Sunday, July 26, 2015

Mellencamp & Carter: New Concert, Old Memories

John Mellencamp & Carlene Carter
Paramount Theater, Oakland, CA
July 25, 2015

John Mellencamp gets no respect. I know because I'm as guilty as anybody when it comes to under-estimating this rock icon. I want to review the concert of his that I saw last night, but first I need to go back 33 years or so and issue an apology.

In 1982 I was a manager for the Music Plus chain of record stores. One fine day I was at the home office attending one of our regular managers meetings when they rolled out a TV, dimmed the lights, and played us a video of a new song we would be promoting.

We thought it was a joke. We recognized the artist from his prior poor-selling albums, but this little ditty about teenagers sucking down chili dogs behind Tastee Freezes in the heartland (among other things) did not impress us. I get it now, but back then I was just too cool to relate. We laughed through it and made rude jokes about his height and how Pat Benatar's cover his previous single, "I Need A Lover," had outsold his.

The lights came up and the bosses said, "And now we'd like you to meet Mr. Cougar..." When the song had started he had apparently slipped into the room and was seated right behind us. Oops. If he overheard anything he didn't let on and very kindly spoke with each of us and signed all our copies of American Fool.

In the decades since I've slowly come to respect him more and more. While I've never been a super fan, I have bought a couple of CDs, and appreciated him as a thoughtful person, and a dedicated musician. Still, when the Mrs. suggested we see him in concert I was slow to jump on it, until she told me the opening act would be Carlene Carter.

By the time of my Johnny Cougar faux pas, Carlene Carter had already become my secret country crush. Back around 1979 I'd slip on Musical Shapes or Two Sides to Every Woman between the Ramones, Who, Deep Purple, and Kinks records that were my norm. I've followed her career off and on since then, but never had a chance to meet her or even see her live until last night.

Her performance was worth the 35 year wait. Just her and her guitar (and occasional piano) was enough to fill the hall with raw country emotion and rock 'n' roll power. Her new CD, Carter Girl, is a tribute to her family, so the show was full of stories of learning to play guitar from grandma, Maybelle Carter, getting songwriting advice from her mother, June, and watching them perform with the rest of the Carter Family. She shared how her life changed when her mom married "Big John" (Cash), growing the family, but keeping the roots close to home and their music.

Most of the Mellencamp audience may not have known who that Carter Girl was when she stepped out on stage, but by the time she was done they were cheering every song, laughing at all her stories, and singing along with (her great uncle) A.P. Carter's version of "Can the Circle Be Unbroken (By and By)."

After her set she took a table in the lobby, signing pictures and CDs, talking with the fans, and smiling for pictures with every one of us. Getting that hug from her will stand as one of my favorite "brush with greatness" stories for many years to come.

That would have been enough for the night, but the lights were dimming in the theater, and Mr. Mellencamp was taking the stage, so we re-took our seats.

Did I mention that John Mellencamp gets no respect? I mean, I knew he'd put on a good show. I didn't know he'd put on a great one. The man, and his six-piece band, are professional rockers. They are note perfect, powerful, and play off each others' strengths like a well-oiled machine. And why shouldn't they be tight? Guitarist Mike Wanchic has been with Mellencamp for 40 years! Violinist Miriam Sturm for over 20.

There were (most of) the hits you'd expect (or demand) to hear - after all these years you kind of forget just how many he's had - and plenty of new songs too in the nearly two hour set. While most of them were played seriously, even he's now laughing at "Jack and Diane," doing it solo acoustic, while the rest of the band took a quick break.

"I don't know why I even play this thing anymore, other than that you expect it," was part of the intro. He then let the audience do most of the work, laughing and correcting them when they launched into the chorus after the first verse. "No, the chorus doesn't come until after the second verse! If I'd known then that you wanted to go right to the chorus I could have saved a lot of time and trouble coming up with that second verse."

Miss Carter came back on to join the band on a couple of numbers from Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, a musical that Mr. Mellencamp wrote with Stephen King (yes, that Stephen King). Rumor is that once the tour is over, Mellencamp and Carter will be recording a duets album together.

The show continued and rocked some more. I thought it was coming to a crescendo when the Walls Came a-Tumblin' Down, but it just continued to build from there. The entire audience were on their feet screaming along with the last several numbers. He Fought Authority, and I swear this time he won.

Bottom line: It was a thrill to hear and meet Carlene Carter after all these years, and John Mellencamp deserves our respect as one of the hardest working rockers we've got. John, I'm sorry for making fun of your video. And your name. And your height. You rock, sir. Thank you.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Democrats Against Democracy

Last week Allen Clifton, co-founder of Forward Progressives, wrote a column with the terrifying title Bernie Sanders Is Already Making It More Likely Republicans Win The White House In 2016.

How dare Bernie do such a thing! Hasn't Senator Sanders read any newspapers over the last six or seven years? Didn't anybody tell him that Hillary is going to be the nominee? Or is the grumpy old Senator from Vermont under the mistaken impression that the primaries have any other purpose than to reinforce what the party leaders have already determined to be our preference? (note: that was sarcasm you just read.)

Geeeshhh! Give me a freakin' break! What is Clifton so terrified of? This...
.. what I ultimately fear Sanders is going to do is get liberals worked up just enough to where when he eventually loses the Democratic primary election to Hillary, it's going to cause many to become apathetic and refuse to show up in 2016 to vote for the "not liberal enough/basically a Republican" Hillary Clinton.
Well, guess what, Mr. Clifton: It didn't take Bernie Sanders officially entering the race for many of us on the left to recognize that Hillary is no progressive. There were reasons why we didn't support her candidacy in 2008, and nothing since then has convinced us that we were wrong.

Let's get this clear from the start: If Hillary is nominated and loses, she will have lost it on her own accord, and not because she will be forced to debate an actual liberal before facing the Tea Time Circus. As Harry Truman so perfectly put it, "When a Republican runs against a Republican, the Republican will win every time."

Please continue the rest of this rant at Daily Kos....

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Farewell HTML

I created my first web pages back in 1994. The local ISP I had my dial-up service through at the time included web space in the package, so I figured why not? I learned some basic HTML and I was off and running.

HTML at that time was pretty basic. I don't even think the table tag was available until a year or so later. Essentially, it was just about knowing how to change the background color, insert a link or an image, using H1 and H2, and how to turn on (and OFF) the annoying blinking text that was all the rage back then.

Over the next decade or so I hand-coded many websites, and my skills grew along with it, but stayed mostly in the realm of HTML. I'd played with a few pearl scripts, but when CSS came to dominate, I knew I was on the trailing edge of my learning curve.

This blog, created on Blogger in 2001, back when the company was owned by Pyra, long before Google thought to purchase it, has gone through many different designs and transitions. Now, this (and I believe every blog on the platform) is using one of their templates, but there was a time when I even hand-coded the HTML for these pages.

The last site I maintained by hand -- and to clarify, what I mean by that is typing out the HTML in a text editor, no WYSIWYG editors for me -- was my consulting home page. I'd started that site in 2003, and while I regularly modified layouts and added (or deleted) pages, it was always my own HTML. Of course, that got sloppy too. There was probably still some of that original 2003 code still running the site until this week.

Yep, until this week. I'd known this day was coming, mostly because mobile. My site looked like hell on a smart phone. But I'd managed to keep telling myself "I'll get around to fixing that later" until this week. Google is now officially penalizing sites that are not "mobile friendly" in their search results. It was time to make a serious change.

This week has officially relaunched with my all new template-driven responsive design hosted by Google Sites. There's still some work to do to make it "just right," and a few more sub-pages to add, but it's looking pretty good already.

And with this change, there's no more HTML for me to write or trouble-shoot, and no need to FTP the pages from my hard drive up to the servers.

It's all so easy, but just a little bit sad.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Only Seven Deadly Sins

Wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and everybody's favorite, gluttony. You've heard this list before. You know 'em, you love 'em, you either fear committing them or treat it as a to-do list. It's the "seven deadly sins," also known as the capital vices or cardinal sins.

I've been thinking about this lately, and reading up on the Seven Deadlies thanks to our good friends in Indiana. Had I missed something? Had buggery finally been added to the list?

... Continue Reading on Daily Kos ...

Friday, March 20, 2015

Cloud Noir (short story)

"It's kind of like LinkedIn, but for wise guys."

I looked at him the way I usually do, eyes squinted, mouth puckered like I just ate a fucking lemon. You'd think I'd be used to it by now, but this kid always gets me like that. All the kids. Fuck them. Think they know so fucking much just because they have a computer in every fucking pocket.

Like I said, I looked at him, "What the fuck you talkin' about?"

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My White Privilege Story

Human Rights Day 2014 #Rights365

Today is "International Human Rights Day 2014," a day which "commemorates the date on which the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaiming its principles as the 'common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.'" It's an international day, but it's quite clear that while we Americans regularly like to point out the human rights failings of other nations, we have some work to do to live up to these standards as well.

What do I know about it? I'm an educated, middle-aged, white guy, and have benefited from the same society and system that failed to grant justice in the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and so many more. It's not something I asked for, or purposefully or even consciously participated in bringing about, but I have benefited from it all the same.

Here's one little story of white privilege: I was about 19 at the time, and the car I was driving was a beat-up 1969 Pontiac station wagon. Where it had paint, it was primer gray. Quite out of place in the middle-class Los Angeles suburb where I resided.

One morning, on my way to work, I ran a stop sign. "Ran" -- actually, it was more of what we call a "California stop," where you slow down, check both ways, and roll through without actually stopping. A policeman pulled out behind me and pulled me over. He informed me about the stop sign and asked to check out my ID and registration.

Once my ID (with an address about a mile or two from the intersection) checked out, he asked me, "What do you think we should do about this?"

Being a smart-ass 19-year-old, I said, "Let me off with a stern warning?"

He handed me back my ID and said, "Don't let it happen again." He then returned to his vehicle and drove off.

White Privilege. Had I not "belonged" in the neighborhood, that transaction would not have gone so well. Had I not "fit in," a traffic ticket would have been the least of my concerns.

The pay-off there was obvious, and the contrast to current cases is clear. It's not always so obvious and clear. Walking through stores on a day when I didn't bother to shave and am wearing old, torn jeans, but still get excellent service instead of being followed and scrutinized. Middle-aged white guy privilege.

Of course, I am missing one crucial ingredient for full privilege: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Christian. I've experienced anti-Semitism first-hand, too.

Perhaps my worst story of anti-Semitism effecting me: I was about 21 and working in a real estate office. One of the saleswomen got off a contentious phone call with a client and started screaming about the "fucking cheap kike."

I took exception to her choice of language, and told her so. What word should she use, she wanted to know? I suggested that clients behavior had to do with them being an asshole, not a Jew. Now, I was in trouble.

While she got away with using the anti-Semitic slur, "kike," as well as several choice curse words, I was to be disciplined for saying, "asshole." Needless to say, I didn't work there much longer.

There have been other, more minor, examples, but generally speaking, in my life experience, being a white guy has gained me far more than being "the wrong religion" has hurt me.

Protestor blocks traffic
So, yes, when activists, advocates, and protesters point out the use of excessive deadly force and its racial overtones, I get it.

"But they were thugs!" Michael Brown did not "rob a convenience store." He and the owner had a nasty dispute over about $1.50 worth of cigarillos, and yes, it turned to pushing, but not there was no robbery. And really don't think that $1.50 worth of smokes is a capital crime.

Eric Garner's crime of selling loose cigarettes is hardly worthy of a banned strangle-hold and death either. If Garner had created an iPhone app to match holders of extra cigarettes with people who wanted to purchase one, he'd be hailed for innovatively disrupting the tobacco market and be handed $40 million in venture capital.

"But nobody raises such a stink when white guys get shot by the police!" Well, actually they do. If you pay attention there's plenty of protest about the over-militarization of the police and the abuse of excessive force overall. But within that broader problem there is also the inescapable fact that young black man is twenty times more likely to be shot and killed in a dispute with the police than a young white man.

Black lives matter. (Yes, all lives matter, but not all people rightly feel like a walking target at this time). And, personally, I can't see any attempt to justify the killings of Brown or Garner as anything other than justification of a racist system and the perpetuation of Christian, white, male privilege.

Still don't get what's happening here? How about a few lines from William Shakespeare, Act III, Scene I, Merchant of Venice:
I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.
Shylock did not appeal to his oppressors to raise them to higher level of caring. He eloquently explained why he chose to sink to their level of evil. Had he sought his pound of flesh without this speech, the audience would have no sympathy. He's still the evil Jew in the play, but he's a humanized evil Jew, thanks to his eloquence.

I hesitate to condone some of the more extreme violence of some of the current protests, but I get the motivation. Unfortunately, I fear, it allows those who just don't what's going on to dismiss it all as, "I told you they were thugs."

Sympathizing with Shylock's demand for a pound of Antonio's flesh doesn't quell our revulsion at possibly having to watch it cut out live on stage, or our relief when a less bloody resolution is found.

But I would say that. I'm a white guy.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Let's Talk About #Inequality

Today is Blog Action Day 2014. Each year, BAD organizes bloggers from over 100 countries to write on a single theme for one day of coordinated action. This year's theme is Inequality, with the catchy tagline, "Let's talk about #inequality" (including the hashtag).

I've been thinking about this for a few days, wondering what I would actually write this morning. I've  written much about marriage equality, and disparities in racial and gender equality already. And as important as it is, I'm not sure I could stomach another post ranting about the 1%. So those topics would be out.

Somehow my thoughts came to Lyndon Johnson, who in signing the Voting Rights Act did much to bring about a certain amount of justice and equality to our electoral system - and how our current Supreme Court has done what they could to dismantle that and turn the clock back on democracy.

LBJ knew that voting rights were not enough, and that there had to be equality in education, economic opportunity, and more. "We must open the doors of opportunity," Johnson said, "But we must also equip our people to walk through those doors."

Political cowardice prevented much of what needed to happen from happening. LBJ had a few choice quotes for that too: "While you're saving your face, you're losing your ass," and "I may not know much, but I know the difference between chicken salad and chicken shit."

Then, last night, looking through Facebook, I came upon a posting from a social worker friend. At a training on homeless shelter rules they were presented with "Rule 18:"
Anyone unable to perform activities of daily living (e.g. using the bathroom facilities, getting into/out of bed, eating, dressing and undressing, etc.) during the hours in the shelter on her/his own or with support from non-shelter staff will result in an immediate denial of services.
(Arrangements for non-shelter support staff are the responsibility of the client.
Notice regarding such support staff must be provided to the shelter staff in advance.)
Sanction Period: Permanent
I commented:
When I worked in a shelter in San Jose the rules were pretty much the same (and in reaction to hospitals putting people who should never have been discharged into taxis with instructions to the driver to dump them at our door).
I frequently think of one such gentleman who we refused service to who turned up the next day, dead in our dumpster where he had spent his final night.
That was actually only one example of a client (or, would-be-client) of ours dying as a result of our bureaucracy's inability to provide care in every situation, and each system trying to pass the buck (well, there were no bucks, so they were passing the "problem") to another torn corner of the "safety net."

There's a little taste of inequality in action. Inequality kills. Not always as dramatically as that, in fact, it took years for a lifetime of inequality to take its toll on that one particular gentleman. Then again, in Ferguson we saw how it can kill in an instant.

Not that I spend much time worrying about such things. As LBJ said, "I seldom think of politics more than eighteen hours a day."

This morning, I decided to take a quick look at the feed on the Blog Action Day site and see what others were writing about. If you only read one other #inequality post today, make it this one: Inequality and "understanding" the poor, on a blog called "Simply Smart Dinner Plans" - not where I expected to find something of this political caliber.

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