Great American Smokeout 2018

About this time last year, tobacco companies in the United States were required to spend “money on TV ads again — not to sell cigarettes, but to warn against them…

“The campaign is the culmination of an 18-year legal battle in which the federal government sought to recover billions of dollars in health care related to tobacco-caused illnesses. After lengthy litigation, the court-mandated remedy is anti-smoking ads that will begin running in newspapers… and on TV… for a year.”

A complicating item in the tobacco marketplace is the growth of e-cigarettes. They are less deadly than regular cigarettes, and therefore perhaps a legitimate alternative to smoking for extant smokers. Conversely, e-cigarettes and youth don’t mix.

The Centers for Disease Control declares:

*The use of e-cigarettes is unsafe for kids, teens, and young adults.
*Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine. Nicotine is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s.
*E-cigarettes can contain other harmful substances besides nicotine.
*Young people who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future.
Arguably, the e-cigarette manufacturers have been targeting the young adult with their “fun” flavors

Breaking news: Juul will stop selling most e-cigarette flavors in stores and end social media promotion, bowing to F.D.A. pressure to curb teenage vaping.

I had a friend, Donna, who was often trying to quit smoking cigarettes, mostly because she knew how much I hated them. She developed brain cancer about a decade and a half ago. Figuring it didn’t matter, she resumed smoking yet again. I’m convinced those latter cigarettes even more agonizing right before she died.

Today is the Great American Smokeout, “an annual event sponsored by the American Cancer Society (ACS)… This social engineering event focuses on encouraging Americans to quit tobacco smoking. People are challenged to stop smoking for at least 24 hours assuming that their decision not to smoke will last longer, hopefully forever. Today, more than 43 million people in the United States smoke cigarettes, that is about 1 in 5 adults.”

Here are 15+ Of The Most Powerful Anti-Smoking Ads Ever Created, CDC’s anti-smoking ad campaign, and Powerful Anti Smoking Ads That Will Make You Quit. (Oh that it were so easy!)

I’ve seen this one a lot: CDC: Tips From Former Smokers – Terrie’s Tip Ad

Charles, Prince of Wales turns 70

It may be softheadedness, particularly since I think the whole idea of monarchy and primogeniture is rather silly. Still, sometimes I feel sorry for Prince Charles.

After all, the only job for which he has been trained to do is to become king. And his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, stubbornly, remains alive and shows no signs of abdicating. He is the oldest and longest-serving heir apparent in British history.

Worse, because of his massive royal wedding to Diana Spencer, which turned into a marriage gone very wrong, almost no one really wants him to be king at all at this point. They favor his eldest son with the late, beloved Diana, William, who had his fairytale wedding of his own with Kate Middleton. William has now fathered three more heirs of his own.

To the degree Charles is tolerated, beyond royal protocol, it’s because Charles appears to have been a good dad to William and Harry. This was especially true after Diana, the fun, sensitive, compassionate one was killed in 1997. The folks in the UK seem even tolerant of Charles’ second wife, Camilla, who he probably should have married in the first place.

Charles represents his mother in many functions, much having to do with the Commonwealth. He also does quite a bit of charitable work, especially regarding education and the environment. He frets about the world of plastics his grandchildren are going to grow up in.

No wonder that being first in line for the British throne may have gone to Prince Charles’ head.

“The Prince of Wales… has reportedly earned a special nickname among the staff at Clarence House: The Pampered Prince. That’s because, according to Amazon Prime’s new documentary ‘Serving the Royals: Inside the Firm,’ Charles needs help doing just about everything.

“‘His pajamas are pressed every morning, his shoelaces are pressed flat with an iron, the bath plug has to be in a certain position and the water temperature has to be just tepid,’ Princess Diana’s former butler, Paul Burrell, revealed in the documentary…

“This isn’t the first time that Prince Charles’ odd behavior has made headlines. A recently published book by Tom Bowers, ‘Rebel Prince, The Power, Passion, And Defiance Of Prince Charles,’ includes interviews with more than 120 people who share outlandish stories about working for the Royals.

“Apparently, Princess Diana’s ex brings his own toilet seat with him when he travels, changes outfits five times a day, only recently discovered what Saran wrap is and never shows up to a dinner party without his own food.”

Quoting the Simon & Garfunkel, “How terribly strange to be 70.” There was birthday party earlier this year, but today’s the actual natal day.

S is for Sisyphus

As you may know, “In Greek mythology Sisyphus or Sisyphos was the king of Ephyra (now known as Corinth). He is being punished for his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill only for it to roll down when they near the top, repeating this action for eternity. Through the classical influence on modern culture, tasks that are both laborious and futile are therefore described as Sisyphean.”

So I was a bit tickled when my buddy Chris wrote: “I am a happy Sisyphus; my rock is a delight.”

She agreed, as I suspected, that she was paraphrasing Albert Camus, who wrote:

“I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain. One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile.

“Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself, forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Chris said that if Camus “can recognize the likely futility of life and be happy in Vichy France, I can be happy in the coziness of my college…” despite the inevitable frustrations. She added, “Camus, I’m guessing got it from King Solomon in Ecclesiastes, so all good ideas came from somewhere.”

Until I had come across that quote some time ago, I had never thought of Sisyphus as happy. So, I gather that there should be joy in taking on narrow mindedness in the classroom when the students see only duality – right/wrong, black/white – when there is often nuance.

There should be joy in fighting poverty, saving the environment, promoting justice, seeking equality, et al., even when that rock rolls down the hill. You have to, in the words of Curtis Mayfield, Keep on pushing.

Zachary Kanin’s 2014 New Yorker illustration

For ABC Wednesday

National news, local angle: Megyn Kelly, blackface

If you’re in the United States, you might be familiar with Megyn Kelly. She was a news personality for Fox News from 2004 to 2017. She was a panelist at one of the Republican “debates”, where she had a bit of a row with one of the candidates, the one who ended up getting the nomination.

I imagine it’s why she was hired by NBC to be their “conservative female journalist.” On her short-lived Sunday evening show, she interviewed conspiracy nut Alex Jones, which was not a popular move.

Then she was given the third hour of the four-hour block of the TODAY show, but she never fit in thematically, or, apparently, personally. Her rating were disastrous.

When she was in a discussion about Halloween and described that using blackface had been considered acceptable when she was growing up, a couple things happened. One was that she was heavily criticized, especially by her NBC colleagues.

She gave up an apology, acknowledging the painful legacy, but diminishing her statement by mentioning how she tended not being “politically correct.” She lost her post as host of the 9 a.m. hour of the “Today” show.

I wish there had been a bit more of that explanation, not merely that it was “offensive.” CBS News Sunday Morning provided Blackface: A cultural history of a racist art form.

Borowitz of the New Yorker, wrote, satirically, Fox News Says Megyn Kelly’s Blackface Comments Not Racist Enough to Get Old Job Back.

The other reaction was from where she grew up, which happens to be Delmar, Albany County, NY. Students from her high school alma mater condemned Kelly’s comments, saying she was not accurately describing their town.

One prominent Albany Law School grad complained that, largely based on her race-baiting arguments on Fox, the law school shamefully put Kelly, class of 1995, on the cover of its alumni magazine, hosted her book signing,/a>, and had her speak at a graduation.

Ivan Rodat, who went to high school with Megyn Kelly wrote a measured response in Blackface in the ’Burbs.

A good friend of mine told me that the family now lives in the house Megyn Kelly grew up in. I only recently learned that when NBC first signed Kelly, the network wanted the current owners to “meet cute” the former resident. That was, to say the least, a non-starter.

100th anniversary: the end of the Great World War

This is the big one: the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great World War, the war to end all wars, which has not worked out nearly as well as we would have liked.

I read this spring: The 3.3 million veterans who have served since September 11, 2001, “now are roughly half the size of the largest living veteran population: Those who served in the Vietnam era.”

While I knew this intellectually, it pained me to see: “As this year marks the 15th and 17th anniversaries of the onset of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan…” This means that every 16-year-old born in the United States has ALWAYS lived with war, just as every 18-year-old has lived post-Columbine, the Colorado mass shooting.

Or more correctly, warlike conflicts, since the US doesn’t usually bother with such formalities involving Congress declaring war anymore. Because of the voluntary nature of the military, it is not always obvious on the home front that we’re at war, or in conflict, or whatever we call it. No war bonds or victory gardens.

And it’s a tricky thing to recognize the valor of a soldier in combat, even when one opposes the actual incursion. My long-held opposition to the wars in Vietnam and Iraq have led to some to label me in the past as unpatriotic, not “supporting our troops.” To which I said some version of “I support their right to come home in one piece.”

I’ve never understood how a bumper sticker actually translated into helping those who served in the military. Whereas helping homeless veterans, or helping those with the physical and psychological scars of battle are noble callings.

More Census stats:

“Veterans who have served since 9/11 are more diverse

“About 17 percent are women, 15.3 percent are black, and 12.1 percent are Hispanic. Almost half (47.6 percent) are still under the age of 35.

“They are an educated group. More than 46 percent have some college education and 32 percent have a Bachelor’s degree or higher. In 2016, about 612,000 post-9/11 veterans were in college.”

Music throwback: Loving You Has Made Me Bananas

loving you has made me bananasI can’t believe – or maybe I CAN believe – that I failed to note the 50th anniversary earlier this year of the release of Loving You Has Made Me Bananas by Guy Marks. Marks, born Mario Scarpa on Halloween 1923 in South Philadelphia, PA, was one of 11 children, nine who lived to adulthood, born to Italian immigrants.

“He had a natural gift for mimicry, and his impressions of celebrities such as Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, Boris Karloff, and many others were considered among the best. However, he also could imitate a housefly on a slippery oil cloth, neon signs, alligators, driftwood furniture, rubber bands, frozen chickens, frogs, praying mantis, and — his favorite — an ostrich, all of which found their way into his act or in characters he played on TV.”

Marks “made his first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on May 29, 1960. From that point on he appeared dozens of times throughout the 1960s and 1970s on popular variety shows. His big break came when he was cast as a regular on the 1962–63 season of The Joey Bishop Show.”

Loving You Has Made Me Bananas is an odd song in that I rarely heard it when it first came out – it only reached #51 on the Billboard pop charts, though #19 on the adult contemporary list, in 1968 – but when I did, I assumed it was some oldie I had somehow managed to have missed. It hit the Top 30 in the UK in both 1968 and 1978.

In the day, everyone knew 3/4s of the chorus:

Oh, your red scarf matches your eyes
You closed your cover before striking
[something something something] blues
Loving you has made me bananas.

But what was that third line? I never knew until recently:
Father had the shipfitter blues

Guy Marks died November 28, 1987 at the age of 64.

Listen to the single:

Loving You Has Made Me Bananas here or here

Forgive Me My Love here

JEOPARDY! plus 20 years (7,305 days; 1043.57 weeks)

It was 20 years ago today that I was in a room at my then-church watching myself on JEOPARDY! I was VERY uncomfortable with this – I would have as soon watched it alone at home – but others had talked me into this gathering.

I need not go through the blow-by-blow experience about being on the show. I wrote about it extensively when I started this blog in 2005, a serial with cliffhangers at the end of each installment, which you can read HERE. The pieces are below the links. They’re also on this site for those dates, Saturdays starting on May 28.

In fact, as I’ve noted, it was being on JEOPARDY! that convinced me that I had enough stuff to write about, at least for a little while. Since I needn’t recap this period, I thought I’d mentioned how the show has changed.

For one thing, they show does an online audition, whereas I did mine in person. The value of the board doubled three years after my appearance. They now give cash prizes to the runners-up.

The most significant change was that, starting in September 2003, a contestant who won five consecutive days could keep playing instead of retiring undefeated and showing up in the Tournament of Champions. For all sorts of reasons, I’ve always opposed the change. And for this season, there’s their FIRST-EVER TEAM TOURNAMENT! I’m not excited.

I still watch the show every day. Well, that’s not technically true. I record it every day and watch at my leisure. So I hate it when JEOPARDY! becomes newsworthy, such as a Sudden Death Tiebreaker! first in regular play.

Or when someone’s noted as an eight-time winner in a news story when I’ve only watched his fourth episode. I now knew he would win those next four games. (That happened last year with bartender Austin Rogers.) It seems that recent champions are more quirky, in the main.

I’m buds with Amy Roeder, one of my competitors, on Facebook.

Winning one game on JEOPARDY! is better than not winning at all, or not getting on at all. No, I can’t go back. But I still have the VCR tape transferred to a DVD. Oh, 12 surprising things you didn’t know about ‘Jeopardy!’ all but one of which I was aware of.


Big BirdI was going to pass on this quiz. But Ken Levine did it, and so did Mark Evanier.

Then the original Big Bird, Caroll Spinney, left ‘Sesame Street’ After Nearly 50 Years. What’s THAT got to do with anything? Those of you who spent time in the neighborhood know.

Available/Single? Neither. In the words of Bullwinkle J. Moose, “This time for sure!”

Best Friend? Either someone I’ve known since kindergarten or someone I’ve known since the first day at college.

Cake or Pie? Pie, clearly. It’s so flexible. Meat pies, fruit pies, pies for throwing, which I don’t do but this guy – buy his books! – does.

Drink of Choice? it’s seasonal. Right now, mulled cider. At other times, lemonade.

Essential Item You Use Everyday? My electric toothbrush.

Favorite Color? Well, duh. Green. Or maybe blue. No, definitely green.

Gummy Bears or Worms? I don’t HATE them, I just don’t see the point.

Hometown? Binghamton, NY

Indulgence? Probably this blog.

January or February? Probably February. Closer to my birthday. Also, it’s Black History Month at my church, which is a pain in the tuckus, but January involves PLANNING it, which is worse.

Kids and Their Names? Oh, The Daughter doesn’t mind being The Lydster, but HATES being referred to as The Daughter.

Life is Incomplete Without? Music. Even when it’s not playing, I often hear it.

Marriage Date? May 15, which we picked in honor of McDonald’s opening its first restaurant in San Bernardino, California in 1940.

Number of Siblings? Two sisters, both younger.

Oranges or Apples? Orange juice for drinking, Mac apples for eating.

Phobias/Fears? Trump in 2020.

Quote You Like? I’d rather stay silent and appear ignorant than to speak up and remove any doubt. That’s the way my late father said it.

Reason to Smile? A familiar piece of music when I suddenly hear something new. In general, learning something new.

Season? Paprika. Oh, sorry, spring, which, BTW, my birthday is the foreteller of.

Tag Three or Four People? Willie Mays, Art Fleming, Eleanor Roosevelt. And Arthur, but only if he wants to so he can make par.

Unknown Fact About Me? I’m told that, when I was in third grade, I got so angry because some kids were playing keep-away with my hat that I went home. I can totally believe it. What I don’t remember is the anecdote my friends all tell that I hopped a Crowley’s milk truck to get home.

Vegetable You Don’t Like? I was going to say Trumpettes, but let’s go with canned beets, which are also terrible.

Worst Habit? I am not a neat freak.

X-Rays You’ve Had? There was one on my left knee in 1994, one showing my broken rib in 2009, and the usual ones folks have.

Your Favorite Food? Spinach lasagna. It has spinach. It has lasagna. What more do I need?

Zodiac Sign? Pisces, like Luther Burbank, Maurice Ravel, and Willard Scott.

Here’s Caroll Spinney, as Big Bird, singing ABC-DEF-GHI Song.

A Bronx Tale, The Musical

In the advertisements for A Bronx Tale, The Musical, the ad copy calls it a crossover between West Side Story and Jersey Boys, which is vaguely accurate. It’s an account of an Italian-American boy named Calogero in New York City’s northernmost borough circa 1960 when he encounters a local Mafia boss. He’s conflicted, “torn between the temptations of organized crime and the values of his honest, hardworking father.”

The production has a long history. Initially, it was a play written by actor Chazz Palminteri, which was turned into a 1993 movie starring Palminteri as the mobster Sonny and Robert DeNiro, in his directing debut, as Calogero’s father Lorenzo. While not a huge commercial hit, the film was critically acclaimed.

By 2007, Palminteri was a big enough star to perform a one-man show from October 2007 to February 2008, followed by a tour from September 2008 to April 2010

Finally, A Bronx Tale became a Broadway musical, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater. It ran from December 2016 to August 2018, followed by a tour, beginning in October 2018, first in Rochester, NY.

My family saw it in Schenectady at Proctors Theatre On October 27 to a packed house. The show was quite good. Frankie Leoni was marvelous as the nine-year-old Calogero, with Joey Barreiro fine as the 17-year old C. Richard H. Blake was solid as Lorenzo, and Brianna-Marie Bell as Jane has a marvelous singing voice.

There was a cadre of assorted hoodlums with very distinctive nicknames such as Tony-Ten-To-Two because he stood with his feet that way; or JoJo the Whale, played by Michael Barra, who made his Broadway debut in the role and moved very well for a big man.

Still, the show belongs to Joe Barbara as Sonny the mobster, a Broadway understudy for the role. He doesn’t have the greatest voice, but it is perfect for my favorite song from the show, Nicky Machiavelli, which talks about being loved versus being feared.

There are another 11 months of The Bronx Tale on the tour, so if the show is coming to a city near you, I recommend checking it out.

Registering to vote for Election Day

It’s Election Day in the United States. One of the things that needs explaining to the ABC Wednesday folks from outside the US is that each state gets to set the rules for voting; the window for registering, what is required for registering, the hours the polls are open, et al.

Someone noted on Facebook that Oregon provides automatic voter registration unless the person opts out. The story was from 2015, but there were recent comments suggesting that this method should be in the US Constitution.

Of course, changing the Constitution is difficult. Still, many of the amendments after the first ten, the Bill of Rights, are about voting. #15 allowed blacks to vote, at least theoretically. #19 provided women’s suffrage. #24 prohibited a poll tax. #26 permitted 18-year-olds to vote. And there are others.

A guy named Frank S. Robinson is no relation to the baseball Hall of Famer, as far as I know. He says he was “a devoted conservative Republican for 53 years,” but feels “today’s Republican party must be exterminated (electorally).” He explains this all in about 1000 words on Facebook. I’m going to quote just a part of the stuff related to elections.

“Republicans have… become masters of vote suppression, imposing ID requirements, reducing early voting, closing polling stations, and purging voter rolls, all cunningly targeted against non-white, elderly, and poorer voters likely to back Democrats. Stopping them from voting.

“For example, North Dakota has passed a law requiring a street address for voting. Indian reservations — guess what? — don’t have street addresses. This will probably mean defeat for Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp.

“Meantime, such vile voter disenfranchisement tactics may well have made the difference in three key states Trump narrowly won in 2016, giving him the presidency. (And they have the chutzpah to talk about ‘election fraud.’)

“Democratic governors can veto Republican gerrymandering and vote suppression schemes. One noteworthy governor’s race is Georgia’s where Stacey Abrams, a black woman with a tremendous background of accomplishment, faces a cringeworthy Trump sycophant flaunting his almost sexual love for guns.

“He’s also the Georgia secretary of state overseeing the election (refusing to recuse himself) and trying to keep as many blacks from voting as possible. He’s canceled more than a million voter registrations, including 50,000 new ones — mostly by blacks. To steal the election.

“‘Disenfranchisement’ was an overused buzzword some years back. But now it’s a huge reality, with the Supreme Court having eviscerated the 1965 Voting Rights Act; it even upheld North Dakota’s atrocity.”

I’ve complained about most of these tactics in the past, but it’s nice to read them all in one place. If you’re in the US and CAN vote, do it!

For ABC Wednesday