Sonny and Gertie: what might have been

My mother’s remaining cousin on her mother’s side, Fran, always refers to my mother as Gertie. Mom was named after HER mother, which I find endlessly fascinating.

Mom didn’t become Trudy until some point after marrying my father, Les. She pretty much hated Gertie, though long-time relatives were forgiven when they slipped into the old nickname.

Well, that guy with my mother in this undated photo, though clearly from the 1940s, isn’t Les. His name is Sonny. I don’t know a thing about him, including what his last name is. I don’t even know if Sonny is his given name or HIS nickname.

There were, in the day, a lot of nicknames for boys who formally bore their father’s names. Rather than being a diminutive of the name – Richard and Richie or William and Billy – they were sometimes dubbed Chip (as in a “chip off the old block“) or Bud (the next generation) or the initial of the father followed by J – Arthur Jr would be AJ.

Sonny, though, I always thought of as a generic nickname for any lad: “Hey, sonny, could I buy a newspaper from you?” But there are some Sonnys out there.

Gertie’s boyfriend Sonny, my mom told her kids many more times than once, would have been our father if Les Green weren’t so darn charming. This usually happened when she was irritated with our father, though she never said this in his presence.

This statement, even then, I thought was a really odd construction. If we had been Sonny’s kids, we wouldn’t have been…us. We’d have different DNA. We’d look different and sound different, and if we had been raised by Sonny, think differently.

I guess the fact that Les Green was “never a bore” is to the benefit of my sisters and me. No offense to you, Sonny, though. You look like a decent guy, even with that peculiar name.

Oh, today would have been my mom’s 90th birthday. Happy birthday, Gertie Trudy.

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E-cigarettes: a solution to smoking?

Because smoking still kills hundreds of thousands of people a year, back in July 2017, the Food and Drug Administration was considering a new rule that would require tobacco companies to lower nicotine levels in cigarettes.

Essentially the plan is to get people to quit by trying to make cigarettes less addictive. Tobacco stocks tumbled over the news. “But the FDA says the change will help the market innovate, and push people to turn to alternatives like e-cigarettes.”

There is evidence in England that as the popularity of e-cigarettes rises, more smokers are able to quit.

In the US, though, prelimary research shows that the fall in sales of traditional cigarettes, which had been dropping for decades, “slowed in 2015, while sales of e-cigarettes — which also pose health hazards — are skyrocketing.”

The National Institutes of Health notes: “E-cigarettes are popular among teens and are now the most commonly used form of tobacco among youth in the United States. Their easy availability, alluring advertisements, various e-liquid flavors, and the belief that they’re safer than cigarettes have helped make them appealing to this age group. Further, a study of high school students found that one in four teens reported using e-cigarettes for dripping, a practice in which people produce and inhale vapors by placing e-liquid drops directly onto heated atomizer coils…

“In addition to the unknown health effects, early evidence suggests that e-cigarette use may serve as an introductory product for preteens and teens who then go on to use other tobacco products, including cigarettes… A study showed that students who had used e-cigarettes by the time they started 9th grade were more likely than others to start smoking cigarettes and other smokable tobacco products within the next year. However, more research is needed…”

E-cigarettes can also be dangerous to very small children who may access the product.

The e-cigarette craze may not be the panacea some had hoped for. For the Great American Smokeout, smokers might consider resources suggested by the American Cancer Society.

There is good news, and I tend to miss it

Ashley Bennett

It is very easy for me to focus on all the bad news going on. But there are stories recently that really pleased me, and I should note that fact occasionally:

ITEM: A whole bunch of diverse people were elected in November, often with a dollop of irony.

Voters in Helena, Montana, elected Wilmot Collins, a former refugee from Liberia, as their mayor, in a state where the issue of refugees have sparked political tension.

Ashley Bennett defeated John Carman for the Atlantic County, NJ freeholder seat. “Carman posted a meme on the day of the Women’s March [on January 21, 2017 with]… the message, ‘Will the women’s protest be over in time for them to cook dinner?'” This inspired Bennett to run against him. She had been targeted on a white supremacist blog for saying the Confederate flag has no place in New Jersey.

Danica Roem will be the first openly transgender woman to win a seat for the House of Delegates in Virginia, beating Bob Marshall, the state’s self-proclaimed “chief homophobe.”

And there were other groundbreaking elections.

ITEM: “The Walt Disney Company lifted its ban of Los Angeles Times critics from its press screenings after a widespread backlash prompted several media outlets to announce their own boycotts of Disney movies,” The Associated Press reported.

Disney was ticked by the Times’ September reporting on its relationship with the local municipalities, stating that the company received unwarranted assist from local governments on taxes, subsidies, and rent. Disney said the series was “biased and inaccurate…, wholly driven by a political agenda.”

“Disney’s punitive measures against the Times led to many outlets refusing advance coverage of the studio’s films, including The New York Times (which called Disney’s ban a ‘dangerous precedent and not at all in the public interest’), the Boston Globe and The A.V. Club.

Multiple critics groups announced they would bar Disney films from awards consideration, “hammering the company for choosing to punish journalists ‘rather than express its disagreement with a business story via ongoing public discussion. Disney’s response should gravely concern all who believe in the importance of a free press, artists included.'”

ITEM: In October, state trooper Ryan Sceviour arrested Alli Bibaud for driving under the influence. “Bibaud is the daughter of Dudley District Court Judge Timothy Bibaud.”

Sceviour’s initial arrest report said Bibaud told officers she got the drugs in exchange for sex. The report also said Bibaud claimed her father was a judge and offered Sceviour sex in exchange for leniency.

Trooper Sceviour filed a lawsuit alleging that after he arrested Bibaud near Worcester, “he was told to revise the arrest report to remove the references to sex and Bibaud’s father so as not to embarrass the judge.”

Colonel Richard McKeon, the superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police, who reportedly ordered the trooper to remove the embarrassing information, retired Friday.

S is for Statues of Robert E. Lee

The conversation about Confederate statues in the United States is highly charged, as recent events in Charlottesville, VA have shown.

I absolutely agree with The Hill:
“Please don’t direct the discussion towards the ownership of slaves. Then we just get into the argument that people like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. That’s not the point! Washington and Jefferson are well known in history from the beginnings of our country. [General] Robert E. Lee was a traitor to his country. These monuments were constructed well before African-Americans were permitted to vote, and they are only a reminder that racism still exists.”

But, as The Week notes in How America forgot the true history of the Civil War: “Ex-Confederates and associated sympathizers began to think up alternative histories that sounded better [than slavery], starting right after the war ended. The major plank of this was the ‘Lost Cause,’ which argued that the war was not actually about slavery — instead, it was about ‘states’ rights.’

“The antebellum South was cast as a sepia-toned paradise of noble gentlemen, virtuous ladies, and happy slaves.” John Oliver reveals The Ugly Reality Behind The ‘Lost Cause’ Cult.

In other words, the Confederate memorials were an attempt to erase history, as this southern white male and this one note.

Most of those statues were erected during the Jim Crow era before and after World War I, after the re-imposition of white supremacy. As Smithsonian magazine makes clear, We Legitimize the ‘So-Called’ Confederacy With Our Vocabulary, and That’s a Problem. “Tearing down monuments is only the beginning to understanding the false narrative of Jim Crow.

More than 4,000 black people were lynched in the South — where are their monuments?

To understand how toxic the period was, read Before its subversion in the Jim Crow era, the fruit symbolized black self-sufficiency. So, what changed? And Lynching and Antilynching: Art and Politics in the 1930s.

Robert E. Lee was NOT “invariably kind and humane” to the people he enslaved, despite scuttlebutt of his benevolence. Here’s W.E.B. DuBois on Robert E. Lee. My fellow TU blogger Rob Hoffman noted:”The last thing we need in our divided nation is to excuse the behavior of a man, even one as talented as Robert E. Lee, for betraying his country at a time when it really needed him most.”

Moreover, Lee himself said: “I think it wiser …not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”

I’d like to see some of those statues in museums, where context can be explained. Listen to the semi-comedic The Ballad Of General Robert E. Lee’s Statue.

Movie review: Victoria and Abdul

In my busyness, I neglected to write a review of the movie Victoria and Abdul, which my wife and I saw at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany in October 2017. It’s a mostly true story of a couple guys from India sent to England to present Her Royal Highness, Empress of India, Queen Victoria with a coin for her golden jubilee.

Victoria (Judy Dench) is, by her own description, old and fat and very much a curmudgeon, bored with the pomp of the affairs of state. It’s worse because her beloved husband Albert died, and her good friend John Brown is gone as well. (I saw the movie Mrs Brown, also starring Dame Judi, back in February 1998; V&A is is a sequel of sorts.)

As Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) and Adeel Akhtar (Mohammed) make their brief presentation, the former violates protocol by actually making eye contact with the queen. The handsome Abdul finds favor with the monarch and they develop a most unexpected friendship.

Her household and inner circle, notably Sir Henry Ponsonby (Tim Pigott-Smith) and her increasingly impatient heir apparent Bertie, Prince of Wales (Eddie Izzard) are NOT pleased with the queen’s fascination with the Indian interloper.

Victoria and Abdul, in a mostly humorously cheeky way, shows that someone can indeed show an old queen new tricks. It addresses Britain’s colonial past, making it clear that Victoria could actually learn from even her far-away subjects. And while her Mr. Brown was not well-regarded by those around the queen, the elevation of this brown-skinned man made them apoplectic.

I will admit that I liked Victoria and Abdul it more than some of the critics (only 66% positive on Rotten Tomatoes). One complained that “the film’s attempt to portray the Queen as more politically enlightened than her courtiers is kindly but unconvincing.” Well, my wife and I were convinced.

The leads plus Eddie Izzard were especially good. I may have now seen Judi Dench in more movies than any other actor, save perhaps Meryl Streep, and she always makes the trip to the cinema worthwhile.

The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick

There are over 6.6 million living veterans in the United States from the Vietnam war era. That constitutes about 36% of all US vets, according to the 2016 American Community Survey, the largest contingent in the country.

And of course, it was the war I grew up with. So I just HAD to watch the series The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, all 10 segments, all 18 hours of it, though it took almost a month. It did not lend itself to binge-watching.

I knew quite a bit about the war from my time protesting it. Names, dates. 1954: the French fall at Dien Bien Phu. But I never felt how brutal the battle was. How the the United States, first little by little, then in a big way after the Tonkin Gulf resolution, expanded the war, were facts I knew.

But of course I had not been privy to the thoughts of the American Presidents and their administrations as they struggled with their decisions as events on the ground did not go as planned.

The real value of the documentary, though, was the story telling: the soldiers that were there taking this hill or that, only to abandon it a few days later. The sister of one soldier killed in Vietnam who became an antiwar activist.

And while the segments prior to my political awareness were interesting, seeing the parts I lived through had the greater impact. It managed to reflect all sides of the war: Vietcong soldier to disillusioned American vet.

The evolution of the antiwar movement was of particular interest to me. The killings of four students at Kent State in 1970, for instance, which I was well aware of, nevertheless became deeply personal.

One of the odd takeaways I got was that Hillary Clinton was Lyndon Johnson were the policy wonks who arguably the most qualified in 2016/1960, but that the more TV/media-savvy candidate got the nomination (John Kennedy) or won the election, even though Trump had claimed his sex life was his personal Vietnam.

I saw the criticism of the Burns/Novick work, that “Vietnam was not a ‘tragic misunderstanding’ but a campaign of ‘imperial aggression.'” Surely it was the latter, but I leave room for the possibility that it was the former as well.

Songs of war and the protest of same

When I watched The Vietnam War, the PBS series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, in October 2017, I was naturally drawn to the music. Here is the list of the 120+ songs that were included in the 18-hour program, which you can listen to at Spotify, or find on YouTube.

Some were very familiar, others not, but I was fascinated that there were at least five Beatles songs – Tomorrow Never Knows, Revolution 1, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Blackbird, and Let It Be, which can be expensive to license. (I swear I also heard Piggies, but maybe I was just hallucinating.)

Coincidentally or not, Robert S. Hoffman posted Protest music: Music you can resist to, which include three of the songs on the Burns/Novick roster: Eve of Destruction by Barry McGuire, For What it’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield, and Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, the powerful outro for episode eight.

As Dustbury pointed out: “For about as long as there have been protests, there have been protests of protests. This 1966 wonder, on the real-life Are You Kidding Me? label, lays out its agenda before the very first verse… The Beach Bums were Doug Brown and the Omens, plus a different frontman than usual: Bob Seger, who probably wrote this under the ‘D. Dodger’ pseudonym.”

But The Ballad of the Yellow Berets was WAY too close of a ripoff of the tune that was #1 for five weeks on the Billboard pop charts in 1966, longer than any song that year.

The Ballad of the Green Berets [listen] was co-written and performed by Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler, From the Billboard Book of Number One Hits by Fred Bronson: “He was sent to Vietnam, where his fellow soldiers showed little interest in his songs…

“His Vietnam duty was cut short when he fell into a booby trap while on patrol….Lapsing in and out of consciousness, he treated the [leg] wound himself.”

Robin Moore, author of the book The Green Berets, got hold of Sadler’s 12-verse song about the army combat unit and edited it down. Initially released to the military, it was so popular, Moore took the track to RCA, which “agreed to finance a full recording session, complete with orchestra.”

Thank you for your service?

“Thank you for your service,” says golf pro Michael Allen to Major William McGarry, Bioenvironmental Equipment Engineer, 944th Aeromedical Staging Squadron during the last day of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship at Desert Mountain Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., Saturday. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Meredith Mingledorff)

The family was listening, again, to the original cast album for the Broadway sensation Hamilton, when this dialogue from the song Helpless came on:
[ELIZA]
Thank you for all your service
[HAMILTON]
If it takes fighting a war for us to meet, it will have been worth it

And I laughed. The Wife wondered why, and I said that “Thank you for your service” is such a 21st century trope, used there as a deliberate anachronism. And by trope, I mean “a common or overused theme or device.”

This got me to wondering how vets feel about it. In Why Saying “Thank You for Your Service” Offends Some Veterans, James Kelly wrote: “As active-duty USMC, I have to admit that when people thank me for my service, I feel awkward and a little uncomfortable. But why? Where do veterans’ uneasiness come from?

“The first issue is that literally everyone says it. In fact, it is said so much that it has become, to many vets, an empty platitude, something you just say because it is politically correct.

“Some veterans believe that saying ‘thank you for your service’ is almost a way for civilians to massage away some of the guilt at not participating themselves.”

Rich (only name given), suggests “Thank You for Your Service” Can Actually Do More Harm Than Good.

“In her book Afterwar: Healing the Moral Wounds of Our Soldiers (2015), Dr. Nancy Sherman discusses this conflicted relationship veterans have with the phrase and the people who casually offer it. As University Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University and the Inaugural Distinguished Chair of Ethics at the United States Naval Academy, she is a philosopher who lectures worldwide on moral injury and military ethics.

“Dr. Sherman relates this to a greater problem that she describes as the ‘gaping disconnect between those who wear the uniform and those who don’t.’ She describes thank you for your service as a ‘token of gratitude or something that is meant to break the ice, although it often doesn’t accomplish that goal.’ Instead, it can at times come across as ‘glib,’ or just a ‘one-stop remark [a person] can dispense with’ to avoid any meaningful communication.”

See also Please Don’t Thank Me for My Service.

So what should you do instead?

The first article notes:

“When I asked veterans how civilians should thank them for their service, one answer proved to be the most common: ‘VOTE!’ Volunteer in your community, try and make a difference, and vote for what you believe is right. Honor the actions of veterans by ensuring that your voice is heard at the ballot box. Educate yourself on veterans’ issues. There are a number of fantastic organizations that help veterans with real issues but the most impactful is to use your right to make your voice heard.”

The second:

“If you want to thank a veteran, be considerate, be genuine, and be willing to listen or have a conversation. Dr. Sherman suggests simple alternatives that may actually contribute to repairing the military-civilian gap. If the service member appears to be willing and able to talk with you, you should invite a respectful conversation.

“‘I am grateful for your service. Where were you deployed? What was it like?’

“You might also ask: How is your transition back home so far? What is/was your job in the military? How is your family doing with your service? What do you want to do now that you’re back?”

I must say that I would personally be very uncomfortable with doing this latter thing, for reasons stated in the article. “It’s also true that many [vets] do have physical and emotional scars or moral wounds as a result of their service and are dealing (or not) with lingering feelings of guilt, shame, or helplessness, among others.”

So I’ll probably do what I’ve been doing all along, which is giving the knowing head nod, hoping that’s it’s adequate, at least for the moment.

The waiting is the hardest part

Ken Levine wrote a blogpost recently indicating that one of his quirks is that he hates to keep people waiting. A fair amount of this is true for me as well, but not all of it.

“I am almost always on time.” Well, that’s not true of me, and even less so since I’ve been a father. But it does still aggravate me.

“I’d much rather be early than late.” That’s accurate. And especially at the movies, where my night blindness is acute. It was a decade or more ago when I got to a movie after the previews started and I attempted to sit where there was no seat; it was a carveout for a wheelchair. And. believe me, the lateness was NOT my idea.

“The fact that I’M keeping them waiting drives me crazy.” Very true.

“I’m one of those crazy people that will text saying I’m running two minutes behind.” No, I don’t text.

“When I get on a plane I can’t throw my bag in the overhead compartment and take my seat fast enough. Knowing I’m holding up thirty people while I adjust my carry-on makes my heart palpitate.” Not heart palpitating, but I’m keenly aware of this. The last time I was on a bus, I threw my stuff in the bin, then after the bus started rolling, I got out the stuff I wanted.

“When I’m at a checkout stand, I don’t take five minutes to count my change, rearrange the credit cards in my wallet, etc.” That’s me for certain.

“If I’m at a fast-food place I don’t wait until I get to the counter to look at the menu and decide what I want.” This is one of the few things that annoys me about other people. I mean, when they’re in line for four minutes on their device and they’re suddenly surprised that they’re in the front of the line and have to make a decision.

“And when there’s a long line at the bank I don’t ask the teller to show me the new designs they have available for checks.” I so seldom actually use a teller, this is not applicable. In the bank branch in my work building, there’s almost never a line.

“When the light is green I GO.” Here’s something my wife notices I do on the bicycle: I usually stop at the rear of the two lines at the intersection. When the other light turns yellow, I start rolling forward slowly, but not into the crosswalk, because some last-minute car might be plowing through. But I’m trying to keep the car facing me from making a left in front of me without actually getting myself killed.

“When I’m in TSA lines I take my computer out before I get to the conveyor belt. And I have my ID and boarding pass ready.” Absolutely. And in general, I’m really early for any form of mass transportation. I’ve had TERRIBLE experiences when others have dropped me off later than I asked, ESPECIALLY at the airport.

“I don’t know whether it’s common courtesy or an unhealthy obsession. But I do know this: I wish more people had it.” I tend to agree.

November rambling #1: until we get power again

Amy Biancolli: Slave castles, and the weight of history

The lost children of Tuam: Ireland wanted to forget

After I Adopted Two Black Babies, I Realized My Church Was Full Of Racists

Chaz Ebert: My daughter loves country music

I Want ‘Allahu Akbar’ Back

The Billie Jean Republicans

A LOT of smoke

‘I want the government…to bring kindness back’ – Alas, not here. Jacinda Ardern sworn in as Prime Minister of New Zealand

When he was a kid, he said, they didn’t use the word autism, they just said ‘shy’

Floods: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Saudi Arabia issues first non-human citizenship to humanoid AI robot Sophia and Are We Ready for Intimacy With Androids?

Why This Cardiologist Is Betting That His Lab-Grown Meat Startup Can Solve the Global Food Crisis

The ‘good guy with a gun’ theory didn’t work out well in Colorado

Philip Schuyler’s Last Project: Before the Erie Canal

Effective November 30, 2017, AOL will no longer offer the ability to add new usernames or restore deleted usernames to an account

How Betsy DeVos Became The Most Hated Cabinet Secretary

Why you hate contemporary architecture

The Hotel at the Center of the World – I’ve been there

Judi England: Life is change (redux)

Born this month (1954)


Goodbye Katie Lee

Robert Guillaume RIP; Benson theme; SOAP- Stop in the Name of Love

Farewell, 747

David Letterman reflects on Harvey Pekar

Creating Saturday Night Live

Back To The Twilight Zone and Rod Serling’s Binghamton

Frank Oz news

Woody Woodpecker cartoon called The Bird Who Came to Dinner redux

Now I Know: How a Minnesota Town Body Slammed Its Neighbor and Stolen Smile and The Problem with Seven Eights and When Ice Was a Hot Gift

how Pringles Potato Crisps are made and how do they make crayons?

MUSIC

(Earth is) Not OK – Ingrid Michaelson -October 25, 2017 Full Frontal on TBS (language)

The Story Behind Devo’s Iconic Cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction”

Good For Me – Aimee Mann from season 3 of Supergirl

K-Chuck Radio: Edison Diamond Discs and Until we get power again…

Coverville 1192: The Cover Me Interview

Lorena -John Hartford, written in 1856

It’s Not Your Nationality (It’s Simply You) -Billy Murray (1916)

The Oz medley

All Through The Night – the Mystics, with Jerry Landis aka Paul Simon

Rumble – Link Wray

Immigrant Song – Led Zeppelin

Neuroscientists Discover A Song That Reduces Anxiety By 65 Percent (Listen)

NOLA The Cat Performs John Cage’s 4’33”

Ringo Starr Talks New Album, Reuniting With Paul McCartney

The Unlikely Return of Cat Stevens

Sex, spies, and classical music: The BSO scandal