Thursday, March 31, 2005

Music to my ears

As anyone who's been in my office lately can attest, I like classical music--a lot. My parents didn't exactly listen to classical, they being more old time Country & Western/Big Band types themselves, but I got hooked when I had to take piano lessons. We had an old upright piano that had been purchased for my older brother to use, but when he went the trombone route the piano became mine, taking up a big part of my room until I left for college in 1973.

My piano teacher was Mrs. Lamont. She was pretty strict as a teacher; if I was practicing a study on her Steinway and hitting the wrong notes consistently, she'd jab at my fingers with a pencil and I'd leave the hour-long session with black dots all over my hands. Not much escaped her observation, however; she noticed that I was having problems seeing the music and told my mother that I needed glasses. She was right and I've had corrective lenses ever since.

I wasn't really that great a pianist, however much I tried. I did learn from the experience to love classical music, particularly anything with the piano from the Romantic period. Some pieces just really stuck with me. I watched the rather wretched movie "A Song to Remember" one night (it was Cornell Wilde in the role of Chopin and, as usual, the history was all wrong) and came away with Chopin's "Heroic Polonaise" melody in my head. I was humming it while portaging a canoe through a Canadian Provincial Park in 1972 with the Boy Scouts. I'd listen at night to WUSF (sometimes called Radio Free Tampa during the non-classical music hours) and to a station in Sarasota that played classical when I was driving to and from my job as a doorman at a movie theatre at the Gulf Gate Mall.

In college I'd go to the Music School Library and check out records (yes, good old vinyl!) to listen to while doing homework. I'd save what little money I had and bought classical records at something called the Co-op Bookstore, an experiment in Marxist collective purchasing back in the mid-'70s. There was a guy, a terminal stoner and nutcase, whom my roommate and I called "Happy Harry", who'd hang around the Bookstore, surrounded by silkscreened portraits of Stalin, Mao and other Marxist heroes. He'd sit in a ratty old chair, smoking a cigarette, laughing to himself and someone else we couldn't see without having a Third Eye; the last time I saw Harry, he had obviously bought a bunch of over-the-counter stuff at the college store and some little wisp of a girl was trying to talk him out of overdosing on Mydol and Pepto-Bismol. Later, Happy Harry was running over a hill with a campus cop on a Harley in full pursuit. I hope that Harry is somewhere on some modern pharmaceuticals, able to laugh with someone real.

CDs came into vogue after my wife and I got married, putting all my cassettes and records into the outdated-but-not-thrown-away-technology section of our home ("But honey, you just never know when we're going to get a turntable and an amplifier with vacuum tubes so we can listen to those scratchy Neil Diamond albums again!"). After being employed for a while I invested in a Sharp combination CD/Receiver/Amplifier/Cassette unit; it was nice for a time, but because the five-CD slots were on TOP of the unit, dust kept getting into the player and the CDs would skip like my old 45 rpm album of the "Teddy Bears' Picnic" I'd worn out as a kid. I've spent a lot of money over the years buying CDs and enjoy them greatly, but I can already see the writing on the wall--Blu-Ray DVDs, double-sided DVDs and the like will probably wipe out CDs in the near future. You'll be able to buy Chopin's entire output of music from his short life on one big, honkin' DVD. It'll sure save a lot of space.

We've got a subscription to an on-line music service now; it lets you call up a particular artist, piece of music or a specific album and listen to it. You can create your own "playlist" of music you like. Nice idea, but whenever I'm on it at my office, one of my daughters will log on at home and kick me off, so I don't even bother anymore unless I know they aren't home.

My latest craze is Louis-Moreau Gottschalk. He was an American composer/pianist who was most famous in the 1850s-1860s. Some professor wrote a biography of Gottschalk a few years ago called "Bamboola!", just about everything you ever wanted to know about the guy and more. Not a real scintillating read, but it wiped out a beach vacation for me this last summer. Gottschalk was a great pianist and a pretty good composer (he was compared to Chopin) but wasn't really good about writing down his compositions on the road. A South American friend helped him write out things and completed some of his notes after his death in Brazil shortly after the end of the Civil War. I buy Gottschalk CDs from time to time when they have something on there I haven't heard before.

I have probably driven more than a few of my secretaries and co-workers over the years batty with the music coming out of my office. The local public radio station and NPR's music hosts tend to play some stuff that even I cannot stand, so I keep a big supply of CDs with more acceptable stuff to play when the radio is blaring out something that would scare my cat out of its nine lives. It wouldn't surprise me if I'm looked at as the eccentric uncle of the office, the guy people compare to the little old lady down the street who had fifteen cats and whose house smelled like Ben-Gay. It's OK; I'm used to it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Power Plays

Power is both wonderful and terrible. The guy who said that "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" had it right. What isn't usually discussed about power and its corrupting influence is that you don't have to be "powerful" in the usual conception of it to lust after it and cultivate it.

Look at the school-yard bully. Lord knows, I had to deal with enough of them in grade school; they may have come from blue-collar or white-collar families, but it didn't make any difference. If they thought they could have power over you, by intimidation, sheer physicality or, even worse, mental ability, your life could be miserable.

I found it to be even worse in religion, simply because you could almost never argue against it; who wants to argue with God (or his appointed minions)? If you try to tell one of the guys or gals in charge that they're wrong, they often as not whip out a Bible and say, "See, the Bible says I'm appointed by God, therefore, I cannot be wrong and therefore you MUST be!". I had that pulled on me for years in my old sorta-cult. The littlest, weaseliest guy or gal would kiss up to the preachers or other so-called "leaders" so as to curry favor, then when they were "anointed" as one of the "leaders", they tended to look down on the "lesser" in the flock (and there were many, many different ways to determine who was "lesser"). Some of the nicest people I ever met on the OUTSIDE of the church became some of the meanest, cruelest "leaders of the faithful" you'd ever have the misfortune to meet. My last roommate in undergraduate school was that way. When I met him, he was an ex-football jock from the panhandle with a big, curly 'fro. He was very friendly in a New Age kinda way; he'd been involved in some Eastern stuff for a while, as well as some of the old 'weed before he got pulled to the other side. He and his roommate, another football jock, were fairly nice to me during my first year as a convert and he decided to ask me to be his roommate over in a freshman dorm on the other side of campus the next year. Big mistake on my part. Nothing went right that year and 'Fro-man disappointed the BMIC (Big Man in Church) with his "lack of growth" and "lack of converts" during our time together, so I naturally, as one of the "lesser" guys, got the blame for it. We had some big blowout before taking leave of each other, but it came back to haunt me. I'd moved into an apartment with some other roommates (from the church, 'natch) during the summer and found out, to some amazement, that I wasn't going to be living there in the fall (despite my name being on the lease). 'Fro-man had decided to move in there and, without telling me, had culled together his own band of up-and-comers who would help him scale the heights of glory. So, I had to find another place real quick.

Maybe you think I'm hitting hard on religion in this Blog. Nah, like I said yesterday, there are all sorts of people over the years that I've respected in the religion biz, but nowadays the potential for abuse is so great (just ask the average altar boy!) and people are putting all their eggs in one basket, willing to literally sell their souls and even kill others in the name of the Big Guy (or Gal, Multi-Armed Diety or Indescribable Thing, depending on one's point of view), that I worry a lot about we're going as a species.

If you want to look at Power Plays, just look at politics. The last refuge of scoundrels. The Big Arena where power is the ultimate addiction. The longer I've been around politicos, the more depressed I get. Democracy is a great idea, don't get me wrong. Maybe one of these days we'll actually get to experience one, once money and influence quit being the main goal of those who aspire to high office. I used to hang around our local Legislature every year, thinking that I was actually influencing things, until I got my knees cut out from under me by the lobbyist organization that was supposed to be in my corner. That wasn't a lot of fun, but it did open my eyes as to what was going on. Truth, justice and the American Way tended to get shoved aside for the money and the little bit of power someone cultivated for themselves.

Now, am I so blind as to tell you that I don't enjoy the little bit of power I get to wield in my job? Nahhh; I do get to make decisions that affect peoples' lives in substantial ways and I have to admit, it is a bit addictive. Don't know what it'll be like when I retire or get fired and lose it; kinda like Lt. Drebbin of "Police Force" when he was canned for being incompetent and he said something like "It's strange to think that the next time I shoot someone, I could be prosecuted". I've tried to remember that power over others is ephemeral, it doesn't last because someone is always exercising their power over you and your power will lessen as a result. It helps to think back to all the folks who treated me badly over the years and try NOT to be like them. I doubt I've succeeded in every situation, but I like to think that maybe I've been a nice guy most of the time. It's the rare individual who isn't affected by power to some degree; the ones who can wield power over other in a truly compassionate and unselfish manner are rarer still.

I also get to wield a little bit of power as a parent, though as the years go by, I think my influence is waning, like Superman's powers in the presence of Kryptonite. Newborns are fun, if a bit smelly and a lot of work; at least they look at you with total need and devotion. As they get older, your hand in directing their lives gets less influential. They've decided they know better, as all children do, and the best you can hope for is to moderate some of their worse choices. It's a two-edged sword: you don't want them to be Stepford Children, with no ability to think and reason for themselves, but you also don't want to lose that power, that control that you had earlier in their lives, because you just KNOW they're gonna screw-up, the only question being how BIG a screw-up it'll be. All you can do is the best you can, hope that the power you wielded for a short time in their upbringing will be remembered fondly and they'll develop some practical wisdom. At least maybe my kids will put me in a NICE nursing home...

Tuesday, March 29, 2005


Not so much a rant as a description of where I'm coming from.

I'm a Southerner by birth, though my parents' immediate families were primarily from the Midwest and I grew up in Sarasota, FL where I was one of the few in my graduating class in high school who was actually born in Florida, so I don't have a heavy drawl. My dad was born in Chicago, IL, but it was on an "extended vacation" as his folks had gone there from south central Florida in 1918 for a stay with my great-grandparents; he disliked "Yankees" (i.e., anyone from much above Atlanta) and always pointed out habits or things he thought were "Yankee" (putting ketchup ON your french fries instead of on the plate NEXT to them, for example).

I know it's fashionable these days to some degree to be "Southern", but that term of art has been nearly ruined for me by television (where we're all hicks from the hills who can barely read and write) or by the Neo-Confederates, who find it oh-so-cool to worship the "good old days" (good if you weren't black, Jewish, poor or somewhat progressive in your thinking). The Neo-Cons (as opposed to the little "n" neo-cons, who are Republicans; just like a Venn diagram, there is a LOT of overlap between the big "N" and little "n"-types, but there's areas they don't) are the ones who helped overthrow the governor of Georgia a few years ago when they didn't get their precious Confederate battle flag as part of the current state flag; forgetting the part about that flag representing a dark segment of our country's history. Of course, the present governor welched on his promise to have a vote to see if the majority really wanted it put back on the flag, apparently fearing that (A) a majority would want it, thereby letting the nation see that Georgia might be wanting to move back to the Jim Crow days or (B) the majority would have voted it down and all the Neo-Cons would have melted back into the hills and tried to dig up all the old muskets of their forefathers and tried another secession.

When are we gonna figure out that "the good old days" weren't really so good? Most of the ideas that both the Neo-Cons and the neo-cons lay out as being from the GOD(Good Old Days)-era (I'm sure there's NO possible way that acronym was an accident, though it's the first time I've seen it in print; just a lucky happenstance) are really from watching too much TV during the Eisenhower days with Ozzie & Harriett and the Beav. The trouble is that we're moving to an even more regressive position with the NCs, ncs and their theocratic friends on TV. Make no mistake, the TV preachers and their buddies would like nothing more than to get rid of the democracy that the founding fathers instituted (and which has been improved upon as the decades have gone by) and put women and minorities (of all colors, creeds and thinking) back into what they think their place should be (and it ISN'T in positions of power, unless they agree with the theocrats). Sure, they'll deny it, proclaiming that they are just putting things back the way they supposedly were, but think about it--do you REALLY want to go back culturally or politically to the USA that existed at the time of the signing of the Constitution? Remember, slavery was still legal, women had no right to vote and the Americans who weren't well off or slaveholders were trying to live as best they could. Disease and ignorance abounded and, despite the claims of the theocrats, illegitimate births were quite common, as were all sorts of STDs. Just because we were religious didn't mean we were in step with the Big Guy.

I'm Christian by upbringing and by choice back in the mid-'70s; got involved in a church that was a curious amalgam of mainline/developing cult. The cult part moved away from the mainline part in the early '80s and has since split again and now managed to begin to eat itself up with controversy. What I found was that, no matter how much people may try to live up to high standards, someone has to have power and once they get it, they hate giving it up. What's worse is that they usually clothe that power in scripture to keep you from questioning their authority. My wife got smart and left first and I followed her lead. That was about sixteen years ago and I still have nightmares; sorta like Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. I know, I know; there's a lot of good been done in the name of Jesus, but there's also been a lot of bad, more than we'd like to admit. We can rationalize it all we want, but with all the TV preachers and healers out there trying to protect our "Christian nation" and culture, I worry an awful lot about where we're going.

I'm a lawyer, though I really, really love the study of history. Law is just how I make a living and, because I work in government service, it isn't like the lawyers who advertise on TV. If I could make a decent living for my family looking around through dusty old libraries, I'd do it in a heartbeat. Gotta win the Lottery one of these days. I make up for it by watching the History Channel and subscribing to WWII Magazine.

I like sci-fi. Love the Sci-Fi Channel (at least most of the time). I grew up watching Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, even the old Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon movie serials on an old UHF channel in Sarasota. Yes, I did watch the old Star Trek series when I was in grade school and thought it was the greatest thing going (until they showed the episode "Spock's Brain"; biggest piece of trash they ever had--maybe with the exception of the episode with the guys who were black on one side, white on the other or the episode of Kirk's personality being switched with the old girlfriend's who hated him...gee, come to think of it, a LOT of the old Star Trek was kinda cheesy in retrospect). I'll watch a good sci-fi show over just about anything and it drives my wife and youngest daughter crazy that I'll watch episodes over and over. Love Babylon 5, Stargate (both kinds) and the new Battlestar Galactica, but I also love old sci-fi movies, old horror movies, silent and talkies. I'm NOT a Trekkie and think the person who showed up for jury duty one day dressed like a Star Trek character should have been quietly taken out and shot. There's a limit, a line that shouldn't be crossed.

Love cooking. My mother made sure that I learned some of the basics. It came in handy when I was in college and when I lived with roommates afterwards; most of them couldn't cook worth a hoot and when they did it was heartburn city. Had one idiot roommate who was an up and coming bigwig in the church and he'd never lifted a finger to cook or help out with any chores around the apartment--he was too busy throwing his weight around to lift a finger otherwise. Anyway, this guy, who everyone from his home state called Mad Dog, whined at me one day when I didn't have a salad with the supper I'd prepared when I was sick with a bad cold. Could've killed him, but I tried to talk to him about it, but he managed to whip out some scripture and fast talking that made me the bad guy, keeping him from sharing his faith with a green salad in his gut. He tried to cook a few days later, some weird Yankee concoction of white fish filets baked in milk. Nobody could eat it with a straight face.

More later.

Monday, March 28, 2005


Well, there's always got to be a beginning, so here's the start of my first blog. Funny to think that I didn't even know what a blog was a year ago and that my inspiration for this was the blog of my "Luddite" friend who cannot stand computers, e-mail or apparently anything else connected with, well, "connectivity"!

Why is this called "Blue's rants"? Well, my nickname (the only one I've ever had) for a short time in 10th grade was "Blue"; an upperclassman in my P.E. class during flag football couldn't remember my name and called me by the color of my gym shorts.

Anyway, what in the world do I want to rant about? I'm a pretty calm guy most of the time and try to stay out of conflict with most folks (unless I have to, and in my employment, that's just about every day), so I figure this is a good place to rant about stuff going on these days without having to fear getting my lights punched out by somebody with less self-control than I have (or who's bigger than me!).

So, what's the rant du jour? For once, I've got to agree with Rodney King; can't we all just get along? The level of rhetoric these days on TV, radio, newspapers, blogs and even over lunch is getting really heavy just about everything. It's getting real personal out there. I hate to bring up the Schaivo business, but you got to be careful who you talk to, since there's folks who'll call you a murderer or worse if you say you think Michael Schaivo is a devoted husband carrying out his wife's wishes. Depending on what you read or listen to, this guy is a monster/liar/wife abuser/litterbug whom many of the protesters outside the hospice would happily rip to pieces while singing "Jesus loves me, this I know".

Of course, it could be worse; you could be talking to a die-hard Republican. Used to have a friend in the office next to mine who would come in every morning and say to me, "In case I haven't told you, I HATE them blankety-blank Republicans". There used to be some really good ones out there in the old days--Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt--but since the uber-right wing has taken over the party, they've managed to bamboozle a lot of folks who would never have voted the Big Elephant in the old days because there was nothing the GOP would have done to benefit them; now it is simply wave the Bible and people come a-runnin'. Too bad that their Social Security benefit might be non-existent because of the "privatization" ideas or that they might never get a feeding tube in the first place because of the dumbing-down of Medicare, but heaven forbid that a gay gets into the military or PBS shows a breast during a show!

Am I a Democrat? Yup. Am I, as someone said in the newspaper a few days ago, "pro-abortion"? No, I think abortion is a terrible choice, better left to the absolute last choice of the desperate, but I'm not going to tell my daughters that their ability to choose should be taken away so that they'll have to look for some back-alley abortionist again like women had to decades ago. Do I like the idea of government give-aways? No, since I've got to pay taxes like everyone else (oops, well, maybe not like some of the big corporations that found ways to avoid paying taxes or some of the mega-rich who've got the money and tax lawyers to ship their money overseas with loopholes), but the neo-con way of slashing and hacking at the most needy in our society and then proclaiming that they just LOVE everyone makes me cringe. Do I want to see the US bankrupt? Nope, but the modern Republican way seems to be to spend us into the poorhouse, send all our jobs overseas and then interfere with State Court decisions and personal lives. Didn't think I'd ever live to see Democrats calling for less government interference with people and lower government spending, but it's happened. Barry Goldwater must be rolling over in his grave.

Anyway, like Rod Serling, I've put this out there in cyberspace for your consideration. Thing are getting more and more like "The Twilight Zone" everyday. Maybe tomorrow I'll have a bad dream about the earth's temperature rising...oops, that's already happening! That's another rant for another day.