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Monday, August 31, 2009

A Meme of Firsts

Via SamuraiFrog:

1. Who was your FIRST date?
Difficult to say. I don't recall dating Martha as much as hanging out with her with my friends, then with her more than my other friends. Eventually we kissed a lot.

2. Do you still talk to your FIRST love?
Yeah, but not often. I went to her wedding. I'm reasonably sure that her husband doesn't know we dated. I used to think that was weird. Then there was this other woman I dated considerably later on; I was going to mention her in this blog actually, but she preferred that I didn't. She's comfortable with the fiction that her husband is the "only one", despite the fact that she was married before. HER husband knows we dated, and in fact recognized me from a drawing of me as a duck that the late Raoul Vezina drew. So maintaining a fiction about the past I've learned to recognize as important to some people. I suppose that includes me.

3. What was your FIRST alcoholic drink?
I don't remember what, but I remember where: it was in a bar on Clinton Street in Binghamton. I was 18, the legal age. My sister was singing there, if I recall correctly and I don't think I had to pay for the drink. It was almost certainly a mixed drink; I want to say Tom Collins.

4. What was your FIRST job?
I've answered this before (newspaper deliverer or library page). The first job I had where I was making any real money was working at IBM in Endicott, near Binghamton. I had graduated from high school in January 1971, and I worked there from March through August. My job was to do these three processes. First was to put this coating over these circuit boards. The second (and the most difficult) was to bake them in these ovens, making sure not to bend the pins or have the coating get on the pins. The third task was to bake this plastic holder onto the circuit boards.

Irritatingly, the first shift did a lot of the first task, leaving the second task to me. And I really had to do it, because the coating would start riding up the pins if they weren't baked within 10 or 12 hours. They didn't like me because I would do the first task so fast that the company raised the rate for that job, something like from 60 to 80 boards per hour. That WAS a tactical error on my part.

I was on the second shift, which ostensibly was 5:12 p.m. to 2 a.m ., with a 48-minute lunch. But I hardly ever worked that shift. It was usually 5:12 p.m. to 4 a.m., and then from 12 noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday. Not only did I save lots of money for college because of the 16 hours of overtime per week - and because I was generally too tired to go out - I managed to lose 30 pounds because I was too tired to eat.

In the summer, there was a guy - I wish I remembered his name - who was a son of an IBM bigwig; he was quite intelligent and as bored as I was. So we would get into his Aston Martin and drive as far away as we could for 20 minutes, then reluctantly drive back.

First time I ever gave blood was while I worked there because I could get paid at work while taking of the hour to donate.

5. What was your FIRST car?
No idea. It was the S.O.'s and it was red and had push button transmission. I once knocked over a Dumpster while driving it; I wanted to go forward but went into reverse.

6. Where did you go on your FIRST ride on an airplane?
I had gotten chosen for this Governor's Conference on Children and Youth when I was in high school, and there were seven of us from the Binghamton area who flew to Albany in a plane with perhaps a dozen seats. It was during a lightning and thunderstorm on the way up. Met Nelson Rockefeller for the first time.

7. Who was your FIRST best friend & do you still talk?
My first best friend was probably Ray Lia from second grade. We were in Cub Scouts together; his mom was our den mother. I didn't see him much in high school; he went to North High instead of Central, because it offered some technical courses he wanted. I pretty much lost track of him until 1976, five years after high school, when he invited me to be in his wedding. I escorted his mom to her seat, which as nice. I caught the garter, which wasn't. We exchange Christmas cards, though most of the writing is by his wife Pam. He is, as of about a month ago, one of my Facebook friends.

8. Whose wedding did you attend the FIRST time?
I have no idea. When I grew up in the church, most of the weddings were open to all the parishoners. So I went to a lot of weddings as a kid. I even sang at a few, notably I Love You Truly, a truly horrific piece of claptrap. I know I attended my sister's godfather Elmer's wedding to Barbara in that period.

As for which of my friends married first whose wedding I actually attended, I'm not at all sure. My sister got married on Halloween 1975; a definite contender.

9. Tell us about your FIRST roommate.
That would be Ron Fields. At New Paltz in 1971-72, there were only two black males in Scudder Hall, a grad student in biology (Ron) and a freshman poli sci major (me), and somehow we ended up as roommates. I'm pretty sure it was no accident. Ron was fine. He did have one great idiosyncrasy that amused me and others; he recorded every cent he spent in a notebook. "Soda, 50 cents," etc. One day, he bought a used car. "Car, $1000." It cracked both of us up.

One day in March 1972, the phone rang fairly early in the morning. It was my father, but Ron didn't let on. He did prompt us to clean the room, then conspired with a friend of mine to get me out of my room so that my family and friends could surprise me that weekend for my 19th birthday. Kentucky Fried Chicken, as I recall.

10. If you had one wish, what would it be (other than more wishes)?
Either the ability to fly or to transport.

11. What is something you would learn if you had the chance?
If I had time, I'd become more computer savvy; I just muddle through.

12. Did you marry the FIRST person you were in love with?
No, and we tried to make it work more than once.

13. What were the first lessons you ever took and why?
Piano lessons when I was eight with Mrs. Hamlin. I was not at all good, but I still remember a lot of those intro lessons by heart. It was also useful in singing, so it wasn't a total waste.

14. What is the first thing you do when you get home?
Take off my shoes. Keep the carpet clean.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Problems, problems

What a pain in the neck. I mean this literally. Somehow during sleeping Friday night, I pulled something in my neck. It's OK when I sit, but it hurts to lie down. I can sit in brief spurts. Heat and pain relievers are not helping.
My printer has a paper jam. It's a Brother MFC-240C. I bought it at Staples last fall. The problem is that, apparently, whatever is jammed is too small to see, let alone reach. Staples told me to call Brother. After the Brother technician went through all the steps that I had already tried, she had me get the error code. #51 - ah, area 51 - no wonder it's a problem. Then she referred me to a local repair shop, which DOESN'T ANSWER ITS PHONE. Meh.
I've been having trouble with Firefox. About once every other day, it freezes up and I have to CTRL/ALT/DEL my way out. Then I get this sheepish message:

Well, this is embarrassing.
Firefox is having trouble recovering your windows and tabs. This is usually caused by a recently opened web page.
You can try:
* Removing one or more tabs that you think may be causing the problem
* Starting an entirely new browsing session

Well, I think I will start a new browsing session. whether it will be in Firefox is another issue entirely.
Somehow, our household has two different CVS codes so the coupons earned on one card are not transferable to the other, I discovered yestersday. I swear I had addressed this question months ago.
Our intern-turned-temp-librarian Amy left my office's employ Friday. She really helped keep our turnarounf=-d time down. And I like her personally as well.
The good thing about feeling lousy is that it gave me an opportunity to see some TV. Watched some of the EMK funeral.I was re-reading his 1972 book In Critical Condition. On pp. 74-75: "guarantee comprehensive health insurance to all Americans and to assure that health care is available at a cost any American can afford." pp. 220-221: "We can no longer afford the health insurance industry in America...the insurance industry still could not bring about change in the health care system to control costs, improve quality, and offer health care services in a way most acceptable to y=the people. The industry would remain a moneychanger taking a percentage of our dollars for a dubious service."
I also finally watched the last prime episode of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire that aired last Sunday. If you get a chance to watch it on, I recommend it. JEOPARDY! champion Pam Mueller was in the audience as her significant other, also a JEOPARDY! winner, played - don't want to reveal name in case you watch. Whether or not you view it, find her S.O.'s J bio off her page, then read the blog post that explains the motivation.
I may have to work on this: ever since I learned that Amazing Grace can be sung to The House of the Rising Sun, I've been singing it around the house. (AG can also be sung to The Lion Sleeps Tonight, but it lacks the proper pathos.


Saturday, August 29, 2009


There is an article in the Wall Street Journal online - it was in the paper last weekend - by John Freeman, adapted from his book "The Tyranny of E-Mail," that really spoke to me. It was titled: "Not So Fast: Sending and receiving at breakneck speed can make life queasy; a manifesto for slow communication".

Cogent points:
1. Speed matters...
The speed at which we do something—anything—changes our experience of it. Words and communication are not immune to this fundamental truth. The faster we talk and chat and type over tools such as email and text messages, the more our com­munication will resemble traveling at great speed. Bumped and jostled, queasy from the constant ocular and muscular adjust­ments our body must make to keep up, we will live in a constant state of digital jet lag.

This is a disastrous development on many levels...

2. The Physical World matters.
A large part of electronic commu­nication leads us away from the physical world. Our cafes, post offices, parks, cinemas, town centers, main streets and commu­nity meeting halls have suffered as a result of this development. They are beginning to resemble the tidy and lonely bedroom commuter towns created by the expansion of the American interstate system. Sitting in the modern coffee shop, you don't hear the murmur or rise and fall of conversation but the con­tinuous, insect-like patter of typing. The disuse of real-world commons drives people back into the virtual world, causing a feedback cycle that leads to an ever-deepening isolation and neglect of the tangible commons.

This is a terrible loss...

3. Context matters

We need context in order to live, and if the environment of electronic communication has stopped providing it, we shouldn't search online for a solution but turn back to the real world and slow down. To do this, we need to uncouple our idea of progress from speed, separate the idea of speed from effi­ciency, pause and step back enough to realize that efficiency may be good for business and governments but does not always lead to mindfulness and sustainable, rewarding relationships. We are here for a short time on this planet, and reacting to demands on our time by simply speeding up has canceled out many of the benefits of the Internet, which is one of the most fabulous technological inventions ever conceived...

This is no Luddite screed but a cautionary observation: "This is not a sustainable way to live. This lifestyle of being constantly on causes emotional and physical burnout, work­place meltdowns, and unhappiness."

But what do YOU think? I think that *I* need to turn off the computer for a while and go for a walk.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Black or White

In high school and early in my college days, I made attempts to write songs. In retrospect, they probably were not that good, though I do have some affection for a couple of them. Among other things, I realized that I had, on more than one occasion, unintentionally swiped the tune from an existing song. Still, I wish I could find the notebook where I was keeping the lyrics over a number of years.

One of the songs was called "Black or White". It started:
"My father was a singer of folk songs,
My mama used to hum along."
I remember that part, because it was true.
In the chorus, there was this couplet:
"It doesn't matter if it's black or white.
Music is music if the feeling's right."

I do recall the specific inspiration for this song. My father had moved to Charlotte, NC. Whether it was true or his perception, he felt that the gumbo of folk music that he had performed in hometown Binghamton would not fare as well in the South of the 1970s, and for a number of years, he just stopped playing. I found this quite disheartening.

In the same vein, it was a song for Dionne Warwick, Charlie Pride and Jimi Hendrix, who were often put down, including by black people, because they weren't singing the music they were "supposed" to be playing, jazz, soul or blues, but certainly NOT pop, country or rock. (I have an irrational affection for the song Then Came You by Dionne and the Spinners - "see, she can do soulful; now, SHUT UP, already!")

When Michael Jackson's song Black or White came out in 1991, complete with the lyrics "It Don't Matter If You're Black Or White," it made me feel...wistful. If I ever DID find this book and recorded the song, people who think that I had ripped it off from MJ, when i had written it at least a decade and a half earlier. (And no, I don't believe he ripped it off from me, either.)
So, I'm waiting and waiting for Fred Hembeck to post something about his daughter Julie's birthday this week, but nothing. So I write to him, and he tells me I should have been checking out Facebook! I'm mediocre re Facebook at best, and not much better with Twitter. There's something rather ephemeral about those social network platforms; it's different with the blog, which is a web LOG. Anyway, belated happy birthday, Julie! Really, I didn't forget.


Thursday, August 27, 2009


I have had on my bookshelf for the longest time a book called "In Critical Condition: the Crisis in America's Health Care" by Edward M. Kennedy.
Chapter I: Sickness and Bankruptcy - A Double Disaster
Chapter II: What Price Good Health?
Chapter III: No Money, No Medical Care
Chapter IV: Where Have All the Doctors Gone?
Chapter V: The Medical Maze
Chapter VI: Good Care, Poor Care.
Chapter VII: Businessmen or Healers?
Chapter VIII: The Health Insurance Trap
Chapter IX- Better Health Care at Lower Cost in Other Countries
Chapter X: Good Health Care: A Right for All Americans
The book was published in 1972. Does any of the discussion sound at all familiar?

There is little doubt in my mind that Ted Kennedy was one of the greatest United States Senators ever. Just this past weekend on ABC News, John McCain (R-AZ) reiterated that the current health care debate has been stymied in part because his friend, the "Lion of the Senate", wasn't able to participate in the debate fully. Kennedy was an "old-time" senator who really DID work "across the aisle".

I believe his greatness in the Senate was fueled in no small part by the fact that he never became President. like his brother Jack did and his brother Bobby likely would have, had he not been assassinated in 1968. And I think it's because of a tragedy of his own making, Chappaquiddick, in 1969.

I supported Ted Kennedy when he challenged Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination in 1980. Yet, at the same time, I was scared to death for him. Every President who was elected, or re-elected in a year ending in zero, going back to 1840, had died in office. Moreover, all of Ted's brothers had died violent deaths, including his brother Joe in World War II.

(I always thought the 1980 primary season felt like a conversation among Carter, Kennedy and Jerry Brown to a Lovin' Spoonful song, It's Not Time Now.)

So Ted Kennedy's sad but unsurprising death would, in the movies, stir both sides to open their hearts, work together for comprehensive health care reform, and we'd have a nice warm, fuzzy feeling in our bellies as the end credits rolled.

I'm not counting on that.

I do think it would be a fine legacy if the Congress could get together and pass some meaningful reform, and if EMK'd death becomes the prompt, then so be it.
The Brill Building composers and producers held sway over popular music in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Among them were Goffin and King, Mann and Weil, Greenfield and Sedaka, Pomus and Shuman, Leiber and Stoller, Barry and Greenwich. The latter were Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, partners both musically and otherwise (they were married for a time).
Here are some songs written or co-written by Ellie Greenwich, who died this week:
and a whole bunch more.

She also produced a number of artists, notably early Neil Diamond. Somewhere in my vinyl I have the soundtrack for the Broadway musical Leader of the Pack, in which she starred in the 1980s.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Lydster, Part 65: Stretching It Out

As I have mentioned, there were a couple weeks this summer when Carol was away at college and I got to play what is quaintly referred to Mr. Mom. (Did I see that film? I have vague recollections of it.)

It was not too bad during the week. I would drop her off at daycare in the morning. On Monday/Wednesday/Friday, my friend who has a daughter slightly older and a son slightly younger than Lydia would pick up the daughter and take her to their house and I would pi her up from there. On Tuesday/Thursday, I'd leave work early and pick up Lydia from daycare myself.

This meant truncated workdays. I don't know about your work habits, but mine has a certain rhythm which involves getting through the e-mails, and doing some of the tasks therein before working on reference questions. It was not an optimal situation but it was doable.

The weekends were trickier. It was daddy being "on" for 15 or 16 hours. Not only did I need to do her hair in the morning (and preferably at night), and give her all her allergy medicines at night, I needed to entertain - read more than the evening books, play various games inside and out. On a weekday evening, by the time I made supper, cleaned up after supper, did her evening routine (which involved her 30 minutes of television per day), then got ready for bed, there wasn't all that much time. On weekends, it was a LONG period.

Fortunately, there were birthday parties for Lydia's classmates each of the two Saturdays. The first party was in a suburb of Albany called Clifton Park. The father of the birthday girl picked us up. It was one of those combo bouncy bounce/video places; it seemed very LOUD. Of course, we had to wait to get a ride home until after the clean up, but this was not at all a bad thing as it ate up the time. If I were using a baseball analogy, it would be like a workmanlike pitcher eating up innings.

The second weekend, the party was in another suburb, Latham. This time, I was determined to find a way to get us there without help. Plan #1, taking the #29 Cohoes bus was out; it doesn't run on Saturdays. What I discovered, though, is if I got to the uptown SUNY campus (via the #12 bus), there is a #90 bus that goes to all the malls in the area, including Latham Farms, near where we were heading. It meant leaving the house at 10:15 to get to the party at 11:30 (a half hour early) and staying a little longer to catch the right buses back. But since we were at Chuck E. Cheese, this was not a problem.

The biggest hassle, actually, was getting from the Latham Farms bus stop to the Chuck. To say it was not designed for pedestrians would be a gross understatement. There were trees by the side of the road that jutted out in a way that it was impossible to even walk on the lawn; of course, there was NO sidewalk to speak of.

Did I mention that I HATE the name Latham Farms? There are few to no agrarian features.

I hadn't been to CEC since 1995 in an Atlanta suburb. It's more tech oriented now, with our electronic hosts Justin and Kelly (really - but not the folks from American Idol) hosting the gig on a half dozen TV screens until the rat, er mouse, came out.

On the ride back to SUNY, there was a woman with her eight-year-old coming from Troy to SUNY. Her daughter was getting antsy, so it was mutually beneficial when she got to read to Lydia. We got home at about 3:15.

If we had gotten a car ride there and back, we would have been gone from 11:30 to 2, 2.5 hours. Since we took two buses each way, we were out a total of FIVE hours. This is a GOOD thing. It was an adventure. Lydia is good riding buses, and this was new to her.

I'll admit that maybe she watched a little more television than is generally allowed on the two Sundays, but she survived. As important, *I* survived.

Photo by Ray Hendrickson

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

F is for Falling

Kilgore Falls, MD

My 81-year-old mother fell coming into her house last week. My sister who lives with her says she's fine, and that's good news, of course.

Even before hearing that news, I was thinking about the topic. On one hand, the fall is the lifeblood of physical comedy. Watch out for that banana peeeel! The role of the comedian, going back generations, perhaps millennia, was to take a tumble.

One of my all-time favorite TV shows was The Dick van Dyke Show. As you can see here, Dick would either trip over the ottoman, stumble over it, or neatly evade it.

And YouTube is chock full of people taking a tumble.

Conversely, One in three adults 65 and older falls each year in the United States. In 2005, 15,800 people 65 and older died from injuries related to unintentional falls; about 1.8 million people 65 and older were treated in emergency departments for nonfatal injuries from falls, and more than 433,000 of these patients were hospitalized, again in the U.S. And that doesn't even touch on falls from elevation.

This brings me to LifeCall. From the Wikipedia: The motivation behind the systems is that subscribers, mostly senior citizens, would receive a pendant which, when activated, would put them in immediate contact with a dispatch service, without the need to use a phone or other household device...

So far so good.

In 1989, LifeCall began running commercials which contained a scene wherein an elderly woman, identified by a dispatcher as "Mrs. Fletcher" uses the medical alert pendant after having fallen in the bathroom. After falling Mrs Fletcher speaks the phrase "I've fallen and I can't get up" after which the dispatcher informs her that he is sending help.

Taken at its face value, the commercial portrays a dangerous situation for a senior, with perhaps dire consequences...

The "I've fallen and I can't get up" ad had the double misfortune of being unintentionally campy and appearing often on cable and daytime television. The fact that the commercial was a dramatization (as clearly stated in the beginning of the commercial) using rather mediocre acting also contributed to the humor. The combination made "I've fallen... and I can't get up!" a recognized, universal punchline that applied to many comedic situations. All of these factors made the ad memorable, ensuring the line's place in pop culture history.

The commercial's punchline has also been appropriated by members of faith communities.

My final falling reference (briefly) will be falling in love. One could discuss ad nauseum what that really means. But I've had stuck in my head a song by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers called "Falling in Love with Love."

"Falling in Love with Love is falling for make-believe!
Falling in Love with Love is playing the fool!" Here's Julie Andrews singing Falling In Love With Love.
Falling Creek, GA

Note: I had a bunch of photos put aside for the post which I CANNOT FIND. Photos taken from government websites.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Now Vs. Then Meme

One of those Sunday Stealing memes that would have been far more onerous had I compared now with 20 years ago, rather than 10

Then: August 1999

1. Age: 46

2. Romantic Status: newly married 3 months

3. Occupation: librarian, working downtown

4. Fun night out: usually go out to eat

5. My BFFs: Karen, Mark, Norman

6. I spent way too much time: watching sports on TV

7. I spent not enough time: reading books

8. I wanted to be when I grew up: a minister or a lawyer

9. Biggest concern: money

10. What my biggest concern should have been: time

11. Where did I live: in the house that Carol purchased in 1992

12. Dumbest thing I did that year: pretend that I was really cool with Carol going off to Scotland with her friend Jeanne a couple months after we were married. I missed her terribly AND I was still getting used to the house. She still might have gone, but my nonchalance gave her false info.

13. If I could go back now and talk to myself I would say: you'll do OK.

Now: August 2009

1. Age: 56

2. Romantic Status: married

3. Occupation: librarian, working in soulless Corporate Woods

4. Fun night out: say what?

5. My BFFs: Karen, Mark, Norman

6. I spend way too much time: on the computer

7. I spend not enough time: reading books

8. I want to be when I grow up: I don't want to grow up

9. Biggest concern: time for myself

10. What my biggest concern should be: how easily I sunburn now and taking more precautions re: that.

11. Where do I live: in a house Carol and I bought in 2000

12. Dumbest thing I have done this year: knocking down a small beehive in Lydia's playhouse. Even though she was about 20 feet away, she ended up getting stung in the back of the neck by the bee/wasp/hornet. Then I got to listen to her ask, repeatedly, why it attacked her rather than me; the answer, of course, is that it would hurt me more if it stung her.

13. What I think I would say to myself in 10 years: you made it, more or less.


1. What do I miss most from 1999: time

2. What do I miss least from 1999: uncertainty

3. What have I accomplished in 10 years that I am most proud of: staying married

4. What have I NOT accomplished in 10 years that I wish I had: that damn world peace; SO elusive.
One of the truly awful world events in my lifetime was the plane bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. Over a dozen of the victims had ties with the Albany, NY area where I live. But as Demeur lays out, the one convicted participant might very well have got out on appeal. The release of Megrahi by Scotland may have been more pragmatic than compassionate.
From Steve Bissette:
If you are or ever have been a fan of the work of writer Steve Perry of Time Spirits, Thundercats and Silverhawks – not to be confused with either the prolific and popular sf writer or the rock star — and you can afford to help a man on his last legs, please, do so.

Despite the best efforts of myself and others, Steve is in dire straits at this very moment, suffering terminal cancer and lack of any support, and sorely in need of any help that can be sent his way.

Two journalists died this past week. Don Hewitt ran the Kennedy-Nixon debate, dubbed Walter Cronkite and created 60 Minutes. He wussed out over a tobacco story, but no one's perfect.

My mom said if you have nothing good to say about someone, say nothing. Robert Novak: NOTHING.
Go here August 28 at 9:00AM ET and every Friday through September for a chance to get a Free Real Chocolate coupon for your favorite Mars product.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW: 500 Days of Summer

I took off from work on Thursday, in part so I could complete the split movie date thing my wife and I do. She saw 500 Days of Summer a couple weeks back and thoroughly enjoyed it. I...well, three days in, I'm still running it through my head.

The movie has been described as a romantic comedy; this would be a stretch. Certainly the guy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is interested in romance. But the woman of his dreams (Zooey Deschanel) just doesn't believe in that stuff.

500 Days (Variety and Roger Ebert aren't using the parentheses around 500, so I'll opt out too) evokes a lot of other movies. Evokes them pretty well too, though perhaps too much "on the nose."

There"s a scene that uses a Hall and Oates song that is clearly inspired by a scene in a John Hughes movie. The song title from the Hughes film even appear in the lyrics of the H&O tune. On the other hand, I enjoyed it - a lot, actually - for what it was.

Likewise, there seems to be an homage to the movies of Woody Allen from the 1970s. But not only did the split screen work, it was quite reminiscent of my real life.

Finally, it is stated that the female in the movie totally misreads the ending of The Graduate, and it is actually that final scene on the bus, complete with the Bookends Theme by Simon & Garfunkel, that, in retrospect, 500 Days pivots on.

It just feels that all of these elements plus the cute-at-first-but-eventually-annoying time shift dynamic didn't always feel like the same film, as though it were being made by a guy stitching a bunch of music videos together. Yet through it all, it did speak truthfully, it played fair, the characters were believable, even though the female lead was (intentionally) less than accessible. There was no deus ex machina.

Read Roger Ebert's four-star review:
Some say they’re annoyed by the way it begins on Day 488 or whatever and then jumps around, providing utterly unhelpful data labels: "Day 1," "Day 249." Movies are supposed to reassure us that events unfold in an orderly procession. But Tom remembers his love, Summer, as a series of joys and bafflements. What kind of woman likes you perfectly sincerely and has no one else in her life but is not interested in ever getting married?

Then look at the less than favorable one from Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal:
Marc Webb’s bright bauble of a boy-meets-girl comedy is a rueful tribute to the wisdom of hindsight (if you want to be philosophical); an elaborate exercise in deconstruction (if you want to be trendy), a postmodern mishmash (if you want to be uncharitable), a cautionary tale about the perils of projection (if you want to be psychological) or, if you want to be as clinical as the film finally decides to be, an exhaustive and exhausting dissection of a relationship that was never all that promising in the first place.

Thing is, I totally agree. With BOTH of them. A blogger who seemed to like it called it "treacherously twee." So go see the movie. If you're like 88% of the critics, you'll enjoy the film. But if you don't, I'd understand that too.


Saturday, August 22, 2009


Need someone to swipe from. Jaquandor posed a similar, and more expanded query. Mine is more reductivist:
Do you boycott an artist (musician, actor, writer) because you find that person's politics abhorrent - racist, a birther, Holocaust denier? This assumes that the work itself is not abhorrent. Actually remember going to see The Green Berets, starring John Wayne and David Janssen in the day, even though I wasn't a big Wayne fan. Additionally, I knew I'd hate the politics of the film, and I did, but I found it instructive to have seen it. But, no, I see movies by Gary Sinese. I listen to Wagner. I don't buy Ted Nugent music, but then I NEVER bought Ted Nugent music.

Do you support an artist who is the subject of a boycott or other negative action? Heck, yeah. When Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks spoke the truth about George W. Bush in March 2003, just before the US invasion of Iraq, and took a lot of heat, immediately, I ran out to the local Rite Aid and bought the Dixie Chicks' then-current album. Likewise, when Linda Ronstadt said something complimentary about Michael Moore and subsequently had some difficulties, I ended up buying her box set from Amazon. This is not that I might not have purchased them eventually anyway, but certainly the events specifically prompted the purchases.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Autumn of 1988

After eight and a half years, I left my job at FantaCo in mid-November 1988. Leafing through some old journals, I was surprised - actually shocked - to see that I had actually planned to leave a full year earlier. I made a point making sure that people were trained to take on the the tasks I did, with the mail order especially, before I left so that owner Tom Skulan wouldn't be left in a lurch.

It was odd. I was making more money at the end than i had ever made up to that time, plus paid health insurance, something Tom was providing only to himself and me, though others could get coverage on their own dime; I don't recall anyone taking advantage of that offer, since they were all pretty young and weren't making that much.

The problem is that I was making money from all the horror stuff we were selling, and more importantly producing. My old buddy Steve Bissette is currently delineating the Gore Shriek history (and selling some artwork of the period. In some way, it was almost passing the torch to Steve. I was involved in the Chronicles and the like, while Steve was present for the very first Gore Shriek in June of 1988. It was the comic books, not the horror stuff, that drew me to FantaCo, but I balanced the checkbook, and it was the horror stuff that kept FantaCo going month after month.

So I quit. I wasn't angry, just burned out. Tom felt angry and betrayed, I suspected, and this was confirmed by a couple people. I felt badly that he felt that way but I couldn't see any real options.

As it turned out, on Thanksgiving Day, I got a call from a guy I knew telling me that our mutual good friend Nancy Sharlet was dying of cancer. I met her when we both worked together at the Schenectady Arts Council in 1978. I started on March 1. March 7 was my birthday; not knowing me well, but wanting to acknowledge the day, she got me this little S.W.A.T. truck, which I have to this day.

The GREAT thing about being unemployed was that I could spend lots of time in the hospital with her, nearly every day for about a month, before her mother came up from Tennessee to tend to her in her last days. She died on January 1, 1989.

After the funeral, I never saw her kids Jocelyn and Jeffrey again. I assume they went to live with their father, Robert, who I did not know well.

I was watching Jon Stewart a couple weeks ago. His guest was a guy named Jeff Sharlet, who is the author of The Family: Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. Could this be the Jeffrey Sharlet, the six-year-old I played SORRY with when he was six? I found this 2004 interview, and the answer is clearly yes.

"I grew up in what seemed like a mostly Catholic town in upstate New York." Check. "My father is Jewish." Check. "My mother, with whom I lived, had been raised in a very unusual Pentecostal home." Jeffrey and his sister Jocelyn lived with their mother; her religion was a bit unclear. "Her mother, a very poor Tennessean". Check. "She [his grandmother] raised my mother to be interested in everything." Double check. "Going to other people's churches and temples, gathering stories -- in my family, that was just how you did religion." Check, and the reason I was unclear of Nancy's religion."

I wrote to Jeff; he didn't write back; that's OK. I do wonder how his sister is, though.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

August Ramblin'

Tuesday night, I couldn't sleep, so I got up to use the computer. I was startled by my wife entering the room - the fan drowned out any noise she made - and we decided to go downstairs to watch the NBC show The Office. We got through the March 19 episode where [SPOILER WARNING] Michael Scott quits Dunder Mifflin [end of warning]. This got me thinking about spoilers. There was a review of some sci-fi TV show, now on DVD, and the reviewer mentioned a significant character development. A commenter complained that he hadn't seen the season yet, as he was waiting to watch it all on the DVD; the reviewer apologized. So what IS the rule for spoilers these days for a TV show or movie? Is it three months after the DVD comes out? What if the DVD NEVER comes out?

We're now down to the last series we watch together. First we saw Scrubs, because we had all the episodes recorded. Then we got through 30 Rock; saw the season finale just last week, then a couple December shows in rerun that we'd missed when the DVR got fried in a late autumn lightning storm. I know what happens on The Office - chances are I read it in someone's blog - but I have no expectation that the plot points remain a secret, though, in fact, my wife does not know, so DON'T TELL HER.

Since JEOPARDY! is in reruns, I'd decided to tape the Regis Who Wants to Be a Millionaire primetime episodes. A much better game with the 15-, 30- and 45-second clock. Of course, I saw the Patricia Heaton math meltdown; she really psyched herself out that she couldn't get the answer to this question: "If a Euro is worth $1.50, five Euros is worth what?" Her choices are A.) 30 quarters, B.) 50 dimes, C.) 70 nickels, and D.) 90 pennies.
I'm reading the New Yorker for August 7 online this week, when I come across this: It’s big news in France and Germany that Willy DeVille, a founder of the band Mink DeVille, died yesterday in New York. The death of the director, producer, and screenwriter John Hughes is unmentioned in the major newspapers there. Nothing travels worse than the local rites of adolescence.
I totally missed that story. I wasn't a huge fan of the band, but I do own some Mink DeVille on vinyl.
Yesterday, someone in my office was talking about the "famous" Doobie Brothers episodes of the show What's Happening; I had no idea what he was talking about. But it was easy to find clips here and here and even each of the whole episodes on Hulu here and here. I DID see the series from time to time, but it was not appointment television for me.

Someone commented on why the show didn't pick a black artist instead. I was instantly reminded of a 1977 Warner Brothers Loss Leader called Cook Book, "focusing on Warner's black acts." The only predominantly white act on the record was the Doobie Brothers. The song on the album was the same as the song on the What's Happening episode of the same time frame, "Takin' It to the Streets." The Michael McDonald version of the group must have had some cred.
From the July 7, 2009 Fortune magazine comes this review of the book Cooperstown Confidential, by Zev Chafets. It addreses the inconsistencies in the process of getting into the Hall of Fame. Reviewer Daniel Okrent writes:
Sure, numbers count -- RBIs, ERAs, etc. -- but Chafets demonstrates that cronyism, prejudice, and financial self-interest play a huge part as well.

He addresses a variety of factors that have influenced the people who make (and unmake and remake and unremake) the rules. In 2009, in the looming shadows cast by Clemens and Bonds, the rule that matters most is No. 5, the one about character. It's been used to keep out witnesses to gambling (Joe Jackson) and gamblers themselves (Pete Rose) but has somehow not been applied to cheaters (Gaylord Perry), racists (Cap Anson), sociopaths (Lefty Grove), and cheating racist sociopaths (Ty Cobb). Nor to a quantity of drunks, drug users, and other lowlifes that could fill the reservation book at Hazelden.

About those druggies: Most people who follow baseball closely suspect that a large share of Hall members from the '70s and '80s got their games up with the help of amphetamines. But Chafets has turned up evidence that steroids go back as far as the 1950s.

I guess it solidified my sense that the hysteria over the latest revelation from the (supposedly secret) list of 2003 users of substances that would become banned in 2004 just doesn't disturb me as much as it does others.
And now, a message from movie maker Tyler Perry:
I'm back from Vegas and had a great time at the Hoodies, but I gotta give a quick WARNING to all my Facebookers, Twitters and TylerPerry board members: I'm so pissed right now!

I'm sitting in my den writing, minding my own business, when I get an email from my staff saying that someone put an ad up on Craigslist saying that I was casting a movie in L.A., and in order to be considered for this (FAKE) Tyler Perry movie, you have to join their club for $29.95. THAT IS A LIE, don't fall for it. These folks are trying to rip you off. I hate for people to prey on people's dreams and hopes. Why don't people get a job and stop trying to steal folks' hard-earned money....Ugh, that makes me mad; let me breathe.

Okay listen my dear folks, if anyone asks you to pay in order to do an audition or pay a fee to join a club to put you in a movie, please don't fall for it. That's not how it works in this business. It's free to audition for any film. I'm calling my lawyers about these THIEVES! You're my best help here, so please do me a favor and send this out to all your followers and friends.




Wednesday, August 19, 2009

E is for Esther

There was a woman in my church named Esther who recently moved from the United States to Japan to be closer to her husband. So it got me thinking about women named Esther.

The first one that came to mind was Esther Williams. The swimmer and actress turned 88 this month. According to the Wikipedia, "She was National AAU champion in the 100 meter freestyle. She planned to compete in the 1940 Summer Olympics but they were canceled to the outbreak of World War II." Her movies became just an excuse for elaborately choreographed swim scenes, as explained in a clip from the 1994 movie That's Entertainment. Here's her appearance on an American game show of the 1950s,What's My Line. As I've noted before, she and Ricardo Montalban were the first to popularize the classic tune "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

Esther Rolle was an American actress best known for playing the character Florida Evans on two programs produced by Norman Lear of All in the Family and Sanford and Son fame, Maude and Good Times. On Maude, she played a maid. Her playing the stereotypical black role made some people nervous and/or upset, but Maude was not your standard fare. In this clip, white liberal Maude hires a new housekeeper..." and from the moment she walks through the front door, Maude is determined to make her feel like an equal. However, her attempts lead Florida to decide to quit."

In 1974, Ms. Rolle starred in her own show, Good Times; it was a spinoff of a spinoff, since the Maude character had first shown up in All in the Family. Florida and her husband James (John Amos) raised their three children in an inner-city high rise apartment building. Here are clips from Good Times: Season One. In this clip, youngest son Michael gets suspended after insisting George Washington was a racist.

Esther Rolle died in 1998.

Above is a fresco of "Queen Esther" from 1450 by Italian artist Andrea Del Castagno. You can read about the Biblical character here, and commentary here. Her actions brought about the Jewish holiday of Purim. The interesting thing about the Book of Esther is that God is never specifically mentioned.

There was a play at my former church a couple decades ago, and I got to play the evil Haman.

I always thought of Esther as an old-fashioned name, but as this list from Social Security Administration, the appellation, which means star, among other things, has never ranked below #350 in the list of most popular baby girl names in the United States since records started being kept back in in 1880.

Popularity of the female name Esther: Year of birth/ Rank
2008 274 (1,235 babies)
2007 275
2006 290
2005 281
2004 297
2003 289
2002 300
2001 300
2000 330
1999 319
1998 323
1997 319
1996 320
1995 308
1994 289
1993 301
1992 300
1991 301
1990 285
1989 290
1988 277
1987 288
1986 288
1985 289
1984 272
1983 274
1982 267
1981 273
1980 297
1979 315
1978 321
1977 311
1976 336
1975 320
1974 315
1973 312
1972 333
1971 332
1970 348 (724 babies)
1969 337
1968 322
1967 314
1966 290
1965 280
1964 286
1963 263
1962 252
1961 238
1960 234
1959 232
1958 227
1957 217
1956 209
1955 201
1954 193
1953 192
1952 180
1951 169
1950 162
1949 162
1948 155
1947 162
1946 151
1945 160
1944 152
1943 152
1942 143
1941 138
1940 131
1939 117
1938 120
1937 116
1936 107 (2,252 babies)
1935 94
1934 91
1933 88
1932 82
1931 79
1930 77
1929 71
1928 66
1927 64
1926 62
1925 56
1924 51
1923 47
1922 44
1921 42
1920 39
1919 38
1918 38
1917 38
1916 34
1915 33
1914 35
1913 32 (4,088 babies)
1912 33
1911 34
1910 38
1909 37
1908 36
1907 37
1906 33
1905 34
1904 32
1903 34
1902 35
1901 33
1900 39
1899 29
1898 31
1897 28
1896 27
1895 31
1894 36
1893 39
1892 67
1891 66
1890 75
1889 75
1888 77
1887 79
1886 85
1885 92
1884 99
1883 99
1882 97
1881 105
1880 104 (198 babies)


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Original" Log Cabin Syrup

When I was a kid, our household used to use Log Cabin syrup on our pancakes and waffles. Since I've been married to Carol, we've leaned more on using actual maple syrup. But it;'s expensive, and a few months ago decided to get some Log Cabin, partly out of nostalgia and partly out of the fact that I remembered liking it.

It wasn't until I had actually opened the bottle when I read the ingredients: corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup...Wait a minute. The bottle says Log Cabin Original Syrup, "a family tradition since 1887." I have a strong sense that this product did NOT have HFCS when I was growing up. This is ORIGINAL? And my fear of HFCS predated this report about possible Mercury Poisoning. (Didn't Graham Parker have a song named that?)

My wife bought a new bottle of Log Cabin last week. "Now! NO HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP" is displayed boldly. It just has corn syrup, liquid sugar (water, sugar), water, salt plus a bunch of other stuff that show up in processed foods these days and are in both versions -natural and artificial flavors, cellulose gum, preservatives, sodium hexametaphosphate (say what?), and caramel color.

Silly me. I finally figured out the word "original" is used by Pinnacle Foods to distinguish it from the "Lite" and "Sugar-Free" versions. I'm really glad Log Cabin has dropped HFCS - will they return to HFCS if there's a sugar shortage? - but maybe we'll see if we can find money in the budget for REAL maple syrup again.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Facebook quizzes

Because it's too damn hot for anything else. So hot, in fact, that we got our nearly annual bat last night. I was up, wife was in bed, not asleep, when this small creature flew into the living room. Ultimately, the wife batted it down with a broom in mid-air, stunning it long enough to catch and release.

Myers-Briggs Personality Test

INFP (Introversion, iNtuition, Feeling, Perception)
You are idealistic, loyal to your values and to people who are important to you. You want an external life that is congruent with your values. You are curious, quick to see possibilities, and can be a catalyst for implementing ideas. You seek to understand people and to help them fulfill their potential. You are adaptable, flexible, and accepting unless a value is threatened. Famous people with your same INFP personality include: Mary the Blessed Virgin, Helen Keller, William Shakespeare, John F. Kennedy Jr., Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Julia Roberts and Johnny Bacardi.

This is likely true.
Top five most famous people I've met
1. Former Chief Justice Earl Warren
2. Rod Serling
3. Nelson Rockefeller
4. Anita Baker
5. Alex Trebek
What color are you?
Red: You are both bold and romantic, just like the color Red! You aren't afraid to take chances and live life to the fullest. Sometimes you go too far to get what you want, but you're always up for love.

Obviously, I was hoping for a different color. Like green.
How Normal Are You?

Extremely Normal

You walked "downtown" growing up, know what a "Gondola" is and remember when Veterans' Parkway was on the edge of town, and not the middle!

I am, of course, extremely insulted.
Full Personality Evaluation

You are a type 1C person
You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself as an independent thinker; and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic.

This is not entirely untrue. Certainly the change stuff is true. The introvert/extrovert thing is most DEFINITELY true.
And on another matter: Arthur at AmeriNZ writes about blogging. And, oh yeah, about me. BTW, as of today, I have 1829 posts started. 1749 have been published, and 2 are scheduled to be published (one tomorrow, one in September). 78 are in draft form. Some will eventually see the light of day, some won't; it's probably about 50/50.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Unhealthy Health Care Debate

I just don't understand it.

All this talk about rationing health care under "Obamacare". We already ration health care. from patients bounced from insurance coverage for unrelated pre-existing conditions to serves denied until patients actually die. WE RATION health care. Perhaps that's even necessary in a world of finite resources, but to dump it on the current plan(s) is most disingenuous.

Rationing. Why else does Remote Area Medical®, founded by Stan Brock in 1985, provide "free health care, dental care, eye care, veterinary services and technical and educational assistance to people in remote areas of the U.S. and the world"? The "remote" area of the United States this week? Los Angeles, California. For his efforts, Brock was picked as ABC News' Person of the Week.

I know, from personal experience, that people without insurance wait as long as they can before seeking medical assistance. I know that, until I got dental insurance, my trips to the dentist were few and far between, going only when I was in extreme pain, instead of going regularly to maintain my dental health.

I may have told this story before but can't find it. Two days before I was going to college in 1979, I was at a friend's house and somehow got an infection under my toenail. It hurt mightily but I had no insurance. But I WOULD have insurance in a couple days. So I hobbled through college registration; if I had had a walker or wheelchair, I would have used it. Then I went to the infirmary. By this point, the infection was going up my leg; if it had reached my heart, I most likely would have DIED. As it was, I spent the next six days - the first six days of the semester - in bed.

Yes, I believe in universal coverage. Heck, I believe in "socialized medicine", though I know THAT'S not gonna happen. But why can't we just debate the reasonable differences, such as its effect on the deficit, a legit question.

Take Sarah Palin, who is repeating her "death panel" claims. Someone please explain why she would say this, yet again. If there is a third option, PLEASE let me know, but I have to think that the only reasons would be that 1) she is stupid or 2) she is lying. I tend to think she's not stupid, but I could be wrong about that. Of course, the White House's reality check page won't be believed, or listened to, by those who've been listening to the Sarah Palins.

Joe Baker, President of the Medicare Rights Center, was recently on the Newshour with Jim Lehrer on PBS to discuss some aspects of Medicare in national health reform. The specific topics related to Medicare discussed during the segment include the much-discussed reimbursement for end-of-life counseling, as well as other provider reimbursement rates. Here is a link to the transcript and video of the segment. It seems that a good libertarian position would be for individuals to control their own end=-of-life decisions, rather than have others do it for them. Expect that this provision NOT to show up in the final bill.

The cost of health care reform is $1 trillion over 10 years; that's real money. But what is the cost of NOT doing reform? Current estimates based on the recent rise health care costs is $70 trillion or more in ten years.

Did you happen to see Jon Stewart this week when FOX News was "monitoring" some town hall debate and promised to go to the event if it got heated? Evidently, people screaming at elected officials is some sort of infotainment, but a reasoned conversation must be too boring to cover.

Finally, I HATE the phrasing of current poll questions about health care, one of those "How's he doing?" things. More people think he's not doing well than think he is. But saturated by coverage of the screamers, one could conclude that all the objectors think the plan's too radical. In fact, there are some people, and I number myself in their ranks, who would answer the question negatively as well because I don't think the plan's "radical" enough. Amazingly sloppy poll questions, which, I guarantee will be cited by the host of at least one Sunday morning talking heads program; David Gregory of NBC's Meet the Press is almost a lock.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Crimes and Misdemeanors QUESTIONS

It's the dog days of summer when "nothing" happens, except that, of course, it does. In addition to this month being the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, it is the 40th anniversary of the Tate-LaBianca murders by the Charles Manson "family" and the 35th anniversary of the resignation of Richard Nixon. So please answer one or more of these questions.

1. Susan Atkins is "gravely ill with a brain tumor". Her release would save the cash-strapped state of California thousands of dollars per year. Should she be released? Should Leslie Van Houten be released? Filmmaker John Waters, who has befriended her, says yes: "Leslie has taken responsibility, and she has followed the rules — the rules that they have told her to follow to get parole. ... She's the poster girl for the California prison system."
In Atkins' case, I just don't know enough to say. Is she penitent? But in Van Houten's case, I agree with Waters: "I do believe in rehabilitation."

2. When Richard Nixon resigned, it was with such mixed emotions. On one hand, I was glad he was gone. On the other hand, I wanted him to suffer more for his "high crimes and misdemeanors" as "unindicted co-conspirator" in the Watergate mess. I'm STILL not convinced that Gerald Ford should have pardoned him a month later, certainly not without some responsibility taken by Nixon; I suppose I was looking for some sort of contrition over what he put the country through.
But what say you?

3. There were 104 names on this list of baseball players who, in 2003, tested positive for some sort of controlled substance. The list was supposed to be confidential, as the official MLB ban on these products didn't take hold until 2004. Yet the names drip out: Bonds. Sosa. A-Rod. Ramirez. Big Papi. All the players of that period, including the ones not guilty of anything, are tainted by suspicion. Should the list be released? Should the Players' Association agree to such a thing? I think the constant drip...drip...drip of names is so harmful that I hope the association agrees to the release. Your thoughts?
Oh that's a LIFE magazine pic of Paul and Paul. My father had some Les Paul/Mary Ford singles, as I recall.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Going to Woodstock

When I was 16 in the summer of 1969, I asked my parents, probably my father, whether I could go to this concert in the Liberty/Monticello area, a direct bus ride from Binghamton on Route 17. It featured Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and a whole bunch of other people. He said no, and that was pretty much it. I was OK with that until it became "Woodstock"; then it ticked me off a little. If I were a little older, like Walter Cronkite's daughter Kathy, I would have just gone on my own.

So, when the Woodstock movie came out in the spring of 1970, a bunch of my friends and I rushed to see it. Using more current lingo, we were gobsmacked. It was so wonderful, so fascinating that we sat through a second showing of the film right after seeing the first (for the same admission price, BTW, something that just doesn't happen now). I have this specific recollection during the second viewing of watching the projection light colors changing; Sly & the Family Stone was bathed in purple, as I recall. And no, I wasn't stoned, I was just enraptured.

Of course, I bought the soundtrack - a TRIPLE album! - and listened to it incessantly, so much so that pieces of dialogue (Arlo Guthrie's "The New York State Thruway is CLOSED, man!"; the passing of the "kosher bacon") bubble up in my mind unbidden from time to time. Woodstock, the movie and album, is where I really discovered Santana and Richie Havens; discovered in new context (John Sebastian, formerly Lovin' Spoonful; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, from their respective groups); and got to hear live some of my favorites (the Who, Sly & the Family Stone).

I was nostalgic enough that, five years ago, my wife, infant daughter and I went to the New York State Museum to see Spirit of the Woodstock Generation: The Photographs of Elliott Landy.

Yet, right now I have no need, no desire to go out and get some expanded version of the movie or the soundtrack - not that, if given them, I wouldn't watch and listen - because I don't need to try to experience what I missed. I think the reason I actively avoided going to those concerts called "Woodstock" in 1994 and 1999 was that they seemed like desperate calculations to try to recapture a magic that just defies re-creation. If I go to the Woodstock museum in Bethel, it will be as a matter of curiosity rather than wish fulfillment.

CBS had a piece this past week on the large festivals trying to recreate the Woodstock vibe, and maybe they can. But my favorite recent story is that the couple on the album cover above are still together, married two years after the festival and community minded.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Some Meta Blog Stuff

I have a confession to make: I don't write this blog.

It writes itself.

By that, I mean that I experience what I experience, and then I start typing. I have a vague notion of what I want to say, where I want to go, but as often as not, something I write surprises me. "I didn't know I was going to write THAT; hmm, that's interesting."

But lately, there have been a half dozen different topics that have just refused to write themselves. I shan't name them, lest they develop a sense of self-importance: "Ha, we've shown him!" Eventually, they'll see the light of day. Or not.

Meanwhile, Vincent Wright of notes that:

"We all use search engines.

"Most of us use Google most.

"However, suppose you got search results but, didn't know whether the BEST results for you came from Google, Yahoo, or Bing? does that for us."

He typed in his Linkedin, Twitter, and Facebook ID, got the results, and was "surprised that the results I preferred were NOT from Google!"

I used my name in various combinations (RogerGreen, RogerOwenGreen, with and without spaces), and the results I preferred were in fact from Google. However, when I used one of my pseudonymous tags, as I do writing LOCs on some blogs such as Salon, the Yahoo! results are more to my liking.

The obvious point is that I ought to be using a consistent name across the Intersnet. Will I go make the change to do that? Maybe. Possibly? Eh, who am I kidding? Probably not. For while I often read those Search Engine Optimization articles, and I think many of them make perfect sense, there's only so many hours in the day. I can write or I can optimize; writing is usually fun, the above notwithstanding. SEO is work, and given the limited time resource between fun and work, I choose fun.

Now if I develop swine flu and am confined to my house, then maybe.
If I were writing this blog, I might note the passing of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and desribe her as essentially the creator of the Special Olympics. But since it's writing itself, it wants you to know that Ms. Shriver's efforts inspired a series of great Christmas music. I bought the first album back in 1987 because I was a sucker for a good cause. But I listened to it every season because it's good. The 1992 follow-up (the green cover) is pretty fine as well. Subsequent collections fall short but include some gems as well.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

D is for the Doraville Schoolhouse

There was a one-room schoolhouse in a tiny hamlet called Doraville, NY. It was so small that, growing up in Binghamton, perhaps 26 miles (42 km) away, I had never heard of it until considerably later. But it holds a special place in the hearts of my in-laws.

Two of my mother-in-law's older siblings actually attended the school before it closed down during a school consolidation c. 1940. But then a kitchen was added on, and the building was used for years as community center for meetings, suppers and the like. As it was a very short walk from the former school to my mother-in-law's parents' house, it became the location for the Olin Thanksgiving for many years, into the 1970s.

At some point, the powers that be decided to tear it down so that some utility lines could be built, or some such. However, members of the community objected. They raised the requisite money to move the building from its original location to a spot in Harpursville, some 3.5 miles (5.6 km) away.

It wasn't just money that was needed; it was manual labor to cut the building in half, horizontally near the roof line, schlep it to the new location then put it back together. It's likely that the plans wouldn't have succeeded at all had the state not coincidentally built a new bridge; the old bridge might not have borne the weight. (The photos pictured tell the story of the move.)

Once moved, there was an effort to try to replicate the school as it once was. Under the leadership of my wife's uncle Don Olin, this was accomplished.

The doorway in this picture led to the kitchen that had been added in the 1940s.

So when the Olins had their family reunion in July 2009, they held it at the Harpursville Veterans of Foreign Wars hall, maybe 1 km (1100 yards or so) away, the family made sure the school was open for their perusal. The pictures here were taken by this blogger at that occasion with a disposable camera.

Unfortunately, Don Olin died last November. The restoration of the Doraville Schoolhouse is a lasting memorial to him. Here's more about Don.

And more on the Doraville Schoolhouse.

No, the outhouse, just behind the school, is no longer in use.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW: Julie & Julia

My goodness; Carol and Roger not only went to the movies, but saw a film playing in its first weekend! We got a babysitter and went to see the only film playing at the Spectrum in Albany, our favorite movie theater, we could agree on. (To be fair, Carol's already seen a couple of them.) Actually had to briefly stand in line.

Julie & Julia is writer/director/co-producer Nora Ephron's clever intertwining of two true stories: the coming of age of Julia Child, a bored American housewife in Paris after World War II, with Julie Powell, a frustrated would-be writer who works in a New York City agency to help those affected by the events of September 11, 2001. Julie worships Julia, the cookbook author who made French cooking accessible to Americans, and starts a blog to track her Child-like efforts/obsession.

The strength, and perhaps the weakness, of this movie is that Julia Child is played by the incomparable Meryl Streep, who quickly disappears into this role. Entertainment Weekly already says this year's Oscar is Streep's to lose; I haven't seen that many other movies in 2009, but this is a bravado performance, steeled by great support from Stanley Tucci as her husband. Tucci, BTW, appears in the possibly greatest foodie movie of all time, Big Night; Tucci and Ephron are foodies in real life. I also enjoyed the brief turn by Jane Lynch.

So the more modern story suffers by comparison because it features Amy Adams, who costarred with Streep in Doubt, but shares no real scenes here. Adams is a fine actress, but her somewhat whiny story and the attendant acting by her, Chris Messina as her husband, and others, were not as interesting, or nearly as funny.

I should note, however, that the more historical tale had some built-in advantages. When Paul Child suggests to Julia that she could be on television, she laughs. The audience laughs too, in part because they know that Julia eventually DOES appear on the small screen.

Some critics suggested they had difficulty keeping track of which time period the story was in; my wife and I had no such difficulty. Others wished that it was more about Julia and less about Julie, if at all; the reality that with a mere history of Child, the viewer would miss some insights about Julia that Julie exposes to us.

So, I recommend the film. If I did stars, it'd be 3 out of 4; grade would be B+.
A 10-minute Streep interview. Interesting how an agent provocateur's comments and response to same took over. He said - I assume it's a he, "There's a reason why old fart and over the hill actresses aren't in great demand--because no one wants to see them! Let's compare: Meryl Streep vs. Angelina Jollie? Not Meryl! Or, how about Meryl Streep vs. Scarlett Johanson? Not Meryl here either! One more shot: how about Meryl Streep vs. Megan Fox?" Evidently talking about something other than acting. Even Megan Fox, in the EW cover story, noted that her acting skills are nascent.
Carol and I once saw Stanley Tucci at Capital Rep theater in Albany several years ago. Can't remember what we saw, but I was close enough to say to him, if I had had the nerve, "Loved you in Murder One and Big Night." But I didn't; so it goes.


Monday, August 10, 2009

That scene in Field of Dreams always makes me cry

Even before my father died on August 10, 2000, there was a scene in the 1989 movie Field of Dreams where the Kevin Costner character is playing catch with his dad - you know, this one - that always got to me. My father and I didn't play catch that much, but he did take me to minor league games in Binghamton (the Triplets - farm team at various times of the Kansas City A's, New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves) and explained the intricacies of the sport.

As I noted here, the evening before my father died, when he was in a comatose state, "I turned on a baseball game, and explained the action to my father. I think the sound was down, so I was doing a play-by-play for a couple innings. I told him about Jason Giambi, the long-haired player for the Oakland A's who had 'graced' the cover of Sports Illustrated within the previous year."

So baseball - and music, card playing and football - were shorthand ways for my father and me to deal with each other when other paths were not available.

Here's a couple pictures that my sister came across only last month of my father as an MP at the end of, and after World War II, either in Texas or somewhere in western Europe, sometime in 1945 or 1946:


Sunday, August 09, 2009

Teachable moment QUESTION

I'm just not getting this notion that not talking about race will somehow fix the race issue, the position, it seems of George Will and Morgan Freeman. Just this month, I came across this Salon piece about a vendor sending the letter writer a racist cartoon. In Racialicious, The protagonist of Justine Larbalestier’s novel Liar is a young black woman with short, natural hair. So why is there a white girl with long, straight hair on the cover? A touching piece in Antiracist Parent notes it's never too late for racial unity in your family, about a mixed race couple, now married 40 years, who were rejected by his (white) family until fairly recently. Great moments in political race-baiting, which I will contend SHOULD include Bill Clinton.

Yet these "teachable moments" such as the Skip Gates arrest/President Obama's comment/the "beer summit" don't seem to teach much. Lots of arguing across each other. Most of these "moments" from Don Imus' comments to Michael Richards', seem to generate a lot of fury, but then we move to the next thing. There seems to be little common ground forged.

Or is there? I think most conservatives and most black people seem to be on the same page with regards to Henry Louis Gates, though they get there different ways.
Michele Malkin and her ilk wondered why he wasn't taught at one point to respecting the police, while black folk thought, "Is that man CRAZY? You don't shoot off your mouth to a cop; you can end up dead." in any case, Gates' Arrest Was Nothing Compared to Evan Howard's.

(Musical interlude: Pete Seeger - What Did You Learn In School?, with Words and Music by Tom Paxton
I learned that policemen are my friends.
I learned that justice never ends.
I learned that murderers die for their crimes.
Even if we make a mistake sometimes.)

So should we talk about race? HOW should we talk about race? I'm convinced there's more to be said but unclear about the methodology.


Saturday, August 08, 2009

John Hughes

I am certainly aware of the iconic nature of the John Hughes ouevre of the 1980s. Yet I am not all that well versed in it. Which is to say that I've never seen Molly Ringwald in a movie: no Sixteen Candles (1984), no The Breakfast Club (1985), no Pretty in Pink (1986). I've also managed to miss most of Hughes' other work.

So what HAVE I seen?

Delta House (1979), a short-lived TV show based on the movie National Lampoon's Animal House. Hughes as a writer. It was the most authentic of the Animal House derivatives, but none of them lasted for very long.

National Lampoon's Vacation (1983). Hughes as writer. Actually saw this in the theater, and recall enjoying it, though I probably haven't seen it since.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986). Hughes as writer/director/producer. I'm pretty sure I saw it only on commercial TV. I think I need to see it on video/DVD, because I see the clips and I'm not remembering them.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989). Hughes as writer/producer. Seem to see this on TV a lot during the holidays, though I don't know if I've ever watched it from beginning to end.

Home Alone (1990) and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992). Hughes as writer/producer. Both on commercial TV. The first one was mildly interesting, but the second one felt as though it was a retread.

Which brings me to my very favorite of the limited number of John Hughes movies I've seen, the only one besides Vacation I actually saw in the movie theater. A film I didn't know, or forgot, was a Hughes film:

Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)

If you've not seen it, it is the story of two unlikely traveling companions, played by Steve Martin as a tightly wound man and the late John Candy as a too chummy guy who seems oblivious to the Martin character's boundaries. It's very funny, yet quite poignant. Anyone who's ever had transportation difficulties will definitely relate. I haven't made my Top 100 movie list yet, but I suspect it will contain this film.

Now, I'll have to add some John Hughes to my Netflix list.