Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Whatever Happened to the Show Me State?

I honestly wasn’t going to write about this because I didn’t have much to say, but at this point, it’s become such a CF I no longer have a choice.

Ferguson.  Everyone’s talking about it, yet nobody knows jack-shit.  Call it a microcosm of modern news media.  Cops shoot people every day.  So why did this one blow up into a national headline?  I’ll tell you why: witnesses and social media.

I read about police shootings all the time, either in the local paper when is happens around here, or online when it happens in other communities.  But in most cases, there are no eyewitnesses except maybe other cops.

In this case, from my understanding, there is the guy who was with the kid who got shot, Michael Brown, and someone else who saw the altercation from her car.  Next thing you know, the local news is talking to them about how Brown had his hands up, surrendering, and the story ends up online, and gets passed around the neighborhood and around the country in moments.

Social media makes it easy to mobilize large numbers of people in a short amount of time, so now you have a protest.  And once there’s a protest, people take advantage of the distractions and go on a rampage.  And when all that is going on, the news media swarm to the area to get pictures, because that film is going to make a huge impact.

Once the cameras are rolling, out come the fame whores who feel the need to become involved with every incident that comes to the country’s attention.  Then everybody else goes on TV to try to spin the story to their advantage.  Poor downtrodden victims versus jackbooted redneck cops.  Officers of the Law versus rampaging thugs and looters.  And so it goes.

And the sad thing is that no one knows what really happened.  For all the coverage and attention, I don’t know what happened. You don’t know what happened.  And neither do any of these “expert” commentators and opinionators.

There are three people who know what happened: the cop who shot the kid, and the two witnesses.  Do cops ever lie to cover their asses?  Absolutely.  Do witnesses ever lie to cover for somebody else?  Absolutely.  Which leaves us in exactly the same place.  We don’t know what happened.

So how do you get justice when no one knows what happened?  That’s what everyone is talking about, right?  Justice?

Sure, everyone wants justice.  But what no one wants is to wait for it.  We’re an immediate gratification country.  We want the case wrapped up and the killer brought to justice in an hour, just like we see on Law and Order.

Maybe the critics were right when they said we shouldn’t spend so much time in front of the TV.

As you know, I’m usually a reliable advocate for the left.  But with this story, I’m finding bullshit everywhere. 

For example, I saw a tweet making an issue out of an (undocumented) factoid that blacks were arrested in Ferguson at a much higher rate than whites.  On the surface, that gives one pause, but when you consider that the population of Ferguson is overwhelmingly black, what else would you expect?  For the arrest rates to come out even, the police would have to actively seek out and arrest white people with little regard to what they were doing.  That’s just basic math. But it sure looks good on Twitter…

When the police released the pictures and video of the kid “strong-arm robbing” a convenience store, the townsfolk decried it as character assassination.  Sure, it might not have been necessary to do, but how can it be character assassination to show what someone really did?  No one was saying it wasn’t him.  They’re upset because it makes him look like a punk.

Granted, the sentence for stealing a box of cigars should not be the death penalty.  And the fact that the officer fired six shots in the space of a second or two tells you that he was trained to shoot to kill first, and ask questions later.  But like I said, we don’t know what the kid was doing.

I think the root of the problem is that you have a town that’s predominantly black, and a police force that’s predominantly white.  When you have those two factions clash, there’s bound to be sparks.  Add the tinder of an unarmed kid, social and mass media, and our country’s “fix it now” attitude, and you have the bonfire we’re roasting our weenies on right now.

Until that imbalance is fixed, in Ferguson and in hundreds of other towns across the country, we’re going to see this again and again.  Maybe one day we’ll learn.

In the meantime, (and it pains me no end to have to say this), we should listen to Chris Christie.  He said "None of us quite know yet exactly what happened in Ferguson."  I've been urging people to not pre-judge anything here."

And with that, Christie should shut his cake-hole and go back to mismanaging his own state.  It’s not his business what happens in Missouri.  I’m sure he wouldn’t appreciate the governor of Missouri commenting on the state of New Jersey.

That’s the same reason I think Al Sharpton was wrong, when he criticized Christie for partying while this crisis is playing out.  This isn’t Christie’s dance, and he has no role in it.  So who gives a hoot what he’s doing?  That’s a matter for the citizens of New Jersey.

Reverend Al should turn is attention to the idiots on Fox "News," whose company line seems to be, “He had it comingLaw and Order. And it’s Obama’s fault.”

I’d like to see the reaction from Fox News if the crowd of protesters were armed as well as, say, those attending an average Georgia Tea Party rally.  Conservatives are all for people carrying guns, as long as those people are white people.  Arm a crowd of black people and they’ll be calling for the National Guard.

Oh wait, that already happened.

So how about we all climb down off our soap boxes, turn off the TV lights, and wait for the wheels of justice to turn.  There will be an investigation, an indictment and a trial.  Let’s see what happens before we erupt in righteous anger.

And in the meantime, maybe try to fix a few long-term problems, so we don’t keep repeating these short term ones.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Good Housekeeping

My object, this weekend, was to continue to improve and refine my living space, which is an artsy fartsy way of saying, I needed to hang some more stuff on an open wall and clean up.

A couple weeks ago, I ordered a couple of 20 x 24 canvases of my photographs.  The first one arrived all wrong… they sent me an 8 x 10.  It reminded me of that scene in “This is Spinal Tap,” when the band ordered some 16-foot Stonehenge rocks, but when they wrote the order, the guy wrote 16” instead of 16’.  So when they were on stage, instead of a giant, impressive rock formation, these tiny little foam rocks were lowered down, dancing on the end of the wire.

The second canvas was fine, so I had to call in to the help desk and get them to fix it.  “No,” I explained, “I did not order the 8x 10; because I went back and forth a number of times, it did revert to the 8 x 10 default, but I noticed it and backed up to revise, before finalizing the order.”

I don’t know that they believed me, (it was true), but they made good and sent me the proper sized canvas.  The whole thing took an extra week though, so I had the one canvas sitting around here for a while.  I didn’t want to hang one without the other, because they were to go together.  Anyway, it worked out eventually, and I got them hung up.

Before that, though, I had errands to run and a movie to see.  (“Lucy.”  It was OK.  The trailer showed all the best parts.  Scarlett Johanssen is gorgeous though.)  On the way back, I stopped at the store, and among my quarry was a new Swiffer.

I’ll be the first to admit; I’m pretty “cleaning challenged.”  There have been some Swiffers around the place before, but I wasn’t the one using them.  But it looked like a good alternative to a broom, or grungy old mop.  And if the cleaning can be made simple, I’m much more likely to do it.

It’s not that I slop up the kitchen floor; it’s more an issue of lint from the dryer and hair.  (I shed like a Persian cat.)  Now with my nifty new system (I got both wet and dry cleaning thingys), I can safely say that I’ll clean the kitchen floor every three or four months, whether it needs it or not.

When I got home from my errands, I walked into a kitchen surprise.

Now I KNOW it wasn’t like that when I left.  Was it the work of ghosts?

No.  The apartment above me has recently been vacated.  I think it was the result of all the pounding the maintenance guys have been doing up there, installing new carpet and whatnot.

So, I called the maintenance department and reluctantly had them send someone out.  If all the wires had still been connected, I probably could have put it back together myself.  But I’m no electrician and had no intention of electrocuting myself when I could have someone else do it for free.  (Fix the light, not electrocute himself.)  I hated to call them out on a weekend, when they’re supposed to be off, but I didn’t want that thing to fall, and have them be like, “Why the hell didn’t you call us?

So, an hour and a half later, the guy shows up and starts working on the light.  I left the room to give him some space.  Then the next thing I know… SMASH!

I was like, “Um, that didn’t sound good.”

I thought, “Shit, I could have done that my own self.”

So I went into the kitchen and handed him my broom and dust pan.  You broke it, you bought it. 

I stealth-shot this while he was out in the truck.

After he cleaned up, he went out and got some more light bulbs and glass covers for them, and got everything working again.

After he left, I put some hard-soled slippers on and went to check the floor.  As I suspected, he got all the big pieces, but there were still a lot of glass slivers on the floor.  I must have been prescient when I got the urge to buy a Swiffer.  It came in right handy, with both the wet and dry attachments.

I got so worked up, I used it on the bathrooms too.  Then I got out my new Swiffer hand-duster, and dusted the whole place.  That’s my M.O.  I rarely do “cleaning things,” but once I start, I get on a roll.  So now, this ought to hold me until at least December.

Lucky for me, I can still count on my family to keep me amused in the face of tragedy.  My dad sent this out on Friday, and it still makes me laugh.  The message said, “I just found the cause of my recent bout of clumsiness.

This was the picture:

And I know that’s not an email forward, because I recognize the carpet.

Later on, Dad sent out a message to the family to celebrate the (long overdue) purchase of his first hearing aid.  To which someone else wrote:

Just watch out when your wife fires up the microwave.  When mine does it and I have my hearing aid in, I start spinning around and pee my pants.”

What would I do without family?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Nanu Nanu

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Robin Williams died yesterday, by an apparent suicide.   I mean, everyone’s heard, right?  It’s been all over the news, the internet, all of social media.

I found out about it last night, a friend’s Facebook popup message had the news.  It’s probably not a coincidence that today has been dark and rainy; the very essence of gloom.  It’s like Nature is acknowledging that the she’s has lost one of her brightest lights.

I’m not going to run down all the amazing things he’s done.  You know them.  The guy was brilliant on TV shows, on records, in the movies, on stage.  When he wasn’t blazing like manic fire, he was acting so deeply and touchingly, it affected your soul.

As I digested the news and read the statements of grief rolling over Twitter, it made me wonder if there is a more beloved person in America.  I was overcome with a profound sadness I haven’t felt since Princess Diana died.  I know, that’s weird when it involves someone you don’t know, and who travels in circles you’ll never see.

But I feel like I grew up with this guy.  He burst onto the scene on TV, as Mork from Ork.  Yes, I watched the show every week, and loved his madcap zany.  But this was still a traditional sitcom… it was like a cross between Happy Days and Alf, on 78-speed.  He looked like a furry elf. 

And because it was a Garry Marshall production, they had to have a catch phrase and a cloying Big Lesson at the end of every episode.  Mork’s weekly epilogue with “Orson” took care of both.

I was a junior in high school when it first came on, and sure I watched the show every week, but by then I enjoyed edgier stuff.  So when his first comedy album came out the next year, wow, it was like a comedy tornado.  The dude was just going a mile a minute with strange voices, accents, asides and tangents. 
This is the whole album.  My favorite bit comes at the end.  It’s called “Welcome to my Mind.”  It’s a peek at what goes on inside a comic’s mind, when he bombs onstage. 

I never really thought about it until now, but he had a big ripple effect on my group of friends.  We were doing a lot of improve comedy on cassette tapes that summer.  Now, I did “OK,” but Billy was a master of making shit up as we went along.  How could we not be affected by the boundless energy and wit of Robin Williams? 

We all used to imitate bits of his act.  Bill imitated Williams doing Lawrence Welk.  Rik got some rainbow suspenders, just like he wore.  (John and I got similar ones as well.)  For a while, he made me want to be “That Guy,” who could command a room and reduce it to ashes.  After the effects of Robin Williams and Steve Martin, we were all trying to be comedians, where nothing was too weird or irreverent to goof on.

It’s sad to realize that now I’m going to have to live in a world that Robin Williams won’t be in.  It reminds me of a scene from one of the Harry Potter movies, after Ron Weasley had his first encounter with a soul-sucking “Dementor.”  His line was, “I felt like I’d never be cheerful again.”

That’s kind of how I feel right now.  So I apologize for not bringing the chuckles today.  I’m just not feeling very cheerful.  And I don’t know if listening to that album again is going to make me feel better, or worse.

Rest in peace, dude.  I hope you are finding the peace that eluded you here.

Director’s DVD Commentary: I began playing that album clip as I edited and prepared my post for the online template.  Better… it’s definitely making me feel better.  I haven’t heard this stuff in 25 years, and it’s still freakin’ funny.  I was going to give you the time where the bit I mentioned begins, but you should really listen to the whole thing.  Trust me, you’ll feel better.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Picturesque Day at The Yard

In my previous post, I described my mini-ordeal of trying to buy an Orioles ticket from their box office.  Well, yesterday was the game for which I bought the ticket.

Because it was considered a “premium” game, (meaning it was a “premium” opportunity for price gouging), I decided to get a “cheap seat,” in the upper deck.  Not that $38 for what it usually a $20 upper deck seat is really “cheap,” mind you, but it was better than the alternative of spending $50 to sit where I usually do, in the left field club seats.

Because I’m also slowly but surely redecorating my apartment with canvas art, made from my own photos, I figured this would be a good opportunity to get a good shot of Camden Yards.

It was a 4:00 game, so that meant I needed to get down to my pre-game watering hole, The Bullpen, by 2:00.  Because I suspected it would be a crowded game, I actually got there even earlier, around 1:40.  I should have made it 1:00, because the place was packed.  Being a VIP has its advantages, but securing a seat isn’t one of them.  But I managed to weasel my way into a seat at the back of the bar. 

I didn’t find any gap-toothed honeys to talk to, but I did find myself among a group of guys about my age, who were on a multi-stadium tour.  They were also going to see games in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago.  As a veteran of 3 of those 4 parks, I inserted myself into their conversation, hoping to leave them with the impression that not all Baltimore fans are numbskulls.

No, it was fun.  I enjoy meeting people over the shared love of sports, and we spent a good hour shooting the breeze about the relative merits of different ballparks.  After the guys wandered off to have a look around The Yard, I ended up talking to a 25-year old kid from Cleveland, who was sitting beside me.  Poor kid… only 25, and he already thinks he knows from suffering.  If he continues to follow the Browns and Indians, he has much more agony to look forward to.

I didn’t stay at The Bullpen as long as I usually do; there was a promotion going on at the ballpark.  It was Wild Bill Hagy Hat Giveaway Day.

If you don’t live in Baltimore, I’m sure you don’t know who Wild Bill Hagy is, so I’ll explain.  Wild Bill was a Super-Fan, back in the Memorial Stadium days.  He was a burly, wild-bearded cab driver from Dundalk, who would get loaded on the Budweiser he brought to the game with him, (back when you could still do that), and lead Section 34 in the “O-R-I-O-L-E-S” chant.  It was kind of like doing the YMCA, only with more leg action. 

Anyway, he was a legend around here, up to and after the day he died.  So with the Orioles celebrating their 60th anniversary this year, they decided to honor their most infamous fan, by giving away facsimile hats.  The hats were to go to the first 20,000 fans, and because I was expecting a pretty full house, I wanted to make sure I didn’t get frozen out.  All was well though… I got my hat, and it just barely fit.  (I was surprised, not many one-size-fits-all hats will fit over this giant Bluz noggin.)  They seemed to fit everyone else though…

I ended up sitting on an aisle, beside a 40-something year old blonde, with whom I conversed on and off during the game.  She was tiny; couldn’t have been more than 4’11”, and it looked like about a quarter of her body weight was accounted for in boobage.  Not that I have a problem with that… she just had to be real careful when eating peanuts.  Had to make sure she didn’t drop any shells down there. 

The game was good enough… the Orioles won big, 10-3, mostly off of three home runs.  But my primary objective was to get a decent ballpark shot.  I took pictures at various times throughout the game, hoping that one would be acceptable.

In retrospect, I should have adjusted my picture size from 4:3 ration to 16:9, (or in other words, wider.)  Anyway, I’ll show you the best three, ask you what you think.

Shot 1

Took this one from my seat.  Not crazy about the 2 heads at the lower left foreground.  I could probably photoshop them out, but when the shot is blown up for framing, I’m afraid the evidence will be visible.  I like the action though, with the pitcher in motion.  I also like the shadow on the field, which looks to me like “old time baseball.”

Shot 2

Also from my seat, and again with the big head at the lower left.  And if I crop the bottom, I’d also crop out the batter at home plate.  Don’t like that you can’t see any of the left field seats.  I do like that you can see the ball on the way to the plate.  And the shadows. 

Shot 3

For this one, I got up and moved a couple sections down.  No heads, good shadows, pitcher in windup, can see left field stands, but not right.  Definitely needed a wider shot.  But, I think this is the best of the lot.

So what do you think?  Which of these three would make the best frame-able shot?  Or should I try again with a wider angle?

Director's DVD Commentary: Gah! I totally forgot to mention that right next door to Camden Yards, this weekend, the Ota-kon convention is going on, celebrating Japanese pop culture and animation.  Going to and from The Yard was like passing through Freak Central. With all the people dressed in costume, I saw more girls wearing heavy makeup and bunny ears than you'd find at Hef's Grotto.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Four Random Bits and a Story

Random Thoughts that aren’t enough to carry a post:

·       These politicians who are crying about “The War on White People” are laughable.  I read there’s a guy who claims Obama is trying to divide the nation by race.  Or in other words, doing exactly what the Republicans have been doing ever since the Civil Rights Act of 1965.  (Which was signed 49 years ago, yesterday.)  You want to mobilize white people?  Threaten them with black people.

·       Arguing that now small donations in large numbers are corrupting politics more than massive corporate donations.  I disagree.  At least with the small donations, they represent the will of large numbers of people, as opposed to the bottom line of single, profit-driven corporations.  For better or worse, that’s the way it should be.  If we want a less divisive government, we should be less divisive people.

This is me, not holding my breath.

·       Big headline on my Yahoo home page about how the Yankees were “blacklisted,” regarding being a trade partner for top stars.  Sounds juicy, no?

The article was actually about both the Red Sox and Rays had permission to trade their pitching aces to any team but the Yankees.  You know, it doesn’t constitute a “blacklist,” to not want to trade your pitching ace to a cash-laden, perpetually contending division rival, who if they retain the player, they’ll have to face him 4-5 times a year.  Complete “click-bait” article.  I hate’em.

·       English singer Marianne Faithfull recently gave an interview, in which she says her French boyfriend killed Jim Morrison, 43 years ago, by giving him some heroin that was too strong for him.

Is this really a surprise to anyone?  I mean, no one thought he died from high cholesterol, did they?

By the way, Marianne Faithfull used to be Mick Jagger’s girlfriend, back in the day.  Most people would know her now by the raspy vocal interludes she did on the Metallica song, “The Memory Remains.”  (Her voice is so roached out by decades of drug abuse and cigs, the first time I heard the song I thought it was one of the demon voices from “The Exorcist.”)

And the only reason I even mention this story is so I can reference Dennis Leary’s rant on The Doors…

“We need a two and a half-hour movie about The Doors?  Folks no we don’t, I can sum it up for you in five seconds:
I’m drunk, I’m nobody.
I’m drunk, I’m famous.
I’m drunk, I’m fuckin’ dead.  There’s your whole movie OK?.
Big fat dead guy in a bathtub; there’s your title for ya...”

(Oh sorry… I should have said “Spoiler Alert.”)

A Story
So, at lunchtime yesterday, I walked down to Camden Yards to pick up a ticket to Saturday’s Orioles game against St. Louis.  I had already looked up 3 prospective seats online… I figured I’d try the upper deck behind home plate, in the cheap seats.  (I hope to take a nice, full-park photo I can blow up and frame.) 

I need a shot like this one from 4 years ago, only with a good camera, to produce a larger file.

The reason I didn’t BUY the tickets online is that if you go to the ticket window, you don’t have to pay the obscene $7 per ticket processing/Ticketmaster fees.  I checked the weather before I left, and there was a strong possibility of some rain coming in.  I thought I could make it there and back before it hit, if I was quick about it.  It’s about a 15 minute walk from my office.

There were people at each ticket window but one, so I walked right up and ordered my seat.  My first choice was available.  But when she said, “$20 please,” it triggered my brain.  The website said it would be $26.  I figured I’d check my ticket when she gave it back to me.  I should have said something right away.

When I looked, the ticket was for Friday’s game.  But by then, another guy was up at the window, so I waited close by.  Soon, she asked if something was the matter.  I said she gave me the wrong day.  She said “OK, just let me just take care of this guy.”  Which she did.

Which took 8-10 freaking minutes! 
Do you have this section? 
Do you have that section? 
No, the whole lower bowl inside the infield is sold out. 
How about if we break up the tickets? 
No, it’s all sold out there, unless you want to pay $150. 
No, I don’t want to pay that.

On and on it went.  Meanwhile, other windows are opening up, but I figure I should deal with the person who screwed up my order. (No, I absolutely didn’t say Friday.  I said, “Sund… I mean Saturday.”)  Meanwhile, the skies are getting darker and darker, in the direction in which I have to go.

Eventually, while this schmo is still pissing around with his seating, the next window over opened up, so I figured that was safe.

And it was no problem, except my seat wasn’t available for Saturday.  Before I could go to my next choice, she suggested another aisle seat, one section over.  I said that was OK, and she ran my card for an additional $6.  But then I got a brain tickle.

I asked, “That’s not a limited view seat, is it?”  I’d found one around there earlier, when I was scoping seats.  I had no idea there was an obstructed view anywhere in the upper deck.  I wonder what the obstruction is.

She said, “Um, yes it is.  I don’t know why that didn’t come up on the screen.”

Right… it “didn’t come up,” but you can see it now.  Lady, you just tried to unload a crappy seat on me.

So now I’ve spent 15 minutes at the windows, while it’s already starting to drizzle, and still don’t have my seat.  They had my 2nd choice though, one section closer but of course, that’s another $12, so she had to run my card a 3rd time.  Still, at least I got out of $7 in processing fees.

But I wanted to tell her, “If I get rained on, it’s your fault.”

I didn’t say that, because she probably would have taken me seriously and I would have gotten blackballed.  Meanwhile, they just turned ME into the schmo taking all day at the ticket window.

Anyway, it only sprinkled on my walk back, so I had time to scope out a new food truck before getting back to the office.  Of course, I had to wait for 10-15 minutes there, too.

It’s no wonder I never want to leave the building.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Odd Bits - The Satanic Edition

It certainly didn’t take long for the ripples from the Hobby Lobby decision to come to light.  Last week, a group of Satanists from New York announced their intention to use the ruling as the justification for court-mandated protection of their own beliefs. 

The funny thing is, what they want has nothing to do with Satanism.  They’re looking to provide women with a way to opt out of the often-times biased abortion pamphlets various state legislatures require doctors to supply to women, or have them limited to apolitical information based solely on fact.

They’re also fighting for other related issues, like mandatory waiting periods.  You can click the link above for more details.

But geez, where have we gone as a society where the Satanists have to be the voice of reason?  Where are the Pastafarians when you need them?

But this shows the inevitable problem with the Hobby Lobby ruling.  What happens when it’s not a mainstream Christian group filing for religious protection?   There’s nothing in the decision that limits protection to the primary religions.  Are they now going to go back to court to argue that only their religion warrants federal protection?  That’s not going to fly.

Of course, I didn’t think “Corporations as People with Religious Protection” would fly either.  We’ll see what happens.

To the Moon, Alice!
You’re probably surprise that I haven’t mentioned the Ray Rice thing yet.  I mean, the guy knocks out his fiancĂ© in a casino elevator, with a leaked video tape showing him dragging her off!  Huge PR disaster for the NFL, and an equally huge headache for the future Mrs. Rice.  And I didn’t say anything.

Last week, the NFL Commish Roger Goodell poked the bee’s nest when he suspended Rice for a mere 2 games.  Pot offenders, Adderall users, and people that had NFL Draft violations have all gotten more games suspended.  I still didn’t say anything.

But after watching Rice’s (2nd) press conference, which was supposed to be his big “Apology Tour” performance, I have to write.

How many times do we have to watch athletes, politicians, and other Privileged People give the “I made a mistake/Nobody’s perfect” speech?  It’s especially irritating when the transgression is something this serious. 

Yes, nobody’s perfect, but you know what?  There are millions and millions of imperfect people out there who have managed not to knock a woman the fuck out.   That’s what he did.  He Knocked. Her. The Fuck. Out.  He hit her in the face so hard, she went unconscious.


That’s not a “mistake,” that’s a “felony.”  I can say I made a mistake if I leave a plate in the bedroom, or forget to put the milk back in the fridge.  Because I’m not perfect, I may neglect to take the trash out, or roll my windows up before a rain storm.  But I never accidentally punched a woman in the face.  And that’s a good thing, because I’m not an NFL running back, so I would probably get in trouble.  Like, jail trouble.

And now with the league basically saying that taking a non-performance-enhancing drug is less serious than knocking a woman TFO (I’m just gonna abbreviate it now), if I were running the big breast cancer organization, I’d be putting in a call to the Commish right about now.  I’d be telling him to stuff his pink shoes and pink towels and pink hats straight up his big pink ass, until he comes up with a punishment that fits the crime.

Unfortunately there’s no way that’s going to happen.  No large charity is going to risk having the money spigot from a huge benefactor turned off.

As usual, from the Ratbird fans, there seems to be a great whitewashing of Rice’s misdeed going on. Yes, the paper quotes a few people who are getting rid of their Ray Rice jerseys.  But you should have seen the cheers he got when he walked onto the Rats’ practice field.

This season, I dare any Ratbird fan to start talking smack about any other player’s off-field foibles.  I shouldn’t have to wait very long; they’ve been making excuses for their guys for years, while sharpening the knives for others.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


My apologies for the “radio silence” since last week; there were underhanded doings afoot.

My mom turned 75 this week, so earlier this spring, Dad cooked up a plot for all of her kids to show up down in Florida for a surprise party.  I went down with my brother and his family, and my sister and her husband came in from Ohio.  It was all very hush-hush, and of course, there were almost a few leaks.  Bluz Sister has a real problem keeping something quiet, especially from our mom.

So we all came into town on Friday and assembled at my folks’ favorite restaurant at the appointed time.  Then… Surprise!

The moment she noticed her offspring loitering out in the back room.  She was probably afraid we wanted to move back in with them.

Yes, she was quite surprised.  Luckily, she didn’t faint (or pee).  You have to be careful when you ambush a 75-year old lady.

While we enjoyed a fabulous dinner, their neighbors began filling up their house, so when we all showed up afterwards, it was on to Surprise Part Two.  Much exaltation and drink-pouring ensued.

Of course, we had to “outfit” the birthday girl.  Dad had this one in mind for months.

The Game Jersey Mojo Master approves.

Our stay was from Friday through Tuesday, so we still had lots of weekend left to play.  My brother-in-law made sure we had plenty of snacks.

This is a sight that I never, EVER saw in our house.  We had to snack on pencil shavings and dryer lint.

The big chore of the weekend was to help Dad.  See, he had his “panel of experts” in town, so he figured it was the perfect time to replace his antiquated TV.  He got it quite some time ago, when flat-panel sets were new, and just before the tech took a huge leap forward.

It was a monster.  It was supposed to be Hi-def, but it was nowhere near what modern TVs can do.

So, we lit off for Best Buy and came away with a fresh new HDTV and sound bar.

Funny how a thin little sound bar has to come in a huge box.

We all* flew into action to get it set up. (*Mostly my brother and brother-in-law.)

The brothers set up while Dad wonders how soon it will be until he can watch Law and Order.

By the time it was all done, and we had done some significant picture rearranging, it looked like this.

It all turned out beautifully.  Totally made me jealous too.  I need to upgrade my gear now too.  (Probably not this year though.)

We ate out a great deal… obviously we didn’t want Mom to do a lot of cooking.  But geez, that’s all we did this weekend… eat drink and shoot the shit.

As we were sitting around on Saturday, I realized it was the perfect opportunity to introduce my nephews to the “Farting Contest,” the 40s-era “sporting event” I wrote about in 2012.  I called it up on my iPad and let it rip.

There some things that are universal constants.  One is that it never rains when you go to the trouble of bringing an umbrella.  The other is that young boys find farts hilarious.  It was heart-warming to me that I could entertain the boys so heartily.  Not sure their mother agrees though.

On Monday, Mom’s actual birthday, we did a cookout.  My BIL grilled up a whole mess of pork ribs, to which Mom added chicken, corn, and salad, which obviously doesn’t count as “cooking.”  But what a feast!

Our flights out on Tuesday were swift and uneventful, just the way we like them.  I was glad that we could pull off something like this for Mom.  There just aren’t that many occasions where we all get together, outside of weddings and funerals.

I’ve said before; I am a genuine combination of both my mom and dad.  From Dad, I got a sense of practicality and a need for things to make sense.  (And many other virtues as well.)

But my creative side… writing, blogging, photography, political activism; that all comes directly from my mom.  She instilled in me a love of words and wordplay at a very young age.  Every time I sit down here to tap something out for you, it’s because of her.  (Even the fart jokes.)

So if you’ve ever enjoyed a post or two here or chuckled at a particular turn of phrase, you can thank my mom.  Or blame her, as the case may be. 

Without her influence, I’d probably be outside poking things with a stick.

Happy Birthday, Lil Mother.  Here’s to continuing the adventure.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

In Order to Beat'em, Join'em

There was a story out this week that almost made my head explode.  Just when you think you’ve seen every type of attack on birth control, the Religious Right hits an even deeper low.

In Tampa, a nurse-midwife is suing Planned Parenthood because they refuse to hire her, for the flimsy reason that she refuses to prescribe birth control pills, due to religious reasons.  The Christian right organization Alliance Defending Freedom is representing her.

I see two possible scenarios at play here.  Either this woman is deluded into thinking she can strong-arm a business into hiring her, despite her unwillingness to do the job (unlikely), or this is yet another route from the Religious Right to put Planned Parenthood out of business (yep, that’s the one).

I mean, they’ve stripped them of funding, they’ve forced them to read from scientifically unsound scripts, they’ve legislated one onerous requirement after another that no other outfit has to meet, and cleared the way for patients to be hounded and harassed on the way in the door, all under the guise of “protecting” women.

Since they’ve been unable to directly overturn at Roe v Wade, they’re doing the next best thing: making obtaining reproductive services so expensive and inconvenient, they accomplish their goals in practice, rather than theory.

I’ll be interested to see how this plays out in the courts.  To me, common sense says it gets dismissed out of hand.  How can one not see the ramifications here, if a business can’t establish job requirements and hire to fill them?

What happens next?  Can a vegetarian sue a butcher shop or deli for not hiring her, because she refuses to sell meat?  Can a Christian Scientist sue a pharmacy for not hiring him, because he refuses to fill prescriptions since doesn’t believe in medicine?  Can a Southern Baptist sue a casino for not hiring him because he refuses to deal any cards due to being against gambling?

I’m all for equality in hiring, but the bottom line is that the applicant has to be willing and able to do the job.  No can do?  No get job.  Period.

Monday, July 21, 2014

One Down, Five to Go

That was the subtitle of the “movie” I saw on Sunday.  You might have heard about this, but the English sketch comedy troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus reunited in London this month for a series of live shows, the last of which was broadcast to theaters around the world.  Everyone got back together, except, of course, Graham Chapman, who died in 1989 (hence the subtitle).

If the surviving members of Monty Python were going to get together for one last show, do you think there was any possible way I would miss that?

So there I was, Sunday afternoon, in a theater that was more crowded than any I can remember in recent history.  It was mostly filled by middle-aged hippies and nerds, but there was a solid youthful presence as well.

Let me lead by saying I absolutely loved the show.  Was it perfect?  No.  Were the lines and timing as crisp as they used to be?  Hell no.  But it didn’t matter.  It was a privilege just to see these five geniuses going through their paces one last time.  It’s not like we all didn’t know every syllable of dialogue.

There was no theme; the show was basically a review of all their best skits, along with some song and dance (the Pythons have a slew of catchy tunes in their repertoire).  Much like the Seinfeld of their day, Monty Python generated a ton of catch-phrases into the lexicon, most of which found their way back into the show. 

Who’d have thought, 40 year ago, we’d all be sitting here doing Monty Python?”  (A mild adaptation for the Four Yorkshiremen sketch”)

“Every sperm is sacred.”

“I wanted to be… a Lumberjack!” 

“What’s on the television?”
     “I think it’s a penguin.” 

“Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more.” 

“I certainly didn’t expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition.”
     [Door crashes in] “Nooobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

“Is this the right room for an argument?”
     “I told you once…”


“Excuse me, I’d like to register a complaint!”

(You can find a full sketch by sketch rundown of the show by clicking here.)

In between sketches, they would either bring out the Broadway-style dancers for musical Python bits, like an elaborate dance number referencing the Ministry of Silly Walks, or just roll some film of sketches that didn’t lend themselves to a live show, like “The Silly Olympics,” the “Exploding Blue Danube,” or “Philosopher’s Football Match.

So there was a lot to like about the show, but that’s not to say there wasn’t room for some irritations and criticisms. 

For example, there was the guy sitting about 2-3 rows behind me, who loudly giggled and cackled at every freakin’ line of dialogue.  Often times, he was the only one laughing in the whole theater, and it sounded like he was right in my ear.

Because they had to cover for Graham Chapman, (what with being dead and all), it was weird seeing the other Pythons (or anonymous cast members) doing the dialogue for which Chapman was known.  For example, the funny part of the Spam sketch was Chapman, dressed as a dowdy middle-aged woman, shrieking “I don’t like Spam!”  In Sunday’s version, they had Carol Cleveland, their Gal Friday who plays most every part where they needed an actual female, sub in for Chapman.  It just didn’t have the same impact.

And speaking of the cross-dressing parts, you can really see where age has taken a toll, because very few of the Pythons can hit those shrill tones any more.  (Granted, they’re all in their 70s, so I give them a bit of latitude.)

During the dance performance of “The Penis Song,” (“Isn’t it awfully nice to have a penis? / Isn’t it frightfully good to have a dong?”), they added a new verse about how nice it is to have a vagina and another one about the “bottom.”  Unfortunately, I couldn’t make out but a word or two of it, because it was sung by the dancing chorus.  In the London auditorium, they had the lyrics up on the video screen, but the rebroadcast only showed it in passing.  It was probably really funny; I wish I knew for sure.

Maybe if the theater would have had the show’s volume up as loud as they do for movies… I assumed the problem was with the original transmission.  Perhaps that was as loud as they could get it.

I grant you that all of these issues are trivial, in context of the awesomeness of the event, but there was one thing that legitimately pissed me off.

An hour into the show, they had an intermission.  I mean, a real, 30-minute intermission.  The cast left the stage and a digital clock filled the movie screen, counting down from 30:00.  At first, I thought it was a joke, like the fake intermission near the end of Holy Grail.  But after two minutes rolled off the clock, we figured out that they really were breaking.

Now, I understand that you need an intermission during a play, especially one that runs three hours.  BUT, they could at least put something up on the movie screen!  Everyone else in the crowd began playing with their smart phones.  Not having one of those, I had nothing else to do but sit there in the dark for a half an hour, and wait.

Yes, I could have gotten up and walked around, but I couldn’t count on finding my seat again. Plus, it’s not like there was anything to do in the lobby.  I think the least they could have done is run some previews or something.  I’m just glad the show restarted right at the end of the countdown.

All in all, I loved the experience.  You could see on screen how beloved these guys are.  When the last sketch was done, the Pythons took some bows, and after sucking up some prolonged adulation, retreated backstage.  Up on the video screen, the message appeared: “Two minutes until the completely spontaneous encore.”

It could only be one thing.   Eric Idle, who all show long, looked like a weathered, merry, ring-leading elf, emerged to lead the rest of the guys in song.  He also said that the crowd may want to sing along as well, as he was “pretty sure they knew the words.”  He bade the theater-goers so sing as well.  With that, he began “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” the legendary coda to “Monty Python’s Life of Brian.” 

So that’s how 16,000 people in London joined untold thousands across the planet, in singing the theme song to a movie that had been repeatedly banned and boycotted due to its blasphemous nature. 

I don’t know if other theaters joined in, but the one I was at erupted in full-throated song.  It really was a beautiful thing.  (No, I didn’t join in.  I never sing in public, due to the “public nuisance” restraining orders.)

Monty Python have been around almost as long as I have.  Their humor and irreverence has been a part of my life ever since I discovered them, when I was in college.  Since then, I’ve always known that I had a measuring stick for encounters with other people.  If I threw out a Python quote, and someone came back with the next line, I knew that person would be simpatico.  It wasn’t my only measuring stick, but it was reliable.

I suppose I could say that I’ll miss these guys, but the truth is; I won’t.  I won’t have to.  They’re all over my MP3 player and DVD shelf, and I don’t see that changing. 

As long as I still appreciate the inherent absurdity and silliness of the human race, I’ll be listening to the Pythons. 

Director’s DVD Commentary: If this post has piqued your interest, theaters are rebroadcasting the show on 7/23 and 7/24.  Check your local listings for times and availability.  Otherwise, I think it’s a sure bet to wind up on DVD.  And I bet neither one will have an intermission!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Winter Wonderland

It was with much sadness that I read of the passing of blues guitarist Johnny Winter.  It was on his Facebook profile this morning.  (I’m fairly certain he had people who ran that for him, otherwise, there is a bigger story at hand.)

My top 5 favorite blues guitarists have all passed on, Roy Buchanan, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert Collins, Gary Moore, and now Johnny.  

I first encountered Johnny Winter in the early 80s, shortly after I discovered Stevie Ray.  A co-worker at the record store, who was learned in the ways of the blues, told me, “If you like Stevie Ray, you’ll like Johnny Winter.”

So I bought his first album on Alligator Records, called “Guitar Slinger,” took it back to my little apartment in Bowling Green, and watched it reduce my speakers to matchsticks.  I was hooked for life.

Obviously, this was one weird-looking cat.  He was a heavily tattooed, albino with terrible vision, and played a guitar that looked like it had the end cut off, but boy, could he ever wail on it.  Dude was lightning fast, all over the guitar neck.  But was always slayed me was the “yell.”

Any self-respecting bluesman has to have a good yell.  Johnny used his early and often.  It was a long, rumbly gravelly growl, that sounded like a PeeWee Herman yell.


A typical song began with a yell, then some unintelligible lyrics about how his baby done him wrong, another yell, then 72 bars of guitar solo.  In other songs, he sometimes worked with a piano player, frequently Louisiana legend, Dr. John.  They’re both on Sugaree, one of my favorites.  The piano solo comes in around the 1:00 minute mark, goes 24 bars in 30 seconds, then Johnny yells and comes in with this wicked Chuck Berry-esque solo.  Gives me chills.

Johnny could easily be labeled as misogynistic, and technically, that would be correct.  I call it an occupational hazard.  If a guy spends his life singing about how his baby done him wrong, the women are not going to come out very well.  

He did one song in the mid 80s, called “Bad Girl Blues.”  It was a slow blues number using a steel guitar, about the perils of dating lesbians.  Seriously.

You know the woman went out last night boogying
Smelling sweet like a rose.
She come home five o’clock in the morning
With that fish scent on her clothes.

These women lovin’ each other.
Y’all know they ain’t thinkin’ bout no man.
They ain’t playin’ no secrets no mo’
They playin a wiiiide open hand.”

I guess that’s why he never played a N.O.W. benefit.  Or one for G.L.A.A.D.

I saw Johnny in concert twice.  The first time was in 1988, at Peabody’s Down Under in Cleveland.  He was really rockin’ that night, with a tight trio.  This clip is roughly from that era.

Notice how he works the “yell” into the open lyric… “I went Ouuuuuuut and got married…”

Back then, I knew a guy who did some backstage work at that show, and he told me how Johnny pitched a fit when he didn’t get a baked potato like he asked for.  For some reason, I found that hilarious.  I could just imagine what a Johnny Winter fit would sound like… “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh where’s my baked potato?  Yaayaaaaaaaaaahh!

Better yet, I could see it turning up in a song… “The Baked Potato Blues.”

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh, I asked my baby for a baked potato,
But mashed was what she brought.
Woman shoulda known better than that,
So I shot her with my thirty-aught.
Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahh… [72 bar guitar solo]”

The second time I saw Johnny was 1999, here in Baltimore, and it was depressing.  It was like he was barely there.  He started by playing a 10-minute version of the blues instrumental classic “Hideaway.”  That was fine in itself; the problem was he played the exact same solo twice in a row.  The whole show he never engaged with the audience, he never moved, or yelled, or hopped around like he used to.  None of the songs had any life either; all he played were slow to mid-tempo songs.  His voice sounded thin, without the robust life he used to bring.

He just kind of stood there and swayed as he played.  At one point a guitar tech came up and took his guitar from him, while Johnny stood there.  A moment or two later, the tech came back and put a new one in his hands. 

It was like he was either high on smack, or so old and decrepit he couldn’t function, other than to go through the motions of playing guitar.  I figured he had one foot in the grave, and another on a banana peel.  That was the only concert in my entire life where I left early.  Given he spent another 15 years touring after that, I can only hope that was a temporary low-point.  Like maybe he had a serious health issue that week. 

Or maybe it was just Baltimore.  It’s not like he was playing Madison Square Garden.

Anyway, that’s one more bluesman down, and I’m pretty bummed about it.  At least he has one more album in the can, “Step Back,” ready for release in September.  It’s an album where he plays with a number of other guitar legends from Billy Gibbons (of ZZ Top) to Joe Perry (of Aerosmith) to Eric Clapton (of Eric Clapton).

Best wishes, Johnny.  I hope wherever you are now, they serve a nice baked potato.


Director’s DVD Commentary: When I recorded my own Johnny Winter mix tape, I called it “Baked Potato Blues: The Best of Johnny Winter.”  Who cares if no one ever got the joke but me?  Also, I just came up with that Baked Potato song verse on the drive in to the subway this morning.  With enough popular support, I won’t write any more of it.