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Monday, November 30, 2009

Movies of the Aughts Meme

Jaquandor found this meme here and here. Perhaps I and/or they should have waited until 2009 was over at least, not unlike that 12/4 Entertainment Weekly edition which listed the famous people that died in 2009; nobody dies in December?

Anyway, the point of the exercise is to pick not "The Best" movies of 2000-2009, but one's favorite films. "This list means nothing, except to me. It's a list of 50 movies that gave me pleasure over the past decade. I can say without reservation that I would watch any of these again. Would I say that all of them are great films, however great films are supposed to be defined? Probably not. But that's nothing you need to worry about. Because it's my list."

In alphabetical order:

1. About a Boy
2. Almost Famous
3. Amélie
4. American Splendor*
5. Away From Her
6. Bend It Like Beckham
7. Best in Show*
8. Capote
9. Catch Me If You Can
10. Chicago*
11. Chicken Run
12. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
13. Erin Brockovich
14. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind*
15. Far From Heaven
16. Finding Nemo
17. Finding Neverland
18. The 40 Year-Old Virgin
19. High Fidelity*
20. An Inconvenient Truth
21. The Incredibles*
22. Iron Man
23. Juno
24. Little Miss Sunshine
25. Love Actually
26. Man On A Train
27. Mean Girls
28. Milk
29. Once
30. A Prairie Home Companion
31. Pride and Prejudice
32. Punch-Drunk Love
33. Requiem for a Dream*
34. The Rookie
35. The Savages
36. Sicko
37. Sideways
38. Spider-Man
39. Spider-Man 2*
40. Spirited Away
41. Spy Kids
42. The Squid and the Whale
43. The Station Agent*
44. Stranger Than Fiction*
45. Up
46. The Visitor
47. Volver
48. Waitress
49. Whale Rider
50. You Can Count On Me*

But, in fact, I have gotten into a pattern where I DON'T see movies a second time anymore, as I did in in the 1970s and 1980s; more movies, less time. The only film I saw even parts of more than once is The Incredibles. The movies asterisked comprise my "Top 10" list, using the same criteria.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

November Ramblin'

I've been thinking quite a bit about a couple recent podcasts by Arthur at AmeriNZ dealing with the topic, broadly stated: "Are online relationships 'real'?" I was talking over these podcasts with a couple guys I see on the bus each evening. One suggests that if the relationship generates an action from the other person, then it is a relationship.

Of course, it could be a one-sided relationship. Let's say you were following Ashton Kutcher on on Twitter and retweeted all of his best lines; unless Ashton reciprocated, it would really be much of a story. But when you are motivated to take some action, and they respond in kind, then certainly, some real human interaction is taking place. I see an article that I believe - because I listen to his podcast, read his blog - that Arthur would interested in for its content. And as often as not, Arthur acknowledges that in some way.

Here's the odd thing I experienced this fall. There's a guy in my office. He's a perfectly nice person. Someone sent out an e-mail asking if we wanted to contribute to a wedding gift. Oh, he's been engaged? Really? I had no idea. Now this guy sits about 20 feet from my desk, lives (somewhere) in my neighborhood. I say hi to him but I don't know anything about him, or he much about me, I suspect.

Whereas I know about Scott's sons, Nigel and new baby Ian, and Greg's daughters, Norah and Mia; they in turn know a bit about Lydia. I know more about Scott and Greg, and more importantly, interact with them more substantially, than I do the woman who I see on the bus every evening.
Wednesday, the wife had a follow-up oral surgery. After the ordeal last year, it seems that six of her lower teeth didn't have enough gum cover for six of her lower teeth. Without gums, the teeth could rot and fall out. So tissue was removed from one part of her mouth to create gum tissue. She's recovering amazingly well. The in-laws came to our house this year to help Carol and to celebrate Thanksgiving, which was fine.
I was doing research at work a couple months back, when I came across some New York State law:

EDN - Education
801 - Courses of instruction in patriotism and citizenship and in certain historic documents
§ 801. Courses of instruction in patriotism and citizenship and in certain historic documents. 1. In order to promote a spirit of patriotic and civic service and obligation and to foster in the children of the state moral and intellectual qualities which are essential in preparing to meet the obligations of citizenship in peace or in war, the regents of The University of the State of New York shall prescribe courses of instruction in patriotism, citizenship, and human rights issues, with particular attention to the study of the inhumanity of genocide, slavery (including the freedom trail and underground railroad), the Holocaust, and the mass starvation in Ireland from 1845 to 1850, to be maintained and followed in all the schools of the state. The boards of education and trustees of the several cities and school districts of the state shall require instruction to be given in such courses, by the teachers employed in the schools therein. All pupils attending such schools, over the age of eight years, shall attend upon such instruction.

I did not know that. Surely, this is law that must have been passed long after I attended school - though it seemed we did seem to spend a lot of time on the Irish potato famine. Just found it interesting and can only imagine certain people making political hay over it.
The bitter tears of Johnny Cash. The untold story of Johnny Cash, protest singer and Native American activist, and his feud with the music industry
Caring for Your Photographic Collections.
Hen House Five Plus Two's In the Mood actually Ray Stevens, the song that first informed me that all music can be done in chicken. The beginning of The Muppets' Bohemian Rhapsody was a reminder of same.
Wonderous invention.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

MOTOWN Question

Continuing the Berry Gordy, Jr./Motown groove:

There have been a number of artists that have appeared on Motown records, including its affiliated labels Tamla, Soul, Gordy, rare earth (yes, named for the band), Mowest and others. These artists include everyone from Sammy Davis Jr. to Soupy Sales to the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr; I actually own one of the latter.

The question is simple: who are your favorite Motown artists? OK, not so simple. Lots of artists only really thrived when they actually left Motown, notably Gladys Knight & the Pips and Michael Jackson. But you don't need to be as fussy about those boundaries as I inevitably will be.

1. Stevie Wonder - though he hasn't put out a great album in almost three decades, the albums he put out in the 1960s and especially the 1970s were among the finest ever made. Paul Simon, winning the 1975 Grammy for Album of the year specifically thanked Stevie Wonder for not putting out an album that year. Stevie was busy putting together the double album Songs in the Key of Life. Moreover, stevie still dorsd some decent performances.

2. The Temptations - In the the mid-1960s, they were largely backup singers for David Ruffin (My Girl). The big switch in producers from a wide variety of people, including Smokey Robinson, to Norman Whitfield, corresponded to Dennis Edwards replacing Ruffin, with the group then talking the five-vocalist motif (Can't Get Next To You). The group seemed to fade in the mid-1970s, but then were revitalized in the early 1980s with the brief reappearance of Ruffin and Eddie Kendrick, when I first saw them live.

3. The Supremes - I was a fan from that very first non-hits album Meet the Supremes, when Florence Ba;lard and Mary Wilson occasionally got a lead, through the big hits period, when the only time Diana Ross relinquished the lead was on some of the more oddball albums (We Remember Sam Cooke; Sing Country, western and Pop; A Bit of Liverpool; Sing Rogers & Hart). Then they became Diana Ross and..., as Flo was replaced by Cindy Birdsall. Diana left for a solo career, and Jean Terrell, gfor a time kept the Supremes on top.

4. Marvin Gaye - one of the most versatile artists, he was popular as both a session drummer early on, then both a solo artist and paired with female singers such as Mary Wells, Kim Weston and most notably Tammi Terrell. Like Wonder, Gaye's really came into his own when he fought with Berry Gordy to have more control over his career; the initial result was the What's Going On album. Though some of Gaye's material got a bit weird, dealing with his divorce in a most public and uncomfortable way, he got back to form with Sexual Healing*. *Yes, this was on Epic records, but it shows up on the Motown anthology.

5. The Jackson 5ive - I initially gave them the short shrift as a teeny-bopper. But the strength of the material, and the performers, carried the day.

6. The Four Tops - this group should rank higher, based just on the strength of the magnificent voice of Levi Stubbs. The problem, I think, is that after Holland-Dozier-Holland left the company, the group didn't get the good material.

7. Martha & the Vandellas - Most of the female groups got lost in the shadow of the Supremes; too bad, as groups like the Marvelettes and this group did some fine songs.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Berry Gordy is turning 80

Back in 1998, when I went to Detroit, I visited 2648 West Grand Boulevard. No, "visited" is not the right word; I made a pilgrimage to Hitsville USA, the house that served as the recording studio for a great number of artists recording for Motown Records. It is a physically unimpressive building, even dowdy, but it was the launching pad for a great amount of music that I own, tunes by Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, the Four Tops, the Temptations), Martha and the Vandellas, Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5ive, and the Supremes, among many others. The visionary for all of this was Berry Gordy, Jr.

Gordy, whose Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bio you can read here, developed songwriters, artists, and underappreciated backup musicians to create music that was not marginalized as "race music" or "soul music", but in fact became "The Sound of Young America." This is astonishing: "In 1966, the company’s 'hit ratio' - the percentage of records released that made the national charts - was 75%."

If you bought Motown ALBUMS, as opposed to singles in the 1960s, as I tended to do, you'll note that not occasionally, the same songs would make it onto more than one artist's LP. Famously, Gladys Knight & the Pips had a #2 single in 1967 (#1 on the R&B charts) with I Heard It Through the Grapevine; about a year later, Marvin Gaye had a massive #1 hit on both charts with the same song, albeit arranged quite differently, written by Barrett Strong and the late Norman Whitfield. It was the stable of songwriters, including Holland-Dozier-Holland, some of the singer-songwriters such as Robinson, Wonder and Gaye, and less well-known folks who may be the unsung heroes in the saga.

Another writer was Berry Gordy himself. Songs written or co-written by him include:
Do You Love Me by the Contours, covered by Temptations
Try It Baby by Marvin Gaye, covered by the Supremes and the Temptations
I'll Be There by the Four Tops
You've Made Me So Very Happy by Brenda Holloway, covered by Blood, Sweat & Tears
Money by Barrett Strong, covered by the Beatles and many others
You've Got What It Takes by Marv Johnson
I Want You Back, ABC, The Love You Save, Mama's Pearl, Maybe Tomorrow - all Jackson 5ive; songwriters billed as The Corporation (Gordy/Mizell/Richards/Perren)
Even pre-Motown, Gordy had written hits for the late Jackie Wilson, including Reet Petite and Lonely Teardrops

I refer you to this episode of the podcast Coverville, featuring the music of Motown and Berry Gordy; yes, the thank you in the notes (and the fulfilled request of Remove This Doubt by Elvis Costello, the cover of a song from The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland album) is in reference to me.

Also check out this article celebrating not only 50 years of Motown records but also another milestone; Berry Gordy turns 80 on November 28, 2009.

Picture from, "for personal non-commercial use only"

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Lydster, Part 68: the North Pole

If you are one of those people who just cannot STAND hearing Christmas music before Thanksgiving, or December 1, or the first day of winter, then I highly recommend that you NOT visit Santa's Workshop in North Pole, NY in mid-September, as our family did. Notice the Merry Christmas on the water mill.

Not only Christmas carols but parts of Messiah by Handel - "For Unto Us Is Born", e.g. - as well. As the website says, it was "founded in 1949 and designed by Arto Monaco. We are known as the forerunner of present day theme parks in the United States." And it most definitely felt like that, a pre-Disneyland theme park.

I must say that it was initially disappointing. It was not inexpensive ($17-$19 each) and many of the rides Lydia, at over four feet, was too tall to ride in. Of the two rides she could be on, she tried the (little) roller coaster (with me), and decided that she did not particularly enjoy it.Worse, a train that we ALL could have ridden through the park was closed for repairs.

Ultimately, what made it worthwhile for Lydia were the friendly clowns and animals and snowmen who performed musical bits periodically. It was a little schlocky - OK, it was a LOT schlocky - but it was earnest. There weren't that many attendees to these mini-shows and the clowns, e.g., would always go to the performances of their costume-clad colleagues.

Ultimately, it was a successful visit because we had a nice getaway from our usual Saturday routine of cleaning and shopping and laundry.

And Lydia got to go to the North Pole! The pole is not some painted stick; it is actually made of ice. This was actually a thrill for my wife, who went to the North Pole when SHE was a child and feared the frozen pole had been turned into a plastic replica. No way!

I should tell you about this production of the Christmas story, told on the loudspeakers, with clearly young actors performing the roles of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the Wise Men. Even from the distance - they were up the hill from the little amphitheater we were sitting in - you can tell that at least some of them were cracking up, though they tried to hide it.

But the high point in the trip for the child was Lydia playing on swings, playground equipment and this container of plastic balls she could wade in, things she could do on the local playground or the local McDonald's. She had a good time, so we had a good time too.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving QUESTIONS

1. What has been your Thanksgiving tradition? Do you travel? Do people travel to see you? approximately how many people are present?
2. How do you feel about Thanksgiving? Stressed about cleaning or the "perfect" turkey?
3. Do you think having a holiday denoting thanks is a good idea, or are you of the school that we should be thankful ALL the time?
4. what are you most thankful for right now?

For the past decade Thanksgiving has usually meant going to my parents-in-law's house 75 minutes away. It's them, us, a couple cousins, and sometimes a neighbor or two. Interesting how it has evolved since I first went to my not yet in-law's house in 1994, when all four of the adult children always came home to see Mom & Dad. One is now deceased and the others are married with children with one having far distance to travel.

Thanksgiving used to be the most stressful time of the year. Between 1974 and 1993, I probably was at at least 17 different venues. Thanksgiving tended to magnify the unsettledness of my life.

Of course we should always be thankful. And of course we ae not. A day designed to do that doesn't seem like a terrible idea.

I'm most grateful that I no longer have a gypsy existence on the fourth Thursday in November. Oh yeah, and my wife and my child and my friends and my family and my job...

Pictures from

President Dwight D. Eisenhower carving the Thanksgiving turkey while Mamie, John & the rest of the family are cheerfully looking on.
Date taken: November 1953
Photographer: George Skadding

FDR At Thanksgiving
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt w. his wife Eleanor, serving Thanksgiving turkey to polio patients who drew lots to see who would sit at the Pres.'s table in Georgia Hall at Warm Springs Foundation.
Location: Warm Springs, GA, US
Date taken: November 1938
Photographer: Margaret Bourke-White

Danny Kaye
Thanksgiving Parade
Photographer: Yale Joel

Children eating Thanksgiving dinner at the Great Britain headquarters.
Location: United Kingdom
Date taken: 1942
Photographer: David E. Scherman


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving: turkey

The wife and I got a Thanksgiving e-card last week, one of those Jacquie Lawson things in which the pumpkin's scooped out to make a pumpkin pie; it gets baked, and a slice with whipped cream is available. And on the top a message saying, "Happy thanksgiving!

Well, you can't really read much of the enclosed message, only three lines at a time. This one says:

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Both because we'll be busy over the next few weeks,
and because i am not sure how frequently everyone
on the list checks their email, I am sending this out

As we approach Thanksgiving we realize that we are
very thankful that some of the ancesters of all of
our Jewish friends had refused to acknowledge and
accept that Jesus Christ was, is and always will be
the Messiah - our Lord and Savior. By their denial,
we gentiles were invited 'in'.What incredible mercy
and grace to know that we will now not perish
whenever the world as we know it ends, but that as
long as we have admitted we are sinners, asked for
forgiveness; repented and continue to be believe on the
Lord Jesus Christ, that we will be saved from the
firey lake...when the judgment day comes. We are
thankful to them - and to Him.
Much Love to all,

(The spelling is in the original.)

I was floored. Not only was it amazingly, and almost gleefully, anti-Semitic, it was also theologically daft. In the Bible I read, Jesus came, was crucified and was resurrected so that everyone, Jew and Gentile, could follow. Whether or not Jews 1900 years ago accepted or didn't accept Jesus as the Messiah is utterly irrelevant.

This would be less problematic if it didn't come from people we need to deal with on a regular basis. Oy.
I went food shopping for Thanksgiving on Saturday with the daughter. There were only a couple little wrinkles:
1. I lost the shopping list. Must have set it down when I put on my hat, as I found it as soon as I got home. So I forgot about a third of the items on the list, by count but not by cost.
2. I forgot the discount card from the store. This is not insignificant, as it cut the cost of the turkey in half. So I kept on shopping and counted on the kindness of strangers, in particular, one stranger in front of me in line, to use HIS card, and that worked.
And the third problem, this one not entirely of my making.
3. I had one of those personal metal shopping carts to wield the food home. Unfortunately, one of the wheels came off in the parking lot. This had happened before and was fixed, but evidently, not adequately. Thus I'm holding up the cart where the wheel should be, and three days later, my back is STILL aching from the trip. I should note that the daughter had another cart, and she was very helpful.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Meme of Solace

I'm sure the title refers to a James Bond film; I'm swiping this from SamauraiFrog.

List 10 musical artists (or bands) you like, in no specific order (do this before reading the questions below). Really, don’t read the questions below until you pick your ten artists!!!

There is something to be said for following the instructions in this case.

1. The Beatles
2. The Beach Boys
3. David Bowie
4. The Rascals
5. The Rolling Stones
6. Linda Ronstadt
7. The Supremes
8. The Temptations
9. Talking Heads
10. The Police

What was the first song you ever heard by 6?

Something early, probably "Different Drum".

What is your favorite song of 8?

"I Can't Get Next To You". From the rowdy opening to the Sly Stone-inspired shared vocals.

What kind of impact has 1 left on your life?

Massive. I have a ton of their albums, both as a group and as solo artists. I know arcane things about their album releases. People say to me, "What album is X song on?" and far more often than not, I'll say "American or British album?" And then peg both of them. There's a picture of Lennon in my office and a photo of the Imagine imagine from NYC in my house.

What is your favorite lyric of 5?

Probably the chorus of "You Can't Always Get What You Want". "But if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need." From Let It Bleed, probably my favorite Stones album. The organ noodling of this song during the early funeral sequence of The Big Chill cracked me up, while others in the audience wondered why.

How many times have you seen 4 live?

Never, though I've seen them live on TV once or twice.

What is your favorite song by 7?

"Love Is Like An Itchin' In My Heart". What an insistent bass line. there's a version that's about 30 seconds longer than the single I particularly enjoy.

Is there any song by 3 that makes you sad?

Ashes to Ashes
Time and again I tell myself
I'll stay clean tonight
But the little green wheels are following me
Oh no, not again

What is your favorite song by 9?

"Making Flippy Floppy", probably because I saw the Talking Heads during the Speaking in Tongues tour in 1983 or 1984 at SPAC in Saratoga.

When did you first get into 2?

It's really odd, actually. I had a compilation album with I Get Around and Don't Worry Baby in 1965, and the Pet Sounds album in 1966, both of which I liked. But I never considered myself a real Beach Boys fan until I got Surf's Up, which was a mainstay of my freshman year in college, 1971-72. THEN I went back and got into the earlier music, and bought the retrospective albums that came out in the mid-1970s.

How did you get into 3?

I was in my dorm room in my freshman year and somehow won Hunky Dory from my college radio station, WNPC on a radio call-in contest. I liked almost all of it; my roommate Ron only liked Changes.

What is your favorite song by 4?

"It's Love", the last song on the Groovin' album, featuring flute by Hubert Laws, plus a great bass line. When I got a new turntable in 1987, the track ran so close to the label that the album would reject before the song would end; drove me nuts. Actually bought the CD five years ago largely for this one song.

How many times have you seen 9 live?

Once, but it was one of the two greatest shows of my life, along with the Temptations in 1980 or 1981.

What is a good memory concerning 2?

A mixed memory actually. I had this friend named Donna George, and I bought her the Beach Boys box set. Before she died of brain cancer a few years ago, she assigned another friend of hers and me to divvy up her music. I took the Beach Boys box, and I always remember her when I play it.

Is there a song by 8 that makes you sad?

The Temptations with a Lot o' Soul is full of melancholy songs, but I'll pick No More Water in the Well.

What is your favorite song of 1?

A truly impossible question. Seriously. It's dependent on mood, what I've listened to recently. I'll say Got to Get You Into My Life, but reserve the right to change that.

How did you become a fan of 10?

Almost certainly listening to WQBK-FM, Q-104 in Albany, NY, a truly great station that also turned me onto the Talking Heads, the Clash and a lot of other music of the late 1970s and early 1980s.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW: My One and Only

Hmm. It appears that the movie My One and Only is now available on DVD at least at Target and from Blockbuster. Odd, since I just saw it on Veterans Day at the Spectrum Theatre and in fact it is STILL playing there once a day.
The movie is about Anne Deveraux (Renée Zellweger) who, discovering her philandering husband, Dan (Kevin Bacon) in the act, decides to take her two sons, George (Logan Lerman) and Robbie (Mark Rendall) on an adventure which largely consists of traveling from city to city trying to find a husband for herself. In their "adventure" from their home in New York to Boston to Pittsburgh to St. Louis and eventually Hollywood, she finds guys (played by, among others, Steven Weber and Chris Noth), who seem promising at first.

This is a pleasant enough film. The problem is that, at least until they get to St. Louis, I always thought I was watching Renée rather than Anne. Also the situations had a certain sameness - Robbie gets in the school play, Robbie leaves before the production can be mounted. The other problem is that I thought the travelogue of 1950s-style postcards, which happens in the very beginning of the film - my reveal was hardly a spoiler - both tells too much and seems to be trying too hard to prove the movie is authentic to the period.

Still, the latter part of the film is the most satisfying. You may know that this is the largely true story about a noted actor. I had heard this before I watched it but I had forgotten; it was more satisfying not knowing. This is one of those two and a half stars out of four flicks. Oh, and if you do see it, avoid the trailer - it's on the movie's website - which, as these things do, reveals WAY too much.
I've had a particularly busy stretch. Saturday, November 14, we had the dress rehearsal of the Faure requiem, after four Sunday night rehearsals. Then Saturday night, our friends couldn't go to to the Albany Symphony and gave us their tickets. So we arranged for a babysitter and went to the Palace Theatre in Albany. On the way in, we happened to see the conductor scurrying to the locale from a pre-concert talk.

The first piece is almost always new, sometimes avant garde, and occasionally just peculiar. Stacy Garrop's Becoming Medusa, a tone poem, was not only listenable, she actually described the piece competently; too often, I've heard composers offer an incoherent rambling. She is the Mellon-supported Composer-Educator Partner.

But the star of the evening was George Li, the pianist on Saint Saëns' Piano Concerto No. 2. He showed energy, passion and lyricism in his play. Did I mention he was only 14, and looked about 11? We saw him on our way out of the theater.

Everyone in the audience was offered a glass of wine during intermission, after which, Brahms Symphony No. 2 was performed, which, according to the program "features one of the greatest of all cello melodies in its second movement."
Sunday afternoon, the Faure, which went well.
Sunday night, Lydia got sick. She coughed all night, and I could not sleep all night; there IS a correlation. So I stayed home with her Monday all day and half of Tuesday. Played Uno to 1000 (she won) - do you know how long it can take to play Uno to 1000? and also Sorry and Candyland; she's well enough to need to be occupied. Took her to the doctor on Monday; he recommended a cough syrup I had previously tried, to no great effect, but I tried it again Monday night. She, almost immediately, threw up. Then a few minutes later, threw up again, which was actually, from a medical POV, productive, as she FINALLY stopped coughing.

But I felt obliged to tell the in-laws who were going to watch Lydia Tuesday night, and they opted out.
So we had tickets to see The 39 Steps at Proctors Tuesday night, but no babysitter. Carol tried to find friends to go with her to the show, but was ultimately unsuccessful. So I asked my friend the Hoffinator at 4:15 pm if she wanted to go, and she said yes. Had a great time; the review of the show is here.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Musical Coolness and Lack Thereof QUESTIONS

There was an interesting article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal about Tom Petty: Rock God Or Mere Mortal? "As Tom Petty prepares to release a career-spanning anthology next week, an attempt to determine where he falls in the music pantheon."

The basic premise is that though he sold a lot of records, maybe because he was prolific with the pop hook, he just seems to lack the "cool" quotient. I'm thinking the way Huey Lewis & the News, even in the height of their success, was uncool. Whereas the late Johnny Cash, on whose second American Recording Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers played on, was "cool".

This has less to do with talent or chart success as it does with the artist shaking things up musically, as Elvis Costello or Bruce Springsteen were known to do.

There was a chart on the page suggesting coolness, from uncool to very cool, which looked roughly like this (there was also a loudness axis): Bob Seger, Neil Diamond, Billy Joel (sorry, SamuraiFrog), John Mellencamp, AC/DC, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Pretenders, Eagles, Jimmy Buffet. Carlos Santana is about in the middle. Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello, Rolling Stones, James Taylor, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, David Byrne, Neil Young, Nick Cave.

First, do you agree with the ranking? I always thought Pretenders were cooler, and James Taylor, not so much. Neil Diamond put an album with producer Rick Rubin a couple years ago, which always seems to enhance the cool factor; it certainly worked for Cash.

Secondly, where would you place Petty on the list? He's played with George Harrison, Dylan and the aforementioned Cash. He put together his old band Mudcrutch and put out a decent album a couple years ago. I'd say he was at least as "cool" as the Stones, who would be cooler without most of their output of the last couple decades.

Finally, what other artists do you think fall on the "uncool" pantheon unfairly, or on the "cool" list unjustifiably? Let's face it: Jeff Lynne, even as a Wilbury, has never been particularly cool. But I always thought Linda Ronstadt, who moved from genre to genre, was more cool than she was given credit for.


Friday, November 20, 2009


Here are some issues I've been musing about,. some happened a couple weeks ago but are still in my head.

New York State passed a no texting while driving law that became effective November 1. While I'm very much in favor of people not multitasking in that fashion, I'm not all that excited by the passage of more legislation that can be routinely ignored. Perhaps those who always follow the law will abide, and maybe those who've decided even before the law that texting while driving is unsafe. But, based on the (non-)enforcement of the no cellphone law, the only benefit will be something to charge a driver with ifwhen an accident occurs, the authorities will be able to charge the driver with additional violations.

Racialicious had an interesting article I’m for gay rights, but...; the topic was also discussed on the podcast Addicted to Race, episode 125, which describes the "oppression Olympics": essentially who is more oppressed, blacks or gays, and why that whole mindset is so wrong. In the episode, the panel discussed Martin Luther King Jr's daughter's recent declaration that her father "didn’t take a bullet for same-sex unions." Meanwhile the late Coretta Scott King had shown support for the rights of all, including gays. As the show notes ask: "Why is it that marginalized people fight each other over scraps, instead of uniting to work toward justice for all?" Sounds like a reasonable strategy to me.
Only recently did I get to watch the Sunday morning talk shows from two days before Election Day. It is very instructive to listen to most of the predictions in the House race in NY-23, which "everybody knows" was going to the Conservative. Except, of course, it didn't. One Republican operative in particular was complaining how 11 Republican county chairpersons could pick a candidate, suggesting that it's undemocratic. Well, it is, but it's also the way the Democratic candidate was picked. When Kirsten Gillibrand replaced Hillary Clinton in the US Senate, the county chairs in her district picked the candidates, but the winner stands only until the next election, in 2010. (For that matter, Gillibrand also has to run in 2010, and if she wins, in 2012, when the seat would normally be up.)

That race was a perfect example of why Instant Runoff Voting would have been helpful, as I noted here. For that matter, IRV would have clarified the New Jersey governor's race. One pundit noted that the third party candidate faded, "as they always do." But the reason isn't their qualifications, it's their perceived win-ability.

Speaking of Election Day, Jason at 2political, among others, noted this peculiar trend in Virginia gubernatorial races. In the last three decades, when there is one party elected President, the very next year, the Virginia governor is elected from the other party:
CARTER 1976 (D); John N. Dalton 1977 Republican
REAGAN 1980 (R); Chuck Robb 1981 Democratic
REAGAN 1984 (R); Gerald L. Baliles 1985 Democratic
BUSH 41 1988 (R); Douglas Wilder 1989 Democratic
CLINTON 1992 (D); George Allen 1993 Republican
CLINTON 1996 (D); Jim Gilmore 1997 Republican
BUSH 43 2000 (R); Mark Warner 2001 Democratic
BUSH 43 2004 (R); Tim Kaine 2005 Democratic
OBAMA 2008 (D); Bob McDonnell 2009 Republican
So it's difficult to see any repudiation of Obama in the Virginia race. Not to mention that the Democrats picked a lousy candidate.

Speaking of repudiating Obama, I was baffled that Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos of ABC News were baffled by two recent polls. One showed about a 57% support for the public option; the other showed that the majority of Americans oppose Obama's handling of the health care issue. They seemed to assume that opposition to Obama on the issue would only come from the right. In fact, if I had been asked, I would have said the same thing: that I oppose Obama's handling of health care, not because it contains a public option but because single payer got taken off the table much too easily. And, absent single payer, I support the public option.

As for the bill that DID get passed by the House, what SamuraiFrog said, particularly with regards to abortion, applies to me too. And there's no guarantee that the wuss of a House bill will even make it through the Senate in any meaningful way.

I got an important e-mail this week:

Become a Charter Member of the Bush Presidential Center
I don't have to remind you how America was tested time and again-at home and abroad-during the eight defining years of the George W. Bush presidency.
The difficult decisions President Bush made in the face of each challenge were rooted in the core principles he held throughout his years of public service—the fundamental values that have guided America since her founding: Freedom . . . Opportunity . . . Responsibility . . . Compassion.
Now President and Mrs. Bush—with the support of many patriotic Americans like you—are taking on a new challenge. They are continuing their personal commitment to advancing these enduring principles through the George W. Bush Presidential Center.
The Center will uniquely integrate the records of a national archive, the thematic exhibits of a presidential museum, and the intellectual capital of a research-based policy institute to transform ideas into action.
The George W. Bush Presidential Center will continue to advance the ideals and core principles that shaped his presidency during a defining period in America's history.
Please accept this invitation to stand with President and Mrs. Bush by becoming a Charter Member of this vibrant, multi-disciplinary Center.
Thank you for your support.
Hon. Mark Langdale
George W. Bush Foundation

"Principles"? Er, thanks, but no thanks.
A lot more pictures like the ones above can be found here.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

S is for Smoking

I am of an age when I could, and did, go to the corner store, O'Leary's, when I was five years old and buy for my father a pack, or even a carton, of Winston cigarettes. Of course, I'm also old enough to have seen cigarette advertising on U.S. television, even featuring popular TV cartoon characters.

They were insidious, those cigarette ad. Nearly 40 years after they were banned from the radio and TV airways, I can still tell you that LSMFT translates to Lucky Strike means fine tobacco! I recall that "You can take Salem out of the country, can't take the country out of Salem." Whenever I hear the theme for the movie The Magnificent Seven by Elmer Bernstein, I feel that I'm in Marlboro Country.

Country - a recurring theme. Cigarettes, in addition to being "cool" - there was, or maybe is, a brand called "Kool" - were also supposed to be refreshing, relaxing, rather like the great outdoors. But a study from last year suggests otherwise. Pew Social & Demographic Trends notes Smokers Can’t Blow Off Stress

Ask cigarette smokers why they light up and one answer you’re likely to hear is that it relieves stress.

But if that’s the goal, it’s not at all clear that cigarettes deliver the goods. Half (50%) of all smokers say they “frequently” experience stress in their daily lives, compared with just 35% of those who once smoked and have now quit and 31% of those who never smoked, according to a Pew Research Center Social & Demographic Trends survey conducted June 16-July 16, 2008 among a nationally representative sample of 2,250 adults.

The finding raises as many questions as answers. Does it mean that the kinds of people who smoke are predisposed to stress? Does it mean that the stress relief smokers get while smoking doesn’t last once they don’t have a cigarette in hand? Or might it mean that the whole idea that smoking relieves stress is illusory?

And more recent reports confirm what I've instinctively known since I was a child: second-hand smoke causes harm As I got older, I started to refuse to buy my father cigarettes, and he got to be all right with that. But then I would steal his cigarettes, not for my own consumption, but in the vain attempt to make cigarette smoking so expensive -they were about 35 cents (U.S.) a pack at the time - that he would cut back or even quit. No, he eventually would say,"Roger, give me back my damn cigarettes." I was a lousy thief.

But I have a far too sensitive nose. I will wait in the rain rather than share a bus kiosk with someone who is smoking. In my building, there are about a half dozen women who all take their cigarette break together; it's tolerable to take the elevator down with them, but after they've sat outside puffing away - let's just say, I'd rather take the stairs back than share an elevator with them.

Kissing smokers is not my favorite thing.

My father stopped smoking briefly when he developed emphysema in his 40s, but when he became asymptomatic, he returned to his habit, which frankly really ticked me off.

He finally stopped a few years later by saying that he wasn't quitting, but that he hadn't had a cigarette today. then another day. And another until it reached the last 27 years or so of his life.

Thursday, November 19 is the date of the Great American Smokeout. But you don't have to choose that date, or even be an American, to set to... quit smoking...for at least one day. And maybe, the day after that.

Pictures once again from


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

R is for Roger

The picture above was taken by my friend the Hoffinator when she was visiting mutual friends in Asheville, NC.

I must admit to loving the name Roger. It's not too common, not too rare. It's been on the 1000 most popular male names of babies in the United States ever since the Social Security Administration was able to post records of this, tracking back to 1880. At #463 in 2008, it is actually up five slots from the previous year. Indeed, it was in the Top 100 between 1921 and 1975, hitting its peak of 22 in 1945; I can't help but think that its popularity came from "Roger that" or "Roger, over and out" from the World War II years.

Here, in roughly chronological order of my awareness, are some of the people named Roger who have been important to me. (All pictures below courtesy of, "for personal non-commercial use only".

Roger Maris: We're talking baseball here. In 1961, the New York Yankees' right fielder Roger Maris and center fielder were both pursuing Babe Ruth's seemingly unbreakable record of 60 home runs set in 1927. The fans seemed OK with Mantle breaking the record; he came up through the Yankees farm system (i.e., minor-league affiliation), but he got injured and ended up with "only" 54 homers that year. Maris, though, was traded to the Yankees from the Kansas City A's before the 1960 season and wasn't considered enough of a REAL Yankee, or for that matter, a legitimate star, to break the record. So even before he broke Ruth's record, the baseball commissioner, Ford Frick, a Ruth worshiper, muddied the waters by suggesting that since the record had been broken in a 162-game season, whereas Ruth played in a 154-game season, it was somehow tainted.
I for one was rooting for Roger - I mean he was a Roger - and he broke the record on the last day of the season.
Picture: September 1961, during that noted season.
Fact: Roger Maris got traded to the St. Cardinals in 1967 and won his third World Series ring that very season.

Roger Miller: One of the very first LPs - LPs being long-playing musical albums, on vinyl - I ever bought was Golden Hits: Roger Miller. It was a fun, country-laden album with hits such as Chug-A-Lug, Dang Me (sample lyrics: "My pappy was a pistol; I'm a son of a gun." and England Swings, plus the big hit King Of The Road. I bought a subsequent album that included Husbands and Wives, with the lyrics, It's my belief,
Pride is the chief cause and the decline
in the number of husbands and wives.

Great line, even if it rhymes "pride" and "decline".
Picture: playing guitar & singing as he sits on couch next to coffee table displaying 5 Grammy awards, at his Hollywood home in 1965.
Fact: Posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1995, three years after he died.

Roger Bannister: The British track star was the first person to run a mile in under four minutes. He set the record on May 6, 1954, but I did not become familiar with him until about a decade later. Not only did he break through the time and psychological barrier with a time of 3 min 59.4 sec. then Australian John Landy beat Bannister's record. Next time Bannister and Landy ran head-to-head, they BOTH broke four minutes, with Bammister winning the race.
Picture: taken May 1951, I don't know the venue. Perhaps the Penn Relays?
Fact: Bannister became a distinguished neurologist, who retired in 2001.

Roger Chaffee: The Apollo missions, following the successful Mercury (one-man) and Gemini (two-man) flights into space for the United States, were three-man trips designed eventually to get man to the moon. Unfortunately, Roger Chaffee was killed, along with fellow astronauts Gus Grissom and Ed White during a training exercise for the Apollo 1 mission at the Kennedy Space Center, January 27, 1967. I was personally devastated by this and thought the accident would put the kibosh on plans to go to the moon; apparently not.
Picture: taken October 1963
Fact: There's a Chaffee crater on the dark side of the moon.

Roger McGuinn (center): The leader of the band that, after Bob Dylan "went electric", popularized folk-rock music with Dylan-penned songs such as Mr. Tambourine Man and All I Really Want To Do, and Pete Seeger's Turn! Turn! Turn! The Byrds bounced back and forth among genres from psychedelic rock (Eight Miles High) to country (Sweethearts of the Rodeo album), with an ever-changing lineup.
Picture: the original Byrds -(l-r) Mike Clarke, David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, Gene Clark in 1991.
Fact: The Byrds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991; I'm guessing the picture is from an event associated with the induction.

Roger Mudd: even as a kid, I was a sucker for the news. And mostly it was the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. The weekend anchor and Cronkite's primary fill-in was Roger Mudd, a solid newsman who reported on everything from the Civil Rights movement, including the historic March on Washington in 1963, to 1971's the Selling of the Pentagon. He was on the scene when Robert Kennedy was shot in 1968, and his 1979 interview with Ted Kennedy pretty much derailed the Senator's campaign for the Presidency. Passed over to succeed Cronkite, he moved over to NBC News, then PBS.
Picture: TV image of the CBS newscaster giving analysis of President Nixon's resignation speech in August 1974.
Fact: Roger is distantly related to Samuel Mudd, the doctor who was imprisoned for aiding and conspiring with John Wilkes Booth after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Roger Daltry: early in my listening to rock and roll, I was familiar with the group The Who and songs such as My Generation, I Can See For Miles and Magic Bus. But it wasn't until the "rock opera" Tommy, followed by the extraordinary album Who's Next (Baba O'Riley with the line "teenage wasteland"; Behind Blue Eyes; and Won't Get Fooled Again) that I started really differentiating the members of the group. The lead singer, with the golden locks, was Roger Daltry.
Picture: from 1991. I SWEAR I owned bolo tie just like this one.
Fact: The Who entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Roger Ebert (center): There was this movie review show on PBS (public television) featuring this skinny guy named Gene Siskel and the more round Roger Ebert who I just loved to watch. Later, they became syndicated and their popularity and influence grew until Gene's untimely death in 1999. Roger Ebert continued on, eventually pairing with Richard Roeper until mid-2006, when "he suffered post-surgical complications related to thyroid cancer which left him unable to speak," and lost considerable weight in the process. While he no longer appears on the air, I read his columns regular, now more for his non-movie observations about death and race and politics than for his reviews.
Picture: not described, but the guy on the right is the late Walter Cronkite.
Fact: In June 2005, Roger Ebert was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a first for a critic.

When I was born, my father had told his cousins that he was working on my name, Roger Owen Green, making sure the initials, ROG, could serve as my nickname. As far as I knew, I was not named for anyone. But after my father died in 2000, the family came across a bunch of postcards from a guy named Roger from around 1961, where he worked at a Presbyterian church in New Jersey. They weren't mailed to our house but to a place called The Interracial Center, 45 Carroll Street, Binghamton, NY, where my father used to volunteer. Very mysterious.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My Mom's Birthday

My mother's birthday is today. When I went down to visit her and other members of the family in Charlotte, NC back in June, I was reminded of the fact that I am happy that she's had the opportunity to get to know my daughter. This is particularly true since Lydia never got to meet my father, since he died almost four years before she was born. But it really is not adequate. Lydia knows her, and my sisters, for that matter, more from pictures than from personal relationships. Whereas my in-laws she sees with a fair frequency. At some fundamental level, I'm jealous of this fact.

My mother goes to an adult day care every weekday. I believe it has been tremendously helpful in engaging her mind, which is important at her vintage.

As I noted before, my mother, sister and niece were in a car crash a couple weeks ago. They're OK physically. But the vehicle was totaled, and the amount of money they'll get from the insurance will be inadequate to get as comparable used vehicle.

I was having a conversation with someone recently, and the question was whether either of us had been knocked unconscious. I had, twice. The second time was the car accident I was in when I was 19. The first was when I was pitching in a sandlot baseball game, when I was 10 or 11, and the batter, who was the older sister of one of my sister's friends, hit the ball straight back to me, hitting me on or near my left temple. My mom stayed up with me all night, waking me up periodically to make sure that if I had a concussion, it didn't lapse into something worse, which was the recommended treatment at the time. My parents may have called the doctor, but I'm almost positive we didn't go to the doctor's, but instead engaged in that course of treatment. I'm sure she did lots of other things that moms unselfishly do, but this is the strongest recollection that came to mind.

These pictures were taken in the Bojangles Coliseum parking; my niece Alex's high school graduation was held at the center.


Monday, November 16, 2009

The Strange Question Meme, Part 1

Ah, the Faure concert went well yesterday, but I got more comments about the fact that I was wearing a suit than the music. "He cleans up nice." "You're so HANDSOME." "I didn't know you could look so good." That sort of thing.

Saturday night, the wife and I went to the Albany Symphony Orchestra at the palace theatre. George Li, a 14-year-old pianist was astonishing on a Saint-Saens symphony. he also played a nice Chopin solo piece as an encore. And he looks 11. we saw David Allen Miller on our way into the theater, and young George, who looks about 11, on the way out.
In case you've never heard the Dylan tune Gates of Eden.
Strange Questions, Part 1. Expect a part 2 someday.

1. What is the color of your toothbrush?

It's one of those electric jobs. White with blue trim.

2. Name one person who made you smile today.

Dick Morris. Sends out all that Rethug garbage. It's all so silly.

3. What were you doing at 8 am this morning?

Well, yesterday I was taking a shower; today I'll be playing racquetball, I hope.

4. What were you doing 45 minutes ago?


5. What is your favorite candy bar?

Regular old Hershey's chocolate bar.

6. Have you ever been to a strip club?

No. (I understand that one-word answers just aren't adequate for these, and that I should elaborate.) Don't think the opportunity ever came up (why does that seem sordid?), and at this point, I'm just not interested.

7. What is the last thing you said aloud?

"Is it morning already?"

8. What is your favorite ice cream? How to choose?

Srtrawberry. Generally, fruit over anything else, though I HATE faux banana flavorings.

9. What was the last thing you had to drink?


10. Do you like your wallet?

I hate my wallet. I hate the need for a wallet. I didn't have one for the longest time. Then I was in Savannah, GA with my father and I dropped a $10 bill. So he bought me one. Now I can just lose the wallet and be out ID, credit cards and cash en masse.

11. What was the last thing you ate?

Ritz crackers.

12. Have you bought any new clothing items this week?

Well, nine days ago, but I didn't actually pick up the black suit for yesterday's Faure requiem concert until Saturday.

13. The last sporting event you watched?

Last 15 minutes of some football game.

14. What is your favorite flavor of popcorn?

Plain, with butter.

15. Who is the last person you sent a text message to?

Je ne comprends pas.

16. Ever go camping?

Yes. Didn't like.

17. Do you take vitamins daily?

Yes, and they are for men over 50 and have the word "senior" in the title, which you can imagine makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. They're chewable.

18. Do you go to church every Sunday?

Most Sundays, unless I'm sick or away. Occasionally, I'll go to church when I'm away.

19. Do you have a tan?

No. In fact, I burn very easily since the vitiligo, and I avoid the sun as much as possible. Sunscreen, hat and sunglasses are de rigeur.

20. Do you prefer Chinese food over pizza?

Probably, but eat pizza far more often. Chinese food ten to have nuts and peanuts, and the child is allergic to peanuts.

21. Do you drink your soda with a straw?

Occasionally. But chocolate milk? Almost always.

22. What did your last text message say?

If I have one, I have no idea how to retrieve it.

23. What are you doing tomorrow?

Same as it ever was.

24. Favorite color?


25. Look to your left; what do you see?

A window with the shades drawn, a radiator, and some boxes.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Another FantaCo Recollection

Gates of Eden (May 1982) was arguably the best thing FantaCo Enterprises of Albany, NY, where I worked from 1980-1988, ever put out. Had a great Michael Kaluta cover, and work by John Byrne, Steve Leialoha, Michael T. Gilbert, Trina Robbins, Fred Hembeck, Foolbert Sturgeon, Lee Marrs, Jeff Jones, P. Craig Russell, Rick Geary, Kim Deitch, Spain, Sharon Rudahl, Gary Hallgren, and John Caldwell. It was also a disaster commercially. Comic blog impresario Alan David Doane has put together some memories of Gates of Eden,; the title was inspired by Bob Dylan. See what Christopher Allen, my Internet buddy Johnny Bacardi, and yes, I had to say about it here.

I was looking at the FantaCo Wikipedia page recently and it occurred to me that someone should do a Wikipedia page for the late Raoul Vezina. Not only did he do the Smilin' Ed series for FantaCo, he also worked on New Paltz Comix with the aforementioned Michael T. Gilbert. With Don Rittner as writer, Raoul drew a series of Naturalist At Large cartoons, many of which I had bnever seen before.

It came out a while ago, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't still be plugging Fred Hembeck's 900-page anthology again. It includes Fred's seven magazines published by FantaCo, plus about 700 MORE pages of goodness.
My, I've been feeling crummy the last four days. And I'm supposed to sing this afternoon. I've had a range of about a half an octave; wish me luck.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Money Comes In, the Money Goes Out QUESTIONS

I got a little raise back in September. This is a good thing.
I look at the out-of-pocket premiums for my health insurance for 2010. This is not such a good thing.

The amount I pay every two weeks has been gradually increasing, usually up $3 or $5 each year. But this time it went from $117 to $139.

Well, at least my family and I HAVE health insurance. As this report shows, that's not always the case, particularly as unemployment rises. And this was better than the years when the rates went up AND the copays as well.

In those periods when I've been unemployed and/or uninsured and I was eligible for COBRA, I NEVER took it. What does one do - spend the rent money on health insurance, or hope not to get sick? Every study I've seen in recent years suggest that it is medical bills, not excessive spending on the Xbox, that is driving the most people into bankruptcy.

Oh, and one of my credit cards, one I actually don't use often, just raised its rates from an already hefty 15.9% (which is why I didn't use it much), to a ridiculous 23.9%. According to articles such as 2009 Checking Study: Bank fees take flight and A Squeeze on Customers Ahead of New Rules, it's happening all over the place.

So the questions:

1. Are you seeing your health insurance premiums and/or copays going up? Or if you are one of the uninsured, how do you decide when to go to the doctor/hospital?

2. Are you seeing staggeringly high interest rates or fees on your credit cards? What actions (negotiating with the credit card company, dropping the card) have you taken? I'm going to call mine, threaten to cancel, and see what happens.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Abortion on Television

I was watching - don't ask me why, it's unexplainable - the ABC drama Private Practice the other day. Here's a piece of the recap

{My comments in brackets.]
Violet [the therapist] has trouble bonding with her baby boy when feelings from her [brutal, gratuitously shown] attack [removing her baby from her womb] resurface at a rape counseling session [for a couple]. She [Violet] cannot even look at him [her baby]. She is reminder of her attack every time she looks at him. The rape victim wants to keep her child [from her rape] but her husband does not. Violet tells her how she feels about her baby every time she looks at him. The patient decides to abort the baby.

Ah...after she realizes she's inflicted her own values onto her patient, Violet calls the couple in again, real discussion takes place, as the husband asks his wife what she really wants to do. While it's not spelled out, it seems pretty clear that the abortion will not happen.

After I watched this, I was reminded of a blogpost a few months ago by Greg Burgas about the now-canceled ABC soapy drama Dirty Sexy Money, where the heiress, Karen Darling, finally hooks up with her childhood sweetheart, but finds herself pregnant by her former finance. She goes to the abortion clinic with her mother, but ends deciding to keep the baby.

It seems that others besides Greg have been asking this question for a while: does anyone actually HAVE an abortion on television anymore? Between this 2004 New York Times piece and this 2005 Village Voice piece, it seems nobody actually gets an abortion on American TV, even if initially think they will. The only exceptions I could find since Maude in the early 1970s were Everwood and Six feet Under, though there may have been some on the daytime or nighttime soap operas.

More likely is what happened on Sex in the City where Carrie plans to accompany Miranda to her abortion, but Miranda ultimately bails. Now some TV characters may have had abortions in the past (Carrie on SITC, Violet on Private Practice), but it was a long time ago. No wonder that New York Times article is titled "Television's Most Persistent Taboo."

Please note I'm making an observation about a medium's treatment of a legal procedure. It's not that I thought any of the specific characters SHOULD have had abortions - I'm not the TV writer - only that the collective lack of them doesn't ring true.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Concert Suit

As much as as I hate buying clothes generally, I REALLY hate buying suits. All that measuring, especially when the body trends poorly compared with the previous time I bought a suit, which it did. The harsh lights and the three-sided, full-length mirrors don't help.

The other bad thing about buying a suit is that I end up spending too much. I've gotten myself to the place, and I'm buying one (expensive) suit; why not two, especially when the second is free, except for the alterations? And while I'm at it, how about some new shirts, which are buy one, get one at 50% off? Oh, and new ties to go along with them? And I DO need a better coat for winter. At the end of the excursion, I experience massive sticker shock and don't buy any suits, or much of anything else clothing-wise for the next two or three years.

The initiation of this shopping spree is this event:

We received information about the dress code for the performance a week ago Sunday. And I own ZERO black suits, and only one white shirt that's probably too tight. So this past Saturday evening, the wife, the daughter and I went shopping.

And I've felt lousy ever since.

Initially, I thought it was just exhaustion that sent me to bed at 8:30 Saturday night, but now I'm thinking it's some sort of sinusitis and/or allergies flaring up. But what caused the truly horrific insomnia I got Sunday night, so much so that my eyes burned on Monday morning? Probably consuming the cheese and crackers I ate after the Sunday night rehearsal.

But more basically, I think it was a week without riding the bicycle or playing racquetball. When I got to do both on Monday, I got surges of energy that I'd been lacking lately, though I was more stuffed up yesterday.

So no, I can't blame any of it on shopping for suits, unfortunately.
Monday night, I did go to the marriage equality rally. The State Senate was supposed to take up the legislation the next day. So the chant was, "What do we want?" "Marriage equality!" "When do we want it?" "Tomorrow!" Tomorrow? I mean, yes, literally, the next day when the vote was due, but "tomorrow" has such lousy scansion; having been to lots of rallies, I'm a big fan of "NOW!"

In any case, the state legislature didn't vote on much of anything Tuesday, and they won't be meeting again until next week. I DO think that the position of at least Republican state senator I saw on TV Tuesday night - that the government can't deal with ANYTHING else until it deals with the budget deficit - is totally bogus. Truth is, balancing the budget will be a long, arduous process that may take weeks; gay marriage can be achieved with one vote in one house, as the State Assembly has already passed a bill. Twice.

Speaking of which: Via Mark Evanier - Shelly Goldstein on stupid, callous, homophobic hateful legislation. Julie Andrews couldn't do any better.
I found out in Hispanic Business, of all places, that Glenn Beck Lost His Lawsuit Over A Controversial Domain Name
Fox TV host Glenn Beck has lost a suit he filed against the creator of a satirical Web site spreading a rumor that even the site itself admitted was false: Beck raped and murdered a girl in 1990. Although he lost the case, Beck still received the domain name he sought, but not because the arbitrator awarded it to him. Rather, the man who established the site gave it to Beck himself -- but not without getting in a good parting shot. And the REAL kicker is that the guy has kept the CONTENT of the site up at That's GB, as in Glenn Beck, 1990 (dot) com.

It's a nasty little site, but then again, Glenn Beck is a nasty little man. It is also one of those First Amendment issues people love to hate. My reactions is a mix of mild discomfort with a whole lot of schadenfreude.
Chances Are Profanity Was Intentionally Encoded in Text of Schwarzenegger's Veto. As though you had any doubt.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Finding Freedom in Postwar Europe

Less then a month before my father, Les Green, died in August 2000, he started talking about his childhood. It seems that his grandmother had a boarding house. He advised that there was a father and child there and that they only ate if they had something to put in the pot. He advised that he always had food and never went hungry. He said that when he was in Belgium, serving post-World War II, he was at a woman's home who reminded him of the days with his grandmother and always ate well there.

After he died, of course we went through his materials. One of the things he held onto was an article from a September 16, 1946 issue of Newsweek, Racial: Maedchen and Negro, about black soldiers in post-WW II Germany. The Newsweek piece was initiated by a much longer piece in the October 1946 Ebony.

The thrust, particularly of the Ebony piece, was that the black soldier felt freer in Berlin, capital of the formerly Nazi nation, than he did in Birmingham or on Broadway.

A July 2009 article in Stars & Stripes confirms this: "In the words of retired Gen. Colin Powell, postwar Germany was 'a breath of freedom' for black soldiers, especially those out of the South: '[They could] go where they wanted, eat where they wanted, and date, whom they wanted, just like other people.'"

There is a great website, the Civil Rights Struggle, African-American GIs and Germany, which contains some original research on this topic. The NAACP presented its Julius E. Williams Distinguished Community Service Award for 2009 to Maria Höhn (Vassar College) and Martin Klimke (German Historical Institute, Washington, DC / Heidelberg Center for American Studies, University of Heidelberg) for the project.

But, of course, this doesn't address why my father held onto that article for 54 years. Was he merely interested in the topic? Did he know someone who was pictured? Was HE one of the people in the pictures? There is a guy who remind my sisters and me of my dad. While my father said he was in Belgium, his records show that he was in the European theater from February to November 1946, so perhaps he was in Germany as well. Ms. Höhn, who I have e-mailed, confirms that there were black soldiers in both countries.

I may never know why Leslie H. "Bing" Green held onto that article for so many years.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Q is for Questionable Content

In the comments to a blogpost back in September, Andrew Bechard suggested that I write more about race. He had all sorts of good reasons and particular examples. Here's the thing: I find conversations about race exhausting. It's not that I think they aren't important and necessary, or that I don't engage in the topic occasionally. It's merely that talking about race often becomes either incendiary (So-and-so is playing "the race card", whatever that means) or trivialized (the purported "beer summit") or dismissive ("Race is just a social construct, so if we just stop talking about race, racism will just go away.")

But Andrew did ask one specific question that I WILL (finally) answer, and without ever using the word in question. "I, for one, am very curious to hear your views on why you won't use the 'N word' when I regularly overhear other black folks using it around Albany."

OK, here's the short answer: I don't like the word, so I don't use it.

Here's the slightly longer answer: I think it is hugely a matter of age. People, both black and white, of my generation, born in the 1950s, or earlier, were taught quite clearly that it was not appropriate word for right-minded person to use, certainly to use casually in the manner to which Andrew refers. That's why when Bill Cosby received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor recently, he requested no profanity or the casual use of the N-word; he didn't like it. The NAACP held a funeral for the N-word at its annual conference in the summer of 2007. The use of the phrase by Bethlehem Police Chief Louis Corsi - the town of Bethlehem ins in Albany County, NY - got in him into understandable trouble.

For me, part of my antipathy towards the word comes from the circumstances in which I have been called the N-word. It was almost never face-to-face but rather by person or persons in a moving automobile or truck while I was walking or riding my bicycle. this includes more than a few times in Albany, though, to be fair, not in this century, to the best of my recollection.

Now there's a whole school of thought that if one claims a word, it loses its power. That seems to be the philosophy, not only for some blacks, but women and gays as well. That's fine for them, but it doesn't mean that I'll start using the words. I know people of Polish extraction who use a term considered a slur in talking about themselves, but I've never considered it an invitation for me to use it.

I recall quite distinctly that about 15 years ago, I was in my previous church, when one or two black kids were using the N-word in the church hallway. I said, "Don't use that word here." At which point, the (white) pastor came on the scene. One of the young men started to argue with me. And I said, in my best stern voice, "Don't use that word in HERE," and they relented. The pastor, who is about a decade older than I, was on the same page in this case.

There is a book out there by Professor Randall Kennedy, with the N-word as the title. The subtitle is The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word and that sounds about right. That book and its author, incidentally, were not without controversy.

That said, I would oppose the banning of a book such as Huckleberry Finn merely because it uses the N-word. (I'm really curious what Bill Cosby, who got the Twain award, thinks of this Twain book.) The Irish Repertory Theatre, an Off-Broadway troupe, is putting on an uncensored production of The Emperor Jones, a 1920 one-act play by Eugene O'Neill, with the N-word "flung around with alarming abandon"; I can see the value in doing the production as written.

I've also found any number of songs in my record collection that use the word. Thing is, it seemed to be making a point, rather than be a casual comment. Examples include:
Don't Call Me N*****, Whitety - Sly and the Family
If There's A hell Below, we're all gonna Go - Curtis Mayfield
Woman Is the N***** of the World - John Lennon
Living For the City (album version) - Stevie Wonder

When I saw Elvis Costello sing Oliver's Army last year, I swear he swallowed the N-word in favor of "one more white nah-gah".

So, Andrew: I don't use the N-word because...I just don't.


Monday, November 09, 2009

Sunny Day, Chasing the Clouds Away

If you've gone to Google the past week or so, you could not help but to have noticed the visual tributes to Sesame Street. The program hits its 40th anniversary tomorrow, November 10. For someone past the targeted demographic - I was almost 17 when it first aired - there was a period in which I watched it a great deal, especially in college.

The recollection is now fuzzy, but the Muppets of Jim Henson would show up on a number of variety shows in the 1960s. Possibly the first character to make the transition from the Henson act to Sesame Street was Kermit the Frog. Kermit was green, as I am (of sorts) and early on sang a tune about the difficulty of that fact, something about blending in with so many other ordinary things, and people passing you "over 'cause you're not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water or stars in the sky." Boy, could I relate. Kermit was also often a bit exasperated, as I was.

Here's part of the first episode, before a slew of guest stars discovered that it was cool to appear on Sesame Street.

But it wasn't just the Muppets that appealed to me. Bob McGrath, who plays Bob, looked very familiar; perhaps I recognized him from Sing Along with Mitch (Miller)? I also liked Susan, played forever by Loretta Long. Don't know how long I was watching, but it was enough time that I remember both the old Gordon (Matt Robinson) and the "new" (1973) Gordon, Roscoe Orman, switched in a very Darrin Stephens way. I even went out and bought a soundtrack album in those first years, which unfortunately got lost or stolen. So when the 10th anniversary album came out in 1979, although I wasn't actively watching the show anymore, I purchased it. More than that, I played it quite often for a good decade.

Jaquandor has a bunch of Sesame Street YouTube links, including an early version of "Bein' Green" and the one the one about explaining death that manages to make me tear up every damn time.