Saturday, February 28, 2009

Coming Soon

Sign on the window of the vacant former Cost Cutters store: COMING SOON! & something underneath I couldn't read. I sidetracked into the parking lot for a closer look:

Cost Cutters is a Drug Fair without the pharmacy, ugly store. Perks up only before Christmas with a large stock of decorations. Something's coming to that location.

Friday, February 27, 2009


We shouldn't underestimate Piyush "Bobby" Jindal. He reminds me of the younger Bill Clinton. He's smart, adaptable, & has bounced back from political defeat. Clinton gave a bad speech at the 1988 Dem convention that convinced many he was not presidential material. Clinton also was governor of a Southern state with a reputation for corrupt politics. Jindal will examine everything he did wrong on Tuesday night. Jindal's weakness is that he doesn't yet have a record as governor to run on nationally. Like every other governor, he has to lead his state through an economic downturn. He has to avoid political scandal. He has to show improvement in New Orleans, & that requires accepting lots of federal bucks. He ought to duck back under the national media radar, take care of Louisiana business, quietly work the constituencies he'll need to win in a Repug presidential primary - they aren't his for the taking. He let the Repugs use him poorly as a token person-of -color, & he got burned. I doubt he'll let it happen again. If he learns anything from Obama, it should be to not allow his national party to determine his image or dictate his role.

Bobby Jindal is smarter than Sarah Palin, but even she could put the words "volcano" & "monitoring" together & guess the meaning - as Alaska's Mount Redoubt rumbles & steams. Other factors weight against Piyush becoming president. He's a peculiar person from a peculiar state, & the last time we had one of those was Calvin Coolidge of Vermont. We're unlikely to replace a minority president with another minority president. & a substantial percentage of the protestant right must suspect Piyush is a Hindu at heart. For them, it's great that he's born again, but he wasn't born or raised Christian. His adolescent conversion to Roman Catholicism was a huge lateral leap from Hinduism, & savvy decision for someone perhaps already dreaming of a political career in Louisiana. He'd have a lock on the other half-dozen Indian-American Catholic converts in '12 if he quit hanging out with holy rollers.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

All Year Arcade

photo © Bob Rixon


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dirt Cookies

From "No More Dirt Cookies" by Lima

Dirt Cookies have become almost a staple in the lives of the Haitian poor in this the Year of Our Lord 2008. Men, women and children, reduced to abject poverty in this poorest of all Western Hemisphere countries, try to stay alive on whatever they can find to eat . Americans are appalled by the nightly television pictures of emaciated Haitians dragging themselves through the day and constantly hunting for sustenance. We thought that perhaps the worst degradation had already been seen when we watched children on a mission against starvation picking their way through heaps of refuse with the hopes of salvaging some bit of nourishment. But in fact the at least some Haitians have been degraded even further in their attempts to survive reduced to eating dirt cookies .

A Recipe Not Found at the Bake-Off: If you took the time to look up "dirt cookies" on line you might be surprised at what you would find. It seems there are a number of recipes all including the word "dirt" in the title. You can find a recipe for "dirt cookies", "dirt cake", even "dirt pudding" . And in each recipe the main ingredient used to simulate the dirt element is happily crushed "Oreo Cookies". These "dirt" recipes are so tasty and have that quirky word "dirt" in them which delights kids making such recipes party and dessert favorites. Sadly these "dirt" recipes have exactly nothing to do with the "dirt cookies" being consumed by Haitians today. Their recipe involves combining a little ( very little) amount of cooking oil and a dash of salt with, that's right , dirt.

Oh its special dirt to be sure, the kind that is brought in by loads from the central plateau of this tiny nation. It is yellowish in color and before it is mixed with the other ingredients the dirt is screened to remove unwanted lumps and pebbles. After mixing and forming the round shaped "cookies" they are often place on house roofs to dry in the sun. The result of this effort is "dirt cookies". It is this barely edible commodity that is being sold and consumed in Haiti in the absence of nutritious food. For some Dirt Cookies are making up for missing meals. Children find some satisfaction in being able to consume something and have a feeling of fullness in their stomachs. While they are generally lacking in any type of nutritional value for the time being they give form to the concept "better than nothing". How much better than nothing of course remains open to serious question.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I loved the speech

That was a great speech in the State of the Union mode. Maybe the best I've heard given all the bad news that had to be covered. President Obama did a really good job explaining why banks had to be propped up & the American auto industry should survive. He proposed a broad progressive reform agenda in health care, education & energy, leaving it broad, since it wasn't the moment to get into details he's still working on. He made the obligatory hat tips to the guests in the gallery (Sully was there, of course).We should appreciate that he spoke about the cumulative costs of war. War is always the biggest, mosr wasteful, least regulated spending program. I liked that he spoke past the audience in the chamber, to the American people. Usually, in these addresses, we feel that we're just listening in. secondary. We had two terms of terrible Bush speeches, with smirking Cheney looking over his shoulder, reminding us that The Decider was deciding what had been already been decided for him. Before Bush we had The Triangulator. Now we got a guy who leaves no doubt who is in charge. If he wants to talk bipartisanship & shake hands with the devils, fine. When Al Franken arrives in town, he'll need only two of those three Repug senate moderates. & in two years maybe he won't even need them.

Bobby Jindal is the bright new face of the Repulibans?


Mister Right

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — A Massachusetts schoolteacher was behind bars on a kidnapping charge in West Virginia on Tuesday after police found her at a motel with a 15-year-old boy whose parents had complained about the relationship.

Lisa Lavoie, 24, appeared before a Monongalia County magistrate by videoconference from the North Central Regional Jail near Flatwoods, in central West Virginia. She was ordered held without bond because kidnapping in West Virginia carries a possible life sentence, said State Police Cpl. T.W. Goodnight.

In Massachusetts, she faces a charge of enticing a child under 16, and authorities in West Virginia plan to charge her as a fugitive from justice, Goodnight said. Michael Sullivan, mayor of Holyoke, Mass., said the enticement charge includes statutory rape. Lavoie will likely be released to Massachusetts authorities, but those details have not been worked out.

The boy's mother had contacted Maurice Donahue Elementary School on Feb. 13, saying she was concerned about the relationship between her son and an eighth-grade teacher. The teen was reported missing Feb. 16.

Authorities had been tracking the teacher and boy for several days through credit card and cell phone use, Sullivan said. On Monday night, state police were informed she was at the Super 8 Motel in a Morgantown shopping center just off Interstate 68.

What makes these cases so baffling is that the teachers, usually in their twenties & not long out of college, mimic conventional romantic relationships with adolescent students. There was that teacher in New England who married her student when she got out of jail, but they were the exception. What are they thinking? That they're just a couple of smitten lovers running away to some state where their "love" is legit, where they'll settle down in domestic bliss & live happily ever after? It requires such a fantastically deluded imagination one wonders why no one noticed anything peculiar about the teacher back when she was an education student. Guess she hadn't found "Mister Right."

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Taxing the Doob

by Eric Bailey, L.A. Times

Could Cannabis sativa be a salvation for California's fiscal misfortunes? Can the state get a better budget grip by taxing what some folks toke?

An assemblyman from San Francisco announced legislation Monday to do just that: make California the first state in the nation to tax and regulate recreational marijuana in the same manner as alcohol.

Buoyed by the widely held belief that cannabis is California's biggest cash crop, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano contends it is time to reap some state revenue from that harvest while putting a damper on drug use by teens, cutting police costs and even helping Mother Nature.

"I know the jokes are going to be coming, but this is not a frivolous issue," said Ammiano, a Democrat elected in November after more than a dozen years as a San Francisco supervisor. "California always takes the lead -- on gay marriage, the sanctuary movement, medical marijuana."
Ammiano's measure, AB 390, would essentially replicate the regulatory structure used for beer, wine and hard liquor, with taxed sales barred to anyone under 21.

He said it would actually boost public safety, keeping law enforcement focused on more serious crimes while keeping marijuana away from teenagers who can readily purchase black-market pot from peers.

The natural world would benefit, too, from the uprooting of environmentally destructive backcountry pot plantations that denude fragile ecosystems, Ammiano said.

But the biggest boon might be to the bottom line. By some estimates, California's pot crop is a $14-billion industry, putting it above vegetables ($5.7 billion) and grapes ($2.6 billion). If so, that could mean upward of $1 billion in tax revenue for the state each year.
"I'm a martini guy myself," Ammiano said. "But I think it's time for California to . . . look at this in a truly deliberative fashion."

He sees the possibility of an eventual truce in the marijuana wars with Barack Obama now in the White House.

A White House spokesman declined to discuss Ammiano's legislation, instead pointing to a transition website that says the president "is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana."

Several cities in California and around the nation have adopted laws making marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority, including Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Denver and Seattle. Oakland went even further in 2004, requiring pot to be taxed if it is legalized.
The Great Depression swept away Prohibition. Guvmint didn't want all those alcoholic beverage revenues going into the pockets of organized crime, speakeasies, smugglers. Could economic desperation finally legalize it? How strictly laws against marijuana are enforced, & how strict those laws are, depend upon where you live. In the summer, I smell grass smoke wafting out of windows & backyards all around this neighborhood, & no cop car is gonna stop & check it out unless someone calls with noise complaint. The "rule" is that you don't light up in a public place. But there was always pot smoking in Rahway's county park on weekends, away from the road, blending in with the fragrance of hot dogs & hamburgers. When I worked in an art supply store, employees often lit up a bone on supper break as they walked across the wide parking lot to the sub shop. All the convenience stores do a considerable business in single cigars suitable for blunts. The 7/11 up the street, close to Kean University, sells a variety of sizes, plus rolling papers.

Big pot busts draw yawns, law enforcement wildly inflates the value of the confiscated stash. Actual street prices are common knowledge, everyone knows pot isn't the problem. Unlike crack & other hard drugs, pot is mostly a recreational thing, or spiritual, or medicinal. Last year, a Jersey man raising marijuana in his backyard to alleviate his MS symptoms was busted under the felony law of growing "for sale & distribution" because he was unwittingly three plants over the arbitrary limit. Perhaps, in addition to feeling better, he got more into Bob Marley albums. It's all so ridiculous.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sophia Loren

& Jerry Lewis.
The Oscars.

Sophia looked like the uber-queen of drag queens, which of course is old Hollywood glamor. But Sophia wasn't Hollywood. Her best work (& Oscar) was Italian, in films hardly anyone has seen. She never starred in a great American movie. She was stand-in atthe Oscars for Liz Taylor. Shirley MacLaine, same age as Loren, was the anti-Sophia. The Jackman-Beyonce routine was a waste of singers, dancers & show tunes, might have been the worst arranged medley I ever heard. Sickly Jerry Lewis kept it short & sweet for his overdue Statuette, the Hersholt, although the Academy could have given him a special Oscar for any number of reasons, including technical innovations. No Hey Laaaayddeee!

I followed the Oscars as a kid when I was into movie soundtracks & had an interest in the music categories, & the show was like the Miss America Pageant - everyone tuned in. Nowadays I'm indifferent, but I approve of A.R. Rahman, winning composer for Slumdog Millionaire. He's a superb musician, prolific, & practically born to the soundtrack art.

Ocean Township NJ

Asbury Park Toll Plaza, Garden State Parkway

South of Raritan River, the Parkway's characteristic yellow shoulders were sand quarried from pits located near the highway, probably including the area on the left. This section was notorious for massive northbound traffic jams on late summer Sunday afternoons when there were only two or three lanes, still a gamble on a hot weekend. The highway has been so widened that the "park" center median dividing north & south is gone.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009


Had a dark gray mouse in here last night, which means it's probably been coming here for a few days. Haven't seen a mouse in at least 18 months. When I stood up, it scurried back under the radiator in the corner, & I suppose into an opening next to pipe. I knew where it wanted to go: to the the only place where there are usually some crumbs on the floor - by the 'puter. It isn't a single mouse that bothers me; it's that there's never just one.

The radiator had various glue & live traps around it for a long time, never trapped anything. I removed them when the plumber did some work a couple of weeks ago, & next thing there's a mouse. So I put out some new ones - I hate catching mice, & I'll try to reseal any openings around the radiator.

Seeya Later Conan

Conan O'Brien will vastly improve The Tonight Show, but I doubt The Tonight Show will improve him. NBC & Leno screwed him over, too.

I haven't been a Late Night regular. Watched less since since Craig Ferguson took over Late Late Show. Craig does better monologues, Conan had better comedy schticks. Neither is a good interviewer, but Craig's C & D list guests usually beat Conan's B & occasional A listers the night after Letterman had them. Craig, though, rarely keeps any guest past one segment, & he's cut back on his skits.

Conan had Triumph the Insult Dog.

Conan did what I had thought an impossible task; take over the best talk show since the Steve Allen era, Letterman's Late Night creation, & make something new & good of it. Letterman lost something in the transfer to a big theater & big budget; the cheesiness that forced a lot of creative improvising. But he's avoided the stupidity & vulgarity Jay Leno brought to Johnny Carson's Tonight Show & which, sadly, increased Leno's ratings. Leno stands there night after night smugly railing against fat people & ignorant people to front rows of thin, tan blonde women culled from the audience, then flacks whatever Hollywood product he has scheduled for the guest chairs. A hard worker punching the clock; that's how he does stand up, too. One of his signature bits involves going out on the street & interviewing nitwits so we can all feel superior. Ha ha. It shouldn't be too difficult for Conan to top that humor. But I won't like having to choose at 11:35 pm.


Friday, February 20, 2009

What if?

Belatedly reading two popular "what if?" books: The World Without Us (2007) by Alan Weisman, & Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (2003) by Elaine Pagels.

Weisman's book imagines the world if humans suddenly disappeared - not in some global nuclear or environmental conflagration, but if we just ceased to exist. What would happen to everything humans built, changed, & screwed up? What would happen to New York City? How would flora & fauna recover? What about all our garbage, the plastics, the radioactive materials? He examines habitats humans have abandoned, old & modern, & the extinctions of mega fauna that were likely caused by humans - the extraordinary giant mammals populating North America when we arrived here at least 13,000 years ago. How long would it take for Earth's thermostat to reset itself? So far, aside from plastics, Weisman thinks Earth would do pretty well without humans. One intriguing suggestion is that orangutans or chimps could take some fairly fast evolutionary leaps in Africa, since we all evolved together, & without humans around they might have opportunities for advancement that haven't existed for several million years.

Beyond Belief examines something that did occur: the early emergence of competing communities of Jesus followers in the decades immediately after his crucifixion, & the subsequent channeling of belief into an orthodoxy. Of course, we've always known those communities existed, & a few, developing in isolation, survived. We know what happened: The Roman Christians prevailed, an official canon & basic creed established, competing "Gospels" & doctrines suppressed & deemed heretical, women removed from leadership roles, the development of complex concepts of The Trinity & The Word (Logos), & complex theologies to explain them. But central authority, always tenuous, cracked in 1054 & has been splitting into smaller pieces ever since, largely without serious challenges to the original, basic Roman-instituted orthodoxy. Pagels tries to reconstruct an early Christianity that included the Jesus found in The Gospel of Thomas & other collections of Jesus sayings & accounts of his life. I find The Secret Gospel of Thomas only slightly more strange than the Gospel of John, & John stands far enough apart from Mark, Matthew, & Luke - the synoptic gospels, to sound as different from them as Thomas does.

Pagels has suffered vile attacks for her studies & conclusions, but it's just shooting the messenger. Without theocratic political institutions & religion police, there is no way of imposing & enforcing orthodoxy on thousands of denominations & sects, or on individuals. The heart of Christianity has never been legalistic. Anyone can read & study non-canonical gospels. Strict fundamentalists & Mormons aren't orthodox believers to begin with. Mainstream American Christians ain't exactly of one mind, holding all sorts of peculiar beliefs incompatible with the Nicene Creed. Christianity is dying in Europe, forms of the faith are emerging in Africa & South America that make Roman Catholics & mainline protestants squirm. Christianity is diversifying & evolving, & it matters not who says it isn't supposed to change & demands it stop.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009


They insist their born again married sex is hot, but I never imagined...

I like my new burgundy comforter, lighter than old one. The sheets are clean. I have 1/3 of a new carpet, a 2 x 6 runner, eventually it'll be 6 x 6, or 4 x 12. For some years I've used interlocking blocks, a mixture of plain colors & children alphabet squares. I got those for my old studio apt when I tossed the awful carpet there but the room was too crowded to bother with a large new rug, so I just ran the blocks around the open spaces. Added another milkcrate for CDs. They're inefficient but they stack easily & they're free. About 90% of my boxed CDs are classical & I keep them organized mostly by national origin of composer. CDs are still viable for classical music; classical fans like having a physical object with extensive liner notes, but more older recordings are made available only as downloads. I have, ah, other sources for other kinds of digital music, so they're in CD wallets, & on an SD card I seem to have misplaced. The records are disorganized, a major project, simple but tedious sorting. No matter what system I use to file records, someone always says I'm showing prejudices.

A different kind of car company

When Saturn was started in 1990, as a “different kind of car, a different kind of car company” aimed at owners of small Hondas and Toyotas, its small cars were immediate hits. But G.M. executives decided in the mid-1990s that they needed to support G.M.’s other brands over Saturn, which by then had cost $5 billion.
I remember when GM rolled out the Saturn, & it seemed goofy at first, a smaller car where the sticker price was the price you paid. But I thought the Saturn was basically a good idea, except I wondered by GM was carrying both Buick & Olds as separate divisions, or not shrinking Pontiac to a few variations of a fast street machine, maybe market it like a Corvette. The Corvette is a Chevy, not all Chevy dealers had them in showrooms, or had salespeople who understood them, & you went to the dealers who specialized in Vettes. I'm a cultural product of the car crazy Sixties, when monster GM was supposed be an illusion of a bunch of different car companies., & that's how GM structured itself. Everyone knew a Mercury was a Ford & a Dodge was a Chrysler. But around 1990, Hyundais were improving, the Japanese were getting big into luxury cars, you still had the Germans. Selling American didn't mean you had to run the corporation like it was 1965 when the only big import competition was the Volkswagon Beetle (which had a well-advertised retail price you paid for the basic model without sunroof, you could buy in the morning & drive off the lot in the afternoon). Why was GM trying to get bigger?
G.M. said Tuesday that it would phase out its Saturn brand by 2012. It does not plan to develop any more new vehicles for Saturn, which began 19 years ago as an effort to attract owners of small Japanese cars.

G.M. also said it was considering its options for the Pontiac division. The Pontiac name, part of the car business since 1932, could remain on some models, but may no longer be a separate division. G.M. said Pontiac would be a “focused brand” with fewer models.

The disclosures by G.M., contained in a viability plan submitted to the government, means that G.M. plans to cut its brands in half, to four: Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC.

It said last fall that it would try to find buyers for Hummer and Saab. On Tuesday, it said it would decide on Hummer’s fate by March 31.
Later in 90's, I saw my first civilian Humvee. It was parked by the deli near my sister's in an upscale community, & people were practically orgasmic admiring it. My reaction (& it was vocal) was that it was the ugliest, most damned useless big dick SUV I ever saw, no reason for those to be running loose in suburbia. Shortly thereafter, GM bought rights to the Hummer from what was left of AMC & Hummers were everywhere, but they were driven only by assholes from McMansions & successful drug dealers. & named, so it seemed, after an oral sex act that is impossible to give or receive without laughing - if you have a sense of humor. Driving a Hummer was like saying, "On your knees, bitch" to everyone driving anything smaller, & that's no joke.

I was just a grumpy guy, frustrated with American car companies, expressing common sense opinions. Ford had closed its two Jersey plants & the GM in Linden looked doomed, although it struggled on for another decade.

My girlfriend in the early 90's had a no frills Mazda, stick, very peppy compact, reliable, a pleasure to drive. I had a Dodge Omni hatchback, automatic, only about 50,000 miles on it, prime time for Japanese subcompacts, but the Omni was coming unglued. A hypothetical good car, it was insidiously built to fall apart based on age rather than mileage & normal wear.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Radio Activity

Skipped an early evening walk to library. Drizzly, not bad out, but radar inconclusive, & a little more water & wind would have made the trip nasty.

Read an annoying crime novel, Radio Activity (2004) by Bill Fitzhugh. Bill's 6th, I might try another if it's not about radio. Fitzhugh used to be a commercial classic rock DJ, & he's pictured on the dust jacket with LPs by Derek & the Dominos, Steely Dan, & Dylan, seated by a small mixing board, looking every bit like a smug ex-classic rock DJ about to serve up a steaming mound of Gram Parsons trivia. The protagonist of his novel is also an aging classic rock DJ landing in a small Mississippi market at station run by the sleaziest station manager imaginable, which means the manager is entirely believable. Fitzhugh uses this DJ character, Rick Shannon, to tell us page after page after page how great a classic rock DJ the author was. Oh yeah, he goes deep catalogue with Wishbone Ash, can program a rainy day set without "Riders In the Storm" by the Doors, & is a genius for stringing together a set of songs linked by Todd Rundgren before ending the set with a song actually by Rundgren - of course the obscure original of "Hello It's Me" by The Nazz rather than the peppier solo hit remake. He also instructs the radio audience in the importance of Al Kooper to the career of Lynyrd Skynyrd, but not without mentioning Kooper's participation in "Short Shorts" by the The Royal Teens. Rick Shannon, as program director, pushes around, critiques, & tries to play mentor to an assortment of underpaid DJs; he'll learn 'em how to do real classic rock free form & never again air "Stairway to Heaven." At the first staff meeting, Shannon actually keys the Zep album to make it unplayable. This book is copyrighted 2004 & yet nobody at the fictitious station knows of the Great Equalizer,

Classic rock free form DJing was not a high art; if one had the knack, it could be learned & mastered. Great free form talent in classic rock was usually wasted on the kind of audience it drew, & the more subtle the DJ, the more pointless the effort, except as a personal pleasure. An idiot savant might be impressed. For a DJ, the only necessary speaking skill was in paraphrasing liner notes & written announcements. Adding in monologue was something else.

Shannon/Fitzhugh is the kind of old, old school DJ I thought had been using too much of WFMU's air signal for a decade, when I arrived there in 1981; guys who were still trying to provide a classic rock alternative to New York City commercial classic rock, mixing in a bit of jazz, blues, & spoken word, maybe dipping into The Stooges, MC5, The Ramones. My attitude was, If we're really free to anything we want, & we're not being paid, or selling anything, why should we do this? Fitzhugh has his DJ creating sets to impress middle-aged rednecks. He's obsessed with when the classic rock era begins & ends, & his characters discuss this in all seriousness; As program director, Shannon frowns upon anything beyond the end date unless it can be justified. They sort of agree the end is The Last Waltz by The Band. The first time I hung out with WFMU DJs was to watch a cable broadcast of "The Last Waltz," & my lasting impression of the event is that they were nice guys but way too excited about the movie, & needed to cut their hair, loosen their grip on the Sixties, & drink better beer. Maybe they thought the only choice was between classic rock & punk or disco. The choice was between their small sandbox & a big sandbox. Most of them were gone when I joined the station.

I enjoyed Fitzhugh's writing enough outside the classic rock bullshit to keep turning the pages. Shannon becomes convinced his predecessor at the station, a DJ named Captain Jack, was murdered. I wasn't convinced that this suspicion would motivate Shannon into turning P.I. & risking his livelihood & life in semi-rural Mississippi, even though he hates the station manager. Shannon initially seems driven more by curiosity than anything else. But Shannon correctly assumes Capt. Jack wouldn't just walk away from his valuable record collection & disappear. Then he finds a tape Jack may have been using to blackmail several prominent local citizens, including the station manager. Fitzhugh does well by an important female character, Traci, introduced like a caricature, provincial receptionist but then smoothly developed into an intelligent, trustworthy human being. All the women in the novel are nicely thought out. Fitzhugh likes women.

This isn't much of a review. But the trip through classic rock constantly distracted me from the good stuff. Readers my age must be the target audience for Radio Activity; who else would care? Even the most nostalgic of oldies lovers think the Museum of Classic Rock is larger than Fitzhugh makes it, & the implication that it's the golden age of rock is by itself a bit sickening. Free form commercial FM radio was a short-lived phenomenon. The ideal that free form gives average, casual, station-surfing listeners more of what they want, & what they want is for DJs to educate them, is untrue. Radio DJing, like writing poems, is something most people believe they can do & need not prove. When you play lots of unfamiliar music, you gain dedicated listeners but also convince greater numbers that they can do it better than you can. Rick Shannon might do very well in a weekly slot, profitably selling AARP memberships & male enhancement vitamins.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

that sinking feeling

Paul Krugman wrote in a recent column that he had a "sinking feeling" about the economy. His feeling comes from an economist's assessment that the situation is too grave & the government is doing too little. With one-tenth of Krugman's intellect, I've had a sinking feeling since Bush was "elected" & especially after he was "reelected" that there was a vast conspiracy to kill democracy in America while retaining the shell of its form, & that this conspiracy wasn't detailed but rather was general strategy & goals; a lot of powerful men & institutions - political, corporate, military, religious, think tanks, media - had tacitly agreed that the future of the United States of America should not be entrusted to the whims & will of the other 98% percent of the citizenry. So I look at the current economic collapse & wonder who benefits over the long run if President Obama fails, & wonder also if this collapse was somehow by design to make any legitimately elected president & government fail, regardless of party.

It's just a feeling, & to be honest I don't give it much thought. But the Repulibans in congress do give me pause. They are not the ruling class; they are the lapdogs of the ruling class. White men mostly, of mediocre minds & inflated self-importance. Tom DeLay is gone, but his spirit grovels on.


Mad Monkey

Animal experts are baffled by chimp attack

Over the weekend, a kitten named Sparky climbed on my shoulder, purring, while I was watching a basketball game. Sparky had done this before, the better I believe to watch the TV. But this time Sparky put a claw to my neck & bit my ear. Yeaow! I was shocked & hurt but had the presence of mind to pry Sparky off & drop him gently to the floor. There was no point in blaming the little critter & punishing it. It could never connect cause & effect. Cats are like that. Scritch a grown cat's chin & it loves it; do it again ten minutes later & for no logical reason you get scratched.

A little dog down the block has attacked me three times, on the sidewalk, twice while being walked on a leash, once running loose. The last time, I recognized the nasty thing, tried to walk around it, but the owner didn't pull in the leash, I yelled at the owner. I'm not sure he understood English. That's three strikes. If it succeeds in biting me, I will seriously consider making a police complaint, which would be a first for me not counting backyard dogs barking at night. Generally, dogs find me uninteresting.

I'm not crazy about large, squawking caged birds. . Snakes are o.k. but their owners overstate the individual personalities of reptiles. Snakes are machines.

I have met some pet monkeys, one of them rather large. I didn't like them. Their obvious brain power, the opposable thumbs, surprising strength, & social personalities capable of deviousness & therefore of suspect loyalties & compelled to test established authority. I'm not certain what monkeys think humans are - a different kind of monkey probably, which is true, & because of this they read us - our expressions & body language - in ways other animals cannot. Monkey experts understand how cautious we need to be around monkeys.

When a human establishes an alpha dominance over a pet dog, the dominance is rarely challenged (typically over some food it found you don't want it to eat). Some breeds challenge it more than others, but it isn't difficult to maintain. Dogs observe our relationship with their human alpha "dog," & if it is non-threatening, this usually suffices for the dog, which then is either friendly toward us or ignores us. A few humans become beta dogs to their pet alpha dogs, which might be the case with the owners of the small one that attacks me.

Apes are something else, & chimpanzees are the strangest, most human-like apes. I've been close to "trained" chimps & I don't care for them in that guise. They belong in the forest, working out their social hierarchies, grooming each other, screwing, warring with other chimp groups, making their little tools, suckling their infants, & dancing their rain dances. I don't like them dressed in human clothes, diapered, faking table manners, drinking from stem glasses, smoking cigars, wearing top hats, playing pretend human for our amusement, our living dolls. It is degrading to our humanity & therefore degrading to them. They are not cats or dogs, bred over centuries into beneficial symbiotic relationships. They are not domesticated. They've never served any important day-to-day purpose for us as guards or rodent catchers, nor we for them, except that we have the power to let them roam free, to choose not to exploit them as clown parodies of ourselves, for medical experiments, & as monkey meat.

[Every night for weeks, Letterman was running a brief clip of sneezing monkey. It's a great clip. The monkey is just sitting there, it sneezes, & it looks slightly embarrassed. It probably is embarrassed, because for a monkey as for a human a sneeze is an unexpected moment of vulnerability, attracting attention when it does not want attention. We were superstitious enough about sneezes to believe evil spirits entered us during them. Imagine trying to convince those people that they were actually spraying evil spirits.}

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Monday, February 16, 2009

What would Jesus pack?

He packed love o'plenty & miraculous firepower he reserved for special occasions
Arkansas pastors debate merits of allowing hidden guns

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas pastors may soon have to worry about more than their flocks' spiritual battles. After a number of shootings in churches nationwide, should congregants be allowed to bring concealed weapons into their sanctuaries?

Under current Arkansas law, holders of concealed weapons permits can take their guns anywhere they want except bars and houses of worship. A bill in the state Senate would let churches decide for themselves whether weapons should be allowed.

"I believe it would disturb the sanctity and tranquility of church" said Pastor John Phillips, a bill opponent who was shot twice in the back as he finished a service 23 years ago. If a church opts out, "Do you want ushers to stop you at the door and frisk you?"

The bill's supporters say the issue isn't gun rights but a constitutionally protected right for churches to set their own rules. Opponents say worshippers should be allowed to pray without worrying whether the person next to them is armed.

Nathan Petty, a pastor at Beech Grove Baptist Church in Fordyce, has presented to legislators a petition from 40 preachers who support the bill.

"It's not about gun rights, it's about church rights," Petty said. "Is it right for the state to make that decision for the church?"
Never mind the ironies. This is a rare instance where I side with the gun people. Given the laws as they already exist in Arkansas, it is an infringement on church/state separation. A state government prohibits weapons in churches where it allows them in the Masonic Temple, a doctor's office, a college campus, & a public park. Arkansas would have to revise their entire concealed weapon laws so churches are not singled out for bans. I agree that individual Arkansas churches have the right to ban concealed weapons & post notices to that effect. But it's their decision. In Arkansas, guns are much a matter of religious freedom as marrying one's cousin. In the above picture, at least Jesus ain't hidin' what he's packin'. But he borrowed the gun. Because he doesn't believe in owning anything.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hackensack NJ

Kates Bros. shoe store, Hackensack NJ
Scientific Shoe Fitting

There must be people under a certain age (& economic level) who have never bought shoes in a store where a sales person measures your feet with a strange implement, brings the style of shoes you select to you, takes them out of the box, shoehorns them on your feet, laces & ties them for you, then leans back while you walk around testing them. As a kid, I thought it a peculiar occupation, & I didn't like strange men touching my feet. But good shoes weren't cheap then or now. Jerry's Dept. Store in Roselle Park had a weird x ray machine to fit the shoes Jerry himself wore & swore by; a special order, custom made line of what later were called "Earth shoes," although I never saw anyone else around town wearing them. He also stocked Buster Brown, which offered Mary Janes for local Lolitas.

The last time I bought shoes in mall shoe store, a pricey pair of boots, a bored sales girl just handed me the box & I had to try them on & lace them up without help, twice because she didn't measure my feet & the first pair were too small. & she got a commission!

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Day

Cialis is the drug for erectile dysfunction that stays in the system for up to 36 hours so you're ready "when the time is right." The TV commercials show happy,relaxed, loving older couples who look married or like they know each other well. About the only reason I can think of that Cialis would be preferable to Viagra is if the guy doesn't want to reveal that he's taking a drug to chemically encourage his boner, & he's not sure when or if he's gonna get lucky. If you're in an honest relationship, one or the other can ask, "You wanna do it?" & if the time is almost right, the guy says, "O.K., I'll take a Viagra," & then they can fool around until it kicks in. It's bad to keep it secret, because if a guy takes an erectile drug & starts going deaf or blind as a side effect, it'd be good to say to one's lover, "Hey, I got a problem, I think you should drive me to the emergency room," without making a confession of it. Anyway, women appreciate the fooling around time, & they like it even more if they're ready first, particularly with older men who are likely to be ready once & then too sleepy to stay awake until the next "right time." Viagra has more energetic commercials, musicians singing "Viva Viagra" to the tune of "Viva Las Vegas." Indeed, it's easy to imagine Elvis eating 'em by the handful along with a variety of other mood enhancers. But it also suggests that one has scheduled an appointment in Nevada with a woman known only by a first name.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

A story with sorrow inside it:

2 Pa. judges sued in kickback scheme

ALLENTOWN, Pa. A lawsuit has been filed against two Pennsylvania judges accused of taking more than $2 million in kickbacks to send youth offenders to privately run detention centers.

The suit names Luzerne County Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan and 14 other defendants. It was filed in federal court late Thursday on behalf of hundreds of children and their families who were alleged victims of the corruption.

"At the hands of two grossly corrupt judges and several conspirators, hundreds of Pennsylvania children, their families and loved ones, were victimized and their civil rights violated," plaintiffs' attorney Michael Cefalo said in a statement Friday.

Prosecutors allege Ciavarella and Conahan took $2.6 million in payoffs to put juvenile offenders in lockups run by PA Child Care LLC and a sister company, possibly tainting the convictions of thousands of juvenile offenders.

The judges pleaded guilty to fraud in federal court in Scranton on Thursday. Their plea agreements call for sentences of more than seven years in prison.
The lead plaintiff is Florence Wallace, whose 14-year-old daughter Bernadine was charged with terroristic threats after getting into an argument on MySpace. The lawsuit said the teenager was not advised of her right to an attorney and was pressured to plead guilty. She was taken from Ciavarella's courtroom in shackles and spent time in PA Child Care and at a youth wilderness camp.

As a result of the judges' corruption, parents were forced to pay for the "wrongful incarceration" of their children, the suit said. Some parents had their wages garnished, public assistance benefits taken and social security benefits seized.
Seven years, eh? The number of lives these shit hole judges & their cohorts ruined doesn't seem to count for much (just like with crooked legislators, financiers, & the entire Cheney adminstration.). Kids needing counseling & maybe some tough love. Some who may have required no more than a warning. Perhaps others innocent altogether. Most no doubt from the struggling Eastern PA underclasses. Privatize the criminal justice system, make it profitable to incarcerate, buy off some corrupt public servants. Everyone gets to drive a fuckin' Lexus. It was bound to happen. Let's finish the job & have Xe (rebranded Blackwater) supply our police & subcontract the courts to Halliburton.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Darwin woo hoo

Today was beautiful: Blustery; gray, broken clouds racing across the sky; trees waving; an odd quality of light, the pale winter sun there & not there. Walking in it, late afternoon, I felt like shouting, "Woo hoo, woo hoo!"

Also Charles Darwin's 200th birthday, one of the greatest minds that ever lived. The questions Darwin raised for literalist Judeo-Christian belief have never been answered. I must admit, they precipitated a deep spiritual puzzlement for me in the form of Horseshoe Crabs having mass sex on the beaches of Raritan Bay NJ ten years ago. My response was to purchase a two CD set of Blind Willie Johnson's recordings & a compilation of gospel songs composed by Thomas A. Dorsey. When confused by the contradictions, accept the science & find your religion in poetry.

Sucks: cassette player ate tape of a rare reggae dub album I was about to digitalize. Ruined.

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Abe 200

The 1943 steel penny, only regular-issue United States coin that can be picked up with a magnet. Common in collections, rare in circulation. If you have a big jar of pennies look for one before dumping it in a Coinstar.

No hurry to celebrate Lincoln's big birthday. I'm reading essays, Our Lincoln, New Perspective on Lincoln and His World, edited by Eric Foner. On the dry side, like Bill Moyers, who recommended it. Contributors include two from Princeton, one each from Columbia, CUNY, Yale, Penn State, U Mass, Met Museum of Art, Oxford England, Queen's College Belfast. One might ask if this is a Yankee slant, or if such a slant is still possible in mainstream Lincoln studies. (Of course, it is. You can always tell who James M. McPherson is rooting for.)

Also read an entertaining little book by Jan Morris, Lincoln, A Foreigner's Quest (2000). Morris is of the breed of Brits who fell in love with America, lived & traveled here extensively for 50 years. She took a tour of Lincoln monuments & historical sites, many of them obscure. She accepts some long-discredited Lincoln myths, & the book has glaring factual errors, but the writing is relaxed, she's a charming guide, observant, tolerant. The book is also about the Americans she meets on her quest, & the scenery around the sites.

The worse "historical" Lincoln writing I've read is by Carl Sandburg, which largely shaped my parents' generation's view of Lincoln. His books were very popular, influenced the old movie portrayals of Lincoln. Sandburg bought into nearly all the anecdotal stuff. But as a leftist, Sandburg had an agenda. He was playing Homer & trying to script Lincoln as an American Literary Epic Hero by gathering together the various threads of popular Lincoln narrative, heavily anecdotal, that were well-established while he was growing up in Illinois in the late-19th Century. Ambitious goal. I dismissed Sandburg when I read him years ago. Now I'm interested in the cultural impact of his propaganda, & his ultimate failure as an epic prose poet. Sandburg's Lincoln is its own history. This writing has value because Sandburg's Lincoln is still very much alive in popular imagination, as evidenced in the book by Jan Morris, from the people she met, & in her own view.

How does the anecdotal Lincoln survive in an era of strict scholarship & specialization? I read a suspicious Lincoln quote on a box of Celestial Seasonings tea. There it was, in print, so it must be true. But no matter where I looked, no source put those words in Lincoln's mouth or pointed to his writing. I went around & around. Couldn't even find a citation that might indicate the quote was pure invention. It was just accepted as something from Lincoln. One might as well have Lincoln saying, "I drink Celestial Seasoning teas."

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Only Glue

I have two brothers & a sister, all older. Four siblings. Seven years from oldest to youngest. We all live in New Jersey, always have. The most distant are separated by three hours drive.

We have not been the same place at the same time since we had lunch 12 years ago following our mother's funeral. Prior to that, we were in the same place at the same time 12 years earlier at the lunch following our father's funeral. If we subtract the oldest brother, who resigned around 1968 but kept showing up for some holiday gatherings in the following decade, the remaining three siblings have been in the same place at the same time an additional five times in that 24 year span; twice in the 1980's, once in the 1990's, & twice in this decade.

That is the reality. Pretty sad, huh? Five years of therapy didn't get me to the root of it. Our parents withheld so much crucial information, so many stories untold, our relationships with each other & with other relatives so distant & sporadic, that too many puzzle pieces were missing.

I think our father tried to fold us into his second wife's family because he sensed a weakness in our glue, & her family was stronger. He died before accomplishing it. Except for my oldest brother- he's his own kind of exception - we attached ourselves to the families of whomever we were with, in-laws.

I've written well but not at length or in depth about my childhood, never approaching full disclosure. I haven't delved much into my tragi-comic experiences growing up as a stutterer, or how I managed to do radio & speak from a podium as an adult while occasionally afflicted with the impediment. I can still become tongue-tied, babbly & blinky-eyed in conversations, like a switch flipped, & initiating phone calls is always troublesome.

My memories of childhood often have the quality of being alone in a crowd; there were six people in the house. I was well cared for, fed, dressed, safe; for those I am grateful to my parents. But my own father frequently mocked my stuttering, which set an example, & he should not have been surprised when I rebelled long & loudly against him in nearly all matters. (To his credit, he was figuring this out later on, while I was also letting him off the hook.)

Four singular adult perspectives that in many families would have been gradually reshaped simply by sharing them through years of Christmases, 4th of July picnics, christenings, wakes, house warmings, phone chats, & routine dutifulness when nothing much of import was occurring. My sister wanted it to be different, & for a time so did I.

I faithfully read Tata's blog. The thread of her narrative through births, weddings, deaths, & mundane occasions galore, & although it is an extended - & in some ways artificial - family of people who annoy & even dislike each other (how could it be otherwise?), is love. Dear Tata rarely needs to examine the heart of love itself, only the forms of its expression. They are always talking, arguing, shopping, eating, being with each other or refusing to be with each other. Love is the glue. Love is the only good glue.


Monday, February 09, 2009

Best Surround Sound

Did you know Ringo Starr was nominated for a Grammy? Best Surround Sound Album. He lost. Does anyone other than Jimmy Sturr win the Best Polka Album

I don't watch the show, never even heard most of the music nominated in the popular categories. I had only a few horses in the lesser races. Alan Pasqua for Jazz Instrumental Album Solo or Group; Judith Sherman for Classical Producer of the Year; former Kronos Quartet cellist Joan Jeanrenaud for Classical Instrumental Soloist (without orchestra) for a genuinely "alternative" album. They all lost. I knew Pasqua slightly back in Roselle Park, lived around the corner, you knew of everyone in that town, talented pianist as a kid. He's had a long, distinguished career as a leader & sideman, a versatile, open-minded musician.

In my musical universe, a band that's been around for 15 years & sells platinum is not "alternative." Alternative to what? The Grammys suck. This is not a recent thing; they've always sucked.


A Hero

Main Entry: he·ro Function: noun Etymology: Latin heros, from Greek he-ro-s Date: 14th century. 1 a: a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability b: an illustrious warrior c: a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities d: one that shows great courage. 2 a: the principal male character in a literary or dramatic work b: the central figure in an event, period, or movement. 3 an object of extreme admiration and devotion : idol.

Popular culture exalts as well as degrades, & often degrades through the exalting off what is mundane or mediocre. It degrades language (listen to politicians). The word hero has suffered in popular usage. Cops, firefighters, members of the armed forces, become heroes by entering occupations that may require heroic acts. Meaning no insult to them, what they do is admirable, not yet heroic. Modest charitable acts are called heroic. Victims are heroic, as if survival itself always requires heroic actions. Teachers are heroes. Athletes are heroes. These are kindnesses & courtesies, we don't make too much of them. False heroes fall when their heroic acts are exposed as false. A true heroic act does not require a human of flawless or even praiseworthy character. Some of the greatest heroes of art & real life are tragically flawed, even criminal prior or subsequent to their acts of heroism. This does not change the act, although it may change our perception of it. Some heroes are destroyed by the rewards of their heroism, because the act rarely changes the essential character of the one who performs it. Heroism is not the same as redemption, although it may be misunderstood as redemptive. Heroism can provide redemptive opportunity - usually self-sacrificial.

If you paid attention in high school or college lit classes, you probably had some lively discussions about what defines a hero. Good lit teachers spend some time with this matter, not only for comprehending the play or book being studied & applying that comprehension to other works of art, but to help students recognize, & when necessary resist, manipulative language. Hero is much manipulated word. After all, one person's hero might be another person's enemy - maybe even a terrorist.

Occasionally, we get an obvious hero of a type (there are many types in literature: Flight 1549 hero pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger discusses ordeal reads one headline today. We have no quibbles. His virtues are skill & experience, plus the qualities of character to apply them in a life or death situation, which resulted in a successfully heroic act. In fact, had that plane crashed in the river & killed everyone on board, he still would have been a hero by choosing Hudson River as his landing place. His flight crew are also heroes, though subordinate to him. The passengers are not heroes, would not have been heroes even if they all died. They were along for the ride. Heroes require witnesses, otherwise we would not know their heroism. Sullenberger hit the jackpot of witnesses.

I was watching an old Star Trek episode on Saturday in which a young ensign believed he was trying to prevent Capt. Kirk from sacrificing himself to destroy an alien monster. We knew Kirk better than the ensign did. Kirk is always prepared to die on behalf of his crew, even sacrifice his crew on behalf of a world, but his goal is always to live. We know that if you're in Kirk's crew, your best chance at survival is by staying close to him & doing what he orders. Doesn't always work, but your odds are improved. Sully's heroism was similar to the typical Kirk heroism; both were captains of flying machines, both faced the destruction of themselves, their crew & passengers. Both resolved to honor the greater good (for Sullenberger, not risking a crash in a populated area) but also to give themselves a chance at survival. The best part is that Sullenberger is for real. He's handled his fame well; by not denying or spurning the fame, & by not projecting a false modesty, & by enjoying the attention without seeming to revel in it. Presented with the horrifying situation hypothetically, he might have chosen himself as the pilot most qualified to cope with it.

Sullenberger can now fade gracefully into the American fabric - I hope he's not the type to do "Dancing With the Stars." He may not even be an interesting autobiography. He will reap quieter rewards. But he will never be forgotten around New York City, where he'll never again have to pay for his own dinner.

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

Small Latte

Later: Slightly underdressed for walk .. windy. Treated myself to small latte on sale at Dunkin', rarely drink caffeine after morning coffee, DD switched TV from Fox back to CNN, inclines me more to sit down there. 40ish woman with wifi laptop, studying for NY bar exam. Seen her there before. Don't know how much she learns. But I used to study at a Wendy's that played classical music in the afternoon, part of it was not having a convenient college cafe or library & just wanting to get out & do some people-watching, & I did swell on the tests.
High fifties & had a spring shower. With the relentless cold & "wintry mix" we've had so far, we're due for run of mild weather, & early February is often our deep freeze in Jersey. Yesterday, I wandered downtown, mainly to stop at Radio Shack, but decided to hoof it all the way to the Main Library for Our Lincoln, one the many books timed for Lincoln's bicentennial birthday. It's just getting started. I arrived home with that & a 2 x 6 rug, "Made in the USA" according to the label.

Gina & her boyfriend are in Fort Lauderdale this week, staying at an old family-owned motel close by the racetracks, a vacation quickly arranged when Glen learned he was going on the graveyard shift & decided he needed some time in the sunshine before his circadian rhythms were discombobulated. This leaves me in charge of The Cats. With two kittens, the list keeps growing of stuff not to leave out in open, now including cellophane candy wrappers. Last night they were already tuckered out, thank heavens, & I listened to a new organ CD on Gina's very loud music machine while I ran a load of laundry in the basement. Then carted home my new comforter, all my packages delivered to Gina's.

If I was rich, I'd do three things for Elizabeth. I'd expand the Elmora Branch Library so it has more space for books & a comfortable reading area. Then I'd fund a year of Sundays, partly to see if the local Orthodox community would use it as much they do weekdays, & partly because the 8 computers are busy all day Saturday & they'd probably be as in demand Sunday; I'd support a children's librarian- there are not enough organized activities, & the ones they do have & promote seem to draw participants. But first I'd move out of the city. The Main Library is not convenient for most people in Elmora. We're like a separate town here, the most ethnically & economically diverse area of the city.

Except for the Orthodox, Elmora is like my former town, Rahway, changes block by block, if not gentrifying with upscale condos & expensive restaurants, but that would happen if a light rail connection came here & the economy picked up. Elmora is a "natural" for light rail. Most of the route already exists on the old Jersey Central right-of-way, 2 minutes to the downtown NJ Transit station & a short trip to Jersey Gardens Mall & the airport. & there's some wonderful old high ceiling apartment buildings, including several clustered around a large, rectangular park a few blocks from what would be the Elmora trolley stop.

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Belleville NJ

Balloon Ascension, Hillside Park, Belleville, N.J.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

Union Guys

Part Two to yesterday's grumpfest:

Whenever there's a devastating tornado, hurricane, flood, wildfire, entire neighborhoods of two bedroom prefabs are wiped out. Often they are pleasant homes, well-maintained, & sometimes not so pleasant. What's long puzzled me is why the people in those houses believe they are middle class. It's one of the great bamboozlements, a hugely successful ruse, foisted upon Americans by the upper classes, mainly through control of the popular culture, & the use of culture in bending political opinion with misdirection. I think of Hank Hill in the cartoon series, King of the Hill. I like the cartoon family. They're more "realistic" than any filmed sitcom. Some episodes are tweaked into fantastic scenarios, others given over to ordinary family dillemmas in which Hank & Peggy, decent church folks in Texas, squirm through situations requiring ethical adjustments that don't resolve easily using the hard, either/or Biblical morality they probably get from the preacher in the pulpit.Peggy, though naive in some ways, is more knowing of human foibles & desire, & more adaptable than Hank. The puzzlement is why Hank & Peggy think they're in the middle class. Hank's possession of a lawn tractor for his small yard, his middle class bling, may push him over an illusory line. Upper middle class guys also drive their tractors for kicks, but contract landscapers for lawn maintanance. But it's how the Hills think, the reflection they see of themselves. They're clearly only a couple of paychecks away from economic disaster - episodes have dealt with the possibility. Hank has a capricious boss at the propane depot. Peggy is better educated & is a resourceful Jill-of-all-trades, but at heart she's an old-fashioned homemaker & volunteer do-gooder. The son, Bobby, is a pudgy, unathletic impulsive kid who wants mostly to be accepted & liked (Hank is a "Glory Days" high school football type). They aren't financially secure. Nor, so far as I can tell, are any of Hank's beer-drinking buddies.

Hank's street in Arlen, Texas is the kind of neighborhood we see on the news in a pile of rubble flattened by an F-4 twister, including Hank's manufactured house that looks all of 600 sq ft. It's also, I would imagine, overwhelmingly Republican. Hank believes he has a freedom & flexibility in his life that just isn't there. He doesn't try to exercise enough liberties to understand how few he really has. Hank has a common, largely unwarranted hubris regarding his position & importance in America's economic scheme. Hank would consider a politicized class consciousness as unpatriotic, even unamerican.

In my town, the Hank Hills were union guys, & they earned better than Hank, & most had larger homes, old frames & newer split-levels, & some smaller houses that grew dormers & finished basements, & they were patriotic enough to have risked their asses for America.

There were two kinds of people in my town with second, summer homes. One were the professional guys, the lawyers, accountants, business-owners, a few Wall Streeters & upper middle-management. They had vacation homes on the lakes in North Jersey & on Long Beach Island (not as upscale then as now, but no bargain). There weren't a whole lot of them in town. The others were autoworkers at the GM & Ford plants, & skilled tradesmen, who jumped at overtime & got good financial advice somewhere. Union men all. They had places in the new developments around Seaside Heights & Barnegat Bay ranging from cottages on dredged bayfront canals to very modest 1/2 shacks in locations with names like Ocean Beach 1, 2, & 3. Environmental disasters for the most part, but hardly anyone raised that issue at the time. These union dads, for all their griping about union dues & shop stewards, had tough, adversarial attitudes toward corporate management. They came from struggling ethnic neighborhoods in Jersey City, Bayonne, Newark, Brooklyn, growing up during the Great Depression, they liberated themselves at they same time they liberated the world from Hitler & Tojo. Italians, Irish, Polish, Germans, Catholics & protestants. My town was a big step up for them, one square mile of safety & whiteness where nobody was too rich or too poor (with a few notable exceptions). They thought of themselves as working class even as their incomes surpassed the average white collar families in town. There was, in these union families, so much pride in going to college that many of my friends & acquaintances became teachers even though that meant earning less than their fathers. The encouraged career goal was clean, physically undemanding work in jobs with no layoffs.

I recall one dad, who had a house down the shore & two late model vehicles in his driveway, sitting at a picnic table on the lovely patio behind his house, still wearing his GM assembly line work clothes, drinking a Schlitz after supper in the cool spring twilight, saying to a collection of bored adolescents, "Don't do what I do." The surroundings suggested that we ought to do what he did, follow in his footsteps. But what he did was the same thing day in day out, with no variety, whipped along by time management experts who came down from the offices carrying clipboards, wearing ties & hard hats. For his lifestyle he relied entirely on his union contract & the desire of the American consumer to purchase the cars his employer was selling, which he knew were absurdly designed. He, in fact like Hank Hill, drove a very plain, very reliable red pickup truck, but from his own factory,* a steel box in the bed holding his fishing gear for quick Friday getaways. In the summer, his wife & kids relocated down the shore while he stayed in town during the week by himself, a separation he admitted, with a chuckle, didn't bother him, as he ate his suppers at the Legion Hall or Peterson's (a legendary hot hog & burger stand), watched ballgames on TV in peace, & went to bed earlier. He was good guy. His son became a high school history teacher. A union man, too.

The unions are largely gone. But we need the old union anger, the union understanding of have & have nots. We need to understand that the political message out of Washington D.C. & the front offices has been for years, relentlessly, successfully, that the people who are have nots or have not much are really part of the haves; that they are haves even as wages & the standard of living drop & wealth flows ever upward, carrying few with it.

* He bragged that every worker from the railroad dock to the storage lot driver knew his truck was coming through. No way to verify the claim.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Grump grump

Why am I beginning to perceive Barack Obama as a weak president? While he enjoys high favorable numbers, he's seems unable to consolidate & focus that broad support (especially his core support) on passing his Stimulus Package, the most important raison d'être for his election - now that generic "change" is not sufficient. Inside the West Wing, he's practically twisting himself into knots trying to please groups that are just waiting for their chance to vote for Sarah Palin again.

I don't blame Obama so much for Daschle's dishonesty in filling out vetting questionnaires. Rod Blagojevich doesn't begin to understand the damage he caused to Obama through his efforts to become a footnote in history books during one of the most significant moments in American history.

For one thing, President Obama, in his cautious, honest, but gloomy assessments of the economy, is failing to strike the necessary hopeful note - a vision of what this immense pile of debt will accomplish in America's hometowns. Too much Lincoln, not enough Franklin Delano Roosevelt. We look back at the start of Lincoln's term & hear a president in public denial, with his calls to the "better angels of our nature," & an unsustainable belief in the strength of southern unionist sentiment that should have been more obvious at the time, as secessionists formed a government & armed themselves with confiscated federal weapons. F.D.R., a man of fearless partisan temperament, also unsure of what was to be done, was quite certain of who stood against him, & was prepared to flatten that opposition as necessary.

So far, the tone of this administration is "Team of Equals," after Doris Kearns Goodwin's recent popular history of Lincoln's cabinet; yet they trot out"The Boss" to sing "The Rising." There's a reason they call him "The Boss." (Clarence Clemons's tour contract gets him his own dressing room apart from E Streeters, & a can of caviar, but he doesn't call the tunes.) Obama's overtures & capitulation to Repugs & neoconservatives, which began before the election, have gained him nothing in real support except from a small group of evangelicals who believe ending employment discrimination against gays is serious common ground rather than a belated endorsement of rights that political & religious centrists were advocating (& occasionally securing) decades ago; & for whom "abortion reduction" remains unconnected to the more pertinent matters of reproductive rights, education, & availability in a nation where a dogmatic minimum wage drugstore cashier might refuse to ring up a package of condoms.

Do for the people that loves you, which includes the neediest & most powerless. There's a vast swath of working class Americans being dissuaded of a foolish & irrational belief that they were higher up the economic ladder than they had any good reason to think, & now they're seeing how close they always were to the bottom, how insecure, how distant are the upper reaches of that ladder, how few occupy those rungs, how much federal largess continues to reward the wealthy few at the expense of everyone else. Stir up some class conflict, it's long overdue. Go ahead & pound on the corporate elites. & the Repugnicans.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Steam-whistle Music

From Henry Thoreau's Journal, August 7, 1856:
... Heard this forenoon what I thought at first to be children playing on pumpkin stems in the next yard, but it turned out to be the new steam-whistle music, what they call the Calliope (!) In the next town. It sounded still more like the pumpkin stem near at hand, only a good deal louder. . . . At Acton, six miles off, it sounded like some new seraphim in the next house with the blinds closed. All the milkmen and their horses stood still to hear it. The horses stood it remarkably well. It was not so musical as the ordinary whistle.
There's a difference between Henry & me. I would have gone looking for the new machine, just as the sound of the carousel band organ ends my leisurely boardwalk stroll & hurries me toward Casino Pier. Finding the marvelous instrument, I might have written that it was no more or less musical than the ordinary whistle. But I believe that Thoreau did not have much of an ear for human music, despite the suggestive effect his flute-playing had on Louisa May Alcott.

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Chauffeur Blues

I'm glad Tom Daschle got bounced as nominee for Health & Human Services. He's fine for a consultant role on health care; he can be a message boy with a chauffeured car, which is what he's been doing for the past four years around D.C. But not smart enough to hire a first rate tax accountant as he compensated himself for all those years he starved on a senator's salary. The Prez has been so intent on loading up key positions with elite insiders that he's forgotten he needs clear-eyed outsiders warning him about the insiders. How many of Obama's nominees have made us say, "Wow, excellent pick!" ? Mostly, they've been "Well, alright" with no exclamation point. Anyway, we don't know yet how much pull the "lesser" Cabinet Secretaries will have inside the West Wing. Nowadays, they're generally expected to behave modestly, keep in touch with the same cronies they had before they were appointed, & stay out of sight except when ordered to announce some policy, program, or initiative not important enough for the full presidential fanfare, or stand next to the president when The Man wants to take the credit.

Two weeks isn't enough time for the Repugs to claim they're the "principled opposition." If Daschle was a Bush appointee, they'd be rushing to change the tax codes regarding use of company cars & cutting SCHIP to cover the loss in revenues.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A love so rare and true

I don't recall how the argument began. Maybe the song was on the radio, or we were discussing records & I mentioned the excellence of Holly's "20 Greatest Hits" album, or he dredged it up out of nowhere, but the older poet with the snobby taste in older jazz dissed "Peggy Sue." A perfect & perfectly harmless & beloved hit song of the Fifties. He hated "Peggy Sue." Didn't like the other Holly hits, either, including my fav, "Maybe Baby." But Peggy got the brunt, & the absurdity was that he had his reasons. You can dislike a song for no reason, I've always allowed that as reason enough. But no, he didn't like the simplicity, the child sing-along quality, the lyric, the drumming, Holly's hiccup singing & economical guitar playing, everything that made it a hit record. "For cripessake, it's just a folk song," I said. "Buddy pulled it out of the air." I explained that it sounds like it had always existed but no one had ever bothered to record it. How often does that happen? The song is a small miracle.

For all that poet knew & appreciated about jazz, I never trusted his opinions on music.

50 years ago today, Buddy, along with Richie Valens & The Big Bopper, died in a tragic & legendary plane crash in a snowy Iowa cornfield. We don't know what would have become of Buddy's career. But on the evidence, he would have had a long one, perhaps as a Brill Building songwriter with Carole King & Neil Sedaka when rock & roll went into eclipse for a few years, perhaps re-emerging to tour with his devotees, The Beatles or The Stones. Certainly, later in the Sixties, he could have become a huge country music star & a popular Vegas act. Even later dueting with Elvis Costello, Chrissie Hynde, Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Alison Krauss. Frank Sinatra. Who knows? Having located to Manhattan rather than Nashville, L.A., or Philly, he was looking for New York's sophistication, whatever that would have meant in his music. I'm not convinced it was the best thing for it; it might have polished him up, wrapped him in violins, cut him off from his roots, & turned him into a Bobby Darin type of musical changeling. There are box sets of his songs, but what matters is mainly what is on the album of 20 Greatest Hits, only a handful of which were actually "hits," but all of which are now classics.


Monday, February 02, 2009

Ted's Adventure

The problem with Ted Haggard isn't that he wants to restrict himself to straight sex with his wife, save his marriage, hold his family together, & preach again. He can do all those. At least he's learned something: he admits now that sexuality is "complex." The problem is that he wants the same religion he had before he scandalized himself, although with a little more of the compassion, understanding, & mercy not shown to him by his righteous peers & followers. That is not complex.

It's also not enough, Ted.

Ted's headed for a pulpit where he'll be preaching, "If I can struggle & change, so can you." But he'll be promoting the wrong kind of change based on the wrong struggle.

What Ted has yet to do is listen to & learn from those orthodox Christians - protestant & Catholic - who found their way to an inclusive form of the religion. In this regard, Christianity is evolving, & there is no turning back. The struggle is for something else, for a change greater than Ted imagines.
Larry King: Do you think this whole story would have been different if Mike Jones were Michelle Jones?

Haggard: Oh, yes. [transcript]
Yes & no. One thought Bill Clinton had handed over the nuclear strike codes to Monica for all the hysteria that generated. Even same sex Christian marriages are expected to be monogamous & faithful. Ted would still have to repent & save his marriage, & he'd still be out of his job at New Life Church. But he wouldn't have to repent & repudiate the sexuality itself.

Ted is unable to accept a different, equally authentic, equally legitimate, equally Christian outcome to that struggle; one that goes far beyond a lukewarm, conditional endorsement of "equal civil rights" Rick Warren hands out. Increasingly, Christian men & women do not struggle with this at all. When they know they are homosexual, they do not try to become heterosexual. They do not become misshapen souls, but live to emit as truly as possible the light God shines through everyone - the unique light which is everyone's true name. They become Christians who happen to be gay or lesbian. Think of their struggle for acceptance, Ted. Certain that they are accepted by God, believing in the resurrected Christ, faithful in their marriages, active in their spiritual communities; how are they not Christian? Why can't they have on earth as it is in Heaven?

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Groundhog Day

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Springsteen at Superbowl:

Watching it, the action seemed energetic, almost frenetic, horn section, choir, fireworks. But with eyes closed, the music was sluggish. Isn't Glory Days played faster than that? Well, no. It never is. One just wishes it was faster. That stuff doesn't make we want to dance. What kind of party is that? Gets points for sliding on his knees into the camera. There was another act who mugged a lot, slid across the floor, & had a large soul review band: his name was James Brown. Is it fair to compare?

The commercials were male magical fantasies. Inventive. Stupid.

Union NJ

Cafe Mozart, Union NJ
An institution for many years in downtown Union.
There was a time when going out for coffee, dessert, & talk usually meant a choice between a diner, Dunkin' Donuts, & Friendly's. I think Cafe Mozart predated the latter two. Occasionally, for a change of scenery, my girlfriend & I drove a few extra miles to this faux European cafe & treated ourselves to very strong, good coffee & a gourmet pastry. The cakes were exquisite, super rich, the small slice was enough & you nibbled at it. The background music was classical. It was rarely crowded, older clientele (high school kids went to a popular nearby ice cream parlor), all very civilized. I recall a ditsy waitress there who didn't know who Mozart was. It wasn't that expensive. It did lack a bohemian coffeehouse smoky ambience, too bright & airy, but my girlfriend had studied in Europe & said that yes, there were places like this over there with the same kinds of tables. Later, we discovered several similar neighborhood cafes in Montreal catering to local customers. Cafe Mozart did sell Mozart Chocolates, we always bought a few.
[I was introduced to the Cafe as a teenager, by an earlier girlfriend, a ballet student, who liked my taste in rock & roll & Beat poets enough but thought I needed a bit more culture.]

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"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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