Classes, other resources for English learners in the Capital District (NY)

Here’s a list of resources compiled by Jeanne Finley in November and December 2017 and shared, not just with her permission, but with her encouragement.

The terminology used here: ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages); ESL (English as a Second Language). Very recently, the term ENL, for English as a New Language, has been used, primarily because some English language learners (ELLs) are picking up a third or fourth language.

Please comment regarding updates, changes or corrections.

*Some classes may require registration in advance. Call for details.

Classes: Albany area/Albany County

– Albany: Adults
Albany Public Library, Washington Avenue branch, 161 Washington Avenue
Sponsored by Literacy NY Greater Capital Region, (518) 452-3381,
Christina Darling, Program Coordinator, (518) 631-2926.
ESOL, beginning, intermediate. Free.

– Albany: Adults
Albany Public Library, Pine Hills branch, 517 Western Avenue
Sponsored by Literacy NY Greater Capital Region, (518) 452-3381, and Capital Region BOCES, (518) 862-4707,
ESOL, intermediate, multi-level. Monday and Wednesday, 9 a.m.–12 noon. Must register for orientation session. Free.

– Albany: Adults
Albany Public Library, Delaware Avenue branch, 331 Delaware Avenue
Sponsored by Literacy NY Greater Capital Region, (518) 452-3381,
(518) 463-0254 (ESL),
ESOL, beginning, intermediate. Tuesday and Thursday, mornings and afternoons. Call to register. Free.

– Albany: Adults
Capital Region BOCES Career & Technical School, Building A, 1015 Watervliet-Shaker Road
Sponsored by Capital Region BOCES, (518) 862-4707,
ESOL, multi-level. Monday and Wednesday, 4:30 p.m.–7:30 p.m. Must register for orientation session. Free.

– Albany: Adults
Albany Medical Center, 22 New Scotland Avenue
Sponsored by Capital Region BOCES, (518) 862-4707,
ESOL, multi-level. Tuesday through Thursday, 1 p.m.–4 p.m. Must register for orientation session. Free.

– Albany: Adults
Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, 57 Hurlbut Street
Sponsored by Capital Region BOCES, (518) 862-4707,
ESOL, multi-level. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m.–1 p.m. Must register for orientation session. Free.

– Albany: Adults
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 475 State Street
Sponsored by Capital Region BOCES, (518) 862-4707,
ESOL, multi-level. Mondays and Wednesdays, 5 p.m.–8 p.m. Must register for orientation session. Free.

– Albany: Adults
Albany Literacy Zone, Trinity Alliance, Capital South Campus Center, 20 Warren Street
(518) 449-5155,
Sponsored by Capital Region BOCES, (518) 862-4707,
Shannon Cornwall, (518) 694-4533 or Maria Huntington, (518) 694-4567.
ESL classes ongoing. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 9 a.m.–12 noon. Must register for orientation session. Free.

– Albany: Adults
Trinity Alliance, 15 Trinity Place
Sponsored by Capital Region BOCES, (518) 862-4707,
ESL classes ongoing. Mondays through Wednesdays, 9 a.m.–12 p.m. Must register for orientation session. Free.

– Albany: Adults and children ages 5-13
RISSE (Refugee and Immigrant Support Services of Emmaus), 240 West Lawrence Street
(518) 621-1041, (518) 567-4354, (518) 505-1737
Adults: ESL Group Instruction, September–June: Monday–Friday, 12 p.m.– 6 p.m.
July & August: Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.
Levels 1, 2, and 3. Must register for orientation session. Free.
Children ages 5-13: New York State Licensed ESL After-School program, September–June: 2:30 p.m.–6 p.m.
Call for appointment.
Children ages 5-13: New York State Licensed ESL Summer School Program, July & August, 8:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
Call for appointment.

– Albany: Adults
USCRI (United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants), 991 Broadway, Suite 223
Martha Butler, Program Coordinator, Office for New Americans, (518) 459-1790 (extension 8008),
Beginner classes. Next enrollment period December 18, 2017 – January 10, 2018, for classes starting week of January 8. Classes 3-4 days per week, 4 p.m. –7 p.m.
Pre-test required; call for appointment. Free.

– Albany: Children pre-Kindergarten–Grade 5 in Albany City School District
Delaware Community School, 43 Bertha Street
(518) 475-6750,
Dual Language Program, Spanish-English only. Child must be registered in district.

– Albany: Children grades 6–12, refugees and immigrants in Albany City School District
Albany International Center, North Albany Academy, 570 North Pearl Street
(518) 475-6900,
Rachel Stead, Principal,
Lily Htoo, Home School Coordinator,
Serves about 175 refugee and immigrant students from throughout the City School District of Albany who are in the early stages of learning English and will benefit from targeted instruction and support in all subjects. Students spend an average of two years in the program before returning to their middle school or Albany High School. Child must be registered in district.

– Albany: Adults and children
Empire State English, 24 Aviation Road, Suite 100
(518) 729-5407,
English language programs for adults: Kim Andersen, President, Eileen Lee, Academic Director
English language programs for children: Elizabeth Suparmanto, Registrar
ESL and part-time classes. COST: see website
Sister program, Capital Region Language Center, offers English language instruction for children,
Troy location coming January 2018

– Albany: Adults
Educational Opportunity Center (EOC) of Hudson Valley Community College, 30 North Russell Road, 2nd Floor, Albany
(518) 273-1900,
ESL, three levels. The ESL programs allow students with limited English proficiency the opportunity to master speaking, listening, reading and writing skills in English.
Apply online:
Must complete assessment. Free to qualified applicants.
ALSO LOCATED IN TROY at 431 River Street.

– Albany: Adults
Masjid As-Salam, 276 Central Avenue
(518) 463-6275,
English class, Saturday, 10 a.m.–12 noon
Classes held at 280 Central Avenue. Call first. Free.

– Guilderland: Adults
Guilderland Public Library, 2228 Western Avenue
Sponsored by Literacy NY Greater Capital Region, (518) 452-3381,
ESOL, advanced. Free.

– Latham: Adults
Al-Hidaya Center, 322 Troy Schenectady Road
(518) 608-1255,
English class, Monday–Friday, 5:30 p.m.–7:30 p.m. Call first. Free.

– Watervliet: Adults
Watervliet Library, 1501 Broadway, #1
Sponsored by Capital Region BOCES, (518) 862-4707,
ESOL, multi-level. Tuesday and Thursday, 12 noon–3 p.m. Must register for orientation session. Free.

Classes: Troy area/Rensselaer County

– East Greenbush: Adults
East Greenbush Community Library, 10 Community Way
Sponsored by Questar III, (518) 479-6838
Adult ESOL classes and assessment: John Parker,
ESOL, mixed levels, Monday and Wednesday, 9:30 a.m.¬–12.30 p.m.
Requires assessment beforehand, with $35 fee, can be waived, otherwise free.

– Troy: Adults
Educational Opportunity Center (EOC) of Hudson Valley Community College,
431 River Street
(518) 273-1900,
ESL, three levels. The ESL programs allow students with limited English proficiency the opportunity to master speaking, listening, reading and writing skills in English.
Apply online:
Must complete assessment. Free to qualified applicants.
ALSO LOCATED IN ALBANY: 30 North Russell Road, 2nd Floor

– Troy: Adults
Literacy Volunteers of Rensselaer County Inc., 65 First Street
(518) 244-4650,
One-to-one and small group tutoring. 2 hours per week. Free.
To sign up:

– Troy: Adults
YWCA of the Greater Capital Region, Inc., 21 First Street
Sponsored by Questar III, (518) 479-6838,
Adult ESOL classes and assessment: John Parker,
ESOL, mixed levels, Monday and Wednesday, 5:30 a.m. ¬– 8:30 a.m.
Requires assessment beforehand, with $35 fee, can be waived, otherwise free.

Classes: Schenectady area/Schenectady County

– Schenectady: Adults
Schenectady Public Library, main branch, 99 Clinton Street
Sponsored by Literacy NY Greater Capital Region, (518) 452-3381,
Christine Katchmar, Program Coordinator, (518) 452-3382
ESL, intermediate tutoring. Free.

– Schenectady: Adult
Washington Irving Adult and Continuing Education Center, 422 Mumford Street 

(518) 370-8220
 or (518) 370-8230,
ESL: Monday¬–Friday, 9 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Must register. Free

– Schenectady: Adults
Phyllis Bornt Branch Library and Literacy Center (ESL), 948 State Street
Sponsored by Washington Irving Adult and Continuing Education Center
(518) 370-8220 or (518) 370-8230
ESL: Monday and Wednesday, 5–8 p.m. Free

Courses for College-Age Students

– Intensive English Language Program, University at Albany
Center for International Education and Global Strategy
Science Library G 40
The Intensive English Language Program (IELP) is designed for international students who want to improve their English language skills. After successfully completing the IELP, many students enter one of UAlbany’s degree programs.
(518) 591-8172, e-mail:
COST: see website,

Classes offered in 8-week sessions. There are five 8-week sessions offered throughout the year. Students take a placement test and enroll in the number of sessions necessary to achieve their desired English language level. There are seven levels of English offered, from basic to university-ready advanced. 8-week sessions are offered 5 times per year in Fall, Spring, and Summer. Apply at least one month before the start of a new session.
The IELP also offers 4-week sessions throughout the year, with shorter courses. 4-week sessions are offered 10 times per year in Fall, Spring, and Summer. Apply at least one month before the start of a new session.
Full-time students study 20 hours per week. Part-time students can choose to study 4–16 hours per week.

– English as a Second Language (ESL) and ESL Advisement, Hudson Valley Community College (Troy)
HVCC is one of only a few accredited schools of higher education to offer credit-bearing English composition classes to non-native speakers. In addition, the school provides classes for those who need basic communication skills, as well as for those who are interested in perfecting their English.
Contact the English as a Second Language Advisement Office:
Advisor: Noah Kucij,
 e-mail:, (518) 629-7393
Fridays, 11 a.m.–noon and by appointment
COST: see website,
International students application:

Websites, Videos, and Home Study Resources

Websites (for Adults)

USA Learns:
Dave’s ESL Café:
English Club:
Many Things:
Learn English Today:
English Page:
Lots of English:
LINCS Learner Center:
Voice of America English News:
Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab:
Sounds of English:
ESL Lounge:
One Stop English (for beginners):
English Language Civics for ESL Students :

Websites (for children)
Student Guide:

Fast Forward,
We Are New York:
A selection of YouTube videos on learning English:
A selection of YouTube videos on basic English conversation for beginners:

Home Study
– Schenectady: Washington Irving Adult and Continuing Education Center, 422 Mumford Street 

(518) 370-8220
or (518) 370-8230,
ESL Study at Home program, Monday, 12:30 p.m.– 2:30 p.m. Must register. Free.

– Schenectady: Steinmetz Home Family Investment Center, 120 Emmons Street
(518) 370-8220
ESL Study at Home program, Thursday, 12:30 p.m.–2:30 p.m. Must register.

– Through Capital Region BOCES: The English as a New Language (ENL) Home Study program provides an excellent opportunity for non-native English speakers to gain a better understanding of our language and culture. The program, which concentrates on reading comprehension and writing skills, is beneficial for students who have progressed beyond basic levels of ENL. Individualized packets of instruction are delivered to the library nearest to a student’s home every two weeks, for him or her to pick up and complete. The program is free for students age 21 and older.
For information and to register, call (518) 862-4707
Application required first:

– Oxford Picture Dictionary and its related workbooks:
Oxford Picture Dictionary Third Edition: Monolingual Dictionary, Reprint Edition by Jayme Adelson-Goldstein and Norma Shapiro

You can buy this online at or order it through a bookstore. There are additional workbooks, which are for all levels of people learning English:

Oxford Picture Dictionary Third Edition: Low-Beginning Workbook, Workbook Edition by Jane Spigarelli

Oxford Picture Dictionary Third Edition: Low-Intermediate Workbook, Workbook Edition by Marjorie Fuchs and Margaret Bonner

Oxford Picture Dictionary Third Edition: High-Beginning Workbook, Workbook Edition by Marjorie Fuchs


December rambling #1: Sheila E. turns the big 6-0

How Facebook Figures Out Everyone You’ve Ever Met

“Apocalyptic” Melting Transpires in Antarctica as Earth Wraps Up a Scorching Year

The Environmental Protection Agency wipes climate change from its website

Huge Bubble of Hot Rock May Be Rising Under New England

Atheists are nicer to Christians compared to the other way around

The Jerusalem Issue, Explained

Joe Biden to Anita Hill: “I Owe Her an Apology”

Arthur voted for John Anderson

Inspirational news stories that are anything but

With 2020 Census Looming, Worries About Fairness and Accuracy

American prisons end face-to-face visits – and families suffer

Why Verizon’s insurance plan covers… nothing

Congratulations, Australia!

Racism, Fundamentalism, Fear and Propaganda

Americans receive ‘threatening’ automated calls telling them to stop criticising Trump

SATIRE! Palestinians recognize Texas as part of Mexico and World to recognize Moscow as capital of the United States

A president… unfit to clean toilets in Obama’s presidential library or to shine George W. Bush’s shoes

Former ‘Son of Sam’ at Albany Med for heart ailment

On SNL, Santa’s Tricky Moment With Savvy Kids

Derivative Sport: The Journalistic Legacy of David Foster Wallace

Colonoscopy… such a lonely word – as I heard a comedian say recently, life is like a colonoscopy prep

Once in a while the pessimist is wrong

Why we need art

in praise of second fiddle

Levidrome – a series of letters that yields up a word in one direction and a wholly different word in the other

Mark Evanier’s blog post #25,000

The Complicated Legacy Of A Panda Who Was Really Good At Sex

Now I Know: The Largest Man-Made Accidental Explosion and What Do You Do With 10,000 Pounds of Spoiled Mayo? and How NASA (Almost) Got Its Rock Bag Back and The Problem With Five-Cent Hot Dogs and The Surprising Way to Get Rejected

Talking about Kevin


Que je t’aime – Johnny Hallyday; and A million take to Paris streets for his funeral

Pat DiNizio, lead singer and songwriter of The Smithereens died at age 62

Happy Harry Chapin Day and Coverville 1196: Cover Stories for Billy Bragg and Harry Chapin

Trump vs Talking Heads – Swedemason

Coverville 1195: The Jimi Hendrix Cover Story IV

The Alan Parsons Project: If you believe in the power of magic…

More of the Whitney Avalon Show!

BBC: Perfect Day and God Only Knows

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class of 2018 inductees. Performer Category: Bon Jovi (inevitable), The Cars (voted for), Dire Straits (would have voted for if there weren’t 19 candidates for five slots), The Moody Blues (my pick), Nina Simone (worthy but hardly rock – see Baez, Joan). Award for Early Influence: Sister Rosetta Tharpe (should never have been on the competitive ballot; just put her in!)

Sandy Hook + 5 years = idiotic NRA-backed bill

After twenty first-graders and six educators were gunned down at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012, gun control advocates felt that it was the perfect time to get something done on that front. If Congress won’t respond to the deaths of six- and seven-year-olds, what WILL change them?

But nothing much happened. Professor Charles Collier wrote: “In other words, less gun violence proves that gun control is not needed; more gun violence proves that gun control is not working. In either case, the proper response remains laissez-faire.”

In fact, there is a bill with broad support in the US House of Representatives, tacking on a poison pill to the ‘Fix NICS’ Act, designed to “improve the gun-sale background check system simply by helping ensure that the staffs of federal agencies and states complete a couple more keystrokes and mouse clicks every day and submit more records into the system” The addition is dreadful:

“‘Concealed Carry Reciprocity’ would force states to allow people to carry concealed guns in public even if they are domestic abusers, have other dangerous histories, or lack even the most basic safety training to carry concealed guns in public. [It] would leave local police powerless to stop people with dangerous histories from carrying guns.

“‘Concealed Carry Reciprocity’ would gut our gun laws because it would force each state to accept the concealed carry standards of every other state — even states that have weaker standards, or worse, no standards at all. And it would not establish a national standard for who is allowed to carry a hidden, loaded gun in public.”

I can easily imagine even a supposed “good guy with a gun” getting shot and killed by law enforcement in the midst of an act of violence.

This I understand: List of mass shootings placed inside nativity scene at Dedham [MA] church. “Pastor Stephen Josoma said the goal is to get people talking about what more can be done to bring peace on earth.”

There is a Sandy Hook Promise channel on YouTube that might provide ideas on addressing the apparently intractable debate over gun violence and gun control.

50 Best Computer-Animated Movies

When I’m weary, I take a list, in this case, Rotten Tomatoes’ 50 BEST COMPUTER ANIMATED MOVIES. Not incidentally, many of the ones I saw, I viewed BEFORE I had a child. Links to my reviews in this blog.

50. HAPPY FEET (2006)
49. THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (2011) -I’ve read some of the books
48. ICE AGE (2002)
47. THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS (2016) – The Daughter expressed interest in seeing this, but it just didn’t happen.
46. SURF’S UP (2007) – I don’t even remember the existence of this film

*44. DR. SEUSS’ HORTON HEARS A WHO! (2008) – saw this first on commercial TV, i.e., with commercials, which diminishes its impact
42. MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN (2014) – I SO loved these characters as a child that I actively avoided this
*41. MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (2013) – saw this with a bunch of elementary school children, which made it occasionally difficult to hear

40. KUNG FU PANDA 2 (2011)
39. THE BOOK OF LIFE (2014) – I don’t remember the ads
*38. BRAVE (2012) – I think I liked this more than most because Merida didn’t look like every other Disney princess
37. DESPICABLE ME (2010) – my late friend Norman had gotten free passes to see this at the evil Crossgates mall, so the Daughter and I went there. But the movie made her nervous, and we left about a half hour in. Specifically, after one of the girls goes into an iron maiden and her juice box gets punctured. the Daughter has seen the whole film subsequently, and I’ve seen the ending, but not the middle.
36. PUSS IN BOOTS (2011) – I’ve seen bits and pieces, but not the whole thing

35. SAUSAGE PARTY (2016) – it looked rather stupid in the ads
*34. CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS (2009) – saw this at an elementary school. I somewhat related to the main character
33. CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE (CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS) (2017) – my niece in Charlotte was a big fan of the books when she was young
*32. WRECK-IT RALPH (2012) – I loved the references that the Daughter could not have gotten
31. KUNG FU PANDA 3 (2016)

30. RANGO (2011) it was nominated for an Oscar, and I had meant to see it
29. KUNG FU PANDA (2008) – I guess I should see these
28. THE PEANUTS MOVIE (2015) – I saw this heavily advertised, but my affection for the early TV specials kept me away, I suppose
*27. SHREK (2001) – I enjoyed its mildly anti-Disney message
*26. SHREK 2 (2004)

*25. TANGLED (2010) – I loved the look
24. BOLT (2008)
23. THE LITTLE PRINCE (2016) – I’ll have to look for this
22. ARTHUR CHRISTMAS (2011) – the Daughter watched the series on PBS religiously for a time, and i grew fond of it; I may have to seek this out
*21. A BUG’S LIFE (1998) in the one trivia contest I’ve participated in, in 2017, one of the questions was the type of insect John Ratzenberger, who’s in EVERY Pixar film, played. I had no idea. (He voiced P.T. Flea )

*20. BIG HERO 6 (2014) – the Daughter declared that this movie, which the family saw together, is one of her favorite films
*19. FROZEN (2013) – I MAY have ODed on this film
*17. ANTZ (1998) – I saw this at almost the same time as A Bug’s Life, and I think they blur together in the mind
*16. MONSTERS, INC. (2001) – I saw this in an elementary school, well after its release

15. THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (2017) – I may may yet see this
*14. THE INCREDIBLES (2004) – I love this movie, especially the office drone parts
*12. RATATOUILLE (2007) – once I got over the idea of a rat preparing food…
*11. MOANA (2016) – this IS a lovely film, and I was probably too harsh in seeing it as another Disney formula film

*10. FINDING DORY (2016) – there are parts of this film near the end I find surprisingly moving
*9. THE LEGO MOVIE (2014) – I saw this movie on my birthday for free – I liked this a lot
*8. WALL-E (2008) – I grew to like it
*7. TOY STORY (1995) – at the time, I was just awestruck by the Pixar method
*6. FINDING NEMO (2003) – I still remember the Daughter watching this upstairs at a Christmas party with other kids, and how upset she was when Nemo was trying to escape the dentist’s aquarium

*5. UP (2009) – that first 10 minutes of flashback is incredibly affecting
*4. ZOOTOPIA (2016) – I loved this, a lot; much more complex than I would expected
*3. TOY STORY 2 (1999) – When Somebody Loved Me STILL makes me cry
*2. TOY STORY 3 (2010) – seeing the incinerator scene in the theater was quite intense
*1. INSIDE OUT (2015) – another moving story

26 out of 50, but 17 out of the top 20, and all of the top 12.

Why W and K for US radio and TV stations?

One of those mundane questions I’ve long wondered about, but never bothered to look up, is why virtually all the radio and television stations in the US start with either the letter W or K

From Primer Magazine: “In 1912, several countries attended a conference centered on the subject of ‘International Radiotelegraphs.’ One of the biggest things to come out of this gathering was the assignment of certain letters to certain countries, to identify their radio signals – America was given W, K, N, and A (fun fact: Canada got ‘C’ and Mexico got ‘X’).”

But why those particular letters has seemingly been lost. (A for America?)

“While N and A were chosen for American military radio stations, W and K were designated specifically for commercial use. Stations were allowed to choose the letters that followed the K or the W, and the combination was allowed to be three or four letters in length.”

Initially, the K stations were to the east and the W stations were to the west. Thus one can find early stations such as KDKA out of Pittsburgh, PA, established in 1920. By 1926, the Federal Communications Commission codified the idea of having four letters, but stations with three didn’t need to change.

From Warly Radio History:

“The original K/W boundary ran north from the Texas-New Mexico border, so at first stations along the Gulf of Mexico and northward were assigned W calls. It was only in late January, 1923 that the K/W boundary was shifted east to the current boundary of the Mississippi River. With this change, K’s were assigned to most new stations west of the Mississippi; however, existing W stations located west of the Mississippi were allowed to keep their now non-standard calls.”

This page has more information on the topic than most mortals would want to know, such as the K/W exceptions and other trivia. For instance, some break the rules by owner requests -examples: WACO in Waco, Texas; WMT (Waterloo [Iowa] Morning Tribune).

The page was compiled on 1 January 2017, so it’s quite recent.

For ABC Wednesday

Trivial metadata surrounding music

A friend of mine wrote this about my wife: “[She] likes music but isn’t obsessed with the trivial metadata surrounding it — you know, she knows a song when she hears it but might not know the title or artist, or underlying themes, or what studio it was recorded in, or if the band’s usual drummer was replaced by someone else for some reason on that particular song — that sort of thing doesn’t interest her. ”

My wife is like that. And so are some folks who read my blog who DON’T know who Holland-Dozier-Holland are, or Barry and Greenwich, or Doc Pomus, or even George Martin when I mention them here, all of whom are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They know Carole King from the album Tapestry, but Gerry Goffin, or Mann and Weil, not so much unless they happened to have seen Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

What I realized is that my friend, and much of the crew who worked at FantaCo, and the director of my library, and Dustbury, and Chuck Miller, and I are the anomalies. We’re the outliers who used to read the liner notes of albums to find out who wrote each song, who produced the tracks, even each song’s running time. We discovered that the person who wrote X also both wrote AND produced Y.

I’ll bet some of them used to read the side panels of cereal boxes. I know I did: thiamine, niacin…

I tended to surround myself with like-minded people and fooled myself into believing that almost everyone is like that. Then I post something on, say ABC Wednesday, and folks know the tunes but not the names.

I get the comeuppance I need. I’m the weirdo who knows Classical Gas by Mason Williams is exactly three minutes, designed to accompany some video on The Smothers Brothers TV show, without looking it up. But not everyone’s brain is filled with such musical trivia. And that, I suppose, is a good thing.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Man Who Invented Christmas

I’m a big fan of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – I’ve seen countless iterations – so it was inevitable that the family would go to the Spectrum Theatre on a Sunday afternoon to see The Man Who Invented Christmas.

The noted author (Dan Stevens) had experienced some great success with Oliver Twist. But he was reeling from three flops and a more expensive lifestyle than he could suddenly afford. Nicking an idea from Tara (Anna Murphy), one of the house staff, he decides to create a Christmas story.

But how does one write the tale, find an illustrator and self-publish it in about eight weeks? Especially with interruptions such as an unexpected visit from his estranged father (Jonathan Pryce) and mother?

Worse, the characters, notably Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) but eventually the others as well, fail to go in the direction the writer wants them to go, the ingrates!

Will Dickens deal with his own issues, which are testing the patience of even his most fervent supporters, his wife ( Morfydd Clark) and best friend (Ian McNeice)?

We enjoyedthe movie, unconcerned how true to the facts it might have been. So did most of the critics; 80% positive on Rotten Tomatoes. One negative review, though, seemed to miss the essence of the story, which I would tell you about, but dare not, lest it serve as spoiler.

Did Dickens really pluck names for his characters from people he met, a construct that one critic found too convenient? I have no idea. But I do recall that Ken Levine, who used to write for MASH, would come up with names for characters based on people he knew and even the players on the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.

If you’re a Dickens fan, or a writer of fiction, I believe you will enjoy The Man Who Invented Christmas.

Music throwback: Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Somehow I missed the controversy over the song Baby, It’s Cold Outside that was apparently raging on social media last Advent. It’s back in full force this year, having shown up in at least two Facebook threads, and I wasn’t even looking.

More than one person I’ve seen refer to it as the “Christmas rape song.” First off, it’s not about Christmas at all. The weather is obviously unpleasant, but it has no more to do with the holiday than “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”

The song was written by Frank Loesser in 1944 and performed in the 1949 movie Neptune’s Daughter by Ricardo Montalbán and Esther Williams, with the guy in pursuit, two people who are IN LOVE, not contending for dominance. In the same film, Betty Garrett is wooing Red Skelton.

Some of the defenders of the song suggest considering the time period. Is it about sex? Possibly, but not necessarily. Perhaps he was being a gentleman by offering his place for her to stay warm into the morning. Her concerns may have been about what people would think about a single woman staying at his place.

But if the original is sweet and consenting, can the many cover versions be seen in the same light?

The specific lyric “what’s in this drink” is also a current concern, given the fact that there have been numerous cases of men (usually) lacing the drinks of women (most often), for the purposes of sex. Many women have reported that Bill Cosby was notorious for doing that sort of thing. But the phrase was, and arguably is, a common joke, justifying one’s goofy behavior, even when one is consuming nothing stronger than grape juice.

In the 2010 Listening While Feminist post, In Defense of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, “The tension in the song comes from her own desire to stay and society’s expectations that she’ll go.”

As for the drink: “The phrase generally referred to someone saying or doing something they thought they wouldn’t in normal circumstances; it’s a nod to the idea that alcohol is ‘making’ them do something unusual. But the joke is almost always that there is nothing in the drink. The drink is the excuse. The drink is the shield someone gets to hold up in front of them to protect from criticism.”

See also the 2016 Vox article: Why “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” became an annual controversy about date rape and consent.

Listen to Baby, It’s Cold Outside, from Neptune’s Daughter.

Here today – “I am holding back the tears no more”

December 1963.

The relationship among the Beatles is a very popular topic on the Quora website. Someone asked: If John Lennon were still alive, would he and Paul McCartney have patched up their differences?

It’s a reasonable question, given the number of post-breakup fight songs that were released by all four of the ex-Fabs, none quite as nasty as Lennon’s How Do You Sleep?, “an answer to Paul McCartney’s ‘Too Many People’ and a direct attack on his old friend.” It even features a slide guitar part played by George Harrison.

As all the respondents noted in one way or another, before he died, John had already resolved his relationship with Paul.

To a similar question, a writer notes: “It’s easy to see how Paul feels about John. Every time he sings “Here Today”, he wells up with tears. There was a lot of love between those two. Brothers always.”

Well, not every time; I’ve seen McCartney get through the song dry-eyed. But in this 2015 interview, around the time of what would have been John’s 75th birthday, Paul notes how he is surprised how affected he can sometimes become, singing the song he wrote back in 1981 about his late friend.

I remember that shortly after Lennon was murdered in 1980, someone put a microphone in front of McCartney’s face and asked him how he was feeling. Paul uttered something like, “It’s a real drag, man.” And he was criticized in some circles.

Stick a mic in front of any grieving person and one is like to find a lack of eloquence. That’s something I’ve been sharply aware of when reporters stalk out people after tragedy.

Listen to Here Today

Only tangentially related:

Coverville 1194: The 14th Annual All-Beatles Thanksgiving Cover Show

Ringo Starr does NOT support Roy Moore’s campaign – reference to “You’re Sixteen”

Labor woes: How it all began in America

Did John Anderson create Ronald Reagan?

John Anderson, a moderate Republican congressman back in the day when there still were moderate Republicans, ran for President in 1980 against the incumbent, Jimmy Carter, the Democrat, and the Republican standard-bearer, Ronald Reagan. Of course, the former actor and California governor beat the former peanut farmer and Georgia governor by over 8.4 million votes cast.

Reagan also won an absolute majority of the voters (50.75%) to 41.01% for Carter. Anderson, who died recently, received 6.61% of the ballots. And 1.63% of the people, including, BTW, me, voted for someone else. So those who oppose the Electoral College – the system where all electoral votes go to each state winner – should be satisfied with the results, right?

But under the EC rules, was John Anderson really a spoiler, as some have suggested? 270 electoral votes are needed to be elected.

States won by Carter: DC-3, GA-12, HI-4, MD-10, MN-10, RI-4, WV-6 = 49 electoral votes.

States won by Reagan with more than 50% of the vote: AK-3, AZ-6, CA-45, CO-7, FL-17, ID-4, IN-13, IA-8, IA-8, KS-7, LA-10, MO-12, MT-4, NE-5, NV-3, NH-4, NJ-17, NM-4, ND-3, OH-25, OK-8, SD-4, TX-26, UT-4, VA-12, WY-3 = 263 electoral votes.

So if you add the states where the difference between Reagan votes and Carter votes is greater than the Anderson votes, the Republican easily hits 270. In Alabama, for instance, Reagan bat Carter 48.75% to 47.45%, a difference of only 1.3%. But Anderson only managed to scrape up 1.23% of the votes, with others garnering 2.57%. 9 electoral votes to the Republican anyway.

Anderson did very well in the Pacific Northwest, getting 9.51% of the vote in Oregon and 10.62% in Washington. Yet the difference between Reagan and Carter was 9.66% and 12.34% respectively, meaning those 6 and 9 electoral votes were destined for the GOP column.

Even Illinois, Anderson’s home state, fell into that column. Reagan, who grew up in the Land of Lincoln, got 49.65% of the vote compared with Carter’s 41.72%. Anderson’s 7.3% is less than the 7.93% of the major party candidates. 26 electoral votes solid for the Gipper.

This is not to say Anderson wasn’t a spoiler in some states. In New York, Reagan beat Carter by 2.67% but Anderson got 7.54% of the votes. AR, CT, DE, KY, ME, MA, MI, MS, NC, TN, VT, and WI theoretically COULD have gone to Carter if it weren’t for Anderson. It would not have mattered to the outcome.