Monday, July 25, 2016

Living in Concert - Part 5

Because I want to write about something other than politics today,

and there’s not really anything else going on, I figured I’d do up another installment of my old concert life, last addressed in February of 2015.  Back when I was in the record retail business, I used to see a lot of concerts… mostly for free, as a perk of the job.  It was one of the few things that kept me going.

At this point in the narrative, I was working in my company’s home office in Albany NY.

2/16/93 – Bon Jovi/Jeff Healey Band, Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, Crossroads tour. ($22.50 comped)  I’d seen Bon Jovi open for the Scorpions in Toledo back in the 80s, and seen Jeff Healey headline Peabody’s in Cleveland, so their roles were reversed on this night.  Seemed wrong seeing Jeff Healey on a big arena stage.  I felt he belongs in a small grungy club like the Double Deuce.  They could have at least put up some chicken wire in front of the stage.

March 1993 – Queen Ida (headlining Mardi Gras Night), Proctor’s Theater, Schenectady NY.  Went with the wife.  She loved Cajun music.  They made this ornate theater look like the French Quarter of old New Orleans.  They even had people up on the balconies in the atrium throwing down beads.  (And you didn’t have to show off any body parts to get them!)

3/18/93 – Howie Mandel, Proctor’s Theater. ($25.50)  Before he was a talent show judge, Howie was a great standup comedian, with boundless energy and a slew of voices.  My favorite bits were when he’d go into the audience and just riff off of people.

6/1/93 – Norman Nardini, The Metro, Saratoga Springs NY, Breakdown in Paradise tour. (comped)  I wrote extensively about seeing and hanging out with Norm in my “Brushes” series.  Norman Nardini was a guitarist out of Pittsburgh who I first saw playing at our company’s annual convention, and just rocking the place. 

Norm in Greenwich Village, about to rock this guy’s face off.

Went with the wife and two of her friends, my boss, and my other boss.  In between sets, Norm would come and hang out at our table.  This was the first time I saw him work a room full of people who didn’t know who the hell he was, and have them eating out of his hand by the end of the night.

July 1993, Buckwheat Zydeco/Beausoliel, headlining the annual Cajun Festival at Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC).  Took the family and wife’s friend’s family.  Picnic out on the grass, with lots of games, beer, and dancing to Cajun music.

7/31/93 – Tina Turner/Chris Isaac, Simply the Best tour, SPAC. ($25.50)  The fourth time seeing Tina Turner, who really hadn’t even aged since I first saw her in 1985.  Third time seeing her at an outdoor pavilion.

8/29/93 – Charlie Daniels Band, Starlite Theater, Albany NY. (22.50)  Third time seeing the CDB, but the first time in 11 years.  You always know what you’re going to get, though.  I don’t listen to much country music, but when I do, I like it shit-kicking, the way these guys play it.

10/31/93 – Joe Satriani at the Hard Rock CafĂ©, NYC, and Norman Nardini at Kenny’s Castaways, Greenwich Village, NY. (Comped)  Came into “The City” with some execs from work, along with the wife and her girlfriend, to see two shows in one night.  The Satriani gig was “invite only,” then we cabbed it across town to the Village to see Norm again.  Details are in the post I linked in the previous Norman listing.  Great night.

November 1993 – Dan Baird/The Poorboys, Folk Songs for the Hearing Impaired tour, Saratoga Winners. (Comped)  Dan Baird was the lead singer of the Georgia Satellites, and on a solo album tour in '93.  Wrote about this one, here, because this was the show where the wife finally became unafraid of the rock stars.  We met Dan Baird and the two of them just started talking like old friends.  (Even though she probably hadn’t heard of him before that night.  Actually, that probably helped.)

11/23/93 – Meat Loaf, Bat Out of Hell 2 tour, Orpheum Theater, Boston. ($28.50 comped)  This was a wedding present from the guys at the office; tickets to a “warm-up” gig in Boston before Meat embarked on his massive multi-year tour supporting his new comeback album.  (I wrote about this show as well, in the post linked directly above.)  The only opening act was a string quartet, playing Meat Loaf songs, up until the show started and they were literally chased off the stage by the guitarist, unleashing power chords in their faces.

January 1994 – Janet Jackson/Tony Toni Tone, “Janet Jackson” tour, Knickerbocker Arena, Albany. ($40.00)  Until 2008, this was the most I’ve ever paid for a concert ticket and this one hurt because there were four of us going. (Took the wife, her son, and niece.)  Great show, though.  Janet obviously learned how to put on a spectacle from her brother.

One part rang false, when she pulled some slob out of the crowd, sat on his lap and sang to him.  Dude was whimpering like a schoolboy.  I was wondering how they knew he wouldn’t try to do something, like unsnap a piece of clothing…  When I got back to work, I asked my mentor, Vinnie, about that bit.  I said, “Was that guy for real, or was he a plant?

Vinnie said, “Total plant.  She pulled the same guy when I saw the tour in Boston.”

Just goes to show; you can’t trust showbiz.

1/18/94 – Billy Joel, River of Dreams tour, Knickerbocker Arena. ($28.50)  The great thing about a Billy Joel show is that you’ll know every song and they’ll all be hits.

3/7/94 – Melissa Etheridge/Matthew Sweet, Yes I Am tour, Palace Theater. ($35.00)  Took the wife backstage to meet Melissa (second time for me), but unfortunately, we never got individual pictures.  Someone took a group shot, and I did have a copy but lost custody of it in the divorce.  Details on meeting Ms. Etheridge and my getting all clammed up can be found here.

To be continued, the next time I’m out of ideas.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Planks for the Memories

The Republican national convention and dumpster fire starts tonight.  I heard Donald Trump hand-selected Scott Baio to speak one night this week, because, you know… star power.

I don’t know if I’m surprised or not at what’s gone into this year’s Republican national platform.  It’s the most backward, regressive, trying-to-put-the-toothpaste-back-in-the-tube platform they’ve ever constructed.  All I can say is that they must feel really secure in their voter suppression strategies because it appears they’ve learned absolutely nothing from the last two elections.

Remember how they were going to try to be more inclusive?  Right, that’s out the window.  This platform doubles down on well to do angry white straight men and the women who dutifully walk two steps behind them. 

They also reject climate change science and have gone so far as to recommend the burning of “clean coal,” which couldn’t possibly be more oxymoronic.  Just calling the dirtiest fuel source we have “clean” doesn’t make it so.  (If it was, I would have used that logic on my mom when she wanted me to clean my room.)

They attack pornography as a public health “crisis,” as opposed to the tens of thousands of gun-related deaths every year.  And speaking of health crises, (although unrelated to the GOP platform), the Republicans in congress refuse to pass a bill allocating funds to combat the spread of the Zika virus, that does not carry a prohibition of funds for contraception, which just so happens to be the best way to combat the spread of the Zika virus.  Maybe they want to do like they try to do with gays and pray the Zika away.

That’s another thing in the platform: recommending conversion therapy for gays, a process that’s been 100% discredited by all reputable psychologists.  This should be the GOP motto: “It’s not just environmental science we’re ignoring now.”

Obviously ending Obamacare is one of their priorities, because we can’t have all these people with insurance, because… well, sorry, I’m at a loss for the downside.

Trump sure picked the right guy for the VP spot. 

Indiana governor Mike Pence is a True Believer, which is just the thing needed to bolster Trumps recently discovered religious beliefs.  Pence was willing to break his state’s economy over a bill that gave businesses the right to discriminate against gays.  Anyone can talk a good game of repression, Pence has walked the walk.  I bet he uses one of these:

The metaphor I used earlier it true; they’re trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube, trying to un-ring the bell, closing the door after the horse is out of the barn.

Have you ever tried to take rights away from the people who have them?  They think gay people are just going to go, “Well, OK, we tried doing the married thing, but we’d really feel more comfortable if we could go back to being second class citizens.”  Do they think poor people are going to go, “You know, I’d feel much better if I could just use the ER as my GP and skip out on the bills.”

People are not going to give up their hard-earned rights without a fight.  But the GOP doesn’t care about that, not when they’ve locked up the voting process.  It’s no accident that wherever they’re demanding government IDs in order to vote, they’re ALSO closing and limiting hours of DMV locations that service the poorest neighborhoods.  You know, because of “voter fraud.”

We’re going to hear a lot of crap about both candidates in the next few months and all of it will be irrelevant.  The emails don’t matter.  The wall doesn’t matter.  Speaking fees and designer suits don’t matter.  Trump University doesn’t matter.  Crooked Hillary,  Racist Donald, none of it matters.

The only things that matter are what each party plans to do in Washington.

The Republicans want to:

…roll back civil rights on LGBT folks and stuff them back into the closet where they will be neither seen nor heard. 

…pretend environmental science is a hoax because it costs them money to change business practices.  (Ask Florida’s governor about what happens to tourist trade when your environmental policies lead directly to beaches filled with green crud.)

…end the right to an abortion in combination with eliminating the most effective means to prevent unwanted pregnancies. 

…ensure that nothing prevents the rich from buying politicians and elections.

…continue finding places to send our troops and places to bomb, to keep the flow of tax dollars to the defense industry.

…kick millions of people off of their insurance plans, in place of some kind of voucher system they haven’t yet been able to explain.

…privatize social security, leaving our retirement in the hands of the same people who collapsed our economy in 2008.

…eliminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whose only mission is to keep banks from screwing its customers.

…initiate some kind of religious litmus test to apply to those who are legally immigrating, all the while trying to force their own religion into government policy.

…continue to prevent any progress on gun legislation of any kind, regardless of the toll in human lives.

The Democrats want to…

…it doesn’t even matter, as long as they oppose all the preceding points.

There’s only one thing that we can do to ensure we don’t move our country back into the Dark Ages, and that’s to make every effort to get people registered to vote, NOW, well ahead of time.  Time nullifies GOP voter suppression tactics and we have that at the moment.

If you have elderly parents or college student children, make sure they have the documents necessary to vote.  Some states require original or authorized copies of birth certificates, which can take time to obtain. 

If they’ve registered before, you’d best find out if they’re still registered.  Many red states are aggressively purging voter rolls, with little double-checking and even less oversight.

Start the process now.  By the time October and November roll around, it will be too late.

Moving the country forward is the only way to go.  Once you start taking people’s rights away, (even if they’re not “your people”), it’s an awfully short step away from fascism.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Facebook Follies

Facebook: Where anyone can graphically misrepresent facts to prove an ill-conceived point.

I’ve been having a field day on Facebook lately, collecting memes to disassemble.  I mean, with all the trauma and turmoil going on lately, anger and anxiety are peaking while careful reasoning is at a low.  (OK, that’s not just a recent thing, is it?)

Aside from the fact that the price quote is inflated, (by several thousand dollars), and it was a general stump speech rather than one focused on income inequality, has anyone  EVER, questioned the value of a male candidate’s suit?  This is just one more “standard” being applied to Clinton (or Obama) and to no one else.

I’ve seen a lot of snark aimed at Hillary regarding her (and her husband’s) wealth.  All I have to say is that coming from a party whose last two nominees have been billion-dollar trust fund babies; they are the living embodiment of the pot calling the kettle black.

This is another trick of dishonest timing.  The shooter’s quote was during the event itself.  The Attorney General’s quote was from the immediate aftermath, before investigations and before anyone had a concrete timeline of events.

See, it’s a distinct possibility that the shooter was lying or misdirecting authorities with that and other statements.  His presence on nine or ten other nights there at the club, as well as statements from those who claimed to know him, might lead one to believe that he was gay himself and acting out in a fit of denial.  Coming from a culture that reviles homosexuality even more than ours might make a guy like that prone to overcompensating in an effort to find redemption.

So before jumping to the conclusion that the religious right was dying to hear, the AG admitted that the investigation was ongoing… like it should be, regardless of how badly the 24-hour news cycle wished otherwise.  We’re Americans… we prefer our news wrong but now, rather than correct and later.

This one is just a mishmash of nonsense. 

Muslims maintain those rigid societal standards because they run theocracies.  That’s their religion and the religion runs the state.  There’s your first paragraph.

Muslims may think they should be “allowed to tell us we should change our laws and customs” because that’s human nature, it’s protected by the First Amendment, and it’s the exact same thing we think about them.  That’s a far reach to actually accommodating them, which I’ve never heard from anyone, ever.  Show me one Democrat who says we should change our laws and customs to accommodate Muslims?

I expect the response might be regarding immigration and resettlement of Syrian refugees, but that’s really an "apples to oranges" comparison.  That’s a matter of immigration law and not banning pork chops.

On the contrary, starting with “Church” is the end of a nation.

For a country that’s so afraid of theocracies, we sure sound like a nation that wishes to become one.

Moving on...

Personally, I wouldn’t share this because I would be too embarrassed to post a lily-white, blue-eyed Jesus wearing a Jedi robe.  Are you sure that isn’t Ewan MacGregor?

It’s funny how some people want to take the Bible so literally, but then do a complete make-over on the star of the New Testament.  Obviously, He would be a proponent of concealed carry, too.

Another jewel from the tiny-brained.

To “clean up one’s community and get rid of the criminal element” would take millions of dollars in jobs and infrastructure development, as well as a serious commitment to education.  People have been trying to do just this for years.

On the other hand, getting a bunch of people together to march in the street to protest their loved ones being killed by police can be done in a heartbeat.  You don’t even have to leave your house.

To compare the two in terms of simplicity is asinine.

I’m not sure if this is meant to ask why the story isn’t getting enough attention, or to commend white people for not rioting.  Either way, there is an obvious (and non-racist) explanation.

This is a case where the details are not fully known.  The cops say it was a classic “suicide by cop,” wherein the driver refused to show his hands while continuing to approach the officer, despite repeated warnings.  The family says that’s not the kind of thing he’d ever do.  It’s hard to generate a protest when no one knows what’s going on (unless this kind of thing happens every day). 

People get shot by the police all the time.  Most deserve it.  It just so happens that the ones who don’t are most often black.

Simply put, for a white guy who is not posing a legitimate threat, getting shot by the cops, is a rarity. 

In raw numbers, more white are people shot by cops than black people.  However, and this is statistically important, white people make up 62% or our population; black people make up 13%.  Yet black Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be shot by a cop.

This is the linchpin of where the All Lives Matter movement falls apart.  All lives aren’t under siege; black ones are.  When such a time comes that 62% of people shot by cops are white and 13% of them are black, then we can sing Kumbaya about all lives mattering.  Until then, it’s a stacked deck.

On a semi-related topic, I was at the Orioles game last Friday night at the same time there was a planned demonstration.  I got a bit of a jolt when I looked up and saw a plume of smoke with a helicopter circling the area.

Last April, fans at the game got “locked in” when the protests broke out in violence.  My brother and his family were at that game; I thought this was going to be my turn.  But it turned out to be nothing but an apartment fire about 6 blocks north.

Facebook wasn’t ALL doomsday and grade school-level thinking last week… This cracked me right the hell up.

“Nature’s toothbrush for your colon!”

All I can say is the look on the guy’s face is really something.  I’m dying to know if that was a real ad from yesteryear.  It looks like something The Onion might do.  Either way, I’ll have to make sure I always get the celery with my hot wings.

But speaking of colon health, I I noticed something during my daily walk to the office.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Whitewater 2 Through 10

I saw today that after the highly publicized interview between the FBI and Hillary Clinton, the Feds recommended that no charges be filed.  The FBI director said, “Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.” 

That doesn’t mean the Justice Department can’t still file charges, but the US Attorney General had previously said the department will take its cues from the FBI investigation.

Naturally, there was an instant hissy fit on the part of the Republicans, who have been beating this particular drum for years now.  I found this circulating from the right-wingnut Breitbart group within minutes of the announcement.

I’m guessing they already had this one loaded in the chamber.

It’s obvious that they don’t like it when an investigation doesn’t form a conclusion until after it’s done investigating.  They’re used to doing it the other way around.

See, the Republicans have to carry on like this.  They’ve spent years now working the Benghazi angle… nine Congressional investigations now, right?  And they’ve come up with nothing except this.  Private email servers.

Granted, they’ve gotten an impeachment with far less and they know it.  They’re doing to Hillary Clinton exactly what they did to her husband.  Remember the Whitewater hearings?  They spent a fortune in taxpayer money in the 90s to investigate what they claimed to be a shady real estate deal which benefitted the Clintons.  They didn’t find jack shit that they could use… until it leaked that the president got a hummer from some intern.

Then it became all about the sanctity of the presidency.  (Obviously, they stopped being concerned about presidential image around January of 2009.)  They managed to gin up enough dewy-eyed outrage to pass some articles of impeachment.  Not that it made any real difference, mind you.  Bill Clinton remained the president, but they were able to tie up the administration in depositions and red tape until they couldn’t accomplish anything else.  Which was exactly what the Republicans wanted.

Now they’re doing the exact same thing to Hillary.  I’ve never once heard a plausible reason why the incident at Benghazi was so different from the dozen or so fatal attacks on US embassies and consulates under the Bush administration.  Other than there being a Democrat in office, of course.

Taking the shot at Obama wasn’t even the point, though.  This was the chance to put some pre-emptive stink on the presumptive Democratic front-runner for 2016, so every time their “investigation” didn’t turn up anything tangible, they just started another one.  The goal was purely and simply to keep the words “Clinton” and “scandal” in the same headline.  (Usually a Fox “News” headline.  Respectable news organizations didn’t give this story much oxygen and declined to participate in the charade.)

These investigations were 100% political in nature.  One of their own people even admitted it, in an accidental fit of honesty.  House majority leader Kevin McCarthey shot his mouth off on Fox “News,” saying the committee had achieved its goal of damaging Clinton’s poll numbers.  Fox anchors themselves admitted to the political nature of the investigations, with the alibi that every investigation is political. 

They’re really in a win/win situation here.  If all the investigations came back with something, that’s their campaign material for the election.  Now that there was no relevant finding, they cry “fix,” and insinuate corruption.  Either way, it keeps a Democratic “scandal” in the headlines.

Personally, I think the scandal was when prior to the Benghazi attack, the Republicans twice refused requests for more funds to bolster embassy security.  Somehow that didn’t make it into the Republican report.  Go figure.

I didn’t care about the first Clinton scandal and I don’t care about this one.  No one can show me any damage done to the country over either.  Regarding the Clinton administration, if a president can produce an economy that purrs along enough to create a surplus, flush with jobs, then hummers should be a perk of the job.  I honestly don’t care about politicians’ personal lives until they affect the rest of the country.

As for the emails, yeah, it wasn’t the best information management procedure.  Secret information was at risk.  But ultimately, what happened?  Nothing.

If I had a history with political rivals like the Clintons do, I wouldn’t want my personal emails on a public server either.  We have information security procedures where I work too.  If I did what she did, I doubt I’d be fired… not unless critical information fell into rival hands.  I’d probably get written up and admonished not to do it again

That’s what’s probably going to happen to Hillary.  She got reprimanded and now she won’t do that again.  It wasn’t the best judgment, but I understand it. 

If they want to attack her tenure as Secretary of State, then focus on something tangible.  I suspect if there was anything there to attack, they’d be doing it.  So instead, they dwell on minutia, because that’s what one does when unable to argue legitimate issues on merit.

And anyone who supports Donald Trump should not be allowed to call anyone else a liar, ever, not until they call out their guy first.

And these aren’t even the recent ones.  This graphic is from March. 

I’m over it, as should everyone be who wants to see something accomplished in this country, for the benefit of the 99%.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Odd Bits - Lord Stanley's Edition

This summer, like the last couple, I seem to have a lot of free time on my hands.  I’m not complaining.  I get to do the kind of things I like to do.  Not that it’s exciting, or anything.  I mostly go to Orioles games and movies, in and around binge-watching TV shows on DVD.  But there have been a couple of highlights…

All Hail Lord Stanley
I would be remiss if I don’t at least mention the experience of watching my Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in franchise history.  As each playoff series began, I’d think, “Gee, I don’t know how they’re going to beat these guys,” and then they’d go right out and do it… convincingly.  The Rangers, Capitals, Lightning, and then the Sharks in the finals… no one could keep up with the Penguins speed and pressure.

There were a number of subplots as well.  Phil Kessel, an under-appreciated all-star from Toronto, gets surrounded with top notch talent for the first time and wins his first Stanley Cup.  There was Matt Murray, a 21-year old goalie who spent over half the season in the minors before stepping in for injured starter Marc-Andre Fleury and shutting the door on all comers.  There was the newly formed HBK line (Hagelin, Bonino & Kessel), born from an injury to Evgeni Malkin to become an unstoppable “3rd line,” for which no team had an answer.

It’s a shame that the Pens couldn’t win the Cup at home, in Game 5.  There were thousands of people in the streets, outside the arena, just waiting to bust loose.

Personally, I think that was the problem: bad mojo.  You don’t show up to celebrate until AFTER the game is won.  Pens fans tempted the mojo gods, who in turn smote them by having the Pens win the Cup on the other side of the country.

Watching the last game was exhausting; there were so many tangents to the 2009 Cup Finals Game 7… playing on the road, nursing a 2 goal lead, having it cut to 1 with about 6 minutes to play.  Fortunately, the paths diverged when the Pens were able to knock in an empty-net goal with a minute left in the game, to take a 3-1 lead.  That took all the stress out of the last minute.  And then it was over, and holy shit...  Another championship for the Burgh.  That makes 12 during my lifetime, 15 in total.

I spent the next day buying all the championship swag I could get my hands on.  Some of it started rolling in last week.

Stanley Cup polo shirt, with the locker room hat.

I had the jerseys, but I ordered a couple of Stanley Cup patches to go on them.

Too bad the white one is now effectively obsolete.  The Pens just announced they’re going to go with the 1992-era home black and visiting white jerseys.  Aside from closeting my current white jerseys, I’m happy with the decision.  It’s really a good look.  Of course, I’ll have to get in touch with my favorite Chinese sweatshop, to bring in jersey reinforcements before the next season starts.

I’m still waiting for the t-shirt, commemorative puck and a new “4-time Stanley Cup winner” hat, to replace my “3-time Stanley Cup winner” hats.

Now I just have to figure out how to get that 4th Stanley Cup in my blog header.

O’s Say Can You See
As my buddy, the CFO noticed from my Facebook postings, I’m on a record pace for seeing Orioles games this year.  Sunday was my 14th of the season.  Last year, I’d seen only 10 by the end of June and 21 by the end of the year. 

I used to try to go to at least one game per homestand.  This year, I’ve been able to see at least one game of every visiting team but one.  (Screw the Yankees.)  I’m on pace for a 28-game year, but that’s a bit misleading.  Judging from the back half of the schedule, which has a lot more long road trips for the Orioles, I probably won’t see more than another 9-10 games.  One of them will be against the Arizona Diamondbacks, though, which is the only team I’ve never seen live.  Of course, it’s the last home series of the year.

The best experience so far was last Wednesday, when the Orioles had another “Social Media Night.”  I went to one last year, where they had a buffet table, free drink tickets, raffle giveaways, and a Q and A with closer Zach Britton.

It was the same deal this year, but the Q and A was with Chris Davis, the O’s strapping slugger and last year’s home run champ.  He’s also one of my favorite players, so I got myself a ticket just as soon as I got the event notification email.

Chris Davis and his guns.

I remember the exact moment he became one of my favorites.  It was in 2012, his first season with the team after being traded from Texas.  The Orioles won a game late on a walk-off base hit by Nate McLouth.  When all the players ran out onto the field to celebrate, Davis picked McLouth up over his shoulder and ran around with him as if he were a child.

He literally ran around the infield like this.    (Source)

Now, McLouth will never be confused with the big boys like Prince Fielder or Bartolo Colon, but he’s still a grown-ass man and Davis handled him like he was a sack of potatoes.  I thought to myself, “This SOB is strong…”

Anyway, the event was cool.  I even got to ask a question… I wanted to know who he thought would hit the Warehouse (in right field) with a home run ball first, him or ex-Pirate Pedro Alvarez.  Chris said his own power was mostly to center field and the alleys and when he pulls the ball to right, it generally hooks so he didn’t think he’d do it.  Pedro, he said, was really powerful, so that’s who he’d pick to knock one off the Warehouse.

Other things I learned: he bench presses 405 and squats over 600 (but not lately, to save his knees), he had a big mustache in the early season but his wife kiboshed it, and if he ran for president, reliever Darren O’Day would be his VP.  What, you think people were asking about batting mechanics?

Speaking of O’Day, they also announced that he would be the guest of honor on the next Social Media Night, on August 4th.  This news caused me to email Sitcom Kelly immediately because he is the next candidate for her basement Silence of the Lambs pit.  If he disappears somewhere between the Q and A and the clubhouse, I think I’ll know where people can find him.

Card Tricks
For the last couple of years, everyone has been telling me to watch House of Cards; that the show was great and I would love it.  I never doubted it.  The only reason I hadn’t seen it was because I don’t do Netflix.  But with the summer TV dead spots, I found myself in need of viewing material, so I ordered the DVDs of both “House of Cards” and “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

I was surprisingly disappointed in Kimmy Schmidt.  Maybe I was expecting too much because it was a Tina Fey production, but I just didn’t find it that funny.  I maybe chuckled a time or two throughout the entire first season.  I don’t believe I’ll pursue the second.

On the other hand, I loved “House of Cards.”  It’s like the seedy underside of another favorite series, “The West Wing.”  I love plausibly realistic political intrigue and I found myself thinking the main character, Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood, was evil incarnate, yet wishing my own congressmen were that smart.

Now, remember when the HBO movie “Game Change” was filming here in Baltimore, and I got such a kick out of seeing a scene played out along the very route I walked to work every day?  The same thing happened with House of Cards, which also films in the Baltimore area.

The signature scene of Season 2 (or maybe the entire series) takes place in a subway station, which I instantly recognized as the one I passed through every day for 17 years (up until we moved our office last summer).

I know it’s several years old by now but I still don’t want to provide any spoilers.  Suffice to say there’s a scene where Frank Underwood talks with reporter Zoe Barnes, played by Kate Mara. 

They speak clandestinely, from opposite sides of a chain-link fence at the end of the station platform.   (Source)

The pillar on the circular seat and fencing on the end were added to the set.   (Source)

Within an instant of the beginning of the scene, I could see it was the Charles Center Metro stop in Baltimore.  I know that wall, I know that yellow line, I know the round wooden seats.  (The underground stations do not all look alike.) A route map appeared in the background, showing a “You Are Here” dot at the third stop from the end.  That’s Charles Center.  Booyah!

This is what it looks like without set dressing.

No fencing, in real life.  I shot this last week, on my way home from an Orioles game.

Anyway, I love it when local landmarks show up on national television, so I thought I’d share.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Debunkery - The Conservative Bitch List

Saw another piece of conservative claptrap on Facebook this weekend.  In this episode, it’s merely a laundry list of half-truths and alleged offenses they endure, no doubt at the hands of we godless, hippy, freedom-hating progressives.

Let’s go through this point by point, OK?  Granted, I could probably do a full rebuttal post on each point so I’ll try to keep it brief.

We live in a country where cops are called criminals.  Cops are called criminals when they murder the people on the street, are seen on video planting or tampering with evidence and falsifying the arrest report.  Sometimes the shoe fits.  No rational person is condemning all cops.  Nor should all cops receive blanket indemnity.

Criminals are called victims.  Yes, when they have the misfortune of running into cops from the prior point.

People who don’t work get a free ride.  What free ride?  Unemployment proceeds are temporary.  The Welfare Reform Act of 1996 requires welfare recipients to actively seek work and provide proof.  And they’re certainly not making so much that they get to sit back, relax and live the good life.  It basically keeps them from starving to death.

Conservatives found a receipt once that indicated food stamps were used to buy high-quality protein once, so they naturally assume that the millions of SNAP users are living like King Louis XIV.  Republicans are only in favor of charity when it involves something they wouldn’t want for themselves.

This is not to say there is no abuse of the system, be it for the SNAP program, welfare, or social security benefits.  There will always be people who try to abuse the system for their own benefit.  (Like hedge fund managers, but not as lucratively.)  I think there should be a robust department to sniff out and persecute welfare fraud. 

Meanwhile, there are millions of people who are just barely making it.  Receiving some kind of public benefit means the difference between hanging on by one’s fingernails and being out on the street begging for change.  Or burglarizing your house.

People who do work get told they don’t contribute enough.  I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean.  “Get told by” whom and “don’t contribute enough” what?  To me, Mitt Romney calling 47% of the country “takers” comes to mind, but I don’t think that’s what the writer is getting at. This looks to me like it was added merely for visual heft.

Desecrating our flag is acceptable.  I don’t think the predominant feeling in this country is that flag burning is acceptable, but it does fall under free speechRegardless of what anyone does to our flag, our country maintains her values, one of which is the First Amendment.  Our soldiers didn’t die for a flag; they died for our country, which is still here.  For a group that thinks we should all have semi-automatic weaponry and shoot anyone who appears vaguely menacing, conservatives sure are a sensitive lot when it comes to a piece of cloth.

I’m sorry if I can’t get all worked up over it.  As George Carlin once said, “The flag is a symbol, and I leave symbols to the symbol-minded.

A sniper is called a coward.  Only one time by Michael Moore and conservatives don’t listen to him anyway.  Of course, they still have to take him out of context to make their point.  (In a tweet, Moore was talking about the Japanese sniper who killed his uncle during WWII.)  But why let a bit of clarity ruin the narrative?

Our president negotiates with terrorists. You mean when Reagan sold arms to the Iranians while they had our hostages?  Like that?  Oh right, they probably mean the president with the foreign-sounding name. 

Look, you can’t engage with anyone in the Middle East without someone thinking they’re terrorists.  It’s a matter of semantics and whose side you’re on at any given time.  The bottom line is that nothing will ever change without dialogue or negotiation.  That’s world politics.  Granted, it’s easier to sit at the bar and advocate bombing the whole area, but it’s not exactly the kind of strategy that’s worthy of an “exceptional” country like ours. 

We supply guns to drug cartels, and try to disarm our citizens.  Mixed bag here… one half-truth and one complete distortion.  We supply guns to drug cartels…” was part of a federal sting operation, wherein the feds would follow the guns, infiltrate the gangs and bust the whole thing up.  Apparently it didn’t work very well, but it’s hardly the basis of a claim meant to make it look like it’s a large-scale philosophy.

“…and try to disarm citizens.”  Complete falsehood.  That’s just the stock NRA claim anytime there’s an effort to strengthen background checks or prevent known terrorists from obtaining semi-automatic weaponry.  There has been no credible effort to actively remove guns from any US citizen during the last seven years; that’s just the favored nightmare scenario put forth by gun lobbyists to scare their gun-fetish loyalists into submission. 

And people think they deserve to earn more flipping burgers than soldiers who are defending their freedoms.  Again, we have two separate areas here, each with its own dishonest angle.

And people think they deserve to earn more (for) flipping burgers…”  That’s the common slant for talking about the minimum wage… flipping burgers.  They should also mention every other retail worker, phone center operator, day care worker, or other non-trade, non-unionized employee.  Minimum wage is not just for teenagers; people have to make a living on minimum wage.  It was never meant to apply only to youngsters.

President Roosevelt, who brought the minimum wage into existence, said, “no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.

“By ‘business’ I mean the whole of commerce as well as the whole of industry; by workers I mean all workers, the white collar class as well as the men in overalls; and by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level — I mean the wages of decent living,” he stated.

We also have to keep in mind that before 2007, the minimum wage had stagnated for 10 years while the cost of living continued to soar.  It only makes sense that a correction be made.  Perhaps if the GOP had allowed cost of living increases to the minimum wage along the way, instead of playing it cheap, it wouldn’t be such a big jump coming due right now.

“…than soldiers who are defending our freedoms.”  I agree that soldiers should be paid more than minimum wage and I’m not sure that they don’t.  I think this may be an apples to oranges comparison.  Think of all the things that our military people don’t have to buy for themselves… food, clothes, lodging, health care, basic necessities.  I mean I’m sure there are variables here and I’m no expert, but if you join the military, they take care of you.  Other than odds and ends, you can bank your paycheck for later.  Plus you get a free college education if you want it.

Yes, I know there can be other things to pay for but they compare very favorably against all the things civilians must buy with their measly minimum wage paycheck.

But say we do want to raise the soldier’s paycheck… where do you think that’s going to come from?  Will Republicans go along with a raise in taxes?  Hell no.  They’ll use military pay as a club against a higher minimum wage, but it’s not like they’re interested in any military spending that can’t be sent to their defense contractor sponsors.

Also, the defending our freedoms part?  I call bullshit.  Other than Afghanistan, the last time our military defended our freedoms was WWII.  In every case since then, it was a matter of projecting political power or the forced acquisition of our enemy’s resources.  So spare me the weepy paean to defending our freedom.  Those days are long gone.

"Like" if you’re fed up.

No, I do not “Like.”  I’m fed up all right, but it’s with these half-assed semantic games, cockeyed assertions, misdirection and godlike worship of our armed forces.  And that’s what passes for deep thinking from the right.

Monday, June 13, 2016

A Shot in the Dark

(Technically, a couple hundred shots in the dark.)

My beloved Pittsburgh Penguins won their fourth Stanley Cup last night and believe me; I’m over the moon about it.

But it’s hard to be outwardly happy because the very same day, our nation suffered its largest mass shooting since the 1800s.  This is truly the story that just keeps going and going.

In this edition, an angry American Muslim shot up a gay night club in Orlando, killing 49 and wounding more than 50 others.  Conservatives don’t know whether to pray for their souls, dance a jig, or just say “I told you so,” like Trump did.

I’ve written about my views on our country’s gun problem a number of times, so I don’t have much new to add.  And neither does anyone else, apparently, because the story keeps repeating itself.

People wonder if this is finally the tipping point at which Congress will do something to address gun violence.  I would be shocked if it is.  If the wholesale slaughter of two classrooms full of 6-year-olds doesn’t get anything done, murdering a bunch of gay guys in a nightclub won’t move the needle so much as a millimeter.

Conservatives on internet comment sections are already bellyaching, “Next up, the libtards start asking for gun control…”

They’re right, of course, and then everyone will huff and puff and the right will claim the demolition of the 2nd Amendment and threaten armed assault as if some minor reform like enforcing a background check will spell the end of the republic.

The Right only recognizes one solution to gun violence and that’s more guns.  (Because apparently they think the Die Hard movies were produced by (documentarian) Ken Burns.)  The GOP solution would be similar to the old government cheese program.  Granted, they’d want gun distribution limited to white Anglo-Saxon Christians, but that’s just a stray detail.

No one would be happier about that than the NRA, who you should remember is not concerned with hunting safety or gun training; they are the lobbying arm of the gun manufacturers.  They are only concerned with keeping the gun sales spigot wide open. 

That’s why every attempt to bring accountability or common sense to gun laws is met with apocalyptic responses from the NRA.  Obama has been the best thing for business they could have ever asked for.  And they’re already using the same tactics on Hillary, who they also claim will come for your guns if elected. 

Now, talk about hubris… The GOP is already trying to blame Obama for the Orlando shooting.  Seriously.  See, this guy was already known to the FBI, having been investigated for terrorist activity.

A little more than six months ago, Republicans shot down a bill requiring prospective gun buyers to be run up against the Terrorist Watch List.  Ponder the ramifications of that.  They actually think it’s more important not to infringe on the imagined purity of the 2nd Amendment than it is to keep guns out of the hands of known terrorists.  They are not allowed to board an airplane, but they have every right to buy any kind of gun they want.  The GOP literally do not care how many people get killed in this country, as long as they have unencumbered access to semi-automatic rifles.

That’s why nothing will ever change until people vote out the gun nuts and vote in people with the spine to stand up to the gun lobby.  (This is me over here, holding my breath.)

Anyway, my point is that if that Terrorist Watch List had specific ramifications, like preventing the sale of guns directly to someone who is apt to create mayhem, this guy might have been on it.  Instead, he went down to the store two weeks ago and bought a handgun and an assault rifle.  No questions asked.

And we wonder why nothing ever changes…

No, there is no legislation that will prevent all attacks all the time.  But maybe if we screened gun buyers better, or made it at least as involved as getting a driver’s license, it wouldn’t be so goddamned easy to kill so many people in so little time.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Ticket to Ride, Ticket to Skate

 Last weekend, for the first time in over 10 years, I got pulled over by a cop.  I was going through my neighborhood, revved up by AC/DC on the stereo, and wasn’t sufficiently focused on what I was doing.  I should have seen him up ahead, but my mind was already at the bar, which was my destination.

He told me he had me going 40 in a 25 and I didn’t deny it; I just said, “Oh my.”  

He totally had me too.  Because this isn’t a roadway where kids ever play, I usually zip through there pretty quickly.

I was polite, I produced my license and registration (after some initial fumbling around, like trying not to show that I had my Bullpen VIP card in the picture window.)

He asked how come I wasn’t wearing glasses.  I responded that I wear contact lenses.  (Drivers licenses should mention that, rather than just listing the driver uses corrective lenses.  I swear, even when you’re telling the truth, everything you say to a cop sounds like you’re lying.)

He asked me how my driving record was; I told him it was clean as a whistle.  I’d only ever been pulled over once, in the 18 years I’ve been in Baltimore.  My last ticket was from when I still lived in Albany NY, back in the mid-90s.  I knew he wouldn’t find anything serious.

When he got back out of his car, I was relieved not to see any pink paper in his hand.  He only had a white printout page for me.

This is a warning,” he said.  “Please be more careful.”

Thank you, sir,” I said and went on about my way.

It wasn’t until much later, when thinking back on my experience, I realized just how lucky I have it.

It never crossed my mind that I could get into serious trouble.  I never worried that he might come back and tell me I looked like someone who had just robbed a house, or stole a car.  I never considered that he might want to look in my trunk or under my seat.  I forgot all about wanting to keep my hands in sight, lest he get jittery or trigger-happy.  I never worried about being cuffed, beaten or tased.

He was calm, polite; friendly even.  He joked around about the excuses he’s heard from people driving without their glasses.  Told me to “enjoy the rain” that was on the way.

If I had been an African-American man, I don’t believe that any of those things would have necessarily been true.

I was an educated 50-something white male, driving a well-kept late-model car, so I reaped the benefit of the very definition of white privilege.  The other time I got pulled over in Baltimore?  (44 in a 30, I think.)  I got a warning that time too.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a situation where I had to deal with an unreasonable cop.  I mean, everything for which I’ve been pulled over, I was doing.  I acted polite and professional and so did the cop.

In fact, one time, the cop had to come back to my home later, to give me the ticket.  I was bringing a lawnmower from my in-law’s house back to our house in NY.  It was in the back hatch of my Honda CRX.  When I got pulled over for rolling a stop sign (which I almost always rolled, because there was so little traffic in the area), my registration was in the cubby behind the front seats, with the lawn mower on top of the cubby door.

I told the cop I couldn’t get at it just yet, but I lived a block or two up the road, so I could get it out up at my house.  He said to go and that he’d be right back.  I drove home, left the car out front and removed the lawn mower.  He showed up about 20 minutes later and gave me the ticket.  (I admit that I was hoping that something more important would come up and he wouldn’t show.)

But still, he pretty much cut me a break by not making me produce my papers right on the spot.  If I wasn’t a young (at the time) polite white guy, that might not have been the case.

Maybe I ran into a string of righteous cops who would have done the same for anyone.  Or, maybe one of those guys might have been the type to unnecessarily hassle black professors, ministers, politicians or business leaders, as has happened in the past.  I can’t know that… all I know is that I’ve never had a bad experience with the law.

Even that time the transit police set a trap for me because my plates were from out of state (for a year and a half).  Sure, they whacked me for $600 in fines and tickets, but they were never less than polite; jovial even.  And I certainly never feared for my safety.

Sure, maybe they’re just responding to my politeness and respect.  Of course, I’ve never had a reason not to be polite or respectful.   I’ve never been patted down just for standing somewhere or had my car searched after a routine traffic stop. 

When I’m stopped by a cop, all I’m thinking about is how much this ticket is going to cost me.

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone had it like that?  

Tuesday, May 31, 2016


As I was picking up some things from Amazon, last week, I took the opportunity to buy the movie “Spotlight.”  I’ve been meaning to see it ever since my parents raved about it when they saw it last year.

Best movie I ever saw.  Non-sensational, unsentimental. Should be required viewing in all journalism schools.”  ~Bluz Mother

Every time we spoke on the phone, they’d be, “Have you seen Spotlight yet?  You’ve got to see it; you’ll love it.”

I didn’t doubt it; it’s just that Spotlight isn’t the kind of movie I go to see in the theater.  (The new X-Men movie is… which I also saw that over the weekend… definitely worth seeing if you’re a fan of the franchise, regardless of how it was reviewed.)

Then Spotlight won all those Oscars… and was then referenced by President Obama during the Whitehouse Correspondent’s Dinner.  So yeah, I’ve been meaning to see it and I finally got the chance over the weekend.

The verdict?  Phenomenal.  Great movie, one of the best I’ve seen in ages.  It should do for modern journalism what “All the President’s Men” (about the Watergate break-ins and cover-up) did for print journalism in the 70s.

In a nutshell, it’s the story of how four Boston Globe reporters from their “Spotlight” team investigated the practice and systematic cover-up of child abuse at the handof Roman Catholic priests in the Boston area.
The Spotlight Team; Movie Version

They start with one complaint and slowly begin uncovering more and more instances of sexual abuse committed by clergy.  Then they begin to peel away the other layers: the lawyers who secure settlements with the church in exchange for silence, the evidence that disappears from legal files, and the whack-a-mole relocation of predator priests from one parish to another, leaving them free to cultivate and assault new victims.

The pervasiveness of the criminal acts was astounding.  The film noted (in context by quoting a researcher on the subject) that 6% of Boston’s priests had been involved in acts of child abuse.  Six percent of Boston’s clergy totaled to approximately 90 priests.  Ninety!  All of whom were shifted from parish to parish, with stops at “rehabilitation houses” in between, where they would receive “treatment,” only to be let loose to abuse again, year after year.

This behavior was no secret, either.  The reporting team found “smoking gun” emails that went all the way to the Archbishop.  (Or is it the Cardinal?  I can’t keep all the hats straight.)  I also remember from news stories of the time, that during Pope John Paul II’s term, Popus Emeritus Benedict was the guy at the Vatican who ran the Whack-a-Priest program.

This scandal ran to the highest reaches of the Catholic Church and they did absolutely nothing to protect the children from abuse.  Their only concern was to keep a lid on the story.  They paid off victims, bought their silence, had physical evidence stolen, records redacted, and looked the other way while pedophile priests continued to destroy young lives.

I swear; I almost wish I hadn’t given up on Catholicism all those years ago, just so I could quit now.  It’s such a massive case of misplaced priorities.  And here we are in 2016, bending over backward to appease their self-reverential “religious freedom” demands against providing insurance to cover birth control for those who want it.

I don’t see how anyone can listen to anything they have to say again.  It’s a morally bankrupt institution, who is in the business of regulating morals.

My other reaction to the movie is on the journalistic side.  “Spotlight” demonstrates the difference between journalism and the sloppy, rumor-laden, unsupported mess that passes for news, online or otherwise.

There are still organizations that practice journalism, you just have to hunt to find them.  Too often, our nation’s finest journalists are lumped together with the hacks that populate other less than reputable sites, which lowers the esteem of the entire profession.

Investigative journalism isn’t just writing what you think, or even writing what you know; it’s writing what you can verify.  Competent journalists require sources, usually more than one.  Their work is vetted by department editors and sometimes even the editor-in-chief, if the story is important enough.

Politicians hate journalism; that’s a given.  Politicians have an interest in controlling what you know; it lets them get away with what you don’t know.  So the last things they want are journalist poking around their investments, or their previous jobs, or exactly what they’re up to.  

And who do they blame when they’re caught with their hand in the cookie jar?  The journalists, of course.  Shoddy journalism, two-bit hacks, the dreaded “liberal media”… on and on they go in an effort to blame the messenger.

I seriously considered going into journalism when I was in college.  Like many, I loved to write and I was moved by the work of Woodward and Bernstein in “All the President’s Men.”  I thought it would be a worthy pursuit.

And it is… it just wasn’t for me.  I’m totally the wrong personality type for the job.  It’s no job for an introvert.  No way could I spend my life cold-calling strangers for information, or heaven forbid, just showing up at their doors.  I’d have had an ulcer by the time I was 25.

I would be much better suited to be Publisher, Managing Editor or something.  I’d be perfectly fine with sitting around going, “Run it, boys.  Good job.”  Or, “Don’t do that again or I’ll reassign you to the obituaries.”  

Unfortunately, there aren’t many entry-level managing editor jobs.