Tuesday, September 30, 2003CNN released a story about how US drivers are spending more time in congested traffic, complete with an interactive national map with cities ranked by clogginess.
Los Angeles again is king of the jams, rated as the #1 most congested driving in the country.
What gives? Chicago ranks #5 in the nation in traffic jam time (tied with Phoenix, AZ), but the New York City-Northern New Jersey metro area is a breezy #27.
"The Miracles?" one replies. "The Pips?" "The Temptations?"
All those answers are wrong.
The men behind the music of Motown were an unsung team of brilliant studio musicians who called themselves the Funk Brothers - and they played on more #1 hits than Elvis, the Beatles, and many others combined. In those golden days of inexpensive, paper-sleeved 45 RPM hit singles, you just never heard the names or saw them in print.
But you could never forget the sound.
Filmmaker Alan Slutsky discovered the Funk Brothers story by accident, and consequently spent well over a decade bringing the project to life. As he describes at one point on the DVD release of "Standing In The Shadows of Motown," he is "fighting a biological clock" - the advanced age of the musicians, who over thirty years after silent heyday have only begun to taste the recognition they deserved. Many of the original Brothers have passed on since filming began.
It's a heartwarming and bittersweet look into a story that should have been told long ago. Many filmmakers have created fictionalized versions of unsung musical heroes like "Eddie and the Cruisers," "The Five Heartbeats," what have you. The difference is, this tale is true; the names and the faces are real.
...and as the live concert segments (the Funk Brothers fronted by the formidable pipes of Chaka Khan, Gerald Levert, Joan Osborne, Bootsy Collins and Ben Harper) of this movie demonstrate first-hand, they haven't lost a bit of their chops. This one comes heartily recommended.
Sunday, September 28, 2003...until you've experienced the phenomenon of the "official block party."
I don't mean the kind where a group of apartment buildings decide to throw a massive keg party on a Friday night, and where the police arrive a few hours later to break up the brawls and traffic snafu's. The kind I mean is the one where city tow trucks come at 9 in the morning to clear both sides of the street of all vehicles - good luck finding your car, if you live a couple of blocks away and weren't "in the loop" - and a fat, bald tow truck operator who looks like a short version of WWF wrestler Steve Austin starts yelling at the folks who peek out their windows and find their Toyotas being dragged off to who-knows-where.
"Hey, you gotta problem with that? Go call the cops. There's gonna be a block party here."
He brooks no argument, and your Toyota disappears around the corner. Contrary to what you may think, it was not my Toyota that got dragged off into the Sunday gloom. We are one of the few fortunate enough to have a private parking space immune from the roving tow crews.
Technically, today's event is called the "Edgewater Safety Fair." Starting at noon, there will be a live band, refreshments, police demonstrations and events designed to help local residents learn how to stay safe on our rambunctious Chicago streets. All I have to do is stick my head out the front window and get the full effect.
I think I'll go shopping at Target™, or something.
Thursday, September 25, 2003Well, sort of. Something very cool is going to be happening at the University of Chicago over the next few weeks.
We'll be hosting the filming of the upcoming Miramax feature Proof, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jake Gyllenhaal. There will be camera crews on the quads starting September 26th, and just by chance most of the shooting is set to take place in the general vicinity of my office building. Security will be tight and getting in and out of the building probably even tighter.
Yowza! No, really, though...Hopkins is one of my favorite actors, so this will be a treat.
Wednesday, September 24, 2003This news development makes me want to reach out through the phone line...and strangle someone. With their headset cord.
On the eve of the implementation of the National-Do-Not-Call List - which over 50 million Americans had signed up for, of their own free will and intention - an Oklahoma court has ruled that the Federal Trade Commission did not have the authority to set up the registry in the first place. I'm not certain whether the Oklahoma ruling will deep-six the list altogether, but it is extremely frustrating for people like me who signed up months ago, in anticipation of quieter days and evenings without some telemarketing jerk trying to sell me something on the phone.
Some sources say that over 2 million people will be put out of work if the List goes into effect. So 2 million people make their living harassing folks over the phone? I'm sorry, but I don't really pity them. It's no different than if they had been employed as door-to-door salespeople pitching the same products...same deal, different technology.
I don't want to have to turn off the ringer, or pay for expensive screening technologies that inconvenience people I want to speak to. Even unlisted phone numbers don't help, if you're battling sequential computer dialing systems that barrage every number in a row.
What telemarketers can't seem to face is that the vast majority of people simply do not want to be interrupted by ringing phones for the purpose of being sold something. In the days of door-to-door sales, your doorbell might ring, say, a couple of times a week by some poor shlub selling vacuum cleaners or insurance. Today, it's not uncommon to have the phone ring several times an hour with telemarketing calls. That's just ridiculous.
Picture this: dozens of salesmen lined up outside your house, all waiting for their turn to knock on your door as soon as the previous suitcase left. Wouldn't you be tempted to open the front door and scream, "get out...and STAY OUT!! ALL OF YOU!"
That, in effect, is what the National Do-Not-Call List is. A collective primal scream of millions yearning to breathe free of once-in-a-lifetime deals, fraudulent products and nonexistent "prizes."
Also, consider that the National Do-Not-Call List is actually doing telemarketers a favor. By enumerating the phone numbers of people who do not want to buy anything over the phone, they can concentrate on the 150-plus million people who didn't sign up. Maybe they'll have better luck selling to them. They'll certainly have less wasted effort, and less on-the-job stress from people like me who tell them where to insert their handsets.
I mean, do you actually personally know anyone who has bought something via an unsolicited telemarketing call? I, for one, don't.
If 50 million average citizens didn't mind having their lives constantly interrupted by ringing phones, they certainly wouldn't have overloaded the FTC's web servers for weeks, tripping over each other sign up for the Do-Not-Call List.
To me, that's a message saying, "leave us the hell alone" - loud and clear.
Monday, September 22, 2003Pardon me, but does this story sound like the plot to a horribly corny Phil Spector song - you know, like "Leader of The Pack," or "He Hit Me And It Felt Like A Kiss"?
It's been about six months since the bizarre Lana Clarkson case broke into entertainment headlines, with legendary madman record producer Phil Spector questioned in the actress' shooting death at Spector's home. Spector reportedly told police that Clarkson (whom he had met hours before at a Hollywood club and invited to his home) became distraught after they had an argument. Clarkson (according to Phil) grabbed his (ever-present) gun, kissed it, and killed herself.
Finally, after months of investigation, Los Angeles police say it wasn't an accident, and it wasn't suicide. Looks like Spector may be taking a trip to the Big Rock Candy Mountain...
...or, "Old Sparky"? Nah. They don't fry 'em in California anymore. Bad for the arteries.
On a much cheerier note, today marks the birthday of one of my favorite recording artists...although she hasn't released an album in some time, her new CD called Headlock should make its splash any time soon...Joan Jett turns (cough cough, ahem) today.
I love her reply to a interviewers' question about how many candles she puts on her cake:
"Never ask a woman her age...but I'm younger than you think."She and her band, the Blackhearts, are still actively touring the states and abroad, and are one of the most popular performers on the USO military circuit these days.
Friday, September 19, 2003News stories like this serve only one purpose - to feed a cynical streak that grows streakier by the week:
Isabel Brings Pricey Plywood - The Champlain Valley may be feeling one other effect of Hurricane Isabel -- pricey plywood. Area hardware stores report that plywood prices have nearly doubled, in some cases. There's high demand for it along the coast, where people have boarded up their windows. However, lumberyards said there's also another reason for the plywood price spike: extra shipments of wood to help rebuild Iraq.The price of plywood doubling because of a hurricane? That's as uncalled-for and sharky as the gasoline price jump following the Great East Coast Mystery Blackout.
Thursday, September 18, 2003If you're interested in a unique, heady, and surreal classic TV series be sure to check out The Prisoner, Patrick McGoohan's landmark 1960's series.
I really got into the show back the 80's when it ran frequently on PBS - my dad and I would sit around the tube and watch the show together and discuss the politics of its mordant, not-so-oblique social commentary.
Once is not enough to catch all the nuances of this decidedly un-television-y television show, so I got a copy of the A&E Prisoner box set (actually, received it as a birthday present a couple of years ago) and have been re-watching it periodically since. It's not for everyone, not for every occasion; but then, neither is John Coltrane or an obscure J.S. Bach invention. It's that kind of series...not always comprehensible or even likeable -- but often the veil lifts, and you see the genius Wizard behind the curtain. Well worth the effort.
Be seeing you.
Friday, September 12, 2003Once upon a time (okay, over 20 years ago), I bought a crappy, cheap electric guitar at a New Jersey flea market. It had no name brand to speak of, the worst warped fretboard and bridge you could imagine, and held a tuning like a sieve holds soup.
Over the following few years I spent many hours trying to fix up and play that monstrosity, barely getting past the basic G, C and F chords...but I did manage to buzz out a few classic lines, like the riff from "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" on the low E string. I even tried to repaint it a few times with Krylon™ spray paint in the back yard.
After a few years I gave up. It probably didn't help matters that I had no amp, and in an effort to hear my tinny pluckings, I gutted my old stereo and soldered a quarter-inch cable jack to the line input. I have no clue what happened to the guitar; probably got burned in the family trash barrel, out back with the lawn waste.
Anyway - where am I going with this pointless recollection?
Another guitar has fatefully resurfaced in my life, courtesy of a couple of friends who moved to Europe and didn't need jetsam like a bass guitar and accompanying practice amp. I've inherited a Squier™ P-Bass and a little 15-watt Danelectro™ Nifty Seventy amp. I did a little research and discovered that even though both the bass and the amp are very cheap, they are considered fairly good quality starter instruments for the money, so I'm messing around with some decent gear.
You know what? I think I've discovered the problem was I'm not a natural guitar player...but the bass just feels really good to play. I think more in basslines than guitar leads. I mean, the thing is big. Even though I struggled to play a electric guitar with a 24-and-a-half inch scale, I seem to have less trouble with a standard 34-inch long-scale bass. Go figure.
It's just relaxing to sit and thump away a bassline to nothing...
Thursday, September 11, 2003
Tuesday, September 09, 2003
I now once again have faith that the world is filled with strange, funny and delightful things. Behold, the consummate avivore's delight - the Turducken.
This ragin' Cajun delicacy consists of a (boned) chicken stuffed inside a duck, which is subsequently stitched inside a turkey. There's something unsettlingly Hellraiser-ish about the concept, but...
It's for those who love their meat stuffed with...more meat. How could I have missed this before? Want to try your hand at creating your own? Here.
"I'm a level 5 Rag, in Toilet Duck-world! I've got a magic trombone and everything! " -- from the Random Surrealism Generator.
Air Force launches top secret satellite, but the whole world knows about it on CNN.
"The National Reconnaissance Office would not reveal any details about the satellite, including its cost, purpose or which contractor built it.Hm. I'd be wary of what pics you're snapping on those new photo-cell phones, if I were you.
"I cannot discuss what the payload is other than to tell you that it will provide additional capabilities for our nation's leadership and military," said Art Haubold, a spokesman for the NRO.
This particular satellite was delayed for more than three years due to technical problems and had been scheduled for launch as recently as several months ago. The NRO's electronics listening satellites use baseball diamond-size antennas which fold up like an umbrella for launch.
The large antennas permit the satellite to monitor extremely faint signals, even individual cell phone conversations."
Friday, September 05, 2003
"Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is a little like expecting a bull not to attack you because you're a vegetarian."Happy Friday, everyone.
Wednesday, September 03, 2003
YOU ARE BASIL
What herb are you?
brought to you by Quizilla"
Well, at least it's not ,
"Meester Fawlty? Meester Fawlty?!! I no know where he is!"
"I'll find him, Manuel. Basil! Basil!!!"
Tuesday, September 02, 2003
Recently my good friend James wrote me his poignant thoughts on the Alabama "Ten Commandments Statue" issue, making me think a little deeper on the subject...so here's my second take on the topic.
Ultimately, I think the issue is more about what matters lie within the purview of goverment than of the Ten Commandments, where the statue of the tablets is displayed, or any particular sectarian leaning. Justice can no more flow from a stone statue of Moses' tablets, than it can from the image of a blindfolded woman with balances and a sword.
All accounts seem to point to the fact that former Chief Justice Moore is a man who sees the world as a moral monochrome. Since childhood he has stood up for what he believes in, as in a story told about his "mugging" as an 11-year old. Young Roy was apparently returning from a successful fishing trip, when he was accosted by some adult men who demanded he turn over his day's catch. He vehemently refused, and kept his fish.
As a soldier in Vietnam, he allegedly insisted on regulation haircuts and salutes from his fellow fighters at all times, nearly earning him a "fragging" from some disgruntled members of his company.
Unfortunately, our complex nation is more than a yin-yang of Good versus Evil; for better or worse, it's more like a Star Trek™ chessboard with varying levels and colors, with each of the "Ten Divine Laws" flanked by a phalanx of asterisks and codicils.
Anyone who observes living justice in action can see that human failings, courage and compassion all affect the outcome of a case as much as any ancient and lofty ideal: and like the Bible that Justice Roy Moore upheld as the wellspring of courtroom decisions, secular law can be just as open to interpretation as any passage of scripture, no matter how "written in stone" it may appear to be.
Whether divine law ever changes is a issue for theologians and philosophers - but in the spirit of American values that provide for the separation of church and state, I think earthly law is a matter for earthly lawmakers.
That said, many would agree that the separation of Church and State leads to both a better Church and a better State.
That in itself may be the crux of the matter...that a legal system that relies on one group's dogma - and that does not grow and develop with the needs of a changing world and society, nor takes into account the plurality of its constituency - will ultimately fail to serve the best interests of all its subjects.
So, besides a NRA-prez-Charlton-Heston-esque "from my cold, dead hands" stance, what message is Justice Moore trying to get across? That a trial held in his court will have a more fair or just outcome than a courtroom not displaying the statue? That lawbreakers will not only feel the wrath of the U.S. legal system, but that of God?
Or, is it intended to imply that non-Christians - or, those who do not hold with a literal interpretation of the Tablets - may not be recognized as valid participants in Judge Moore's courtroom?
What we need to remember is that it takes far more than a stone statue to make a good Christian - or a good Justice.