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Monday, December 31, 2007

The final curtain

I was watching Wednesday's JEOPARDY! on Saturday - no surprise there - and there was a $1600 question about Women of Distinction: "In November 1988 she was elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, becoming the first woman to head a modern Islamic nation. " It was, of course, Benazir Bhutto. On Thursday, she was dead. Yes, I know they tape the game show, but I still found it a bit spooky.

A couple musicians died this month, and I hadn't noted it yet.

Ike Turner: recorded perhaps the first rock song, Rocket 88. Enhanced his wife's career and the song Proud Mary. Beat his wife. Great musician, not so great human being.

Oscar Peterson: When I think of my father's record collection, I usually think of the folkies like Harry Belafonte, Pete Seeger and Odetta. But now that I ponder it, there were a few Oscar Peterson albums as well. But I did not really appreciate him until I was considerably older. Wonderfully lyrical pianist. I never knew he was Canadian.

Dan Fogelberg: seems like someone gave me an LP of his once upon a time. Actually bought the greatest hits album for my wife a couple years ago because she had a roommate in college who played Fogelberg incessantly. I could only recognize two of his songs, Another Auld Lang Syne, because it shows up every holiday season, and Longer, which appears on some compilation album. Conversely, my wife can sing along with over half of the tunes. I was on Barnes & Nobles' online site this week, and along with the big current hits and Christmas music, high on the list was that same greatest hits album I had bought for my wife.

But it's the fact that he died of prostate cancer - at 56! - which, of course, is what killed my father. I'm thus compelled to ask my male readers of a certain age (certainly by 50, or earlier with a family history) to get checked regularly.


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Roger Answers Your Questions, Anthony

But before that, one last question from Scott:

5. (I may have missed this somewhere in your posts) Have you ever considered becoming a minister?

When I was 12, and probably a year or two before and after, I was pretty much convinced of it. I had a "born-again" experience when I was nine, and it seemed like the logical path.

And now to Anthony:

1. What is the one thing that if they didn't have it in heaven you would seriously think about taking up residence in the other place because you would miss it so much?
Music. You get the sense that they'll be celestial choirs singing all of the time. If heaven is tuneless, that'd be hell.

2. What is the hardest passage of Scripture for you to accept?
Interestingly, I've a great rationalization for any of those loopy Old Testament readings such as Deuteronomy 25 as a message for a different time.
(I can even go a couple hours on Thou Shall Not Kill: what DOES that mean in terms of self-defense, war, capital punishment, war, abortion, stem cell research, et al.?)

What's harder to deal with, and this ties directly into the conversation about becoming a minister, is perhaps a core tenet of Christianity, at least as understood by many: John 14:6 - Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
At the point I was 15 or 16, I was having a difficult time with the notion that a good Hindu or Buddhist, who had never heard of Jesus Christ, was going to hell - the reason we were supposed to go out and "save those savages", in Africa and elsewhere. It was at this point I pretty much turned away from the faith of my youth, and it took over a decade before I found my way back, with the ability not to necessarily buy into the doctrinaire positions of fundamentalism. I've gotten better with ambiguity. I've talked with Christian clergy, and at least a few struggle with the same issues.
I read a biography of Mahatma Gandhi decades ago, and there was a quote in there that has stuck in my mind about why he chose not to be a Christian: "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. The materialism of affluent Christian countries appears to contradict the claims of Jesus Christ that says it's not possible to worship both Mammon and God at the same time." Don't think that was the exact quote, but close enough.

3. What do you dislike most about yourself?
My ability to go to a very melancholy place rather easily.

4. What is the most profound spiritual experience you have had?
I was in a play (Our Town), and became good friends with this woman named Rusell. She ended up contracting this rare but almost always fatal disease and was at some hospital in Boston. A bunch of us went to our church chapel in Albany, stood in a circle and prayed for Rusell. At about that time, she was cured and fully recovered; it was, the doctors said, a miracle.
Dorian reimagines Christmas.
New England 16-0. Feh.


Saturday, December 29, 2007


Wrestling Boxing Day, I'm coming out of a convenience store. A young woman is coming in, so I hold the door open for her. A young man, coming from a different direction, follows her in, saying "Ummm, sexy THAT!"

This led me to posit several questions:
1) Was he talking to her, or more to the universe at large?
2) Was she offended, delighted or what? (I was waiting for a bus, and I could have gone and asked her, but thought the better of it.)
3) Does that kind of line actually work on some people?

I never had a "line", as far as I am aware. Sometimes I would do stuff (throw peanuts in someone's beer, play air guitar), but smooth talking, I didn't do.

So, I'd like you to answer question #3 above (and #1 and/or #2, if you have some insight). Additionally, I'd be interested in what kind of lines you've tried, and whether any of them actually worked.

I'm interested to know your gender, approximate age, and sexual orientation to see if it differs.
a guy I know and his brothers singing in three-part harmony.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Roger Answers Your Questions, Chris and Scott

Our next contestant is Chris Black from across the pond, as they say.

Hi Roger

Do you have a favourte fictional librarian or library?

What got me thinking was there's one in a science fiction novel that I read this year (- I'll tell you about it sometime - ) called Glasshouse by Charles Stross. The book is set several centuries into the future and the hero finds himself working in a simulation of a late 20th century American public library.

First off, I must say that I cringe every time I see It's a Wonderful Life, and George Bailey discovers that, without him, his would-be wife is reduced to this...librarian!

Yet I enjoy, on a radio program in the United States on National Public Radio, a segment on A Prairie Home Companion called "Ruth Harrison: Reference Librarian" that takes on the stereotype in a fun way. The last segment I heard, just last Saturday, she becomes the Scrooge character in A Christmas carol and at the end becomes wildly spontaneous.

If you are interested in the topic, you might want to check out this piece.
Scott has a number of questions:

1. What do you think the Baseball Hall of Fame should do about the steroid problems?
I think we've already gotten an inkling of this last year when Mark McGwire, who was NOT specifically named in the Mitchell report but who was mum before Congress on the topic a couple years back, got less than 25% of the votes. HoF voters are going to determine whether a player would have gotten in without "assistance". They're going to decide whether the morals clause applies. As this guy notes, Gaylord Perry got into the HoF by doctoring the ball. My own sense of things is that, assuming the allegations are true - and the Mitchell report was not really designed for that purpose - the heavy users should all get lifetime suspensions. I would make a distinction between someone who tried it once or twice (Andy Pettite, assuming he's telling the truth) and regular users. However, I would make it possible that they could all get into the Hall - Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, McGwire, Sammy Sosa (who's been implicated in this by a different source) - when they're dead. Same with Shoeless Joe Jackson, who played quite well in the Black Sox series, and Pete Rose. They'll be there in the history of the game, but they will not be able to personally profit from it.

But I'm less worried about the Hall than I am in baseball cleaning up for the future. I agree that there should be an outside lab doing unannounced testing the players, which is what happens in most sports. The players' union would be foolish to fight this, but I suspect it will.

2. Keying off of Chris' question, do you have a favorite fictional character (librarian or not)?
Understand that I haven't been reading it in the last decade or so, though I've seen the first two movies, but it's Spider-Man. Or that duality of Peter Parker and the webslinger. On TV, possibly Pembleton (Andre Braugher) from Homicide: Life on the Streets.

3. What is the hardest part of your job?
Boredom. "Oh, golly, not THAT question again."

4. Do you think those of us in the US are getting too politically correct by saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" and worrying about the fact that Santa is too fat?
It's a pluralistic society. "Happy Holidays" doesn't bother me. I must admit that I was surprised, though, when I wished someone "Mery Christmas" a few years ago, and he said, "I don't believe in Christmas." I was in church at the time.
But slim Santa is dumb.

6. What is your favorite non-secular Christmas song? What is your favorite religious Christmas song?
I actually answered this question a couple weeks ago. But I'll answer it again, and differently.
Secular: What Christmas Means to Me - Stevie Wonder; Christmas Wrapping - the Waitresses; Christmas All Over Again - Petty/Heartbreakers.
Religious: almost anything in a minor key (What Child Is This); anything with counterpoint (the chorus of Joy to the World); Adeste Fideles and Stille Nacht, in Latin and German, respectively.
Now let me me tell you what I hate: bad pronunciations. On Angels We Have Heard on High, it should be "glo ree ah" not the ugly "glor ee ah". And the little town is "beth leh hem" not "beth LEE hem"; professional singers botch this often.

7. If the Patriots go the entire season undefeated, do you think people will complain more about it then about Barry Bonds breaking Aaron's record?

Well, no. I think the Jets were going to lose that first game of the season. Yeah, there were a couple close games - Philadelphia and Baltimore, I think - that had some questionable referees' calls. But they are a quality team, as much as I despise them.
BTW, I don't understand the commentators' point last weekend that the Giants should rest their best players this weekend now that they're in the playoffs, rather than trying to stop New England from going 16-0. Bollocks! The psychological lift of NYG knocking off New England would be a tremendous for them going into the second season, especially now that's going to be nationally simulcast on NBC and CBS.
That said, if the Patriots lose to Jacksonville (the best shot of the streak ending, I think), the Colts or an NFC team in the Super Bowl, then going 17-1 or 18-1 will be just a footnote in an ultimately disappointing season.

BTW, Scott, I saved one of your questions because it ties into some questions from Anthony that I'll answer NEXT time.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Roger Answers Your Questions, Gordon and Rick

Gordon, whose birthday is the day before mine, albeit a couple several many years later, asks:

1)Who IS your hero?
Actually, it's anyone who speaks truth to power. But the person who's moved me the most this year is Bill Moyers on PBS, who used to work in LBJ's administration. He's talked about the fallacies of the war in Iraq, taken on Big Media in a BIG way, and speaks about religion and faith and race in a wonderful, open-minded manner. Did you see Keith Olbermann on his show recently? Maybe I'm reading into it, but I think Keith, who I like, BTW, is a bit in awe of Bill, because they are in the same "town crier" business, but Moyers has been doing it a lot longer.

2) In this age of mega media-conglomeration, when the major studios are crying poverty during the Writer's Strike...what do you suggest we (as citizens) do?
Use less. Interesting sentence, that, because take away the space and it's useless, which is how I think lots of people are feeling about struggling against the mass everything. And it is a struggle. But to the degree possible, go to the locally-owned movie theater. See the local productions. Watch Moyers. As to the specifics of the writer's strike, don't watch the network shows online, don't buy DVDs (if you really must see the complete Stargate again, rent it.)
Did you see the Story of Stuff? If you do, I think you'll be less likely to want to buy the crap that we're being told that we MUST have. It's all part of the same struggle. On the same news cycle that we read that retailers are hoping for a late pre-Christmas shopping surge, we see that credit card debt is getting higher than ever.
They put out individual seasons of our favorite TV show and we buy that. Then they put out the box set with "extras", expecting us to buy that too. Don't. The music industry works the same way; no wonder that many people are "ripping off" the record companies. The system seems to be designed, per planned obsolesce and/or bait and switch, to make you buy the same thing again and again. Don't let 'em.

Before I get to Gordon's last question, I want to address this query by George (Rick) Lewis: Why are the daytime talk shows unaffected by the writer's strike??? Well, I did not know that they weren't affected. Poking around the Internet, I've read that the producers have enough scripts to get through January. And at least during the last strike 20 years ago, scabs non-union "scribes" were hired to pick up the slack. But the particulars of who is or is not covered is not my area of expertise; go ask Mark Evanier.

3) Why do people insist on playing/listening to "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer"? That is one of the most annoying songs ever written.

(Plus, traumatic incidents should never be comedy fodder).

Let me take on the parenthetical aside first. Trauma is often comedy fodder. I understand the feeding the Christians to the lions was considered great fun; well, not to the Christians, I suppose.
Seriously, there are people who think that horror movies where the cliched young adults meet their demise is high camp; I tend not to watch them myself, but that's what I've heard.
One traumatic event I thought was TERRIBLY funny was the end of the movie, The Life of Brian - a crucifixion! And the victims are singing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life"! A song so strong that it made its way into the musical Spamalot. So I think the eye-gouging of the Three Stooges or Wile E. Coyote's Acme bomb blowing up before he gets the Road Runner (meep meep) definitely have its fans.

As to the Elmo and Patsy song itself, I'll admit that I actually purchased the single. (For you youngsters, a single, for about a half century starting in the 1950s, was a seven-inch piece of musical vinyl with a large hole in the middle, to be played at 45 revolutions per minute on something called a "record player".) And I liked it because it was, to my mind, a lovely little deconstruction of all the cloying sentimentality of the season. I never thought it would turn out to be a perennial favorite, and I don't listen to it much any more, mostly because I've become bored with it. (And the remake that you hear on the radio is not, to my mind, as good as the less-polished version that I purchased.) In any event, Gordon, it may please you to know that others share your sentiment.
Confidential to GP: I'm not sure that I've had a breakup as devastating as yours with Liar Ex (who told many lies). But the cumulative effect on me of "love gone bad" (title of a Chris Clark song, not bad grammar) has had its impact. Were you ever dumped by an e-mail so circuitous that it took you three reads to get the message? I have. I'm just sayin'. But if I went through the litany, we'd both be way too depressed.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Lydster, Part 45: All in Good Time

I was watching "Grey's Anatomy" a couple months ago (yeah, OK, whatever). Dr. Bailey, who is the only reasonably sane character on the show, was being berated on her cell phone by her husband for missing their less-than-one-year-old son's first Halloween. Then she, talking to intern George, bewailed missing it too, even though she was helping with a surgery to make some cute kid's life better.

Oh, please.

This year was Lydia's first Halloween that we went out and celebrated. And her mother took her to a limited number of houses. I mean, how much candy does she really need? (Answer: quite a bit, actually, after eliminating the candies that might have peanuts.)

Likewise, we haven't had a Christmas tree until this year. This is Lydia's fourth Christmas. The first year, we were too tired and disorganized. The second year, we were afraid she'd accidentally pull it down on herself unless we had a moat around it. The third year, we weren't home long enough, as we were at the grandparents' house; they had a tree. This year, however, we went up to the attic, found the tree stand, negotiated which Christmas bulbs made it on the tree (Carol and I each have our own sets), figured out the lights (we were on the same page on that one), and decided that it would be important to help Lydia, and us, to have some Christmas traditions of our own.

So, I don't think we've psychologically damaged Lydia by having foregone the rituals until now. Or if we have, she can send us the shrink's bill.

More details anon.

Happy 3 3/4, Lydia.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Yeah, we didn't send cards THIS year, again.

And we didn't have time to buy a tree, either:

Hear some music of the season.

Here's a holiday greeting from my alma mater and my new employer. No, I didn't change jobs. It's a long story...


Monday, December 24, 2007

My Favorite Christmas: 1969 or 1970

I'm old enough so that having a color television was once available only to those people of means. Next door to my grandmother, the folks, in 1961 or 1962, bought this huge color TV. This was back in the day when a TV was furniture. Since my sister Leslie was friends with one of the daughters, Christine, occasionally I got to see shows on the set. In those days, most, if not all shows on NBC were "brought to you in living color". Even then, Bonanza, in particular, looked really weird.

But the shows on ABC and CBS were in black and white until approximately 1966. I remember ABC especially made a big deal of the transition: "Next, F Troop. In COLOR." "Bewitched. In COLOR." Well, not for us.

So, whatever Christmas it was, when the presents were fairly scarce under the tree, we were nevertheless all excited when we got a color television. I watched TV a lot, even of shows I had seen before that fall. I'm not sure that certain shows were improved by color. At some point, I saw reruns of the third (color) season of The Fugitive, and it wasn't as good as the other two. And Griffith wasn't improved, but then that could have been the loss of Don Knotts.

On the other hand, I got to watch The Wizard of Oz for the first time the way it was designed. It was WONDERFUL. I had never gotten the "horse of a different color" joke until that year. In retrospect, it was like being in that Tobey Maguire/Reese Witherspoon/Joan Allen/Don Knotts movie Pleasantville. Ironically, seeing things in color gave me a greater appreciation of black and white films that came later on such as Schindler's list and Manhattan.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

'Tis the Season to ASK ROGER ANYTHING

This is the part of the program where I stand on stage like Carol Burnett before the show and you pose irreverent, irrelevant, irrational and/or irritating questions, and I HAVE TO ANSWER. Not only that, I promise it'll be the truth; it may not be the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but as Jimmy Carter once said to the American public, "I'll never lie to you."

You could ask if I think the National Football League is somehow fixing the games - there have been some controversial calls - so that the New England Patriots will be 15-0 going into their final game against the Giants which can only be seen on the network that the league owns, and which is not available from many cable companies, such as Time Warner.

You could ask me what my absolute favorite play of the season in the NFL was. Note, however, that I haven't seen a whole game all season, and that I've likely seen the most football waiting for 60 Minutes to come on.

You could ask me what the Baseball Hall of Fame ought to do about the players in the Steroid era.

You could ask me who my hero is.

You could ask me why this sentence on the FCC website for December 18 makes me gag: "FCC Adopts Rules To Promote Diversification Of Broadcast Ownership."

Well, you get the idea.
ADD is right.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Kennedy Center Honors, Part 2

More on the Kennedy Center Honors that took place on December 2 and is airing on CBS on Wednesday, December 26 at 9 pm EST.

I was afraid the Kennedy Center might treat Brian Wilson as some has-been of the 1960s, but it appears not to be so, as they cite his more recent works as well as his classic Beach Boys songs.

It's odd that I never owned a Beach Boys album until Pet Sounds, which is my favorite . But once I got into the group, I did so in as major way. I've probably repurchased more Beach Boys music (vinyl to CD) than any group save for the Beatles. I now own, in one form or another:
Beach Boys Concert (32:03) (r. 19th October 1964)
Christmas Album (27:32) (r. November 1964)
Pet Sounds (35:39) (r. 16th May 1966)
Smiley Smile (27:00) (r. 5th September 1967)
Wild Honey (23:55) (r. 4th December 1967)
Friends (24:57) (c. 6th July 1968)
20/20 (29:33) (c. 1st March 1969)
Sunflower (36:10) (r. 31st August 1970)
Surf's Up (32:59) (r. August 1971) - my second-favorite album
Carl and The Passions - So Tough (33:47) (r. 14th May 1972)
Holland (35:49+11:57=47:46) (r. 8th January 1973) this I have on vinyl with the story on a separate disc.
15 Big Ones (37:51) (r. June 1976)
Love You (33:40) (r. March 1977)
This doesn't count a number of compilations, from a pair of double LPs in the early 1970s to the box set in the 1990s. The fifth CD in the box set has a 9-minute, "in process" version of "God Only Knows", the last three minutes of which begs to be released as a single. The box set was actually a present to a friend, which I got back after she died.

Of Brian's solo discography, I have:
Brian Wilson, 1988
Imagination, 1998
Gettin' In Over My Head, 2004
SMiLE, 2004
What I Really Want For Christmas, 2005

The final artist to be honored is Diana Ross, or as the announcer puts it on a box set called The Motown Story, "Miss Diana Ross."

There were LOTS of Supremes albums at my house when I grew up. Of this list, we had all of them in the 1962-1967 section except the Christmas album. When the group became Diana Ross and the Supremes, I still got a number of the albums; from that section, all except Funny Girl, Cream of the Crop, Greatest Hits 3 and Farewell.

But after her first two solo albums, I was disinclined to buy any more. I think, like many of the Motown artists, I resented how Berry Gordy pushed her to the fore. According to the December 5 Wall Street Journal, the main character in the new movie Juno wants people to know that her name came not from the capital of Alaska but from Zeus's wife. ("She was supposed to be really beautiful but really mean, like Diana Ross.")

Not that I was unaware of Miss Ross. Her version of Ain't No Mountain High Enough was the backdrop to some Black History Month assembly in 1971. Certainly I heard the hits such as Love Hangover and Upside Down. I heard Endless Love endlessly. I still have a visual of her singing in a thunder storm in Central Park.

But the bulk of her solo work eluded me. So, while I was (allegedly) doing Christmas shopping for others a couple weeks ago, I was compelled to buy The Definitive Collection Somehow, I managed to miss the anthemic "I'm Coming Out" and a number of other songs. As it's likely my only DR on CD, matching my Supremes CD greatest hits compilation as the lone digital representation in my collection, I'm actually glad to have it.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Me and My Lookalikes

Interesting how a slightly different exposure of the same picture generates a slightly different list. Thanks, Kelly.

And speaking of lookalikes, new this year at Madame Tussauds in NYC: Hillary Clinton, Rachael Ray, Brandon Routh from the film Superman Returns, David Wright of the New York Mets, and, according to Ad Age magazine, the Burger King "King".

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Kennedy Center Honors, Part 1

The Martin edition.

The Kennedy Center Honors took place on December 2. Increasingly, the honorees are very much familiar to me. This year is no exception, with four of the five artists. The show airs on CBS on Wednesday, December 26 at 9 pm EST, and I WILL watch (or more accurately, record to watch at a later time.)

The person with whom I am least familiar is also the oldest. Leon Fleisher was a fine pianist who lost the use of his right hand, but helped developed a left-hand repertoire. I recall seeing a television program on that phenomenon. Here's a recollection by a former neighbor.

I've seen a number of movies by Martin Scorcese, including
Cape Fear (1991)
The Color of Money (1986)
The King of Comedy (1983)
Raging Bull (1980)
The Last Waltz (1978)
Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)
and also
No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (2005)
"The Blues" - Feel Like Going Home (2003) TV episode
But I've managed to miss some of his best-known films:
The Departed (2006) - not a surprise lately
Gangs of New York (2002) - got a mixed feel from the reviews
Kundun (1997) - possibly one of a couple movies of that year I missed
Casino (1995)
Goodfellas (1990) - I actually saw a good chunk of this on TV, but not enough to count
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) - and I really wanted to
Taxi Driver (1976) - have long been wary of it
Mean Streets (1973) - don't think it played where I went to college and it just didn't happen
This coming year, I'll promise to see at least one of these films.

Even before I really knew who he really was, I was enjoying the work of Steve Martin. As a writer on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour - a show I watched religiously - he won an Emmy, along with the rest of the writing staff, in 1969. I recall seeing him in sketches, and playing banjo on skits on that show, and the shows of Glen Campbell, Sonny and Cher, and yes, Ken Berry.
Of course, like most of America, I really got to know him from his wild and crazy appearances on Saturday Night Live. He had a hit single, King Tut, which I have on one of those Dr. Demento albums. I even have one of his LPs
However, I know him best from the movies. Here's a list of the ones I've seen:
The Out-of-Towners (1999)
The Spanish Prisoner (1997) great role
Father of the Bride Part II (1995)
Leap of Faith (1992) I recall really liking his evangelist character
HouseSitter (1992)
Grand Canyon (1991) His character has one of the best lines about movies in film history: "That's part of your problem: you haven't seen enough movies. All of life's riddles are answered in the movies."
Father of the Bride (1991)
L.A. Story (1991)
Parenthood (1989)
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) I have a peculiar affection for this movie
Roxanne (1987) I haven't seen it since, but I had a great affection for this movie at the time; wonder if it holds up?
All of Me (1984) I thought the scene in which the Lily Tomlin character takes over his body was hilarious; again, a movie I haven't seen since
The Muppet Movie (1979)
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)
I've seen large chunks of The Jerk (1979)
Currently, the screenwriter and playwright - there was a play he wrote at Cap Rep, which I unfortunately missed - has his autobiography on the best seller list; here are reviews by Jaquandor and Gordon, which seem to be consistent with most observations that the book is NOT a laugh riot. My favorite book title of his, though, is one he did with fellow New Yorker magazine contributor, cartoonist Roz Chast: The Alphabet from A to Y With Bonus Letter Z! Sounds like a book I could enjoy while pretending to give it to my daughter.

I received a mixed Christmas CD recently, and the last cut is...strange. Reportedly, one night late in 1979, Steve Martin, Paul Simon, and Billy Joel all ran into one another while out on the town drinking, and spontaneously decided to go into a studio and record a holiday tune. So they did, with Steve adlibbing the monolog portion.
Then they all sobered up and decided not to release it--but undoubtedly some engineer slipped a bootleg copy out on the sly, and ended up on this disc. I'm assured this story is true. The tale is as much of a hoot as the tune.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Snow emergency

I hate being wrong. Sure, most people do, I suppose, but the librarian in me specifically hates giving out wrong information, especially when it's not my fault.

We've been having some nasty weather around Albany recently. The snow and ice storm that came on Thursday meant that after-school activities were called off, my Bible study and choir were canceled, and it took forever to get home, as one totally full Western Avenue bus drove right by me before I caught another. Generally, Albany calls a snow emergency when the snowfall hits six inches, which involves alternate side parking and towed cars. It was 6.4" at the airport, but the city demurred, probably in anticipation of a second storm Saturday into Sunday.

So, how does one find out about these snow emergencies? You have to dial (518) 476-SNOW when it seems that conditions are likely. So 11 a.m. Monday, I called and got the recording that there would be an emergency starting Tuesday morning at 8 a.m. This was VERY unusual, for while the city's webpage said that it COULD start snow emergency at 8 a.m., I have no recollection of this taking place in my 28 years in the city; snow emergencies always started at 8 p.m.

So I sent a blind e-mail to some Albany folks to let them know. One writes back, "How do you know? The 476-SNOW number's not working, and nothing's on the city page." So, I called the main number of the Department of General Services around 11:30 a.m. and the woman I spoke to said that she knew that 476-SNOW wasn't working, that they were working on it, but that the snow emergency would take place Tuesday morning at 8 a.m. I sent an e-mail to this effect to a couple of the TV stations' websites and posted it on a blog.

About 12:45, I check the Channel 13 website, and it's stating that there is a snow emergency in Albany starting at 8 P.M. ON MONDAY. What? I called 476-SNOW, and that's what the message now said. Sometime between 11:30 a.m. and 12:45 p.m., someone in the Albany bureaucracy CHANGED his or her mind? This meant that I had to re-send an e-mail to everyone I had previousdly sent an e-mail to, with the new information.

Did I mention that I hate being wrong?


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hanna-Barbera Turns 50

Until I read about it in Mark Evanier's recent column I had missed the fact that Hanna-Barbera hit the half century mark last week. This company produced the cartoons that got me through the early part of my childhood. When I was scared, in the hospital at five and a half with a nosebleed that wouldn't stop, it was the Huckleberry Hound dog howdy of him singing Clementine that helped pass the time.

My father had a single called "Yogi" by the Ivy Three, 30 seconds of which can be heard on this novelty compilation album. The song went up to #8 on the Billboard charts in the second half of 1960. While the group was considered a "one-hit wonder", Charles Koppelman, one of the group members, found other success in the music industry.

A New Orleans compilation disc I own features the Dirty Dozen Brass Band playing "The Flintstones Meet The President", with the Flintstones theme alternating with various patriotic songs.

But the real effect H-B had on me is that, to this day, I still know the themes to Huckleberry Hound

Top Cat

the Flintstones, the Jetsons, and heaven help me, Magilla Gorilla.


Monday, December 17, 2007

The Social Contract

Saturday, a couple friends of mine came over to our house. They didn't know each other, but they discovered that they had both spent time in the northern plains of the United States, particularly North Dakota, at different times. One had lived in Fargo (yeah, I hear you doing those Frances McDormand imitations), and noted that not only did people keep their houses and cars unlocked 20 to 30 years ago, they often left the keys in the car, in case one of their neighbors had a need to move it. Leave your keys in the ignition now, and someone is likely to to move the auto - to another state.

This reminded me of my childhood in Binghamton, NY. My hometown tended to be cloudy and rainy. When I was walking to school, especially the last three years of high school, I'd see cars with their lights left on. I'd open the car door and turn the lights off. I did this a LOT. One day alone, I did this 22 times. Of course, now I'd have neither the means (automatic locks hinder access), the need (automatic lights now go out) or the nerve (someone would assume I was stealing their vehicle, which actually happened in Jackson Heights, Queens, NYC in 1977).

No one told me to turn off car lights; I just figured that if I were in a similar situation, I'd rather someone turn off my lights rather than let the battery run down. A few people have at least told me that I had left my bike lights on, and perhaps some kind stranger has actually turned the light off.

Of course, one can disagree about what constitutes the social contract. My wife wanted me to not shovel the walk yesterday until the storm stopped so that the freezing rain would sit atop the snow. But my sense of the contract is that if I am able, and have the time, I should remove the four or five inches in the morning, then return to put down deicer as necessary. As we trudged through the snow to and from the bus stop yesterday, I think she appreciated more my point of view. Not only did I shovel our walk, but I also shoveled a pathway all the way to the street in case our newspaper delivery lady needed to use it, and she did.

As it turns out, some bloggers have designated today, December 17, as a day to post their stories about the acts of kindness they have performed recently. I was recalling a conversation on Anthony's page, especially the comments, as to whether we need to designate a day to give thanks. Well, theoretically no, but in actually, perhaps. In the same manner, we ought not need a day to be kind to others, but if it helps makes the world just a little less hostile, I'm in favor. Whether I've done anything recently that would qualify specifically as a kindness, I'm not sure, but I'll settle with trying to do so every day.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Turning 90, iff

Thinking about the next year, 2008, I was tooling around the Dead or Alive website and found a search mechanism by date. All of these folks were born in 1918, so are hitting the big 9-0 in 2008, barring events:
Oral Roberts 01/24 that guy with a university named after himself
Ernie Harwell 01/25 the great announcer for the Detroit Tigers who shows up on ESPN occasionally
Philip José Farmer 01/26 science fiction writer
John Forsythe 01/29 I remember him best as the lead in a sitcom called Bachelor Father MANY years ago. Oh yeah, he was on Dynasty and was the voice of Charlie on Charlie's Angels
Janet Waldo 02/04 voice actress (Judy Jetson, Josie of the Pussycats)
Allan Arbus 02/15 the shrink on the M*A*S*H TV show
Patty Andrews 02/16 surviving member of the singing Andrews Sisters (Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree)
Don Pardo 02/22 announcer for the original JEOPARDY program and other game shows, as well as Saturday Night Live
Marian McPartland 03/20 great jazz pianist who my late friend Donna loved
Bobby Doerr 04/07 2nd base, BoSox
Betty Ford 04/08 started a health clinic of some kind, had a husband involved in politics
Jørn Utzon 04/09 designed the Sydney Opera House (I did not know that!)
Mike Wallace 05/09 a game show and talk show host who became that 60 Minutes guy
Eddy Arnold 05/15 noted country singer for decades
Joseph Wiseman 05/15 noted stage actor who I was not familiar with
Yasuhiro Nakasone 05/27 former prime minister of Japan; I knew that name was familiar
Barry Morse 06/10 the original Lt. Gerard on The Fugitive
Abigail Van Buren 07/04 the original Dear Abby; twin sister of the late Ann Landers Nelson Mandela 07/18 spent lots of years in jail before leading South Africa
Marjorie Lord 07/26 Danny Thomas' TV wife
Helen Wagner 09/03 my grandmother used to watch As the World Turns and the Nancy Hughes character; I think she's still on!
Paul Harvey 09/04 radio commentator I listened to decades ago; good day
Baby Peggy 10/26 a silent film start I had never heard of
Griffin Bell 10/31 US Attorney General under Jimmy Carter
Bob Feller 11/03 Rapid Robert was a pitcher for Cleveland
Billy Graham 11/07 probably somewhere in my house I have a book he wrote that I received when I was 9 called A Talk with God
Claiborne Pell 11/22 senator from Rhode Island; those educational grants are named for him
Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. 11/30 actor I remember from The FBI TV show
Aleksander Solzhenitsyn 12/11 author of The Gulag Archipelago
Helmut Schmidt 12/23/1918 once chancellor of West Germany
Ahmed Ben Bella 12/25/1918 led the Algerian independence movement and later led the country; not a name I knew

Oh, and these guys were born in 1908, thus potentially hitting the century mark:
Michael DeBakey 09/07 heart surgeon
Claude Lévi-Strauss 11/28 French anthropologist

This database says it only has living people over 50. So why does Rodney Allen Rippy, who's only turning 40, show up?


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Creative Recycling QUESTION

We do try to reuse stuff in our household, not let things go to waste. Just last night, we had tickets for the Albany Symphony which our friends, a couple at our church, could not use, and we were fortunate to get a babysitter.

The evening started with a lovely Italian dinner; some of that food we will eat again. The music, Memories of the Old Country featured Stephen Dankner’s Out of Endless Yearnings: Klezmer Fantasy for Cello and Orchestra, which "brilliantly combines symphonic sound with traditional Jewish folk music." The composer called it rather like a "Cellist on the Roof." So the klezmer theme was recycled. The concert also included the familiar Schubert "Unfinished" Symphony, Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1, and Bartok's Rumanian Folk Dances.

Many of Lydia's early clothes we got from others, and we've passed along her clothes, toys, and equipment when it's in good condition.

But here's a new one for us: we're getting a Christmas tree today, used. Other church friends of ours cut it down a couple weeks ago, but they're going out of town through the holidays, so they'd just be tossing it.

Recycling a recent theme: What's the oddest, and/or most creative ways you've reused an item?


Friday, December 14, 2007


Sometimes, in anticipation of a big snowstorm such as the one we got yesterday (at least 6.4"), with a worse one's supposedly coming tomorrow night - I get this unfocused feeling of anxiety. External things going on tend to fuel this feeling. Note to dumb driver yesterday: honking at me while I'm trying to cross the street without falling down will not get me to move faster.

*ITEM: A couple folks in my organization are leaving. For one, it's good thing, as he cuts his commute in half and gets "a few extra shekels each week." For the other one, not so much.
*ITEM: At some point between 12 noon and 1:30 pm Wednesday, someone sprayed pink silly string all over the men’s bathroom on the office floor I work on. In addition, paper towels were put in at least some of the urinals in an apparent attempt to clog them. The bizarre things about this: 1) I was most likely in there at some point during that time period, and 2) only department heads were told about the incident until Thursday morning. The chance to catch the perpetrator would been a whole lot better had we all been given more information sooner. It's that top down management style that's so broken.
*ITEM: My computer at home had mysteriously stopped working. Or more specifically, it was as though the keyboard was longer responding. Removing the keyboard, reattaching and a soft boot didn't work, but doing the same with a hard boot (no, I didn't kick it, though I thought to) finally did the trick.
*ITEM: Roger Clemens was implicated in former U.S. Senator George Mitchell's report on steroids. I had suspected as much, but it's still unfortunate. If Barry Bonds' record-breaking home-run ball literally gets an asterisk, what of Clemens' Cy Young-laden records?
*ITEM: Peg Moore died during Wednesday night/Thursday morning. She was the wife of Stan Moore, the pastor of the first church I joined in my adulthood back in the early 1980s. She was also a fellow choir member, an alto. Before Lydia was born, I'd see Stan and Peg at Capital Rep, the Equity theater company in Albany.
*ITEM: Some high school kid jumped to his death from an interstate ramp yesterday. It was only a couple miles from my office and my house.
*ITEM: There was a fire on Madison Avenue, about a mile from my house, early Tuesday morning, and the historic building will be likely torn down by now. Someone who works in the school at which my wife teaches lost everything, including pets, in that fire. The school is taking up a collection of household items for her.
That fire affected my bus commute not only Tuesday morning, but also Tuesday and Wednesday nights in a way not unlike how a snowstorm in Chicago affects a New York to Miami airline flight.

So, it's a bit of ennui, mixed with a taste of dread. This too shall pass.

Is junk media making you sick???



Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Merry Christmas Meme

From Tosy of New Jersey:

1. Favorite traditional Christmas song:
"The Coventry Carol". I'm particularly fond of Alison Moyet's version on the orginal "A Very Special Christmas".

2. Favorite contemporary or modern Christmas song:
"The Bells of Christmas" by Julie Andrews from a Firestone LP in the mid-1960s. It was re-recorded with an extra-long bridge that utterly ruins it, though.

3. Christmas song that makes you cry
A performance of "I'll Be Home For Christmas" by Kim and Reggie Harris. It is a sad song, ultimately.

4. Real or artificial tree:
Real. I fear artificial trees.

5. Favorite Christmas edible treat
I take a shot of amaretto in a goblet, then pour eggnog into it. Not only does it taste good, it looks good.

6. White lights or multi-colored:
White. Though I grew up with these huge colored lights.

7. How many Christmas parties will you go to this year:
One. Already went.

8. Favorite act of kindness to perform during this season:
Random acts of kindness.

9. Favorite sounds of Christmas:

10. Favorite things to wear:
I have a Santa hat.

11. Favorite Christmas movie/TV special:
Except for Charlie Brown, don't really watch them anymore.

12. Eggnog or hot chocolate:
Depends on the temperature outside.

13. Favorite Christmas book:
This hardbound book of carols I got for my wife a couple years ago.

14. Christmas books on my "to read" list:

15. Peppermint or cinnamon:
Peppermint usually.

16. What's on the top of your tree:
An angel.

17. Traditional Christmas meal growing up:
Don't really remember.

18. Online shopping or traditional "go to the store" shopping:
Online if it isn't a small store.

19. Something you received as a Christmas gift as a child that you still have:
No clue. In all likelihood, some LPs, but couldn't specify titles.

20. How many Christmas cards you have mailed so far:

21. Favorite source for Christmas ideas:
My wife.

22. Coordinated/themed or hodge-podge tree decorations:
Hodge-podge. My ornaments, her ornaments from when we were kids, new ornaments.

23. What's on the top of YOUR Christmas wishlist:
A Hess truck.

24. Roles you've played in Christmas plays/programs:
Shepherd, wise man.

25. Wrapping paper or gift bags:
When I was a kid, I used to wrap presents in the comics section of the Sunday paper. I was often mocked by my family, and I abandoned it. I think I'll go back to it.

26. When do you put up the tree:
Well, we hadn't had one in a couple years. about two weeks before Christmas when we do.

27. When do you take the tree down:
New Years' Day, or soon thereafter.

28. Do you have a nativity scene:
A creche on the fireplace mantle.

29. Hardest person to buy for:
My mother.

30. Easiest person to buy for:
My daughter.

31. Worst Christmas gift you ever received:
I have no idea.

32. When do you start shopping for Christmas:
It varies. Once upon a time, there was a Medieval Faire in October,, and I'd start then. Some years, it's two weeks before Christmas, and I'd take a day off from work and do the whole thing.

33. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present:
Possibly, but unlikely.

34. Travel at Christmas or stay home:
Home for the first time since Lydia was born.

35. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer:
Yes, all nine.

36. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning:
Christmas morning.

37. Most annoying thing about this time of year:
Nasty people in over-crowded stores.

38. What I love most about Christmas:
Traditional Christmas music.
Educational Stocking Stuffers and a terrible gift idea.
Brian Lynch's A Simulated Christmas , courtesy of ADD.
The Nine-Inning Holiday Trivia Quiz from ESPN; tough!


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Rules: Part 3 (of 37): Playing Music

As you may know if you know me, or if you’re a regular reader of this blog, I am a compulsive about some things such as filing my recorded music. I've likely mentioned that I’m also obsessive about playing music I own. I figure that if I own it, I should play it. If I don’t play it, I should probably get rid of it.

To that end, I play music on a musician's or classical composer's birthday week. This week, in honor of their birthdays today, it's Frank Sinatra and Dionne Warwick. This birthday thing also applies to compilers of compilations, so the guy with the Omnibus coming out is heard in January, while the Eddie-torial pledge dude gets played in November.

There used to be a time when I'd play a given artist two or three times during the course of a year, but with an increasing number of recordings, I've had to figure out how to parse some groups.

Simon & Garfunkel I play in November, Art's birthday; I also play my one Garfunkel album. Simon solo I play in October.
I have so many Rolling Stones albums that I play the store-bought ones in July, Mick Jagger's birthday, and the ones I've burned in December, Keith Richards' birthday.
Led Zeppelin gets played in January, Jimmy Page's birthday; solo Robert Plant in August.
I play Crosby and CPR in August, Stills in January and Young in November. CSN(&Y) I play in February, Nash's birthday, since I have no Nash on CD.
The Police get played in July, Stuart Copeland's birthday, while Sting gets played in October. (Why not Andy Sumner as the Police trigger? Because his birthday came later in the year, in December.)
Don Henley in July; the Eagles in November, Glenn Frey's birthday.
With so many Beach Boys albums, most of them I play in June, Brian Wilson's birthday, along with solo Brian Douglas Wilson. However, the box set and the greatest hits I play in December, the birthdays of Dennis Carl Wilson and Carl Dean Wilson. (I didn't know until yesterday that Dennis' middle name was Carl; how odd.)
The Beatles are the most convoluted. Solo artists in their respective months, of course. In October, for John, I play the canon, the British albums as they were originally produced, since he was the leader of the group; also the Past Masters, which represent, mostly, the singles. February I play the American albums, since George was the first Beatle to come to the U.S., visiting his sister Louise. June, Paul's month, gets the other items: the Anthologies, the BBC, the remixes of Yellow Sub and Let It Be, and LOVE. As for July, Ringo gets all the many Beatle cover albums.

Speaking of which, I'm in the midst of moving my tribute albums from their own section to the end of the run of the given artist; there are now so many that I forget.

As for the rest of my music: February gets compilation love albums, compilation soul albums (except Motown, played in November for Berry Gordy's birthday) and, if the Oscars are in February, soundtracks, which usually takes a couple months in any case. As for the rest of the albums, other compilations, artists with birthdays I don't know, I play whenever I want. Well, except the Chieftains and Clannad, which I listen to in March, and Christmas albums, which I play between December 1 and Epiphany. Oh, and Halloween albums for guess when?

The requirement to play, say John Lennon in October, doesn't preclude me from playing it again in March just because I feel like it.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Musing about February

February? It's not even Christmas yet!

But February is Black History Month, and I'm always looking for a new angle to tackle the subject in my church . I think the topic's still important, and that was before I skimmed the US Human Rights Network finding that "the US Report On Race Covers Up Reality of Discrimination in America".

I'm interested in the New Demographic workshops. I'm intrigued by the titles. As important as I think the topic is, quite often, diversity training DOES suck. The core beliefs work for me. I'll have to price these seminars. I'm also intrigued by a recent report which indicates that We're ALL prejudiced; Now what? Some New Demographic article I can't puts my hands on addresses this as well in a different light. To say one does not see color, usually in some hyperbolic terms such as "I don't care if he's black, white, red, yellow or purple polka-dots, because I don't see color" is insulting. It's insulting because virtually ALL of us see color, just as we see gender and age and hair color and height and weight. (So, Lefty, I WAS kidding when I "confused" you with the musician Chris Brown.)

So if you've come across a fresh way to talk about race, racism, racialism in America, please let me know.
I don't know what "liberal" and "conservative" mean. Listening to the Writer's Guild, I'd find the six big production companies to be conservative, trying to maintain the status quo. But I get regular e-mails from self-proclaimed conservative groups, and Human Events writes: "liberal media giant Time Warner lobbied the federal government's taxpayer-subsidized mail-delivery monopoly, aka the United States Postal Service, to hit us with a postal hike that will cost us an extra $120,000 per year to deliver HUMAN EVENTS -- a shocking sum we simply cannot afford to pay.

"Our subscribers and supporters are rightly outraged about liberal Time Warner's machinations that can put smaller competitors such as HUMAN EVENTS out of business." By liberal, the group means that...well, I'm not sure. Limiting access to a variety of forms of information - where exactly does that fit on the political spectrum?


Monday, December 10, 2007

My Christmas Wish List

Sure I want music and I always want the World Almanac. Oh, and the Hess truck.

But do you know what I really want?
*Time: time to keep up with paper, with my friends, with my family.
*Finding a regular babysitter so that Carol and I can go on our monthly dates again.
*Staying in a period of joy. Remembering the good more than the bad.
*Appreciating the simple things, such as latte coffee art.
*For my left knee to stop aching so; taking a flight of steps is nigh unto impossible lately, and going down is much worse than up; the right elbow's sore, too.
*For the success of the Underground Railroad workshop. It's not until February, but what the heck.
*For better health for friend Fiona
*For ADD to be able to write right.
*For Kelly to get over her health challenge.
*For my friend Mike's well being; he starts chemo for esophageal cancer today.
*For peace on earth. Yeah, I know it's cliche; I don't care.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Library Poster Person

In lieu of actual content, an article that appeared in the October 2007 Albany Public Library BiblioTech newsletter, on the back page. This article, I understand, has been, or will be, copped in my neighborhood association newsletter:

Roger Green loves to use APL, and he does it from the comfort of his home or office. He is a librarian at the New York State Small Business Development Center and almost daily he uses the APL free databases that he accesses from his office computer with his library card. As a business librarian, he finds the various databases such as Reference USA, Business and Company Resource Center, and the Thomson Gale Legal Forms extremely helpful.

And Roger gives back to APL. As Vice-President of the Friends of the Albany Public Library, he promotes the library and helps create programming. He also created and runs the Friends of the APL blog.

Roger worked as a page for the Binghamton Public Library when he was a teenager. He assisted patrons using the microfilm machines and put away the items in the stacks, including the magazines. He might have glanced at some old issues of Psychology Today and Billboard a little too long before refiling them. "As wonderful as I found going to the library as a child, I’m even more appreciative that what the library usage is no longer limited by four walls," he says.

Outside of work, Roger does visit the library frequently. He loves to bring his three-year old daughter Lydia to the library for story times and to borrow books and DVD's. He's impressed with the Youth services staff and the extent of the collection available for his daughter.

To find out more about the Friends of the APL go to the Friends' blog at To find out more about Roger go to his blog at


Saturday, December 08, 2007


So how are you doing with that Christmas shopping? I happen not to be fond of shopping at any time of the year, but particularly now. If he didn't live 800 miles away in Louisville, I'd probably hire Eddie to do my shopping for me, assuming he worked cheaply enough.

It doesn't help that after watching The Story of Stuff!, a down-to-earth story of production, consumption and our future on the planet, I'm wary of buying much of anything.

1. What percentage of your shopping is done? Mine's about 45% finished.

2. Where do you shop?

In box stores? Well, not in THE big box store, and generally I tend to avoid big stores like the plague.

At the mall? Rarely at Colonie Center. Never at the Pyramid Corporation's Crossgates, even before this debacle that briefly made the national news:
The first Crossgates Mall Peace Walk was in 2002 when a group of folks from various groups entered the mall wearing shirts that said: Drop Toys Not Bombs, Don't Attack Iraq and Peace on Earth! They were rounded up and escorted off the property under threat of arrest. Steve and Roger Downs heard about this and went into the mall to see if it could possibly be true. The rest is history. From Wikipedia: "At the dawn of the Iraq War in March 2003, the mall (Crossgates) became the center of a free speech controversy when Selkirk resident Stephen Downs was arrested refusing to take off an anti-war t-shirt that he had purchased in the mall. After many objections, the mall dropped the charges. Shortly thereafter, a large protest was held at the mall where many people came wearing anti-war attire."
BTW: this year's WEAR YOUR PEACE TEE SHIRTS Crossgates event will be Thursday, December 20
5:15 pm - press conference in the parking lot of the Cinema 18
5:45 pm - in the food court to hook up and to to meander and "shop"
6:15 pm - converge at the food court again to sing

I'll go to the non-chains - in this area, today is Buy Local Day.

But I'm generally inclined to use mail order.

3. Are you spending more or less than last year? I think I'll end up spending slightly less, but I'm not sure yet.
I called to get my renewed credit card authorized using the automated system yesterday morning. After approving it, it asked if I wanted a PIN number - OK. But then it told me I couldn't get a pin number at that time and that I needed to speak to a customer service rep. I gave my name to the human. THEN he tried to sell me some damn service I didn't want. I told him that I needed to catch a bus in eight minutes, which happened to be true. Grrr!!
Getting into the holiday spirit.
From the Shake That Brain! Newsletter


I recently took out $100 from my bank's cash machine. Only when I got home I discovered that my cash card was missing. I called the bank and they explained that the cash machine had taken it back.
Taken it BACK???
Turns out that the bank was having problems with people using fraudulent bank cards. So they rigged the system to keep the card for 60 seconds while the inside optics scanned it for authenticity. Great solution? No. Because that same machine is designed to spit out your cash in less than 30 seconds. So what happens to a lot of people? They take their cash and leave their card behind -- like me.
"No warning bell? No buzzer to let you know to not leave without your card?"
"Why would anyone need that? People know to wait for their cards."
"Tell me: How many cards does each machine 'take back' on a daily basis?"
"Two or three."
"So you solved the problem of fraudulent cash cards?"
"And that other problem your solution created?"
"What problem is that?"
LESSON NOT LEARNED? When you "solve" a problem make sure your solution doesn't leave a NEW problem in its place. In the case of my former bank, this is the difference between: "It's all about me" and "It's all about our customers."


Friday, December 07, 2007

Perfect television

Friend Fred was telling me about rewatching the Dick van Dyke Show on DVD (DVD on DVD) when I came to the realization why it was the near perfect TV show. In addition to lasting five seasons (not too long, not too short, but JUST RIGHT - kinda like some fairy tale), and and a balance of home and work life, there was a balance of how many times the A story was the office and the B story was the home life, and vice versa. Because Rob Petrie was friends with his co-workers, they would sometimes come to his home. Because Laura Petrie was such a fine dancer, she'd occasionally show up in the work segment. Balance, I say. And did I mention that Richard Deacon, who played producer Mel Cooley, was from Binghamton, my hometown?

If I wasn't so far behind on watching what I've recorded, I'd be coveting that DVD box set; I do have some individual episodes. As it is, Lydia's sleeping pattern (taking FOREVER to get to bed, and then with her mother or me), and I'm so tired that the writer's strike has had no effect on my viewing patterns yet. News programs are not affected. Aliens in America's a repeat? GREAT! Pushing Daisies is pre-empted this week? SWELL! As it is, the DVR's STILL hovering around 80% because I'm still recording a couple hours a day, with the news and JEOPARDY! And I'm watching about 40 minutes a day; even with the compression of the DVR, that's about an hour's worth of programming. (The Closer two-hour special this week is now in the queue.)

But the largest reason the DVR's so full is that when I was packing to go to visit my mother in NC, I accidentally packed the remote control in my luggage! This means that over that nearly six day period, my wife couldn't watch the two shows she watches that I don't: ice skating and Dancing with the Stars. They'd get recorded, but could not be watched. I suggested that she might want to go to Time-Warner and get a new remote, but she declined. Practically the first thing I did when I got home from that trip was to check the DVR level - 97% full, zap the three shows I managed to see in Charlotte, which got it down to 92%, then whittle away at it subsequently.

So don't tell my wife who won Dancing with the Stars; she doesn't know yet. She picked Helio, Mel B., and Cameron in the final three, but was surprised to see Cameron leave. Now, *I* know who won; I read it in TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly, but I won't spoil HER fun.
Dorian's Rules for Nerds. And other self-appointed critics.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

C.I.A. Trashes Interrogation Tapes

Of course it did. Something rather Watergatesque about it all.


If I Had A Heart

Tosy posted this musical meme.

1. Put your music player on Shuffle

2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.

3. YOU MUST WRITE THAT SONG NAME DOWN NO MATTER WHAT (this is in capital letters, so it is very serious).

"Tell Mama" - Etta James. Interesting and appropriate.

"It Might As Well Be Spring" - Sarah Vaughn. Well, my birthday DOES foretell the vernal equinox.

"Wake Up, Little Susie" - Elton John. Oh, oh, we're in trouble deep. All our friends are saying, "ooo, la la."

"1990"-Temptations. Lessee, in 1990, I was 37, quite possibly my favorite age to be.

"Independence Day" - Ani DeFranco. I would like to think that's true.

"It's Summer" - Temptations. Not a sun worshipper, but I do prefer it to the winter.

"Smile" - Lily Allen. Aw, shucks.

"My Favorite Things" - Andre 3000. well, not THINGS, but a nice sentiment, nonetheless.

"Me and Mr. Jones - Amy Winehouse. I wonder if it's Dylan's Mr. Jones.

10. WHAT IS 2+2?
"The Finale" from Next Stop Wonderland soundtrack. A fancy word for the Sum, I suppose.

"I Love You for Sentimental Reasons"- Sam Cooke. Another lovely sentiment.

"Supersonic" - J.J. Fad. Sure, why not?

"Til the Cops Come Knockin'" Maxwell. Well, the way things are going...

"20 Dollars" - Angie Stone. I think I'm worth more than that!

"My Dearest Darling" - Etta James. Some of these are so right on.

"God Bless Texas" - Brooks and Dunn. Then there are the occasional say what? responses.

"Number One Crush" - Garbage. Another appropriate notion.

"Night Ride Home" Joni Mitchell. Spookily dead on.

"Who Dares Wins" - the Streets. Well, not ENTIRELY clear, but appeals to my competitive streak.

"Littlest Birds" Jolie Holland. I won't think too much on that.

"This Love of Mine" - Dinah Washington. I must be really fond of my buds.

"If I Had a Heart" - Joni Mitchell. Not to be confused with the Tin Man.
Fred Hembeck is plugging his upcoming book again. Some of the readers don't seem to understand that no Marvel and DC product means no Marvel Age or Daily Planet strips, e.g. It DOESN'T mean no Marvel and DC characters; it'll have LOTS of Marvel and DC characters, complete with squiggles. In fact, if the book does well, it wouldn't shock me if Marvel tried to put together the Hembeck Marvel stuff (Fantastic Four Roast, Hembeck Destroys the Universe), though those involve several other artists, and it might not be practical.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Ear candling

My mom's 80 and in reasonably good health. (BTW, Andy Williams just turned 80 a couple days ago and is still performing.) Her primary health complaint is this ringing in her ears, which makes conversations sound muffled. I'm not sure what causes it - it might be from various medications she's taking - but her doctor hasn't identified a solution.

One of my sisters asked about something called Ear Candling. I had never heard of it. From one website:
For thousands of years, a form of hygiene known as Ear Candling, was used as a way of naturally cleansing the inside of the ears and head.

Today, more and more are seeking alternatives to digging in the ears with Q-tips or using a hydrogen peroxide flush to clear blockages in the ear canal.

Ear Candling is a natural, non-intrusive procedure that may help alleviate the painful effects of chronic headaches or sinus conditions, ear infections, allergies or vertigo, as well as minor hearing loss due to excessive earwax...Ear Candling helps drain and dry out the small, dark places where germs live and multiply...Ringing in the ears can be a cause of dehydration coupled with wax build-up. Drink 1/2 your body weight in ounces of pure water per day. Then the Ear Candling procedure can help break down the wax...

How does it work?
It is believed as the candle burns, gentle warm smoke is drawn into the ear canal that softens and loosens candida, wax, and other debris through osmosis. This means anything on the other side of the eardrum turns into a gas form to pass through the ear drum membrane. It is then collected into the remaining unburned portion of the candle.

Through osmosis?

So, I looked for more information. was at best, mixed about the procedure. The FDA is not fond of it at all. Nor are website such as Quackwatch and Straight Dope . Let's put it this way: I'm as skeptical as this guy.

Anybody out there had any experience or have insights into ear candling?
Gordon finds out a little about his roots, and himself.
Jaquandor discovers kosher ham. And just in time for the holidays.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Big Media Consolidation and Why You Should Hate It

BILL MOYERS JOURNAL|FCC Update|PBS November 16, 2007
On November 2, 2007, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin announced that the Commission would hold the sixth and final public hearing on media consolidation November 9, 2007 in Seattle, Washington. Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein blasted the Chairman's decision to give the public only five business days notice before the hearing: "With such short notice, many people will be shut out ... This is outrageous and not how important media policy should be made."
The video's eight and a half minutes, but if you care about American media, it'll be worth your time.
Then you can watch this 23 minute piece from earlier in the month.
Read FCC (Democratic) commissioner Michael Copps vs. "Big Media".
While the issue on the FCC is a Republican (3) vs. Democrat (2) issue, the fear of media consolidation runs from the Christian Coalition to MoveOn.

Contact the FCC before December 11. Then, because reaching out to the FCC probably won't matter, contact your federal legislators.
Top 10 Christmas Gifts for Conservatives in 2007 from the Human Events Book Service

The usual suspects (Ann Coulter, Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck), a Reagan bio, Clarence Thomas' autobiography. AND The Complete Tales of Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris:
"Are these the most 'politically incorrect' children’s stories ever written?
Perhaps. But they're also among the most delightful and moral. Now they're back - with the original artwork
Isn't it just like liberals to diminish genuine racial and cultural diversity in the name of respecting it?"
That last line was almost enough for a spit take.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Oh, boy! Christmas!

I'm working on this theory. It's not completely worked out yet, but it's based on something my wife said the other day. She was indicating that her five- and six-year-old students were really looking forward to Christmas. No big surprise, you say? She's a teacher of English as a Second Language, and most of her students are Muslims.

My point is that I'm wondering if Christmas, even in its secular form of snowflakes and Santa, is becoming an interfaith holiday. Perhaps both sides in the so-called "War on Christmas" should call a truce. That some people experience Christmas without it being Christ Mass is OK. That to say Merry Christmas to one of indeterminate faith is OK.

I was reading something called ADVENT-ure, and it suggested that the evergreen tree is a sign of the eternal life of Jesus. I want to say "well, whatever". I'm just hoping that people can find peace on earth, whatever their faith. And if people of different faiths, or no faith, can find joy in the Christian season of Advent, what's wrong with that?
We went by this store last weekend with a sign that read "Place your Christmas order NOW!" For whatever reason, I imagine a drill sergeant bellowing, "ORDER THAT GIFT CARD!" "WRAP THOSE PRESENTS!" "SEND THOSE CARDS! NOW!"
I think I'd be drummed out of my choir if I didn't mention this: First Presbyterian Church Albany presents its annual Advent Vespers Sunday, December 9 at 7:30 pm.

FPC's Chancel Choir and Orchestra present Francesco Durante's Magnificat, as well as two orchestral offerings - Christmas Concerto Grosso by Francesco Manfredini, and Weinachten by Max Reger.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Another Execution?

I got this e-mail from New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty:
Thomas Arthur is scheduled for execution on December 6 in Alabama. The state is pursuing his execution despite what appears to be a moratorium on executions in the USA pending the US Supreme Court’s examination of the constitutionality of lethal injections. In addition, Alabama has not granted Thomas Arthur’s request to be allowed to conduct DNA testing of evidence relating to the crime.

The Innocence Project wrote Governor Riley that "We believe that the Arthur case easily fits within the category of cases where DNA testing should be granted… In fact, DNA testing has the potential to conclusively prove that Mr Arthur was not the perpetrator of this crime and to identify the real killer."

For more about the case, please visit here (PDF) or here.

My long-standing opposition to the death penalty was also exercised by this story on 60 Minutes a couple weeks ago in which "FBI's Bullet Lead Analysis Used Flawed Science To Convict Hundreds Of Defendants" over a 40-year period, and the agency never notified local officials about the bogus methodology. I don't know if any of the cases are capital cases, but clearly, many people were wrongfully imprisoned, some for decades.

And that really ticks me off.


Saturday, December 01, 2007

I Hate the Debates QUESTIONS

I've watched none of the debates, Democratic or Republican, in 2007. The problem is that they're not debates as I understand the term.
Then there's this October 31 post from GovTrack.US called "Debates giving time based on poll numbers?"
The New York Times has an interesting flash application that breaks down the text of yesterday’s Democratic debate (there was a debate?) by speaker and shows visually the distribution of who spoken when through the debate. They took the transcript, made it visual and interactive, and the end result is a vastly different view onto the debate than anyone had before.

One can’t help but notice that the different candidates are not getting the same amount of speaking time. Clinton spoke more than 3.5 times more words, and the same for speaking time, than Biden. For that matter, basically so did the moderator, who held the floor for more time than anyone but Clinton. It’s no wonder that Clinton is considered “the Democrat to beat” considering she’s in our face more.

If the numbers weren’t so vastly different between the candidates, we’d chalk it up to some random variation that happens from debate to debate. But, from the numbers, the speaking times are clearly planned. It’s so clear that I feel like maybe I missed something. Is it common knowledge that the debates are proportioning time out to the candidates based on their poll numbers (or something equivalent)? It’s not just that the front-runners are getting more time. The statistical correlation is ridiculously high (speaking time versus FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll. Oct. 23-24: r=.96). That is, the debate organizers are basically using this formula to determine how much time each candidate should get:
Speaking Time = 8:26 minutes + 25 seconds * Latest Poll Number (%)

Of course, debate organizers can’t control exactly how long each candidate talks for, but the candidates only deviated from the formula by at most two minutes and twenty seconds (Biden, who spoke less, and Edwards, who spoke more).

1) Are you watching the debates? If so, who's impressed you, depressed you? If not, why not? Not interested in politics? It's too early to pay attention? The "debate" format?

There was a question about the Bible at the last Republican go-round:

Joseph: I am Joseph. I am from Dallas, Texas, and how you answer this question will tell us everything we need to know about you. Do you believe every word of this book? Specifically, this book that I am holding in my hand, do you believe this book?
Anderson Cooper: I think we've got a question. Mayor Giuliani?
Huckabee: Do I need to help you out, Mayor, on this one?
Rudolph Giuliani: Wait a second, you're the minister. You're going to help me out on this one.
Mike Huckabee: I'm trying to help you out.
Giuliani: OK. The reality is, I believe it, but I don't believe it's necessarily literally true in every single respect. I think there are parts of the Bible that are interpretive. I think there are parts of the Bible that are allegorical. I think there are parts of the Bible that are meant to be interpreted in a modern context.
So, yes, I believe it. I think it's the great book ever written. I read it frequently. I read it very frequently when I've gone through the bigger crises in my life, and I find great wisdom in it, and it does define to a very large extent my faith. But I don't believe every single thing in the literal sense of Jonah being in the belly of the whale, or, you know, there are some things in it that I think were put there as allegorical.
Cooper: Governor Romney?
Mitt Romney: I believe the Bible is the word of God, absolutely. And I try...
... I try to live by it as well as I can, but I miss in a lot of ways. But it's a guide for my life and for hundreds of millions, billions of people around the world. I believe in the Bible.
Cooper: Does that mean you believe every word?
Romney: You know -- yes, I believe it's the word of God, the Bible is the word of God.
The Bible is the word of God. I mean, I might interpret the word differently than you interpret the word, but I read the Bible and I believe the Bible is the word of God. I don't disagree with the Bible. I try to live by it.
Cooper: Governor Huckabee?
Huckabee: Sure. I believe the Bible is exactly what it is. It's the word of revelation to us from God himself.
And the fact is that when people ask do we believe all of it, you either believe it or you don't believe it. But in the greater sense, I think what the question tried to make us feel like was that, well, if you believe the part that says "Go and pluck out your eye," well, none of us believe that we ought to go pluck out our eye. That obviously is allegorical.
But the Bible has some messages that nobody really can confuse and really not left up to interpretation. "Love your neighbor as yourself."
And as much as you've done it to the least of these brethren, you've done it unto me. Until we get those simple, real easy things right, I'm not sure we ought to spend a whole lot of time fighting over the other parts that are a little bit complicated.
And as the only person here on the stage with a theology degree, there are parts of it I don't fully comprehend and understand, because the Bible is a revelation of an infinite god, and no finite person is ever going to fully understand it. If they do, their god is too small.

I agree with the allegory references by Rudy and Mike, and Huckabee's suggestion of the difficulty of understanding the Bible. But the idea that "Love your neighbor as yourself" is simple and really easy, I don't buy; maybe it is in concept, but not so much in execution.

That leads to:
2) Do you think the question about belief in the Bible is an appropriate one in a pluralistic society for a Presidential debate? Recent episodes of Doonesbury suggest that an atheist would have a very hard time getting elected, although previous Presidents have given only lip service, at best, to the faith - do you agree with that assessment?

3) How would you answer the question about belief in the Bible?
A recommended website: Open


Friday, November 30, 2007

MUSICAL REVIEW: The Drowsy Chaperone

When I was away visiting my mother in Charlotte this month, my parents-in-law came up to Albany over the weekend to help paint Lydia's (still unoccupied) bedroom. I came back that Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Then Wednesday, they took Lydia to their house in Oneonta, and Carol and I were able to go to the rapidly-expanding Proctor's Theater in Schenectady to see The Drowsy Chaperone.

One of the reasons I watch the Tonys every year is to see what's on Broadway, because I'd otherwise have little idea. Unless it's a retread from anotheer medium (The Producers, Mamma Mia), it doesn't get that much coverage. Here's the
broadcast segment for TDS, a little scratchy, I'm afraid:

It was entertaining enough for us to want to see it when it came to town.

I agree with most aspects of this local review, except that I would have picked Show Off, the song in the above segment, as the highlight. In fact, unlike some of the songs that wouldn't cut it on their own if it wasn't part of the farcical faux musical, it would stand up on its own in any production.

Still, as the review suggests, the success of the production is largely on the shoulders of the Man in Chair, the narrator of the piece. The role was originated by Bob Martin, and he was replaced by Jonathan Crombie, who played the role in Schenectady. The Broadway role, interrupted by a now-resolved strike, is now being played by Bob Saget - yeah, the guy from Full House and 1 Vs. 100; I'm having difficulty imagining him in the role. Though not entirely comparable, I think of the Man in Chair as pivotal as the Stage Manager in Thorton Wilder's play Our Town.

Another performer reprising her role from Broadway was Georgia Engel, probably best known as Ted Baxter's wife on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. She talks about going on the road here:

I really like the truthiness of this commercial that suggests that we're not likely to be swayed by the testimonials of "real people":

So, when I saw THIS one, I laughed out loud:

I don't know why this winner of five Tonys was was not very successful in its London run; a different sensibility, I suppose. All I know is that The Drowsy Chaperone made me laugh out loud many times. The best recommendation for a musical comedy I can think of.


Thursday, November 29, 2007


The Friends of Cuban Libraries PRESS RELEASE

Laura Bush Meets Cuban Librarians in Video Conference

NEW YORK, Nov. 28, 2007 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - On November 27 Laura Bush held a video conference with members of Cuba's independent library movement.... [in Havana]
.... According to a White House statement, during the conversation Mrs. Bush "spoke of her admiration for the work of the independent librarians in Cuba who provide a source of uncensored information to their countrymen at great personal risk, and expressed solidarity with them and their cause."

As a professor wrote on a listserv I monitor: "Great, maybe she could follow this meeting up with a meeting with her husband to talk about the overclassification of US gov't information and the FBI monitoring computer records of library users!"


My My, Hey Hey

What female superhero are you???

Jean Grey

You have a tendency to be the interest of many men. You're beautiful, intelligent, extremely powerful, but also extremely caring. The perfect woman!

Personality Test Results

Click Here to Take This Quiz
Brought to you by quizzes and personality tests.

"You have a tendency to be the interest of many men. You're beautiful, intelligent, extremely powerful, but also extremely caring. The perfect woman!" Well, that IS me. And Jean Gray, a superhero I've actually heard of!
You Are 83% Burned Out

You are extremely burned out.
You work too hard, and you're not getting the results you deserve.
It's time for a life change, as soon as you can manage it.
You're giving away most of your energy to something you don't even enjoy.

I'm reminded, of course, of that Neil Young lyric: "It's better to burn out than fade away." (Neil's birthday was earlier this month.)