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Friday, February 16, 2018

Rant #2,085: No, No, No



Enough.

The latest school shooting, this one in southern Florida, took 17 innocent lives in a hail of bullets coming from firearms being shot off by someone who had clear, defined, mental health problems.

How someone with such a background obtained not just one firearm, but a whole arsenal of them, is beyond comprehension.

Were background checks done on this individual, and if they were done, were they adequate?

And why was this individual out on the street anyway?

I don't understand the need some people have to own guns. I have never understood this type of need, and I never will.

Yes, we have the right to bear arms, but having the right to do so, and to actually do it, are two different things.

I grew up in an era where we were clearly re-examing the "beauty" of bearing arms, legally or otherwise, for fun or for real. During the 1960s, yes, I had a toy gun. I remember in particular a toy tommy gun that I had, one, where if I pulled back the mechanism on the side of the gun and then pulled the trigger, I would have about 30 seconds of "rat-a-tat-tats" that could scare even the most learned person about guns.

It was that real.

And yes, I owned some other toy guns that used caps--remember them--which you fed through the gun and when the trigger of the toy gun was pulled, you not only got the sound, but you also got the visual of a real gun going off, including the smoke.

By the time I was eight or nine years old, the "beauty" of playing war or policeman or cowboy had worn off of me, and the toy guns were put away for good, but funny, this coincided with the increased rage that the Vietnam War was creating in our cities, being brought to us each night on the evening news.

People were enraged that we were fighting a war that many of us felt we didn't belong in, and yes, there was rage on the streets across America.

The toy guns were put away, replaced by flowers, and while the entire hippie era, with hindsight, might have been a bit over the top, it got people to thinking about the toll of war, and the use of guns.

Later, when I was an adult, two gun-related incidents left a major mark on me.

The first involved a person I knew of when I was growing up, and who my sister knew much better than me. He was the proverbial "kid who had it all," as he was smart, good looking, and was pegged as the most likely to succeed.

Unfortunately, as an adult, he spiraled into mental illness. One day, he did not take his medication, went to a gun store, purchased a gun like you or I would purchase a toothbrush, and then he went to a local motel, paid for a room, and did an Ernest Hemingway.

My mother and I paid a shiva call to his parents, and we could not stay long, as while the parents tried to put on a good face, they were clearly torn apart. It was very uncomfortable to say the least.

Several years later, a kid my son knew from Little League baseball, a kid that I had coached when he was very young, was playing with his father's firearms one day, the gun when off, and basically blew his head off.

His father was a cop, the guns in their home were not properly secured, and this tragedy happened.

I will never forget the funeral, where the entire league, dressed in their uniforms, attended to honor their fallen friend. It was the saddest thing I have ever witnessed, and honestly, to this day, I don't know how my son got through it.

And the proliferation of illegally purchased guns on our streets is another story for another time.

But today, we have had carnage in numerous schools across America, perpetuated by people who are mentally ill and who are enamored with firearms and getting back at people and institutions that rile them.

Schools, like places of worship and homes, are supposed to be sanctuaries, places where we should feel safe.

We don't anymore, witnessed by violent acts that have occurred in each of these places.

The bottom line is, mix mental health with guns, and a powder keg of potential problems can happen.

Let's remember Columbine, let's remember Sandy Hook, let's remember all the other places where this senseless violence has happened in recent times.

We need a set of national gun laws to govern gun ownership throughout this land. We cannot have one set of laws in one state, another set of laws in another state.

We cannot have one state where the laws are ultra-stringent, as they should be, and another, neighboring state where buying a gun is akin to buying a stick of gum.

When you have a license for anything, it shows that you have proficiency in that area, and that you also understand the upside and downside of the area that you have the license for.

I do believe that most people who purchase firearms and have a valid license to carry them legally know exactly what they are doing, are responsible, and understand the plusses and minuses of bearing arms.

But for that small fraction of people who don't get this, we need national, much more stringent laws as to who can bear firearms and who cannot.

Any blemish on one's record due to past mental health issues should be an immediate red flag. This can prove to be discriminatory, but you know what? If it prevents lives from being wasted--on both sides of the firearm--then I am all for such discrimination.

Look, I might not even be explaining this correctly, but we should have no more events like the one we just had in southern Florida.

Yes, it has to do with the failure of our mental health system to act, although in this case, they did act, until the future gunman refused to participate anymore.

In my mind, it has to do with lax gun laws that allow just about anyone to purchase a gun legally.

Laws must change, and our mindset must also change.

True, most gun owners are responsible citizens, but we must be able to weed out those who should never possess firearms. Just the same day as this horrific incident happened, I heard of two other young people with severe mental illnesses who planned on creating chaos in their local schools--they were both turned in by close relatives, and carnage was avoided.

How many other potential powder kegs are ready to explode?

Who knows, but national gun laws, including increased and more stringent licensing requirements, and increased scrutiny on our mental health system, might just prevent another Columbine or Sandy Hook from happening.

Whatever side of the fence you are sitting on--Republican, Democrat, Independent, pro-Trump, anti-Trump, or even non-political--we must all get together, as Americans, to demand that more accountability is necessary.

We simply cannot afford another incident like the one we had the other day in southern Florida.

Have a good Presidents Day and weekend. I will speak to you again on Tuesday.

Classic Rant #737 (May 16, 2012): Internet Radio



I am going to be interviewed on an Internet radio show this evening for broadcast next week. 

I will be speaking with DJ Frank Tood about my Yahoo/Blog sites, my interest in music, and my record collection. 

This came completely out of the blue, and I readily accepted the invitation. I have been on the radio--or regular radio--a couple of times. A number of years ago, I was on another show, broadcast from Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, about my record collection, and I was on the radio when I was out of work many years ago, pleading for a job (nothing came of it).

Getting back to the show I am going to be on tonight, parts of the phone conversation will be recorded and be edited in with the songs that are going to be played. It will be heard on all his stations that carry Music Trivia for two hours next week. The schedule is at www.franktoddradio.com

And yes, if I remember, somewhere in the conversation I will mention the place that I grew up in, Rochdale Village in Souith Jamaica, Queens, New York. 

I talk about music all the time here, but one thing that I don't think I've mentioned is that since Rochdale was such a diverse community, we listened to all different types of music--rock, pop, standards, jazz, soul, etc. We listened to everyone from Otis Redding to Frank Sinatra to the 1910 Fruitgum Co., and it was all good. 

I hope to bring that up, but I don't know the line of questioning so I can't guarantee that I can. But listen in next week. 

The music that is being played is not your average Top-40 stuff, but a mix of music that is on my Yahoo sites. Tune in, and let me know what you think.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Rant #2,084: Let the Sunshine In



Yesterday was a better day than I thought it was going to be.

Valentine's Day went fine, pretty much, from top to bottom, from the beginning to the end.

One problem my family and I have, which I have not gone into great detail here about, should be taken care of by early next month.

No, it is not my job situation, which still is absolutely horrid, at best, but another problem that we were presented with should be over and done with in about two weeks.

My family gave out our Valentine's Day cards to each other, and my wife got a surprise. She opened her card and it was one of those electronic ones, and it blurted out, "I Love You!" so loudly that she nearly jumped out of her shoes.

We all had a good laugh--which is what we need right now--and that was that.

Which somehow leads me to the 5th Dimension ... you know, the vocal group that was super popular in the late 1960s to about the mid 1970s, and who are still around in one form or another, led by one of their original lead singers, Florence LaRue.

In times of distress, I kind of gravitate toward things that make me comfortable, so during this current time of distress, I went for the comfort music, and if there was ever comfort music, it is the canon of the 5th Dimension, a five-member act that literally burst on the scene, seemingly out of nowhere, in 1967 with "Go Where You Wanna Go," the Mamas and Papas soundalike that hit No. 16 on the charts literally 51 years ago.

It was the first of 30 Hot 100 hits they would have through 1976, and LaRue, along with eventual marrieds Billy Davis Jr. and Marilyn McCoo, and Ron Townson and Lamont McLemore, were among the most popular vocal groups of their time, seemingly an overnight sensation.

But like most overnight sensations, they really weren't, and had toiled as a Los Angeles-based act known as the Versatiles for a few years before that group split into two--the 5th Dimension and what became the Friends of Distinction, an act that had their own cadre of big hits during this period.

Using a formula that had been cemented by the Monkees and later used by Three Dog Night, the 5th Dimension mined the talents of the top songwriters of the day--including Jimmy Webb, Laura Nyro and Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson--for one great song after another, eventually leading to two No. 1 hits, "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In/The Flesh Failures" and "Wedding Bell Blues," both in 1969, and a virtual stockload of other hits, including "One Less Bell to Answer" (No. 2 in 1970), "Stoned Soul Picnic" (No. 3 in 1968), and "Up-Up and Away" (No. 7 in 1967).

Not only were their vocals cool and crisp, but their visuals were arresting in the most positive way.

The five-some was certainly led by the two ladies, two of the most beautiful women on the music scene at that time. Both LaRue and McCoo had been Miss Bronze winners--sort of a precursor for the Miss Black America contest before the Miss America contest was integrated--and both had talent to back up their looks.

Not only that, but with some of the most colorful and creative costuming ever seen at the time--kind of tapping into the psychedelic craze, mixed with Afro-centric touches--the group was visually stunning, and were perfect for the new emphasis on color on TV.

They found sort of a permanent home on the TV variety shows of that time, and became ubiquitous staples on the boob tube, appearing on everything from "The Ed Sullivan Show" and "Hollywood Palace," and nary a week seemed to go by where they weren't on a TV variety show, pushing their latest record.

They even had their own TV specials, and during their seven-year period of hits, they might have been the most televised act in pop music.

McCoo and Davis married in 1969, and later went on to a career separate from their 5th Dimension mates, having a few hits on their own, including "You Don't Have To Be a Star (To Be In My Show)" (No. 1 in 1976) and "Your Love" (No. 15 in 1977), but the two have always been inextricably linked with the 5th Dimension.

The hits ran dry around the time that McCoo and Davis pursued their career away from the 5th Dimension, and the act pretty much left the hits behind them in 1976, putting the original "Love Hangover" on the charts in 1976 (No. 80), failing to compete with the Diana Ross version.

For the past 40 years, the 5th Dimension have performed all over the world with different players, except for LaRue, the one constant. Davis and McCoo have also forged their own careers away from the group, and McCoo was the host of TV's "Solid Gold" hit showcase for a few seasons. McLemore and Townson have passed on to the great beyond, but on oldies radio, the 5th Dimension continue to be part of any playlist.

Yes, they were knocked during their hit period for sounding too "white," and they didn't write most of their material, leaving that part to the professional songwriters, and no, they didn't play any musical instruments as part of their act, but the 5th Dimension circumvented all of that by being visually and vocally incredible in their own special way.

Can anyone who was around during their hit-making period claim that they didn't like them?

I have never heard anyone claim that, and more than 50 years after the fact, I don't think that I will ever hear anyone utter that opinion.

Their music was radio ready, their visuals stunning, and what else could you ask for?

Comfort music for the ears, for sure.

Speak to you again tomorrow.

Classic Rant #736 (May 15, 2012): Passing Fad?



As incredible as it may seem, nearly half the people polled in a recent survey believe that their beloved Facebook is a passing fad.
Forty-six percent of those polled in an AP/CNBC poll say the social networking giant is likely to "fade away as new things come along," while 43 percent predict it will be "successful over the long term."
All of this has come about as Facebook's long-awaited IPO draws nearer. According to the poll, half of Americans say Facebook's asking price is too high.
Just one-third think the company's expected stock market value, which could reach $100 billion,  is OK, while 50 percent say it's too high.
I don't have any money to invest in it, so from my viewpoint, its worth in dollars is irrelevant to me. 
However, its worth in what it is--a social networking tool--is much, much greater.
Those who use Facebook the right way--to connect with others--from their current lives or their past--have no problem with it. It is a major part of their lives, and they visit it often.
However, there are people who use Facebook the wrong way, to further their own personal gains, whether it be for amusement or to hurt others.
Kids of a certain age, let's say those under 15 or 16 years of age, should not be on Facebook.
It is pretty much the Wild West on the site. Anything goes, and it can hurt these young kids to see and be a victim of the nonsense--including bullying and predatory practices--that goes on there.
It can be harmful to their still-developing psyches.
Thus, I feel that Facebook should be a pay service. Users should pay a nominal fee to gain access to what Facebook offers. 
Sure, this won't prevent every kid from getting onto the site, but it will thwart plenty of them from entering a world that they can't yet fully understand.
So, the bottom line is this: I personally like Facebook, I am on it at least several days a week, and I use it the right way, to speak to current friends and people from my past--and to trump up this blog.
But I wish it was regulated a bit more. People shouldn't be able to post things that are harmful to others in a bullying type of way, and I wish that Facebook would take complaints a little more seriously than they do now.
But otherwise, is it a passing fad or something that is more of a trend than a fad?
I don't know just yet, but used wisely, it is a great place to visit, but honestly, I wouldn't want to live there on a full-time basis.
There's more to life than Facebook, and if people are allowing their lives to revolve around this thing, well, I feel sorry for them.

(And what isn't a passing fad is that today is my daughter's 24th birthday. I am very proud of her, and I wish her a great birthday!)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Rant #2,083: All You Need Is Love and Things Can Only Get Better



Happy Valentine's Day.

That being said, I am not much into the occasion this year.

There is simply too much going on in the background of my life right now to feel "the love," so to speak.

Oh, yes, I love my wife dearly. She is, quite honestly, the greatest woman in the world, and I love her with all my heart.

But with so much uncertainty revolving around me right now--and you don't know the half of it, because I haven't told you quite a bit, and I certainly won't pour my heart out, even on Valentine's Day--it is kind of difficult to get into the Valentine's Day spirit.

Oh yes, we have bought each other cards, and we will give them out tonight, after my wife gets home from work--she works the later shift today, of course--and after I try to take care of a major loose end in our lives that has to be dealt with, but I don't know, it just doesn't feel like Valentine's Day this year.

We did go out to dinner for the holiday this past Saturday evening, with a very nice meal at a local hibachi place. It was expensive, but it was good and kind of worth it.

But with the realization that this might be the last time we can do this for a long time, it kind of lessened the impact of whatever good times we had there.

I just hope that your Valentine's Day celebrations will be good ones, because cupid's arrow will be taking a zigzag pace in my house--oh, it will get to its destination, but it will take a while to get there.

I love my wife dearly. She is truly the shining light of my life.

The problem is that I hate to see her have to go through the nonsense that my situation has caused her. It is stressful for me, stressful for her, and yes, it is stressful to my son, who is trying to understand why his father is in the situation that he is in.

Heck, I can't even figure out why I am in the situation that I am in, so how can he?

So my family will exchange cards tonight, give big kisses to each other, and that will be it.

As it is, we will be pooped from work, from what we had to do to get from point A to point B today, as is the case every workday, so I am just happy that we were able to get into the spirit of the occasion, at least for a few hours, during this past weekend.

So, I wish my wife a nice Valentine's Day. She has to work, has to work the late shift, but I love her so. Things are so bad now that I often feel that they cannot get much worse, and then something else happens, and they do get worse ... but I have to believe that now, right at this moment, we have hit rock bottom, and things will get better from hereon in.

Through it all, our love for each other continues to burn brightly.

Again, I just wish neither of us needed to go through what we are going through right now.

And here is a shout out to our son, who continues to hold steady through all of it.

And here is another shout out to my parents, who demonstrate how love can last for decades through thick and through thin.

And yes, here is a shout out to my daughter. I still believe in her, will always love her, but I simply do not understand her ways at all.

Just to wrap it up, I have to go with both the Beatles' tune that is one part of the title of this Rant, and the other part, the title of the Howard Jones song, to define how I feel today.

You mix the two together like I did and you get "All You Need Is Love and Things Can Only Get Better," and that really defines how I feel on Valentine's Day this year.

And happy Valentine's Day to you and yours too.

Classic Rant #735 (May 14, 2012): Dark Shadows Indeed



My family and I took in another movie this weekend, and yes, we went to see the "Dark Shadows" film on Mother's Day.

As you know, I have been both looking forward to and dreading seeing this film, both at the same time.

As a big fan of the original TV series, I had always hoped that a real, honest to goodness "Dark Shadows" movie could be done in the present time, the right way, without many restrictions put on it.

However, when I heard that a dreaded "reboot" was going to be made of the TV show, well, I had my trepidations.

But with talent like Tim Burton and Johnny Depp involved, I hoped for the better. And I know that Depp is a fan of the TV show, so I really hoped that the movie would uphold the tradition of the show but move it to the next level.

Sorry, people, the movie was bad, not the worst movie I have ever seen, but a disappointment nonetheless.

It was more like "The Addams Family" than "Dark Shadows," and that is where it made its biggest mistake.

The movie takes place in the fictional Collinsport, just like the show did, and the center of attention is the Collins family, just like on the TV show. And yes, the dysfunctional family of the TV show remains dysfunctional.

But other than that, there is really very little linking the TV show and this movie.

And that is the real shame, and sham, of the whole two hour mess.

Pretty much everything was changed in the movie.

The original Barnabas, played by Jonathan Frid--who passed away just a short time ago--played the role of the sympathetic vampire, a character that you pitied for his foibles rather than for what he did to survive.

Depp's Barnabas is nothing but a one-dimensional character, full of angst and ready to spill it everywhere.

And everyone in the Collins family knows he is a vampire, which takes a major, crucial element away from the story.

The other characters pretty much follow suit in this movie, which details the battle between the Collins family and another company, led by Angelique Bouichard, the witch, to take over control of the village's fish canning business.

All of the characters' personalities and characteristics have been changed for the film, and not for the better. And two characters from the original show--Maggie Evans and Victoria Winters--have been combined into one, for no apparent reason.

The worst one--and the one that provides the best performance in the film, by the way--is Helena Bonham Carter, who portrays Dr. Julia Hoffman as a brazen, sex-filled drunk who desires to be so close to Barnabas that she steals his blood for her own immortality.

As the only actor in the film who gets the character right--even though the characteristics are completely an about face from the TV character's foibles--the actress demands more screen time, but gets very little.

The rest of the cast does what it can with a script that is neither witty nor insightful. Michelle Pfeiffer, as Elizabeth Stoddard, and Eva Green, as Angelique, pretty much play this one out with a paycheck in mind, and the rest of the cast is pretty awful and not well cast.

Yes, there are a few chuckles, but a movie like this should have gotten not only chuckles, but out and out laughter--and at the screening that I saw, there was very little laughter by the audience at all.

And yes, Alice Cooper is in the movie as a backdrop to one of the legendary "balls" held by the Collins family. Barnabas continually calls him "she" and says he/she "is the ugliest woman I have ever seen." That's about the level of the humor you get here.

And yes, if you blink, you will see the shortest cameos of all time by some of the original "Dark Shadows" TV cast. It's at the ball, and if it lasts a full second, it's a lot.

With Depp (as actor and producer) and Tim Burton at the helm, I think they made a huge mistake going for jokes rather than doing this straight. I really think that with this talent, they could have made a really terrific movie based on the show.

But they veered too far from the show to make the satire work, and even looking at it as a comedy--as probably most people will, because they don't remember the show or weren't around when the show was on--it just falls flat, flat as a board, or even flat as in bored.

Satire is very difficult to pull off, but satirical works based on TV shows of the past can work; just witness the first "Brady Bunch" movie.

But the creative people behind the show in question must not only be fans, but they must understand the show from top to bottom--including the characters--to draw laughs from it.

Here, Burton and Depp are fans, that's for sure, but for the life of me, I can't understand how they didn't really "get" the show or get the characters.

At the late morning showing we went to, there were about 30 people in the audience, and it appears that at least right now, people are spending their money on "The Avengers" and forsaking this film.

Although it came in second at the box office this weekend, "The Avengers" killed this movie and quite frankly, everything else in its path.

So it might be unfair to say that "Dark Shadows" is a bomb at the box office.

However, as far as I am concerned, "Dark Shadows" laid an egg and is a bloody mess.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Rant #2,082: Never Goin' Back



But yes, you can go back, to a certain extent ...

This is a bit of a slow news day for me.

Today, February 13, is generally something of a lost day anyway, just another day on the calendar. It falls right in between February 12, which is Lincoln's Birthday, and February 14, which is Valentine's Day.

I think February 13 is Hugs Day, actually, so give someone you love a hug to celebrate the day.

But back to the blog ...

Sometimes, as I have said many times, I know exactly what I am going to write about here before I even sit down and log onto my computer.

Other times, I turn on the computer, and as it comes on, I figure out what I am going to write about.

And then there are other times, like today, where I am kind of strapped for something to write about.

I look at what is "hot" on Yahoo, and I really don't see much of anything.

I know the Winter Olympics are still on, but I wrote about the games yesterday, and I feel no need to do it again.

The same for baseball. Pitchers and catchers report this week, and I have already talked about that.

Again, Yahoo doesn't give me much of anything to write about, unless I want to pontificate on Kim Kardashian's 24-inch waist, a measurement that she claims she never had there before.

No, that is about as exciting as looking at my own waist. "I have a muffin stomach and I never had one before now."

No, that isn't going to work either.

So what is a poor blogger to do?

Go back and see what I wrote about several years ago on this day, February 13, in past years.

I thought it would be fun.

Let me look at a few selected years ...

On February 13, 2012, in Rant No. 674, I wrote about "Another Completely Senseless Loss," pertaining to the death of Whitney Houston.

Yes, it has been six years since she died, and since then, her own daughter has passed too. Such senseless losses, both tied to excesses including drugs.

On February 13, 2013, in Rant No. 904, in "Once There Were Five, Now There Are Two," I spoke about the Dave Clark Five, one of my all-time favorite rock and roll acts. One of the band members, Rick Huxley, had just died, leaving just two band members--Dave Clark and Lenny Davidson--still with us.

There was a lot of brouhaha when the DC5 finally was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with two members gone, but if you want to hear good old rock and roll, put their records on your turntable--their songs were, and still are, magic to the ears.

On February 13, 2014, in Rant No. 1,344, in "Another Great Leaves Us," I spoke about the passing of comedian Sid Caesar, one of the greats of early TV on "Your Show of Shows" and a comic that I don't think too many people today remember very well.

He was also in my favorite movie of all time, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," and so few people still remain from the cast of that classic film, and we seem to lose another cast member each year.

On February 13, 2015, in Rant No. 1,377, in "Park Yer Carcass," I wrote about people having arguments about parking spots, and these arguments sometimes turning deadly.

Yes, a parking spot is like temporary real estate that you borrow, and when where to park your car is the question, things can get very dicey. We have all been there, done that, but when it leads to violence, you really have to question the priorities of the people involved.

It also struck me that during several years' February 13, I didn't write anything because the date fell on a weekend.

But anyway, tomorrow is Valentine's Day, so I already know that I am going to write about on Wednesday.

See how easy that was? Cupid saved me!

Speak to you again tomorrow.