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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Rant #1,429: The Thugs of Baltimore

What has been going on in Baltimore, Md., is horrid.

We don't have all the facts in in this case, where a man--a black man--may have been beaten so badly by police that he died from horrific back injuries, and then we have the aftermath, where many in the populace have decided that it is time to destroy their own city.

I cannot explain either one. Both are horrific.

We have ineffective politicians running this city--namely, the mayor--saying that the thugs "should be given space" so they can go about doing what they are doing, and we have a governor who was late in doing anything about it because he was supposedly hamstrung by the mayor's indecisive behavior.

And we have a President in nearby Washington saying that yes, some people (using the term as opposed to what I and many others used) are wrong in looting and pillaging and destroying their own neighborhood, but ...

There is no "but" here.

Again, like in Ferguson a few months back, if you are upset with what has happened, you have every right as an American to protest.

But you do not have every right as an American to destroy things that do not belong to you, and there is absolutely no sane explanation for doing so.

And these rioters and thugs are destroying not only their own neighborhood, but businesses and homes owned by other people of color.

It makes absolutely no sense. None of this does.

All of this has completely gotten out of hand, and just look at what is happening on social media to see how out of hand it has gotten.

I put the following message up, because I felt that I absolutely had to after reading some of the reactions to the Baltimore situation that I had been reading.

I am going to put it up here, and it really sickens me to do so, but I am going to put it up anyway.

Read it, digest it, and try to understand why I wrote what I wrote.

"I posted this as a reply to several posts about what is going on in Baltimore, but now I am going to use this again as my own post.
I was prompted to do this by posts elsewhere, which justified the violence by likening it to "protests" by other ethnic groups, including the Jews, during their "protests" when they fought back against the Nazis during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and other similar situations where the Jews actually at least tried to fight back and prevent themselves from being sent to the gas chambers.

When I hear something like this, I have to cringe, and this is my answer to those who are justifying the actions of these thugs:

'If you give respect, you will get respect. I think some people believe that they automatically get respect by being alive. That is true to some extent, but not wholly true. It is something that has to be earned, whether at home, at school, or at work, or even in society.
What respect do the thugs deserve? NONE. They have besmirched the memory of someone, using the occasion to destroy their own neighborhood. What is the sense of that? And more importantly, it perpetuates the stereotype that perhaps others are protesting against. How can you prove your case when you have this garbage taking over a city?'"

There is really nothing more to say.

Classic Rant #79 (September 2, 2009): Minnie Mouse and the Incredible Hulk Announce Wedding Plans

I am sure you have heard by now that Marvel Entertainment Inc. , and its subsidiary Marvel Comics, has now been bought by Disney for the sum of $4 billion. Thus, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy will be in the same family as Spider-Man, Thor and the Fantastic Four.

It is certainly not the first time that the worlds of entertainment and comic books have merged. Forty years ago, Warner Brothers bought DC Comics, and that marriage has been a good one for the past four decades.

However, as a die-hard comics fan in my youth—and still the owner of 2,000 comics (anyone want to buy them, contact me directly), I have to shed a little bit of a tear at this announcement.

Comics were my “out” in my youth. The couple of minutes or so it took to read them allowed me to leave my real world for a few moments and jump into a world that put my mind at ease.

Comics were my world, a world that adults generally didn’t enter. Superman, Batman and the rest were there for me, and me only.

Comics were not highly regarded back then. Remember, the mid 1960s were only 10 years removed from the hysteria caused by Dr. Felix Wertham and his “Seduction of the Innocent” wrath, where he testified before Congress that comic books led to juvenile delinquency.

Well, I guess I was a closet juvenile delinquent.

Although DC Comics have been owned by a major conglomerate for 40 years, Marvel’s story is, well, another story.

In the early 1960s, Marvel was more than a competitor to DC, it was an alternative to DC. DC superheroes were all hunk and brawn, with little brain, and were not real in the truest sense of the word.

Marvel superheroes had thought processes, worries like the rest of us, and heck, Peter Parker, a/k/a Spider-Man, lived in Queens, just like I did.

Marvel changed the face of comic books forever. Yes, even DC paid attention, and by the late 1960s, comics became relevant, with stories about drug abuse and racism.

And because of that, they weren’t really for kids anymore.

So, in my mind, the purchase of Marvel by Disney is a double-edged sword. Will Disney take the edge off of the Marvel Universe and make them kid friendly again, or will this marriage have its ups and downs and not work out real well?

I just don’t know. Warner Brothers’ influence on DC has been minimal, but again, we are talking Marvel here.

Will your “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” come out of his shell and dress in the latest designer clothes and drive a Ferrari?

Maybe the Shadow knows, because I certainly don’t.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Rant #1,428: Pet Sounds

I had a good birthday celebration.

Work was pretty much pain free, and then later at home, we had a cake, some presents, and I got to see my daughter.

Everything was hunky dory, and then the Yankees won, which always makes my birthday a good one.

Otherwise, very low key, which is good.

Now, on to the next thing.

My family hasn't had a dog in the house for about five years or so.

We first had Mikey, when my wife and I were married, and he was a miserable dog, with a miserable disposition. He was my wife's dog when she was single, he came with us, and like people, dogs can have attitudes, and this dog had one, for sure.

When he died, it took us some time, but we brought Max into our home.

Max was sort of the runt of the litter at he animal shelter that we adopted him from, and he lived up to that name during the 14 years we had him.

He was a real mix, a pit bull and a cocker spaniel, I believe, but his demeanor was so mild. He loved to bark, but this dog was afraid of his own shadow.

He was a good dog, and when we had to put him down, it was very, very difficult, but we hated to see him suffer.

My wife is the real dog person in our home--my son and I really could care less--but I do believe that the time has come to not replace Max, but to bring another dog into our home.

There are some problems with doing that.

Since my wife and I work all day, we are never home. We hope that our son begins working sometime soon, so there will not be anybody home during the bulk of the day.

He--and yes, we only want a male dog--will be a real house dog, just like Max and Mikey were, and that could be a problem for some dogs, until they get used to it, not having anyone around.

But when we are home, he will invariably be the center of attention because he will need us to be, and as a comforting presence after a rough day at work, he will fit right in.

Look, I absolutely hate to walk the dog, but the burden will fall on me, because I wake up first and I am also the last one home after work. So I will have to walk him three to four times each day, and I have to say that that is the worst part of this deal.

But I think the time has come.

My wife grew up in a home with dogs, she had them for the first 18 or so years of marriage, and she misses the companionship of a canine in the home.

We will talk about this again later in the year, when our vacation is over, but I think that the next time we bring this up, we will have another presence in our home, a nice mutt to come home to each and every day.

I don't like to admit it, but I kind of miss having a dog in the house. Max was a great dog, and I swear that I have had recent dreams where I dreamed about him. It was almost as if his presence was in our house during sleep time, kind of telling me that he was OK, and that yes, it is time for his successor.

Call me nuts, but I think those dreams were an omen.

I think a dog is in our future.

Classic Rant #78 (September 1, 2009): I Wish I Was Allergic To Allergies

I have had allergies all my life. As an adult, I have learned to live with the sneezes and the wheezes as best as I can.

However, I don't like having allergies.

They impact me greatly, and as a kid, I really suffered. Ragweed, pollen, dust ... you name it, and it put me in agony. Officially, I am allergic to all of those, and also to horses, the season of fall (with all the falling leaves), and something called the Jerome tree or bush (I can't remember right now which one).

When I was growing up, not that much was known about allergies, and especially how to treat allergies. I lived in a development that was very windy at all times, with lots of dirt and dust constantly blowing around. I can remember many days when I couldn't eat or sleep or do much of anything because I literally could not breath. Tissues were always at the ready, and there were days when I would use a whole box of tissues, and even that wasn't enough.

In the early 1970s, the treatment of allergies matured. I took what I called "the staple test," where they actually inserted (for lack of a better word) different chemicals into your arm at one time with something that resembled a staple gun, and whatever puffed up, you were allergic to.

Of course, your arm would puff up from all the stress it underwent in the application of all of these chemicals. I remember that I had this done during the summer, and I wore long sleeves for weeks because my left arm looked like I was a drug addict.

Anyway, through that initial testing, it was determined what I was allergic to for the first time in my life, and I was prescribed a regular, monthly regimen of allergy shots. All these years later, I have been getting allergy shots, once per month (usually two shots, one in each arm, although now they combine everything and give it in one arm), since I was 15 years old, or since 1972. They have helped me tremendously. I know people who used to get shots and went off the treatment for a while, only to go right back on when allergies symptoms came back.

Me, I have never been off them.

However, that doesn't mean that I don't suffer. I still do. I still get allergy attacks, and you just have to play them out. There isn't really anything you can do about it. The shots can only do so much.

But I really hate having allergies. Thank goodness I don't have asthma, but allergies are bad enough.

Happily, I know I didn't pass this on to my daughter, who really doesn't suffer too much. My son, well the book is still open on whether he has them or not. At 14, I don't see him suffering like I did at that age, but I do see him occasionally have some problems that just spring up, like mine do.

And no, neither of my parents have allergies. This is totally unscientific, but I have always said that my grandfather (my mom's dad) may have passed something on to me. He was an extremely heavy smoker during most of his lifetime (cigarettes, cigars, pipes), and there must be something in the genes that my mother may have passed on to me through him. I loved my grandfather (he died in the early 1970s), but all of that abuse may have impacted a future generation--me.

And no, because of my allergies, I never even tried a cigarette--and no, none of those funny cigarettes, either. I have often said that doing such a thing would have killed me long ago.

And by the way, the over-the-counter and prescription remedies don't work for me, so I don't use them.

More on allergies: Paul Simon actually had a minor hit in the 1980s with a song called "Allergies." I wonder if he is a sufferer, too?

Pardon me while I sneeze.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Rant #1,427: Happy Birthday To Me!

 Iambic pentameter be damned ...

Happy birthday to me.
Happy birthday to me.
Today I am 58.
And boy, I really feel great!

The time has gone fast.
I can't believe how swift.
Time moves on.
Through every hole and rift.

Yeah, that was pretty bad, but it sums up my life today at 58.

I am never 100 percent satisfied, but I am happy.

So today, I looked through some past Rants I wrote revolving around my birthday. I came up with one that pretty much sums up everything.

So rather than repeat everything I was going to say, here is what I had to say on April 27, 2012, many, many Rants ago, about my big day the following day--my birthday was on a Saturday that year--a day which I share with an assortment of celebrities, including Jay Leno, Ann-Margret and yes, Sadaam Hussein.

I updated this Rant where necessary to reflect that I am now 58, not 55, but I feel the same way I did three years ago as I do now.

"I can't believe where all the time has gone. It seems like just yesterday, I was playing in the dirt and mud with my friends.

Today, I am playing in the electronic dirt and mud with my friends, so I guess things haven't changed that much.

In 1957, the Chevy was a very popular car, Elvis was still the top singing star, and "I Love Lucy" was just about off the air.

The Yankees and Braves were in the World Series, and the Braves beat the Bronx Bombers. The Dodgers and Giants played their last home games in New York.

The word "files" related to things stored away in cabinets, and computers were humongous machines that only were available for businesses that could afford them.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, and Barack Obama wasn't even born yet.

I  can't believe where all the time has gone.

I was born in Brooklyn, moved to Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, very early on in my life, moved to Rochdale Village, South Jamaica, Queens, when I was seven, and moved to Long Island when I was 14.

I have been married twice, the second time far and away the best time, and I have two kids, 19 and 26. My wife (a fellow former Queens-ite) and I will be married 22 years in June.

It has been an amazing ride. I have seen everything from those horrible assassinations in the 1960s to moon flight. I have grown up in the best time to grow up, when we moved ahead so much in our everyday lives to the point we are at now.

It isn't all fun. The world continues to be a very unsettled place, and yes, you do have to look over your shoulder time and time again.

But all in all, it's been a very fun ride.

I wish I still had my hair, my belly is a little too round, but even though I'm 58, I haven't changed much.

Not only do people say that I look relatively the same as I did way back when (less the hair), but I don't think my mindset has changed at all in my 58 years.

I still believe family is our No. 1 priority, and nothing, and I mean nothing, stands in the way of family, I don't care what it is.

Health is also important, and the same thing I said for family goes for health too. I have had a few episodes during the past few years to know that health, and family, really are the most important things in life. It seems without one, you can't do the other.

So, today, on April 28, I will celebrate my birthday in relatively good health and with my family. I will go to work today, eat a nice dinner with my family, have a small celebration, and probably watch the Yankees play the Tampa Bay Rays on TV tonight when all is said and done.

The best present? That my family is around me.

So happy birthday to me, and everyone else born on April 28, and, I hope there are many more birthdays to come."

Rant #77 (August 31, 2009): "Larger" Obituaries Should Not Take So Much Precedence Over "Smaller" Ones

When you have a public figure like Sen. Ted Kennedy die, it almost seems as if the world stops. Nothing else matters as we grieve for this fallen icon. Even if we weren't truly enamored by him, the Kennedy saga plays out like our own royalty.

Add into this the continued Michael Jackson nonsense, and you get two obituaries, and their continued coverage, that overshadows all other deaths that have taken place during about the same period of time.

One death that you may have missed was of a person who you probably knew better from her songs than from her name.

Ellie Greenwich, who died on August 26, was one of the most prolific songwriters of her generation. Often working with collaborators like Jeff Barry, she churned out a bushelful of hits in the 1960s, including "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" "River Deep, Mountain High," and "Leader of the Pack." That is just naming three of the dozens of hits she had as a writer, and just three of the hundreds of songs that were put out that had her name as a writer.

She personified the famous "Brill Building Sound" as both a writer and a producer. She was one of the first female rock and roll producers, and helped Neil Diamond attain fame as a solo artist during a period when he was primarily known as a songwriter.

She was also the focus of a long-running Broadway show, "Leader of the Pack," which was loosely based on her life.

Another one you might have missed was Drake Levin, the guitarist for Paul Revere and the Raiders, who died almost fittingly on July 4.

Although he has become a mere footnote in the history of rock and roll, he was the guitarist of the band when they were first being noticed nationally after being sensations in the Pacific Northwest for a number of years. He played on many of their early hits including "Kicks," the first anti-drug rock song.

He left the Raiders in 1966 when they were achieving mass popularity to go into the military. He later pursued his craft as a session guitarist for a number of popular acts including Emitt Rhodes.

I know Greenwich and Levin were not up to the levels of Kennedy and Jackson, but their deaths--and lives--should be recognized, and not overshadowed by bigger and more world-shaking passings.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Rant #1,426: Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?

This weekend was a slow one for myself and my family.

My wife worked on Saturday, so I went about my usual chores--like buying groceries--without her.

On Sunday, we didn't do much of anything, so I had a great chance to watch a lot of TV this weekend, what with the sports that I were interested in--namely, the Yankees versus the Mets, a series which the Yankees won--playing their games later in the afternoon or in the evening.

Anyway, I got my full dose of the new Decades channel, a CBS entity that promises to show a lot of older shows that I enjoy so much more than the garbage on TV today.

The shows are well written, well cast, well crafted, and they do get to you.

Last week, they had on "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.," and please, the movie version of this series, coming later this summer, cannot possibly be as good as the TV series was.

This weekend, and for that matter, still running as I write this, is a really old TV series which I watched as a kid in reruns. It is called "The Millionaire," and the premise is a pretty simple one.

A reclusive multi-billionaire, John Beresford Tipton, is so rich that he has a need to give away his money in million-dollar doses.

He employs an escort, stoic Michael Anthony--played by barrel-toney Marvin Miller--to give away the money, tax free--the taxes have already been paid by Tipton--to unsuspecting people in all walks of life, from policemen to housewives to actors to store clerks.

There is only one stipulation: the new millionaire cannot tell anyone, except his spouse, where the money came from.

Simple as that--and the 1950s viewing public ate this premise up.

Running for five seasons, from 1955 to 1960, the show was a solid hit for CBS. Showing what happened after the new millionaire got his or her money, the show was a real fantasy for the viewers, and probably would be today, too.

Calculated today, that million dollars in 1950s money would be more than $8 million today, and that is probably why every reincarnation of this show since its original run has faded. Sure, a million dollars is something to behold, and I wish I had my own "Millionaire" to present it to me. But the number has almost become blase, when you consider what some actors and actresses and ballplayers get each year.

Anyway, I watched several episodes of the show yesterday, and taped others to watch at a later time. With Tipton never shown--you only see his hands and arms doing something, like playing cards, and you do see tobacco smoke too--the show is pretty much the same each episode. However, some of the episodes play out like soap operas, others like comedies--with laugh tracks, no less--and others are really straight drama.

One that stuck with me was the one where a veteran police detective gets awarded the money. His wife had been nagging him to leave the force, because his work was so dangerous.

The money allows him to leave the force, but his partner gets critically wounded by a crook they had been pursuing for months, and the detective decides that right before he leaves, he has some unfinished business to take care of. With his retirement papers ready to be processed, he goes back and hunts down the criminal with a younger, more raw partner.

Of course, the get their man, the detective's original wounded partner survives, and he finally has peace of mind and retires.

Yes, every episode pretty much has a happy ending, one way or the other, and I guess that is also a draw to the series.

For me, it is so interesting to see some excellent actors--and some then newer performers--cast in each episode, people like Peter Graves and Angie Dickinson and Dick Sargent and Agnes Moorhead and ... the list goes on and on.

So right now, if you have the Decades channel, turn the show on. Yes, it can be sappy, but I distinctly remember watching reruns of this show in my childhood, and it still can get to you in a very interesting way.

The Decades channel actually begins its regular run on May 25, but the binges it is now showing really do whet your appetite for the possibilities that this channel has.

Move over MeTV and Antenna TV and Cozi TV--yes, I believe there is enough room to another retro-TV channel, and Decades is it!

Classic Rant #76 (August 28, 2009): Woodstock Hollywooded To Cash In With Peace

Is anyone else but me bothered by the recent Hollywoodization of Woodstock by those in the entertainment industry?

No, I was not there (I was 12, and my friend's sister invited me to go along, but I knew my mother would kill me if I went), but I think that Hollywood is taking this one-time experience and molding it into its own vision.

There is a movie out right now, "Taking Woodstock," which is the prime example of this Hollywood vision. It purports to tell the story of Elliot Tiber, an aspiring Greenwich Village interior designer whose parents owned a small motel in upstate New York, near the site of the festival. He held the only music festival permit for the town of Bethel, and offered it and accommodations at the Catskills motel to the organizers of the Woodstock festival.

However, whatever its "noble" intentions may be, it has gotten the story all wrong--at least based on one of the commercials I have seen about the film and some reviews I have seen of the movie.

I have not seen the film, probably won't see it in the theaters, but on the surface, I see some problems, having to do with Hollywood tampering with the product.

The song "Hush" is used as the music in one of the commercials used to promote the film. Well, "Hush" is a great song, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the festival.

As you probably know, it was a big hit for the earliest incarnation of Deep Purple, a band that with all its glory, had nothing to do with Woodstock--meaning that they weren't there, did not perform, probably weren't invited, and probably had little or no idea what "Woodstock" was.

Why is their music being used in this commercial? Who knows.

Another commercial for the film uses Joe Cocker's version of "Feelin' Alright," which is more in keeping with the film's theme. I mean, at least he was there.

I wish Hollywood would get its facts straight, and not appropriate a bit of this and a bit of that to make things more palpable for the viewing public.

I think everyone would agree that Woodstock was what it was, and it wasn't Deep Purple, and it wasn't Hollywood per se, either.

Our local newspaper gave the movie a poor rating, but that doesn't really mean that much. as the reviewer complained that not much screen time was given to the main character's homosexuality, only passing mentions.

Tiber was gay, which I think excited the moviemakers, because for better or worse, gayness is "in" in Hollywood now. It wasn't during the time of Woodstock, so I guess the filmmakers thought they could use this as a subplot, exploring how it was being gay 40 years ago in a country going through a civil rights revolution that did not include gay rights.

Homosexuality in a Woodstock movie? I mean, who really cares about this? Do a movie on Stonewall about the beginnings of the gay rights movement during this time, but why throw in this subplot? What does it have to do with the festival? Why is it being used as a plot device? For that matter, why would heterosexuality be used as a plot device here?

It is being used to satisfy 00's needs in a movie about the 1960s. How lame a reason is that? It is like using hair care as a subplot of a movie on the Civil War.

Heck, it has gotten to the point that I'd much rather watch the really loooooong three-hour documentary about the festival ... at least that was real ... well, sort of real, at least.