Archive for July, 2011

Androgynous Sexpots

July 14th, 2011

Apologizing in advance for serving up dried rants from my bag of jerky, I have inspiration today from fill-in FT columnist Gautam Malkani. His Why sex isn’t child’s play for advertisers analyzes the business aspects of sexualizing kid’s clothes and other products. It also concludes with a keen cultural observation of how adults match kids in immature role play.

Hence, my jerky…

Many folk — bluenoses, plain old parents and more — are aghast at the now common pornification, as Malkani has it, of kids’ goods. Think the obvious thongs and bras for wee girls. Such hooker clothes look tacky and do-me enough on adult women.

He cites condemning studies as well as a toymaker’s assertion that kids are more literal. That is, they don’t interpret obvious-to-adults sexuality as sexuality.

Malkani gets to it though with, “Children will always want to act like grown-ups, while the middle-aged increasingly adopt a younger, more sexual identity. The infantilisation of adulthood, therefore, forms part of the same dynamic.”

Back to my own dried rant, a scan of the most popular overly sexualized ads would confirm the efforts to squeeze kiddies and 20- and 30-somethings into a pubescent mold. The concept seems to be an ideal of hairless, flat-chested, asthenic things, critters up for any activity that does not require too much exertion.

The androgynous creatures in most of these ads have lately lost much of their drug-addict appearance of shadowy eyes and totally emotionless gapes. Yet they remain almost to a one without secondary sex characteristics that define gender to the larger world. That is, the likely females have neither obvious hips nor real breasts, and the possible males lack muscle mass or broad shoulders.

We can each draw our own conclusions about why anyone would want to be or be with asexual looking androgynous types. Unfortunately for those with such fantasies, only a very small minority of adults is so scrawny, hairless and without other gender traits. Those who aim for that appearance are forced into crazy clothes, crazy makeup and crazy diets.

The harmless, hairless critters of advertising and pop culture are already becoming artifacts and atavisms. Soft science practitioners like sociologists as well as historians should have great fun recounting them, particularly with so much ad art available as example.

Meanwhile, the advertisers seem determined to find out how well they can jerk consumers, including parents, around on sexual ads. We may as a culture decry the G-strings for girls type of products, but apparently enough of a subset of us is buying them to create a business. That seems to be evidence that we have too much time, too much cash, and too much desire to be trendy.

$20 Tom At It Again

July 13th, 2011

Last fall, when the students (and their bikes) had returned, Boston staged a barely dramatic crackdown on cyclists. Today, Mayor Tom Menino gave fair warning that he was ordering another, ongoing this summer.

Per his press release, he bills this one as largely educational too. In preparation for the bike sharing program about to start, he sees a broad public information campaign. Most aspects, of course, won’t be punative. As the release puts it, “‘It is important that all cyclists and motorists alike follow the rules of the road so that the streets are safe for all users,’ Mayor Menino said. ‘This program will educate cyclists on how to bike safely and abide by the rules. We want all cyclists to wear helmets and to follow stoplights.'”

That’s actually only a little odd. The helmet aspect is optional above age 12. (As a regular cyclist, I always wear a helmet and used to keep a post car-crash one with three cracks in it to convince my vain, painter-cap wearing chums to go my way.)

Last September, the BU daily paper reported 100 students got $20 tickets, largely for passing red lights without stopping. Police claimed that the cyclists largely understood it was for their safety and that some thanked the cops.

In preparation for the Hubway bike-sharing launch shortly, City Hall has already expressed concerns that non-cyclists won’t be used to the laws and that some may ignore their agreement to wear a helmet when on a city bike. Beyond the ticketing, the education will include free and highly reduced-price helmets, as well as literature and classes coordinated with Boston Cyclists Union, Livable Streets Alliance, MassBike, Walk Boston, Boston University Police, Northeastern Police and the Boston Public Health Commission.

Given the adversarial and disdainful attitude of many non-cyclists here, a well-handled education program should be amusing all around. To hear the anti-cyclist types tell it or read their comments on newspaper and other websites, every single cyclist is a crazed scofflaw who terrorizes the aged, toddlers and law-abiding motorists and pedestrians.

Yet, if the Mayor’s release is right, a very overdue crackdown on red-light runners, crosswalk blockers, and those who don’t yield to walkers or other vehicles (including bikes) should follow. Motorists, whose tickets for moving violations are considerably higher than $20 and can come with license suspensions and multi-year insurance surcharges, will be in for a much greater shock than cyclists.

I have long doubted the police had the political will and respect for pubic safety to enforce laws routinely against motorists. The cliché of no-blood-no-ticket has a basis in observable fact.

I for one will watch to see how since the Mayor and BPD are here. If it’s just a small drama as last year, nothing will change. If motorists as well as cyclists come to think they have some incentive beyond decency to obey traffic laws, that would be huge advance.

On the other hand, if the Mayor or police brass have fantasies that motorists here adhere to the laws, they need to stand next to virtually any traffic light or stop sign for 10 minutes. Count the illegal actions by motorists and weep, guys.

Bike Rental Killjoy or Cassandra?

July 13th, 2011

Gloomy prediction time…I’ll say Boston’s new bike-rental program fails. There it is and I would sincerely like to think I’d be wrong. My neck is on the block, particularly as a velophile (word?)

I’ll plug this on Harrumph! and Marry in Massachusetts, as it has both personal and political angles. I’ll admit if I’m wrong and folk can feel gleeful in calling me on it.

hublogoUnder the urging of Mayor Tom Menino and the excellent dealing and managing from Nicole Freedman, the city’s director of bicycle programs, The Hubway rental system is not only zooming into reality, it’s still on its original schedule, likely this month. With the outside deals, bureaucracy, and finances, that’s close to a miracle (which we have come to expect from Freedman).

Even before the particulars, I was pessimistic on this program. It has worked in other European, Canadian and a few U.S. cities already though. Here though, I don’t see it getting enough ridership, nor making the vendor happy with income levels, nor adding substantially to the cycles on the streets, nor getting citizen respect for the property.

To the latter point, we brag about our huge college-student population, while paying for it culturally too often. The tales of disturbances and destruction abound. Far more than other cities, we see that bottles seem meant for peeing in to leave on streets and stoops, or to smash on roads or sidewalks. I recall that lesson when I commuted daily from JP to Southie by bike. I had to learn to avoid Columbus near Northeastern, particularly by the campus cop station, where broken, tire-ruining beer-bottle shards were the norm.

Prove me wrong, Boston, but I can easily see drunken, drugged or just nasty college students and other youth trashing the bikes in rental stations. What fun, eh?

Today, looking at the announced pricing structure, I think it is too similar to parking garages. In between only a few initial stations and the pricing reality, the system is not all that attractive. Fundamentally, it works only if you will start and finish in those limited locales and can get where you want to go in under 30 minutes.

hubbikeThe stations will be in what most of us think of as the larger downtown area, out to one here and there also in Back Bay, South End, Seaport, Fenway, Longwood, and Brighton/Allston. I don’t see the actual spots on the site yet, but it’s pretty sure they’ll be kind of like Zipcars and only sort of convenient. Yet, this is not Athena emerging from Zeus’ head fully grown. It’ll take many months to figure out the right station locations.

The nut starts out reasonably enough, with an annual $85 fee (introductory $60). Then the nickels and dimes add up very quickly.

Again, 30 minutes is the magic period (set your carriage-to-pumpkin clock). If you have an annual membership or are an ad hoc renter (Casual member in Hubway lingo), you can theoretically have thousands of 30-minute maximum rides a year for no charge. In fact, if the station locations and timing worked for you, it would make the most sense to go up to a kiosk and use a credit card to reserve a bike every time, so long as you kept to the half hour. Annual memberships come with the convenience of a key that lets you grab a bike, as it maps to your data.

In the real world, if you don’t end up in the midway of your trip at a station, you pay by the hour. Here the fees leap up to and then far beyond parking garages. They really, really don’t want you having a bike out for more than 30 or 60 minutes. The whole pricing card is here. A taste of the acceleration is:

Time Annual Casual
<30 0 0
30-<60 $1.50 $2
60-<90 $4.50 $6
90-<2 hours $10.50 $14
2-<3 hours $16.50 $22

And so it climbs by about $8 an hour for casual and $6 per for annual renters. It tops at 6 and one-half to 7 hours at $94 and $70.50 and then from 7 to 24 hours at $100 and $75.  Lord help you if you keep the bike over a day. Hubway will consider it stolen and truly put a parking garage’s rates to shame — $1,000 on your credit card.

If you think Nexflix’ 60% just announced gouging rates are absurd, this gives some perspective.

On the other hand, for a limited number of potential users, $85 for a year of bike use, zero maintenance, and practically unlimited 30-minute trips is such a deal. Truly.

I remain to be convinced that we’re collectively mature enough for the Hubway. I simply don’t have the faith in Bostonians that Menino and Freedman have exhibited here. In fact, announcing this program at City Hall plaza in April, the Mayor committed to the three Italians, adding U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano and Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, to taking the first trio of Hubway bikes out of the racks.

Here’s hoping they prove me wrong.

Bad, Worse, Worst, By Cracky

July 13th, 2011

Dig in the cliché bag. You don’t have to go far to find, ta da, that no one can afford to live in Manhattan.

My recurring chuckle on that emerged after reading a humor piece One of the Grumpy Old Men of the Blogosphere. As he writes, “I walk around smacking the young folks with my cane and tell them that when I started blogging seven years ago it was a different blogosphere than it is now.”

Thus it is on so many topics, including NYC.

A few weeks ago, number one son considered another job, moving from Davis Square. One of the company’s options was California and another 200 miles South. He commented that Manhattan, where he was born and lived his first six months, was far too expensive.

Where’s my cane?

Truth be told, residents of the City have told that truth for well over a century, like Bostonian love to brag about ephemeral weather. Even such visitors as Mark Twain spoke of that, as in 1876. Before the pop term meme, pride in the mercurial weather was conversation filler and marginal assertion.

Let’s set aside that over 1.5 million live in Manhattan, over 8 million in the five boroughs, and over 18 million in the metro area. Let’s pretend that they all moved there decades ago, “the last time the area was affordable” or that they inherited a rent stabilized flat.

If that’s not enough to kill the cost fantasy:

  1. Compare NYC prices to other high-rent/ownership cities
  2. Ask old, long-term locals

I got my first lessons in this shtick in the 1960s, when I was in high school about 20 miles west in New Jersey. Having moved from exurban Virginia, I was ready for a real city and thrilled to be there. For a small bag of dirt (under a buck, really), a bus would drive into the Port Authority station. I was a regular.

Many other students were afraid to go and had parents who refused to let them take the bus to see the larger world. I think of one of our class trips, to visit the United Nations, when a teacher asked the captives how many had been to Manhattan before. I thought that had to be a stupid question and that surely 100% would raise a hand. Under half did, including my seatmate, who said his father had been last when he left the Army there after WWII ended, over 20 years before. That dad found it dirty and did not feel safe, so he and his family had sat 22 miles west all those years without the museums, shows, restaurants, and wowsers, the energy of Mahattan.

I was all over the 14 miles of Manhattan and much of all the boroughs, with limited Staten Island time beyond the ferry and a few near-dock spots. I promised myself I’d live there after college, and did for a decade. Even as I moved to first the East and then West Village, people all around me who somehow managed to afford living there said no one could afford to live there.

Circling back to the cliché and grumpy old and young people, I have heard it at least hundreds of times, maybe thousands, each with great assuredness. The discussion comes in two flavor:

  1. New York used to be affordable, but no longer is
  2. People have always said it used to be affordable, but no longer is, so blah blah

While Manhattan is way down the list in overall expense worldwide (maybe 32), at the moment it does top the U.S. list. Oddly enough, it’s not that far beyond the next four — San Francisco, LA, DC and Boston. At various times, it has not been at the top.

Of course, housing prices, which reflect desirability, are the largest driver. Moreover, the results for many residents are skewed in favor of the big five cities by income. Employers, particularly white-color ones, compensate staff to adjust for higher prices, bringing the real expense down.

Forget the mitigating factor though. The fun part is that for over 40 years, I’ve heard the same loony rap about unaffordable Manhattan. I also have met long-term New Yorkers who are more rational and less emotional about it. They don’t feel the need to chant no-one-can-live-here-anymore at the least provocation.

Instead, the observant and experienced say they too had heard that from much older, longer-term residents and know it’s jive. Sure, you pay to live where the vitality, personal, business and artistic, is. Yet millions have, do and want to. Let the cliché ricochet around the room or vehicle. It’s boring, but harmless, plus it keeps the easily daunted away.

Those millions manage. They just have to want it, not be afraid and make it work…by cracky.

A Home Where the Hens Roam

July 12th, 2011

I am sure there must be a heavily labored pun involved in a young Turk becoming a champion of chickens. I won’t try, but I do predict that Boston City Councilor Rob Consalvo will handle this in a moderately anal retentive, bureaucratically acceptable way. Given that live chickens are for some unfathomable reason a zoning issue controlled by the Board of Appeals, that’s the best possible outcome.


Sorry for the 2 to 3 hour delay from this morning/afternoon’s hearing. Fortunately Universal Hub’s Adam Gaffin was there, along with at least one newspaper reporter. The former’s filing is here.

While the news would appear to be that Roslindale’s chicken ladies lost. They didn’t really, but they did have to continue to play the Boston Political Game. They are likely to prevail…with assistance from Consalvo.

The tale is worthy of a The Daily Show skit, including:

  • Boston regs read you can raise chickens if you get a health department permit
  • Pay your $50 for the permit application, wait, wait, get denied
  • Find that your neighborhood zoning (arbitrary with the effect of law) forbids Accessory keeping of animals other than laboratory animals (page 39)
  • Loud, smelly, feces heaping dogs and other pets are OK, but all farm animals are secretly excluded from the alleged permit system
  • Endorsements by all abutters are meaningless
  • You need to play the game of a Board of Appeals hearing to get a denial to advance

Consalvo is Councilor for the district that includes Hyde Park and a bit of Roslindale, the bit including Audra Karp and her wife, and formerly three hens. The chicken trio are in the Ashland yard of her father, who she says gets to keep the eggs although her family drops by for omelets.

You can read the detailed experience at Legalize Chickens in Boston.

At this point, I see that Consalvo (disclaimer: my district Councilor, whom I know) is going to fix it. He said he was working on doing that after the hearing today denying the couple’s zoning variance to bring the exiled hens back to Firth Road. Glum as I can be, I asked whether we were two or three years out for a solution. He figures one or less.

Of course, with machinations that would outrage a libertarian or small-government type, the underlying issues may not go away even then. First, consider what Consalvo IDs as the underlying problem — a health/animal control issue has been put under the control of the rules-are-rules types at zoning. While the board told the Globe that of course they were reasonable and that the decision on this case would occur at the hearing, the fix was in and that was so much Karp crap.

Even sympathetic Consalvo opposed the women’s appeal, as did the Mayor’s office. Both used the bureaucratic, impotent excuse that the city zoning policy put chickens in a forbidden class for that neighborhood. That’s the big duh in government.

The real solution is what Consalvo hinted at in his opposition comments. He followed Karp, who noted that she had contacted all of her neighbors within 300 feet, had letters of support from 42 of them, hundreds of petition signatures, and zero objections of anyone. Consalvo said that he had a folder with over 200 letters of support as well.

This is not some form of simple democracy.

To help understand the issue more clearly from the peculiar Boston perspective a member of Consalvo’s staff presented a sliver of Roslindale history. I searched the Globe archives (a half dozen for-fee articles; search rats, Roslindale and Samuel Wood) when I returned today to get the time frame as well. It was the early to mid-1980s. Back then, Roslindale was one of many Boston areas overrun with rats, rats and more rats.

Even though it turned out according to rat czar of the time, Sam Wood, that the pests came, played and stayed because a huge percentage of the public as well as restaurants left trash out, not in bags and in uncovered containers, the public was understandably freaked. In what might be a good ad for Scientology, many older residents are still engrammed, figuring it must have been farm animals, not themselves causing the problem. Hence, let’s oppose chickens, even if, as Karp says, she keeps the food in pest-proof containers and only sows small amounts of seed at a time.

robbwakHonestly, the folk objections to chickens — noise, food poisoning, smell and such are hooey. Reason is not the dominating factor here however. There’s the possibility of doing what Karp and her wife suggest, considering small numbers of chickens (no roosters, thank you very much) as pets.

For his part, Consalvo has applied his usual intense energy to this. He’s met with the chicken women, and with GreenRozzie and other advocates for them, as well as fielding anti-chicken types’ calls.

Had I been the chicken ladies, I would have been angry. Instead, they said they’d work the system to do what was necessary to get their hens back in town. Even after several of their neighbors praised the pair, said everyone loved seeing hens, applauded the self-sufficiency, and noting there was neither noise nor stink, Board member Michael Monahan expressed the preset tone of the body with a comment about theirs being “not the right house…not the right area.” That sounds like chicken shit to me.

Then again, Consalvo is a very reasonable guy, still energetic enough to pull on the levers of power as many times as it takes to get a prize. I’m not sure he’s going to be able to get chickens taken away from zoning, where they have absolutely no business, but I bet he’ll broker a good deal.

Already, they have been examining the rules at places like New York City that allow and regulate fowl. Apparently, Vancouver’s system is a good model for us. You’d suppose it would be simpler, but let’s recall that somehow we let regulation of agrarian remnants of New England culture come under the BRA satraps. Rules are rules. They don’t really have to think. This is only one more piece of civic silliness.

In the end, the City Council is likely to chat up other, more rational cities’ chicken procedures, pick one or parts of several we can call our own, and pass an ordinance. I’ll bet on Consalvo to get it done.

Postprandial Update: The Globe has similar coverage to UH.

A Head to Call My Own

July 12th, 2011

Granddad had a disgusting straw hat, which he usually hung from a 16-penny nail inside his garden shed. It was typical of a thing that would disgust many women, including his wife, my grandmother. With a dark brown ribbon of stain from his perspiration and a similar circle on the crown, it was a how-can-you-wear-that object to some.

Of course, to complete the stereotype, many women are astonished when men continue to wear perfectly good underpants, except for those several growning holes. Even if no body parts fall out, the briefs are fine for the man, but not for the woman who sees them.

Thus, his straw hat was likewise fully functional to keep his bald head from burning and his brain from sunstroke. He had snuck away at 14 to join the AEF illegally fighting the Hun. He returned lesser in having gotten trench mouth causing him to lose his teeth, and in becoming pretty damned bald in his late teens. He somehow attributed losing his hair to the war, although looking at his sons and grandsons, genes seem to be the key players here.

Regardless, he needed a hat. He’d been wearing one in his gardening for many decades before I worked with him 4, 6 or 8 hours on summer days. His patches as he called them were one or two acre-sized farms, requiring a lot of time in a lot of sun.

His hat started out as an off-white/natural sub-fine straw piece, before its degradation. He carried handkerchiefs and wiped his brow, face and whole head, but the hat showed the effects of prolonged heat.

amoshatIn fairness, his garden hat was not the floppy, hillbilly style of the patriarch Amos in a TV show of the era, The Real McCoys. An Amos capture is to the left.  On the other hand, it was also not the finely woven Panama of the plantation owner or dandy.

While not a big clothing and furnishings customer, I thought of Granddad’s hat recently. Not only did I track down powerful glasses, but I bought a new straw.

Pretty bald myself, I have hats. I do wear baseball caps, particularly if the sedan’s roof is open. Yet, I’m no more a baseball cap guy than I am a short-sleeve button shirt one.

My other hats are largely felt, beaver and otherwise, and brown. I’d had a natural straw, but did not keep it into its ugly age. Instead, we’d been seeing the splash about the JP hat store, Salmagundi. My wife and I visited and each got a straw hat, she a cloche and I the Stetson mixed-brown Chester.

I walked in fully expecting to replicate my idea of straw hats. I’m not a boater hat guy either. I do tend to think in natural Panama fedora styles. However, the enthusiastic Salmagundi help were all over me.

I remember my childhood growing up with a mother and sister, and often being sure to bring something to read while I sat in the husband chair at a clothing or shoe shop. They’d try on this, that, and the other. I would tend to go into either type of store when I really needed something and leave quickly with exactly what I entered to buy.

notGDInstead this weekend, it must have been a dozen hats of various shades of white/tan/brown, different weaves and densities, and several styles. Much to my surprise, I had to agree with my wife and the main fitter that the Chester was the best of the bunch for me.

It’s likely to be quite awhile before I buy another straw hat. I did leave the store thinking I might have to indulge my ideal of a natural-color Panama. I suppose the occasional attention to fashion won’t turn me into a fop. On the other hand, there are those yellow glasses, which each of the clerks in the hat store praised, as have friends, waitrons and even folk on the street.

Is this fashion stuff addictive?

Expounding on a Pound

July 10th, 2011

MHcanI suspect two forces worked on the adults keeping Cub and Boy Scouts crafty and busy. First, the cultural and religious idea that idle hands are the devils tools was one of seemingly countless clichés the WWII generation loved. Second, we were to imitate what our parents thought was manly.

Honestly, the second had good side-effects. Those included having to understand how things work to make stuff. In turn, as adults that leads to being able to fix, make do, and make multiple applications for objects. I fear we boomers have slacked off on that, parents and teachers alike. Far too many Gen-X and Y sorts live in a Mac-fantasy world where things are just supposed to work. When they don’t, as is often the case, even with Apple products, they are at a loss — the curse of the gentle Eloi.

When I open a can of coffee, I sometimes transport to the church basements where we Cubs made pinhole cameras. Those worked most easily using the classic 1-pound low can (like the one in the screen capture of a 50s commercial). For reasons inspiring the following rant, that’s no longer true.

Kodak still puts out instructions for such cameras, as here. That dulls my point. You can still do it. Of course, with digital cameras per se as well as in most cell phones, and next to no photo labs accessible to most of us, that may be moot. Although, I bet boomers acting as Scoutmasters and Den Mothers may crawl into the WABAC machine to get their lads involved. At least the adults will think the project worthwhile.

The modern instructions, however, require a 2-pound can. That’s not to use bigger film, but because short of an antique store or online auction, you can’t find a low 1-pounder. While not all of the WWII era coffee cans were the squat ones, I think about half were. Nowadays, coffee is in bags or the tall cans, neither at all suited to the cameras.

Moreover, coffee is a devils tool in itself, one of deceit. The incredible, shrinking foodstuff would not have made a good horror movie, even in the 50s and 60s where we churned out hundreds (Mole People, Giant Claw, It and They Came from Outer Space, Killer Shrews and such, of course including the Incredible Shrinking Man). Yet, it is a weekly horror at the grocery, one so commonly visited on us that we are inured.

Each of us likely has particular issues here. There is less cereal in each box and fewer chips in the bag, even when the package stays the same size — contents may settle, snort! It is not as obvious when the package is in ounces and fractions.

However, when you grew up with a pound, in the pre-metric world, the miniaturization is all the plainer.

We tend to buy Latino or Italian espresso coffees. They reflect the downsizing along with the WASPy U.S. cans of watery, lighter brews. Cans are tall and increasingly thin. Vacuum bricks seem to have been left out in the rain to shrink. Typical cans have gone from a pound to 14 ounces to 12 to 10, and bricks are now typically 8 or 8.5 ounces.

For awhile, whether it was cereals or coffee, the companies maintained the package price…while the contents shrank, shrank and shrank. Now with global economic pressures, growing demands and production problems, they are pumping up the prices for their deflated goods.

That’s likely to continue. Perhaps it would be the single trend that could finally stop the supersizing of everything caloric that we ingest. We might be priced out of obesity.

The majority of Americans likely never made a pinhole camera. They likely have never seen a low 1-pound can of coffee either. So the makers and vendors don’t constantly remind them of what they’re not getting — they never had it. There’s another opening for another cliché of how you can’t miss what you never had.

Milking the Folk Festival

July 9th, 2011

Is this a Pluggers cartoon? We’ve been doing the Lowell Folk Festival for all of its 25 years, missing one when we were far away. We’ll do it again, at the least this year on Saturday, July 30th.

lffbluesThere are ways to maximize your thrills and rewards. Because so much happens in a time slot and because acts can stagger starts, you need to game the system a wee bit. It’s a type-A sport worth the trouble.

Note that this free (let’s stress that) music extravaganza:

  • Has six stages with simultaneous performances
  • No stage is more than 10 minutes stride away from another, giving you time to sample, shift if you aren’t delighted, and be sure to catch must-see shows
  • Will often offer two, three or more acts you’d like to catch at the same time
  • Has performers who give more than one show a day – different time and stage
  • Has a devil of a lot beyond the narrowest stereotype of folk music
  • Is certain to present a band or singer you don’t know and will be delighted to have heard

The performer list and the schedule for all three days are available. For me, this means:

  1. Reading the full list to identify shows I won’t miss
  2. Grabbing the spreadsheet version of the sked and sorting it by time and day for my project management thing
  3. Finding out if my essential performers are on stage more than once (time and/or day)
  4. Picking one or more types of music or acts I don’t know and want to chance
  5. Highlighting my choices
  6. Highlighting (different color) promiscuous options, like nearby shows that are in the same time slots, for possible flitting among them

My first go this year is on the fridge. Shemekia Copeland (pic) is great. We’ve heard her several times here and first caught her at the LFF. She’s always worth it. So, I started with the 5 PM show.

Otherwise, unless I feel whims or someone drops out, I intend to start with:

  • Birmingham Sunlights (a cappella gospel) at noon
  • Eden Bent (blues/boogie woogie) at 1
  • Michael Cleveland (bluegrass) at 2
  • Rhythm of Rajasthan (India) at 3
  • Bill Kirchen (honky tonk) at 3:30 (sneaking out to double up here)
  • Quebe Sisters (Western swing) at 4 (likely coming late if Kirchen is really good)
  • Copeland at 5

There’s more later as well as options to skip around among stages. Yet, that’s already a full day and maybe musically tiring, even for listening sponges. We could probably leave after those and feel quite happy.

This is a good time to play off Mr. T here. I pity the fool who does not catch at least one day of the LFF.

How Do Grannies Eat Those?

July 7th, 2011

Summer is when bananas brown, then blacken fast. Hiding them in the fridge gives you an extra day, but they’re doomed like the pretty supporting actress in the sci-fi flick.

Yet, my grandmother was one of many who could hardly wait for what most of us think of bananas gone bad. She’d set aside a few in her pantry just for them to turn black.

She had other country eating habits that moderately appalled me. The worst was surely her raw passion for the chicken neck. That gnarly mess that was trash to me, when cooked looked like a stick you’d pick out of a stream, was perfection to Mabel.

When I heard a Bill Cosby routine about this, I got it thoroughly. He spoke of his mother or grandmother making love to a chicken neck. The skit had lots of sucking noises, including finger cleaning. That was the otherwise prim Mabel totally engaged in capturing every fragment of cervical goodness from that overbaked osteoid arc.

She was also the one who’d be sure to have a wee seafood fork when we had a beef roast. She’d pluck the marrow from the bone and savor it. That was a much quieter display.

Of course, the aim of eating each of what was trash to me was sweetness of one type or another.

It’s true enough that black bananas as ripe and redolent. You can smell them as you approach the house, as can every six-legged flying critter, all of whom seem determined to beat you to them. Sure they’re soft to the point of being pulpy. The flavor is so strong and the sweetness so intense, they overpower all, like a cloying version of a stinky cheese.

That’s the point for someone who likes sweetness with intense aroma and flavor.

Likewise, Mabel would take the magnificent local peaches and ruin them to my mind with sugar. In the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, she was surrounded by apple and peach orchards on the mountainsides. Granddad would keep her supplied with the biggest, best and ripest peaches. I’d like them out of the wooden baskets, but Mabel wanted them even sweeter. She’d slice them, sprinkle sugar around and store them in the fridge for a day or even two. The chemical changes broke down the structure a bit, making them softer, darker colored and even sweeter.

Banana, neckbone, marrow or peach, the points were sweetness and intensity.

Today, I’ll keep four or five browning bananas, but only for secondary purposes. They are the basis for great banana bread, and can make delightful pancake augmentation or even an ice-cream like frozen dessert.

I don’t have Mabel’s sweet tooth. In fact, I’ve gotten less of one as I age. Candy bars I used to love, like Heath Bar, are far too sweet to me now. I favor a 70% bittersweet chocolate square. When I bake pie or banana bread I put in half or a third of a traditional portion of sugar. I want the flavor intensity to outrun the sweetness.

De gustibus though. Mabel thoroughly enjoyed her treats. To those who eat only to live, I say that’s a noble construct, but my grandmother got serious, repeated pleasures from her treats.

Juries CAN Doubt

July 6th, 2011

I have not wallowed in the Casey Anthony murder trial. In fact, I avoid sensationalist news and even morbid and tawdry television dramas. Yet what has been thrust before me reinforces that juries need more than slathering of speculation to convict in violent felonies.

Last evening, I turned on TV news. That in itself is unusual, but caught, I saw the lead-in with the not-guilty verdict of the young mother accused of plotting and carrying out the murder of her two-year-old daughter. Immediately the point of the reportage was plain as the camera and mic captured one spectator after another in a viewing room decrying the verdict. They wanted guilt, retribution, execution. They wanted blood. They were outraged that the jury did not.

Having sat on a few felony juries, I was less willing to damn the dozen who had discussed the trial for only 11 hours before their agreement. Such public bifurcation with a jury seems a norm, much like family, friends and neighbors being positive that the accused, whom after all they know, did not, could not and would never have committed the crime.

The jury so far also agreed as a body not to discuss their deliberations. Surely several will eventually do it anyway. Meanwhile though, second and third guessing abounds.

My personal touchstone for such was a trial at which I was a juror. It was not murder, but it was still horrific. A stepfather was charged with multiple instances of raping his very young stepdaughter. Mom was not prosecuted but may have been aware and done nothing, according to the DA’s office.

We did in fact find him guilty, but only of a single count. After our verdict, which took a longer deliberation than the Anthony jury’s, I was close enough to the bench to overhear the judge and assistant DA going on about what fools we were, that it was obvious that he was guilty of the long list of charges.

Show Me The Proof

We on the jury strongly thought he was a dastard who likely had done it all. The problem we were unable to get over is that the prosecution only proved a single crime. We did not have the slack attitude, in effect contempt for the legal process, that the judge and assistant DA did. We took it seriously when we were charged with finding him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

In this case, the prosecution only bothered to present real and detailed evidence on a single rape charge, apparently assuming we’d spread the assumption of guilt like so much melting ice cream.

The young girl did not testify. She was in a much safer home already as well. We heard police and forensic evidence, plus obviously false denials by the accused. While the prosecution allegedly had proof on the other charges, he never revealed any of it to us.

It was extremely frustrating to end up in the deliberation room without just cause to find him guilty on all charges. We said as a group that he likely was guilty of many more instances, but again, we had no evidence.

After the trial, a couple of us chatted. Two agreed with me that everyone in the case seemed sleazy and worthy of jail — including defense attorney, assistant DA and even the judge. None seemed to respect the process of justice. None of them seemed to have the morals befitting his job.

I feel for jurors who find themselves with reasonable doubt. Their raw emotions may well want to convict an accused whom onlookers are absolutely positive is guilty, but they have as they say in Star Trek, a prime directive.