Olivia Newton-John turns 70 (September 26)

There was an August 2018 article with Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta dancing together, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the movie Grease. The stars have been great friends in the intervening four decades.

It’s weird that, for some reason, I never saw Grease in the movie theater, and it was a massive success. In fact, I’m not sure to this day that I’ve ever seen it in its entirety, though my daughter has watched the film on video

And it wasn’t just the movie that might have drawn me in, it was the music, with three Top 5 singles by Travolta and Newton-John in 1978. I have seen a high school production of the musical i the past couple years.

I’d forgotten that she was born in Cambridge, England. I did recall she was raised in Melbourne, Australia. She was a country artist early on, had some massive “middle of the road” hits before Grease.

But in 1980/1981, she transformed her career. Just as Sandy in Grease changed from goody-goody to being clad in spandex, Newton-John was inspired to do the same metaphorically. As a result, she had her largest hits in the US, Magic, and Physical.

I believe that, for the time, it was constitutionally illegal not to play Physical on the hour, unless you were on one of the two Utah radio stations that banned the single from their playlists. It was ranked by Billboard as the biggest song of the decade.

Her breast cancer had been in remission from 1992 until its metastasis was discovered in 2017. She’s become an advocate for better eating, animal rights, and the environment.

Yes, I have my one Olivia Newton-John greatest hits album, which I play every September. She shares a birthday with my late father.

Listen to:

If Not for You, #25 pop in 1971

Honestly Love You, #1 pop for two weeks, #6 country in 1974

Have You Never Been Mellow, #1 pop, #3 country in 1975

You’re The One That I Want, with John Travolta, #1 pop in 1978
Summer Nights, with Travolta and cast of Grease, #5 pop in 1978

Magic, #1 pop for four weeks in 1980

Physical, #1 pop for ten weeks, #28 R&B in 1981

Movie review: The Bookshop

My wife and I are probably the perfect demographic, a teacher and a librarian, for a movie such as The Bookshop. And note the protagonist’s surname. The story takes place in 1959 England, where a determined widow Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) decides to open a bookstore in a coastal town.

She does this with little help, save for a schoolgirl named Christine (Honor Kneafsey), and in spite of the keen opposition of Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson), wife of a general (Reg Wilson). But she has a fan in Edmund Brundish, a reclusive book-loving widower (Bill Nighy), to whom she introduces the works of Ray Bradbury and Vladimir Nabokov.

There is also a slick, morally unmoored character Mr. Keble (Hunter Tremayne), who slithers in and out of scenes.

The Bookshop is based on Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel and directed by Isabel Coixet (Learning to Drive). I think my wife enjoyed the film as “an elegant yet incisive rendering of personal resolve, tested in the battle for the soul of a community.”

Alas, I found it rather bland and often lugubrious. Some critics believe it hewed too closely to the source material, which we had not read.

Moreover, the business librarian in me couldn’t understand why Florence was so determined to have a bookstore at all. “Is there a place for a bookshop in a town that may not want one?” Know your market, any business adviser would recommend. Nor could I really discern why Violet was so gung-ho for a community center in the venue instead.

That said, the film was a moderately interesting study of power dynamics, and how the system can be manipulated. And speaking of power, I always loved it when Nighy’s Edmund was on screen; he had a presence.

I can’t really recommend The Bookshop, but my wife would. As usual, we saw it at the Spectrum 8 in Albany.

Erastus Corning, Polly Noonan: Gillibrand connection

These are a couple things that are Albany connected, the latter, very tangentially.

The new play “The True”, written by Sharr White, “examines — and hypothesizes about — the affections shared” between long-time Albany, NY mayor Erastus Corning 2nd (d. 1983) and his confidant Dorothea (Polly) Noonan (d. 2003).

There was an article in the local paper, the Times Union, with some relatives and/or friends of the pair complaining that no one had approached them about whether all the facts were correct. As with most movies about famous people and events, I’ve never felt it necessary for the story to be I-dotted, T-crossed factual.

BTW, I didn’t move to Albany in 1979, and Corning who was first elected in 1941, was STILL mayor. The Democratic machine, which still exists in a modified form to this day. Trivia fact: the tallest building between Montreal and New York City is the Corning Tower, the 43-story building on the Empire State Plaza.

“Edie Falco and Michael McKean star in The New Group production of “the True”, which opens September. 20 at the Pershing Square Signature Center in New York City. Falco, for one, didn’t know there really WAS a Polly Noonan.

Noonan’s granddaughter — Kirsten E. Gillibrand, “once a little-known congresswoman from the Capital District — was selected to fill the United States Senate seat held by Hillary Clinton, who had been named Secretary of State.”
***
I watched a LOT of Burt Reynolds. I remember him first as the “half-breed” Quint on about four dozen episodes of the TV series Gunsmoke Gunsmoke (1962-1965), the detective show Dan August (1970-1972), then a whole bunch of movies when he was box-office champ, usually prompted by Susan, my first significant girlfriend after I first moved to the area in 1978.

We saw Smokey and the Bandit I and II, Rough Cut, Starting Over, Hooper, and the underrated The End. Later, I watched the series Evening Shade (1990-1994) and the movie Boogie Nights (1997), plus a variety of guest appearances. Sally Field, who was in at least four of those films, said that Burt “never leaves my mind.”

Here’s Jerry Reed performing “Eastbound and Down”, from Smokey and the Bandit.

Talk Like a Pirate Day triptych

For this year’s Talk Like a Pirate Day, I thought I’d look at the word three different ways.

The first one is about “The Desert and the Sea” author Michael Scott Moore talking to The Daily Show Host Trevor Noah about being “a captive of Somali pirates for nearly three years, as he describes the dangerous cycle of hope and despair.” I think some of you folks outside of the United States might not be able to see the official video, but I hope you can access this YouTube piece, because it is a compelling story.

Also check out these NPR reports, What It’s Like To Be Held Hostage By Somali Pirates For 2 1/2 Years and the followup, Journalist Held Captive By Pirates Says Focus And Forgiveness Were Crucial.

The second topic I actually purloined from Arthur, who linked to ‘Elitist’: angry book pirates hit back after author campaign sinks website. This website was stealing writers’ works but it rightly got shut down. Some folks then were outraged, saying that it is “elitist” or worse, the very idea that authors expecting to be paid for their writings. What a load of…

The third topic, as is often the case, is about the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team, who are going through another mediocre year. but this story’s a bit older.

From The Greatest Forgotten Home Run of All Time: “What Roberto Clemente accomplished in Pittsburgh on July 25, 1956, stupefied the tobacco-spitting baseball lifers all around him precisely because it transcended baseball, entering the realm of pure theater and then myth.” You don’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate the subtext of this daring play.

I remember his early baseball cards referred to him as Bob Clemente, trying to Anglicize the Puerto Rican player. In 1972, my favorite player other than Willie Mays was 38. He had just hit his 3,000th major league hit, which surely qualified him for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Clemente did charity work in Latin American and Caribbean countries, hands-on stuff, during the off-seasons, often delivering baseball equipment and food to those in need. On the last day of 1972, he died in a plane crash while delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

He was inducted into Cooperstown in 1973, “in a special election that waived the mandatory five-year waiting period.”

K is for musing about the kitchen

When my wife and I bought our current house in 2000, one of the things she was anxious to do was to remodel the kitchen. Space is laid out poorly with the stove, the silverware drawer, and the sink inconveniently close. The dishwasher pulls out into the room that is hazardous if there’s more than one person in there at a time.

Even I think a redesign is in order, with the dated cabinets. But it hasn’t happened. Everything else – a new roof, getting rid of the remnants of an aboveground pool, a new bathroom, among other things – has always trumped the kitchen redo.

I was thinking about the kitchen I grew up in. It was much smaller, yet was laid out better. We had a gas stove; the trick in lighting the burners was using a matchstick. Once I mastered that, I loved that old gas stove.

When I was in college, living off campus, we had an electric stove. What I hated were those burners that remained hot even after you turned them off. I got mildly scorched a couple times. The other thing about that stove is that it wasn’t always clear which burner you were turning on; the labeling is much better now.

Our current stove is gas, but when the electricity goes out, the starter thingy doesn’t work. What?

My wife is a decent cook and a better baker. I was single for a lot of years so I won’t starve if left alone. But I’d rather wash the dishes, which is what I did a lot as a child.

Removing Rust from a Cast-iron Pan (done for the first time recently)

Preheat the oven to 350F, and put some aluminum foil on the bottom shelf. Scrub the pan thoroughly with steel wool. Rinse and dry completely. Apply cooking oil, including on the handles. Place pan with the open side down in the oven on the top shelf; the aluminum is in there to catch the excess oil. Leave in the oven for one hour, then let it cool.

For more kitchen tips, you should probably go to someone else’s blog.

For ABC Wednesday

Earl Warren versus “people are corporations”

Sometime in 1973 or early 1974, I was in a class at the SUNY College of New Paltz. It was my only course, 15 credits, in political science, and, oddly, I don’t remember much about it except that it was conducted by the late Ron Steinberg.

Except for one thing: we all got to meet retired US Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren in his office in Washington, DC. And not a meet-and-greet but him talking with us for at least a half hour, and then the dozen or so of us able to ask him questions.

This is the guy whose court made many monumental decisions between 1953 and 1969 when he retired.
They included:
attempting to end segregation policies in public schools (Brown v. Board of Education)
ending anti-miscegenation laws (Loving v. Virginia)
ruling that the Constitution protects a general right to privacy (Griswold v. Connecticut)
protecting the rights of the accused (Miranda v. Arizona)
providing lawyers to the indigent (Gideon v. Wainwright)
codifying one person, one vote redistricting (Baker v. Carr)
freedom of the press (New York Times Co. v. Sullivan)

The question I had must have been stated ineloquently because he didn’t know what I was getting at. I was probably nervous. Finally, I asked him about the precedent of the Court considering corporation as like people back in the late 19th century. He said that the Court got it wrong back then.

Warren, who died in July 1974, would have appreciated this article, “‘Corporations Are People’ Is Built on an Incredible 19th-Century Lie: How a farcical series of events in the 1880s produced an enduring and controversial legal precedent.” It involved the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, “owned by the robber baron Leland Stanford,” and the corporation’s lawyer, Roscoe Conkling.

Former President Harry S. Truman applauded the newly-retired Earl Warren in this January 1970 California Law Review article. To the point of my question, Truman writes:

“I would suggest that it is at least symptomatic of a conservative in today’s society that he is deeply concerned with the faceless, seemingly randomly and capriciously directed activities of the gigantic institutions which influence the direction of modem life. Under this definition, a conservative is one who worries that the balance of power in this nation has shifted in favor of oversized corporations, government agencies, labor unions, universities, foundations and institutionalized groups which draw together shifting combinations of some or all of these.”

September rambling: but Fear itself

Paraphrased from here: Bob Woodward’s book gets released this week. Donald Trump has nothing to fear but Fear itself

Someone inaccurately describes libel law

In a small Alabama town, an evangelical congregation reckons with God, Trump and the meaning of morality

The Weekly Sift: What should we make of “Anonymous”?

Rudy Giuliani’s theatrical, combative style of politics anticipated—and perfectly aligns with—his boss

The problem with the Left

‘Designing Women’ Creator Goes Public With Les Moonves War: Not All Harassment Is Sexual

Vlogbrothers: The Book Was Better? and the episode in which it turns out that John did not forget about Hank’s birthday

Stephen Colbert – The Rolling Stone Interview

Scientist robbed of Nobel Prize gets $3 million science award

Our local minor-league baseball team! The Tri-Cities ValleyCats lay claim to New York-Penn League’s top dogs

Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man: Mel Brooks in His 90s

You Should Always Put a Quarter on a Frozen Cup of Water Before a Power Outage

The perfect guide to the perfect gift

Comparative religion, squirrel division

Tony Isabella, “black Lightning”, and creator credit

Congrats to Dustbury on 3 million visits to his blog

Now I Know: A Really Bad Way to Become a Senator and The First Digital Camera (That Wasn’t) and Los Angeles’ One Waze Street and Who Kept the Dogs Out

Cut THIS cheese from your diet

The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut – Mark Twain, June 1876

MUSIC

Leonard Bernstein conducting Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring ballet

Elegy by Mark Camphouse, played by the United States Marine Band

Coverville 1231: Led Zeppelin Cover Story V and When the Levee Breaks – Zepparella

Coverville 1233: Cover Stories for Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse

Suppe overture. Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna

Train to Nowhere – The Champs (plus its B-side)

Weekend Diversion: Imagine Dragons

Ascending Bird – Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble

K-Chuck Radio: More Forgotten 1960’s Classics

The Sound of Silence – Harp Twins

Maria Bartiromo – Joey Ramone

Vibes – Vivian Green no relation)

Mood Indigo – Ella Fitzgerald

Old Movie Stars Dance to Uptown Funk

Baroque Poultry in D major

Paul McCartney Breaks Down His Most Iconic Songs

The Top 20 Tom Petty songs

The many voices of late Thurl Ravenscroft

Music throwback: Soul Girl; Son of Shaft

Listening to my Stax/Volt box sets – plural, nine CDs each – I came across two extraordinary hit singles AND their answer songs, a track “made in answer to a previous song, normally by another artist.”

Soul Man, by Sam (Moore) and Dave (Prater) from 1967 has been on lots of “best of” lists, including the RIAA, Rolling Stone and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was heavily covered, most notably by the Blues Brothers in 1979.

Then there was Soul Girl by Jeanne and the Darlings from 1968, featuring sisters Jean and Deloros “Dee” Dolphus plus Phefe Harris and sometimes another unidentified singer. While Soul Man starts “Coming to you on a dusty road”, the answer song begins, “Come on to me, on a concrete street.” He was educated at Woodstock, she on “my green tree (that’s money).”

Perhaps the songwriters could make a case for copyright infringement. But not really, since both records were written and produced by Isaac Hayes and David Porter.

Speaking of Hayes, that bad mother produced the Theme from Shaft in 1971. The song received similar accolades as Soul Man, plus one other. It “won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, with Hayes becoming the first African American to win that honor (or any Academy Award in a non-acting category), as well as the first recipient of the award to both write and perform the winning song.”

The answer song to that hit was Son of Shaft by the Bar-Kays, Hayes’ backing band on Shaft. The group had to re-form after four of the six members, along with Otis Redding, died in a plane crash on 10 December 1967. The songwriters Homer Banks, William Brown and Allen Jones were from outside the group. While it borrows from its predecessor, Son of Shaft was heavily sampled in its own right.

All chart references to Billboard magazine (US). Listen to:

Soul Man – Sam and Dave; #2 for three weeks on the pop charts, and #1 for an astonishing seven weeks on the soul charts in 1967

Soul Girl – Jeanne and the Darlings; did not chart in 1968

Theme from Shaft – Isaac Hayes; #1 for two weeks pop, #2 for three weeks soul in 1971; here’s a longer version

Son of Shaft – Bar-Kays, #10 soul, #53 pop in 1972

Ancestry DNA: Scandinavian?

I got the results of my second genealogical DNA recently, this time from Ancestry.

Like the first one, from NatGeo earlier this year, I’m barely half sub-Saharan African. The 23% from the British Isles doesn’t surprise me. The 11% Scandinavian does.

I shared that fact with an ex of mine, who believes she is 100% Scandinavian. Now she’s thinking of doing the DNA test too, hoping, actually, that she’s not.

There are four people in the database who are likely my second or third cousins. One of them actually IS my second cousin, Lisa. There are about a dozen candidates for third or fourth cousins. And a couple hundred fourth to sixth cousins.

One of these is a Walker, which is the given surname of my maternal grandmother. His first name is the same as one of her brothers, who has been long deceased. I have contacted him and a select number of others, hoping for more information.

There’s a way to share the family tree, and I am hoping that the combination of the DNA tests and the various trees of other contributors will lead to greater insight.

Of course, I need to fill in my own family tree more vigorously. I have – somewhere – far more data than is currently presented. Some of it just needs more specificity, such as exact dates of births and deaths.

I also need to go back a couple more generations, particularly on my maternal grandmother’s side, which I have on something called “paper.” Then I need to check old Census records to fill out more of the details. It’s a very interesting process but an amazing time suck.

Several people have wondered what I’ll do when I retire. Travel, probably and write, read, and sort a lot of stuff that’s stored in the attic.

The genealogy project undoubtedly will be a huge piece.

Tracing London Convicts in Britain & Australia, 1780-1925

After attending the ASBDC conference – that’s America’s Small Business Development Centers – my library colleague Judith from Texas sent me the September 7, 2018 issue of The Scout Report (Volume 24, Number 36), part of Internet Scout, apparently.

The lead story in the Research and Education section was The Digital Panopticon: Tracing London Convicts in Britain & Australia, 1780-1925. This is “a fascinating research project exploring the impacts of various punishments on approximately 90,000 people who were sentenced at London’s Old Bailey between 1780 and 1925. This project brings together ‘millions of records from around fifty datasets’ into a searchable database, including trial records, transportation records of convicts who were sent to Australia, and many more.”

Also noted in this issue of The Scout Report:

Annotated Books Online (ABO), “‘a virtual research environment for scholars and students interested in historical reading practices.’ Visitors… will find a [searchable] database of more than one hundred scanned early modern texts dating from the late 1400s to the late 1600s.”

Bedtime Math, which ” offers more than two thousand short math puzzles designed as fun activities for parents to do with their kids at bedtime” to avoid math anxiety.

The Institute for Bird Populations (IBP) “studies the abundance, vital rates, and ecology of bird populations to enable scientifically sound conservation of birds and their habitats.”

Given the current political climate, I was fascinated by Americanization: Then and Now, a digital exhibition examining a 1919 pamphlet… which advocated for a particular viewpoint regarding immigrants to the United States in ways that may be both familiar and surprising. The exhibition begins by first delving into the substance and rhetoric of the pamphlet itself… as well as the historical context surrounding its publication.

But wait, there’s more! How America Uses Its Land. The Show Must Go On! American Theater in the Great Depression. Insta Novels: Bringing Classic Literature to Instagram Stories.

Sign up for the Scout Report. It’s free. and it’s geeky as all get out.