Monday, February 28, 2011

A unionized public employee, a member of the Tea Party and a Big Corp CEO are sitting at a table. In the middle of the table there is a plate with a dozen cookies on it. The CEO reaches across and takes 11 cookies, looks at the tea partier and says, "Look out for that union guy, he wants a piece of your cookie."
Baby Scott Walker learning about workers' rights from his daddy:

The Last Doughboy

Last World War I veteran Frank W. Buckles dies at 110
By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer

Frank W. Buckles died early Sunday, sadly yet not unexpectedly at age 110, having achieved a singular feat of longevity that left him proud and a bit bemused.

In 1917 and 1918, close to 5 million Americans served in World War I, and Mr. Buckles, a cordial fellow of gentle humor, was the last known survivor. "I knew there'd be only one someday," he said a few years back. "I didn't think it would be me."

His daughter, Susannah Buckles Flanagan, said Mr. Buckles, a widower, died of natural causes on his West Virginia farm, where she had been caring for him.

Buckles' distant generation was the first to witness the awful toll of modern, mechanized warfare. As time thinned the ranks of those long-ago U.S. veterans, the nation hardly noticed them vanishing, until the roster dwindled to one ex-soldier, embraced in his final years by an appreciative public.

With his death, researchers said, only two of the approximately 65 million people mobilized by the world's militaries during the Great War are known to be alive: an Australian man, 109, and a British woman, 110 .
Read the entire obituary story.  Buckles wasn't a combat vet, but an ambulance driver, which must have been nearly as horrifying.  He was imprisoned as a civilian by Japanese in the Philippines during WWII, experiencing tremendous hardship.  He was truly "a national treasure."

Coincidentally, a 20-year-old poem of mine, "November 11," was printed for the first time this past week.*  It includes the lines:
Armistice Day
a wreath quietly appeared
beneath a World War One statue
on the corner of Chestnut & Clay
That war monument makes an appearance in a number of my poems. I passed it every school day from Kindergarten to high school graduation.

I was born on the anniversary of WWI Armistice Day, now Veterans Day, when it was still named Armistice Day. The old folks never stopped calling it Armistice Day.

When I was  a kid, the older WWI vets were  already passing on.  Some vets attended the Memorial Day wreath-laying ritual at the statue wearing their quaint old uniforms with the "Montana Peak" hats.

They were a wonderful generation of Americans. They fought for their country in one of the deadliest, most absurd wars in history; had to fight for their veterans benefits afterward only to be  hit by The Great Depression & then see their "War to End All Wars" become the prelude to a war that was even worse.  

* I wasn't hiding the poem. Just never got around to submitting it for publication. Poet David Cope read it online & requested it for his magazine, Big Scream. Recently, the editor of another print mag snapped up an old poem I posted on the internet.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Belmar NJ

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Gene Rains & his Group - Harbor Lights

Seagulls & surf.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

I've belonged to several unions for brief periods, none of the experiences were satisfactory. I've also had views of unions from the middle-managers in my family, their difficulties with maintaining schedules, & with either demoting or firing incompetent or malcontent employees (usually they'd settle for moving these employees into jobs with no important responsibilities, at the same wages, but were prevented from doing do).

Public employee unions generally understand that times have changed. Right wingers publicize inflated salaries that are not representative of what most public workers actually earn. Anyway, many of these workers are highly-trained professionals - lawyers, CPAs, nurses - who choose to work in public sector jobs & ought to receive  wages & benefits attractive enough to retain their services.  But private sector workers most resent the generous benefit packages they were forced to relinquish as unionism declined (& fat cat AFL-CIO union  leaders failed to organize growing service sector occupations). Of course, who would turn those benefits down if offered at the negotiation table? As contracts expire, these packages are renegotiated to reflect the current costs of health insurance, with union employees kickung in a larger share. In some places they have had really sweet deals. Pension plans have to change.

Republicans have gotten the idea that they received a mandate last November to bust unions altogether, run them out-of-business. I don't believe it. Wealthy conservative Republicans  have always detested unions. Read the history of labor unionism in America.  They hate being required to give workers anything - benefits, fair wages, safe workplaces. They still wish they could hire 12 year-old children to mine coal.

Thousands of Americans have died to organize unions,  & they died because countless numbers of Americans died or were maimed from not having union protection & collective bargaining.  Millions of Americans fought in WWII,  in Korea & Vietnam  believing one of the rights they were fighting to protect & preserve was the right to collective bargaining.  We are betraying their sacrifices.  Wealthy people were not killed by the thousands trying to stop union organizing. They hired thugs.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Left Foot

Tuesday afternoon I whacked my bare left foot against a metal desk leg when I sat down at the pc. Maybe the chair was a few inches closer or something, because its the only time that's happened.  I nailed the foot around the middle toe & it sent a painful shockwave  right through my foot.  After I went "$%^&^@" I thought, The foot doesn't feel right. It was not an ordinary toe stubbing. When I stood & tried to walk, I could not put any weight on the foot.

So I lay down for awhile, the pain ebbed, I got up & still hobbled. There didn't seem to be any serious swelling, & it didn't hurt much when I wasn't trying to stand on it.

I waited a few hours, then tightly laced the sneaker on that foot & tried walking up the block & back.  Not a good idea. I began to suspect I had broken something.

Wednesday wasn't much better, but it was mid-afternoon when I concluded I would need it x-rayed. By then, I knew it was shift-change time at Trinitas ER when chances of getting warehoused for hours go up. Canceled weekly shopping trip with Gina & said I was going to ER late morning today. She kindly came over with a cane & 1/2 gallon of milk (which I needed). Gina has recurring ankle problems, so has a cane, a stock of instant heat pads, ice packs. Also offered to drive me to ER today. I said don't bother to come into ER, I know the routine there & I think I can do it without any hand-holding.

Trintas has to handle urgent care, serious emergency care, & be a primary doctor for people with no health insurance of any kind.   My primary doctor can't x-ray & do broken bones, but she's on the staff at Trinitas, so if for any reason I was admitted, she'd at least be keeping tabs on me.  At Trinitas you sign in with a non-medical guy who takes your name & general complaint. He said if I had broken my foot I wouldn't be walking in. I mentioned this remark later to the young ER doc, who said he would talk to the guy. "You'd be surprised at the condition of the people who manage to walk in here."

Then you wait. Then you see a triage person & go into a little more detail. I think they're nurses although maybe some of them are EMTs. They'll fast track you if you're really sick or, with one woman while I as there, going into labor.

Then you wait. Then you get called to the registration window to show  insurance card, sign a few papers, & get your I.D. wrist bracelet. Then you wait until an ER nurse calls you.

Once inside, you may have wait some more in the hallway. But they try giving your own little room with a door unless you're a candidate for admission, in which case they channel you to the back room, which has lots of really sick people in it, in curtained cubicles or out in the open on gurneys  waiting for specialists. (The entire big University Hospital ER in Newark is like that backroom, whether you sprained your ankle or walked in with Bubonic plague symptoms. The hospital has a separate Dutch Schultz Memorial Gunshot & Knife Wound Clinic).

I had to wait a little while for my room. Fortunately, I'd brought my mp3 player/radio. A young doctor came in, poked around my foot, which hurt on the inside, not where he was poking. He ordered some x-rays. Those were taken promptly. The happy result was that I had no break, just, he suggested, a variety of very deep bruises, & I ought to take Advil & stay off it as much as I could for a couple days.

Then I had to wait 45 minutes while he imputed his diagnosis (getting up often to see other patients) & I could sign off on the printed discharge.

Total time: About 3 1/2 hours.  Probably would've taken about same amount of time had I gone to one of  the private  "Urgent Care" centers.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi

Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi ranks among the worst, most brutal despots on our planet. Dictator of a huge multi-ethnic nation glued together from multiple cities & tribal regions, he is loyal first to his own family, then to his own tribe. His megalomaniac statements about himself & revolutionary reform are utterly bogus. But he has oil. So European nations & the United States have rarely treated him with the contempt he deserves. In the past, we had to cut some slack to former  colonies ruled by European puppet kings & given independence with no framework for democratic government, but this evil man has been in power since 1969 &, like Hosni in Egypt, has every intention of handing over Libya to his son. He was so suspicious of rival powers that he kept a divided military without a unified command structure. He supported terrorists.

He's already lost control of Tobruk & Eastern Libya, & there's a slight possibility the Egyptian army won't let him retake that region. The Egyptian miliary is well-equipped but bored. His hold on the oil fields is tenuous at best. Of  all the tyrants  he's the one I'd most like to see go now. Unfortunately, some regions of Libya will probably descend into chaos, which can happen when good leaders have been suppressed, jailed, tortured & executed for 40 years.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

For our friends in Wisconsin

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Monday, February 21, 2011

No Giant Puppets

Unlike the more homogeneous right wing gatherings & protests (white, middle-aged & older, conservative Christian), liberal/progressive rallies & marches tend to be heterogeneous, with a wide variety of people young & old, multi-colored. Fringe groups & crackpots come out of the shadows & attach themselves to these events. They have their own complaints & agendas, sometimes only peripherally related to the major issues. In one of his tweets, Wisconsin UCC Pastor Dan Schultz (watching on TV) noted with  relief the absence of giant caricature puppets in Madison; these eye-catching & oft-offensive (but amusing) things - the creations of art school leftists - are common in European street actions & strikes.

Liberal rallies also draw identity groups that offend conservatives merely because they openly exist at all, like lesbian public school teachers. Of course, lesbians have long been a considerable percentage of teachers, since teaching was one of the few professional occupations available to unmarried, educated  women, those "spinsters" who lived alone or shared a home with another Miss Somebody.

Some people are simply rude & vulgar. & the young folks are inclined to behave as young folks.

The difference  is that the right wing spectrum, though diverse in its own limited way, is so much narrower overall. One gets the impression that the loonies & bigots are in the middle of it. Moderation is anathema, ideologues are championed.  A majority of those identifying themselves as Republicans are "birthers." Delegates to the Republican National Convention see nothing racist or offensive about wearing "funny" hats with Barack Obama clenched in the jaws of an alligator. They're the base, the mainstream of their party. For them, scientific inquiry & methods are  in eternal struggle with religious doctrine. They move smoothly from Republican organizations - which one would hope are the larger tents  - to doctrinaire religious & right wing organizations.

Most of the Democrats I know in Jersey are first of all Regular Party People, with a few general but firm  beliefs about the role of government, & are rather old-fashioned (meaning "urban machine") about how the party functions. The latter irritates reformers, particularly those from suburbia. A few Democratic demographics  do have a difficult time of it. But many liberal/left people consider themselves outside the Democratic Party mainstream, or outside the Party altogether. There's much resentment toward the Democratic establishment for not purging so-called "Blue Dogs" the way Repugs have purged or rendered powerless their "RINO" members, & because President Obama & the Clintonistas are considered too cozy with Wall Street & K Street.

Anyway, I'm not apologizing for any offensive signs & expressions found among the crowds in Madison WI.  The over-whelming majority of the folks in the crowds vote Democratic when they vote (although some of them voted for Gov. Walker & now regret it). Union members at the core of the protests may be pains-in-the-asses to deal with, but radicals they are not anymore. They're teachers, accountants, clerks, computer programmers,  truck drivers, janitors, nurses, paralegals, police officers, firefighters, EMTs - our neighbors & the glue of government. Again, those kinds of mass gatherings are traditionally grabbed as opportunities for fringe people to show their stuff. At the peace marches of the Sixties, the "Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh" shouters made the biggest noise - you hear them in old news films -  but they actually were a  very small portion of the crowd, which detested their presence. That group wanted to stir up trouble.  But what could one do? Just try to shout louder.

I assume there are nutty,  insensitive  people in the crowds at Madison protesting Gov. Walker.  Just wade into the crowd with a video camera & single  them out. Maybe Heritage Foundation or a Koch Brothers shadow organization  will pay you to do it (you'd be foolish to do it for free).  But they're not running for higher elective office, & if they try they won't win. It's the Repugs who  elect  Rep, Michelle Bachman  & allow her prime time center stage to spout nonsense. That they may do so reluctantly is of no matter.  She represents their base now.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cherry Hill NJ

Hawaiian Cottage restaurant & club

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

One of my Facebook friends (although he doesn't know me from Adam) is a young Wisconsin attorney named Robert Jelani Eddington. Jelani also happens to be one of America's finest theater organists. He posted today how proud he was to have marched in Madison "alongside school teachers, firefighters, police officers, 911 operators, unions, and many more in support of the rights of hard-working Wisconsin citizens!"

I commented that if I'd organized the march, I'd have invited him to play "God Bless America" on a steam calliope for the crowd, if I could find one to rent.

He replied, "There was a saxophonist, and a Scottish pipe/drum band there....we could have had a fun ensemble!"

Friday, February 18, 2011

Cheeseheads Unite!

The problem in Wisconsin, as I understand it, isn't that public workers are defying the wishes of their fellow cheeseheads, or that they are obstinately uncooperative with regard to the state's budget problems; they've shown a willingness in the past to "give back" benefits & accept furlough days, though there's no reason they should be happy about it. The problem is that the governor & Repug majority want to break the unions & not have to negotiate at all (much less in good faith) with the workers. They want to end collective bargaining. Union-busting is a goal of Republicans no matter what shape the economy is in, they've been incredibly successful at it in the private sector over the past 40 years,  which corresponds to stagnation of middle class income & the massive redistribution of wealth upward,  & now they have what they believe is a fine excuse for stomping public sector unions of teachers, cops, firefighters, social workers & etc.

Ironically, we encourage young people to take their valuable college educations - especially in math & the sciences - & become teachers rather than accept jobs in the private sector that could lead to far higher salaries than what they'll be earning in public education even after twenty or thirty years. Extra swag is needed to entice competent young teachers into urban schools. They can't all be select charter schools & "academies." The children already twisted & broken when they come to grammar school need teachers who are both tough & hopeful.

The dangerous occupations of cop & firefighter have always beem stepping-stone careers for young people from families where no one has ever gone a couple of years beyond a high school education. In most towns & cities, starting salaries for these jobs aren't that good, but if you stick it out you'll eventually do alright, thanks to unions.

"Police and fire unions, which have some of the most expensive benefits but who supported Mr. Walker’s campaign for governor, are exempted." Hmm. Remember that Niemoller statement about Germany, "Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me." That works in other things.

Scott Walker won the 2010 Wisconsin governor's election rather handily on percentage points, but the actual margin of victory was 128,000 votes of over two million cast. That is a mandate for something, but I wouldn't call it a radical shift in a midterm national election year during an economic crisis. Wisconsin also tossed out Senator Russ Feingold by about the same margin, a decision I think they will regret - just as I believe Massachusetts will get rid of Scott Brown in 2012 unless he succeeds in recasting himself as a moderate (which he is already trying to do.)

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Little Steven's version of the great song also recorded by Black Uhuru. Time to dust it off.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I like railroads

I like railroads.

I'm not convinced America needs a nationally linked high speed railroad system.

 There's two regions that do need one: The Northeast Boston-Washington corridor, where a true HSR probably isn't possible, & San Diego-San Francisco. America isn't Europe or Japan. We're also not China or India, which don't yet have auto cultures much less anything like our interstate highway system. Those favoring HSR assume that if some regions of the nation need  HSR, all the other states will scream for  their share. But there isn't much demand for fast rail service from Omaha to Wichita, or Tampa to Orlando, & there never will.  Since HSR would serve only select cities, unprofitable regular  service provided by Amtrak or other lines has to feed passengers to those stations from other towns on the routes between those cities. This is what we have on a small scale in Jersey.

It would be wise to reclaim & extend our freight railroad routes. They take big trucks off the highways & can be adapted for local passenger routes. Jersey is paying a steep price now for abandoning freight trackage & rights-of-way, as we are unable to expand commuter rail service a few miles to towns that used to have it & would benefit from having it again.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

George Shearing, 1919-2011

George Shearing, 91
By Peter Keepnews
George Shearing, the British piano virtuoso who overcame blindness to become a worldwide jazz star, and whose composition “Lullaby of Birdland” became an enduring jazz standard, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 91.
The Shearing sound — which had the harmonic complexity of bebop but eschewed bebop’s ferocious energy — was built on the unusual instrumentation of vibraphone, guitar, piano, bass and drums. To get the “full block sound” he wanted, he had the vibraphone double what his right hand played and the guitar double the left. That sound came to represent the essence of sophisticated hip for countless listeners worldwide who preferred their jazz on the gentle side.
My friend Peter Keepnews wrote the New York Times obit. Sir George Shearing's (knighted in 2007 although he held American citizenship) greatest popularity was in the '50 & '60s, recording for Capitol. His best recordings were probably the later ones for the jazz label Concord. His  first American quintet, formed in 1949, had a female vibraphonist & African-American drummer. Many of his Capitol recordings, like "Say Si Si," were lifted to another level through Shearing's collaboration with Cuban percussionist Armando Peraza, with the result a kind of Cafe Society jazz with authentic latin rhythms.  He was a musician who wanted to please audiences & himself,  His club performances drew celebrities & fine musicians.  Shearing was a pianist of subtle originality & wonderful wit.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day

A blogger I regularly read wrote yesterday that he wasn't "feeling" Valentine's Day. But he's smart enough to know it only matters that he remember his wife feels it. I don't think women give a hoot how men feel about it, as long as men come up with the flowers, the chocolates, the cute teddy bear, dinner at a fav restaurant (not necessarily the expensive one - they might prefer the burger & beer place on this day).

I'm not qualified to give advice on long-term relationships, but I know my holidays.

Women don't mind getting valentines from lots of men. I post a bunch online. Some women remember Valentine's Day in grammar school, when everyone passed around those cheap cards that came in packages, & they counted their cards & were delighted when they received more than other girls.

If a guy does too much,  his lover may wonder why he can't demonstrate a fraction of that on an ordinary day. If you give your girl two-dozen flamboyant roses on Valentine's Day but never surprise her with her preferred candy bar just because you remembered when you were in Quik Chek, you have no sense of proportionality.

Dismissing a woman's love of sentiment is not the way to go. Hatin' on the traditions of Valentine's Day doesn't get a guy off-the-hook; if anything, it makes the day difficult. Those guys don't know what to do - the radio is filled with commercials aimed at them before Valentine's Day, & sometimes they end up giving stupid "sexy" red undies to women who like flannel jammies & wish you'd wear socks on your ice cold feet when you got into bed.

I realized for the first time this year that I may have been conceived on Valentine's Day. It's quite possible my parents left my three siblings in the care of my grandmother & dined at Spirito's, the inexpensive restaurant they had been patronizing since their dating days, & which is still in business here in the Peterstown section of Elizabeth NJ.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

On the Waterfront

Mob infiltration persists at New Jersey ports

NEWARK (Associated Press) — Law enforcement officials have called the stretch between Port Newark and Newark Liberty International Airport the most dangerous two miles in America.

A series of recent court cases shows that despite increased attention on airport security since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, another security concern — a homegrown one — persists at the ports: organized crime.

Experts differ on what mob infiltration of the ports means in a post-9/11 security climate, or how large and influential organized crime syndicates remain after decades of law enforcement efforts to root them out.

Some say a badly diminished mob has waning influence on the docks, as modernized technology, stricter identification requirements, and improved federal maritime security-related legislation have significantly undermined the traditional strongholds of organized crime.
Surprise. Remember, a few years ago we were about to hand over management of our ports to a company owned by the government of Dubai (One of the big  screwups W unfortunately didn't make before the '04 election).  Who is more likely to be bribed or infiltrated by a foreign terrorist organization,  that company, or the Italian-American mob?

The problem with the Italian-American mafia is that it has gotten sloppy. Every new generation of bosses seems a little less smart than the previous one, & they are losing business & territory to other crime organizations.  Greed could make them gullible. The intent to jeopardize port security isn't there.

The I-A mafia mainly attaches itself to goods & services - they like reliable, regular  sources of income, & we pay for it in added costs, as a form of tax the government doesn't receive, & in shoddy construction materials.

But I think any street gang bosses in my city, Crips, Bloods, whatever, wouldn't care if whole city got nuked as long they were paid enough to let it happen & given time to get out of town. They'll kill four neighborhood children, three old ladies, &  two of their own members just to  whack a tenth target. Same goes for the Russian mob.

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Rahway NJ

Motel Tourist Village
Rahway NJ

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

It's Abraham Lincoln's birthday.

I didn't have a "favorite" president until I learned enough about Lincoln to de-mythologize him.  He was the guy on the penny, freed the slaves, etc. Knew he was great.  Knew his general story, &  more about his Civil War years from Bruce Catton's books & American history classes. But in my '20s I started reading more Civil War histories, then a couple of good Lincoln bios, then the main culprit in perpetuating Lincoln misinformation, Carl Sandburg's two big bios of Lincoln. They're beautifully written but essentially epic poems in prose; Sandburg accepts as fact everything good anyone ever said about Lincoln, & everything he was purported to have said whether  or not it could be verified. Sandburg was a collector of  folk song & folk story. Sandburg, a socialist,  also was appropriating Lincoln from the left.  Lincoln was a Man of the Common People. Yes, he was, & Sandburg did infuse some life into the granite statue Lincoln had become.  Lincoln was also uncommon, ambitious, a successful lawyer, a corporatist, an over-achiever certainly, & a very, very shrewd, experienced politician. The latter is what I came to really enjoy about him.

Like Franklin Roosevelt later, Lincoln was able to recruit & make use of other talented, ambitious men who believed they were better & smarter than the President they served. He let them keep believing it until it was necessary to disabuse them of their notions. Until he moved to Washington to take office, perhaps the only people who really understood how Lincoln operated  were some old  pals & advisers from out west, & one famous opponent  who had defeated Lincoln in a senate race & been defeated by him in the presidential campaign: Stephen A. "Little Giant" Douglas.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Tahrir Square

For thirty years, Egypt posed no serious threat to The United States. That is the way of things & is how we fundamentally conduct our foreign affairs - for our own protection & advantage. Could we have leveraged our billions of dollars in military aid, & all the other money that landed in the bank accounts of an elite few, to better help the Egyptian people? Maybe, but we didn't try very hard. Fortunately, Egyptians respect their comfortable  military establishment, which we did so much to sustain as a reward for not warring on Israel.

Now, the Egyptian people are having their way, at least for the time being. They have no experience with democracy, no organized political parties, & few leaders. Hosni Mubarak saw to that, brutally.  He is gone because the courageous  people convinced the army to withdraw support of his regime & risk something else, something that has not yet come to be & is not guaranteed. We have to hope that the Egyptian people don't let their loathing of Israel divert their pursuit of political & economic justice for themselves. They may well realize, if they keep their wits & we support their best efforts, how much good  a free & economically strong Egypt will be able to accomplish.


The Poet Visits a Wiccan Bookstore

I leaf through a book of Celtic love spells:
"Hey, I wrote these two millenniums ago,
sold away the reprint rights cheap,
they were cut & paste jobs anyway.
I'll warn you right now, they don't work."


Thursday, February 10, 2011

The abyss

Main branch of Camden public library set to close

CAMDEN — Today is the final day for Camden's main public library, another victim of the impoverished city's budget crunch.

Last summer, it looked as if all three of the city's branches might close. But the Camden County library system stepped in to partially save them.

One small branch closed already.

A second, modern branch is being taken over by the county system as of next week.

And the main library downtown is closing.
Perhaps even more than mass layoff of cops & firefighters, & a proposed 23% tax hike the city council was wise enough to know was nothing more than a temporary Band Aid on a bullet wound, this signals the tragic city is nearing the bottom of the abyss. One of the last remaining sources of light & hope snuffed out. Unlike the Rutgers campus, Cooper Hospital, & the waterfront attractions, the public library is a particularly local symbol of a city's pride & culture.

Newark has struggled mightily - & had some success - at maintaining their treasure of a central library, despite cutbacks in staffing & hours. My city's main library - a venerable Carnegie building - is undergoing an exterior renovation.

Any "solution" for Camden's woes has to be so radical & visionary that no typical Jersey politician would support it. Ironically, Jersey's ascendant Democratic bosses are based in the Camden machine, & they must accept some of the blame.  Maybe a lot of the blame.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Slimy Critter

NY Rep. Lee resigns after shirtless photo story

CLARENCE, N.Y. – A married New York congressman accused of sending a shirtless photo of himself to a woman abruptly resigned Wednesday, saying he regretted actions that had hurt his family and others.

The gossip website Gawker reported Wednesday that Rep. Christopher Lee, a two-term Republican with a young son, had e-mailed the photo to a woman he met on the Craigslist classified-ads website.
Why is it always a surprise? Probably because we don't know who will be next, & it's rarely the politicians we expect (the shock of Clinton/Lewinsky wasn't so much that Bill did it, but who he did it with). These guys are not under-achievers & they're usually not late-bloomers, either; you can trace their ambitions all the way back to high school. So you'd think they'd add "don't mess around" to their list of Steps to Success. But there's psychology at work in these men I don't understand, a risk-taking that seems unnecessary. Most politicians  I've met - although they've all been local office-holders - aren't creative, or even particularly interesting on subjects other than politics. But for many, their out-sized egos are their most obvious personality traits.

Former New York Gov. David Paterson, who I happen to like, confessed that he had had an affair. Just an affair. His wife had one, too. Their marriage survived for better or worse. It seemed so - ordinary. Besides, he hadn't aspired to become a high profile governor of a high profile state. The guy he replaced had been caught charging visits to prostitutes on his credit card, & apparently had quite an addiction to them.

 Cheating on a sick wife & serving her divorce papers while she's hospitalized. Trying to pick up men in an airport bathroom. Trolling the internet & sending provocative photos to strangers. My fav, a governor telling the wife & kids he's hiking the Appalachian Trail when he's really in Buenos Aires boinking his señorita.

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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Rod McKuen

Rod's best poem? From the 1958 soundtrack LP "Summer Love." Probably arranged by Henry Mancini.

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Monday, February 07, 2011

Super Bowl wrap-up

My reaction to the Black Eyed Peas Super Bowl performance:
  • They've been better. Much better.
  • The robot thing is kind of cold - & old.
  • Haven't I seen this Super Bowl halftime show before?
Eventually, I think the consensus will be that the whole event was less than memorable. Christina Aguilera's national anthem gaff wasn't scandalous. The game wasn't so exciting; Green Bay never trailed, & it's not easy to feel sentimental about Vince Lombardi. None of the commercials had the stuff of legend. Most viewers didn't care who won.

For all its popularity, power & profit, professional football still lacks the cultural prestige of major league baseball, & I suspect it always will lack it. It's basically a sport of bullying behemoths with few unlikely heroes. Every World Series delivers an over-achiever or two, & it's possible for the average person to follow a baseball season (& a game) without giving it one's full attention. Baseball is paced differently. It's o.k. to become distracted or bored during a baseball game, & do other stuff with the game in the background. The language of baseball, as George Carlin & Abbott & Costello demonstrated, is something everyone can enjoy. But the language of football - if callers to sports talk radio shows are typical - seems designed to make unintelligent men sound smart.

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Sunday, February 06, 2011

Maple Shade NJ

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Saturday, February 05, 2011

crocus & tulip bulbs, dogwoods & robins

One of the enjoyable on-going news stories this week has been the rotten weather in Super Bowl Dallas. All the sports writers & privileged folks who flocked there from the northeast & upper midwest states expected typical daytime temps in the high fifties & week of thumbing their noses at us & our miserable winter. They got an ice box. They wondered why Dallas-Fort Worth had never heard of salt & sand spreaders; why a little bit of the frozen precip we handle as just another crappy winter day results there in utter chaos. I suppose it was marginally better than the third-worst blizzard in Chicago history. But my contacts in rural Iowa & Wisconsin posted online photos of cleanly-plowed roads bordered by 15 foot drifts. They were briefly inconvenienced by Snowmaggedon.

At the Super Bowl media center, WFAN's blustery Mike "let's be honest" Francesa - one of the big shot NY broadcasters - had his radio/TV booth planted in front of doors that admitted blasts of arctic air whenever they were opened. He discovered he couldn't step outside & hail a passing cab; he had to call & wait an hour. You gotta have a car, he said, but if you drive one you can't even get it up the access ramps to the highways, which are like demolition derbys. The final indignity is that he has to return to NY Sunday morning for his NFL Today show & his post-game televised "Mike'd Up" on channel 4. He doesn't stay to watch the actual game from a press box (or wealthy pal's luxury suite) in a domed, heated stadium. He has to watch it on TV just like every proletarian football fan.

My sister's Facebook status gripes weren't that she was snowbound in North Jersey & couldn't get down her steep driveway & over the big hill to her job at a toy store - it's just a driving challenge of the sort she almost enjoys -  but that melting snow on her roof was finding leaky routes into her kitchen & family room.  The leaky spots inside don't tell you where the water is coming in outside, guaranteed to drive a Virgoan  nuts. When they lose control of their orderly surroundings, the more obsessive Virgos turn into crazed Lady MacBeths muttering "Out, damned spot! out, I say!"

So we get a couple days of thaw before another deep freeze arrives, but there's no serious snow in the ten-day forecast. Maybe spring will arrive early, as the groundhog predicted. In any case, crocus & tulip bulbs love the snow cover,  dogwoods blossom more beautifully when they aren't tricked into early bud,  & robins are never deterred.  

(The winter pushes me toward Handel & Haydn.)


Friday, February 04, 2011

Two versions of Steve Reich's "Clapping Music"

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Thursday, February 03, 2011

Happy Year of the Wabbit


Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Groundhog Day: One for the Poets

My poetry mentor, the late Joel Oppenheimer, loved Groundhog Day. It's the day he felt he could allow himself to think of spring. He was right. Thinking of spring in December & January is premature & frustrating, especially in an unusually harsh winter like this one. It was irrelevant to joel whether or not the groundhog saw its shadow. Soon enough, pitchers & catchers would be warming up in Arizona & Florida, which put a seal on the matter of spring.

Joel loved all minor holidays & occasions. He used them as prompts for poems.

Americans have never had enough holidays. But we're trying. We moved them to Mondays to get three day weekends. We've elevated Halloween & Valentine's Day. We turned Christmas into a six week festival & shopping orgy & really go at it from the week before Christmas to New Year's Day. We advanced the beginning of summer from the Summer solstice or the 4th of July to Memorial Day weekend. We made Superbowl Sunday into a national party; those who dislike football do something special to avoid it (one year I attended a Tupperware party).

Can there be too many holidays? Probably yes, if they shut businesses down too often.  By the time of Augustus, some Romans were complaining that they were becoming more than an annoyance, & were actually causing serious economic disruption, as both citizens & slaves were inclined to observe them for days & even weeks at a time. In cosmopolitan Rome, new gods & holidays from conquered provinces & trade nations were being added to the pantheon & calendar.

But India's doing alright. Hindus enjoy their festivals, & have a special affection for colorful, garish decorations. They have sense of occasion. When I was teaching piano, one day a young female Indian-American student arrived with a small gift for me. It was, I think, Guru Purnima, a day in July to honor spiritual guides, including music teachers, but it may have been Saraswati Puja, for the Goddess of creativity, in February or November depending on the part of India. I was delighted. I consider instruction in listening a very important aspect of music teaching, & I did this by trying to broaden a student's concept of what constitutes "music." Most children grasp this easily. They want music to be limitless. There is certainly something "spiritual" about it, because I picked it up in part from Indian music. It enriched my day rather than interrupting, & the student taught the teacher something new & important, as another of my gurus, Zen-influenced Mary Caroline Richards, encouraged in the teacher/student relationship. She wrote: "Remember, when I say teacher I also mean student."

Groundhog Day is an appropriate occasion to remember & honor a poetry teacher. For good poetry teachers also teach more than poems.

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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

John Barry

John Barry Dies at 77; Composed for Bond Films

John Barry, whose bold, jazzy scores for “From Russia With Love,” “Goldfinger” and nine other James Bond films put a musical stamp on one of the most successful film franchises of all time, and who won five Academy Awards as a composer for “Born Free,” “Dances With Wolves” and other films, died on Sunday in New York. He was 77.
Wonderful, versatile film composer, came out of London's pre-Beatles pop scene. The Sixties were a great decade for Barry. Scored a number of hip British films in addition to James Bond. Won Academy Awards for song & score for Born Free, & for music for The Lion In Winter. Scored a Brando movie, The Chase; Midnight Cowboy; the underrated western, Monte Walsh. In 1971, Barry composed the music for three of my fav (if strange) films: They Might Be Giants, with George C. Scott & Joanne Woodward, Murphy's War with Peter O'Toole, & Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout - two kids abandoned in the Australian outback.

Barry also won Oscars for Out of Africa & Dances With Wolves. Given his stature, I was surprised to learn he was nominated only two other times.

The Knack was the first Barry score I knew other than his Bond music. "The Good Times Are Coming" is from Monte Walsh, with lyrics by Hal David, sung on the soundtrack by Mama Cass Elliot. A minor hit for Cass, it should've been nominated for an Oscar (& lost to "Shaft.")

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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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