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Friday, July 31, 2009

July Ramblin'

When the swine flu - I'm sorry, the H1N1 virus - was first announced in the spring, I was feeling bit peevish about the pundits who seemed to think that the government - actually world governments - were making too much of the disease. Frankly, i think it was due to lack of understanding of the nomenclature. We don't know what a Level 6 (pandemic, declared weeks ago) feels like. We understand gradations of temperature, the difference between a Category 1 and category 3 hurricane or a 3.6 earthquake vs. a 6.6. Anyway here's John Berry's 2009 WHITE PAPER ON NOVEL H1N1 (PDF). Barry wrote the book The Great Influenza about the 1918 flu epidemic: "Three of the preceding four pandemics, 1889, 1918, and 1957, show clear evidence of some fairly intense but sporadic initial local outbreaks scattered around the world.

"The novel H1N1 virus seems thus far to be following the pattern of those three pandemics, and it seems highly likely that it will return in full flower. If the virus is fully adapted to and efficient at infecting humans, this would occur soon, possibly during the influenza season in the southern hemisphere or possibly a few months later in the northern hemisphere. The 1918 and 1957 viruses both exploded in September and October in the northern hemisphere, even though this is not the influenza season.

"If the virus needs further adaptation to become fully efficient in infecting humans, that could be delayed, quite possibly a year or two later. It seems very unlikely that this virus will peter out."
Got this e-mail: Black Male Teachers - Do you know any Black males who are seniors in high school who want to go to college out of state for "FREE" ? Several Black Colleges are looking for future black male teachers and will send them to universities/colleges for 4 years FREE .

The 'Call Me MISTER' program is an effort to address the critical shortage of African American male teachers particularly among South Carolina 's lowest performing public schools . Program participants are selected from among under-served, socio-economically disadvantaged and educationally at-risk communities...

Visit here for more details and the online application or call (800) 640-2657.

But if you GO to that page, you'll ALSO read "Please read this memo regarding an email hoax that provides misinformation about our program."
It has been brought to our attention that an erroneous e-mail, rife with inaccuracies and misinformation about the Call Me MISTER Program, is making its way around the country. Said e-mail makes such false claims as “South Carolina HBCUs offer FREE TUITION” and our program is for “African American MALES ONLY”, neither of which is true. While we do offer tuition assistance and book support, plus a small stipend to defray other associated costs of attending college, we DO NOT now offer, nor have we ever offered, a full scholarship.
Myths need to be debunked.
Lean times in L.A. County leave no money for the dead. This is a story about more people opting for cremation. As someone heavily influence by Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death, I applaud the trend, even if it's being done out of economic necessity.
On a lighter note, from Yahoo! Food: 5 Summer Food Mysteries Solved. I KNEW the ice cream one to be true.
My wife and her class saw the movie The Yes Men last weekend. "Shocking and funny," she described it. as it turned out there was an article in the local paper about the movie's follow-up, now playing on HBO and perhaps coming to a theater near you.
Paul McCartney returns to the Ed Sullivan Theater as he appears on Letterman, 45 years after his first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show." Paul at Citi Field, NYC.
***Amusing and even educational. Church Advertising
This video was made in the Antwerp, Belgium Central (Train) Station on the 23rd of March 2009. With no warning to the passengers passing through the station, at 08:00 am a recording of Julie Andrews singing 'Do, Re, Mi' began to play on the public address system." As the bemused passengers watch in amazement, some 200 dancers begin to appear from the crowd and station entrances.
A final goodbye for S. Palin, YouTube fodder from last year, but what they hey.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Poison Ivy

A good friend of mine got a case of poison ivy last week. Of course, it itched liked crazy. after passing along my concern, my mind (as usual) went to music, specifically a song I heard when I was a kid. "I think it was the Coasters," I thought, "and certainly it was written by Leiber & Stoller." And so it was.

I checked out the Wikipedia post on the song, and according to the post, "the song's lyrics are about sexually-transmitted disease", rather than the diseases stated in the bridge of the song:
Measles make you bumpy
Mumps'll make you lumpy
Chicken Pox'll make you jump and twitch
Common cold'll fool you
Whooping cough'll cool you
Poison Ivy's love'll make you itch

I did not know that.

This song went up to #7 in the pop charts in 1959, and to #1 on the R&B charts.

I don't garden - my wife does - and I've been lucky enough to avoid it while mowing the lawn.

(I HAVE used calamine lotion, though, after an allergic reaction to penicillin when I was 16; as Steve Stills said at Woodstock, "Three days, man, three days!)

The map below shows the native habitat for Toxicodendron radicans (L.) Kuntze ssp. negundo (Greene) Gillis, eastern poison ivy


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Irwin Corey is 95

"If we don't change direction soon, we'll end up where we're going." - Professor Irwin Corey
Irwin Corey - I'm related to him! (Well not really, but sorta. Pay attention: the quiz is brutal.)

My maternal grandmother (Gertrude Yates Williams) had a brother, Ernest Yates.
Ernie married Charlotte Berman.
Charlotte's sister was Frances Berman.
Frances was married to Irwin.
So Irwin is my great aunt's brother-in-law.

I need to explain that Aunt Charlotte was one of my closest relatives, not biologically but in terms of the effect she had on my life. My mom, who was an only child, really didn't know the relatives on her father's side until after her mother died in the 1980s.

Gertrude had three surviving siblings (one died as a child). Deana had no children, Ed had children much later in life. So it was Ernie's four kids, Raymond, Fran, Donald and Robert, who were my mother's first cousins, her closest relatives. And until the mid 1950s, when Ernest died, they all lived near Binghamton. So Aunt Charlotte was a pivotal character in my mother's life, and the lives of my sisters and me, as we (with my father) would go down to their large house in Queens at least a couple times a year. Since my father was ALSO an only child, my sisters and I have no first cousins, and it was Charlotte's grandchildren who were the closest thing to contemporary cousins, even though they were 2nd cousins once removed (I think).

For reasons that I can no longer remember, I was at Irwin Corey's house on the Island (that's Long Island to you) when I was a kid. Irwin and Fran weren't there. While we thought Charlotte's house in St. Albans was large, I recall that Irwin's house was huge, at least to my mind.

We always made a point of watching Professor Irwin Corey, The World's Foremost Authority, when he appeared on various TV variety shows. I wasn't sure that it was a shtick; Irwin really DID seem to know an great deal, and would explain things in convoluted ways. I'd run into Irwin at various family functions of the Berman tribe, such as weddings and funerals.

The last two times I saw Irwin was at Charlotte's 80th and 88th birthday parties, in 1994 and 2002, respectively. He could be funny, but also coarse, vulgar and a bit obtuse. He gave a toast at the 80th birthday party and rambled on about Richard Nixon (not favorably), among other things, and no one could really stop him. When we met for Charlotte's 88th birthday - Charlotte died few years ago, before reaching her 89th - Irwin started pontificating again, but this time, a couple of the relatives cut him off with a "Thank you, Irwin"; he must have lost a step.

Irwin and Charlotte both were part of that 1930s Socialist tradition and never truly strayed from it.

Here's some Irwin monologue and a 2008 New York times article. This is a great picture; note especially the hat. Have a listen to Irwin.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

B is for Binghamton

Binghamton is a city located on the Southern Tier of New York State. It is the county seat of Broome County. It was named after a rich guy named William Bingham, how owned the land in the 1790s. Yet, the place has often been misspelled as Binghampton, as though it were part of the Hamptons of Long Island. Google "Binghampton" and you'll find some references to Binghamptons in Illinois and Tennessee, among others, but also many erroneously referring to a place in in New York State, such as this one. The most egregious error I ever saw was on a road map book. The New York State map actually was accurate, but the Pennsylvania map - Binghamton is less than 20 miles from the PA border - spelled it Binghampton. It's BINGHAMton, town of Bingham.

Why am I obsessing on this? Because it's my hometown.

You can read about Binghamton in its Wikipedia posting, and it seems accurate as far as it goes. It is at the confluence of two rivers; I was almost arrested for swimming in one once, a long time ago. It WAS called the Parlor City, and I recall a Parlor City Shoe Store when I was lived there in the 1960s.

I grew up in the First Ward of Binghamton, or "The Ward", a melting pot of largely people of southern and eastern European stock (Italian, Czech, Ukrainian, Russian, and especially Polish). I remember halupki and pierogies, plus the regional favorite, the spiedie.

Binghamton's school district used to do something quite interesting when I was growing up. Instead of starting school only in September, kids could start in September or February. the kids that started in the winter had birthdays in December through March, generally. While my sisters (born in May and July) went to school in September, I started in February because my birthday was in March. Of course, our class sizer was smaller because it was taken from a different calendar pool. One of the things I recall is that, while we had the same teacher for kindergarten (Miss Cady) all year, we had eight different teachers for Grades 1 through 4. At least two of the teachers left because they were "in the family way", as they used to call pregnancy.

What was particularly important in my growing up was that our school, Daniel S. Dickinson, was a K-9 school, with the younger kids on the lowest floor and the junior high kids on the third floor. There were 16 kids in my sixth grade class, nine (including me) who had gone to kindergarten together. Seventh grade meant an infusion from other elementary schools including the Catholic parochial school nearby. Yet by the end of ninth grade, we still only had 16 kids, including the same none from K. Dickinson was razed a couple decades ago for a housing development.

I went to Binghamton Central High School back in the day when there were two public schools, Central and North. The declining city population, from over 80,000 in 1950 to under 50,000 in 2000 meant that the blue and white of the Central HS Bulldogs and the red and blue of the North HS Indians gave way in 1982 to the red, white and blue of the Binghamton HS Patriots.

For many years, the area used to have a baseball team called the Triplets, named for Triple Cities of Binghamton, Johnson City and Endicott, though the latter two were actually villages rather than cities. It was never called, in my hearing/reading, Binghamton Triplets except in out-of-town box scores. It was primarily a farm team of the New York Yankees, though other teams had brief affiliations. Johnson Field, in Johnson City, was razed in the late 1960s that Route 17, the major east/west corridor from the northern suburbs of New York City to western New York State, could be rerouted through the area. Binghamton was without a minor league baseball team (or stadium for same) until the early 1990s, when the Binghamton Mets, a farm team of the New York Mets, came to town.

I recall vividly Christmas Eve 1971 when downtown Binghamton was bustling with activity at McLean's and Fowler's department stores, plus a variety of other shops. The decline in downtown was easily visible to anyone who had been there over time, with one department store, Boscov's in the old Fowler's building now a primary guardian against a massive collapse of the downtown business district.

I know it's a story not unusual in the so-called Rust Belt of the Northeast and Midwest United States, where formerly thriving industrial towns are now struggling. I myself thought of Binghamton like the Simon & Garfunkel song My Little Town; Billy Joel's Allentown also comes to mind. It is, though, trying to make a comeback.

Still, it was where I was rooted. It is a comfortable place to return from time to time. I mean, it's the carousel capital of America; the one in Recreation Park inspired Rod Serling, who grew up in Binghamton in the late 1930s, to write an episode of his television series, the Twilight Zone in the 1960s. So it was with no small bit of surreal horror when I discovered on April 3 of this year, that my little town was the site of another case of mass violence. I don't have much more to say on it than I said here, except to reiterate that it wasn't just an assault on the city, but of the specific location, one with which I had more than passing familiarity.

Binghamton was incorporated as a village in 1834, so this year marks 175 years since that event, though it wasn't incorporated as a city until 1867. I wish my hometown hope and healing.

The map is c. 1920. The high school noted was my high school, the cemetery south of Prospect Street is Spring Forest Cemetery, where my material grandmother and many of her relatives are buried, and very close to where she lived. I lived just off Front Street, north of the railroad tracks. The First Ward is north of the tracks and west of the north/south running Chenango River.


Monday, July 27, 2009

The Great Debate

SamuraiFrog doesn't even know what VH1's The Great Debate is, yet does this survey that's based on it. Well, I'm likewise oblivious, but that won't stop me from taking a crack at it.

Worst thing to happen to a penis on film: There's Something About Mary vs. Porky's
There's Something About Mary. I must have seen Porky's, but I don't recall what happens. Yet I've NEVER seen Something About Mary, yet know precisely what happens. Mary by default - ouch.

Most effective PSA: Crying Indian vs. Your Brain on Drugs
Crying Indian. I always thought Brain was unintentionally hilarious, but I didn't want to disappoint the Indian, after all we had done to his people.

Best teen soap: 90210 vs. The O.C.
Rarely saw Beverly Hills 90210, and never saw the sequel. Never saw The O.C. either but its press coverage just irritated me.

Dreamiest Travolta Stud: Tony Manero vs. Danny Zuko
Tony Manero, big time. Saturday Night Fever is a WAY better movie than Grease, and has better music to boot.

Kanye West: musical genius or tool?
Don't know well enough to say.

Hotter Russian tennis babe: Maria Sharapova vs. Anna Kournikova
Sharapova, maybe because she's a better player. Talent is hot.

Which is the better Hulk: Hulk Hogan vs. Incredible Hulk
Never cared one way or the other about Hulk Hogan. Watched Bill Bixby turn into Lou Ferrigno AND bought the comic book.

Most hated reality show villain: Omarosa vs. Spencer Pratt
I actually watched Omorosa on The Apprentice and she was just overly competitive. Her more recent appearances seem like schtick, the little I've seen. But Spencer and his friends are just mosquitoes.

Which was the wildest toy craze: Cabbage Patch Kids vs. Tickle Me Elmo
I found Cabbage Patch Kids utterly scary at the time. Tickle Me Elmo was just a surprise hit.

Who is the bigger attention whore: Chriss Angel vs. David Blaine
I've seen Angel's name, but I know who Blaine is.

Ultimate 80s teen villain: James Spader vs. Billy Zabka

Most memorable commercial featuring a cat: Morris vs. Meow Mix
Tossup. The music favors the latter, but the look (same or similar cats) works for the former. Still, I'm more aural than visual: Meow Mix.

Sadder song: Nothing Compares 2 U vs. Tears in Heaven
I know Tears in Heaven's about Clapton's late son, but it never really moved me. The sheer strength of Sinead O'Connor's performance wins out; better than Prince's, and he wrote it.

Primo 80s teen queen: Debbie Gibson vs. Tiffany
Tiffany, I suppose, though I was not their demographic even then.

Who's your maple syrup mama: Mrs. Butterworth vs. Aunt Jemima
The Mrs. Butterworth bottle is iconic; I have an empty bottle in the attic. And Aunt Jemima had the mammy thing going, so I tended to avoid it. Really, though, we always had Log Cabin in the house; have a couple empty bottles of that in the attic, too.

Social networking: Twitter vs. Facebook
Twitter. When I come to Facebook, I have 46 things I'm supposed to do. Just takes too long.

Best talent show ever: Star Search vs. American Idol
Mr. Frog: "I have to go with Star Search, because it seemed more genuinely like a talent show. Idol is all about finding someone who fits neatly into the cookie cutter image of Bland, Inoffensive, Very Marketable Pop Star Who Can Quickly Record an Album You Won't Buy." Except that people DO buy them. Almost the only thing people are actually purchasing besides High School Musical and Michael Jackson.

Hotter Simpson sister: Ashlee vs. Jessica
Jessica. Ashley's just weird looking.

Mightier kick-ass TV car: the General Lee vs. K.I.T.T.
At the time, the rebel flag on the General Lee really bugged me, so I guess K.I.T.T.

Which was the better dance craze: Y.M.C.A. vs. the Macarena
"Better"? The Macarena was the bigger hit, but Yimca is more lasting, so I'd pick that.

Ultimate all-girl pop group: Spice Girls vs. the Pussycat Dolls
Spice Girls. Had actual songs, actual personalities. PCD just seemed like burlesque.

Which invention helped men more: Rogaine vs. Viagra
I've been losing my hair since I was 17, so frankly I just don't get worrying about it. Whereas if I couldn't, well you know, I'd probably want to get some blue pills.

Most believable man in drag: Mrs. Doubtfire vs. Tootsie
I always thought Tootsie came from a more more real place, and every interview with Dustin Hoffman confirms that. He was an out-of-work, temperamental oaf. But Mrs. Doubtfire certainly learned more from her, er, his charade. Very different intents.

Which sex tape had the bigger impact: Paris Hilton vs. Kim Kardashian
Impact on what? Society? Meh. That said, Paris always seems bored, so Paris is boring.

Which sports anthem pumps you up more: "Rock and Roll, Part 2" vs. "We Will Rock You"
"We Will Rock You". While overplayed, it ain't nothing like the ubiquitous "Rock and Roll".

Perez Hilton: love him or hate him
Pretty much hate him. Frog: "He's a sad little man, so desperate to be accepted as a celebrity by other celebrities, and at the same time so desperate to be better than them and savage their images with no consequences."

More controversial rapper: Eminem vs. Snoop Dogg
I think Eminem is a jerk - his relationships with others suggest that. But making a well-received movie and singing with Elton John doesn't make one controversial. Snoop Dogg just seems like a celebrity wannabe. Frankly don't know enough about either to care. Frog: "Great quote from 'Weird Al' Yankovic: 'I'm a fan of Eminem, and I love that parody of 'Purple Rain' that he did. What was it called? Oh yeah, 8 Mile."

The Snuggie: genius or crap
Oh, dear. I had to look this up. Maybe five years ago, someone would have given us one to try out and I might actually have had an opinion.

Who wins in a fight: He-Man vs. ThunderCats
With teamwork, I'd think the Cats, but I'm not really versed enough.

Bigger book craze: Da Vinci Code vs. Harry Potter
Harry Potter, hands down. Dan Brown may be rich, but J.K. Rowling's wealth rivals the Queen of England.

Most entertaining pageant: Westminster dog show vs. Miss America
Until about maybe 1986, Miss America. Seriously, could anyone actually NAME the current Miss America? I can't. The fact that the contest's been relegated to cable tells you something. Whereas the Westminster Dog Show has become more prominent. The winner gets mentioned on the news. Couldn't name that winner either. So maybe it's a draw, except the beauty pageant has a down arrow. It's also more diminished by competitors (Miss USA, e.g.) whereas Westminister is the gold standard.

Better talk show host: Conan vs. Letterman
Letterman, but I haven't watched much Conan interviewing.

Huger Schwarzenegger bad-ass: Conan the Barbarian vs. the Terminator
Conan, but that's my comic book roots showing.

Who's more bootylicious: Beyonce vs. J. Lo
Strange, but every time I see Beyonce, I say, "Who's that?" She looks just slightly different each time. J. Lo by default.

Jerkiest high school principal: Rooney vs. Vernon
Frog: "Vernon was a dick who abused his power and got angry, but Rooney was willing to destroy himself in his efforts to catch Ferris Bueller playing hooky." I need to see Ferris Bueller again. Saw it once it was OK, but not iconic. Animal House I saw once and it stuck.

Who's got more cooties: Pete Doherty vs. Amy Winehouse
Yawn. Don't care.

Steamier bisexual fantasy: Lindsay Lohan vs. Tila Tequila
Frog: "They're both awful. Now, if we were talking about 2004 Lindsay Lohan, that would be one thing...The whole notion of either one being a steamy fantasy is pretty disgusting."

Ultimate primetime game show: Wheel of Fortune vs. Jeopardy
Take a wild guess. Actually, even at home, I'm better at J than Wheel. Also, Wheel requires people to feign excitement and yell "Big money! Big money!" while the wheel rotates. No thanks.

Who stole the show: Urkel vs. The Fonz
Both of them did. I liked Fonzie, pretty much until he jumped the shark. That MAY have been one of the last episodes of Happy Days I saw. Whereas I never watched Urkel, couldn't tell you what the name of the show he was on, and yet he'd ALWAYS be on my TV! Irritating.

Spicier sexpert: Dr. Ruth vs. Sue Johanson
Frog: "Who the hell is Sue Johanson?" Haven't seen her in years, but always found Ruth entertaining.

Weepiest tear-jerker: Terms of Endearment vs. Steel Magnolias
I hated Tears of Internment. Actually I liked it early, with Jack Nicholson, but I left the theater feeling really irritated. Whereas I saw Magnolias but am hard pressed to remember it.

Who is the flashier showboat: Sanders vs. Owens
Deion has his schtick down pat; Terrell is still figuring it out.

Who is the better royal lay: Prince Harry vs. Prince William
Frog: "I'd go with Prince Harry, because he looks more like his beautiful mother and Prince William is slowly morphing into his father."

Best TV housekeeper: Mrs. Garrett vs. Alice
Never watched The Brady Bunch while it aired. Always liked Ann B. Davis from the Bob Cummings Show. AND she was born in Schenectady. But I saw Mrs. Garrett more, so I'll go with her.

Most bad-ass Tarantino flick: Reservoir Dogs vs. Pulp Fiction
Never saw Reservoir Dogs.

Hottest Gilligan castaway: Mary Ann vs. Ginger
Mary Ann. Ginger came off as a manipulative jerk.

Most legendary Hollywood couple: Kermit/Miss Piggy vs. Bogart/Bacall
Frog: "Are you kidding? Muppets always win!"

Bruno vs. Borat
Never saw either, but just from the buzz, I suspect Bruno would irritate me more.

Guiltier reality TV pleasure: Rock of Love vs. Flavor of Love
I've never watched either show. Is Flavor the one with Flavor Flav?

Ultimate female movie psycho: Glenn Close vs. Kathy Bates
Frog: "Glenn Close. Annie Wilkes was scary, but Alex Forrest was sexy and enticing, which makes her even deadlier. Because Annie is someone you don't want to be trapped with, and Alex is." I did see Misery, never saw the bunny cooker film Fatal Attraction, but have seen enough clips.

Who has the most fabulous reality show: Tyra Banks vs. Heidi Klum
Have no idea. Fabulous and reality show in the same sentence?

Which are cuter: kittens vs. puppies
Most animals are cute, but I'll give the edge to the felines.

The Hills: Genius or Dumb
I've never seen a minute of it, yet from what I read it sounds very stupid.

Who's the bigger political cad: Edwards vs. Clinton
Clinton, if only because it seems he did it more often. Still, lying about sex oughtn't to be an impeachable offense. (Lying about war? Well, yeah.) And Ken Starr served no interest but prurient when he had a website filled with the smallest details.

Does disco suck: yes or no
No. Lots of dance music still derives from it. Scott reminded me that this year is the 30th anniversary of Disco Demolition Night, which I thought was lame, even before the outcome.

Coolest TV cop pair: CHiPs vs. Miami Vice
I rather liked Miami Vice early, but I grew weary. CHiPs made me weary from the outset.

Most memorable commercial featuring an old lady: Where's the beef? vs. I've fallen and I can't get up!
"I've fallen and I can't get up!" has far more practical applications. "Where's the beef?" is specific to a time (the 1980s,) a place (Wendy's) and an actress (Clara Peller), whereas "I've fallen" has more universality.

Hotter Charlie's Angels trio: the 2000s vs. the 70s
Though I wasn't a fan of either, I'll say the 1970s. Had a crush on Kate Jackson, who I knew from an earlier ABC show called The Rookies. She played the wife of one of the young cops. And Jaclyn Smith even now is hotter than any from the more recent edition.

Boxers vs. Briefs
Own more briefs, prefer boxers.

Battle of the 80s charity songs: "We Are the World" vs. "Do They Know It's Christmas"
"Christmas" always bugged me lyrically. Most of "them" aren't Christians; why SHOULD they know it's Christmas? And "World" has Ray Charles, not to mention Dylan trying to sing in tune.

Ugliest sports injury ever: Holyfield vs. Theisman
Theisman's, which I saw in real time, was way more horrific.

Raddest video game craze: Pac-Man vs. Donkey Kong
Pac Man, definitely. Played DK occasionally, but Pac Man and especially the Ms. a LOT.

Who would you rather adopt: Arnold vs. Webster
Arnold was funnier. Webster was more like an angry old (and short) man. Watched the former occasionally, the latter as little as possible.

Lady GaGa vs. Katy Perry
Must say that I know Perry only for the "I Kissed A Girl" that was inferior to the same-named song by Jill Sobule in the mid-1990s. Here's an interesting take on Perry, Jonas Brothers and Craig Ferguson. But Katy Pery is kinda cute, while Lady GaGa has these outfits that make her look like a space alien. Also, GaGa's's been promoted big time by Perez Hilton, who's a putz.

Who's tougher: Rambo vs. Rocky
Frog: "Rocky. He went the distance." Having said that, I saw five Rocky pictures but zero Rambo flicks.

Best boy band: 'NSync vs. New Kids on the Block
They are the same group in my mind.

The Jerry Springer Show: trash or gold
Trash, trash, trash, under the guise of being helpful. I found it hysterical that he recently appeared on Dancing with the Stars. Probably trying to redeem his very tainted image.

Super Harrison Ford hero: Han Solo vs. Indiana Jones
Frog: "I love them both, but Indy always seemed more human to me." And Sean Connery MADE the third film for me.

Top pop princess: Britney vs. Christina
I suppose Christina.

Scariest serial killer: Freddy vs. Jason
I only saw the guy in the mask once and Freddy not at all. Frog: "Freddy attacks you in your dreams, which is much scarier. I mean, I can stay out of the woods but I can't avoid going to sleep." One of the oddities of my life is that I sold Freddy Krueger masks and (plastic) claws when I worked at FantaCo in the 1980s, mostly via mail order. We sold a LOT of them; THAT I thought was really scary. We tried to sell Jason masks, but it's really just a variation on a hockey mask, and it didn't move that well.

Boobs: fake vs. real
What an odd question. In fact I have no basis for comparison. There are all sorts of legit reasons for artificial enhancements.

Mega music mogul: Diddy vs. Jay Z
Diddy annoyed me years ago, Jay-Z more recently.

Geekiest fans: Star Wars vs. Star Trek
Tough question. Both groups have kvetched about things that aren't part of the "canon". I declare it a draw. Of course, if you throw in Doctor Who, as Mike Sterling did recently, I'd be inclined to lean towards the good Doctor.

Team Aniston vs. Team Jolie
Don't care. It's their - and Pitt's - business, not mine.

Bigger blockbuster craze: Jurassic Park vs. Titanic
Titanic was the bigger movie, but JP was a series, with action figures and the like. I enjoyed the soundtracks to Titanic, especially the second one.

Greatest band of all time: Beatles vs. Rolling Stones
I must say the Beatles' early albums were better than the Stones' early collections. Don't think the Stones had a decent ALBUM until Aftermath (featuring "Paint It, Black"). Then they both had solid runs, the Beatles broke up but the Stones CONTINUED to have good tunes. I'll pick the Beatles because their songwriting had a greater cultural appreciation, but it's a slim margin.

Supreme diva: Whitney vs. Mariah
I liked Whitney Houston early on. Mariah seemed to need to irritatingly infuse her five-octave voice everywhere, all the time. Then Whitney got with Bobby Brown and became a sad persona, while Mariah freed herself from Tommy Mottola - Emancipation of Mimi, indeed - and seems a whole lot more together when she got married again relatively recently. So depends on the definition of diva.

Which alien would you rather party with: ALF vs. ET
Frog: "They both seem like lame party guests. And I couldn't go the whole night without strangling ALF to death."

Simpsons vs. Family Guy
Frog: "The Simpsons, at least the first 10 seasons, is one of the funniest shows in history."

Best pop star ever: Madonna vs. Michael Jackson
Frog: "Michael Jackson. His musical output up to about 1989 is amazing, and Madonna... well, everything of hers I liked can probably fit on one CD." In fact, I have my one greatest hits of Madonna's tunes, while I have a lot of J5 and a couple MJ albums.

Fiercest supermodel biatch: Naomi Campbell vs. Janice Dickinson
I've never watch, but the little I've read suggests that Janice Dickinson is less well hinged. Oh, and I hate the word biatch.

Which baseball franchise rules: Red Sox vs. Yankees
The Yankees ruled the 20th Century, the Red Sox the 21st - so far.

Sexiest 'stache: Burt Reynolds vs. Tom Selleck
Frog: "Burt. That 'stache is what all 'staches aspire to."

Worst celebrity excuse: Simpson's acid reflux vs. Piven's mercury poisoning
Must say, I have no idea what these are about. But I've had acid reflux.

Biggest fall from grace: George Michael vs. Boy George
George Michael, if only because he was a much bigger star.

Greatest cheestastic Broadway show on Earth: Cats vs. Phantom
Frog: "They're both incredibly cheesy, but Phantom of the Opera has better music. And a plot."

Who cares more about the world: Sting vs. Bono
I know Bono comes off preachy and sanctimonious, but he's had an impact. Still the question of who cares more is unanswerable, because I can't see into their hearts.

Least arousing sex book: Joy of Sex vs. Madonna's Sex
I read Joy of Sex when I was 16 and, er, learned stuff. (I think it on Arthur at AmeriNZ's podcast where someone was noting that Joy of Sex was either heterocentric or homophobic; not having looked at it in 40 years, I'll have to check that out.) Frog: "Madonna's book is an over-the-top gynecology exam, far too cynical and cold to really be sexy."

Would you rather be a Flintstone or a Jetson?
Frog: "A Jetson. It's a convenience issue." I'm still waiting for my Rosie to clean up the place.

Most indestructible rocker: Ozzy Osbourne vs. Keith Richards
Frog: "Keef!"

Most hideous footwear trend: Crocs vs. Uggs
I'm fashion blind. If you put them each in front of me, I'd only have a 50/50 chance of sussing out which was which.

Funniest TV foreigner: Balki vs. Latka
Frog: "Latka. I am one of those 'Andy Kaufman was a genius' people."

Better buzz: Red Bull vs. Jolt
I've never had either.

Which member of The View would you eat first if stranded on a desert island?
Frog: "Sherri Sheppard. She's a moron, the world will never miss her. Plus, she'll provide a longer store."

Best cartoon pet: Snoopy vs. Garfield
Frog: "I have to go with Snoopy. Garfield tends to lay around and be cynical, but Snoopy's so many things--a World War I flying ace, a novelist, a vulture, Joe Cool, and he can dance."

Best Jersey export: Bruce Springsteen vs. Bon Jovi
Hmm. I have over a dozen Springsteen albums, he's helped to note the contributions of Pete Seeger, and I went to see him in concert this year. I have zero Bon Jovi albums, and I have no desire to them in concert. Easy choice. Jon Bon Jovi, though, does own a football team; I always wanted to own a sports team, at least in the abstract, so that's one in his favor.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Lydster, Part 64: A Fly Girl

Lydia flew for the first time in June, as she and I went to Charlotte, NC for my niece Alex's high school graduation.

Last time I flew to Charlotte, there were reasonably-priced direct flights from Albany to Charlotte and back. But the last time was in November 2007, on Delta, and that was before the Delta-Northwest merger that stifled competition.

So this time, my options were c. $370 for a direct flight or $230 for one that would stop at JFK, Cincinnati or, heaven forbid, Detroit. (That was not a knock on Detroit or its airport, only the idea of traveling that far west before going south.) I'm talking $370 or $230 EACH.

We got to the Albany International Airport - it's "international" because one can fly into Canada from here - in plenty of time, but I was we were at the wrong gate, and we had to rush through the airport as we heard our names announced on the loudspeaker.

All of these short flights had limited storage, so the small suitcase, which met the carry-on regulations, was nevertheless stowed under the plane; had I realized that, I would have packed differently.

I know that due to circumstances, smaller children ravel by air. But I've BEEN on those flights with screaming children on the flight and I didn't want my child to be one of them. To that end, Lydia, a few days before, got her first pieces of chewing gum ever. She liked it - though she hasn't asked for more since a couple days since the return trip.

One of the smart things I was able to do was book the same pair of seats for all four legs of the trip. It made MY comfort level much greater. As I suspected, she wanted, and got, the window seat each time.

All the takeoffs and landings were uneventful - that's a good thing. I was particularly vigilant in making sure that she did not hear the news about the plane that had crashed between Brazil and France before her first flight. Indeed, the followup news about the crash near Buffalo, and our plane was more that size, also got quickly changed if she happened to be in the room; thee's lots of news she hasn't seen yet, but she will in due time.

There were no snacks on the ALB-JFK part of the trip. But there were a couple choices from JFK to CLT. One was a pair of cookies and the other was peanuts. When the flight attendant asked if we wanted anything, I asked to see the packaging so I could read the label. I noted that my daughter had a peanut allergy. Horrified, she asked if she should retrieve the half dozen rows of peanuts she had already dispensed. I assured her that Lydia's allergy is not airborne but tied only to actual consumption.

Lydia was very well behaved throughout, although she was slightly annoyed at one point that I had to put her tray in the upright and locked position until she realized that EVERYONE had to. It wasn't Daddy's rule, it was the airline's and thus less onerous. On a later flight, she heard a signal and she prematurely put up her tray until I advised her otherwise.

Getting to the Charlotte airport...that's a story for another day, but it's not Lydia-specific in any case.

I must say that I was a little bit worried about the trip, especially four takeoffs and landings, but that Lydia provided to be a very pleasant traveling companion.


Saturday, July 25, 2009


One of the websites I visit regularly is Separated by a Common Language, where an American expat in the UK, Lynneguist, talks about British and American English. I'm quite fond of Briticisms generally. But one I've never embraced is the notion of "holiday" for vacation. Holiday (or bank holiday in other countries) to me refers to an event such as Labor Day or Christmas. Of course, one of Lynneguest's readers finds "vacation" strange, "mainly because the word 'vacate' is normally only encountered in toilet cubicles and changing rooms." Whereas for me, the root to vacate means, in the words of some rock band, "Turn off your mind and float downstream."

The sermon at church last Sunday was about fast food and cell phones and Twitter, and how people seem to need to be connected all the time, including at the time they are supposed to be on holiday or vacation. Most of them are NOT heart surgeons awaiting a call to show up at the hospital to perform a transplant or some other life-or-death profession.

I know that when I'm away for several days, not having Internet connection makes me cranky after a couple days. Partly it's because I'll drown in e-mails if I don't tend to them regularly. There are STILL e-mails I know I need to respond to from weeks ago that have been sucked into my LIFO (last in, first out) process. But except for calling the daughter, my last vacation with my wife was quite enjoyed, even though I only had about 15 minutes a day of Internet connectivity; it wasn't a policy decision - the service kept cutting in and out.

So can you vacation/holiday? Do you recreate, or more specifically, re-create yourself? Or do you just keep working and connecting in different venues?


Friday, July 24, 2009

And Gordon

One of the very first albums I ever bought from the Capitol Record Club -11 albums for only one cent! (But read the fine print) was BIG HITS FROM ENGLAND AND USA: one side had two songs each from BEATLES, BEACH BOYS, and PETER & GORDON, the other side, 2 songs by NAT KING COLE and CILLA BLACK, plus "Tears and Roses" by AL MARTINO. I probably still have it upstairs in the attic.

The intriguing thing I discovered as I actually looked on the record's label was that Lennon-McCartney were listed as composers not only of the Beatles' songs, Can't Buy Me Love and You Can't Do That, but also of the songs of Peter & Gordon, A World Without Love and Nobody I Know. It took me a while to catch up on the Beatles' trivia that Peter, the one with the glasses, was the brother of Paul's girlfriend Jane Asher. Peter & Gordon recorded a number of Lennon/McCartney (really Macca) tunes such as I Don't Want To See You Again and Women, attributed to Bernard Webb to see if the songs were moving because of the Beatles' connection; based on its chart action, maybe they were.

Peter later became a prolific record producer for James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, among others.

But what of Gordon Waller after the 1968 breakup? According to Gordon's website, he also stayed busy in the music business, with an extensive, if not commercially successful discography.

He also had opportunities to sing with his old mate from time to time. Gordon Waller died of cardiac arrest on July 17 at the age of 64. Peter writes:

Gordon played such a significant role in my life that losing him is hard to comprehend – let alone to tolerate.

He was my best friend at school almost half a century ago. He was not only my musical partner but played a key role in my conversion from only a snooty jazz fan to a true rock and roll believer as well. Without Gordon I would never have begun my career in the music business in the first place. Our professional years together in the sixties constitute a major part of my life and I have always treasured them.

We remained good friends (unusual for a duo!) even while we were pursuing entirely separate professional paths and I was so delighted that after a hiatus of almost forty years we ended up singing and performing together again more recently for the sheer exhilarating fun of it. We had a terrific time doing so.

Gordon remains one of my very favourite singers of all time and I am still so proud of the work that we did together. I am just a harmony guy and Gordon was the heart and soul of our duo.

I shall miss him in so many different ways. The idea that I shall never get to sing those songs with him again, that I shall never again be able to get annoyed when he interrupts me on stage or to laugh at his unpredictable sense of humour or even to admire his newest model train or his latest gardening effort is an unthinkable change in my life with which I have not even begun to come to terms.

I'd read on one of the sites that the duo was originally billed as Gordon & Peter. It's tougher when you're after the ampersand.

World Without Love:

There was this old Shake 'N Bake commercial - do they still make that stuff?- and this girl with a STRONG Southern accent says, "And I Haiped!" Which is supposed to be "helped". Brian Ibbott's recent Kinks Koverville, er Coverville was a topic I suggested in honor of Ray Davies' 65th birthday last month. I also pointed out the Tom Jones version of Sunny afternoon, which he played to, so far, positive reaction, I'm surprised to note.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Middle Child

I was the eldest of the three Green children. Leslie was the middle child, and Marcia the "baby". However, more than a few people who have assumed that SHE is the eldest because she's much more outgoing, while I have always been bookish, keeping to a far fewer number of friends and associates than she has.

She really enjoyed being the only girl/the younger for the four years that she was, until she wasn't. This led to all sorts of odd sisterly stuff that I tried to stay out of but would inevitably get sucked into. (One date in particular: March 12, 1995). I got along with both sisters most of the time, especially Leslie, with whom I sang with our father. Yet about once a year she'd goad me so much that I'd get really angry and some unfortunate outcome would take place. (When she was about 12, and I was 13, she and her friend Bonnie kept opening the bathroom door while I was sitting on the toilet - there was no lock - and I was trying to keep the door shut with my arm or leg; the end result was a broken bathroom mirror.)

I realized long ago that if I don't have a strong opinion about something Leslie cares about, I tended to cede to her position. That was not the case, though, when she wanted to bury our father in a casket but the rest of us preferred cremation. The tension over that lasted a couple years.

Meanwhile, Leslie seems to have drawn closer to Marcia, as they both deal with my mother. (I do too, but Marcia lives with my Mom and Leslie is currently looking for a job, having been laid off after 18 years working for Long's Drug Store after it got bought out by CVS.)

One of the good things about the last trip to Charlotte was, frankly, listening to Leslie kvetch about the CD that her church put out - she is on its music Praise and Worship team. Her name was misspelled as Lesley - thrice. I was going to plug the CD but can't find the particulars. Did, though, find this YouTube video about the church.

Another highlight, oddly, came from watching TV. Lydia, my five-year-old, is watching Wonder Pets, which I admit to liking myself (Just saw "The Wonder Pets Save the Beetles", which was full of Liverpudlian puns.) Turns out that Alex, Marcia's 18-year-old, remembers Wonder Pets fondly. Then Rebecca, Leslie's 30-year-old calls (or is called by her mother); come to find out, much to Leslie's surprise and chagrin, that Rebecca and her husband Rico ALSO are big fans of Wonder Pets. Leslie watched and actually sussed out its charms.

So, it's Leslie's birthday, and even though she occasionally makes me crazy (and you don't know the half of it), I still love her very much.
For all you folks in the San Diego area, here our the upcoming dates for Rebecca's group, Siren's Crush.
July 24th-Valley View Casino
July 31st-Valley View Casino
Aug 7th-Valley View Casino
Aug 8th-Viejas Dreamcatcher
Aug 21st-Viejas V-Lounge
Aug 28-Valley View Casino
Also, they have been asked to perform at a "VERY exciting event coming up on Sept 26th" in which they will be "opening up for Teena Marie, Lisa Lisa and some other favorite Old School artists for Magic 92.5 and Viejas Casino! This event is free and for the whole family!"
Click on this link for more information.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A is for Area Codes

Before I get into the meat of the second (and last) of these weekly checks of the prosaic, I did want to note how different area codes are from just about every other categorizing motif. In systems such as the Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress library catalog systems or the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) for businesses or last week's adventure, ZIP Codes, like things tend to be close to each other numerically (or in the case of the LC, alphanumerically).

However, most area codes are intentionally diffused so that the user isn't confused by a similar number in the same area. So, in upstate New York, for instance, 315 (Syracuse/Utica area) is adjacent to 585, 607 and 518.

When I was a kid, I could tell you just what a legitimate area code looked like. The first digit was 2 to 9 (but not 1), and the next two digits were either 01 to 09 or 12 to 19. This is a now-useless skill comparable to being able to figure out square root with pencil and paper (which I can, but not as quickly as one can just type in the number and a function key on a calculator).

These numbers were so allocated this way because of some sort of design limitation. However, when it became apparent that they would soon run out of phone numbers, because of increased use of cell phones plus blocks of numbers being sought by businesses, technological innovations made it possible to greatly expand the pool of area codes.

All of these machinations are controlled by NANPA: the North American Numbering Plan Administration. "This site provides information about the North American Numbering Plan (NANP) and its administration. The NANP is the numbering plan for the Public Switched Telephone Network for Canada, the US and its territories, and the Caribbean."

I remember back in 1984 when New York City was split into two area codes, 212, the code since at least 1952, and 718. Manhattan got to keep 212, but the outer boroughs, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island were burdened with 718, deemed as an "ugly" number by a NYC tabloid. Likewise, my old college town of New Paltz used to be in 914, along with the rest of the Mid-Hudson valley. Westchester County got to keep 914, but the rest of the area was switched to 845 in 2000. This list is now out of date, but shows the early changes.

As this source explains:

"Split" refers to a service area served by one area code being subdivided into two or more areas, with the original area code serving one of the subdivisions and new areacode(s) serving the other(s).

"Overlay" refers to a service area being served by two or more area codes simultaneously. usually i write "X overlaid on Y" to mean that X is a new areacode that will service an area that previously was serviced solely by Y.

The advantage of a split is that for intra-service area dialing, only 7 digits are required, but some existing users will be forced to change their web site, stationery, business cards, etc. In contrast, an overlay only affects new customers, so is less of a burden; however, neighbors may have to dial 11 digits to call each other.

It appears that the small hassle of dialing 11 digits, even within the same area code is far less burdensome than whole areas having to let friends and associates that they have a "new" number, as most of the recent changes seem to favor the overlay - my mom's 704 overlaid with 980, or 917 overlaying all of New York City, ostensibly for cell phone service, but not so limited at this point.

There are still some area codes that will not be used, and it includes those ending in 11. That's because the three digit numbers are otherwise allocated.
211 Community Information and Referral Services
311 Non-Emergency Police and Other Governmental Services
411 Local Directory Assistance
511 Traffic and Transportation Information (US); Provision of Weather and Traveller Information Services (Canada)
611 Repair Service
711 Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS)
811 Access to One Call Services to Protect Pipeline and Utilities from Excavation Damage (US); Non-Urgent Health Teletriage Services (Canada)
911 Emergency

The Albany, NY area just got a 211 service in April 2009.

There are also a batch of area codes that are toll-free, though they may be limited by geography. 800 was the first, followed by 888, 877, and 866, with 855, 844, 833 and 822 held in abeyance.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The gender slot

My wife and I were told that perhaps we need to get another roof on our house by a contractor who had done work on our house in the past. Since he was so busy that he was unlikely angling for the job, we thought his word had some credence. So, we have been investigating roofers. My wife called - she is a teacher and therefore home much of the summer - and got three quotes. She was talking to one of them, and he suggested that we probably just needed repairs and that the roof was structurally sound for another 10 years, so we were considering that option. He added, "If you DO decide to get the roof replaced in the future, HAVE YOUR HUSBAND CALL ME." Now I had one brief conversation with him before, but the substantive conversations were all with my wife. Fact is, because she owned a house before we did, she almost certainly knows more about roofing than I do." Must be a generation thing.

My daughter Lydia is allergic to peanuts, as I have indicated before. When Carol is off to college, there will be a couple birthday parties to which Lydia is invited and I'll be taking her. One mom was a friend of mine before she was friends with Carol, but she e-mailed me: "What would be a good time to call Carol to speak with her more about her peanut allergy?" Now, I replied about all of the idiosyncracies of the allergy (allergens well-labeled on most products, need to avoid products processed in plants that may have had peanuts on the conveyor belt, etc.) Yup, even Lydia's DAD is up on the particulatrs of Lydia's allergies; we all deal with it every time we shop for groceries, eat at a restaurant or purchase something from a bakery.


Monday, July 20, 2009

20 Questions

An old quiz I got from Ken Levine:

1. What newspapers do you read?
The Times Union (Albany), the Wall Street Journal, a couple business weeklies, occasionally the New York Times on Sunday if I'm caught up, which I never am. But I'm often checking the Times and the TU when I get a bulletin, such as last night when I read that Tom Watson blew the British Open and Frank McCourt, author of Angela's Ashes, died. (Never read that book, BTW, though I did read his followup book about being a teacher. I DID see the Angela's Ashes movie and found it amazingly bleak.)

2. Which ones do you move your lips to while reading?
One of my racquetball buddies reads the New York Post; that'd be it.

3. Which Web sites are on your favorites bookmark?
Tends to be libraries (Albany Public Library, State Library).

4. Where do you get your car washed?
Hoffman's. They're all over Albany.

5. Do you know your dentist's first name?
Yes: Michael.

6. Do you believe newspapers are going to die? If so, when?
Not entirely, but there will be many more corpses before some agreeable fiscal model settles in. There's an article I read in print recently I found interesting:
Why 'Going Galt' Isn't the Solution for Newspapers
by Nat Ives
Published: June 22, 2009
NEW YORK ( -- What if every newspaper gated off all their content tomorrow? What if newspapers embraced the idea of "going Galt"? Well, it would be suicide.
[Galt refers to an Ayn Rand character.]

7. What was the last book you read?
The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg

8. What's the last book you say you read?
I have no need want to impress people with how hip I am.

9. If you got a unicorn what would you name it?

10. What does your TiVo think about you?
In my case, DVR - You are a news nerd.

11. Character of fiction you most resemble?
Radar O'Reilly

12. Who plays you in your bio-pic?
Charles Dutton.

13. Do you floss?
Yes. Actually that was one of the things I never even knew about until I was an adult, somehow. But it's supposed to extend one's life.

14. Did you ever believe your toys come alive when you leave the room?
Of course.

Do you still?
Sure, why not?

15. How many old cell phones do you own?
One that I'm going to give to a local women's shelter. They refurbish and give to women avoiding abusive situations.

16. Best show legendary biz/movie star encounter.
Since Rod Serling is my ONLY Hollywood biz encounter... Well, there was the time that I met Anita Baker at a concert and Mike Tyson and Jack Nicholson were backstage.

17. Do you get satellite radio?

18. And as a follow do you "get" satellite radio?
Sure. No commercials, 170 music channels.

19. Do you read the Enquirer/InTouch/US/People?
Only in supermarket lines.

20. Do you lie about it?
No. I had a subscription to People for several years in the 1980s and early 1990s. Now, I only see it in the lunch room and I wonder "who ARE these people?" more often as not. For every Brad and Angelina, there are are people who must have devolved from some reality show.
Ah, the moon landing 40 years ago today; Gordon muses on it. Too bad Cronkite didn't quite make it to the anniversary.


Sunday, July 19, 2009


Pearls Before Swine
I've only been a Presbyterian for about seven years. So I know far less about John Calvin than I do about John Wesley, a founder of Methodism. Calvin, who founded a reformed movement that is represented in the United States by, among other denominations, the Presbyterian church, was born 500 years ago on July 10. One of the most difficult concepts for me is this:

John Calvin: On Double Predestination

In conformity, therefore, to the clear doctrine of the Scripture, we assert, that by an eternal and immutable counsel, God has once for all determined, both whom he would admit to salvation, and whom he would condemn to destruction. We affirm that this counsel, as far as concerns the elect, is founded on his gratuitous mercy, totally irrespective of human merit; but that to those whom he devotes to condemnation, the gate of life is closed by a just and irreprehensible, but incomprehensible, judgment. In the elect, we consider calling as an evidence of election, and justification as another token of its manifestation, till they arrive in glory, which constitutes its completion. As God seals his elect by vocation and justification, so by excluding the reprobate from the knowledge of his name and the sanctification of his Spirit, he affords an indication of the judgement that awaits them.

In other words, if I understand it correctly, some are born to be saints going to heaven, and others sinners going to hell. As one theologian friend of mine opined, "And you may THINK you have free will, but it was predestined that you think that."

This hurts my head.

Here's another take on double predestination.

Am I a bad Presbyterian because I'm a "free will guy? Where do you stand on this?

BTW, I went to the Pearls Before Swine website, having seen the strip in the newspaper, and the SITE provided the specific URL for the graphic. Cool.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Walter Cronkite

I knew Walter Cronkite was going to die soon. Before the rash of celebrity deaths (McMahon, Fawcett, et al.), it was reported that he was gravely ill. And yet his pasing yesterday still saddens me.

For some reason, I always knew his birthday, November 4. I always how he felt when his 63rd birthday was the taking of the hostages in Iran.

I was aware of his reporting during World War II. But my first recollection was watching him on a history program called The Twentieth Century, which was on from the time I was four to the time I was eleven; my, I was a geeky kid. I was an avid news watcher, pretty much alternating between Cronkite on CBS and Huntley-Brinkley on NBC, until Walter eventually won out.

I have some specific recollections. While I didn't see the now-famous announcement of JFK's death in real time - I was at school - I've seen the footage so often that I feel that I did. I was watching CBS News for wall-to-wall coverage of the aftermath (Oswald being shot, the JFK funeral).

When Cronkite went to Viet Nam in early 1968, then came back and declared in an editorial on February 27 that the war "unwinable, LBJ knew he was sunk and declared his decision not to run for re-election a little more than a month later. It, along with Martin Luther King's opposition to the war, also had a profound effect on my own view of the conflict, which, when I was 14, was vaguely, "It's an American war and I'm an American"; by the time I was 15, this changed to "What ARE we fighting for?" Speaking of King, it was from Cronkite that I heard the awful news of April 4, 1968.

Cronkite was a great cheerleader for space exploration. I must admit not being totally sold on it. But his enthusiasm for it, which won him NASA's Ambassador of Exploration Award three years ago, was so infectious that I was almost as excited as he with each new launch.

He was a hoot playing himself on the Mary Tyler Moore Show in February 1974.

After he retired as anchor in 1981, I always made a point of watching him in documentaries. Until recently, he was also host of the Kennedy Center Honors.

In this rash of celebrity deaths, I heard a lot about how people should feel a certain way because they didn't "know" them personally. (Did we "know" JFK or King? Yet we mourned.) When you've let someone into your home through television (or music or whatever), you do feel that you've "known" them. Having let Walter Cronkite into my home for almost my entire life, now that I think of it, and in ways of great impact, I mourn his loss.


Friday, July 17, 2009

In Our "Post-Racial" America

ITEM: I got this e-mail from one of my sisters about an incident at a Philadelphia-area swimming pool. Narrative courtesy of

[Three] weeks ago outside Philadelphia, 65 children from a summer camp tried to go swimming at a club that their camp had a contract to use. Apparently, the people at the club didn't know that the group of kids was predominantly Black.

When the campers entered the pool, White parents allegedly took their kids out of the water, and the swimming club's staff asked the campers to leave. The next day, the club told the summer camp that their membership would be canceled and that their payment would be refunded. When asked why, the club's manager said that a lot of kids "would change the complexion ... and the atmosphere of the club."

A "Whites only" pool in 2009 should not be tolerated. The club's actions appear to be a violation of section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act. Whether or not any laws were violated, a "Whites only" pool should be something every American condemns.

I get behind in my news reading, but I receive bulletins the local paper plus the New York Times. Yet I missed it. Was this merely a chain letter with the facts askew? Apparently not:
"60 Black Kids Booted from Philly Pool For Being Black -- Speak Out," Jill Tubman at Jack and Jill Politics, 07-08-09

VIDEO: "Please Don't Change the Complexion of our Pool," This Week in Blackness, 07-08-09

"Swim Club Accused of Discrimination," FOX 29 Philadelphia, 07-08-09

"Valley Swim Club: Day Two," Adam B at Daily Kos, 07-08-09

I did subsequently see a mention in SamauraiFrog's blog, but I believe this story was underreported.

ITEM: A review of the new Michael Bay movie, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. From Clay Cane of

The hip-hop talking robots were borderline offensive. Is this the movie's way of appealing to the African-American audience? I never knew that robots could shuck n' jive.

This was not the only critic who made this point. The defense of the movie - and this box office hits has plenty of defenders despite critical panning (or perhaps because of critical panning: "Roger Ebert is a moron!") - were 1) the robots weren't specifically African-American and 2) it's only a movie; lighten up.

Now, I didn't see the movie. Heck, didn't see its predecessor and wasn't planning to. On point 1, a character can be offensive without being specifically black; some character named Jar Jar comes immediately to mind. As for point 2, that's just rubbish. (I could expand about how movies reflect society and blah, blah, blah, but "rubbish" will do.)

ITEM: Sonia Sotomayor being grilled over, among other things, Ricci vs. DeStefano, the New Haven firefighters case, and her appellate court's position holding in favor of the city. I believe her defense is in the Supreme Court dissent - uncharacteristically READ ALOUD from the bench - by Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Here's just a section:

The Court’s recitation of the facts leaves out important parts of the story. Firefighting is a profession in which the legacy of racial discrimination casts an especially long shadow. In extending Title VII to state and local government employers in 1972, Congress took note of a U. S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) report finding racial discrimination in municipal employment even "more pervasive than in the private sector."...According to the report, overt racism was partly to blame, but so too was a failure on the part of municipal employers to apply merit-based employment principles. In making hiring and promotion decisions, public employers often "rel[ied] on criteria unrelated to job performance," including nepotism or political patronage...Such flawed selection methods served to entrench preexisting racial hierarchies. The USCCR report singled out police and fire departments for having "[b]arriers to equal employment . . . greater . . .than in any other area of State or local government," with African-Americans "hold[ing] almost no positions in the officer ranks." Ibid. See also National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control, America Burning 5 (1973) ("Racial minorities are under-represented in the fire departments in nearly every community in which they
The city of New Haven (City) was no exception.

And in each of these disparate items, one thing is in common; Barack Obama is evoked in the commentary. "How could the swimming pool situation take place now that we have a black President?" "We should be past worrying about silly stereotypes anymore; Barack's President." "The Obama Presidency proves that issues of racial inequality are a thing of the past." Meh.

Arthur and Jason noted an article by Eugene Robinson re: identity politics and Sotomayor. Arthur read this paragraph on their 2political podcast: Republicans' outrage, both real and feigned, at Sotomayor's musings about how her identity as a "wise Latina" might affect her judicial decisions is based on a flawed assumption: that whiteness and maleness are not themselves facets of a distinct identity. Being white and male is seen instead as a neutral condition, the natural order of things. Any "identity" -- black, brown, female, gay, whatever -- has to be judged against this supposedly "objective" standard. Well stated.

Keep the champagne on ice. The post-racial America celebration will just have to wait a little bit longer.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

The JFK Jr. Plane Crash

I wasn't watching all the time, but the TV was on ABC-TV for most of it. I had tuned in to watch something or other and figured they'd have some coverage of the breaking event, then return to regular broadcasting plus a scroll on the bottom.

ABC News reported that plane of John F. Kennedy Jr. was missing.
Then the fact that his wife was on the plane.
Then the fact that his sister-in-law was on the plane.
Then the airport he took off from.

"In case you just joined us, JFK Jr. 's Plane has gone missing".

Maybe one useful snippet of information per half hour, such as his destination and his flying record, interrupting the whole who JFK Jr. is to us, from the four-year-old son saluting his father's casket - did he do that on his own or was he prompted by his mother? - to magazine publisher.

"In case you just joined us, JFK Jr. 's Plane has gone missing. He is the son of our 35th President. His wife and sister-in-law are reportedly on board. No comment from the Kennedy clan."

Then more blather about his sister Caroline, his late infant brother Patrick, his late mother Jackie, and basic Kennedy lore.

"In case you just joined us, JFK Jr.'s Plane has gone missing".

Finally, they did find the plane. By then seven hours of not much news had been aired.

It's not that I didn't care. He was a kid when I was a bigger kid. I watched his dad's funeral. He was charismatic, far more the natural politician than his quite reserved sister. But it was a LOT of time for relatively LITTLE said.

This coverage was on the mind of a colleague of mine when we'd heard that a "small" plane had apparently hit one of the Twin Towers on 11 September 2001. The person said, "I hope that they don't just show us hours and hours of a plane crash."

Well, THAT didn't happen...


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Wife's Birthday

My wife has had a very busy year, and that busyness was contagious.

Last year, she had just returned from a grueling two-week-plus stint at a college working on her advanced certification in teaching administration. Before she even arrived, she had books to read and papers to write. The first week in particular included 12-and 13-hour days in classrooms and workshops; the subsequent time was was shorter only because the students needed more time to research and write MORE papers.

When she got back, four weeks of relative calm before she had her excruciating jaw (breaking) surgery, and had her jaw wired shut for the first four weeks of the semester, hardly optimal for a teacher, ESPECIALLY a teacher of English as a Second Language. Just making food was often a literal strain.

This meant she got started late on the 600 hours of internship she had to complete, sometimes trying to discern her assignments. Among other things, weeknights meant meetings and weekends were usually dedicated to to various projects. Then a less than perfect end-of-fall-semester evaluation spurred her on to a stellar evaluation at the conclusion of the spring semester, but through even MORE effort on her part (and greater cooperation, watching the child, e.g., on mine). But she did achieve her goal. She is FAR more disciplined in that way than I am.

In fact, her current schedule, reading books and writing papers for THIS summer's classes, still forthcoming, has made it virtually impossible for me to even buy her birthday present, though I know what she wants, and I've had to enlist the assistance of a purchasing ally to pull it off. (I won't mention it here, on the off-off-OFF chance she happens to read this.)

This summer will also mean I'll be doing the single parent thing for a couple weeks. I left her with her grandparents for a week last year but she got all clingy and melancholy - crying on the phone almost every night. The daughter missing one parent is tough, but two was too hard (for me too) for more than a few days, especially not on her own turf. But we'll metaphorically will leave the light on.

Anyway, happy birthday, Carol! Hope you have SOME fun on your day in the midst of all the school work and helping to feed the folks working on our church this week.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Z is for ZIP Codes

I'm old enough to remember when one mailed a letter to large cities in the United States, he or she would place a one- or two-digit number between the city and state. The oft-advertised Spiegel catalog was at Chicago 9, Illinois. (The postage for a one-ounce first-class letter was four or five cents.) I've since discovered that the United States Post Office Department (USPOD) implemented postal zones for large cities in 1943.

Then on July 1, 1963, the Post Office introduced the Zone Improvement Plan. The country was carved into 10 sections, 0 to 9. From there, 5-digit numbers (codes) were developed to identify each post office associated with an address. It was also the time that the two-letter state postal abbreviations were instituted.

I was fascinated as a kid by this. Just from the first digit in the ZIP Code, I knew where a letter came from. If it started with 0, it was from New England, New Jersey, US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and military addresses in the European theater; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is 09360.

So, in New York State, 100-102 are Manhattan, 103 is Staten Island, 104 is the Bronx. 105 is suburban New York, with the places listed alphabetically, 106 is White Plains and so forth through 119, on the tip of Long Island. 120 and 121 are suburban Albany, 122 is Albany and 123 is Schenectady. Certain businesses or other institutions have their own ZIP Codes. 10048 is the zip code assigned to the former World Trade Center in New York City. The State University of New York in Albany is 12222, while the SUNY campus in Buffalo is 14222. ZIP Code 12345 is General Electric in Schenectady. And Spiegel is now ZIP Code 60609.

When I worked at a store in Albany in the 1980s, I decided to figure out where the orders for a horror film book was coming from. A decidedly large plurality of the requests, for some reason, were from 480 and 481, wealthy suburban Detroit.

In 1983, the US Postal Service began using an expanded ZIP Code called "ZIP+4." "A ZIP+4 code consists of the original five digit ZIP Code plus a four digit add-on code. The four digit add-on number identifies a geographic segment within the five digit delivery area, such as a city block, office building, individual high-volume receiver of mail, or any other unit that would aid efficient mail sorting and delivery." It is not mandated, but businesses use it often and there are savings to be had for bulk mailings.

On rare occasions, a place is assigned a ZIP code that does not match the rest of the state, e.g. the place is so remote that it is better served by a center in another state. "For example, Fishers Island, NY, which is off Long Island, NY, has ZIP code 06390 and is served from Connecticut, while all other New York ZIP codes begin with 1. Some Texas ZIP codes are served from New Mexico and have codes beginning with 8 rather than 7." And something I only discovered recently: "returned government parcels from the District of Columbia are sent to ZIP codes beginning with 569, so that returned parcels are security checked at a remote facility, put into place after after the anthrax scare."

The Census Bureau does not tabulate data by U.S. Postal Service ZIP Code. Instead, it created a new statistical entity called the ZIP Code Tabulation Area (ZCTA) to meet requests by data users for statistical data by ZIP Code. ZCTAs are close area approximations of USPS ZIP Codes service areas. For more information, go here.

Find a ZIP Code by entering an address here.

Hey, you ABC Wednesday folks from outside the U.S.: how do YOUR postal postscripts work? I know that Canada has an alphanumeric system, and the first letter is roughly alphabetical from east to west across the provinces, with the territories last (X and Y).


Monday, July 13, 2009

Ask Al Gore - or not

I got this e-mail recently: We’re hoping Ramblin With Roger will support our No Hunger campaign on July 13th. Thank you for your previous interest in our organization, Action Against Hunger, which you referred to in one of your articles. We would like to invite you to participate in our upcoming campaign.

And I do support them. To have hunger on this planet with the resources available is utterly insane. And the organization that wrote to me, Action Against Hunger, a/k/a Action Contre la Faim, or ACF is a fine, fine organization with an excellent record of using its resources wisely.

So, the next paragraphs:

The global humanitarian organization Action Against Hunger is launching No Hunger with a trailer to Al Gore’s next film—a film that doesn’t exist yet—about acute malnutrition, a disease that kills 5 million children each year. We’re asking people to view the trailer and sign the petition asking Gore to make the film. The petition will be presented to Al Gore this December at the climate change conference in Copenhagen.

You can view the movie trailer at

Just as An Inconvenient Truth helped reshape climate change, an Al Gore film called No Hunger could mobilize the support needed to end childhood deaths from malnutrition—a predictable, preventable condition that threatens 55 million children every year. We now have the tools to end acute malnutrition; we just need the support.

I guess my ambivalence is twofold: 1) the passion he has that showed up in An Inconvenient Truth about global warming goes back decades, long before he was in public service, and is not necessarily transferable to the issue of hunger, though there is a linkage between global warming and hunger; and 2) I don't know that Al Gore even HAS another movie in him, and that in any case, I'm not inclined to badger him into making another film, however worthy the cause.

So, my message to Al Gore is more muted; if your heart is into making a film about global warming, then by all means, please do so.

All that said, please consider contributing to the organization. You can follow them on Facebook and and Change and YouTube.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

The In-Laws

Talked about my family a couple days ago; time to talk about my in-laws.

Actually I may get along better with them than my birth family. and in the main, I see them more often, since they're located in New York and Pennsylvania rather than North Carolina and California.

Still, I was quite nervous about this scheduled family vacation. It was to be my parents-in-law, two brothers-in-law, their wives and, collectively, three daughters who are 7 and 8, plus Carol, Lydia and me. The plan, as it shook out was that we would all travel to Williamsburg, VA for a week. i thought that much familiarity would surely breed contempt. But it was to celebrate my parents=in-law's 50th wedding anniversary that was back in March; we'd done something then at their church, but this was actually planned in the fall of 2008.

Separately: Williamsburg in July wasn't my idea of a good time. I've been to Virginia in July with an ex-girlfriend. We went out early in the morning but spent most of the day in air-conditioned comfort.

As it turned out, my wife had too much reading to do and too many papers to write, details of which will be forthcoming.

Then Wednesday, my wife's sister-in-law (does that make her my sister-in-law as well?), who lives a little over an hour from Albany, had thyroid surgery at an Albany hospital. I actually never saw her; I spoke to, though never saw her husband. But their eight-year-old twins were at the house, and the parents-in-law were up to support their daughter-in-law and help watched the girls. In fact, My wife, her mother, my daughter and the twins all went to Saratoga for a ballet matinee on Thursday.

Now today, is the Olin family reunion, and I'm likely to see the whole tribe that was in Williamsburg, save for the recovering surgery patient.

we don't usually spend THAT much time together, but it certainly a different relationship when the distances are smaller.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Beatles cover music QUESTION

In my tradition of playing the music that I own, I have divvied up my Beatles music thusly:
In October, in honor of John's birthday, I play the canon. In this case, the British CDs (including Magical Mystery Tour, which became adopted as such), plus the two Past Masters CDs of singles, B-sides, EPs cuts and oddities.
In February, in honor of George's birthday, I play the American albums. George, visiting his sister Louise, was the first of the Beatles to visit the U.S.
In June, in honor of Paul's birthday, I play the more recent items: Live at the BBC, the Anthology series, and Love, e.g.
In July, in honor of Ringo's birthday I play Beatles covers. After all, Ringo's All-Starr bands are known to cover the hits of the contributing musicians.

And I have LOTS of whole albums dedicated to Beatles covers. Some are of whole albums: Big Daddy doing Sgt. Pepper, a MOJO collection replicating Revolver, George Benson taking on Abbey Road. There are whole soundtracks: All This and World War II, I Am Sam, Across the Universe.

So what are your favorite Beatles covers? I am fond of these:

Come Together by Tina Turner; Aerosmith's take is fine, but too close to the original
Eleanor Rigby by Aretha Franklin (she puts it in the first person); though the pure excess of both the Vanilla Fudge and Rare Earth versions always made me chuckle.
Got To Get You Into My Life by Earth, Wind and Fire; one of the only good things to come out of the Sgt. Pepper's movie debacle.
In My Life by Judy Collins; though there are other fine versions, notably Johnny Cash's.
We Can Work It Out by Stevie Wonder; I once bought an LP just for that song.
You Can't Do that by Harry Nillson, which segues in other Beatle tunes in a most delightful way.

Special kudos to Joe Cocker, who made several Beatles' tunes his own. but the one I'm currently most fond of is You've got to Hide your Love Away

And there undoubtedly others. The readers of Rolling Stone magazine pick their favorites.

What's your least favorite Beatles covers?

There's a whole slew of older artists of the Beatles era trying too hard to be hip and relevant but feeling like the lounge singer Bill Murray used to play on Saturday Night Live (or a slightly more current reference, the Sweeney Sisters).

Still my thumbs are down to two pop music legends of the 1960s. The Supremes doing A Hard Day's Night, originally on an album I owned called A Bit of Liverpool. "It's ben a hard (hard) day's (day's) night." Disliked it on first hearing. the other is Elvis Presley doing an off-key and listless version of Hey Jude; just unpleasant to listen to. (Though not eligible for consideration, Mitch Miller's version of Give Peace A Chance is a HOOT.)