July rambling #1: Even darkness must pass

Sister Leslie is out of the hospital, as of ndependence Day. Still healing at home. More probably on July 23.

Flirting with Fascism

The Coming Collapse and Why It is Extraordinary

We Were Warned: What the Movie Villains Should Have Taught Us

As our democracy is dismantled right before their eyes, Americans remain silent

“America First!” means China wins

During CBS interview, government agents chillingly showed up to intimidate former ICE spokesman

On July 4th Eve, Jeff Sessions Quietly Rescinds a Bunch of Protections for Minorities

If Pixar Made A DACA Movie

The retirement of Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy is as bad as it seems and Anthony Kennedy, You Are a Total Disgrace to America

Larry Kudlow is Never Ever Right

If You Think Basic Income is ‘Free Money’ or Socialism, Think Again

Turks Have Voted Away Their Democracy

Trust Issues, examining the state of trust in 2018

Fatal accidents, off-the-books workers, a union once run by a mobster. The rogue world of one of New York’s major trash haulers

That Property Down In Coeymans: The City of Albany is still trying to get rid of the proposed site of Jerry’s Dump

Tim Berners-Lee has seen his creation debased by everything from fake news to mass surveillance. But he’s got a plan to fix it

Radical Democrats Are Pretty Reasonable

Israeli airline says it will no longer accommodate Orthodox Jewish men who refuse to sit next to women

There’s some good in this world. And it’s worth fighting for

An Interview with Deborah Mends, UK College Diploma Graduate and Owner of Your Visual Mind – I first met my friend in the summer of 1977 in NYC

Atomic Roundtable: Harlan Ellison 1934-2018

Gene Editing: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

How’s the Water?

Agent Zigzag

Geographical oddities

What to Do When an ATM Won’t Give You Any Money

The Counterfeit Queen of Soul

Lin-Manuel Miranda and William Daniels Talk Hamilton, 1776, Mr. Feeny, and More (2016)

Five Muppeteers explain how they operate their characters on Sesame Street

Shat!

Now I Know: When the Jazz Didn’t Stop Playing and How To Fool the World Starting with Two All-Beef Patties and The Macroeconomic Madness Behind Extra Cheesy Pizza

Yes! The Wedding of Winnie & Thomas

MUSIC

I Don’t Know – Paul McCartney
Come On To Me – Paul McCartney

We Are the World video, re-created by a bunch of talented folks from Broadway

Rasta Children – Playing for Change

First Burn (Hamilton)

Smells Like Karen Carpenter – Moneyshot Cosmonauts

Beautiful Life – Rick Astley.

Coverville 1223: Cover Stories for George Michael, Men At Work, and Cyndi Lauper

K-Chuck Radio: Gorillaz in our midst and It’s All About That Bass

Friends don’t let friends clap on the 1 and 3 (Harry Connick Jr)

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Cash is queen in our household

One morning in June, the Daughter needed $50 to go on a field trip to New York City. The earlier she turned it in, the more likely she could go. Oh, and it had to be in cash.

I almost never have such bills on me. Nor did my wife, but she DID have some envelopes with cash for her hairdresser, and for the groceries, that she could borrow from.

She generally pays for the groceries with cash because writing a check is too expensive, and it surely is. I pay with my credit card – where IS my checkbook? – because I like getting my rewards dollars and hate carrying a lot of cash.

When we first started going out, she had several envelopes filled with bills of various denominations, for every expenditure in her life at the time. I found this most unusual.

She also never uses an ATM card, which I still don’t quite get. If I had needed to get money for the Daughter that morning, I would have just walked over to my bank branch, a block and a half away, and just taken out three $20s.

I should note that her cash economy isn’t as rare as most of us would think. According to Pymnts, “an estimated 24 percent of U.S. citizens make all their purchases using cash.” Moreover, “in the U.S., cash usage grew by 4.7 percent per year between 2000 and 2015.”

When she does pay with a credit card, she often goes to the store to pay off the balance, usually in cash. I used to do that at Sears when I shopped there in the 1980s and 1990s, but I forgot that it was still an option.

As Dustbury pointed out, when the electronic systems go kablooey, operating with cash is a great way to go.

This is why we have three checking accounts, hers, mine, and ours, which I almost never use. It insures domestic tranquility.

Did I mention it’s her natal day? Maybe I’ll give her a couple $20s, a $10, and… some miscellaneous other bills.

Music throwback: A Satisfied Mind

When I was listening to Willie Nelson recently, in honor of his 85th birthday, I came across his version of A Satisfied Mind, from his 2010 album Country Music. I knew I owned a much earlier iteration, but I could not remember by whom.

Scanning the Wikipedia list of covers, I wondered if the version of the Joe “Red” Hayes/Jack Rhodes song had been performed by Porter Wagoner or
Cowboy Copas. I didn’t REALLY think it was Wagoner, but I recalled Copas appeared on this album 50 Stars! 50 Hits! “on two great country albums,” the TV ad blared. Copas and the compilation were both on Starday Records.

I owned this 1966 album – well, technically OWN, but it’s difficult to get to – because my grandfather, McKinley Green, brought a copy home a copy. He was given it by the TV/radio station he worked for, WNBF in Binghamton, NY, after the promotional ad period ended.

As it turns out, it was Pete Drake and his talking steel guitar – you MUST check out the video of Forever – who performed A Satisfied Mind. Bring a guy who read liner notes of LPs, I recall that Drake contributed to early solo albums by former Beatles, All Things Must Pass (George) and Beaucoups Of Blues (Ringo).

Listen to A Satisfied Mind:
Porter Wagoner (live, 1967 – his 1955 recording hit #1 country)
Red Foley and Betty Foley (#3 country in 1955)
Jean Shepard (#4 country in 1955)

Pete Drake (1965)
Joan Baez (1965)
Bobby Hebb (#39 pop and #40 R&B in 1966, from the Sunny album)
Glen Campbell (live c 1971, in 4/4!, originally recorded in 1966)

Jeff Buckley (from the 1998 album Sketches for My Sweetheart The Drunk)
Johnny Cash (2004, released posthumously)
Blind Boys Of Alabama with Ben Harper (live at the Apollo Theater, Harlem, New York recorded October 12, 2004)
Willie Nelson (2010)
Robert Plant & The Band Of Joy (Live 2011)

Lyrics:
How many times have you heard someone say
“If I had his money, I could do things my way?”
Little they know that it’s so hard to find
One rich man in ten with a satisfied mind.

In lieu of blogging, mowing the lawn

One of the things I hate about spring is the way that the lawn goes from “It might as well be winter” to tropical rainforest practically overnight. As I’ve no doubt noted, I would not care if it were never cut, but I know my wife would object.

My father-in-law gave us an electrical lawnmower a couple years ago. I resisted it the first season for ecological reasons. I had a reel mower, which is a REAL mower, but I have succumbed, mostly because the grass had suddenly gotten is too long for the reel mower.

The electric mower, moreover, has adjustable heights from one to five. Centimeters above the ground, I guess? The first weekend, I set it at 5, for it would have surely clogged the machine at a lower setting. (Did I ever mention that I wrecked a new gas mower in its second use? And returned it for a full refund.)

The second time, I set it at 4 and was only about 10% done when the Daughter decided that SHE wanted to operate the mower. Far be it for me to reject the assistance. I dealt with branches that had fallen over the winter that needed tending. Unfortunately, the mower batteries died with maybe 5% of the job.

She made it clear that she’s only mowing the lawn because she WANTS to do so. If I were to make it a regular chore, she’d fight it. Now, she didn’t do it EXACTLY as I would have done, but I’m not complaining.

Not incidentally, she is quite strong. I flipped over the picnic table that we had built a few years back, to mow the part of the lawn that had been underneath. But I was having trouble making it upright when I was done because the table was too close to the fence and I couldn’t get leverage. But the teenager didn’t need help to flip it back.

I’d rather be blogging. As someone probably didn’t say, mowing the lawn is to spoil an otherwise enjoyable walk.

“IRS did an audit”: 240-970-7264

Twice on the same day this month, I got messages on the answering machine from 240-970-7264. The details were ominous, but the technology was laughable.

A mechanical voice describes a “criminal investigation from I.R.S… There is a fraud which you are hiding from federal government.” Note the lack of the article “the”, suggesting the person recording is NOT a native American English speaker.

I Googled the number and came across Report the Call attached to that number. One person before me, and at least one subsequently, experienced similar annoyance.

One of them noted, “The robot stated that the IRS had ‘fraud’ investigation underway and I should phone the number immediately.” That’s correct in my case as well. Area code 240 is in Maryland, in suburban DC, BTW.

It seems incredible that anyone would fall for such an obvious hoax, but the IRS indicates that this type of fraud is ongoing, some of it far more threatening than these robocalls.

“Note that the IRS does not:
“Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes.
“Demand that you pay taxes without the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe. You should also be advised of your rights as a taxpayer.
“Threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law-enforcement to have you arrested for not paying. The IRS also cannot revoke your driver’s license, business licenses, or immigration status. Threats like these are common tactics scam artists use to trick victims into buying into their schemes.”

I know some people have been known to call back the number to waste their time, but I’m not returning a call to 240-970-7264 and wasting mine. Now, if YOU want to call, knock yourselves out!

A little kindness contextualized

Did you ever have a simple act of kindness give you a lesson?

I’m on a Capital District Transportation Authority local transit bus one evening, going part of the way home up the hill before riding my bike the rest of the way. I had used my Navigator card, which is actually half fare because I’m… older.

A young woman got on the bus, but her Navigator card had insufficient funds. (The voice on the machine sounds REALLY loud to me, possibly, I posit, for maximum embarrassment.)

I had, until that day, another, full-price, card which I kept in case my wife and/or daughter are riding on the bus with me. Unfortunately the Daughter misplaced her school ID during the last week of school, which she also used to pay the CDTA fare; talk about your short-timer’s syndrome.

Ruffling through my wallet, I found a THIRD card. Where did THAT come from? Maybe I got it for free at the 2017 Tulip Festival, when they were first promoting the service. I offered the card to the young woman, with a caveat that I didn’t know if it worked at all.

It did. Hey, I’ve been there, when I’m a little short on cash. A couple blocks later, she came up to me and offered me about 45 cents, as she noted, “This is what I found in my purse.”

Once upon a time, I might have waved off her offer. This time I took it, not because I needed the change, but because I wanted to honor her feelings. She wanted to do that small thing, and it would have been ungracious to reject it.

I think we do that a lot, keep people from maintaining their sense of dignity when they’re on the receiving end of a little kindness, a modicum of charity, under the thought, “They need it more than I.” But when they want to pay it back, or pay it forward, it’s important to let them.

Trust me on this; I’ve been there.

A is for Albany High School

Hairspray Director Gregory Theodore Marsh, Annabelle Duffy , Theatre Ensemble Director Ward Dales

Back on Saturday, May 19, the family went to Proctors Theatre in Schenectady to attend the 2nd Annual High School Musical Theatre Awards for New York’s Capital Region in partnership with The Broadway League.

Albany High School was up for six awards in an event fashioned after Broadway’s Tony Awards®. The evening celebrated “the achievements of the region’s theatre students from 23 area high schools, highlighting the importance of arts and theatre education.”

The AHS March production of “Hairspray” won for best musical, best technical execution and best choreography execution. Moreover, “Albany High junior Annabelle Duffy won best actress for her portrayal of feisty Tracy Turnblad.”

She received an all expenses paid trip to New York City to receive training from working Broadway professionals. Annabelle and a young man from the area participated in the Jimmy Awards, the national stage in which high school performers across the nation acted and sang, on June 25.

At Proctors, our family applauded wildly for AHS and also my young niece’s high school; one of the supporting characters in their The Music Man was nominated, which somehow meant that the niece got to perform in the energetic opening and closing numbers.

Truth is that some of the Albany rooting was a bit of chip on our shoulders. On the standardized tests, the urban schools don’t fare nearly as well as the ones in the suburban districts. But as someone wrote on a Facebook listserv:

“What I do know is my children will have experiences like many others won’t. They are exposed to the world thanks to classmates, teachers, and courses not available in many locations… Remember money talks and those districts with most living in poverty are underfunded and inundated with unfunded state mandates.”

Not incidentally:

Grammy-nominated jazz artist Stefon Harris (Albany High School ’91) was named a recipient of a 2018 Doris Duke Artist Award – “one of the most prestigious arts grants in the country – for his continuing contribution to jazz.

“Harris is one of seven performing artists that will receive $250,000 in flexible funding, along with up to an additional $25,000 to encourage contribution to his retirement account.”

For ABC Wednesday

Kindness, civility, conscience, injustice, protest

I’m still deciding what to think about the correct responses to injustice.

Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, Professor of Theology and President (1998-2008) of the Chicago Theological Seminary wrote Do Not Tolerate the Intolerable: Public Shaming Can Be a Justice Action. “Jesus of Nazareth publicly shamed those leaders he saw were committing injustice in his time, calling them out (Matt. 23:13). Jesus didn’t hesitate to be confrontational. ‘You hypocrites!’ he cried out.”

She points to Professor Gene Sharp, “often called the ‘grandfather of nonviolent direct action,’ who compiled a list of 198 Tactics for The Politics of Nonviolent Action. “Both publicly ‘taunting’ officials and withholding services are on the list.”

I get that. Still, one has to be strategic in this manner. Some of the suggestions from the Sharp list, such as not voting, I’d oppose in the US in 2018, yet would have supported in Russia, when Putin eliminated any real opposition.

Some actor named Hugo noted, and I agree, that actor Robert DeNiro cursing out some guy during the Tonys was a bad strategy. “Sinking ships aren’t saved by succumbing to anger… Progressive change isn’t brought upon society through verbal abuse. Decency and maturity are more effective — a levelheaded, well planned and swift takedown of a demagogue…”

In that manner, I’ve come to understand the owner of the Red Hen restaurant: “Several… employees are gay, which is one of many groups of people targeted by the Trump administration. They were uncomfortable to see the president’s chief propagandist in their midst, so they called the owner, Stephanie Wilkinson, who drove in from home…

“They wanted Sanders to leave. Wilkinson did not attempt to publicly embarrass Sanders. She asked her to step out on the patio, where she explained why she wanted her to leave. The reason… why millions of Americans know about what happened… — is that Sanders used her government Twitter account, which has more than 3 million followers, to try to ruin The Red Hen, which seats 26 people.

Sarah Sanders is a bully. Any discussion about her that raises the issue of civility is nothing but an intellectual exercise by people who aren’t worried enough about the harm her boss, the bully in chief, is inflicting on this country. Trump attacked The Red Hen on Twitter, too. Of course he did.

“Civility requires mutual respect. The Red Hen employees apparently understood this. If someone spends her days making clear her disregard for you and her willingness to harm you by parroting her boss’s bigotry, no one should expect you to act as if it doesn’t matter when she’s not talking into a microphone.”

BTW, I had forgotten when a baker turned away Joe Biden and received praise from conservatives.

An article in GQ notes: “Restaurant owners routinely deny service to obnoxious Yelpers, noisy children, and even critical restaurant reviewers—this is the norm. These are not protected classes, which include race, religion, disability, and gender, under anti-discrimination laws. Just as posting a ‘no shirts, no shoes, no service’ sign is not equivalent to Jim Crow-era ‘white-only’ policies—there is a wide chasm between bad behavior and immutable characteristics.”
.
Read this piece from Tucker Fitzgerald, a “straight, white, male. I have a Master of Divinity from a Christian seminary,” who “voted for W both times”. He addresses his own shift in Intolerant Liberals, which should explain to conservatives WHY we protest.

I suppose, at the end of the day, in responding to injustice, as our Congressman Paul Tonko said on July 4, we need to resist, to protest, to protect, and to heal. There will be differences of opinion about what that means. I’m still idealistic enough to hope that it’s done with love in our hearts.

Movie review: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Just before my wife and I saw Won’t You Be My Neighbor? at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany, I read Ken Levine’s review.

It begins: “Full disclosure: I was not a fan of MR. ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD when it aired. My kids watched it, but I found it oddly creepy.” Next paragraph: “I am now one of those people recommending WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?”

That’s the point: you don’t have to be a fan of Fred Rogers’ long-running children’s program on PBS to appreciate the wonderful individual he was who did appeal to very many kids. Adults didn’t get him because he generally wasn’t talking to them.

Although he pretty much single-handedly secured funding for Public Broadcasting in 1970 through his direct plea to a Congressional committee chair.

The thing about his show was not designed to entertain the parents but to create that one-on-one relationship between the host and every child. It was because he understood child psychology and remembered some of the more painful aspects of his own childhood. Someone suggested that what Fred did was to take the formula of every other idea in children’s programming and do the opposite.

Fred was trained as a Presbyterian minister and was a lifelong Republican, back in the day when there were moderate Republicans such as Governor William Scranton in his native Pennsylvania. But he addressed big issues, such as race relations and violence, while not being preachy, just genuinely good and kind.

I really related to Mr. Rogers’ use of his puppets. I know that the use of inanimate objects can sometimes express ideas and feelings more easily than one can do directly.

The movie touched on some reportage that suggested that suggested that millennials are whiny because Fred Rogers told them they were special. I thought it was nonsense at the time, and the film only reinforced my view.

The Mr. Rogers message was/is that we ALL are special, worthy of being loved. In doing so, he taught them/us we need to be thoughtful and considerate to others. That seems to be an effective representation of what ministry should be.

My wife and I thought the same thing, separately: when African American performer Francois Clemons shared a wading pool with Fred Rogers for the second time in the film, it felt like the narrative of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. I can’t explain why.

Whether or nor you liked MR. ROGERS NEIGHBORHOOD, or even heard of it, you should watch Won’t You Be My Neighbor, directed by Morgan Neville, who also also directed that great documentary about backup singers, 20 Feet from Stardom.

Music throwback: Beaucoups of Blues – Ringo Starr

One of those albums I have only on vinyl is Beaucoups of Blues, Ringo Starr’s second solo album, which was recorded in Nashville in late June 1970, and released about three months later.

From the Wikipedia: “While playing on sessions for George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, Starr – a long-time country and western fan – met Pete Drake in May 1970. Starr had to pick up Drake from the airport so that the pair could record with Harrison; Drake noticed the number of country albums Starr had in his vehicle… Starr asked him if they could collaborate on an album together. Drake told Starr his musician friends could compose more than an album’s worth of material in a week, which Starr thought was ‘impossible.'”

But they did, and some of Nashville’s finest performed on the album.

Ringo, of course, recorded some country-related songs with the Beatles: Act Naturally, by Buck Owens, on the UK Help! album; What Goes On, attributed to Lennon-McCartney-Starkey, on Rubber Soul in the UK; and Don’t Pass Me By, which he wrote, and which appears on the white album. The first two songs were both on the US Yesterday and Today LP.

I liked Beaucoups of Blues quite a bit, actually. John Lennon told Rolling Stone it was “a good record”, but “qualified that comment by saying he ‘didn’t feel as embarrassed as I did about [Starr’s] first record,'” the sappy Sentimental Journey, released in March of 1970. Reviewers at the time, and especially in retrospect, have said it was a solid effort, one of Ringo’s best.

“In his combined review of all the former Beatles’ 1970 solo releases, Geoffrey Cannon of The Guardian rated Beaucoups of Blues as his favourite.” That would be in comparison with Sentimental Journey; McCartney, Paul’s solo debut; John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band; and even the aforementioned All Things Must Pass.

Listen to:

Beaucoups of Blues, #87 pop on the Billboard charts
Love Don’t Last Long
Fastest Growing Heartache In The West
Without Her
Woman Of The Night
I’d Be Talking All The Time

$15 Draw
Wine, Women and Loud Happy Songs
I Wouldn’t Have You Any Other Way
Loser’s Lounge
Waiting
Silent Homecoming (my favorite)

Coochy Coochy, B-side of the title track single

Meet the Beatle: A Guide to Ringo Starr’s Solo Career in 20 Songs

Happy 78th birthday, Ringo!