevich suggests that he is blacker than Obama in a recent interview.

What Reid (and Biden) were saying is is that they were comfortable with Obama because he is more like them than other black people they have known. They are more comfortable with someone like that. I think they were speaking the truth, but the truth is not politically comfortable. And I dare say that much of the United States felt the same way; Obama was not a "scary black man" who sounds like - heaven help us! - Jesse Jackson, so we can vote for him and pat ourselves on the back about just how enlightened and "colorblind" we are.

Blago was questioning the AUTHENTICITY of Obama's blackness, that there is a checklist of things that makes a "real" black man, from the way he talks to the beliefs he has. Hey, Obama plays basketball and likes jazz; shouldn't that count for something?

It was the Blago remarks that affected me more personally. There seemed to be this notion, at least when I was growing up, that certain features signified a real blackness. My father used to make a point of my sisters and me speaking "traditional" American English, not some sort of Ebonics. This worked well in surviving growing up in my predominantly white, Slavic neighborhood. It wasn't as successful in dealing with some of the black kids who would mock my bookish ways and my "white" way of talking. Heck, some of the white kids that hung out with the black kids would suggest that they were "blacker" than I was, because they talked "ghetto"; some of them would put their tanned arms next to mine to check THAT aspect as well.

I mean, I listened to Motown and Atlantic, but I was fans of the Beatles and folk music and classic music. There seemed to be these rules that "authentic" black people could only like certain kinds of of music. That lineage of blues, r&b, soul to hip hop and rap were OK. Classical was not. Neither was rock, which made NO sense to me, since rock and roll evolved from blues and R&B. The artists that performed the outre music like Dionne Warwick (pop), Charley Pride (country) and Jimi Hendrix (rock) weren't considered "black enough" by some folks, and this really ticked me off.

There was this Red Cross training event at Manlius, NY near Syracuse. I went as my high school's representative. On the penultimate evening, there was a talent show. I got on stage with a pick-up band, and everyone thought I was going to sing. Instead, I got out a comb and a piece of paper and played a couple minutes of blues riffs. I got a standing ovation; it was one of my favorite moments in my life. The next day, everyone was signing photos and booklets. This one young woman signed my booklet,m on the back, "You're a nice guy, but you're no soul brother." You could have taken a baseball bat and hit me in the solar plexus, then hit me again, and again, and I doubt it would have hurt as much as that one sentence did. I probably looked at that piece of paper periodically for the next couple years, and if it has left my possession, it's because I lost it, not thrown it away. The ultimate lesson, I suppose, was that I couldn't worry myself with being "black enough".

My (condescending, black) godmother died about a decade ago. A year or two before that, I saw her for the first time in many years at the (black) church in which I grew up. She asked me what church I was going to in Albany, and I told her. "That's a WHITE church, isn't it? " I said, "predominately." There was a point when her disapproval could, and did, really wound me, but not by thast point, fortunately.

There seems to be these periodic calls for "racial dialogue in America". Yet the Reid comment, which seems to me like a pretty good opportunity, was was largely quashed with an apology and "let's move on." I found it particularly interesting to hear conservatives like Lynn Cheney trying to make the most hay about this, and me ending up largely agreeing with George Will. Premise: almost certainly, the color of his skin and the way he speaks made some people more comfortable with Obama. Discuss.

That said, I've become increasingly convinced that what's made Obama "not scary" has also made him possibly less effective as President. I've heard those on the left say he should be cracking heads to get the Democrats in line on health care, and those on the right say he should be taking names over the Christmas near-airline disaster. I think it's not affectation but self-training that has made Obama preturnaturally calm. He HAS the office; maybe it's time, if he can, to get just a little bit scarier.

ROG

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ramblin 'z Rogerem

My friend Daniel discovered that that a person, for some unexplainable reason, had translated my March 22, 2009 post into Polish. It's rather interesting, and fun. The AmeriNZ post Truth is the real victim is translated as Prawda jest prawdziwą ofiarą. Gordon's post, partially about me, is Moja nagroda dla osiągnięcia Post # 1285. Johnny Bacardi, whose birthday was yesterday (oops) recently wrote Spójrz na moje prace, o wy, potężny i chichot. Część 37, which, of course means, Gaze upon my works, o ye mighty, and snicker. Part 37.
***
I told some of you that my 19-year-old niece was getting married and that I first learned about it by reading her Facebook page. Well, she isn't getting married; she's just in LOVE, and got too exuberant. Which just goes to show that you can't believe everything on the Internet, even from someone's Facebook page.
***
Some woman called our house looking for someone. No big deal - a wrong number. No big deal except it was 1:30 a.m. I wasn't asleep, but my wife was, and the phone is in the bedroom. So I ran in there.
WOMAN: Is this the Toyota center.
ME: No, ma'm, it's not. You've got...
WOMAN: I'm looking for Ted. You know him?
ME: No, there's no Ted here. You've...
WOMAN: He's a tall man.
ME: Lady, you've got the wrong number.
WOMAN: Ted's not there right now? OK.
And she hung up.

It occurred to me that I have her phone number and sometime at 1:30 a.m., I could call...nah, I wouldn't do that. I can THINK about it though, can't I?
***
Weird thing happened a couple weeks ago with our front door lock. Our contractor was putting needed insulation in our attic. He locked the door, but apparently in such a way that when my wife and daughter got home from the grocery store, they couldn't unlock the front door. The daughter was playing outside in the snow without gloves, against her mother's wishes, and the wife was afraid that the child was going to get frostbite. Her cellphone had run down, so she just drove over to my office and called me from the lobby , about a half hour before I would have taken the bus home for the day. I went home, had to both squeeze the door handle and turn the lock simultaneously to get inside.

So I'm telling this story to a guy I knew, and he bristled. He wouldn't want his wife just showing up at his place of work. But I knew that my wife is quite self-sufficient and if she thought she really needed my help, of course I'd give it to her. I thought the guy's reaction was rather peculiar, actually, or else it spoke of the nature of his relationship with his wife.
***
Oh, and speaking of cell phones, which I sorta was, I got an e-mail message from my provider - let's call it Virgin Mobile - with an e-mail on December 27 that I needed to "top up" my cell phones. OK, so I do, and I get confirmation on December 29. On January 2 and again on the 3rd, I get a message that I need to top up my cell phone. Apparently, they had topped up one but not the other, though the messages had indicated that I topped up neither. Don't know why this peeved me so. I think it's the happy, recorded speech on their phone lines, and a phone menu that simply did not address my particular problem. (Dial 8 for We Screwed up.)
***
As a business librarian, I often have the need to call the NYS Department of State, Division of Corporations. They're a fine group of citizens. However, twice during the phone menu before I can reach a person, I get details about their impending move from 41 State Street to 99 Washington Avenue...in 2008. PLEASE change the menus of your phones.
***
I was watching JEOPARDY! at the end of 2009, and he wondered aloud whether the champion at the end of 2009, and continuing in 2010, would have his income taxed under each year. Well, unless they change their procedures, unless he stuck arounde like Ken Jennings, it would be for the latter year. When I was on, the show was taped in September 1998, the show aired in November 1998, but the check didn't arrive until March 1999, so it was taxable for 1999. You'd think the host of the show for a quarter century would know that. Or maybe he was just making conversation.


ROG

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Is Pat Robertson Crazy or Does He Just Play Dumb on TV?


I finally figured out why I'm so annoyed when Pat Robertson talks about Haiti's earthquake essentially being the Haitians' own fault, just as I was ticked over similar comments from Pat and his ilk about New York City after 9/11 and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I realized that they embarrass ME.

Pat's like that creepy uncle that you really don't want to invite to the next family wedding because everybody's still talking about what he did and said at Cousin Sally's nuptuals a couple years ago. Or he's that used car salesman with the gaudy sports jacket who tells you what a great deal he has for you, right after he's jimmied the odometer.

Someone asked me if I thought Pat was crazy. I think not; I believe these comments are deliberate attempts to provoke. Sometimes they're followed by what I called a man apology. You know, "I'm sorry if anyone was offended," with the implicit "but it's your own fault if you are."

But of course, since this is my blog, I need to address how does this all effect me. Well, my of my Christain friends have had the same experience as I do, trying to explain (they can't) or at least distance themselves from such hateful speech allegedly uttered in the name of Christian love. I'm reminded of the Bon Jovi song, "You Give Love A Bad Name." One of my Internet buddies opines: "Pat Robertson has done more to drive people away from Christianity than any other living person. Obviously HE has a pact with the devil." Don't know about the latter, but the former sounds about right.

So I hope people continue to contribute to the relief effort in Haiti. Curious about finding a charity you can trust? Check out this site.
***
As for Rush Limbaugh, who I cannot explain, Craig Ferguson said it best; the Red Cross is awaiting your check.

ROG

Friday, January 15, 2010

UNDERPLAYED VINYL: Free At Last

Underplayed Vinyl used to be a regular - monthly or so - feature of this blog until it somehow got waylaid. Part of it was not having a usable turntable, but that has since been rectified. The idea about Underplayed Vinyl is to talk about an album I own, but only an LP or 45 (or I suppose, a 78) that I own that I do not possess in digital form (CD or download).

Since it's Martin Luther King's birthday, the Monday holiday law notwithstanding, I thought I'd talk about an album of a couple of his speeches, plus an excerpt of his most famous address, Free at Last.

The album was issued 1968 on Gordy/Motown Records. Side 1 was the DRUM MAJOR INSTINCT SERMON, given at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on February 4, 1968. You can read it here, but of course, you don't get the elocution, the nuances of the voice. The sermon included Dr. King's desired eulogy, part of which reads:

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. (Yes) And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. (Yes)

I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)

I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)

I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that's all I want to say.

If I can help somebody as I pass along,

If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,

If I can show somebody he's traveling wrong,

Then my living will not be in vain.

If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,

If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,

If I can spread the message as the master taught,

Then my living will not be in vain.


Side 2 contains I'VE BEEN TO THE MOUNTAIN delivered at the Mason Temple, the Church of God in Christ Headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee, April 3, 1968, the day before he died. That speech can be seen and heard here.

One of my favorite parts is after he was stabbed by a woman in Harlem, he got this letter from a girl in high school, which he read:
While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I'm a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I'm simply writing you to say that I'm so happy that you didn't sneeze.

But the payoff of the address is the I've Been To The Mountain Top section. It is amazing that not only did it foretell his death, it showed a strong parallel between King and and the Biblical figure Moses:
We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.
And I don't mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!


(Recently, CBS News Sunday Morning did a segment on Moses with Mo Rocca which is found within this document, which links the Liberty bell, the pilgrims, Superman and M.L. King.)

Finally, the album ends with excerpts from the I HAVE A DREAM speech, including the FREE AT LAST segment.

I don't know exactly when I bought this album, though I'm sure it was before I went to college in 1971. these speeches, along with the Beyond Vietnam speech of April 4, 1967 were pivotal in my philosophical development. Thus, this was quite an important recording for me.

ROG

Thursday, January 14, 2010

There Go The Neighborhoods

I attended the grand opening of the new Delaware branch of the Albany Public Library on Saturday, January 9, just as I attended the event for the Pine Hills branch (a/k/a, MY branch) five weeks earlier. Also, on Tuesday, January 5, I went to the sometimes contentious meeting about the closing of the Washington Avenue YMCA (a/k/a, MY branch) at, not coincidentally, the main branch of the APL. And it brought home the fact that the issues of the branch libraries, the urban Y and also the post offices that have been threatened to be closed, including the South Allen location (a/k/a, MY post office) are all part of the same issue: the livability of the city of Albany. However, there have been quite varied outcomes.

First, let's look at the good news. You MUST go to the two reopened branches of the library

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Award-Winning...

Jaquandor was kind enough to bestow upon me a "Kreative Blogger" award of some sort.

I feel a certain obligation to pass these kinds of things along, based on the theory that, back in the olden days when I started blogging, some 4.7 years ago, it made the blogisphere - dare I say it? - FUN. Blogging should be fun, even if one's venting one's spleen to do so.

You're supposed to reveal seven things about yourself. Of course, the problem with that I'm almost out of stuff to "reveal" that 1) I didn't reveal before, 2) require more than a line or two, or 3) I'm not planning to reveal at this point, or quite possibly, ever. No guarantees that the list below might not have bumped into the first category:

1. I receive an irrational amount of pleasure when I delete one piece of spam in Gmail and it says I'll be deleting "the one conversation", or "both conversations" when I delete two, as opposed to those programs that will delete "all 1 conversations", or some such.

2. I once got a B in art in 7th grade. My parents were at a loss as to how I did so well. This explains almost everything you need to know about me and doing art.

3. I once almost flew with someone who was traveling on someone else's ticket. He got detained by airport security and the police for about seven hours until he showed his security clearance. This, BTW, was before 9/11.

4. I have no tattoos. I'm not opposed at this point, but 1) it would keep me from donating blood for a while and 2) my wife would hate it. Then there's the pain and permanence thing, but those are secondary.

5. At least twice, I took jobs because of affairs of the heart. Neither was worth it; the jobs weren't, that is, but the affairs of the heart were.

6. I tape sporting events then watch them later, going through lots of machinations (no news watching/reading or e-mail/Facebook/Twitter). Sometimes it works (Jets/Bengals, Eagles/Cowboys Saturday games I watched on Sunday; Packers/Cardinals Sunday game I finished Tuesday morning); sometimes not (the Patriots loss on the front cover of Monday's Wall Street Journal).

7. I'm allergic to penicillin and Naprocyn, have been for years, yet I'm too lazy to get one of those tags. But we have one for my daughter with her peanut allergy.

Then I'm supposed to pass the award along. That's a bit tougher. I'd have considered Jaquandor's Byzantium Shores. I'd also have picked SamuraiFrog's Electronic Cerebrectomy, except he gave the award to Jaquandor and that's a bit too circular for me. Then there are the bums gentlemen who stopped blogging in the last year, who I used to follow.

Still, there's:

1. Arthur @AmeriNZ - your usual, everyday blog of a gay man from Illinois who moved to New Zealand for love. OK, there's a LOT more to it: talk about politics, comparative US/NZ culture and whatever enters his fertile mind. He also has a couple podcasts, one on politics, the other, more general.

2. Coverville - the blog is primarily a support mechanism for Brian Ibbott's great podcast "featuring unusual covers of pop, rock and country songs by new and established performers." But in the last year or so, he's added a song rating system to the site. Also, he and his listeners have found some nifty videos of covers that he's posted.

3. Progressive Ruin: Unfortunately, I gotta give props to Mike Sterling, even though he's a cheater pants, not just for his persistence - I think he posted 364 days last year - but for some of his regular features, such as his deconstruction of the absurd items Diamond comics catalog, and especially Sluggo Saturdays. Still his obsession with the comic creature Swamp Thing is...disturbing.

4. And speaking of Swamp Thing, its best renderer, IMHO, my buddy Steve Bissette posts his Myrant, a mix of digital comics, comics & film history, political tirades and more.

5. Scott's Scooter Chronicles is about music, books, beer, and hockey. Truth is that I'm not a big fan of the latter two, but he even makes those interesting. It's also about his two young sons and being unemployed in America. SOMEONE GIVE THIS MAN A JOB!

6. Anthony Velez's The Dark Glass is a series of theological musings. Sometimes I don't understand, but he always explains it, or tries to.

7. Gordon at Blog This, Pal! is mostly a pop culture (comics/TV/movies) blog. He knows more about Doctor Who and Kids in the Hall than anyone has a right to. I happen to particularly enjoy those too-rare glimpses of his personal side (his mom, St. Louis vs. Chicago). He also has a podcast that he's rethinking. He knows I'd always vote for keeping the music, but really, he should do what brings him joy.

ROG

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Z is for Zero



I was looking at someone's blog last week. I came across this picture of a large floral clock with its digits in Roman numerals. And it reminded me of something my fifth or sixth grade teacher once told me; the Romans did not have a symbol for zero. As the Wikipedia post suggests, dots and blank spaces might have been utilized.

But, "Records show that the ancient Greeks seemed unsure about the status of zero as a number. They asked themselves, 'How can nothing be something?', leading to philosophical and, by the Medieval period, religious arguments about the nature and existence of zero and the vacuum." Thus, knowing the difference between, say, 16 barrels and 106 barrels was a matter of context. (This rather reminds me of some ancient scriptures that used neither vowels nor spaces.) Here's another history of zero.

This is utterly fascinating to me! It was not merely the fact that the Arabs created Arabic numerals (0, 1, 2, 3, etc.); it's that they were "philosophically neutral" enough to give a null placeholder its due.

And some placeholder it's turned out to be. Add a couple zeroes to 1 to make it a hundred, another to make it a thousand, three more to make it a million. But then it gets complicated. There's disagreement throughout the world how many zeroes are needed to make a billion, trillion and so forth. That's probably why one is prone to see designations such as 10 to the 12th power rather than having it stated it as trillion (U.S.) or billion (much of the rest of the world). Check out this link and look for the "add zero" file, for a humorous take on this.



Once zero is given a value, the notion of negative numbers can evolve. In the winter, we use them all the time when discussing temperature, for instance. Unfortunately, there are two popular scales, Celsius (called Centigrade when I was growing up), used by most of the world, and Fahrenheit, in use primarily in the metric-resistant United States. Thus:
0 degrees Celsius is 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
0 degrees Fahrenheit is -17.78 degrees Celsius.
Cold and colder.
The scales are the same at -40; here's a temperature converter.

Then there is absolute zero, the point at which there is a "theoretical absence of all thermal energy." By definition, that is at 0 degrees on the Kelvin scale (−273.15 C, -459.67 F).

Collins Helium Cryostat that freezes elements to absolute zero. September 1948

Once the concept of zero and negative number takes hold, then other concepts involving the word "zero" got introduced. Zero sum, for instance, suggests that some people are advantaged, and others disadvantaged in a transaction, and once you add up the pluses and the minuses, the sum is equal to zero. Or to quote John Mellencamp, "there's winners and there's losers." Compare this concept to win-win (or, I suppose, lose-lose.)

Zero hour refers to the end of the countdown to particular event, whether it be planned or unforeseen.

I'll end this with a song by Joan Armatrading, one of two "name" artists I've sactually seen twice (the other being the Temptations), doing Down to Zero.

Jerome McLaughlin buying war bond from rural mailman Mark Whalon making rounds in sub-zero weather. East Dorset, VT, US; December 1942

ROG

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Party Mummy Meme


Sunday Stealing, again:

1. Name someone with the same birthday as you.

Jenna Fischer, Pam on The Office. (Could have picked Willard Scott from the Today Show, which would have been more birthday appropriate.)

2. Where was your first kiss?

Under some mistletoe at someone's house. A girl named Mary. Maybe it was Mary's house, I'm not sure. I was 13.

3. Have you ever hit someone of the opposite sex? If yes, why?

No. Do you know what song I really hate that I just played this week? I know it'll sound PC, but it's The Crystals' He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss), written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. It's on a Phil Spector collection; his birthday is next week.

4. Have you ever sung in front of a large number of people? When?

My father, sister and I sang in front of some drunk VFW guys when I was 17.
Slightly off topic, there was a Red Cross training event at Manlius, NY. I played a blues comb. Got a standing O.

5. What's the first thing you notice about your preferred sex?

Ratio of bust, waist, hips.

6. What really turns you off?

Generally, people who talk too much without saying anything.

7. What is your biggest mistake?

Impatience.

8. Have you ever hurt yourself on purpose?

Well, if you count drinking too much in college, then yes.

9. Say something totally random about yourself.

I fell asleep watching Citizen Kane on VHS.

10. Has anyone ever said you looked like a celebrity?

Yes, but I'm at a loss remembering who.

11. Do you still watch kiddie movies or TV shows?

I have a daughter who's under six. I have seen, just this WEEK The Wonder Pets, The Backyardigans and The Fresh Beat Band.

12. Are you comfortable with your height?

Heck, yeah.

13. What is the most romantic thing someone of the preferred sex has done for you?

I'm not going to tell you.

14. When do you know it's love?

I don't think you do except through trial and error.

15. What's something that really annoys you?

I'm walking across the street with the light. Some driver will turn right on red, forcing me to wait in the intersection.
***
Art Clokey died this week at the age of 88. He created Gumby and Pokey. I actually HAD a Gumby toy, dammit. Really.

But the thing I remember more from Art Clokey is this really odd limited animation thing called Davey and Goliath, about a boy and his dog, put out by the Lutheran Church. There came a point where I found the moralistic tales too simplistic, but even in my cynical late teens, I would keep watching it. here's but one example from YouTube; there are plenty more, including a commercial...for Mountain Dew?

ROG

Sunday, January 10, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW: The Princess and the Frog


On New Years Day, the daughter and I walk over to the Madison Theatre in Albany to see the new Disney movie, The Princess and the Frog. The movie had engendered a lot of buzz long before it was released because it would be the first black "Disney princess".

I have to say that the marketing of the "princess" concept is as clever as it is annoying. It is a way to keep the old-line characters (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella) visible and up-to-date, and create a "lineage" that includes Beauty (of...and the Beast), Jasmine from Aladdin and the title characters from Pocohontas and Mulan. I should also note that the popcorn at the Madison is not only inferior to that at the Spectrum, but it costs more.

After at least six trailers, at least half of them sequels (or "squeakquel", in one case), the movie finally started. In was hoping that as a G-rated movie, she would enjoy it.

The lead role of Tiana, a hardworking waitress who grew up in a working-class family, and is trying to follow her dream of owning her own restaurant in 1920s New Orleans, is played by Anika Noni Rose, who I recall from Dreamgirls (2006). While her childhood pal Charlotte is hot to get to meet the debonair, but lazy Prince Naveen, Tiana is only interested in her dream, until...the kiss from a talking frog.

I liked the film visually. The sequence early on where Tiana dreams of her own place is particularly vivid, and the songs are strong. My favorite may be Almost There; indeed, the brief reprise made me almost cry. I also loved Evangeline, sung by Ray the bug.

The great conversation was whether Disney, who has been rightfully charged with occasional racial stereotyping, could pull off a story without falling into the same trap again. I think it was pretty successful in this regard. The race/culture of the Prince was intentionally vague, and that was a smart, if safe, course.

There were people who noted the voodoo roots of the sinister black character Dr. Facilier - but hey, this IS Louisiana - and I think it's countered by the mysterious Mama Odie. And I really believe there are those who are just loaded for bear trying to FIND a flaw. One suggested that the songs should have been done by black composers such as the Neville Brothers, rather than the award-winning, hard-working movie musician Randy Newman; such nonsense. Here's a promo by Ms. Rose, as well as a link to all the songs. I was particularly gratified by this positive review in Racialicious.

Bottom line, I enjoyed it, I'm afraid far more than the daughter, who was frightened some by Facilier and more by his "friends on the other side". She also was bothered by amphibians in peril, though she now denies it.

Unfortunate also is the film's "disappointing box office" of $86 million. With ticket sales up generally, why did this film, released November 25, 2009 do about half as well as Alvin 2, released on December 23? Was it marketing? was there resistance by the audience? I don't know, but5 I hope this movie finds its audience.

ROG

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Football/Baseball QUESTIONS

Football season begins today. (This is American football, not what we heathens call soccer.) All that other stuff for 17 weeks is merely prologue.

I need to rank the teams in the order I WANT them to win, not who I think WILL win. Right now, I think San Diego beats Minnesota in the Super Bowl, because the Chargers played their starters maybe a third of the time last week and STILL beat Washington. OK, it WAS a lousy team, but Indianapolis lost to Buffalo, FCOL.

1. *New York Jets (A) - I seriously thought they were toast after losing 10-7 to Atlanta at home a couple weeks ago. then they beat/were allowed to beat the 14-0 Colts and division-leading Bengals so they can play the Bengals AGAIN this weekend.
2. New Orleans Saints (N) - it'd be good for the city. Losing their last three makes me nervous about their chances.
3. *Philadelphia Eagles (N) - call it mid-Atlantic bias.
4. San Diego Chargers (A) - my sister lives in SD, I've seen them play. what can I
say?
5. Indianapolis Colts (A) - if only for the favor they gave the Jets.
6. *Arizona Cardinals (N) - still think it's unnatural playing football in the desert, but like Mary Richards in the premiere episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, they got spunk.
7. *Green Bay Packers (N) - they're GREEN, which IS a plus.
8. Minnesota Vikings (N) - always liked the Vikings. Why could Favre played like this LAST year with the Jets? Oh, because this is a better team.
9. *Baltimore Ravens (A) - eh.
10. *New England Patriots (A) - they've won too often this century.
11. *Cincinnati Bengals (A) - have a history of being thugs.
12. *Dallas Cowboys - when did they have an election and pick the Cowboys "America's Team"? I sure didn't vote.


Meanwhile in the Baseball Hall of Fame voting, Andre Dawson FINALLY made it in. "The Hawk" I’d have picked for sure. But there were FIVE BLANK ballots? Ticks me off.
Though in fact, without the five blanks, Bert Blyleven would have ended up with 74.9% (400/534) of the vote, with 75% needed, and no, they don't round up. Now THAT would have hurt. And tell me, why doesn’t Lee Smith get more love? I also would have voted for Roberto Alomar, and yes, Mark McGwire.

QUESTIONS:
1. Who do you want to win the Super Bowl? Who do you THINK will win?
2. What did you think of the HoF balloting?
ROG

Friday, January 08, 2010

The January 8 Birthdays

A number of performers were born on this date, such as Jose Vincente Ferrer (1912-1992), Larry Storch from F Troop (b. 1923), CBS Sunday Morning's Charles Osgood (b. 1933), singer Shirley Bassey (b. 1937), singer R. Kelly (b. 1969) and actress Sarah Polley (b. 1979), not to mention scientist Stephen Hawking (b. 1942).

But there's a "Big Three". And two of them have an odd link.

Elvis Presley, 1956

Elvis Aaron Presley (1935-1977) would have been 75 today. Maybe IS 75, if you believe the sightings.

I found this question somewhere:

Which mega-popular rock band of the ’70s not only met Elvis but got along with him so well that its members were guests at his concerts and received gifts from the King?
a) The Who
b) Led Zeppelin
c) Eagles
d) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Answer below.

As I was quoted in the local paper back in 1997: My father hated Elvis. He resented this white artist stealing/exploiting/ profiting from performing black music. (But then half of the musicians in the '50s and '60s from Pat Boone to Led Zeppelin "borrowed" from black music). So I never owned any Elvis music as a child or teenager.

Still, I did like some of his songs ("Jailhouse Rock," "Little Sister"). So I watched the '68 "comeback special" and became grudgingly, a mild fan.
[My father must not have been home, it occurs to me.]

When Elvis died, I thought, "Oh that's too bad." The Elvis cult that's developed since 1977 I view with fascination and utter bemusement.

But I've discovered that I have more of an interest in The Pelvis than I thought. He shows up in this blog from time to time, whether it's dissecting one of his tunes or noting his posthumous wealth, talking about his link with Joe Stalin, or reviewing a DVD of his performances on Ed Sullivan.

Bob Hope (L) with Soupy Sales (2nd R) and Shirley MacLaine (2nd L), their faces covered with remnants of cream pies, 1962

Then there's Milton Supman Heinz (b. 1926). You might know him better as the comic actor Soupy Sales. I must admit that I didn't watch his shows, but I always enjoyed watching him on several game shows such as Match Game, What's My Line and the various permutation of Pyramid; go to YouTube and you'll find dozens of examples.

Unfortunately he died last year. I happened to be listening to his Motown album A Bag of Soup this week. Among the jokey songs, there was a rather touching song called Though I'm A Clown (I Need Love Too). I couldn't find it, alas, on the Internet, but I found it rather poignant.

David Bowie, 1983

The living member of this trio is David Jones. Since the musician did not want to be confused with Davy Jones of the Monkees, he changed his name to David Bowie. I won his Honky Dory album during my freshman year of college and I've been a fan ever since. He shows up in my musings quite a bit. This what I wrote two years ago when Bowie turned 60.

The local newspaper had a tournament of carols. It came down to Bing Crosby's White Christmas and the Crosby/Bowie Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth. Crosby/Bowie won!

Oh, the linkage: Bassist Tony Sales and drummer Hunt Sales are sons of Soupy Sales. Along with Bowie and Reeves Gabrels, the Sales brothers were in rock band Tin Machine.

And the answer to the Elvis question is Led Zeppelin. BTW, LZ guitarist Jimmy Page has HIS birthday on January 9 (1944).

ROG