Monday, December 31, 2007

The Countdown

I was driving home on Route One from a private New Year's Eve party at which I had totally abstained from alcohol. Not even a sip of cheap champagne. Plus, I've never really enjoyed crowded New Year's Eve parties. Some people play with their alcoholic intake, as if they can stay legally sober by timing their drinks. All along the highway were franchise restaurant/bars, & those parking lots were emptying. I couldn't shake the feeling that half the other drivers on the road were intoxicated. Even if the drivers weren't drunk, the cars were filled with passengers who were, & everyone would be wired, tired, & distracted. "What are we doing out here on a crazy, cold night?" I asked my girlfriend, who was only slightly drunk. The next year, we walked to a small party in town, just a few friends, had a fine time, & didn't stay much past midnight. We drank wine, ate mostly chips & dip, watched the ball drop on TV, exchanged smooches with everyone, & went home shortly afterward. It was convenience corresponding with good sense, involving no great sacrifice or resolve. New Year's Eve is no big deal. I'm almost always up past midnight. People who routinely go to bed early can hardly stay awake for the event, nodding off as the hosts in their broadcast booths overlooking Times Square recite various factoids about the crowd size & the number of lights on the descending ball, & show clips of midnight celebrations in Melbourne, Moscow, Rome, London. Short sleeves in Australia, snow & fur hats by the Kremlin. Fireworks. "The big moment is approaching," they announce every two minutes.

There was a genuine reason for excitement on Y2K night, & that was a huge disappointment for many when the world wasn't plunged into chaos. I'd already downloaded a simple plug in that my PC may or may not have required. I hoped the Oyster Creek Muclear Power Plant & the North American Defense Command had done the same.

I've already attached a post it to my checkbook with "2008" reminder on it.

People living far away from New York mention how much they wish they could be in Times Square on New Year's Eve. I have never been attracted to Times Square on New Year's Eve, even when the night was a great excuse to get blasted by any available means. It's not an experience I needed to have. It's just a big, noisy crowd with no place to pee, better behaved than it was before checkpoints & backpack bans. From the bird's eye camera view, it's not difficult to imagine what it's like on ground level in that seething mass of Jerseyans, Long Islanders, & adventurous Japanese tourists. Or to imagine the odor in the car with the bouncy sliding-door restroom on a late night NJ Transit train out of Penn Station; the same smell as on a Sunday summer night local from the Jersey shore only more intense.

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Somerset NJ

Not many diners with this classic look anymore.
The first time I played "Pong" was in the vestibule of a diner just like this one, back when drinking bad coffee at midnight wouldn't keep me awake, & nearly all the waitresses were older than me.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Benazir Bhutto

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is tragic. But it's sad also that the restoration of democratic government & the preservation of a relatively secular government in Pakistan were depending so much upon her. Because it was comparable to expecting the Bush family to save America. Perhaps if we had kept our full attention on that region after 9/11, the situation there would be better now.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

WFMU 2007 Favorites List

Every year around now WFMU Beware the Blog posts DJ favs, best of, top ten, whatever we call them, & DJ Rix went up on Christmas. It's not really a "Top Ten." I just pick some appropriate albums I liked, plus a few books that may have seeped into my writing or monologues. It's never a list that generates much listener or reader interest. I hear hundreds of songs & compositions on the radio, & many albums once or twice or in part. I hear only a few dozen "new" albums every year all the way through enough times to become really familiar with them. Since I do few radio shows, I'm never on top of what's passing through the WFMU new. But what I get from not having a weekly show is the freedom to listen to music at a leisurely pace. I can live with the same music for weeks at time. I purchase CDs thoughtfully, as music I want on my own shelves to listen to over & over at home. & of course I have unlimited access to a huge music library. So there's a whole other list I'll post here shortly. But the 8 WFMU picks contain music I've either aired or will air on radio shows.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Our composite holiday

It's crazy to think we have any collective influence over Christmas in America, as if it we could put the matter on a ballot & vote changes. It we stopped celebrating Christmas the way we do, our economy would collapse. The most popular symbol of this holiday is none other than Santa Claus, an American pseudo-myth who took his final form from Coca Cola ads & long ago eclipsed the infant Jesus in stature among children. Sorry, purists, he is not "Saint Nicholas."

Santa inspired all the rest of the commercial Christmas iconography. Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer comes from a novelty song composed to sell records & sheet music about Rudolph. Every year, more of these characters are invented for the purpose of selling the character as a product & permanently establishing it in the holiday pantheon. For a number of years, a WFMU DJ produced a lengthy compilation of obscure, often bizarre, holiday recordings, most from the era of 45 rpm singles, all of which were commercial failures. He unearthed hundreds of them. Few had any reference to the religious aspects of Christmas. But if a song catches on, the composer can retire to Hawaii on the royalties.

So it puzzles me when reactionaries complain about "secularization" of Christmas, which they now blame on liberal atheists. Christians used to have the sense to blame it on themselves. Even Dickens' famous novella, "A Christmas Carol," published in 1843, describes a holiday of generalized religious meaning, the "spirit of Christmas." Bob Cratchit only wanted the day off. Far better to be in a labor union than rely on a spiritual awakening to soften an employer's hard heart.

Christmas or "holiday" season is relatively unchanged from when I was a child in the Fifties. There's just more of everything. Retail tries to push it back to Halloween, but the day after Thanksgiving remains the big shopping kickoff. The trend toward late Christmas Eve retail hours never really caught on with the public, & has even reversed somewhat. There are more 24 hour gas stations & convenience stores; that used to be a hassle on Christmas Day. Many diners never closed then or now. Court decisions changed the framing of religious expression in public places. It's one thing for a public school chorus to perform "Silent Night," another to perform it on the school stage with a Nativity tableau & expect everyone to sing along. Some towns continue to risk expensive lawsuits by stretching separation.

The Christian church should have expected our composite holiday when Emperor Constantine chose the winter solstice for Christmas. He thought he could turn the "birth of the Sun" into the "birth of the Son" by decree.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

In the bleak midwinter

Quiet day. More often now the relative quietness of Christmas is noted, as it's the sole remaining 24 hours on the calendar with that quality. A remarkably "Silent Night" outside that carries well into the day. Probably due less to the message & meaning of Christmas than to the seasonal hysteria spending itself like a wave crashing on the shore. At some point, the presents must be given & the appetitites satiated. The madness is the antithesis of The Nativity. Too much of everything. Even too much religion.

The Christmas story itself sounds like almost complete fiction, cobbled together from preexisting god-man birth legends, historical inaccuracies, a wildly fanciful first century oral tradition, all arranged to fit Isaiah's well-known prophecies. No virgin birth. No tax census. No Bethlehem. No star. No angels. No magi. No flight to Egypt. No massacre of the innocents. When the story is taken apart like a puzzle & scrutinized, it cannot be fit back together. It's impossible & unbelievable. But this doesn't matter to me. The story is wonderful. The proof is in the perfection, & the perfection isn't in the truth of the individual parts. It's a masterpiece.

Watched most of the Midnight Mass from St. Patrick's Cathedral In NYC, live TV beautifully produced by local station WPIX. Cardinal Egan's homily was a lengthy recounting of one he'd heard in a small London parish 25 years ago. Less pageantry & fewer players than one might expect in such a huge, ornate space, a wise choice. Heard a snippet of Holst's "In the Bleak Midwinter" on the organ as the mass transitioned from one part to another. The poem, by Christina Rossetti, begins:
In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen,
Snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.
This describes miserable weather in Northern England, not Bethlehem, as her metaphor for the harshness of the world. Yet, we hear it as if it were factual. So with all the other carols & hymns, the embellishments & inventions.


Mele Kalikimaka

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Lights

In a quaintly old-fashioned holiday spirit, the local Dunkin' Donuts simply closed from 2 PM today until 10 PM Christmas night. Whatever the owners lose in revenue - which is considerable - they recoop in peace of mind & the good will of their employees, mostly young women. Owned, I think, by immigrant Polish Catholics, the DD has a large Orthodox Jewish clientele that I'm certain isn't the slightest bit offended by the closing or by the many "Holiday Greetings" decorations. It's clean, friendly, & well-run, without the pricy coffeehouse affectations of Starbucks. A model DD.

I made it to the library just before closing, I was out of mystery novels. Then by luck found a fast line at the supermarket. The guy in front of me was purchasing a single bag of Big Boy romaine lettuce & had the zombie expression of a man sent by his wife on an errand he considered utterly pointless but had the wisdom not to strongly resist.

I woke up today with an anxiety attack. This attack was brought on by the sound of a child banging on real drums in the apartment next door. The noise didn't last long, but it tipped me off the presence of the evil things. These are the Haitian neighbors with whom I've had some disputes over the length of time they've played music at a loud volume. Which I'd presumed we'd settled after I'd stumbled over there one morning & informed the Master of the Household that noise is high on our landlord's list of rational complaints, & I did not wish to bring it to his attention. I may also have appeared insane to the man.

Around the corner, a man was on his roof hanging Christmas lights.

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Christmas Eve

My parents put a lot of effort into Christmas, making it quite magical, particularly when I was very young, 4, 5 years old. They had a feel for tradition & theater. Fans of Norman Rockwell or Doctor Spock, read on.

Christmas Season started when dad stapled up the strings of colored lights around the front porch. A some point he added two funky giant candles he'd constructed out of cardboard cylinders, cellophane. & light fixtures. Everything he designed looked designed by a dad.. There were lots of decorations tacked or taped inside the house, & our one classy display, a beautiful creche set probably purchased at Woolworth's in the 1930's. When dad knocked an opening between the living room & a narrow "playroom" addition he built on the side of the house replacing a wraparound porch, it became a kind of stage complete with draw curtains, spotlights, cotton snow, figurines, & the nativity scene. It looked like we had family puppet shows. Over time, the Holy Family & Three Kings were joined by small wind up robots, plastic dinosaurs, & various H-O size train accessories. Mom was into baking Christmas cookies, some of them flavored with ashes from her Raleigh cigarettes. In my earliest years, the tree wasn't put up until late Christmas Eve after the four children were in bed. So Christmas Eve was more about anticipation & mystery. It's supposed to be about those things.

Mom made spaghetti for Christmas Eve supper, was fast & easy, & she'd be pretty busy for the next 24 hours. One of my brothers wanted his wife to continue this "tradition" which she justifiably rejected as too peculiar if not cultish. After supper, we were put in the care of "Nana," our resident gramma, & mom & dad went to the "visit" Phil & Gertrude Sprague, an older couple with a teenage daughter who lived next to the high school. Mrs. Sprague was a piano teacher & none of us became good pianists. In fact, all our presents were stashed at the Spragues; it was futile to try to hide them anywhere in our house. I'm sure mom & dad loaded up on a few drinks before they loaded up the car.

Meanwhile, back home, we put out cookies & milk for Santa & hung stockings in the playroom. My parents came home after we were in bed & supposedly asleep. They carried in the presents & dad brought in a Tree, probably kept in a neighbor's garage. No doubt this was a romantic moment when they had only one child, but it was high-pressure time for them later, working against the clock. Furniture had to be moved; the tree set up in a stand; lights tested & burnt bulbs replaced; the tree decorated with the many old ornaments we stored in the attic. Certainly, some presents had to be wrapped. Every year one of us got a bike or some piece of child machinery that had to be assembled & tested. Then they filled the stockings. I have no idea what time my parents got to bed, but at 5 am they were yelling at us to to go BACK to bed for another hour. For the first few conscious years of my life, I really had no clue how it was all done, or who did it, & don't recall caring if I knew. It was magic; or as I would call it now, amateur shamanism.

One year, my sister Jean & I encountered each other in the hallway outside our rooms, propped up each other's nerve with whispers, & crept through the murky predawn shadows, down to the landing where one could lean over & peek through the bannister into the living room. I lost my balance & tumbled halfway down the steps. I wasn't hurt, but I was so alarmed, afraid not only of being caught but of actually SEEING the presents & somehow ruining the magic for everyone else, that I scrambled back upstairs in a panic, vowing never again to break the Immutable Law Against Peeking, for which I'd been obviously & instantly reprimanded by Santa Claus (probably tipped off by Baby Jesus in the creche). But the living room was dark, as if nothing actually existed there yet.
Although I later suspected sneaky oldest brother Joe of giving me a push then dashing back to bed. Eventually, mom & dad got up, put on their robes, went downstairs, cranked up the heat - in the early 50s this meant a coal furnace, turned on all the lights, & called the four excited kids downstairs.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Good Scenery

This is what we've come to expect as preholiday weather in Jersey: temps in the fifties & rain & wind. An old friend flying in from California tonight to visit his mom, due to arrive at Newark around midnight, a hypothetical time. I have no idea how he's getting from the airport to his mom's house. A fine poet and a sane person, proving they are not mutually exclusive. Actually, many poets go crazy because their observational skills force them to see reality too clearly. My friend had the good sense to leave Jersey twenty years ago, realizing, like Mark Twain, that good scenery does improve ham & eggs. Years ago, another friend working some dreary, underpaying job near Albuquerque sent me a photo of the view out her back door: a fence, a burro, empty space, & beautiful mountains in the distance.
Some past holiday blogposts:
O Christmas Tree
Winter Solstice
The Battle of Christmas

The storm blew out & now there's a full moon.

Lakewood NJ

Saturday, December 22, 2007

All I have to say about Jamie Lynn Spears

All I have to say about Jamie Lynn Spears: There are no accidents. She became pregnant because consciously or unconsciously she wanted to become pregnant. Which isn't the same as wanting to bear & raise a child. There are no "unplanned pregnancies," or unplanned infections & diseases, when one has unprotected sex. Only the sex, perhaps, is unplanned. But now there's an entire section of condoms in the aisle at every 7-11.

Parents who get their kids through high school & college without accidents & without resorting to celibacy pledges & other forms of unrealistic or prudish denial have done something right. Usually, it was just by having honest communication with their kids, some mutual trust, plus a bit of luck. Two of my siblings accomplished it with their kids, & neither of them has a Ph.D in psychology or claims any special gifts for parenting.

The Longest Night

Sat., Dec. 22, 2007, 1:08 A.M. EST , marks the solstice. the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

I hope a virgin was tossed in a volcano somewhere or the nights will just get longer & longer until the sun disappears altogether.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Give us our beaches!

From Atlantic City Press:
The concept is simple - and a long-standing legal principle: The state's tidal waterways and their shore lines belong to all of us.

That means each and every one of us has a right to access those waterways and beaches. And, as a practical matter, the "right" to nearby parking and bathrooms.

The parking and bathrooms matter, because a public beach is, in reality, more of a private beach if there's no place for a family from Metuchen to park or to attend to the calls of nature.

That's the gist of new state Department of Environmental Protection rules that took effect Monday. From here on out, if municipalities want state taxpayers to help pay for beach-replenishment or for shoreline areas purchased under the state Green Acres program, the municipalities are going to have to provide public access to those areas at quarter-mile intervals, public restrooms at half-mile intervals and "parking sufficient to accommodate public demand."
The new EPA rules take up 344 pages, & no agency knows how to write rules like the EPA. I wonder why the Press writer mentioned Metuchen. Of course, Avalon was the first to file suit against the rules, as one of many shore towns that doesn't want the hoi polloi on its beach.

I'm an open access freak. But I can see some potential problems here. Most Jersey's beaches, even ones with reasonable access, are lightly used on summer weekdays. I'm generally not bothered when towns with extensive beach fronts try to funnel beachgoers into specific areas with lifeguards, parking, rest rooms, & nearby concessions. I don't think our goal should be to spread everyone out by having parking lots every 1/4 mile & dozens of brand new, ugly rest room buildings. But it's certain shore towns themselves that invite the pushback by the State of NJ when they discourage daytrippers. They & their wealthy summer residents treat beaches built mostly with state & federal money as clubs for their use only, & as protection from storm & tide for multi-million dollar "cottages." Because of loopholes in environmental zoning laws, ugly condos have walled off miles & miles of ocean & bayshore for private access. Every shore town should have welcoming public beaches, if only as a "Thank you" to all the bennies who made that beach possible. No town should be permitted to make it an onerous, infuriating, & sometimes impossible task for an out-of-towner to simply park & go for a stroll by the water.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Rush Theology

If you can stomach it, this has be about the most insane rant ever from that paragon of reasoned discourse, Rush Dogdoo. In complaining about Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, leader of the Anglican Communion (who's proven to be somewhat of a wuss anyway), Rush takes on the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, Blaise Pascal, homeless in Buffalo NY, the first law of thermodynamics, Stephen Hawking, saturated fats, & uses "gazillions" as a number. It would be hilarious if he didn't mean every word of it. I say we celebrate the popular Hispanic holiday, Three Kings Day on January 6, by using Rush's head as a pinata. Empty out the pills, there should be plenty of room for candy.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Holiday Cards

My parents, like most grownups, had only a handful of really close friends. But they belonged to a large number of civic, social, political & church organizations. They knew a lot of people around town. They had dozens of relatives most of whom they rarely or never saw. So a few weeks before Christmas they sat down at the dining room table with pages of names & addresses, many boxes of greeting cards, & set about the task of signing, addressing, sealing, & stamping. They didn't have personalized cards. All they had were pens & holiday theme return address labels. First they had to revise the card list, crossing off for deaths, updating addresses, noting when someone had divorced or remarried. Sometimes they had a stack of envelopes from the previous year to add new names. It was a tedious job. But they received bags of holiday cards, which were displayed around the living room in various ways, freestanding & taped to the banister & around doorways. Everyday more cards were stuffed in the little metal mailbox on the porch. Dad received cards from companies & salespeople he dealt with through his job, which required purchasing supplies from sheet metal screws to toilet paper. They also sent him gifts of fruit baskets, cheese & sausage assortments, bottles of scotch, & always one very large cardboard crate of citrus fruit from Florida that we never finished off before it went bad. We always hoped for tangerines or sweet oranges but sometimes it was grapefruit.

Postage was so cheap I don't think they even bothered to hand deliver cards to neighbors on the same block.

Nowadays most people try to get away with mailing as few cards as they can, unless they have business obligations. I've never received many holiday cards, but over the years even my amount has dwindled as the cost of stamps increased. An old friend from high school sent me a card every Christmas with one of those letters about what everyone in his family did over the past year; all his kids now adults & of course they're all mentally stable, superbly educated, happily married, & fabulously successful, with stunningly beautiful children of their own. A few years ago, when he changed from a high-paying corporate media job with an expense account to his own consulting business, I began receiving e cards with the letters as file attachments. He always was a bullshitter - that's how he did so well in the entertainment biz, but he's a good guy & it never bothered me.

This year I was feeling especially isolated & I wanted more cards. But the only way to guarantee I'd get more cards was to guarantee I'd send cards. So I joined a card exchange at a web community I frequent daily, where I've known many people for several years mostly by screenname, a few by real name, long enough to get a good sense of who they are. I could pick any number, figured ten was adequate,& received a list of names & addresses. I bought the Bernardino Luini Madonna del Roseto stamps & a box of inexpensive but tasteful cards with the Three Magi - my favorite Christmas legend because they were hip in a new age kind of way, not the slightest bit elitist. It was one of the few decent designs at Cost Cutters. There's a brief Bible quote from the Book of Matthew, "When they saw the star, the rejoiced with exceeding great joy." The greeting is "Wishing you a Happy Holiday Season." That covers everyone, should offend no one, while indicating my primary holiday. Next year I'll plan ahead & find something classier.

Unexpectedly, I've received more than ten cards from this exchange. They're draped over a curtain rod in the opening to the hallway. A few of the senders didn't add their screennames & I have no idea who they are. I enjoy having this physical proof that all these people know I exist in real as well as cyber space. Many of the cards are really nice.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Colosseum is illuminated for two nights
in honor of New Jersey abolishing the death penalty.

Although it may seem a small thing - New Jersey hasn't had an execution in decades,with slim chance of there ever being another one - it's been noted as a significant moral victory all around the world.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Chrome Dreams II

Neil Young's most recent album of first-rate rock & roll songs was Ragged Glory, released in 1989 (although Sleeps with Angels, Greendale, & Living With War have strengths). In that time he's also released a pair of nice folkie collections. But his two best albums since Ragged Glory could be the acoustic Live at Massey Hall 1971 & Live at the Fillmore East 1970 with Crazy Horse, the latter only about 45 minutes long. Otherwise, Neil has kept busy doing this & that. Chrome Dreams II isn't the album I'm waiting for. A lumbering, long, old song, "Ordinary People," occupies the center of Chrome Dreams, & while it's great to hear & have it - love the horn riff, thank heavens - at 18 minutes I doubt I'll be listening to it much. Length doesn't make it an epic. The album is generating an excessive amount of fan blab. But for me, it comes down to one really nice folk thing, "Boxcar," one white trash rocker, "Dirty Old Man," that isn't as as good as "Welfare Mothers" or "Sedan Delivery," & one midtempo demon chaser, "Spirit Road," with an instant sing-along hook chorus & a surprisingly energetic rhythm section, that could have made it on Ragged Glory. But even this excellent number would have benefited from some tightening in the lyrics & maybe a few more minutes of guitar rave up. Neil is good for the planet, he's messy, he annoys his legions of true believing geezers who always want another Harvest & fantasize a CSNY reunion. I wish he'd stop screwing around with concepts & archives & just sit down & compose 10 good songs. Works for Dylan & Springsteen every few years.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Brave Protestors

Read here an account of antiwar protestors, smugly proud of themselves for their campaign of interrupting church services in upstate New York. These courageous souls risked martyrdom by unfolding a banner at a small Congregationalist church in Chappaqua during an Advent service that, from the description, was already focused on a message of peace. It pisses me off, the indifference to the diversity & individuality of purpose among mainstream churchgoers. Thank God some blameless old lady, praying for her ailing husband, didn't herself keel over & croak of a heart attack.

Given the militaristic nationalism found in so many large protestant churches & incorporated into worship services as propaganda pageants for the military-industrial complex, we are blessed by the sanctuaries of unpoliticized churches. We should feel a special affection for them & leave them alone rather than insist that they also become polarized.

When actions like this get no support at the Street Prophets progressive religion website, which has a 100% anti-Iraq war membership, there's something wrong with the tactic.

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Flower Show

Atlantic City NJ Convention Hall

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Rock Salt Weather

Our noreastern arrived a few hours early last night & blew through so fast that we luckily missed a major winter storm here near sea level. One is much better off getting calm forecasts from the National Weather Service or Weather Channel; the local news shows went into hysteria mode on Wednesday & kept it up right through last night, by which time the prosaic NWS warnings were predicting almost exactly what transpired for central Jersey. I never stop being amazed how out-of-touch people are with their natural environment. Folks up in northwest Jersey & along the coast - who expect lousy, inconvenient weather & deal with it - are able to make adjustments, calculations & reasonable guesses based on local conditions & experiences. They actually read a thermometer, pay attention to arthritic toes, or step outside to sniff the air. If they believed New York City TV "meteorologists." they wouldn't leave home from December to March. Earlier in the week, an internet acquaintance living about six blocks away from me went into shock when she looked out her window & saw a coating of white on cars in her parking lot. "There's gotta be two inches of snow out there, & it's coming down hard." I looked out my window, judged it to be about 1/4 inch of frozen precip mixed with rain, confirmed the observation with a quick check of a multicolored online radar, but could not convince her she'd only be scraping her windshield. In any event, she can smell the Dunkin' Donuts from her location.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Rutgers takes a break

The Rutgers women Scarlet Knights went to their holiday break at 8-2 & ranked 6th nationally. 6 of those 10 games were against ranked opponents. They lost close ones they could have won against Stanford & Duke, convincingly defeated Maryland, but barely got by a mediocre Princeton team playing the pesky Princeton-style game. Every player on the starting five has step-up abilities & experience, but Coach Stringer is concerned about the bench. The disadvantage of playing so many top teams early on is that there are less opportunities to give the second team long minutes. ( 9-1 West Virginia, probably overrated at #13, won 8 games against "powerhouses" like Cornell & Presbyterian, mostly blowouts, but didn't have a prayer against #1 Tennessee. )

If the women are as good as the pollsters (& I) think they are, & stay sharp, they can run the table in the Big East during January. Then they meet UConn. Rutgers is a great defensive team, one of the best in the country - that & their experience are what put them in the top ten - but needs to crank up the offense to another level when the opportunity is there. Rutgers hasn't yet cracked 70 points. They aren't as good as UConn or Tennessee, but that doesn't they can't beat those two teams.

Friday, December 14, 2007


Older Mets fans recall the young, undernourished appearing, hustling Lenny Dykstra running into walls & sliding in basepath dirt & doing no more damage than temporarily stunning himself. Next thing we knew, he was a giant bobblehead doll stumbling around the outfield for the Phillies. Hard to tell if he was a better ballplayer, because he kept putting himself on the disabled list making the same plays. He had two very good years with the Phils & got himself a huge contract, but he wasn't worth what they paid him.

Throughout the baseball steroid scandal, there have been a few lonely, perhaps crackpot, voices suggesting we ought to just let the athletes go ahead & juice up. Maybe not such an insane idea if ambitious high school & college athletes weren't juicing, too.

Look at professional basketball players & football linemen. Many of them are already genetic freaks of nature. So why not go for chemical enhancement? See what the human body is capable of doing. We can have two lists of individual records, one of them for "natural" achievements.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christmas Greetings

RESOLUTION (H. Res. 847}

Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith.

Whereas Christmas, a holiday of great significance to Americans and many other cultures and nationalities, is celebrated annually by Christians throughout the United States and the world;

Whereas there are approximately 225,000,000 Christians in the United States, making Christianity the religion of over three-fourths of the American population;

Whereas there are approximately 2,000,000,000 Christians throughout the world, making Christianity the largest religion in the world and the religion of about one-third of the world population;

Whereas Christians identify themselves as those who believe in the salvation from sin offered to them through the sacrifice of their savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and who, out of gratitude for the gift of salvation, commit themselves to living their lives in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Bible;

Whereas Christians and Christianity have contributed greatly to the development of western civilization;

Whereas the United States, being founded as a constitutional republic in the traditions of western civilization, finds much in its history that points observers back to its roots in Christianity;

Whereas on December 25 of each calendar year, American Christians observe Christmas, the holiday celebrating the birth of their savior, Jesus Christ;

Whereas for Christians, Christmas is celebrated as a recognition of God's redemption, mercy, and Grace; and

Whereas many Christians and non-Christians throughout the United States and the rest of the world, celebrate Christmas as a time to serve others: Now, therefore be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives--

(1) recognizes the Christian faith as one of the great religions of the world;

(2) expresses continued support for Christians in the United States and worldwide;

(3) acknowledges the international religious and historical importance of Christmas and the Christian faith;

(4) acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States and in the formation of the western civilization;

(5) rejects bigotry and persecution directed against Christians, both in the United States and worldwide; and

(6) expresses its deepest respect to American Christians and Christians throughout the world.
Got it? A self-congratulatory resolution, introduced by an irate congressman on behalf of the folks who rule America. Nothing in it about peace & goodwill. Need I mention there is very little bigotry in America against Christians, none I'm aware of that attempts to keep Christians out of churches. By contrast, a Jewish man was recently assaulted on a New York subway by people saying he killed Christ. The victim was defended by a Muslim. If Congressman King had voted "yea" to a previous, unnecessary resolution congratulating Muslims on the occasion of Ramadan, one might think he was merely trying to be equitable.

A lot of Christians really need to lighten up. I used to work with Hindus, & they weren't the slightest bit threatened by Christmas. They recognized a great religious festival when they saw one, another opportunity to display colored lights & decorations, buy presents, & eat food. That they considered Jesus a great holy man rather than the messiah was no reason for them to skip celebrating his birth along with Christians, in the very Pagan way we do it here. A few Hindus had the fanciful & rather lovely notion that Jesus had visited India, which isn't far from my thought that he might have picked up a few ideas from caravans passing through Galilee. Hindus generally have a generous view of religious diversity, & if they get upset on occasion over pushy missionaries, it's because those missionaries are disrespectful & ignorant.

Woe to you, congressional hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practised without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Her Scorpionness

Hillary Clinton is a Scorpio. Scorpios are the supreme mask wearers of the zodiac. Which is not to say the "mask" is inauthentic or a false face. It's usually a real face, just how scorps go about in public, holding back a private part of themselves. What begins as a natural need for protection from one's own strong emotions becomes an armor habitually worn, & the habit, if not softened, makes affection difficult to express or accept. It doesn't indicate a lack of compassion & empathy, or an incapacity for vulnerable displays of emotion. You can believe that Hillary cries. I have no doubt she has a temper that is terrible to behold, & that she worked mightily to bring it under control while she was an adolescent. I bet her mom recalls some astonishing tantrums. So does Bill. Scorps have problems, big problems, handling even perceived disloyalty. But they can be perversely loyal to some people who betray them.

There's simply no point in expecting more "warmth" from Hillary or complaining about her coolness. She has plenty of heat, set at simmer most of the time. Bill craves novelty, thinks it's "hot" (in the same sense Paris Hilton does). but he knew better than to marry it.

I can even see how the other candidates affect her scorpionness. She doesn't single out Barack just because Barack is the closest competitor. Barack has her "number" so to speak & he dials it in part because he enjoys doing it. Barack has retractable claws. He's a cat on Oprah's sofa, he's no pet - he's a panther. John Edwards might as well be on another planet, not much connection there no matter what they say to & about each other. John could dismantle Hillary if they went lawyer-against-lawyer, an opportunity not provided by campaign debates. Still. Hillary would consider putting John on the ticket if he hadn't already had his chance.

Hillary & Bill. Bill & Hillary. There's nothing wrong with "power" couples. I've been in three relationships I would describe that way. & like Hillary, I didn't mind playing second banana as long as I was secure in my own "power."

But that leads to a big question about Hillary: Is she really a top banana? Will the "public" personna, the mask, become too uncomfortable a fit for the role & responsibilities she's seeking? I've been leaning toward Edwards all though this campaign, but I wonder if it's because he's really the "safe" candidate, the most sensible & earnest, the least likely to screw it up. Dennis Kucinich the Unelectable is the most honest, I appreciate that he appreciates the uses of a tongue stud & doesn't care if we know it. America will never elect anyone named Dennis. Chris Dodd is taking an early & deserved farewell lap around the stadium. Hillary will get things done, mostly with the kind of pre-compromised legislation that attracts John McCain or Susan Collins as co-sponsors. Perhaps that's the best we can hope for in a president now. Barack is the big gamble; he really wants to be different. Barack's tried to claim it's generational thing. Not true. It is so remarkable that an African-American man & a woman perceived as the establishment choice are the front-runners, & either one could win the general election. What better proof the Democratic Party is better than the repugs?

Hillary's temper concerns me. She makes a big deal out of bearing up under years of vicious attacks from the right. But I disliked that stoicism after awhile. I think Hillary is capable of blowing her cork at an inopportune time during the general campaign, & the reason it could happen is that she holds too much emotion in check all the time. There's also more than a little "revenge is a dish best served cold" attitude in her camapaign. But the necessary element of surprise is quickly disappearing; when God told Pat Robertson that only Giuliani was taking Hillary seriously enough, God was correct. Now the polls are scaring the bejezuz outta all the repugs. If I had my druthers, I'd druther Edwards or Obama. Druthers won't matter much when Giuliani, Romney, or Huckabee is the other name on the ballot.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Winning the War

6 shot after exiting Vegas school bus

Church gunman may have warned of 2nd attack

Funerals for those killed by a gunman in Omaha shopping mall

Monday, December 10, 2007

Sen. Ray Lesniak

I'm very proud of my State Senator, Ray Lesniak, for sponsoring & pushing through to passage a bill abolishing the death penalty in New Jersey. The lower house votes on Thursday. Lesniak hasn't often been my favorite Democratic politician, but he brought his heart & considerable power together for this worthy cause.

At the supermarket

Two "types" ahead of me in line at the supermarket checkout. The line was held up by a customer using the cashier to stay on budget. This annoying kind of customer has a specific amount of money to spend, can't be bothered with a calculator, fills up the shopping cart, checks out the stuff, then picks out items one-by-one for the cashier to take off the total, subtracting until the desired amount is reached. Each item is carefully examined & the cashier has to find & announce the price numerous times before it is rejected. Experienced cashiers can identify several hundred types of fruits & vegetables along with the produce codes (for which they should receive three college credits) but they have little incentive to memorize the price of anything.

Meanwhile, the lady in front of me, who had few items, was distracted by front end displays, which are there mainly for people like her. She walked away & came back with Swiss Miss instant hot chocolate, stacked high & on sale for $1.50. Then she went & got another one. The next side trip resulted in Tollhouse garlic & onion crackers. As the line began to move, she dashed away for M&Ms in the Christmas packaging, & one more box of hot chocolate. She changed her mind about the third hot chocolate while the conveyor crawled toward the scanner & crammed it in the rack with the Spanish language People magazine. Her original items included a half gallon of marshmallow fluff & five pounds of sugar. She was amusing.

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Delaware Water Gap

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Uncle Sam Needs You?

Am I the only one disturbed by this?
More than a year after Spc. Alejandro Albarran lost part of his right leg in an explosion in Iraq, he still hasn't decided whether he'll stay in the Army.

"Right now, I'm leaning against it," said the 20-year-old infantryman, looking ahead with distaste to a possible desk job.

Whatever he decides, he won't be leaving Army life behind — because his wife has enlisted to take his place in uniform.

"After everything he's gone through — and he loves the Army — he kind of inspired me," said Janay Albarran. "I made him a promise that I would finish what he started."

While he underwent five-day-a-week rehabilitation to recover his balance and strength on a prosthetic leg at an Army rehabilitation facility in San Antonio, she was in boot camp at Fort Jackson, S.C., learning to shoot a rifle and stand in formation.

Janay Albarran graduated from basic training on Friday, gaining the rank of private. The couple's 2-year-old daughter is staying with a grandmother in Arizona.
The United States Army must be really desperate when it welcomes a recuit who walks away from a toddler child & a grievously injured soldier spouse. Call it unfortunate need or necessity if the family cannot survive financially any other way, but don't call it patriotic duty. Even if America asked for shared sacrifice, this wouldn't be it.


Saturday, December 08, 2007

O'Reilly Buchanan Donahue

There's no bigots quite like Irish-American bigots. Although there's fewer of them around now, they're loud & abusive, & they still sound like they were beaten daily as children by the Sisters of Jesus de Sade, & were taught from a fantastical reactionary comic book edition of the old Baltimore Catechism with chapters devoted to the terrible dangers of labor unions, Jewish retail merchants, & apostate Irish-Catholics from Boston. Don't let them corner you in a bar or lure you into precoital pillow talk.

Friday, December 07, 2007

my kid is a jeenyus

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Mitt Romney is no John Kennedy

Mitt Romney:
"Almost 50 years ago another candidate from Massachusetts explained that he was an American running for President, not a Catholic running for President. Like him, I am an American running for President."
Sure enough. Except John Kennedy gave his famous speech two months before the 1960 general election in an attempt to allay the irrational fears of some conservative protestant, mostly southern white voters, at that time inclined to vote straight ticket Democratic, that he wasn't an agent of the Vatican Antichrist (in 1960, an enlightened, freedom-loving man named Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli). But those voters soon walked away in droves from the national party over the issue of civil rights, in 1964, never to return. The press knew the truth about Kennedy's personal behavior. Roman Catholics knew Kennedy wasn't a super-Catholic (one reason ordinary Catholics liked him) , & the idea that he'd ever be the Pope's puppet was absurd & offensive to them. Kennedy wanted to reassure some voters that he respected the separation of church & state. That's not the issue in this Repug primary. Many on political right believe the separation clause of the Constitution is a liberal lie & are worried that the Mormon "heresy" will become the representive American religion when they've worked so hard & so long to install a peculiarly bigoted & narrow form of protestantism. Evangelical protestants of different types compete with each other & with teams of Mormon boys in white shirts & ties for converts. Romney says this:
"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."
The statement sounds so true yet is so wrong that I hardly know where to begin to pull it apart. Cheese requires crackers just as crackers requires cheese?

By "religion," Romney means religion in Euro-American nations, particularly as it is practiced in the United States. All the old major world religions grew & flourished under political conditions & regimes we consider extremely oppressive; tyrants, kings, emperors & empires. Christianity began as a small cult meeting in private homes & hoping the Roman government wouldn't take notice. Early Christians didn't attract much attention until they refused to offer obligatory annual homage to the god-emperor, a rather empty ritual for most residents of the Roman Empire, just another method Romans used for collecting goodies & financing the upkeep of a local temple outpost. Christians wouldn't take the oath of loyalty to the emperor as a god, although they insisted this refusal wasn't an indication of disloyalty to the emperor as a political entity. They simply wanted the same "bye" Rome gave monotheistic Jews, who also wouldn't take the oath. Eventually, & after much suffering, Christians became a powerful political force, found a friend in Emperor Constantine, & the rest is, like they say, history. Free to be Christians, with influence at the highest levels of government, but it wasn't freedom. Under our Constitution, America could exist as a nation comprised entirely of atheists, whether or not one believes it would be a good thing. That couldn't happen in many countries, where if religion is not running the government upfront or behind the scenes, there is at least a remanent structure of an official state-religion.

"Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone." This strangely echoes Lincoln, perhaps the most spiritual person ever to occupy the Oval Office. But Lincoln belonged to no organized religion. His over-riding concern in the decades leading to his election, & afterward, was that freedom, not religion, would perish if the United States broke into a collection of warring, petty states, the nightmare of Europe transported to the North American continent, a fear shared by Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, etc. The founders of the United States differed sharply on the role & strength of religion in gluing the states together. Most of them were suspicious of organized religion interfering with government. The contentious differences between the Christian churches already rooted in America were worrisome to them.

The poisonous & the liberating qualities of religion struggle with each other regardless of political system. The ultimate goal of most religion is the eternal union of the individual soul or spirit with the Divine, which happens occasionally on Earth but is more likely to occur when one has abandoned one's corporeal guise. In some traditions, martyrdom increases the odds of success. In other traditions, formal obedience trumps content, so oppressive law or forced conversion are sufficient to the purpose. Problems arise when religion demands that all human behavior & institutions act in accordance with a specific concept of Divine Perfection. In this regard, I find nearly all religions frightening. Mormonism disturbs me because it dismisses abstractions & metaphors, it lacks poetry. Mormons tell us exactly what happens in Heaven, leaving little to mystery or to the imagination. Heavenly buildings have the Mormon architecture of Salt Lake City, heavenly families look like the Osmonds on a picnic in a peaceful mountain meadow. Yet, I would gladly vote for Mitt if I agreed with his political views & attitudes. But I don't.
"There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked. What do I believe about Jesus Christ?"
Although there is no religious test for holding office, Mitt, like all the other candidates in both parties this year, is compelled to ask himself the question & to provide an answer.
"I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind."
The direct confession of faith, an absolute requirement for Republican candidates, occurs about one-third of the way into the speech. Mitt knows America is a nation where only believers in Jesus as the Christ are elected president. It's not specified in the Constitution, but it's true. The remainder of Mitt's speech tells us that he believes the United States was established primarily to provide religious freedom for religious people. Both John F. Kennedy & Thomas Jefferson would disagree.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Ted Weems beach party

Ted Weems' Orchestra: "Cheer Up," with Norma Schutt's chorus girls,
Steel Pier, Atlantic City, NJ, July 17, 1930.
The short pier in the background must be Steeplechase,
the camera in the opening frame positioned on the Steel Pier.

All I knew about Weems was that he was a pretty big musical star in his day, & his recording of "Winter Wonderland" is one of my favorite straight renditions of that song although the rarely heard first verse isn'r sung. Now I know Perry Como got his break with the band, & the lyrics for "Winter Wonderland" were written by a guy from Honesdale PA (Como doesn't sing it with Weems.) Weems has peculiar conducting motions in this short. There's no evidence they're playing the same number we're hearing.

"Winter Wonderland" by the Ted Weems Orchestra (Realaudio)

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Happy Hanukkah

I sense that a lot of people are suffering from Seasonal affective disorder this year. The extension of Daylight Savings may have made the annual adjustment more difficult. Winter arrived early in Jersey as it does sometimes, ( last year it waited until January), pushing aside our unofficial 5th season of a gray & drizzly but temperate late November & early December. & summer lingered, I heard crickets on my birthday last month. We aren't ready to burrow in yet, & because of the holidays we can't. We don't want to hear about "wind chill." Most Jerseyans hope for a winter that begins with a lovely dusting of snow on Christmas Eve - the kind that covers the grass but not the roads - & creeps quietly to an end after a cloudy Groundhog Day. Daylight by then lasts noticably longer, the seed & patio furniture catalogues are landing in the mailbox, & Great Adventure is hawking season tickets.

I haven't had to find presents for an extended in-law family at Christmas since 1989, those folks for whom anything you get at any price seems inadequate, & so you think about it in September & stumble around stores indecisively for two months until you conclude that the solution is really, really nice wrapping paper & ribbon. I never had any problem finding presents for friends back when we gathered together late on Christmas Eve. I'd find many of their gifts at flea markets over the summer, mostly old books & records. I knew what was on their shelves & what would fit nicely there, & it was hard to resist giving them the stuff the same day I got it. But I also spent tedious hours wandering around outlet stores looking for specific Pfaltzgraff patterns simply because a replacement for a broken butter dish is all that will truly satisfy some people. Although Christmas is more fun with little kids in the family, aunts & uncles just can't compete with grandparents, especially when divorces & remarriages have doubled the numbers & they're competing with each other.

There's fewer elaborate outdoor Christmas decorations in the neighborhhod, perhaps due to a combination of higher utility costs & uncomfortable weather. But I dislike the noisy, inflatable displays that proliferated last year.

Monday, December 03, 2007

wind chill

My current apartment has several improvements over where I previously lived. It's larger. I occupy a studio-size room, but I need space for my stuff; books, records, files. So the bedroom here serves as an attic/closet. I don't have an insane man living above me & turning me into an equally crazy person. I'm within walking distance of downtown Elmora, with a Pathmark & Shoprite.

When winter arrives, I remember my last apartment was always cold. It was over an open garage, had a drafty door to the fire escape, & the baseboard heating mostly warmed up the backsides of furniture & shelves. My bed had to go against an inside wall. The desk was by the icy window. A six inch thick rug wouldn't have kept the cold from seeping up. At 11 pm every night the place went from uncomfortable to frigid. I understand I cannot expect to always go barefoot, wearing sweatpants (or cutoffs) & a light teeshirt. In my old abode I often couldn't take off my socks & sneakers until I got into bed. Tonight the wind is rattling the windows, I can feel a bit of draft, but I don't have to fight it. There's a single, old-fashioned hissing radiator in this room, & when it's cranked up it's too hot to sit on. I've even turned it half off on occasion. Later, I might have to put on an old flannel shirt.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Florence NJ


Saturday, December 01, 2007

Advent Calendars Online

Open a little window every day starting December 1. No peeking ahead.

Episcopal Diocese of Washington DC This one is always great,

St. Margaret Mary Parish in Naperville, Illinois

Liverpool Museum

Westminster UK City Council

Woodlands Junior School
Tonbridge Kent UK

CBBC Newsround Pop calendar has quick-loading soundbites & is designed for 12 year old Brits.

New York Carver Medieval Advent Calendar

Boowa & Kwala advent calendar


"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Thomas Jefferson

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