Thursday, October 29, 2009

You're probably wondering why I'm (not) here!

I haven't stopped posting. I've simply moved to what I believe is a better location:

Check out my most recent postings there! I'll be looking for ya!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I sure miss Ma Bell...

Photo Creative Commons 2009 The Fuddler.
Non-comm, attrib, no derivs.

Last week, I found an mid-1970's-vintage desk telephone. It was sitting out at the curb next to boxes of trash, and an old steel record caddy full of 45 RPM records (which I also glommed). Needless to say, it needed cleaning, and I did a thorough job (didn't the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy remind us of the importance of telephone sanitation?). I lightly spritzed some contact cleaner into the phone's base cord and handset cord jacks as well as the modular jack on the receiver. Half an hour and a new base cord later, I was ready to test it. I connected the base cord to the phone, then plugged it into the wall jack. I picked up the receiver and heard the dial tone. Good sign. I called up a friend, who was kind of blown away by the fact that I was calling her on a 31-year-old phone!

As you can see from the photo, this relic of the disco era has no controls other than its keypad. No redial, no mute, no LCD screen counting off the number of minutes I've been talking, just the numbers 0 thru 9 and the usual star and pound signs. How lovely it feels to press those keys which give when you press them, so luxurious compared to dialing the keys of modern phones, which make you feel as though you were stabbing your fingertips into the wall or the desk on which the phone rests. It's solid too. Your cat will not be able to knock this baby off the table, unless your cat's an ocelot or a leopard. When it rings, there's no missing or mistaking it, for under that sleek black plastic enclosure reside two 2-inch-diameter bowl-shaped brass bells. Not a ringer, not a ringtone, bells, which are struck by a vibrating electric hammer when someone calls. They're loud too!

The phone's receiver is primitive by today's standards. The technology of its carbon-button microphone capsule and dynamic earphone is almost a century old. Yet, people that I called had no problem hearing and understanding me. I heard them loud and clear too, even the ones using cell phones with speakerphones. What does that say about today's high-tech digital cell phone system over which some conversations simply cannot be heard clearly, period?

This simple, cleanly-designed, almost-indestructible device from a bygone era was the industry standard for telephones until the breakup of the old Bell System in 1984. It was purpose-built for just one thing – making and answering telephone calls, something which it did without fail. No touch-screen, no camera, no MP3 player, no video games, nothing but an unfailingly dependable communication device. These phones were built to be rented to subscribers for decades, and their build-quality shows it (if General Motors, Ford and Chrysler had borrowed The Bell System's playbook, seeing a Toyota, Subaru or BMW's on the road would be a curiosity rather than commonplace). Compare that with the pocket-sized toys of today which are designed to be obsoleted in a few years by newer models with more gee-whiz features and ever-more-annoying ringtones.

Call me a Luddite if you want, but I'm starting to take a shine to this piece of old school technology! I might never break out my cell phone again!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Deal with it.

About 8 summers ago, I rode up an ancient, hilly two-lane road in rural upstate New York with my friend Terry., who was searching for the grave of one of her 19th-century ancestors. We pulled off the road next to a cemetery in the middle of no place in particular, which couldn't have contained more than 20 or 30 graves. It was nestled at the forked junction of two roads which were bordered primarily by woods. She was jubilant when she found the grave of one of her distant relatives. As we were leaving the cemetery I happened to notice an inscription on one of the gravestones. I don't remember exactly how the flowery Victorian verse read, but the upshot was this:

Where you are now is where I once was.

Where I am now is where you're eventually going to be.

Deal with it!

The way many of us deal with the whack upside the head which is the realization of our own mortality is to resolve to be remembered, to live on in some form. We build actual or symbolic monuments to ourselves. We try to be famous, or at least conspicuously successful. We let funeral directors talk us into arrangements to purchase monuments worthy of a Civil War general for when the Grim Reaper finally comes knocking on our door. Those of us with millions to spare donate buildings named after ourselves to universities whose students will never know or care who we were, or set up endowments for organizations devoted to our promoting our hobbies, attacking our pet peeves or nurturing causes close to our hearts.

There's nothing wrong with respecting yourself enough to want a dignified exit. Giving money to organizations which support your world views is the sincerest way of backing those views up. But as for being remembered after you pass, my own view on the whole matter is this: if you want to be remembered after you're gone, don't try to do it by plopping a great stone monument with your name on it over your grave. Do you know how many people drive right past those things every single day without giving them a second glance or thought? No, if you want to be remembered, leave a legacy. The late composer/performer Frank Zappa remarked, shortly before his own untimely death, that he had no intention of making any extraordinary effort to commemorate himself as many politicians and celebrities routinely do (his grave isn't even marked). He didn't have to. His music will doubtlessly be studied and enjoyed by scholars and music lovers for many years to come.

To further clarify my point, how many of you have ever heard of Waldo Semon? Not many, right? Well, it just so happens that in 1926, Mr. Semon perfected a material called polyvinyl chloride, often simply called vinyl. I'd never heard of Mr. Semon until very recently but DJ's and “crate diggers” the world over (like yours truly) have him to thank. Even though vinyl is no longer used as extensively as it once was as a medium for recorded music, it made high-fidelity sound recording and marketing practical. There would probably be no CD's, MP3's or FLAC files if not for Mr. Semon's invention.

Frankly, if the only legacy that you leave behind after you're gone is the circle of friends, lovers and relatives who shed tears at your funeral, you're doing pretty well.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Be altitude...

James May, emcee of the BBC's venerable Top Gear music program, gets high, I mean, relly high, in a U-2 spy plane.

You really need to watch this in full-screen mode for maximum effect.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Remembering America's Most Trusted Newsman

My father called him “Mister Disease”. He wasn't slagging on America's most trusted news man, he was just cracking a joke. In his mother tongue, German, the word “krankheit”, pronounced the same way as Walter Cronkite's surname, meant ill health or disease.

The world of news reporting was a lot less sick than it is today when Walter Cronkite held forth on the CBS Evening News each weekday at about the time most of us were eating dinner. There was more emphasis on hard news and news analysis, and even though there has always been a spin factor in news, it seemed to be much less prominent at least on Mr. Cronkite's turf. His competitors, NBC's Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, had an excellent daily news program which ran for a full 90 minutes. It too featured hard news and news analysis. Its theme music was Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, which gives you a very good idea of how highly network executives thought of their viewers.

Today, the only extended-length daily news programs left in America are National Public Radio's Morning Edition, Weekend Edition and All Things Considered. Television news, once an intellectual oasis in the vast wasteland that was and is commercial TV, is now just more “entertainment” programming. “All-news” channels repeat the same 20 minutes' worth of headlines over and over again, taking little time for covering details or doing in-depth analysis. The emphasis is now on celebrity gossip, hot-button political issues and high-profile disasters. AM radio is chockablock with cookie-cutter programming by loudmouths who appeal to the basest emotions of a frustrated working class with inflammatory rhetoric. One fair and balanced TV network is so disdainful of fact and of viewpoints other than its own that it's ended up becoming the biggest propaganda outlet since the Soviet house organ, Radio Moscow went off the air. Newspapers are folding one after the other. Pundits blame TV and the Internet, but their unceasing rah-rah drumbeat of blind support for the Bush administration's misadventures is said to be another factor which turned off many now-former newspaper readers.

Walter Cronkite lived to see and report on the assassination of a U.S. President, the resignation-in-disgrace of another, man's first landing on the moon, the worst commercial nuclear accident in our history and the Cuban Missile Crisis which almost plunged us into World War III. And he lived to see the profession he devoted his life to, the one which our nation's founders considered vital to the functioning of a free society, mutate into a cheapened, weakened and thoroughly co-opted shadow of its former self.

And that, as the man used to say every evening, is the way it is.

Friday, July 24, 2009

We interrupt this blog for a public service announcement

From Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, U.S. Senator from New York via The Huffington Post:

There is a historic effort underway in Washington right now to finally address the health care crisis in this country, and I need your help.

As I've written over at DailyKos and as I told Howard Dean last week, I believe that a robust not-for-profit public option must be a part of the health care reform package Congress passes this year. I feel that opening up a Medicare For All type system to everyone would lower costs and increase efficiency by injecting some much needed competition into the market. ...

Read the entire article here.

In other news, a bulletin from Bill Maher.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

GM, Mark of Failure

My first car was a 1968 Oldsmobile Delta 88. Rocket-455 V-8 engine (bigger than the one in a Hummer H3). 10 MPG city, 15 highway. (Cost of a gallon of gasoline when I had the car – about US$0.89). The car has a special place in my memory not only for that reason, but because it was my grandmother's car. Shortly after she'd bought it, she took me on its maiden voyage. We took a road trip, just her and I, to Quebec City. I was in charge of reading maps. I sucked at it. Instead of hitting the brand-new, high-speed four-laner, I mistakenly guided us to slower but much more scenic back roads, some of which ran parallel to the new highway. We stayed at the historic Chateau Frontenac. We walked around the charming old section of the town. I tasted Veal Cordon Bleu (the real deal) for the first time. I watched an episode of Lost In Space which had been dubbed in French. Nothing like watching Dr. Smith cower before an alien-possessed Will Robinson and grovel for his life in a language which I would not study until I began high school that fall.

My grandmother kept the car until the late 70's when my parents drove it up from Florida. My younger brother got it a few years later. He drove it until the mid-1980's, when it was handed down to me. It had its issues, as you would expect with a four-owner car, everything from occasional funny noises at certain speeds to refusing to start on winter mornings without radical intervention when the temperature went below freezing (read:squirting starting fluid into its carburetor and begging jump starts from passers-by). Nonetheless, for a car its age, it delivered stellar performance. Despite worn springs it had the rock-steady ride of the massive cars of that era. It got worse mileage than a modern SUV, but it had the kind of styling and grace that today's butt-ugly iron-box-on-wheels monstrosities don't. It was easy to fix, which was a good thing because it needed a lot of fixing. Its cracked and crazed paint looked like soil after a long drought but the body was thick steel; fender rot didn't set in until very late in the game. It looked beat-up on the inside, bit it was comfortable. Decrepit though it was, it accelerated on a nanosecond's notice. Passing cars was a piece of cake. It laughed at steep uphill grades. It met an untimely demise in 1991 when, while parked on the street, it was crashed into by someone driving another Oldsmobile - same model, same color, and exactly 10 years newer than my car (cue music: theme from Twilight Zone).

They definitely don't make 'em like they used to.

They can't make 'em like they used to. Economic realities, technological advances, safety requirements and fuel-efficiency laws long ago sent the classic 1960's road-whale the way of the rumble seat and the 8-track tape player. They won't make 'em like they used to. The taken-for-granted reliability of American cars started going downhill in the 1970's. “Buy American” has a nice ring to it. Expensive monthly repairs and frequent product recalls don't. Outsourcing to slave-wage nations and further aggravated the situation.

So now, the company which symbolized American industry for so many years - no, decades - which built my first car, which powered an economy and changed peoples' travel habits forever, is in bankruptcy.

So who's to blame? The Japanese? Well yes, but not for the reasons you might think. They simply made cars with far better reliability than Detroit. Detroit lobbied congress to have tariffs placed on import vehicles. This, they thought, would cement their place in the U.S. Car market. Except that people continued to prefer the Japanese and European cars, even with the stiff tariffs. That should have been a wake up call for GM, Chrysler and Ford, but they apparently chose to ignore it. The imperious, egotistical and stunningly ignorant businessmen who ran the American auto industry into the ditch brought this situation upon not only themselves but all Americans.

Now our government is in the car business whether we like it or not. And I don't think I do. Trouble is, if we need tanks, troop carriers and engines for aircraft carriers, we can't exactly outsource that. The reason we won the second world war so handily is because our industries were up to the task. So the too-big-to-fail GM gets bailed out and Chrysler gets bailed out, for a second time, with taxpayer dollars. This despite years of both firms exporting American jobs to Mexico, China or anyplace else where people work for a daily wage that would get you an order of fast-food French fries here (doubtlessly served up by former autoworkers). The smaller businesses which have gone under or have laid off thousands of family breadwinners never get that kind of treatment. The poor slobs who have been watching their unemployment benefits or lifetime welfare benefit quota get used up don't get that kind of treatment.

To president Obama's credit, he didn't just unconditionally toss cash at these corporate behemoths as the previous administration had a habit of doing. But it still burns my grits that these few big companies in a few towns get a bailout while small business operators watch their livelihoods dry up and blow away.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Quitters never win, do they?

After losing his bid for the governorship of California in 1962, Richard Nixon told the world we wouldn't have him to kick around anymore. 6 years later, he was elected president. Granted, the refusal of LBJ to run for another term and the Chicago Democratic convention riots made Nixon's ascent that much easier, but you get the idea.

All through the mid-1970's, Ronald Reagan's presidential aspirations were considered a joke. No one, it was said, as extremely right-wing as The Gipper could ever get into the White House without buying a tour ticket. I mean, look at how badly Barry Goldwater got trounced by LBJ in '64. Anyway, thanks in no small part to the Ayatollah Khomeini, on November 4th, 1980 then-president Jimmy Carter became a lame duck, and the eighties - AIDS, yuppies, Iran-Contra, Michael Jackson and all - began in earnest.

Between the highly-questionable circumstances surrounding the 2000 election, the most frontal assault on civil liberties seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the worst economic trashing of America since the 1920's, everyone expected George W. Bush to be a one-term wonder. Except that for some reason, perhaps a few bugs in those newfangled electronic voting machines, he got re-elected in 2004.

Sarah Palin is a presidential candidate for the 16th Century. Under her administration we could expect fornicators to be publicly flogged (with the best spectator seats going to the biggest campaign contributors), and intensive drilling in Genesis and Leviticus to replace all of those heretical math and science courses in our public schools. Now, most of us are probably thinking that as ignorant, regressive and dangerous as the rabble-rouser Sarah Palin is, there's no way she could be elected, though to our credit those of us who wished to live in the 21st Century saw to it that her running mate, John McCain ended up giving the concession speech in November, 2008. But deep in our hearts, most of us know that she still has a shot at becoming president. Those of us whose brains aren't owned by Fox News strongly suspect that she's probably attempting a Nixonesque comeback. Why else would she intentionally resign from office halfway through her first term when she probably could have been a 10-term governor without breaking a sweat? Granted, Alaska isn't California and her program was rather strikingly repudiated by voters last fall. All it would take is for health care reform to fail (that's one of the things swept Republicans into congress in 1994) or for the economic policies of the Obama administration to fail, as dittoheads across America are hoping for between doses of OxyContin. Even if President Obama gets to serve out two terms as Bill Clinton did, he's outta there by 2016. If the Dems don't have a suitable opponent to face her down, we could all be living in Alaska, so to speak, by the following year, with officially-sanctioned ignorance blanketing this country like an ice-fog, and McChurches becoming the new town halls as many of them now are.

Remember, eternal vigilance, blah blah, yada, yada.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson, RIP

I remember where I was when Jim Morrison, the lead singer-songwriter of the Doors passed away. I was in a camera shop which had decided to branch out into different kinds of merchandise and had just started selling stereo equipment. One of the units on the shelves was tuned to the local top-40 AM station. As I was leaving, after having picked up some darkroom supplies, the national news came on. The top story was that Jim Morrison of the Doors had died of a heart attack in a hotel in Paris, where he and his girlfriend were living at the time. I never even knew he was living abroad. From that point on, their latest single “Love Her Madly” would haunt me every time it was played.

I remember where I was when John Lennon was assassinated. I was in the bedroom of my three-room postage-stamp apartment on the second floor of an unassuming 19th-century house in a working-class neighborhood, owned by a sweet old Jewish lady. I was listening to the local album-rock FM station which the general manager of the college radio station I DJ'd for had a paying gig at. At about 11PM, he interrupted the show he was DJing to read the Associated Press bulletin. He read the copy exactly as it came off the wire. He was on the verge of tears. I myself was stunned. Who, I wondered, would want to shoot a Beatle?

I remember where I was when I learned that Frank Zappa had died. I was in my girlfriend's living room listening to National Public Radio when the talk show Fresh Air came on. Host Terry Gross relayed the Zappa Family's announcement that Frank “had embarked on his final tour”. I did what thousands of his fans did, and called friends to tell them the bad news.

When Michael Jackson died yesterday, I was on a bus returning home from a health care rally in Washington, DC. A passenger's daughter had text-messaged her father that Mr. Jackson had passed on. Our group leader broke out her laptop and surfed a few websites before finding a story stating that Jackson had been taken to the hospital, with no word on his condition. Only about an hour later did we learn that the King Of Pop had indeed, died of cardiac arrest.

As a teenager, I'd always lumped The Jackson 5's music in with a late 60's-early 70's musical trend called bubblegum. Bubblegum to my peers was little more than light-duty pop marketed to impressionable pre-teens, with trite lyrics only a notch or two above the Mother Goose rhymes we got tired of halfway through nursery school. The Jackson 5 TV cartoon series only served to reinforce this notion. Looking back, I think we were a bit hasty in our judgment of the Jackson music family. Yes, The Jackson Five's music was aggressively marketed to children, but nonetheless Motown Records built the Jackson's catalog with the same approach which had made the Supremes, the Temptations, and Stevie Wonder household names. Where other bubblegum productions often used session musicians, Motown threw the Funk Brothers into the mix. Not many bubblegum tunes get played on oldies radio, but songs like “ABC” and “I Want You Back” (most notably covered by British pub-rocker Graham Parker) have stood the test of time. Samples from Jackson 5 records have powered many hip-hop tracks.

I was never a big fan of Mr. Jackson's later releases after he'd grown, though I must concede that I never gave his all-but-pivotal album “Off The Wall” an adequate hearing. Its sound set it squarely apart from the avalanche of cookie-cutter disco of the era in which it was produced. I scoffed at his 1980's efforts like Beat It, though I thought his collaborations with the pop icons of earlier decades, Mick Jagger (State of Shock) and Paul McCartney (Say, Say, Say) were rather brilliant.

Michael Jackson to me epitomized everything that was wrong with the music business. His concert ticket prices were among the highest in the industry. A rock critic who attended three Jackson shows on three consecutive evenings noted that each show was literally identical to the last. Every second of those shows, including things that were supposed to be spontaneous, was in fact scripted and acted out to a fare-thee-well. His appearance at the White House with then-president Ronald Reagan, a Doctor Feelgood who massaged the egos of American voters while his administration did its best to undermine the social progress of the previous two decades, was as grotesque to me as Elvis Presley's impromptu photo-op with Richard Nixon.

And then there was his appearance. As a young man, Jackson was an attractive African-American. In recent years, he became a grotesque parody of himself. He bleached his skin almost white. His facial features, the product of several plastic surgeries, some of which his doctors actually advised him against, made him look. androgynous and almost mannequin-like. And that voice. How did the pipes of that sweet little boy, that handsome young man become transmogrified into the alien, robotic whine of recent years?

Much – let me correct that, not enough has been said about Jacko's terrible childhood. Yes, the kid had talent, industrial quantities of it. But when any kid gets pushed to succeed as Jackson was, you've got to wonder what's going on when the camera lights are off and the microphones are closed. According to various sources, his father, a brutal taskmaster, would literally whip the preadolescent Jackson into line by among other things, holding him upside down by one leg and beating him on his back and buttocks. There were also allegations of sexual abuse. And according to Wikipedia, the elder Jackson had other interesting pastimes: One night while Jackson was asleep, Joseph [Michael's father] climbed into his room through the bedroom window. Wearing a fright mask, he entered the room screaming and shouting. Joseph said he wanted to teach his children not to leave the window open when they went to sleep. For years afterwards, Jackson suffered nightmares about being kidnapped from his bedroom.

Now the man who embodied incredible talent combined with incredible excess is gone. We shall probably not see his like again. The tragicomedy of Michael Jackson's life is over, at what's usually referred to as “midlife”.

That's sad.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Yes we can! (Can't we?)

Are you among those of us who think that Barack Obama isn't quite getting the “hope” thing right? I mean, health care “reform” that leaves insurance companies in the drivers' seat? Financial “reforms” that seem to be merely cosmetic? Environmental “reforms” that do almost nothing to address the issue of human survival?

Barack Obama is no way the surrender monkey that Bill "NAFTA" Clinton was. But why does it seem that the man who represents our first, best shot at real reform in far too long might be too willing to compromise with the people who made the mess that we're in? For the answers to these and other questions, I'll turn over the floor to our greatest stand-up political analyst, Mr. Bill Maher.

Take off that sweatsuit. Now.

Trust our man, Keith Olbermann to remind us that there are no limits to the absurdity of political punditry!

Recently, Mr. Olbermann showed us a clip from one of Rush Limbaugh's most recent daily talk shows. Through logic so circular as to make me dizzy from hearing it, the Republican Party's de facto leader attempted to convince all who would listen that the real reason for escalating health care costs in America is not drug company profiteering or out-of-control insurance company bureaucracies, but – don't laugh – people who exercise daily. Yes, the Rushster asserts that those of us who jog, bicycle, swim, lift weights, or play team sports for the sale of our health are really deluding ourselves, that we are actually engaging in self-destructive behavior. This, despite the fact that thousands of Americans exercise daily, not only with no ill effects whatsoever (apart from an alarming tendency to wear badly-coordinated exercise outfits) but with proven beneficial effects upon their general health. Despite the fact that yours truly used to stay fit by putting in mile after mile on my own 10-speed bike (until I went over to the dark side, and got a car).

Does it sound too incredible to be true? Here, watch Mr. Olbermann present the aforementioned clip for yourself!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A funny thing happened on the way to point B...

With a Ku-Klux muu-muu in the back of the truck

If you ain't born-again they wanna mess you up, sayin'
“No abortions, no siree,
Life's too precious can't you see!”
What's that hangin' from the neighbors' tree?
Why, it looks like colored folks to me!

Would they do that?
They've been doing it for years!

- Frank Zappa, “Jesus Thinks You're a Jerk

Note: This article was written before the assassination of Dr. Tiller.
Last week I had an epiphany. You know, one of those moments where something goes "click", and your ideas about something fundamentally change forever. It happened while I was driving down a rural road in upstate New York.

As you might have gathered from reading some of my previous postings, I happen to be very much in favor of reproductive justice. (I've never been comfortable with the popular label, “Pro-choice”. It's not specific enough. Anyone who who likes deli mustard instead of the regular yellow kind on his hamburgers, or puts up light-fuchsia drapes in her living room rather than red ones can be called “pro-choice”.) Nonetheless, like a lot of people of my persuasion, I sometimes had doubts about my beliefs, born of cultural and religious indoctrination, not to mention the unceasing crocodile-teared guilt-barrage of religious (or perhaps more accurately, quasi-religious) blowhards, cracks in my will where pronatalist slogans and ideology could infiltrate. Therein lies the chief difference between those in the “pro-choice” and “pro-life” camps. Those of us in the former camp may experience occasional doubts about the validity of our beliefs just as those in the civil-rights movements of the 1950's and 60's may have at times doubted the wisdom of theirs (I wonder how many African-Americans back then dealt with internalized racist indoctrination?). Let's face it, it's tough going against a prevailing ideology, especially one which is backed up by millions of dollars and power on a national scale. Most of those in the “pro-life” camp have no lingering doubts about their beliefs. Life is a lot simpler when you're told what to believe (or else).

Any such doubts and misgivings all but vanished from my mind in the moment of which I spoke earlier. Since I was driving a car, I obviously wasn't reading “feminist” literature. I wasn't listening to a “liberal” talk show. What I was listening to was a podcast called Storylife, an audio magazine hosted by Chris Bolton. It is modeled along the lines of This American Life. The particular episode in my car stereo was called The Underwater Birth of Francis Henri. It showcased a birthing procedure popular in some circles called water-birthing (which is definitely not to be confused with waterboarding) and it featured a live recording of such a birth as it happened. The newborn infant's first cry shattered the relative quiet of my car and any illusions I might have had about the “pro-life” movement being the least bit concerned with the welfare of young human beings. It wasn't simply my mind that got made up at that moment, it happened at a body level; it was a gut reaction. From that point on, I could never again take seriously the notion, the fallacy, that any so-called pro-life pundits, pastors and politicians and their sheep- or pit-bull-like followers say what they say and do what they do out of anything remotely resembling love. (At least their allies in the Westboro Baptist Church are honest. They put their cards smack-dab on the table; their God, they declare, is a hateful God). Put another way, when was the last time you heard of anyone from Operation Rescue showing up at the front door of a single parent's home with a case of disposable diapers and a voucher for five years' worth of day care?

Addendum 1: The “pro-life” movement of today is a lot more radical and dangerous than that of thirty years ago. Back in the day, they were merely anti-feminist groups. According to Chip Berlet on Democracy Now, today's pro-lifers have solid connections with neo-Nazi groups.

Addendum 2: Susie Bright has posted the story of one of Dr. Tiller's patients on her blog. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

What's a human life going for these days?

Photo Creative Commons by Connectologist.

If there was ever any doubt in your mind that American corporations regard their customers as the enemy, you now have indisputable proof.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court (the conservative-agenda-promotion machine carefully assembled by presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush I and George W. Bush) rendered a decision which emphatically calls into question whether these United States are still a civilized nation. They ruled that consumers of medical devices – implantable defibrillators, heart pacemakers, insulin pumps and such – do not have the right to take the manufacturers to court if a product of theirs turns out to be defective as long as it has been approved by the Food and Drug administration. In other words, if a can of vichyssoise gives you food poisoning because the manufacturer slacked off on sanitary procedures, you can sue (at least as far as I know). But when the insulin pump that's keeping you alive craps out because its maker laid off half its quality-control staff, your next of kin are out of luck.

The threat of legal action was and is the only thing that will keep the highly-monied producers of these implantable devices from endangering life and limb by going slack on quality-control or even knowingly selling defective items just to get them out of the warehouse.

In short, the high court has taken the cop off the beat.

Now if grandpa dies because his pacemaker failed due to the manufacturer's negligence, the manufacturer can just say “Nyaah, nyaah. Caveat emptor!”

The corporations whose limitless campaign contributions got Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes elected got exactly what they paid for. These radical-right presidents, over many years, carefully selected justices for the nation's highest court, right-wing activists who, they hoped, would consistently rule in favor of corporations, televangelists, right-wing think-tanks and the finance industry. The court, which certain entities are still counting on to “protect the rights of the unborn” has now officially negated the rights of the already-living.

Industries knowingly selling products which threaten life, limb and property is nothing new. “The public be damned” was the reply Henry Ford gave to someone who suggested that it would be prudent to install safety glass in his automobiles rather than ordinary plate glass which shatters into deadly, razor-like fragments when it breaks as in a collision. His sentiments are the creed by which every corporate CEO has run their companies ever since. In the mid-1970's, when it turned out that the now-notorious Ford Pinto line of compact cars had a defect which would cause them to burst into flames when hit from behind, an investigation revealed that Ford Motor Company had no intention of correcting the defect or ordering a product recall. Their representatives lied to congressional committees regarding the safety of the vehicles.

That's “business ethics” for you.

Congress is currently taking up legislation which if passed would undo the effects of this execrable decision. And predictably, the multinationals which make and sell medical devices are funneling money to the appropriate members of congress. They declare, via slickly-produced advertisements and crocodile-teared testimony from hand-picked witnesses or deluded consumers before congressional committees that accountability threatens innovation, that there will be no more development of new medical devices if these oh-so-benevolent medical-device companies are subject to the same tort liabilities as a homeowner who doesn't keep his pet pit-bull caged or leashed. Bushwa. There's money to be made selling medical devices, big money as anyone who has paid for them out-of-pocket knows too well. Too much money for any company to not stay ahead of the curve and cash in on the action.

Call your senators and members of congress right now. (You can find who to contact in your area by clicking the hyperlinks). Let them know in no uncertain terms that your life and those of your friends and relatives is more important than an overfed executive's ego or his company's bottom line.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Things are really getting out of control

I just heard about the advertisement in the above video from a friend who saw it on TV tonight. It's an ad for what's known in the pharmaceutical industry as an atypical antipsychotic drug.

Psychiatric drugs can help - if and only if they're used properly.

Too many psychiatric professionals don't use them properly. It's much easier and cheaper to carelessly toss a prescription at patients than to sit down with them and get to the actual source of their troubles.

One reason for this indifferent approach to medicating peoples' minds is insurance industry pressure on doctors to do medicine on the cheap.

Another is pharmaceutical companies' aggressive marketing tactics.

Still another is laziness on the part of too many psychiatric professionals.

Marketing antidepressants like headache remedies was bad enough. Marketing powerful and potentially dangerous anti-psychotics on television is rather disturbing.

Now, I've heard from one professional that judiciously applying so-called "homeopathic" doses of Abilify can do wonders for difficult cases of depression. What I worry about is doctors who hear clients talk about something they've seen on TV, and then just indifferently scrawl them out a prescription for it.

If you do believe you're suffering from a genuine psychological or psychiatric disorder, choose a therapist who listens to you, and isn't trigger-happy with medication. They can be tough to find, but they are out there.

Just remember that successful treatment for depression often happens gradually, not overnight. It can be frustrating to think that nothing's happening, but subtle, cumulative changes can manifest themselves almost without your knowing it. Here again, a knowledgeable therapist can be worlds of help.

Remember also that human feelings are not diseases.

Recommended reading:

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Names. Lives. Not numbers.

The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” - Joseph Stalin

I viewed the AIDS quilt at Broome Community College today. It’s hard not to feel sad when you look over each panel, lovingly crafted by the relatives and friends of AIDS victims. Victims who didn’t live to see better treatments for HIV/AIDS. Victims who never lived to see a cure, which as of this writing still hasn't been found. The ignorant and mean ones among us regard the terrible pandemic which ended these lives years before their time as a sign from above that love and pleasure are abominations. The rest of us feel our heads spin at the thought of so many promising lives lost for no reason.

The AIDS Quilt was the brainchild of San Francisco AIDS activist, Cleve Jones. Like many others, Jones was upset at the way Reagan-era America painted this then-new pestilence as divine punishment and its victims as human trash or worse. Many AIDS victims of the 1980's didn't even receive proper funerals. He and his co-organizers wanted to drive home the point that AIDS casualties were friends, relatives, parents, co-workers, not statistics in a seemingly endless body-count but people. People who loved and were loved by friends, relatives and life-partners. People whose loved ones were certainly devastated by their slow, excruciating deaths. The quilt, which rapidly expanded beyond the point at which the entire thing could easily be viewed in one place, traveled to dozens of American cities.

I last saw the quilt at a local high school in the early 1990's. Like the panels shown here, most were simple celebrations of the lives of those lost. Others included a call to action for social justice. One which sticks in my mind from that exhibition almost two decades ago was one which contained an embroidered mandala which on closer inspection turned out to be composed of ejaculating penises arranged in a circle. It made a huge impression on me that here in the middle of the worst sexually-transmitted disease epidemic since the emergence of syphilis, in the middle of the worst anti-sex backlash since the Comstock era of the late 19th century, friends of this one particular victim were not shunning sexuality, nor holding up their loved one’s death as a warning to sexually-active people, but actually celebrating sexuality, affirming life, affirming pleasure. Life, this simple artistic statement said, is not an underground shelter which we cram ourselves into while we wait indefinitely for the storm to pass, it’s meant to be lived, enjoyed. In the era of “just say no”, of yuppiedom, with its overemphasis on overwork and in-your-face conspicuous consumption, this was a radical idea. It still is today.

(Loyalty oath department - I’m a more or less ordinary straight person, one who recognizes that the same kinds of people who persecute or marginalize gay men and women for being what they are can mess with us just as easily. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, remember the hoo-haw over emergency contraception, also known as “Plan B”?)

Friday, April 03, 2009

It's always somewhere else, it's always someone else...

This is the kind of thing which, most of us think, always happens someplace else. Today, it happened right here.

This morning, a gunman wielding a high-powered rifle invaded the American Civic Association building on Front Street in Binghamton, NY. He shot several people and took dozens of others hostage before finally turning his weapon on himself. 12 hostages were killed in the attack. Follow the hyperlink above for a more detailed account of the attack. The American Civic Association, where the attack took place, was the place which held a festival each year featuring the music, dance, theater and last but not least, food of many nations. My parents would take my siblings and I there each year. It was an unpretentious place staffed by friendly and often unassuming people. Never did I ever suspect that it could become the scene of a massacre.

Nut-jobs with weapons attacking innocent people for no apparent reason is unfortunately nothing new. I was a kid when I heard radio news coverage of Charles Whitman’s August, 1966 shooting spree from the University of Texas tower. He sniped randomly at passers-by and at police for over 90 minutes before being killed himself. This attack is celebrated in song by Kinky Friedman in The Ballad of Charles Whitman. Now, by this time in my life I’d seen and heard reports of violent crimes on the radio and on the evening news. I’d heard on the news about murders being committed for profit, to silence potential trial witnesses or as revenge. My grade-school-kid mind could not fathom why anyone would kill strangers, one after the other, whom he’d never met and who had certainly never done him any harm.

Some of you may also remember the infamous 1984 San Ysidro Massacre, sometimes jocularly referred to by the locals as the “Big Mac Attack”, in which James Oliver Huberty dressed up in combat fatigues, drove to a local fast-food restaurant and killed several people before being killed himself by police sharpshooters. And I’m sure you’ve heard by now about the gunman who shot up a Unitarian Church in Kentucky on July 27th of last year as the children of church members were staging a performance of the play, Annie.

The block of Front Street on which today’s attack took place has had a colorful history. A 19th-century Gothic home on its eastern side was washed away in the flood of 1935. A local amateur photographer snapped a picture of the house just as it heaved over backwards into the swollen Chenango River. In the 1990's, a family-planning clinic on that block which provided abortions was the scene of constant, theatrical demonstrations by the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, who very thoughtfully opened up a “crisis pregnancy center” across the street. Downtown Binghamton has had its share of entertainment too. As former Binghamton resident and cultural visionary R.U. Sirius wrote in a discussion on the WELL:
“...I had a friend who took over the local Nixon [presidential re-election campaign] headquarters in the name of the Zippies (Yippies with an extra zip) with an unloaded BB gun on Halloween in 1972. It was a scene straight out of Rebel Without A Cause. The cops were ready to shoot up the place when another friend of mine stepped up and coaxed him out of the building”.

Not all the details of this random act of violence are available yet.Whatever was going on in the gunman’s mind shortly before he started killing people at random, we can only guess. A friend’s therapist had one of the victims as a patient, and naturally, she was pretty torn up about this. I've been alternating between numbness and disbelief all day today. Now this whole thing’s just beginning to sink into my head. I wonder if I’m going to be able to sleep tonight.

My heart goes out to the families and friends of the attacker’s victims.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Saying goodbye to an old friend

It’s the end of an era. Whether we like it or not.

Last month, my friend Brian (not his real name) who I’ve known since the early 1980's got word that the chain which runs the camera shop he’s worked at as a salesman for almost a quarter of a century was declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This meant that his store would be closing at the end of this week. It not only means that Brian is now among the many thousands trying to set up a livelihood in the current economy, it means that the town his store was located in, a college town with dozens of photography students, will now be without a proper camera store. Consider what that loss means to a student who needs materials or equipment for a project that’s due in a few days, a professional who needs extra gear for a particular job, or anyone who needs technical advice from someone other than the salesman in the big-box store who was selling running shoes or toasters the previous week.

When I bought my first digital camera, I went to Brian’s store. I knew that I’d be paying a bit more than I would if I shopped online. I also knew I’d get something from Brian that I’d never find at, or anyplace else in cyberspace - solid, personal technical advice. Advice from a man who has been working with cameras since his teens, who has observed the transition from film to digital. Who has seen which brands and models of cameras come in for repairs most frequently, who could look at a problem picture and immediately tell you what had gone wrong and what could be done about it. Who knew which kinds of digital media were reliable and which were to be avoided. When my digital camera developed problems with its image sensor, it was Brian who informed me that the manufacturer was recalling that particular model and walked me through the recall process. When I wanted to have my old film camera fixed, he referred me to a local camera repair shop (itself a rare and dying breed).

Lots of chain stores, drugstores and supermarkets still have film-processing labs where you can get prints and enlargements made of digital or conventional photos. Trouble is, the self-service print-making kiosks all operate in idiot mode. They all are programmed to function as if everyone who uses them is a rank amateur who needs to have all of his or her work “enhanced”. This can be frustrating for good photographers who have a certain kind of image quality in mind and don’t want their pictures messed with. The teenaged minimum-wage-slaves behind the counter can’t override the idiot-mode programming and will not hesitate to tell you so. Brian knew how to make the print makers behave. I've had him make exhibition-grade prints for me. Obviously he cannot provide me with that service any longer.

Personal service in retailing is being superseded by “customer service” from a back-office halfway around the world whose employees often know barely enough English to read the printed scripts pertaining to the most common problems. If your particular problem isn’t listed on any of the scripts - lotsa luck. Point-of-sale technical assistance? Forget it. The way things are progressing, genuine technical advice will only be had by logging onto web forums such as No one bothers fixing digital gear when it fails not only because the mediocre build-quality of much of it leaves little “fix” in it but because a new and improved model is always one mouse click away, for less than the cost of the repair. We have finally arrived in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, in which it is always better to end than to mend.

Photo Creative Commons 2009 by PMG.
Non-comm, attrib, no derivs.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Can I run Second Life on it?

Just to show that personal computing is a lot older than we think, this ad from the January 1959 issue of Electronics Illustrated magazine offers for sale an analog computer with not much more power than a ten-dollar calculator but which was probably very advanced for its time.

Analog computers you’ll recall were the predecessors to the digital ones we now know and love (or hate with a passion!). Judging by the photo in the ad, the unit handles data using 5 or 6 metal-shell vacuum tubes. Yup, that’s right, tubes, just like the ones in your guitar amp or antique radio. Transistors at the time were just beginning gain mass-market acceptance, and it would be another 11 years before microprocessors as we now know them would make their appearance and put us on the road to personal computing, digital audio and video, and annoying cell phone ringtones.

Can’t find anything on the web about this particular model. The grid of black dots in the picture is probably an array of pin jacks for the patch cords which were used to program the thing, sort of like the way early synthesizers were programmed. The “display” was the analog meter which you see at the machine’s upper right hand corner. A far cry from the machine you’re viewing this blog on, certainly, but a necessary step in the evolution of the digital world we now inhabit.

Friday, March 13, 2009

What is morality? (What is reality?)

Photo Creative Commons 2009 by Pinkmoose.

I haven't got much to post this week. A few items in the can, but they're not yet ready for prime time.

In the meantime, that doesn't mean that I can't bring outrageous, maddening things to your attention. Under the heading of "religious dogma before common decency", I bring you a news report about a situation which sounds like something out of Monty Python.

Declaring that "life must always be protected", a senior Vatican cleric has defended the Catholic Church's decision to excommunicate the mother and doctors of a nine-year-old rape victim who had a life-saving abortion in Brazil. ...

... The controversy represents a PR nightmare for the Vatican. The unnamed girl's mother and doctors were excommunicated for agreeing to Wednesday's emergency abortion yet the Church has not taken formal steps against the [alleged rapist, the girl's] stepfather, who is in custody. ...

The entire story can be read here.

And speaking of Monty Python...

Friday, March 06, 2009

"This is Paul Harvey - Good Night!"

When I was a kid, I used to hear the late Paul Harvey every so often on the only top-40 AM rock station in town (there was only one at the time, but that changed with the advent of FM album-rock). I didn't recall him harping on right-wing topics, but I didn’t pay too much attention to politics back in the day. “Smooth” was not the word for Mr. Harvey. His voice had a jarring, jagged quality which grabbed you the way a car alarm would. Not to say that it was irritating, far from it. What kept me glued to the radio was not merely his selection of unusual, nay, weird human interest stories but his delivery. The man could manufacture the kind of suspense normally reserved for final baseball scores or election returns even when he was talking about something fairly trivial. To me he was not so much a commentator as a storyteller. He worked his magic on everything from breaking news stories to humorous anecdotes. A lot of the things I heard him say would have been right at home around a campfire. Turn off the TV, Paul Harvey’s in the house!

Mr. Harvey was of the old school of radio journalism. Although he was every inch a conservative, and while he socked it to the loyal opposition every chance he got, I remember him taking the high road, or at least a higher one than most right-wing talk show hosts do today. I simply cannot picture Paul Harvey telling a progressive “Shut up, you punk!”, as I’ve heard one such modern-day AM-radio garbage-mouth do. On one of Kermit Schafer's "Bloopers" albums, there's a recording of him reading a particularly risible human-interest story, then totally cracking up on-mic, and never recovering. Can you even imagine Rush Limbaugh, Anne Coulter or Michael Savage doing that?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

In Defense of "Can't"

This is America. We are, so we’re told, a nation of doers, not doubters. If there’s one four-letter word we will not abide, it’s the word “Can’t”. Far worse than the dreaded F-bomb, this word signifies disgrace under pressure, wimpiness, wussiness, loserhood. It’s a word that’s only uttered by naysayers, nonbelievers and other nattering nabobs of negativism. “Can’t” means cut-and-run. “Can’t” means you obviously aren’t serious about success. Better to bullshit your way to inevitable failure than to admit that something might be beyond the scope of your abilities.

How this childish attitude toward life got to be so prevalent, I’m not certain. Maybe it’s that story we all had read to us as kids called The Little Engine That Could. In case you missed it, a small switch locomotive is confronted with the task of scaling an extremely steep hill. The little engine keeps on telling himself “I think I can”, or words to that effect as he slowly huffs and puffs his way upward. He eventually makes it to the top of the hill, and gleefully whizzes down the other side to his destination (he obviously wasn’t working for Amtrak!). Meanwhile, back in the real world, author Shel Silverstein points out in his response to that story, "The Little Blue Engine" that "If the track is tough and the hill is rough, THINKING you can just ain't enough!"

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never criticize anyone who seeks to push the envelope and get more out of their careers, their relationships, their lives. I’ve no complaint against anyone who weighs the odds, considers the facts and then goes for it. Those people are the reason why we have things like personal computers and the Web. And there’s a lot of transformative change that’s been wrought by people who kept on keeping on in the face of what looked at the time like impossible odds. That’s one of the reasons why an African-American man is now president of the United States and not a janitor in Chicago’s city hall. But perseverance is only a virtue if it is tempered with some degree of rationality. There are few people who create more problems than those who blindly throw rationality to the wind and rush in where more sensible folks might fear to tread, lest they be labeled “quitters”.

Many of us became indoctrinated with the gospel of can-do-must-do in grade school. If you had difficulty with a particular assignment or academic subject, your teachers probably said it was because you weren’t trying hard enough. And it wasn’t very long ago that “failing” or “problem” children - those with learning disabilities or other issues - were segregated in “special schools”, or simply put out to the curb for the criminal justice system to haul away. And speaking of learning disabilities, why is it necessary to medicalize the strengths and weaknesses we are all born with? How different is turning a child who cannot read or do differential equations into a patient or a “case” from slapping a “Dunce” cap on his head and making him sit in a corner, as was done decades ago? Our weaknesses are merely the reverse-sides of our strengths. I myself cannot handle numbers. I got to be very familiar with the folks at my college’s remedial math lab until I made up my mind to stop beating my head against the wall, and switched majors from engineering to English. A disappointment? Yes. Was it the right thing to do? Yes again.

If people are the least bit honest with themselves, they will admit that there are certain things which they will never be competent at, let alone excel at, no matter how much effort they expend, no matter how many hours they practice, no matter how many times they beat themselves up for failing. Like a suit that’s two sizes two small, some things just don’t fit. Success only happens when you are on the proper path to it.

Americans need to let up, sit down and take a long, deep breath. Contrary to popular belief, life is not a race, a contest, or a fight to the finish in which the man standing next to you is your enemy. There are solid, rational reasons why civilized society has renounced the Law of the Jungle. Permit me to posit the heretical notion here that life is meant to be enjoyed, that competition does have its place (and should stay there), and that in most cases, failure doesn’t need to be a mark of disgrace or the end of one’s life.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Great Moments in Advertising (second in a series)

During the years of the “sexual revolution”, the exploitation of sexuality for commercial ends went super-critical. From myriad permutations of the word “intercourse” (for instance, a radio program from that period called “Interchords”) to full-page ads in magazines for a certain brand of blue jeans, which showed only an attractive young woman riding a bicycle, in the buff (not showing the product in the ad? What were they thinking?), things went from mildly amusing to absurd faster than a space shuttle blasting off for the Van Allen Belt.

The proprietors of the electronic emporium being advertised here obviously had no use for subtlety, preferring instead to go as close to the line as they possibly could without landing in court for “obscenity”, no small matter back in those days. The “feet” motif shown in this illustration continues to adorn things like aftermarket auto convertible-tops to this very day.

(Click illustration to enlarge).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Everything I know I learned from record shopping,Part 2

Photo Creative Commons by Ivan Zuber

You cannot tell how a record will sound by looking at the cover art, reading the list of musicians, or checking out which studio it was recorded at or when. The only way to know is to put it onto a turntable, put the needle on it and listen to it, however briefly.

Just because "everyone likes it" doesn't mean that it's right for you.

If someone tells you that something sucks (or is fantastic) without offering a solid, rational explanation, that's proof that you need to check it out for yourself.

Oldies radio reminds us that a little nostalgia can be fun, but living in the distant past isn’t good for you.

You can hear something that everybody's raving about and wonder what the big deal is. You can hear something that everyone makes fun of and not think it's so bad.

The mainstream is like an 8-lane highway; big, straight, flat, efficient and predictable. And it seldom goes anyplace interesting. Cultural side roads can be much harder to navigate, but you'll probably find much more interesting and rewarding experiences on them.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The following is a public service announcement.

This Saturday, February 14th, is Valentines’ Day, a holiday whose existence is crucial to the profit margins of the makers of mediocre chocolate products, the manufacturers of red, heart-shaped things, and the vendors of banal greeting cards. It is also a celebration of traditional romantic love. Those of us who are without partners, for whatever reason, often feel jealous of the legions of allegedly happy couples who are presumably smooching and cuddling the day away and will most likely head for the bedroom for an evening of conjugal bliss.

Allow me to perform a reality check. First of all, it just so happens that not all couples are happy. The divorce rate is around 50% and like the unemployment rate, the statistic does not tell the whole story. It doesn’t count nominally-intact marriages in which the love (and sex) dried up years ago, ones where one or both partners is a victim of abuse, and so on. Things aren't that much better for non-married couples who stay in loveless relationships simply because they cannot bring themselves to do otherwise.

Secondly, being single isn’t a disorder requiring costly or desperate measures to correct. We all begin our lives as single people. Some of us who are now happily coupled may be forced apart by circumstance. Those of us who are single by choice deserve to have our decision respected. Those of us who are single through no fault of our own deserve support, not pity or scorn.

Traditional stereotypes of single people range from the man who couldn’t attract a woman if he walked into a brothel with a fistful of hundred-dollar bills, the insouciant playboy who spends all his time going from party to orgy to swinger’s club, the nymphomaniac who lures dozens of (mostly married) suitors up to her penthouse apartment each day, to the old maid with no companions apart from her 27 cats. How many people like these actually exist in the real world?

No lover, however devoted, is a substitute for a social support network. Friends are not luxuries.

No one will deny that living by oneself can get lonely and frustrating at times. But anyone with a firm grip on reality will also recognize that the all-too-common practice of “settling”, coupling up with someone who just happens to be available whether or not he or she is actually a good match, can make things much worse in the long run, as illustrated by the above satirical Youtube clip, and the obscenely-high incomes of divorce attorneys.

As many single people the world over will tell you, being single does not mean taking a virtual vow of chastity! True, solo-sex is the primary mode of sexual expression for a lot of single people, and it has an undeservedly bad reputation. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that the U.S. Surgeon General got fired from her job for suggesting that solo sex might be good for one’s general well-being, a point which a recent BBC report reiterated. Too often it has been regarded as the last resort of losers. This attitude needs to change, and fast.

While I’m at it, I’d like to strongly recommend that the adjective-turned-noun “single” never again be used to refer to people without partners. When used in this manner, the word has all the characteristics of a derogatory epithet. It suggests someone who is too unattractive, irresponsible or dumb to attract and hold a partner.

Lastly, but definitely not least, I must emphasize this final point: Valentines Day is a commercial holiday. It has far, far less to do with romance than with moving loads of dodgy theme products. Love, after all, isn’t about stuff. Love is about intimacy, about pleasure. Put another way, love isn’t when you buy your partner a heart-shaped fuzzy pillow. Love is when you do her laundry or sweep the floor because it needs to be done. Love isn’t sending her a bouquet of flowers. Love is when you spend a rainy Saturday afternoon in a junkyard looking for parts for her car.

Having said all that, happy Valentines’ Day to everyone, coupled or not!

Random recommended reading: - Being single as a conscious choice.
Blogher - Pleasing yourself, aka going solo. (NSFW)
Solo Sex guru Betty Dodson (NSFW)
Interview with Laura Kipnis, author of Against Love and The Female Thing.
An American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers article about collaborative divorce.

Is this your lucky day?

Photo Creative Commons Cayusa

Today marks a sea-change for The Fuddler. From this day forward, The Fuddler will be updated at least once a week, on Friday. And what better Friday to begin with than Friday the 13th!

Speaking of which, the traditional belief about Friday the 13th is that it’s unlucky. I myself have never experienced any more or less bad luck than usual on any Friday the 13th. What I have noticed is that some rather strange things sometimes occur on that day.

As a f’rinstance, years ago I lived in an apartment in a late-19th-century home, on a main street, which was showing signs of age. The building had recently been purchased by an athletic man in his thirties who turned out to be a very skilled renovator. He went through each apartment, stripping every room down to the bare studs, replacing the obsolete, turn-of-the-20th-century knob-and-tube wiring, extracting the occasional carcass of a long-dead squirrel, installing new copper water pipes in place of aging galvanized steel ones, putting in modern, energy-efficient windows and finishing the job with new drywall and a fresh coat of paint. He once showed me how he leveled the warped and bowed floor in one apartment by painstakingly installing a new floor over it. On the evening of Friday the 13th he was hard at work ripping out the cracked and discolored original plaster ceiling in a room directly below my kitchen. In the process, he found an old cast-iron stove plate from a wood-burning stove (all of the stoves in the house at the time were either gas or electric). On top of the plate were thirteen hollow-point .22-caliber long rifle shells. Neither I or my landlord could figure out who had put the shells there, when or why.

Another Friday the 13th incident which sticks in my mind happened while I was on the air at my college’s radio station in the early 1980's. It was a free-form station, which meant that instead of spinning John Cougar Mellencamp, Madonna or Tom Petty, most of our DJ’s played “new wave”, punk or hardcore. Since much of the student body was from New York City and Long Island we also played whatever dance music was popular in the New York underground scene, including a good quantity of early hip-hop. So, there I was that afternoon, spinning a Talking Heads album when the control room phone rang. I expected it to be someone calling in a request. What it was instead was a young man from the Republican National Committee. It should be noted that this was around the time that one of then-president Ronald Reagan’s proposed budgets was making the rounds on Capitol Hill. Like those from previous years it seriously pumped up defense spending (along with the federal deficit) while drastically reducing funding for silly things like education, regulatory agencies, health, and financial aid for college students. Anyway, the nice man from the RNC told me that his organization had put together an audio press release to help dispel any possible misunderstandings about the budget which people might have on account of the liberal media. He asked me if I would mind airing it. Sure, I told him, I would most certainly consider it my patriotic duty as an American to air it. In those pre-digital days news actualities and other material were delivered over the telephone. I put my caller on hold and cued up an album side on one of the control room’s two turntables. After starting the album side, I opened the station’s recording studio, put a fresh reel of 1/4-inch tape on one of our two reel-to-reel tape recorders, patched the phone line into the mixing board, picked up the phone in that room and told Mr. RNC to let ‘er rip. After I’d “downloaded” the rather slickly-produced sales pitch for that year’s round of Reagan budget cuts, I took the reel into our main studio. When the album side had faded out, I played the tape on the air, the whole 3 or 4 minutes of it, following it with my own comments and analysis.

However weird or scary this Friday the 13th might be, it can never hold a candle to the day which follows it, one which causes hearts to pound and palms to sweat, one which makes them commit the most degrading acts of desperation, one which engenders fear and loathing like no other.

I refer of course to Valentines Day. More on that later!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Way He Walked...

Photo Creative Commons 2008 by Yves Lorson.

It has come to my attention that a great punk icon has passed away.

Those of you who are familiar with The Cramps know of Lux Interior’s snarling, piercing vocals. You know of his original songs (co-written with his wife Ivy) with titles like “Can Your Pussy Do The Dog?”, his almost parodic treatment of dusty pop war-horses like “Lonesome Town”, or his band’s thrashing reading of Hasil Adkins’ “She Said...” which outdoes Mr. Adkins’ bloodcurdling original, no mean feat.

I remember hearing The Cramps’ debut 12-inch, Gravest Hits back in ‘79. I was suitably impressed to say the least! The record sounded to me like it had been made on a thrift-shop cassette deck using the cheapest grade of tape available. The reverb on most of the tracks was the classic Lincoln-Tunnel variety. All the previously-buried 1950's rockabilly cliches had been newly exhumed, hosed down and given a fresh coat of red-lead paint. In an age of Teflon-slick FM rock with synthesized orchestras and 20-minute drug-fueled guitar solos by people who flew to gigs in Lear Jets, The Cramps’ gritty back-to-basics style stood out.

News reports say that Lux died of a bad heart, which makes no sense to me. He and his band had plenty of heart. So long, Lux. It’s too bad you had to split. The music world needs people like you more than ever. My sincerest condolences to Ivy, the band and all of your fans the world over.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Everything I know, I learned from my parakeet.

Photo Creative Commons by Kent K. Barnes.

I don’t like fingers. I don’t care how much you’ve been told that parakeets like to sit on peoples’ fingers. Just because some expert says we’re supposed to like something doesn’t mean that all of us do. Put your finger in my face and I’ll snap at it. I’ll be perfectly happy to hop on your shoulder, your head, your arm, a pencil - anything but a finger. Fingers are verboten. End of discussion.

Horseplay is fine. Get too rough with me, and I’m outta there.

Puh-leeze don’t load down my cage with bird toys. I know you love me. Show it some other way. Let me out of the cage more often. Play with me. Put me on your shoulder while you do your homework or watch TV. Face time is a lot more important than stuff.

I love music (hey, I’m a bird!). Just don’t play it too loud. Too much of a good thing makes it bad.

Don’t vent your frustrations on me with verbal or physical abuse. I’ve had nothing to do with whatever it is that’s bugging you. I fully sympathize, but only if you treat me with respect. Otherwise, I’m outta there.

I like to fly to the downstairs bathroom mirror, clamp my feet to the bottom of it and peck furiously away at my reflection. I know it looks strange to you, but don’t rag on me too hard for it. We all have our strange little quirks.

Sorry about those little um, artifacts that I leave around occasionally. We birds don’t have sphincter muscles, so we can’t control our “emissions” the way you humans can. Please make allowances for that.

Tell your mother that I’m sorry if I embarrassed her when I landed on her head as she walked into the room. Like I said, I’m a bird. That’s the kind of thing we do. Our sense of decorum is different from yours, but please know that I mean well.

Please clean up the bottom of my cage a little more often, OK? You don’t like it when your own living space gets gross. Neither do I.

(Dedicated to Lightning).