January 24, 2014
Philadelphia in a deep freeze
Hotel room (19th floor), window glass, old poop with iPhone, Philadelphia well below freezing... Multi-layered photo.
January 16, 2014
I confess to a liking for Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey. He should stop saying that he is not a bully: of course he is a bully; he is a politician who wants to get things done, doesn't want people standing in his way and doesn't suffer fools. He is a bully, but as far as we know he is not underhanded or vindictive about it. As Republicans go, he looks presidential to me.
In the present hoo-ha over the lane closures at the George Washington bridge, I think Peggy Noonan probably got it right last weekend when she wrote in the Wall Street Journal that a politician's staff are often a bunch of amateurs who act impulsively and without imagining the unintended consequences. The mayor of Fort Lee is a Democrat: how could he, why should he, have endorsed Christy in his last campaign? Was he even asked? In any case, the mayor was not inconvenienced or embarrassed by the lane closures; it was thousands of ordinary citizens of New Jersey who were made late to work or to school, having hours taken out of their lives and thrown away in traffic jams. A more amateurish caper would be hard to imagine, and I do not think Christy is that stupid. A couple of weeks ago Christy was joking that he had been out there on the bridge arranging the cones himself; I do not think he would have been joking as the scandal was heating up if he had known how and why it had happened. Furthermore he handled himself much better at his two-hour press conference than most politicians could have done.
So anyway, there has been little else in the news lately, and many of the commentariat have taken the opportunity to gore their favorite oxen, but none have been stupider than Cal Thomas in his column this week: "Christie scandal blown way out of proportion". He still thinks that President Obama and Hillary Clinton had a "role" in the murders of American diplomatic staff in Benghazi. He is ranting about the IRS and about Obamacare (yawn) and closes by asking:
The number of questions Thomas is capable of begging is incalculable -- it could be argued that President Obama is a poor executive; for a start, the rollout of the Affordable Care Act should never have been a disaster because of a dysfunctional website -- but that doesn't make Obama a liar. While if it can be shown that Christie was stupid and mean enough to inconvenience thousands of New Jersey citizens in a fit of pique, then we don't want him anywhere near the White House, now do we.
Just asking, Cal. What do you think?
January 15, 2014
Rebate = scam
Years ago in Texas Ethne and I bought a package of two pieces of software -- one was Quicken and I don't remember the other one -- because we wanted the Quicken and we were promised a rebate. We sent in all the boxtops and receipts and we were refused our rebate because (they said) we hadn't sent them everything. Since then I have avoided rebates, and I don't see the point of that kind of marketing anyway.
I like my beer freshly made and straight from the tap, which is why I like brewpubs, but the nearest brewpub to me is Fegley's downtown, several miles and dozens of stop-and-go lights away. Stroudt's in Adamstown, Iron Hill in several locations, and Rock Bottom in King of Prussia are all many miles away. Fegley's used to have the restaurant concession at the municipal golf course, which is almost walking distance from my house, but the city got greedy, so Fegley's gave it up (and if Ed Pawlowski, the mayor of Allentown, thinks I will ever vote for him for governor, he can take note of the mistletoe on my shirt-tail).
So I patronize the nice people at Budget Beverage on West Tilghman near Cedar Crest, trying to find a factory-made beer that doesn't insult me. Late last year they sold me a case of something they thought I would like, and I had already decided to buy it when they told me there was a rebate. The case came in the form of two twelve-packs shrink-wrapped together (Pennsylvania is a screwy place, remember, where you have to buy a case of beer; the beverage stores are not allowed to sell six-packs). My friends specifically warned me that in applying for the rebate I must send in the UPCs from both twelve-packs.
Well, you can guess what's coming. I cut the two UPCs out of the cardboard twelve-packs and sent them in with the form filled out and the receipt from Budget Beverage, and yesterday I received a postcard from Anheuser-Busch's hired conmen (at Offer # 35460, P.O. Box 740925, El Paso TX 88574-0925) saying that I hadn't sent them enough UPCs. Maybe they wanted the labels off the bottles? I don't remember what beer it was, but I should have known better than to have anything to do with the makers of Bud Lite, about which the less said the better.
The good news is that Stroudt's have revamped their brewpub and restaurant so that they now have enough taps to serve all their beers all year around, and I can buy Revel Red Hoppy Ale by the case in my neighborhood; it's acceptable, as bottled beers go, the hoppiness actually kept under control.
January 13, 2014
There was a John Doe campaign finance probe in Wisconsin, and several groups raising money were subpoenaed and had their premises raided. A judge has now thrown out the subpoenas. The Wall Street Journal writes:
One could argue that there should be more restrictions, or fewer, but the law is the law, and one of the groups is called "Friends of Scott Walker", who is the somewhat controversial governor of Wisconsin. No doubt this group was merely arranging birthday parties for the governor's children, or baking cookies for his dog.
January 13, 2014
Terry Teachout's biography of Duke Ellington
I bought a copy of Terry Teachout's new biography of Duke Ellington as soon as it appeared, and I enjoyed it and learned from it. There is a story, for example, that Ellington got the job at the Cotton Club in 1927 only because King Oliver had turned it down, but there is no evidence of that, and songwriter Jimmy McHugh, who was writing floorshows for the club at the time, said many years later that he had heard the band and specifically wanted Ellington. Teachout has done his job, digging up many a fascinating quote like that from interviews and articles and memoirs stretching across decades.
January 11, 2014
Strange weather, disjointed days
We spent three days in Philadelphia recently, had the dog with us at the Kimpton Hotel, and I got up at 5 AM and took the dog down 19 stories with the temperature close to zero outside during the Arctic vortex. I'm such a nice guy. That was Tuesday morning; today is Saturday and the temperature is about 60 and we had torrential rain this afternoon complete with thunder.
Ethne had a meeting at the Pennsylvania Horticural Society, and we also had a special tour of Cezanne and Renoir at the new Barnes Museum on Tuesday, a day they are normally closed so there were no crowds, with a docent called Penny who is originally from Oxford, England. She was very good and I learned a lot about Cezanne, my favorite painter, and about Renoir too. They were friends and admired each other's work, like Matisse and Picasso. We moved to Pennsylvania just in time to see the Barnes collection at its old location, and they have done a smashing job of relocating it: they have reproduced every room precisely, so that the art lessons that Barnes saw everywhere are preserved perfectly. People thought he was crazy, but the collection is now priceless, somewhere in the many billions, and Renoir was right: when he came for a visit he wrote back to Europe that there was nothing else like the Barnes in North America, and there still isn't.
While Ethne was at her meeting I went to the Ben Franklin Institute which with the parking underneath cost me over $30 and was certainly not worth it. There was nothing there I hadn't seen at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry over 60 years ago: turn a crank and see some sparks. It must be good for kids and I sure hope that school parties get a hefty discount.
PennHort, the Barnes and the Franklin are all in the same neighborhood, and there's a second-hand bookstore nearby on 21st Street with a lot of junk records under a table. I paid $1 for a set of seven pristine 12-inch Victor 78s: Volume 4 of the Haydn string quartets by the Pro Arte. I think that was a subscription deal in the 1930s; the only way the project would have been possible is if a lot of people promised to buy the records. The discs don't have lead-in grooves, but they are in automatic changer sequence. I have a 3-speed turntable and a 78 stylus but I have never played a 78 on it, so it was kind of fun listening to the 80-year-old records; they have remarkably quiet surfaces, the music a sweet warm sound.
My antique Harman/Kardon machine that I use for dubbing LPs onto CDs is in the repair shop, but I have a number of projects in the pipeline.
January 11, 2014
Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers died the other day, and quite a few tributes have been appearing. I was a teenager working in a record store when the Everlys hit the big time, and I never had another experience like it in the record business.
Felice and Boudleaux Bryant were successful country songwriters, but their "Bye Bye Love" had been turned down by a number of acts; Don and Phil Everly had seved an apprenticeship on the radio in Iowa with their parents, Ike and Margaret. They sounded like they had been singing together since the womb. They were recorded by Archie Bleyer on his Cadence label; Bleyer was a music business veteran who had written superior stock arrangements for dance bands in the 1930s, and by the 1950s was well-known as Arthur Godfrey's music director on radio and TV. As a label boss he was on top of the technology, in the forefront of good recorded sound.
Hoffman's Records, in Kenosha Wisconsin, was a one-stop for jukebox operators all over the county. They would be at the back door before we opened at 9 AM to buy their 45 singles, and in 1957 there was this incredible buzz for a record that nobody had yet heard, and it was the same all over the country. The advance order already made it a huge hit, and when we finally heard it, "Bye Bye Love" was a sort of final ingredient in the popular music of the second half of the century. We had rhythm & blues, then rock'n'roll and rockabilly, but the Everlys with their close harmony restored something that the pop chart hadn't heard since the Weavers seven years earlier, and everybody had forgotten about the Weavers, while the Everlys sounded like they'd been singing together since the womb. "Bye Bye Love" was a simple, heartfelt song about unrequited love (pop's favorite subject), and furthermore, the Everlys rocked without any drums. It stayed in the Billboard Hot 100 for 27 weeks; it was a no. 1 country hit, but to my surprise I see in my reference books that it was kept out of the no. 1 spot in the Hot 100 by Elvis Presley's "All Shook Up". There is no justice in pop music.
Three Everly no. 1 hits in 1957-8 were all written by the Bryants: "Wake Up Little Susie", "All I Have To Do Is Dream", and "Bird Dog". The Everlys' first album was a top 20 in Billboard's album chart in 1958, a time when most people were still buying singles, not albums. But their second album didn't even chart. It was called Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, and it took American pop back to one of its roots. It had no production to speak of, just good sound, the Everlys, their voices and their guitars, and I cannot resist listing the names of the twelve songs: Roving Gambler, Down In The Willow Garden, Long Time Gone, Lightning Express, That Silver Haired Daddy Of Mine, Who's Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet, Barbara Allen, Oh So Many Years, I'm Here To Get My Baby Out Of Jail, Rocking Alone (In An Old Rocking Chair, Kentucky, and Put My Little Shoes Away. These were songs, some of them, with roots centuries old, songs that had been invented and sung and passed down by people with no connection to Tin Pan Alley. It wasn't a huge hit album, but the people who heard it are writing about it this week.
Thanks, Phil. It was nice knowing you.
January 10, 2014
Hope for the future
January 6, 2014
Here it is January 6th
Now that the holidays are over, and me being "seasonal" now, it looks as though I won't be working much at Barnes & Noble for a while. Although it's hard to say: I'm "on call" Thursday night, and a manager wanted me to work that evening, then said she didn't. From recent experience I know that I will have to call the store Thursday morning to find out whether I'm on the daily schedule or not.
I had secured several days off last week and Ethne and I had had a nice quiet holiday period, just us and the dog, visiting King of Prussia (where I made it to Rock Bottom at last, the only one of that company's brewpubs in Pennsylvania; I loved their shop in West De Moines). We also went to Adamstown (home of Stoudt's brewery, brewpub and restaurant, and a huge antiques mall open only on Sundays), and Lititz, a charming rural Pennsylvania town with nice little shops and a watering hole and restaurant called the Bulls Head Public House, which does a really excellent job of being an English pub. Another part of the Bulls Head complex is the General Sutter Inn, which is pet-friendly; we're going to stay overnight there sometime just for the heck of it.
But the holidays are not over yet. They will not be over until we get back on a normal schedule. I would like to be doing more blogging. Both Cadence and the Jazz Journalists Association have provided me with obituaries for 2013, which means that I want to do some updating in my Encyclopedia (I did not know that Herman "Trigger" Alpert, Glenn Miller's bassist, had died in Florida in his 90s.) I would like to start writing a fictionalised autobiography, not so much about me but about the times I have lived through and all the first-world problems I have had; I can do this because nowadays you don't need a contract with a publisher, and it won't cost me much. But we are going to Philadelphia for three nights, because Ethne has a meeting to attend, and we are going to see the new Barnes museum...
Our period of togetherness is not over. Good job I love her.
January 6, 2014
The old curmudgeon and his great-granddaughters
Here I am last week at Barnes & Noble with my great-granddaughters, where they had spent their Christmas giftcard (they're all bookworms). From left: Analise, Jayden, the curmudgeon, and Noemi. Analise is almost ten and doesn't like having her picture taken; sometimes when you point the camera at her she tries to shrink into her winter jacket, so I call her the Turtle. Jayden is almost eleven and very skinny because she is growing like a weed. Noemi is five and a firecracker! They are like the three musketeers: if you mess with one of them you'd better watch out! Analise and Jayden use big words like "blatantly" that I had never even heard at their age. Noemi has a little handbag with $5 and some change in it and she knows exactly how much money she has; someday she will be the family's financial advisor, or maybe Chancellor of the Exchecquer or whatever they call it in this country.
Meanwhile, contemplating these children and reading the real world...
I received an email this morning from Rapidshare, an internet site where you can store files and make them available to other people: pictures, music, whatever. You can use it for free or if you subscribe you get better service. I have never subscribed; I only download a piece of music once in a while that somebody else has put there for me. Rapidshare redesigns its pages every month or so. At the moment there might be several places to click if you want a download, and then you get a huge pop-up ad, which I wouldn't mind except I have trouble getting through the ads to the download. They have written to tell me that my systems are at fault. I should try a different browser (I've tried that), check out my cookies, my firewall, my this, my that. They don't get it. The reason I've never subscribed is because I have no confidence in their service.
Snapchat has a feature that allows you to drag your address book to it so you can find friends who are on Snapchat, which is so poorly protected that all identity thieves have to do is throw in enormous numbers of phone numbers to get a name attached to each one. (I read this in the paper this morning; I don't even know what Snapchat is, and I don't care.)
Our son is in the United States Army and his affairs are messed up because there are several Defense Finance Accounting Service (DEFAS) offices, as well as pay offices and travel expense offices on each military base, none of them communicating with the others; he has been graduating, training and traveling and is now attached to a certain unit and will be deployed soon and cannot even tell us where he will be going, and he was recently promoted and he spent the holidays effectively confined to quarters because he didn't have any money because the Army has completely screwed up its paperwork. He is told that this happens every year to soldiers who are traveling on Army business.
The point is that we are inundated with mediocrity and irresponsibility everywhere we turn: our popular culture is a sea or trash; while toy guns are incorrect nowadays we are awash with firearms and we have raised a generation of kids who have been innoculated by incredibly violent video games; the rollout of Obamacare was a disaster despite the fact that we know that every time we turn on a computer there is likely to be something screwed up...
And what's the connection with my great-granddaughters? Simple. They are bright and happy and they are the light of the world and the hope of the future, partly because their mother, my beautiful granddaughter Kimberly, had them when she was young. Not that she planned it that way, but a lot of people think they are making plans. Camille Paglia in a recent article points out that there are plenty of statistics showing that children born to older mothers are far more likely to suffer from autism and other disabilities. Women can't have it all. None of us can. We need to start by understanding what we are doing. That's the end of my sermon for today.
January 6, 2014
Here is Analise, not liking having her picture taken.
January 6, 2014
And here is the whole bunch
Analise, Noemi (aka Mimi), Ethne, Kimberly, Jayden. Aren't they all gorgeous?
December 27, 2013
The worst part about working in a big-box store over the holidays is the music. The pop crooners and temporary celebrities mangling Christmas songs ought to be against the law, but it does have its educational aspects. At last I know who Kelly Clarkson is. She won one of those television talent shows -- if she is an American idol, God help us -- and she turns out to be a diva, like Celine Dion of that ilk, using a powerful, accurate voice at much the same volume all the time, which isn't singing. It's yelling. Given a sweet little Christmas pop song like "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas", sooner or later she sounds like a Verdi heroine being stabbed to death. On "Baby, It's Cold Outside", intimacy is out the window as she imitates Ethel Merman for a convention of refrigerator salesmen.
Even more tragic is the case of Jackie Evancho, an angelic-looking 12-year-old who can sing in tune, making her beloved of grandmothers everywhere. The problem is thst she is not being taught to sing properly. Her voice sounds like it's coming from her sinuses, and hearing a whole album is like having root canal work.
I won't mention Rod Stewart, who can't sing at all. The least offensive of the Christmas CDs I heard over and over in the store was that of Michael Bublé. I've got quite a lot of time for him, actually; he has a fine warm voice with nice color, and does justice to a good song. At one point in "Silent Night" he hits a transitional or connecting note (I don't know the correct terminology) absolutely perfectly, his musical intelligence evident as he signposts what is to come. Unfortunately not even he can resist the occasional ritard or whatever, which the beautiful old carol doesn't need, though irritation with that may be the result of hearing it over and over.
So then on Christmas Eve, after a long walk in the freezing cold with the dog and a nice Skype with our son, it was roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, sprouts, parsnips, smashed taters and Bisto gravy, a lovely bottle of red and a fire in the fireplace. I put on Harry Connick's Christmas album from a few years ago, which I have always liked, because his arrangements are imaginitive and the big group doesn't sound to me like a Las Vegas show band. But Ethne didn't care for it, and our empathy is such that when she doesn't care for something I can hear what she doesn't like. So I put on the Bach Choir of Bethlehem, which we found kind of tame: too traditional?
Then the light bulb went on over my head. We have two CDs, from successive concerts of Christmas at the Carillon which we attended, with Craig Hella Johnson and his Conspirare Choir, recorded in Austin in 2000 and 2001. Johnson is a genius, pulling together bits and pieces from Palestrina to a fragment of the Rolling Stones to Richard Rodgers to make a sort of choral symphony, and somehow it all works. In 2000 his soloist Cynthia Clawson had co-written "When My Soul Goes Home", which is immediately followed by the closer, Part V, entitled "God Enters Our Dance", which turns out to be "I Could Have Danced All Night", dancing for peace and joy.
Poor Clarkson could learn something from the understatement.
December 27, 2013
In the papers
While I've been busy working full time, getting my truck repaired, running errands and not blogging, the papers have been up to their usual tricks. In the Wall Street Journal, Holman W. Jenkins Jr. went on at some length about Chrysler having to design a nine-speed transmission for its new Jeep Cherokee in an attempt to improve its fuel mileage in order to meet increasing federal standards, at a time, Jenkins says, that gasoline prices are going down. He is complaining that cost of the new transmission will not be worth it to the consumer, pretending not to know that there are many good reasons for burning less fuel, so that he can get in a dig at the Obama government. This is to say nothing of the terrific engineering that goes into things like a nine-speed transmission: perhaps Jenkins is too young to remember when cars were much less safe and reliable gas-guzzlers than they are now.
Even more behinder is Cal Thomas, writing for the Tribune Content Agency, which must be like a mushroom farm, where they keep you in the dark and throw poop on you. "Mandela wasn't always such a gentle spirit" was the title of his piece a week or so ago. Mandela was probably a member of the South African Communist Party decades ago, and he could have got out of prison sooner if he had promised to abandon violence, but he could not in good conscience do that, because he saw "no alternative" to violent revolution to end apartheid. Again, people like Thomas pretend not to know anything. In the 1930s capitalism had been seen to fail, and black people in the USA were being lynched, and long after that the situation in South Africa looked hopeless, hence a great many people were looking for alternatives. In South Africa, when the ice finally began to crack and a peaceful end to apertheid began to look possible, because Mandela, this most patient and peaceful of men, had finally convinced the powers in his native land that the only alternative to an end to apartheid might be violence, then there was no more talk of communism or violence. One of the greatest men of modern times had passed away, and Thomas used to occasion to fight the Cold War.
The other day a woman was agitating in the newspapers for laws requiring carbon monoxide detectors in domestic residences, joining the smoke detectors which are always squeaking at us because the batteries are always going dead. She was related to one of three or four young men who died in a house they were rehabbing; they were staying there, and using a gasoline engine for power. The deaths of innocent young men are of course tragic for the families involved, but I have to point out that young men who die because they purposely go to sleep in a building with an unventilated internal combustion engine running are candidates for Darwin awards. They have improved the gene pool by removing themselves from it.
There are shooting and stabbings almost every day in Allentown, unfortunately, but they usually happen 20 or 30 blocks away, that is to say downtown. There was excitement in our neighborhood a day or two before Christmas however when a man was beaten and stabbed to death in his own house only a block away. He was widely thought by the neighbors to have been a drug dealer.
December 24, 2013
Our Christmas tradition
Ten years ago we had just moved from Texas to Iowa, following Ethne's career path in the magazine industry; we were renting a small apartment and all our stuff was still packed up and a lot of it in storage. So I went to Walgreens and bought this tiny Christmas tree, and it's cheered up up every year since!
I've been working full time at Barnes & Noble (well, I did say I wanted to be seasonal) and I have to work today, Christmas Eve. It's been exhausting, but also rewarding in its way. More blogging soon, I promise! Now go wait for Santa!