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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Top ten television comedies

O.K., since almost everyone in my blogging universe has tackled this, it's (past) time for my 10 favorite sit-coms. My rule: I'm not picking anything still on the air. That means no Scrubs, no Simpsons.

10. Sports Night: watched religiously. Would have ranked higher if it could have stuck around a little longer.

9. All in the Family: groundbreaking stuff. But it went on too long, as Logan noted.
8. Frasier: erudite humor mixed with occasional madcap fun. (Miles ironing his pants is one of the great pieces of TV, all sans dialogue.)

7. Barney Miller: the first year, they tried for Barney to have a home life, complete with a wife (Barbara Barrie), but it never jelled. After that, it found its own voice. I never was a big Fish fan (BTW, to the best of my knowledge, Abe Vigoda is still alive,) but it was the guest stars and their reaction to the cops that really worked for me.

6. Taxi: Reverend Jim was my favorite character, but it was a great ensemble, with Judd Hirsch's Alex holding the center.

5. WKRP in Cincinnati - is this show as funny as I remember? As much as I appreciated Venus Flytrap and Johnny Fever, and, O.K., Bailey Quarters, my great appreciation was for Les Nessman, he of the imaginary walls and flying turkeys. If the rights to the great music originally associated with this show could somehow find clearance, I'd buy the season DVDs in a minute.

4. Cheers - I wasn't quite as fond of it after Diane left, but I warmed up to Rebecca in time.

3. M*A*S*H - probably would have ranked higher, maybe even #1, if it had gone when Radar did. I watched those first seven or eight seasons even in reruns, but not the last three or four, which start repeating itself. B.J. falling off the fidelity wagon - touching. B.J. THINKING about falling off the fidelity wagon a few seasons later - boring.

2. The Mary Tyler Moore Show - it wasn't Mary so much as Lou "I hate spunk" Grant, Murray's savaging Ted Baxter (often without Ted knowing), full-of-moxie Rhoda, and the sweet-seeming yet savage Sue Ann Nivens, played by Betty White.

1. The Dick van Dyke Show. This is why the show is the gold standard: it lasted five years, not too short, not too long. It had a near perfect mix of work life and home life. It had Richard Deacon of Binghamton, NY, my hometown, as Mel Cooley. It had the superb Carl Reiner, the original choice for Rob, BTW, as the egotistical Alan Brady. It has segments I haven't seen in decades I still can remember, such as son Richie's middle name: Robert Oscar Sam Edward Benjamin Ulysses David, or ROSEBUD. It had an ottoman in the opening, which Rob either trips over or dances deftly around. And it had Mary Tyler Moore in capri pants.

Just missing the cut:

The Andy Griffith Show: Another show that went on too long. The first five years with Andy and Don Knotts as Deputy Fife were quite great. Strangely, broadcasting in color also hurt its appeal of the small town quality of Mayberry.

Seinfeld: I really liked this show early on, when REALLY was about nothing (getting lost in the parking garage, e.g.) Of course, it had classic episodes such as "The Contest." Elaine's bad dancing, Kramer's entrances. But there was a point when I started finding it tiresome (the glee at Susan's death, the whole NY Yankees thing).

The Bob Newhart Show: This is the one with Bob as the shrink, as opposed to Newhart, which was Bob as the Vermont innkeeper. The earlier show won out because of the better supporting cast (I found Julia Duffy's character often shrill). Bob's particular way of playing off people is a rare gift. Of course his latter show has the best TV ending ever, but it was inspired by the earlier show, and by Bobby in the shower on Dallas.

Arrested Development: I didn't start watching it from the beginning. Actually, I tried and didn't particularly enjoyed it. Then I tried again at the beginning of the second season and it clicked for me.

I Love Lucy: Probably saw it TOO often in my youth.

Soap: over the top zaniness. I loved the dummy.

Friends: it was rather uneven over the years, and there were periods I just gave up on it, only to be drawn back.

The Associates: a very funny comedy with Martin Short that was on for too short a time.

Almost anything with Dabney Coleman.

Any number of shows I'm probably just forgetting.
Daniel Schorr, who covered Watergate for CBS News, and delivered a eulogy at Frank Zappa's funeral, turns 90 today. One of my media heroes, he is still a working journalist for NPR.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Xena and her friends

I was excited and fascinated by the possibility that we might have had three new planets.

When my sisters were old enough to share a room, my father built a couple walls out of the hallway which became my bedroom, of sorts. To compensate for that tiny space, he agreed to paint, right on the ceiling, whatever I wanted. What I wanted was the solar system. The sun was the size of a large beach ball, and the other planets were done to scale. I used to "look at" this part of the galaxy every night before I went to bed for about ten years, until I went to college, and then my parents subsequently bought another house.

The initial changes that were proposed for the solar system didn't bother me at all. Many things that I "knew" as a child have been altered with new discoveries.

The proposed definition: A planet is a celestial body that (a) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (b) is in orbit around a star, and is neither a star nor a satellite of a planet.

What I Knew/What I Know Now
Mercury - had 0 moons/still has 0 moons
Venus - had 0 moons/still have 0 moons
Earth - had 1 moon/has 1 moon
Mars - had 2 moons/has 2 moons
Jupiter-had 12 moons/has 61 moons
Saturn-had 9 moons/has 31 moons
Uranus-had 5 moons/has 21 moons
Neptune-had 2 moons/has 11 moons

Yet, I do have some disappointment. Ceres, under consideration as a planet, continues to be cosmic debris in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The recently found 2003 UB313, which the discover, Caltech researcher Mike Brown, has dubbed Xena (yes, after the warrior princess) remains just some other heavenly body.

And Pluto, dear Pluto, once a real live planet is now - well read this:
"The [proposed but rejected] definition entirely misses the key element of a solar system object, namely its role in the formation of the solar system," David Charbonneau, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said. "There are eight fully formed planets. The other objects - Ceres, Pluto, Charon [Pluto's moon], [Xena], and hundreds of thousands of others, are the fascinating byproducts of the formation of these eight planets." Thus, Pluto, controversial since its discovery in 1930, had its planetary status on the table again, and lost it. Pluto is merely a "fascinating byproduct".

I suppose it's for the best. There would have been at least 53 planets, by Mike Brown's count, had the newdefinitionn taken hold. Imagine the learning curve in school textbooks if THAT hadoccurredd. It'll still be complicated.

But think of all the ruined mnemonic devices:
My very exciting mother just served us nine pizzas
My Very Easy Memory Jingle Seems Useful Naming Planets
My Very Energetic Mother Just Sent Us Nine Pickles
Men Very Easily Make Jugs Serve Useful Nocturnal Purposes
My Very Elegant Mother Just Sat Upon Nine Porcupines
My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Peas
Mark's violet eyes make Jane sit up nights pining

Actually, the last one can still work. No pining, though.
Chris Black on Pluto (August 26)
My sincere condolences to my cyberbuddy, near-twin Gordon on the passing of his father this week. My thoughts and prayers are with you, Gordon.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

This Will Be The Last Time

I tend not to be the jealous kind. We all have our different experiences that enrich our lives.

Still, there's a woman in my office that I'm at least mildly jealous of. She got to see the Beatles LIVE. She got tickets through a local Catholic church group, and went with her friend, with their mothers as chaperones, on a bus to Atlantic City on August 30, 1964. Check those ticket prices!

From Jackie DeShannon's website:
BEATLES FIRST AMERICAN TOUR (August 19 - September 20, 1964)

This was the first real Beatles concert tour of America. Consisting of 32 shows in 34 days, The Beatles wound up breaking attendance records as they appeared at major arenas throughout the U.S. and Canada. On the bill with The Beatles was the Bill Black Combo, the Righteous Brothers (backed by The Exciters), and Jackie DeShannon.

The Beatles song list for this 1964 tour:
Twist and Shout**
You Can't Do That
All My Loving
She Loves You**
Things We Said Today
Roll Over Beethoven
Can't Buy Me Love
If I Fell
I Want To Hold Your Hand
A Hard Day's Night
Long Tall Sally
(**-For some shows, The Beatles would open with I Saw Her Standing There, delete She Loves You, and close with Twist And Shout).

August 30: Convention Hall Atlantic City, New Jersey: Three days after the Democratic National Convention was held here, The Beatles played one concert here. Over 19,000 Beatles fans attended the concert which started at 8:30 p.m. After the show, the Beatles left the hall in a laundry truck, as leaving by limousine would have been impossible.

Sure, the Beatles were far away and difficult to hear over the screams, but still...

What put me in mind about that is the fact that TODAY is the 40th anniversary of the Beatles' gig at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, which turned out to be their last concert performance. The opening act line-up included The Remains, Bobby Hebb, The Cyrkle and The Ronettes, without Ronnie Spector. The set list was:
Rock and Roll Music
She's A Woman
If I Needed Someone
Day Tripper
Baby's In Black
I Feel Fine
I Wanna Be Your Man
Nowhere Man
Paperback Writer
Long Tall Sally

And, of course, after that concert, they were pretty much finished as musicians.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Fantasy Company

I recently spent $12.95 for Comics Journal #277, the 30th anniversary issue, initially because an old FantaCo bud, Tom the Mayor (not to be confused with Tom, the owner) sent me this e-mail:
I do not know if you keep in touch with the comic biz, but in the latest issue of "The Comics Journal", they have an article on the black and white comics boom of the 1980's, and they show the cover to "Sold Out" #1, where a character named Roger Green is hunted down by the color police. Poor fellow is probably still in the color concentration camp. Wasn't Steve McQueen in the "Great Escape", based on that Green Fellow?

Gee, I co-wrote that story, yet I don't remember THAT aspect of the plot, but it HAS been 20 years. The artist, BTW, was John Hebert, not John Herbert, as indicated in TCJ.

As it turns out, there are other very interesting things in the magazine, including a piece on the late direct comics distribution guru Phil Seuling that will be VERY useful in the future.

Then, last week, I had breakfast one morning with Mitch Cohn. I worked with Mitch at FantaCo from 1980 until 1983 - he started there a year earlier - and later worked for him at his Midnight Comics store in Albany in the early 1990s. For FantaCo, Mitch edited the excellent Deja Vu and Gates of Eden as well as the Chronicles magazines dealing with Daredevil and the Avengers. (I did the ones for X-Men, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man.)

Mitch is a middle school English teacher in New York City, and he looks remarkable similar to the guy I last saw about a decade ago. He was in town visiting folks, including our old FantaCo colleague Rocco. Right after I saw Mitch, I happened to walk past 21 Central Avenue, which had been a music store, a couple other things, then some sort of religious center after FantaCo, but had been most recently boarded up. The boards were down, the door was open, and it appears that some new retailer was cleaning up the place in anticipation of yet another venture.

So, it's been a FantaCo kind of week. FantaCo was started on August 28, 1978, and closed 20 years later, but given the fact that I worked there for 8.5 years, it remains in the DNA.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Please Come to Boston

This post was inspired by GP's Boston glasses.

My now ex, Zoe, and I were in Boston on Flag Day, 1991, when, pretty much at the last minute, around 5:30 p.m., we decided to go to Fenway Park and see if we could score a couple tickets to the game starting about an hour and a half later. We held little hope, for the game featured the pitching duel of Red Sox's ace Roger Clemens (whatever happened to him?) and the California Angels' one-handed wonder Jim Abbott. Surprisingly, not only did we get seats, we got GREAT seats right behind home plate. I'm thinking that someone must have turned in tickets at the last moment.

What I remember about the game is that California was ahead early, Clemens spent too much time keeping Dave Winfield on first base, and that the Red Sox came back to win. The box score of the game is here.

Afterwards, we went to the Howard Johnson nearby, where we stayed. We decided to go down to the hotel bar to get a couple drinks. It was fairly busy, with several people trying to gain the bartender's attention. At some point, he acknowledged that he saw me and stuck up his index finger in the "just a minute" fashion. But what eventually became apparent is that people who came after me were being served, but I was not. And people who came after them were being served, and I, standing in the front, still was not, only being given "just a minute". The "interesting" thing about this that only he, I and someone carefully observing the scene would be aware of what was going on. Also, he never didn't serve me, he only hadn't "gotten around" to serving me. Any claim of discrimination would have been very difficult to prove.

What I felt was a deep volcano of rage, the kind of furor that if I had had a baseball bat, I would have been sorely tempted to smash all of the glasses hanging over the bar. Of course, I really wouldn't because 1)I could have hurt an innocent, and 2)I would have been arrested, a black man gone crazy for "no reason". Or I could have started yelling, demanding service, but that, too, would have likely make me look as though I had wanted preferential treatment.

Zoe and I left the bar, and I complained to the night manager of the hotel, who recommended I write to the day manager. I did write him, and also my credit card company, but never got any satisfaction.

I've been to Boston subsequently, had a good time, didn't have any difficulties. But GP, the Boston form of racism, indeed, the Northern form of racism, tends to be far more subtle, more clever than in there was in the South in the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, from what I can gather from folks I know in the South, folks with racist attitudes have adopted the more subtle forms of discrimination from their Northern brethren (and sisterern). So, GP, keep that gray filter on those rose-colored glasses.
Jim Abbott, motivational speaker.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Lydster, Part 29 Girlfriends

From the pictures I've shown, you'd think Lydia was a bit of a loner. Untrue.

One of the benefits of three trips to Binghamton is that Lydia got to see her friend Kay, twice there and actually once in Albany. Their mothers are great friends, in each other's weddings (as was I), and the girls are only a couple months apart, so I think the mothers really wanted the girls to bond, and it appears that they have.

Of course, that only goes so far. When we were at our house, I was reading stories to them when Kay got on my lap. Lydia sulked. So I had to put Kay down, put Lydia on one lap, THEN put Kay on the other. And occasionally, there were sharing issues. But they seemto really adore one another.

I've never been sure: is this a hug or a chokehold?

Lydia with three of her five-year-old cousins at the Olin family reunion.

This picture in response to those who claim that I only show my daughter smiling. (But the picture at the top happened soon after this one.)

Don't mess with this child.

Love you, daughter of mine.
Before we had Lydia, the Kix cereal registered trademark used to bug me. But now, "Kid-tested, Mother-approved" is starting to really offend. It maintains the stereotype of the caring mother and absent father. Feh.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Another Pleasant Valley weekend, featuring Ms. Julie Hembeck

The first weekend in August, Carol, Lydia and I trekked down to Pleasant Valley, NY, not far from Poughkeepsie (where one picks one's toes, but that's for another day). What was interesting about this particular edition of this annual gathering was that there were far more children than usual. Generally, there are one or two, including Lydia, but this time there were over a half dozen. Which made the fact that the adults shooed the kids off the badmitton court even more humorous. They wanted to play a "serious" game. The three-on-three match was competitive, and for reasons not even known to me, I started doing a play-by-play commentary: "Ooh, Klonfas lost that one in the sun", stuff like that. And it's not like a network announcer in a booth some distance away; these players were as little as 10 feet away.

The next day, we went to visit Fred, Lynn and Julie. Well, we tried. How does Dutchess County have two such oddly named streets, with one a Road and the other a Drive? Anyway we eventually got there, talked, and ate and swam. Fred and I blathered about obscure television shows and even more obscure music. He played for me a great cover of the entire Revolver album that he had gotten from MOJO magazine, performed by various artists that were unfamiliar to me.

Self-portrait of Julie, stolen from her father's blog of August 25, 2005

Julie goes through music phases; currently, she is listening to Elton John and especially David Bowie. The most notable thing about Julie's language is her use of language. She has a near-constant use of "emo", as in "that's so emo." Emo I know what that is, but don't quite understand it in context. I managed to have totally missed the term 420, but Julie assured me it, at least with her and her friends, does not refer to drugs, even though the original meaning did, but rather something that's sort of funny. I do recognize that the language is fluid.
Julie did a very good caricature of me, which I should scan one of these days.
Anyway, it's Julie's 16th birthday today. Happy birthday; it was great to see you. Oh, and your parents, too. Glad we didn't get to see the bat.
I was playing The Best of Elvis Costello this week, in honor of his 52nd birthday today, and I was thinking:
*I wonder how Diana Krall, one of my wife's favorite singers, is feeling these days?
*Some days, the last line in the chorus of Oliver's Army reflects how I feel about work.
*Lots of his early songs could be done in different styles and would work. For a long time, I have thought (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding could/should be done as a doowop song. Really.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Emmys (in August?) QUESTIONS

O.K., if you care about such things, you've already kvetched about who has NOT been nominated, so my questions for today are about the Emmys this Sunday, hosted by Conan O'Brien:
1)Who do you want to win?
2)Who do you think will win?
3) You may also indicate who SHOULD win, but I haven't seen enough to answer that.

Outstanding Comedy Series

Arrested Development, Fox
Curb Your Enthusiasm, HBO
The Office, NBC
Scrubs, NBC
Two and a Half Men, CBS

I watch The Office and Scrubs and watched Arrested Development. Will they give another award to a now-deceased show? Maybe, but I hope not.
WANT: Scrubs. Or The Office.
WILL: Curb Your Enthusiasm

Outstanding Drama Series
Grey's Anatomy, ABC
House, Fox
The Sopranos, HBO
24, Fox
The West Wing, NBC

With its lead actors not nominated, I think the Sopranos are a mortal lock.
WANT: 24, which really shocked from the first episode this season. I know this despite the fact that I didn't actually WATCH it, except for about 24 minutes, but did read about it regularly.
WILL: the Sopranos

Outstanding Reality-Competition Program
The Amazing Race, CBS
American Idol, Fox
Dancing with the Stars, ABC
Project Runway, Bravo
Survivor, CBS
Don't much care.
WANT: Amazing Race, since the Browns like it.
WILL: American Idol, more popular than ever.

Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series
The Colbert Report, Comedy Central
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Comedy Central
Late Night with Conan O'Brien, NBC
Late Show with David Letterman, CBS
Real Time with Bill Maher, HBO
The Presidential roast really lifted Colbert's visibility.
WANT: Colbert
WILL: Colbert

Outstanding Miniseries
Bleak House, PBS
Elizabeth I, HBO
Into the West, TNT
Sleeper Cell, Showtime
I saw none of them.
WILL: When in doubt, guess HBO.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm
Kevin James, The King of Queens
Tony Shalhoub, Monk
Steve Carell, The Office
Charlie Sheen, Two and a Half Men
Since my pick, John Dorian, is not here, let's go with
WANT: Steve Carell
WILL: Steve Carell

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Christopher Meloni, Law and Order: SVU
Denis Leary, Rescue Me
Peter Krause, Six Feet Under
Kiefer Sutherland, 24
Martin Sheen, The West Wing
Will there be one last send off, for West Wing, or the dying character from Six Feet Under?
WANT: Kiefer Sutherland
WILL: The pity vote splits, and it's Sutherland

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Lisa Kudrow, The Comeback
Jane Kaczmarek, Malcolm in the Middle
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, The New Adventures of Old Christine
Stockard Channing, Out of Practice
Debra Messing, Will & Grace
I stopped watching Old Christine after a few episodes, Out of Practice after the pilot, two others years ago, and never saw Kudrow.
WANT: Lisa Kudrow
WILL: Debra Messing

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer
Geena Davis, Commander in Chief
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: SVU
Frances Conroy, Six Feet Under
Allison Janney, The West Wing
Please let it not be Alison Janney AGAIN.
WANT: Kyra Sedgwick
WILL: Mariska Hargitay

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Will Arnett, Arrested Development
Jeremy Piven, Entourage
Bryan Cranston, Malcolm in the Middle
Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men
Sean Hayes, Will & Grace
Oh, throw A.D. a bone.
WANT: Will Arnett
WILL: Jeremy Piven

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
William Shatner, Boston Legal
Oliver Platt, Huff
Michael Imperioli, The Sopranos
Gregory Itzin, 24
Alan Alda, The West Wing
WANT: Gregory Itzin, pretty much out of pity. I read a TV Guide article how he goes golfing with Dennis Haysbert who played assassinated President Palmer on the show. They LIKE Palmer, but not Itzin's character.
WILL: Imperioli, to give an acting award to the Sopranos.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Cheryl Hines, Curb Your Enthusiasm
Alfre Woodard, Desperate Housewives
Jaime Pressly, My Name is Earl
Elizabeth Perkins, Weeds
Megan Mullally, Will & Grace
DON'T Want: a swan song award for Mullally
WANT: Jaime Pressly, the Earl's ex, who became better defined as the season progressed from a one-note schemer to a much richer character
WILL: Pressly or Hines

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Candice Bergen, Boston Legal
Sandra Oh, Grey's Anatomy
Chandra Wilson, Grey's Anatomy
Blythe Danner, Huff
Jean Smart, 24
While Wilson's supervisor of interns is a great character, I'm leaning towards Smart's portrayal of the Martha Mitchellesque portrayal of the First Lady. In the last episode, she gave a LOOK after her husband was taken into custody that told volumes.
WANT: Smart or Wilson.
WILL: Smart

What are YOUR thoughts on these or any of the other categories?
CBS Sunday Morning did a story this past week on the new Lassie movie coming out this month

"Lassie Comes Home: Lassie is the quintessential screen heroine: strong, courageous and devoted. Now, like so many great stars, Lassie is making a comeback. Producers are hoping modern moviegoers will sit -- and stay. CBS News' Cynthia Bowers reports."
For More Information: The original, unabridged, edition of Eric Knight's "Lassie Come-Home" is available through, as are many of the Lassie movies & TV shows.
Jon Provost
Canine Companions for Independence
Joan Neidhardt & Cathy Schmidt's Lassie Fan Club
Dr. Jeff Werber
The official Lassie movie
It also showed this parody clip which I found on YouTube, which you may have seen. (I hadn't.) Since I've never done one of these before, I may be doing this a bit redundantly.

If that doesn't work, try this.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

And It Appears to Be a Long Time...and Still Here

Frankly, I'm surprised.

I'm surprised I missed David Crosby's 65th birthday ten days ago.

I'm surprised that David Crosby REACHED his 65th birthday. Apparently, so is David Crosby. In a Cox news article in anticipation of the CSNY concert this past weekend in Saratoga Springs, Crosby is quoted as saying,"I didn't think I was gonna live past 30. Gotta remember, I was a junkie - junkies don't live. They just wait around until they die. So I had no expectation of being this age."

Anyway, I've been playing his music of late, as is my habit with birthdays of performers, and I almost always forget one: the 1999 Live at the Wiltern by CPR. (The Amazon listing is here.) This is a somewhat jazzy disc by a group consisting of Crosby, Jeff Pevar, and James Raymond, a biological son of Crosby that David didn't know about until a few years ago. Here is a review of the 11/10/1998 concert, which also featured percussionist Steve di Stanislaw and bassist Andrew Ford.

Most of the reviews of the 2-CD set fall into two categories. Fans of CPR really like the first disc, which is primarily tunes from the first CPR studio album, but don't really enjoy the second disc. Fans of Crosby's older music tend to find the first disc unfocused and a little boring, but are intrigued by the remakes on disc two of tunes such as Almost Cut My Hair, Eight Miles High and Ohio. I find myself in the latter camp.

But what I really wanted to talk about is the acting career of David Crosby. I saw him on a Roseanne episode, but I remember him best as Chester, the recovering alcoholic on The John Larroquette Show, the AA sponsor for John Hemingway (Larroquette). Crosby appeared four or six times. I thought season one, with that quirky theme by David Cassidy(!), was a great dark comedy. But by season two, the powers that be lightened it up, dropping Crosby (seems as though his character died, but I'm not positive). It is generally considered to have "jumped the shark" after that one great, Crosby-enhanced season.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

At the Mike: Wallace

I've been watching Mike Wallace for probably 40 years, certainly for the duration of 60 Minutes, which started in 1968. So, I was rather interested in this story from NPR that I happened to catch on the radio that suggests that Wallace, Barbara Walters and Larry King, for three, don't know how to interview very well.
Then I thought about the interview Wallace did with the head of Iran recently, and I realize that, at least in that instance, the critic may very well have been correct. Wallace's schtick got in the way of getting actual information. One tends to remember the questions from his interviews more than the answers he gleans. I recall one interview with Ayatollah Khomeini when he suggested that others - not himself - thought of the leader (Arafat?) as a "lunatic".
I suppose I oughtn't to pick on an 88-year old man, who indicated in this audio clip from 12/29/2005, "I wouldn't know what else to do" if he weren't working, though he's supposedly semi-retiring.

Mahmood Ahmadinejad's blog, available in Farsi, English, Arabic and French.
The death of Bruno Kirby last week bothered me for so many reasons:
* He was in two of my favorite movies, The Freshman and Spinal Tap.
* He was in several movies I enjoyed, such as Harry/Sally, City Slickers and Good Morning Vietnam.
* He was fifty-frickin'-seven years old.
(Didn't know he was in the pilot of the M*A*S*H TV show.)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Monday Meme 8/21: Ice Breakers

I get to brag on my wife, as she is prominently mentioned in this article from last week.
Found at the July 07, 2006 post here.

Ice Breakers

We've all been there. Those gatherings where you don't seem to know anyone well. You're trying to make small talk and that usually means questions. What do you ask? How do you answer?

1. How do you respond when asked "So, what do you do?"

I say "I'm a business librarian at at quasi-governmental agency." Anything to work the prefix quasi- into the conversation.

2. What about the classic "Where are you from?"

I used to have a rude reply to this, but now I just say "from Binghamton, NY." If they're from NYS or nearby, this means something, but if they're from south of the Mason-Dixon line or west of the Mississippi River, they hear New York, and invariably think "New York City", which is about 200 miles away.

3. What other questions are you frequently asked at parties and other gatherings and how do you answer them?

"Is that REALLY your daughter?" "Yes."
If someone at the party knows I was on JEOPARDY!, that person will almost invariably tell the new person that I was on the show, which leads to:
"Were you REALLY on?" "Yes."
"What's Alex Trebek really like?" "He did the rabbit-ears things with his fingers behind my back. I saw him on a monitor."
"How did you do?" "I won one game, and came in second the second day."
Considering this happened almost eight years ago, this conversation happens at least a half dozen times a year, and I never initiate it.

4. Are there any questions or topics that make you cringe?

No, but there are topics, usually home improvement, where, once the conversation is launched, someone in the midst of renovation, e.g., will tell a detailed 15-minute blow-by-blow; I've faded out by minute four.

5. What is your strategy for breaking the ice?

Usually to look for the person who seems out of the loop. Another tactic - be useful - offer to open the wine bottles or bring in additional chairs, for instance.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hiatt Hits the Big 5-4

John Hiatt turns 54 today. I don't know about you, but I always think of musicians as older than I am, or more recently, considerably younger. But Hiatt is essentially my age. I suppose I could have waited until next year to write this, when he hits the double nickel, but what the heck - I'm still bummed that I missed seeing him this summer, for FREE, because of my wisdom tooth extraction the day before.

I have no better way to indicate how much I love the music of Hiatt than to indicate that I've seen him live once (and would have seen him again this year), I've put together compilation discs of songs written by him and covered by others, and I own a majority of his output. To wit:
1979 Slug line NO
1980 Two bit monsters NO
1982 All of a sudden NO
1983 Riding with the king LP
1985 Warming up to the ice age CD
1987 Bring the family CD
1988 Slow turning CD
1989 Y'all caught? CD
1990 Stolen moments CD
1992 Little Village CD
1993 Slug line/Two bit monsters NO
1993 Perfectly good guitar CD
1994 Hiatt comes alive at Budokan CD
1995 Walk on CD
1996 Living a little, laughing a little CD
1996 Master series best of NO
1997 Little head CD
1998 Greatest hits and more NO
1999 Greatest Hits The A&M Years '87 - '94 CD
2000 Crossing Muddy Waters CD
2001 Anthology NO
2001 The tiki bar is open CD
2003 Beneath This Gruff Exterior CD
2004 20th century masters: The millennium collection NO
2005 Master of disaster CD
2005 Chronicles 3 CD box NO
2005 Live from Austin TX NO

About 60% of his output. I'm missing some of his early, unfocused work, and some of the other stuff I don't have is duplicative.

My favorite John Hiatt songs:
1. Shredding the Documents from Walk On. Faux Beach Boys harmony, name-checks Larry King and Oprah.
2. Have a Little Faith in Me from Bring the Family. And the remixed version on one of his greatest hits album, with more orchestration, is definitely NOT an improvement.
3. Perfectly Good Guitar, title track. Reportedly really ticked off Pete Townsend, who has been known to smash one or two.
4. I Don't Even Try from Riding with the King. Used to listen to this on the late, great Q-104. I love how the intro line echoes Smoke on the Water.
5. Lift Up Every Stone from Crossing Muddy Waters. I first heard this on an episode of A Prairie Home Companion on a co-worker's 35th birthday, right after his party in Albany, while driving towards Poughkeepsie, my co-worker's hometown. The song has a gospel feel.

An NPR story on Hiatt. Julie Hembeck, someday, you'll appreciate the music of John Hiatt.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Don't Play That Song! QUESTIONS

A couple work moves ago, my fellow librarians at the time developed rules about what we could and could not play around each other. This was one librarian's list:

Music I never want to hear again as long as I live
Celine Dion
Brian Setzer
Mariah Carey
Bob Dylan
Sheryl Crow
(Southside Johnny, too, while we're in Joisey)
Air Supply

Another list:
Janis Joplin
Liza Minelli can be tough
no Cher in the house (not that there's ever been any)
and, in deference to your favorite band, absolutely no Klaatu

List #3:
Neil Young
Willie Nelson

My list? Nothing. There were no artists that I couldn't have taken, at least now and then. There is some atonal John Coltrane I can't listen to for very long, but none of these folks had any. (For that matter, I don't think we had any Celine Dion, either).

Whereas, there were people we could play that no one would object to:
Lyle Lovett, the Beatles, and Bonnie Raitt immediately come to mind.

So my question: in your house, in your workplace or in your car: when you hear what songs, or artists, do you change the station or scream, "Turn that thing OFF!"? What songs, or artists, are almost always acceptable to a cross section of your family or colleagues? Julie Hembeck, please answer this query.
TV Land has been doing a series of Top 10 lists, most of which I've ignored. But for some reason, I did watch Top 10 Musical Moments on TV this past Wednesday. A rather predictable list; the vague "MTV Unplugged begins" wouldn't have made my list, though Nirvana on Unplugged, a "bubbling under" choice, might have. And the ONLY value of actually watching the thing, rather than just getting the list from the site is this little tidbit, about the guest on the Smothers Brothers show who passed out into Mickey Rooney's arms during the Who's explosive performance. (It was Bette Davis, and she did perform on the show.) Moreover, the irritating thing about the program is that the 10 p.m. EDT show actually began at 10:04:30; I find that be generally true of that network at night, so if you're TiVoing, you may want to record the next show as well.
LIBRARIANS IN THE MOVIES: An Annotated Filmography.

Friday, August 18, 2006

What Do We Know?

(Listening to: Information Overload by Living Colour; guitarist Vernon Reid was born August 22, 1958.)

This week, someone at work asked me what the derivation of the term "golden sombrero" in baseball was. I knew what it MEANT, but why that term? It's hockey's fault, according to the Wikipedia:
"In baseball, the golden sombrero is a slang term used to describe a player's dubious feat of striking out four times in a single game... The term derives from "hat trick", a hockey term for three goals that was applied to baseball as a term for three strikeouts. Since four is bigger than three, the rationale was that a four-strikeout performance should be referred to by a bigger hat, such as a sombrero." There's more about this topic here.

One of my racquetball buds was trying, and failing to tell this joke:
A man went into his doctor's office to have a vasectomy, wearing a tuxedo. The doctor asked, "Why are you wearing a tuxedo to your operation?" The man replied, "I figure if I'm going to BE impotent, I'm gonna LOOK impotent." (Say it aloud - it makes more sense.)
Anyway, he was failing in his joke telling because he couldn't remember the word vasectomy. It happens - the word just doesn't come. He was trying to describe it and said, "You know that thing that you have to kill your sex drive." And while we got what he meant, another of my racquetball guys quickly noted that, in fact, a vasectomy doesn't kill the sex drive.

One of the things I need to relearn again and again (and again and again)is the fact that what I think passes for "Everybody knows that!" doesn't necessarily apply.
Case in point: last week, the racquetball guys were BSing, as they are wont to do, giving each other a hard time, when one said, "Well, even a busted clock is right twice a day." Another of the guys, who was in his 30s, laughed heartily at this, so hard, in fact, that I said, "Surely you've heard that one before?" He laughed, "No, I haven't. That's really funny!" O.K., then.
I was reading the articles about the new Census data released this week, which the Albany mayor has been complaining about an undercounting of the city's population. I don't really understand the problem, because the "group quarters" (dorms, group homes, prisons) are not counted, and weren't scheduled to be counted. They won't be counted in the future either if the Census Bureau budget gets cut, which may very well happen, based on preliminary legislation.
One of the pieces that I read showed the growth as a percentage of white, non-Hispanic people in only two states, West Virginia and Hawaii. In the latter case, white people are a growing minority population.
In some music exchange I was in last year or early this year, someone included Led Zeppelin's The Lemon Song. This piece touches on my general ambivalence about uncredited stealing by the group, though in fact I have at least a half dozen of their albums.
Mark Evanier posted a video link about Post Crispy Critters, a cereal from the 1960s, and even before the video ran, I remembered the punchline: "the one and only cereal that comes in the shape of animals!", music and all. What an extraordinary waste of my brain power.
GUIDANCE FOR AIRLINE PASSENGERS from DHS. In its latest airline security restriction, the FAA has banned all people from flights. Which is the satire?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Quick Reviews

MOVIE: The Devil Wears Prada. At some point this spring, I saw a trailer for this film, and not just a two-minute clip from here and there, but what felt like three or four continuous minutes before and during Meryl Streep's entrance. I wondered, Is that all there is to the movie? Well, not exactly, but this film is nearly as predictable as the tease suggest. The only real fun is to watch Stanley Tucci and especially Streep perform. Maybe worth a rental, many months after one's forgotten the trailer, but not yet.

ALBUM: Adieu False Heart, Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy. I was really looking forward to this album, especially after hearing them perform on a Prairie Home Companion in June. I LOVE the Cajun tunes, usually with Ann as lead and Linda as harmony vocals. And the unexpected cover of "Walk Away Renee", originally done 40 years ago by The Left Banke, really works. The other songs I enjoy as well, and they're growing on me more with every listen.

BOOK: I got this e-mail from the author asking me to write a "short review of a new Christian ebook called Land of Canaan: Ancient Hope for Future Peace by Paul M. Kingery". It turns out to be a 649-page PDF about the coming Apocalypse, using not only citations from the Book of Revelation, but Old and New Testament texts as well. First, I did not read it all. Second, I'm not much into this sort of book, with all of what I would consider its proof texting. That said, you may want to skim through it to see his argument that seems to suggest global warming (chapter 13) and the recent (current?) Middle East conflict (chapter 6 and elsewhere). I was also stuck how, in the last days, "Jesus will return to a high mountain refuge in what is now being called Kurdistan, near the banks of the Tigris River." If you don't know your world geography, that's Iraq, folks. After a 30-page index, there are nearly 20 pages of photos in and around Dohuk, Iraq, where, presumably, the Lord will be coming back.

TELEVISION: The Tonys. Do I mean the awards that were given out on June 11? I do. Carol and I FINALLY watched them over two days this week, and even though I remembered some of the winners, it was still fun to see the production numbers. Also, Jersey Boys' John Lloyd Young, the "Frankie Valli" character, who recently signed a TV contract, and who was ABC News' Person of the Week back a couple months ago for going from being a Broadway usher a year ago to a Tony winner, gave the sweetest acceptance speech about himself and his father.

MUSICAL: Beauty and the Beast, Park Playhouse, Washington Park, Albany, NY August 12. This venue of free summer performances has been the grounds for more traditional musical theater (South Pacific last year, Camelot, West Side Story). The Disneyfication of Park Playhouse, emphasized by Park Playhouse II's two-week production of Aladdin, Jr. this year (based on the movie Aladdin) makes me nervous. That said, it was a fine show, especially the vocal skills of the Beast, played by John Anthony Lopez, who I knew a few years ago, and briefly, as the tenor soloist in my church choir. I always think the ensemble gets short shrift in reviews, so I'll say they were quite good, and versatile. Still, I hope for more traditional fare next summer. This show ends Sunday.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

LAW at 60

Today is the 60th birthday of Lesley Ann Warren. She was on Mission: Impossible for a season. But I best remember her as the star of the 1965 version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, for which I own the soundtrack, purchased actually sometime this century. "In my own little corner, in my own little chair, I can be whatever I want to be." Indeed.

The High School Reunion

Growing up in Binghamton, as I've probably mentioned, most of the kids started school in September. But there were also kids who started school in February; I was one of those kids.

My grade school was Daniel S. Dickinson. Actually, I was there from kindergarten through ninth grade there, before moving on to Binghamton Central.

I got the notification of my reunion of my high school class - 35 years! - with some trepidation. I don't recall enjoying my 10-year reunion - although the afterparty at friend Cecily's more than made up for it. I didn't go to my 20th, I didn't even hear about my 25th, and I found out about the 32nd (?!) only after the fact.

Yet, I had a really good time at this event. With no disrespect to the others, I think it was based on three factors, well, four:
4) time
3) the group of people from the January 1971 class, thanks to the grand effort of Susie, the only one of the five on the reunion committee not from the June class
2) the group of people from Dickinson, such as Mike, who lived less than three short blocks from my house, and Donna, who practically lived just behind my grandma's house

Mike and Donna

BUT #1 had to be the group of people who I started kindergarten with at Dickinson in February 1958 and graduated from BCHS with in January 1971. There were eight of us, and SIX of us showed up: Karen, who's been to six continents; Carol (not my wife), who's done lots of work with AIDS; Bill, an engineer who isn't engineer-type geeky; Bernie, the retired fireman; Lois, who, in addition to her job, is a zoo docent, and me. Only Irene and Diane didn't make it. Given the fact that we spent 13 years together in a relatively tight environment (16 in our 6th grade class, 16 in our 9th grade class, and less than 120 in our graduating class at Central), it was the first time we had all been together since we graduated. (Though five of us, all except Lois did get together at Bill's in 1982.)

Carol, Lois, Karen, Roger, Bill

There is a lot of stuff that people who know other people for 13 of their first 18 years of their lives get to know about each other. After all these years, I'd recognize these people anywhere. Well, all of them except Bernie, who was the most mild-mannered kid you ever wanted to meet and who is a tad more animated.

Carol, Lois, Bill, Bernie

The first day of the reunion I took the bus to Binghamton, in order to get there earlier. My friend Cecily picked me up, and after lunch, saw the devastation to just a few homes in the Conklin area, and the water damage in a house she now has on Front Street that had never flooded in 100 years, but was quite damaged in the lower floor after the July rains. There is a housing supply place just across the street from where I used to live, on Gaines Street, which was just a wholesaler, when it opened in 1969, a couple years before I went away to college, but which is now also a retail operation.

Cecily dropped me off at some club on State Street called Boca Joe's/Flashbacks. The place was ALSO having, in a separate room, the BCHS class of 1966 reunion, which caused some confusion. I won't give you a play-by-play, except to note that, at some point, wife Carol and Lydia, showed up. There was a colored light dance floor which Lydia and I danced on for a bit, joined by friend Donna. By then, all of my Dickinson compatriots were there, but I didn't get a good chance to talk until Carol took Lydia home. The event was supposedly from 5 to 9, but we were all there, eating greasy pizza, dried-out spiedi meat and unremarkable chicken wings, and talking about old times and current lives until well past 11.

(It was that night that Cecily, John, and wife Carol, dealt with the bat.)

Night #2 was at The Relief Pitcher on Conklin Avenue, in a strip mall with an Eckert's drug store. It was in a separate room from the rest of the building and was a better venue. We ate, much better food than night #1- chicken, ziti, salad, roast beef, sausage and onions. But mostly we danced. Karen couldn't come because she was going to a family wedding. Friend Carol had another obligation, but she ended up coming late, and she, Bill, Lois and I dominated the dance floor. Others joined in, notably Donna, but the four of us probably danced at least half the dances, and would have danced more, except the band leaned heavily on the late 1950s and early 1960s, rather than the late '60s and early '70s. At the end, we all stood in a circle and sang along, at someone's request, to American Pie, friend Carol took me to Cecily's, again close to midnight. (I haven't come home close to midnight two nights in a row since I married my wife Carol, I'm fairly certain.)

Bob and his wife. He thought he'd get great Italian meals from her when he met her. Instead, he gets great Afghani meals.

In any case, a splendid time was had by me, and yes, Susie, I will consider coming to the 40th.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

On Notice

A list of things/people that are currently bugging me, not necessarily in order of importance, but in order that they came to mind. Used recently by Gordon, and, in a somewhat different way, Lefty. Far be it from me to pass up an opportunity to create a quick post, especially when it has such a therapeutic aspect. And even better, I may be able to use it again in six months or a year.
Those of you that know what the first item is can probably guess the next two.
BTW, the Times Union headline for 8/11/2006, with the article covering the top 3/4s of the paper - that insignificant story about a plot to blow up 10 airplanes from U.K. to the U.S. being thwarted covering the final section - was "A son, a murderer"; the New York Post would have been proud. Conversely, the Gazette (from Schenectady) used something provocative such as "Porco Found Guilty".

On the other hand, I don't have to put "on notice" only the things that annoy me, but also the things that I like.
There was an article in the local paper recently about Sasha Cohen, which said she was the 10th most popular female athlete in the country. Since my wife likes figure skating, Sasha Cohen and especially Michelle Kwan, I thought I'd find the rest of the list, which is shown below. If you want other results of The Harris Poll® #47, June 8, 2006, go here.


"Thinking about the female sports stars you like, which ones are your favorites?"
Base: All adults
Venus Williams
Serena Williams
Mia Hamm
Michelle Wie
Danica Patrick
Michelle Kwan
Annika Sorenstam
Maria Sharapova
Anna Kournikova
Sasha Cohen
* Not listed in that year
Those who are new to Top 10 This Year: Danica Patrick (No. 5), Maria Sharapova (No. 8), Sasha Cohen (No. 10).
Those on the 2005 List Who Have Dropped Out of the Top Ten This Year
Lisa Leslie (was No. 7), Billie Jean King (was tied for No. 8), Martina Navratilova (was tied for No 8), Chris Evert (was tied for No. 9), Mary Lou Retton (was tied for No. 9).

Monday, August 14, 2006

TAGGED MEME: Books I've read

I'm trying to explain to my wife about the tagged meme. "You don't HAVE to do it," she said/asked. "No, but it's sort of a convention, a social contract." Scott of the Scooter Chronicles tagged me.

1: One book that changed your life: Probably mentioned before, but "Lying" by Sissela Bok. I've stolen outright this Amazon review, because it captures the book so well: "Sissela Bok challenges the reader to consider the effects of lying on the individual, relationships and society. The author systematically covers the spectrum of lies from 'little white lies' to avoid an unwanted dinner invitation to the arguably moral lies required to survive in a totalitarian state - taking the reader step by step through a journey of increasingly complex moral questions. The book argues that lying, as it is often conducted in society, often lacks the moral basis of those few cases where it can be justified."

2: One book you have read more than once: When I was a kid, I had this "I Spy" novelization I read repeatedly. It was where I learned the phrase "hoist by his own petard". There was also this 1931 sports anthology called "Play the Game", which featured Rogers Hornsby and others on baseball, Red Grange and others on football, legendary writer Grantland Rice on golf, plus a whole lot more. It's 350+ pages, and I still have it, though I haven't read it in decades.
As an adult, the ONLY book I've read all the way through more than once is the Bible, and I don't know if that counts, because one time was the King James and the other time was the Revised Standard Version.
I assume we're not talking about children's book, since Scott said he didn't have any, and I suspect he's read the same stories repeatedly to his son Nigel. A children's book I've read a lot BEFORE Lydia was "Bartholomew and the Oobleck" by Dr. Seuss.

3: One book you would want on a desert island: Almost assuredly, the Bible, the NRSV. Quoting Scott: "Considering I would be there quite a while and have time to think, it would a good opportunity to try and digest all of it."

4: One book that made you laugh: I have four Doonesbury anthologies, trade paperbacks. Maybe one of those. Although I remember borrowing one of Erma Bombeck's books from my mother on a visit, maybe "Septic Tank", and finding it surprisingly more entertaining in the collective than her daily column, even though the book was culled from them.

5: One book you wish had been written: "Growing Up" by Russell Baker. I always liked his style.

6: One book you wish had never had been written: Probably some neocon diatribe, but truth is, I tend to shut them out of my mind rather quickly.

7: One book that made you cry: I'm sure there have been some, but none come to mind.

8: One book you are currently reading: "The Genesis of Ethics" by Burton L. Visotzky. Our former pastor, Joe Shook, was giving away many of his books, and this one intrigued me. It's about why a bunch of not-necessarily-religious folks got together to read the first book of the Torah.

9: One book you have been meaning to read: Only one? "The Gnostic Gospels" by Elaine Pagels is one on my bookshelf.

10. Who to tag? Well, I thought of Greg, but he's been doing his book thing lately. Tom? Gordon? Fred and/or Lynn? Mark, a voracious reader? Sarah, who doesn't read books a second time? Tosy, from whom I steal memes all the time (and he from Jaquandor)? Lefty? Well, they can if they want, but I'd be most intrigued if THE most voracious reader I "know", which would be Kelly, would try it. And what the heck, Julie Hembeck can put it in her page as well.
I was sad to hear about the death of my grad school alma mater's University President, Kermit Hall. But never did I figure out that he had the same initials as his predecessor, Karen Hitchcock.
And even though I once referred to his "The Men in My Little Girl's Life" as a sign of the Apocalypse (the song went to #6 in '66), I was sad that Mike Douglas died last week on his 81st birthday. I used to watch him fairly regularly for a time, not just on John & Yoko's week.
From Dead or Alive, some famous people who died on their birthdays:
Ingrid Bergman - actress - Aug. 29 (1915-1982) - 67
John Banner - actor - Jan. 28 (1910-1973) - 63
Betty Friedan - author - Feb. 4 (1921-2006) - 85
Mike Douglas - talk show host - Aug. 11 (1925-2006) - 81
Mari­a Felix - actress - April 8 (1914-2002) - 88
William Congdon - artist - April 15 (1912-1998) - 86
Otto Kruger - actor - Sept. 6 (1885-1974) - 89
And in the "maybe, maybe not" category:
Stanley Fafara - actor - Sept. 20 (1950-2003) - 53

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Summertime Blues

Sometimes, you just get a little blue.

My friend Dee is having a kidney transplant tomorrow. She is in my prayers.

My pastor and his wife, who was in the choir, left a couple weeks ago. I got to be very fond of them.

The woman in this picture, Naomi Anderson of Binghamton, died on the 4th of July. I was actually going to go to the funeral - I was sent the obit, and was actually in town for her funeral. But the e-mailed notice didn't mention WHICH Saturday the service was being held, and I arrived at my old church, which was locked. Not that I would have gone to Binghamton specifically for the service, but I figured that since I was there...

Won't even talk about work.

They're closing the Catskill Game Farm, which I went to when I was three and a number of times since, and which I figured I'd take Lydia to someday.

The thing that REALLY stressed me out most, though, involved Lydia. We had not given her any peanuts or peanut butter, but last Wednesday, she got some. It did not agree with her at all. When I got home, she was crying after throwing up. She threw up a second time, but more distressing, her left eye was far more closed than her right eye. I was afraid she was going into anaphylactic shock, or something. She has been sick before, but never was I as worried as I was that evening. Carol called our doctor, then went out to get her some Benedrill while I watched her. She threw that up, and about an hour later, threw up a fourth time after a small cup of water. Thursday, I took her to the doctor. We now carry an EpiPen.

The upsides: we have new pastors, the Leupolds, who start today; I'm serving coffee. My friend Cecily became a grandmother for the first and second times in the last two months with Henry Sinon, son of Jeff and Heather, and Katherine Lottie, daughter of Mike and Karen. And finally, Lydia seems to be OK. Of course, this means dumping Carol's beloved peanut butter - the doctor thought it should even be in the house until Lydia sees an allergist - but this is the price one pays as a parent.

That's Carol, my sister Leslie and my mom Trudy in Binghamton last month with the child.

This is my daily Julie Hembeck mention.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


My wife said to me one evening late last month, "Good news!" She proceeded to tell me that the $680 the state of New York thought we owed them, we didn't owe them. They made a transcription error and attributed to us some several thousand dollars more in income than we actually made. We are relieved, of course, but it got me to thinking: if they didn't screw it up in the first place, there would be NO news, which, as the cliche goes, IS good news.

Similarly, Scott at Scooter Chronicles noted how he ONLY spent a couple hundred bucks on his car. Since I suppose there will always be car repairs, getting off cheaply feels like good news. But let's take a more recent example in his blog: the bad news of his son Nigel's inability to sleep through the night. When he (actually, they - Nigel, Scott and Marcia) finally go back to sleeping through the night, it will surely seem like good news.

Someone has some sort of growth, but it turns out to be benign. Someone's in a car accident, but he or she suffers only minor cuts and bruises. Good news, yes?

I went to the Good News Network this week, and what do I find?
On this day in History, August 8:
John McCarthy, the British journalist held hostage in Lebanon for more than five years by Islamic Jihad was freed after more than five years in captivity (1991)
A cease-fire between Iran and Iraq was announced by The United Nations (1988)
Good news following five years as a hostage and eight years of war, respectively.

So here is my metaphysical question: how often, in your view, does good news depend, in some shape or form, on the cessation of bad news (an unexpected tax bill, e.g.)? I think it's about 80% of the time. Please give me some good news, other than the a non-complicated birth of a wanted child, that is just good without being a response to a downside.
Good news: the Christopher Porco murder trial is over. For those not from around the Albany area, think about NOT hearing about the O.J. Simpson trial. You couldn't, no matter how you tried. And believe me, I tried. THE local media event of the year, by far.
The parents of Julie Hembeck turned me on to Lipton Green Tea with Citrus.

Friday, August 11, 2006


One of the great problems with hot, muggy weather and old houses in the Northeast is the emergence of bats in the living quarters. A couple weeks ago, I was in Binghamton attending Day 1 of my high school reunion. Carol and Lydia had been to the event, but Carol had gone back to the house of friends Cecily and John, put Lydia to bed, and the three of them were talking. Suddenly, a bat started flying around the living room. John chased it out of the room, and eventually trapped it. He may have accidentally killed it, and felt badly about that.

A couple nights later, on an extremely muggy Monday night/Tuesday morning, I was lying down in the guest bedroom, directly under the ceiling fan, but was not sleeping. Carol came in and thought there might be a bat in our bedroom. I got Carol my spare racquetball racquet from the office. Suddenly, the flying mammal was in the hallway, circling Carol, with her using the racquet to keep it at bay, AND to close the other bedroom doors. I found a shoebox in the office, which I used to change the bat's pattern. It flew towards the now-closed bedroom, flew back towards Carol, who (there's no better word) batted it down, and put the racquet on top of the bat. I took the shoebox and kept the bat on the floor while removing the racquet, slipped the shoebox top under the bat, and we sealed up the box, poking some holes in it. In the morning, Carol took it to the Health Department lab, where it was verified it was not rabid.

Those of you keeping score at home will note that this is now the FIFTH live bat in our house in five summers. You'd think we'd actually do something like this. We actually did the standing outside looking for the bats to return thing one night last year after that incident, but never saw them. Maybe we're just too impatient to wait around looking towards the roof for two or three hours for several nights at dusk or later trying to see a fast-flying creature.

We DID get our then-contractor to agree to bat-proof the attic last fall, but he never followed through (thanks a lot, guy). Carol talked to our new contractor about it. He thinks it's all a bit silly. After all, the chances of contact are minimal, and the chances of rabies are even more remote, he correctly noted. Carol replied that the chances of an untreated contact from a rabid bat being fatal is about 100%.

Bat-proofing: this year, for sure.
I wonder if Julie Hembeck ever had to deal with bats?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Fathers on film

I finally got around to watching that AFI special, 100 Years, 100 Cheers, about inspirational films. For whatever reasons, a few moments really touched me, two from the films themselves and two from the commentaries.

The first commentary was Jane Fonda talking about her father Henry, and how their relationship in On Golden Pond (a film I've never seen, though I've watched stage productions of it) between their characters paralleled their real-life relationship, how he got his only Oscar for that role, how he was unable to receive it himself, so she had to receive it in his stead, how she was so pleased to present the award to him personally, and how he died five months later. I knew these facts before, yet I found it surprisingly poignant in the retelling.

The second commentary was Sidney Poitier talking about Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and how he became cognizant of channeling the relationship with his real father in playing against the man who played his cinematic dad. Talking about this made him a bit emotional.

I've long been a sucker for the scene in Field of Dreams when the Kevin Costner figure asks his dad to play catch. But I was surprised how moved I was of the scene in To Kill a Mockingbird when the black folks in the balcony direct Scout to stand up: "Your father's passing."

There were others that touched me, I imagine, such as Poitier's frustrated Walter Lee Younger in A Raisin in the Sun. There was a production of A Raisin io the Sun when I was a kid, put on by the Binghamton Civic Theater, and my father was heavily involved in the behind-the-scenes stuff: set design, costuming, program design. Anyway, my father passed away six years ago today, and seeing those film clips were particularly resonant for me.
It was great hanging out with Julie Hembeck and her dad and mom recently. Details soon.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A Guest QUESTION: Electronic Love and Romance

A friend of mine, who reads this blog and knows the erudite sort that come here, is writing a book, and posits this:

I think we all have felt the seismic cultural shift has occurred with online dating that has created a lot of over 40 singles who have never married and many who say, "That didn't work. Oh well. Next!" We all have noticed the phenomenal shift in how men and women treat each other . What do you think? What is happening? Why is there such an increase in never-married single people? Because they think another someone is just a click away? Is it because we all think we can live to 100 so there is no hurry to settle down? Or is it because there's just so much fun to be had with so many? What needs to change?

You may find this site of interest. I'll be responding myself, but not until I've given you all a chance.
No Julie Hembeck news today.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

short takes

Guest reviewer on Ebert & Roeper this week is the writer/director of the movie Jersey Girl, Kevin Smith. I think he did some other stuff, too. Last week, Jay Leno sat in for Roger Ebert, who's having medical issues.

My most recent cellphone gripe was somebody being way too loud in the cafeteria, not about their personal stuff, which is annoying enough, but about someone else's personnel issues. "Please make them stop," he said to no one in particular.

"Yesterday at the annual SpeechTEK conference in New York, Paul English announced in his keynote address the creation of a new "GetHuman Standard" for customer service phone systems. Microsoft and Nuance are working with Paul, and other companies are expected to join. Learn more about the Gethuman Earcon."

Here's hoping the loser of the Democratic primary for the US Senate race in Connecticut supports the winner. The Democrats' chance of being the national party in 2008 will not be helped by a third party run in 2006.

I got in the mail yesterday the Billboard Albums, which includes every album that made the Billboard charts through 2005. This makes my Top Pop Album book of a decade ago pretty redundant. I also have that Complete Directory to Prime Time Network Shows 1947-1992 by Brooks & Marsh gathering dust since I posted that list of shows on more than one network. So I will send these two older, but still useful, reference books to the first person who can e-mail me the correct answer to these two questions:
1. Angelina Jolie's uncle wrote a #1 hit that came out in 1966. What was it? And who performed it?
2. Based on the number of seasons it was broadcast and its audience size, 60 Minutes is the #1-rated program of all time, according to Brooks and Marsh. What's #2?

I see that this page is working again, no doubt due to the skills of the mother of Julie Hembeck.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Five Things: Monday Meme

Out of town for the fourth weekend out of the last five. Soon, I'll be writing about some of these adventures, I hope. Meanwhile:

From Jaquandor, via Tosy

Five things . . . my refrigerator (without looking).
1. Lots of milk 2% organic for Lydia, 1% non-organic for Carol and me, but that may change.
2. Lots of yogurt,some for Lydia in the large (cottage cheese sized) containers, and some (single serving types) for me. (Carol steals Lydia's)
3. A can of cola I got, left over from a party.
4. Bread, because it'd get moldy on the counter.
5. Several types of pickles.

. . . in my closet.
I don't have a closet. I have an armoire, imposed upon me by my wife when the child came around and stole my closet. My sister came and reorganized it so I can't find anything. my bag (this would be my backpack)
1. Music taken to or from work Currently- Tony Bennett, who turned 80 last week, Buddy Guy, who turned 70 last week, Complete Stax/Volt, Alison Krauss, the Band).
2. Underwear taken to the Y, or dirty clothes taken from the Y.
3. Loose change, because it otherwise makes so much noise in my pocket.
4. Some recent, but not current, periodical. Parts of Saturday's newspaper.
5. My spare glasses (my sunglasses when it's cloudy. my vehicle.
My vehicle's my bike. There is nothing in it, and the only things on it when it's put away is the bike lock and the helmet.

...on my desk (at work).
1. Way too many loose papers.
2. Some newspapers from last week.
3. A picture of Carol, and trimmed photo of Lydia inserted therein.
4. A reference question I'm working on.
5. At least two pens, probably with no caps.

...on my walls (at work).
1. A picture of John Lennon.
2. A map of the United States.
That's about it. It's a small space.

....on my bookshelves (other than books).
1. A spindle of CD-Rs.
2. Census CDs.
3. A few comic books people have given me.
4. A few music CDs.
5. A stack of unsorted papers.

. . . I want to do in the next few years.
1. Read more books not geared toward children.
2. See more plays.
3. See more movies, if even at home.
4. See a Broadway play or two.
5. See more live baseball.

. . . On my nightstand.
1. A battery-powered push light in case the power goes out, so I can see.
2. A telephone receiver. Lydia has knocked the rest of it on the floor so repeatedly that we've unplugged it, but easily reinstall.
3. A clock/radio.
4. An old lamp.
5. A cup holding pencils and pens.

. . . I'm hoping to get for Christmas (assuming I haven't been too naughty)
1. The new Dylan album.
2. A World Almanac 2007 or two.
3. Leonard Maltin Movie Guide.
4. The Complete New Yorker
5. The Beatles Box Set 2. Also, Box Set 1.
This post on 8/7/06 at 5:43 p.m. What is the significance? You'll have to ask Julie Hembeck.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


Lee Harvey Blotto called me a geezer.
I should be deeply insulted, but I'm not.

Actually, he didn't exactly call ME specifically a geezer. But in his weekly Metroland column Rapp on This, in his guise as mild-mannered intellectual property attorney Paul Rapp - which you should read every week if you care about music and the changing technology, Paul wrote:
You don't need 75 minutes of music from every artist you take a fancy to. You probably don't need more than a song or two. And you certainly don't need the idiotic "jewel case" or a shiny plastic disc or a glossy little book you'll maybe look at once, if you can get it out of the idiotic jewel case without trashing it. All you need is a digital file, that you can put on a hard drive somewhere, stick on a gizmo that you can put in your pocket, and maybe burn onto a CD with 15 or 20 of your other favorite songs by different artists.

If this all sounds foreign or scary to you, it's time to wake up. This has been the future for a long time.

But, gee, I LIKE that little book, and I look at it almost every time. Who wrote that song? Who are the backup vocalists, the producer, the guest musicians? Maybe it's just me, the librarian who has a NEED TO KNOW, and will regret the loss of that information.

My band, Blotto, had its first CD go out of print recently. We're selling nicely on iTunes and about 20 other (and lesser) online music sites. I seriously considered just not reprinting any more CDs - why deal with the expense, the hassle, the shipping, the shelf-space and the goddamned jewel-boxes? But I realized that, well, we're talking about a collection of 25-year-old music here, with prospective purchasers who - how can I say this delicately? - tend to trend to an older demographic? Many Blottophiles, I suspect, aren't yet completely hep to that crazy digital scene, daddy-o. So, it's probably a good idea for us keep the CDs available, at least for now, and we will.

But if we had a geezer-free fan base, I don't think we'd bother. Kids don't care about CDs anymore. Why should they?

Having had to TRACK down the Blotto CD only a couple years ago (I had all the music except for the live and karaoke versions of "I Wanna Be a Lifeguard" on vinyl already), I appreciate his point. The tunes will be available, but will one know the names of the members of the band? Or does that no longer matter? It's not my geezerosity that's kicking in, it's my librarianship.

I taped the 6-7 a.m. hour of MTV's first day, hoping to see Paul, who I run into occassionally, and his fellow Blottos in "Lifeguard", but alas, it was not on. I DID see THREE performances from The Concert from Kampuchea, Sister Disco by the Who, Paul McCartney's Rockestra doing Lucille, and Little Sister as performed by Rockpile with Robert Plant on vocals. I have the album on vinyl; makes me want to go listen to it again. VH-1 mislabeled Queen's animated Calling All Girls as You Better You Bet by the Who, but a couple songs later, I saw the actual Who cut. The real find for me was Tomorrow Night by Shoes, a song I had all but forgotten, but really liked; a second Shoes song, Cruel You, was less engaging. I love the song Fashion by David Bowie, but the video seemed, dare I say it, pretentious; or maybe, it was just so 1980. My favorite cut was Stevie Nicks, not always my favorite performer, but her Stop Draggin' My Heart Around with Petty, done simply, worked for me. I watched MTV early on, but none of these cuts were, "OH, Yeah, I remember that," like those Robert Palmer videos with the bored models; instead we get the more moody John and Mary.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


You may have seen this article in USA Today, which I never buy, but which I will always read when it's left around in a bus or a restaurant or available free in a hotel. A mother is "bored" with her kids. Shocking! Thus far, I haven't found Lydia boring; frustrating occasionally, but never boring.

There was also a recent story in the local paper about 101 things for kids to do when they're bored.

Which got me to thinking:
1) When are you bored? AND
2) What do you do about it?

Truth is, I'm almost never bored when I am in control of my own time.

When am I bored?
*At some meetings I'm not running. (If I were to be bored at a meeting I WAS running, I wouldn't be running a very effective one.)
*When I'm doing some mundane task, usually asked by someone else. I may be the world's worst collater, you know, take one sheet each from a half dozen piles and staple them together. I quickly lose interest and one or more piles always comes out short. I'm easily distracted.
*When I'm doing a task I hate. This includes hour three of working on our taxes. Given the fact that I never GOT to hour three (or four or six or eight) when I was single and filing a 1040A (simple form) and was done in about 45 minutes leaves my wife with the heavy lifting on most of the Schedules, while I concentrate on the main form, and to do whatever calculations she requests.

What do I do about it? Music, of course, something that relies on the bass line, preferably.

What do YOU do?

Friday, August 04, 2006


The Beatles were a dominant force in the American pop charts in early 1964 like no other artists before or since. Starting on February 1, I Want to Hold Your Hand was #1 for seven weeks. It was replaced at the top of the charts by She Loves You, with Hand moving down to #2 and Please Please Me at #3. Then, the extraordinary week of April 4, when the Beatles had the top five songs on the charts: Can't Buy Me Love (#1 for five weeks), Twist and Shout, She Loves You, Hand, and Please Please Me. The week before, the group had 10 singles on the Top 100, and on April 11, 14 positions on the charts were by the Beatles.

So when this string of 14 weeks at number one ended on May 9, who WAS #1?
Was it Bobby Vinton or Roy Orbison, American artists popular in the pre-Beatles era? No, though Vinton's There! I've said It Again was #1 for the four weeks prior to the Beatles' ascension. And The Beatles had toured with Orbison.
How about another British Invasion group, such as Peter and Gordon, the Animals, or Manfred Mann? No, though P&G did chart later in the year with a Lennon-McCartney tune, World Without Love.
Perhaps a Motown artist, such as the Supremes or Mary Wells, or a "girl group" such as the Shangra-las or the Dixie Cups or a resurgent American band such as the Beach Boys or the Four Tops? All of those groups had a #1 hit in 1964, as did Dean Martin and Lorne Greene(?!)

But the artist who first displaced the Beatles was a 63-year old trumpeter who hadn't had a Top 10 hit in eight years, a guy who was named "satchel-mouth" as a kid, and who started recording in 1923. Of course, I'm talking about Louis Armstrong, and his hit rendition of Hello, Dolly! For years, he said his birthday was July 4, 1900, but later research suggested that his birth was actually on August 4, 1901, which would have made him 105 today had he not died back in 1971.

One of the things I discovered listening to children's music in the last couple years is how his hit song What a Wonderful World steals from Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star/the Alphabet Song. Play What A Wonderful World and sing the Alphabet Song at the same time, and I believe you'll hear what I mean.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Stuff Other People Sent Me

It's so hot that they cancelled the horse racing yesterday: "Due to severe heat and humidity that has plagued the entire East coast, Saratoga Race Course has canceled its nine-race program today. In a morning meeting with trainers, jockeys, the track veterinarian, stewards, track superintendent and senior management, a unanimous decision was reached to call off the races." If you're from around here, you know what a BFD that is.

97 on Tuesday, down to 96 yesterday, but humid. And the room I type in is the warmest room in the house.

It's so warm that I'm compelled to provide this link about an even hotter place, a piece I kinda, sorta midwived, as it were.

I suppose I could review the new Johnny Cash album, but I think Nik just about covered it, except for one thing: the second track, God's Gonna Cut You Down, is a remake of Run On from Moby's Play album, which in turn is a remix of Run On For A Long Time by Bill Landford and The Landfordaires. I now have three versions of this song, the latter from this album, all quite listenable in different ways.

Oh, are you getting what the Wall Street Journal calls "empty spam", i.e., e-mail with text from literary works? Most recently, I got parts of Ultima Thule, by Henry Handel Richardson (chapter 5).
The COST OF WAR here and here. (From Dan).
Carbohydrate Addicts' Official Frequently Asked Questions and Answerson Artificial Sweeteners and Non-Sugar Substitutes (Don't remember offhand.)
My friend Sarah sent a list of bumper stickers, some of which I've included:

Blind Faith in Bad Leadership Is Not Patriotism

Religious Fundamentalism - A Threat Abroad, A Treat At Home

Feel Safer Now?

Stop Mad Cowboy Disease

Honor Our Troops; Demand The Truth

Fact: Bush Oil
1999 - $19 / barrel
2006 - $70 / barrel
My friends Paul & Mary Liz Stewart sent me a couple items of interest to me. They are among the experts on the Underground Railroad, especially in New York:

As outlined in this news release, a number of African American remains dating from the Colonial period were uncovered in Colonie in a previously unidentified burial ground last year. There were 13 sets of remains. News reports mistakenly identified the remains as having a connection to the French and Indian War. Subsequent investigation yielded that the remains were African Americans from the Colonial or post-colonial period. Examining the remains will yield information about how African Americans lived, and worked in this period. It will also be a chance to examine remains from first and second generation African people in America. At the meeting identified below you will hear about the discovery, the archaeology that took place, some of the bioarchaeology that tells us about the lives of those discovered, and input will be solicited regarding plans for the re-interment of the remains and marking of this burial site. I hope you can attend this important and historic meeting.

Call for Proposals for Workshop and Panel Presentations
Sixth Annual Underground Railroad Conference

"Discovering the Underground Railroad: Uncovering the Voices of Women"
February 23-25, 2007, College of St, Rose, Albany, NY