Monday, December 13, 2010

Phenomenal Trumpet Solo

This is Maynard Ferguson, recorded some time in the 1960s. Ferguson, who died in 2006, was best known for his incredible range with the trumpet, easily able to hit notes more properly in the range of a piccolo. As a teenager playing trumpet in the high school band in the mid-70s, this man was my trumpet playing role model. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say...

A few minutes ago, I saw a breaking news bulletin on Yahoo saying that Elizabeth Edwards had died. This came just a day after announcing that doctors had advised her that there was nothing more they could do and that she’d decided to stop treatments.

After reading the short announcement, I scrolled down to read the comments. Though many people posted respectful condolences, many others saw this as an opportunity to spew hateful, grammar- and spelling-challenged remarks. For some people, everything is an opportunity for partisan politics and no exceptions are made, even to respect the grief of those in mourning. To such people, if you do not believe as they do, then you have forfeited any considerations of courtesy and common decency and it’s open season on you and yours.

I would think the old saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all”, should apply in such instances for everyone who has any character and integrity at all. If you don’t like Elizabeth Edwards or her husband, fine, but simply don’t comment on such articles at all if you can’t be respectful. A person’s death notice is not the time nor the place for partisan politics.

But the literacy-challenged trolls who haunt the comment sections of Yahoo News and other similar sites do not limit their vitriolic political spewing to articles relating to politics. They post comments trashing their political bugaboos on nearly every article posted, even those that don’t have even the remotest thing to do with politics. Apparently, no one has told these simple-minded fanatics that not everything in this world has to do with politics.

There are several ultra right wing politicians I find completely reprehensible, but I would nevertheless grant them the respect of my silence if they or someone in their family were to die and allow them to grieve in peace. Time and place, people. There are certain niceties that are the hallmark of a civilized society, and respect for the mourning is one of them.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Musical Tastes of a Preschooler

I’ve liked music since my earliest years, as music of all kinds was ever-present in my home as long as I can remember. And even from my preschool years, I expressed my preferences of music I liked best.

Recently, I’ve been exploring YouTube, as much as my limited dial-up connection will allow. I came upon two of my earliest favorite songs, which turned out to be, believe it or not, Dixieland jazz. Odd preferences for a preschooler, but there you are. Listening to them again 40+ years later, I find I still like the songs as much as I did as a little kid.

Below are videos of the two songs.

These are the two songs that made me want to take up the trumpet

Monday, August 23, 2010

Some Thoughts on the Dr Laura Brouhaha

I've observed with interest the latest "brouhaha du jour", that of Dr. Laura Schlessinger resigning her radio show over her repeated use of the "n-word" during the course of a single call.

Predictably, she has been complaining about her 1st Amendment rights, backed up by the ever-present and ever-annoying Sarah Palin. I don't get what she's talking about, as I don't see anyone seeking to jail her for speaking her mind, however small-minded and mean-spirited it might be. What I do get is that others have been exercising their rights to free speech as well by objecting to what she said.

And in the free market economy that conservatives hold in such high regard, sometimes exercising that right in the business she's in can lead to unwanted consequences. In this case, the radio sponsors are voting with their wallets by withdrawing their sponsorship of her show. It's all about money.

Monitoring the Neal Boortz show the other day, he talked about this incident and it both surprised and amused me that he referred to her as a "vile woman" It's rather surprising that he'd hold this opinion because, in my opinion, the two are cut from the same cloth.

Apparently there's bad blood between the two for some reason because, on a previous show, he mentioned having to dance with her at some function they'd both attended and he opined that dancing with her was like holding a "dead fish".

I happen to agree wholeheartedly with Boortz' opinion of her, which is rather a frightening thing in and of itself.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Historical Accuracy or Happily Ever After

While visiting a lover the other day, she told me that she had a book that she wanted me to read, because the main male character reminded her of me. I said, sure, after which she handed me a historical romance novel, Libertine's Kiss, by Judith James.

Being a guy, my normal preferred reading material does not usually include romance novels, but I have read some, particularly to research the occurrences of libertine characters in this genre, which is a fairly common character subtype.

As I took the book from her and read the blurb on the back cover, I immediately had to laugh -- the main character shared my first name. The book's setting is the 17th century Restoration court of Charles II, who could have accurately been called a libertine king. The author's note stated that the main male character, William De Veres, was based on John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, a noted libertine and poet in the court of Charles II. He was also the subject of the Johnny Depp movie, The Libertine.

As this book was classified as a romance novel, however, I already knew how the book was going to end -- in a monogamous marriage, at which time the libertine would cease being one. This is what the romance novel industry calls the "HEA"; the "happily ever after" formula, which is ubiquitous to every romance novel.

Because of this, I knew the book was going to be a disappointment from the beginning, as it could not remain true to history, nor to the real person that inspired the novel's male lead if it were to adhere to the HEA formula. Indeed, I could imagine Wilmot's sardonic laughter if he'd been able to read the book and see the character he'd inspired go completely out of character during the course of the novel.

And not only did the characterization of the male lead deviate from actual history, so did the female lead's view of what marriage should be deviate from 17th century norms in general, which I'll further elaborate on later below.

Nevertheless, I decided to go ahead and read it, anyway. The book proved to be an engaging read, with the author throwing in snippets of Wilmot's actual poetry throughout the book. Many times during the book, the male lead expressed thoughts that could have come out of my own mouth; enough so that I wondered if the author had read my blog.

To cite a few examples, when asked why he'd ended up as a libertine, he explained to the female lead that it was simply his nature, which is something I've done many times myself.

In another scene, he proposes marriage to her, knowing that he needed to get married sooner or later if he was to have heirs. He reasoned that he might as well do so with a woman he cared for. When she asks if he would remain sexually faithful to her, he honestly tells her no, respecting her enough to be honest with her. When she protested, he explained that there was a difference between sex and love, implying that one should not be inextricably bound to the other.

And this brings me to the book's flaws. The female lead, who was a widow, rejected his initial proposal because she vowed she would not remarry for anything but love. But such a sentiment would have been far less common in the 17th century than now. People then married much more often for practical reasons and love, if present, was considered icing on the cake, rather than the reason to marry in the first place. A woman of that time would not have demanded sexual exclusivity of a prospective husband, however much she might like it, as random dalliances would have simply been considered the nature of the male beast.

Then there were the trite, cliched plot devices that could have been done away with and still allowed the story to adhere to the HEA ending.

The first cliche was that the male lead was a libertine simply because he was a damaged, psychologically tortured man, having been molested as a teen by his tutor and for having had dysfunctional parents. Rarely in romance novels is a libertine a libertine merely because he like frequency and variety with his sex life. The assumption is that every normal person desires a lifelong, monogamous marriage.

The second cliche that left me rolling my eyes in disbelief was that the male lead immediately lost the desire to have sex with other women the moment he took up with the female lead. He became de facto monogamous at this time, despite his claims to the contrary. This is completely unbelievable, as no person who'd been a libertine his entire would suddenly lose that proclivity at the drop of a hat. Indeed, I would imagine that a libertine who'd made the decision to start living a monogamous life would not lose the desire for sexual variety and would have to work very hard to maintain a monogamous life.

Taken as a whole, however, this book was an interesting read, but I strongly believe the author would have done much better had she written it as straight historical fiction. If she'd done so, she would have been free to write the main characters in a more historically accurate manner, rather than as a romance, where she was hamstrung by the romance novel formulaic HEA requirement.

Indeed, Paula Reed's historical novel, Hester, which takes place along the same time period as Libertine's Kiss, did just that, which served to produce a superior novel. Her libertine character, John Manning, is much more genuine and believable than James' William De Veres.

Just my .02 cents.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Differences of Opinion Among Conservatives

Listening to talk radio in recent weeks, I was struck by a difference of opinion between two conservative radio talk show hosts.

Within the space of a week, I heard two talk show hosts comment about John Kerry's military service in Vietnam.

Neal Boortz, in his typical obnoxious style, referred to Kerry as "scum", which he said was apart from disagreeing with the man's politics. He went on to sneer at his service in Vietnam, referring to Kerry's three Purple Hearts as "band-aid Purple Hearts" and that when he left Vietnam that he shouldn't have let the doorknob hit him on the way out or else that would be another Purple Heart for him.

I'll have to hand it to Boortz. He certainly has chutzpah considering that he never served in Vietnam himself, although he was born in 1945 and was the right age to have done so. As far as I'm concerned, he has no place criticizing Kerry's service, considering that he didn't go at all.

Dennis Miller on the other hand, while also not agreeing with Kerry's politics, said that he had to give the guy credit for serving in Vietnam and thanked him for his service, Miller, born in 1953, also did not serve, but is humbly grateful to all those who did, regardless of their political opinions.

Comparing the two shows, Miller's is much easier to listen to. Though I find myself rolling my eyes at his opinions fairly often, he's got a good sense of humor, is laid back, and generally treats his callers with more respect than Boortz does. Plus, he doesn't always talk about politics and has some interesting and varied guests, even some who don't share his opinions.

Personally, I think it's a good thing to know that the other side has gradations of fanaticism and that they don't all march in lockstep.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Different Kinds of Ignorance

Today, while monitoring the Neal Boortz radio show, he had a segment featuring a survey taken at an amusement park where random people passing by were asked very basic questions about the history of Independence Day.

None of the people could answer any of the questions correctly, except for one man at the end,who was identified as a grandfather. One woman who said she was a teacher did not get a single answer right.

As I continued to listen, I was stunned by the level of jaw-dropping ignorance. The questions asked were quite simple, on the level of a third grader. These were questions I knew the answer to when I was ten years old.

Several people had no idea why we celebrate the Fourth of July. One person when asked which year the United States declared its independence said 1922. Another person named Winston Churchill as the general who led American forces during the Revolutionary War. Still yet another had no clue as to which country we were declaring our independence from.

I was just as appalled as Boortz was by the staggering ignorance.

But then, Boortz showed his own ignorance, which was an ignorance of another sort entirely.

He said that the level of ignorance surprised him because they were "all good-looking people; mainstream Americans." He went on to say that there were no people with "pot bellies with cigarettes dangling from their lips" nor were they wearing hoodies or had tattoos.

My jaw dropped then at his staggering ignorance.

Since when is a person's appearance, level of subjective attractiveness, fashion sense, or weight a measure of their intelligence? At his age, Boortz should know what a crock of shit judging a book by its cover is.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Boredom and Age

I often hear teenagers and young adults complaining about being bored. I can remember doing likewise when I was a preteen and young teenager, before I could drive and get out on my own. As a young adult, I found I only experienced boredom whenever I spent extended periods alone which, fortunately, rarely happened. I've always liked to read, but there was a limit as to how much time I wanted to spend doing that.

As a kid, I remember my parents rolling their eyes at me when I'd tell them I was bored, telling me they'd find me something to do if I was bored. The "something" was usually something unpleasant that involved doing work. I learned pretty quickly not to say I was bored within my parents hearing!

But as I recall, I kept fairly busy when I was a kid: riding my bike, playing ball, hiking through the woods, hanging out with my friends, listening to music, being in the band, playing board games, building tree houses, and so on. Unlike today's generation of kids and teens, we spent little time indoors during daylight hours and generally only watched TV at night, with the exception of Saturday morning cartoons.

I grew up in the sixties and seventies, so we also didn't have video games, cable/satellite TV, DVDs, home computers, internet, cell phones, and so on. We had to be a bit more creative to entertain ourselves than kids do nowadays, but we didn't have any less fun. Far from it; I think people of my generation had the chance to develop our own creativity to higher degree than in generally so with young people today.

Now that I'm *cough*middle-aged*cough*, I find that I'm almost never bored when I spend time alone now. It used to be that I would avoid spending much time alone, but now I find I enjoy my own company and am usually quite content to spend time in solitude. I can't say if it's having to learn to entertain myself as a kid in the absence of most technological entertainments taken for granted today, or if it's maturity finally kicking in on me. It's also interesting to note, that other than my computer and internet connection, I don't partake of much of the current technologies currently available -- I don't have cable or satellite, am not much interested in video games, and I have only a basic cell phone that I use only for talking.

As it stands now, the only time I actually need to seek out others is if I'm horny, which still happens quite frequently, I'm happy to say. Otherwise, I'm quite content to hibernate with my computer for reading and writing, my books, and my stash of DVDs.


It Was Bound to Happen Some Time

Listening to the Neal Boortz show a week or so ago, I found myself in the odd position of agreeing with him. He was talking with a caller about the proposed plan to build a mosque on the site of Ground Zero in Manhattan, where the World Trade towers once stood. Boortz thinks the idea is in extremely poor taste and that in rubs the noses of the American people into what happened there that day.

Later in the call, Boortz commented that in recent times, Islam has been associated with terrorism and sectarian violence more so than other religions, but that this hasn't been always so. He then mentioned that in certain periods in history, Christianity had been just as violent in the name of their faith, referring to the Catholic Inquisition and the witch hunts, among other things. He then said that it was because of the often violent history of the world's religions that he had absolutely no use for organized religion.

For once, he was dead on the money. It was an odd thing to find myself entirely in agreement with him, but even a broken clock is right two times a day.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Personality Type and Political Orientation

Recently, I came into contact online with someone I'd gone to school with and had not seen since that time. I was surprised to discover that he's now a strong conservative. Thinking of how he was when we were back in school, he would been one of the last people I'd have thought would have ended up as a conservative, as he was an easy-going, laid-back kind of a guy with an irreverent sense of humor.

I suppose it's a stereotype, but I don't associate conservatism with a people who have a strong sense of humor and an easy-going personality, If not apolitical, I would assume such a person would lean toward the liberal side.

Similarly, I went to school with some guys who were rather uptight, humorless, and straight-laced. These are the types that I'd imagine would end up as conservatives in their later years, though I'm sure that these types of people often do not fit the stereotype as my former classmate did not.

How about you? Do you associate certain personality types with various political beliefs?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Working Hard or Working Smart

"Working hard" is a virtue that is often praised in our society. It is considered to be a great compliment to refer to someone as a hard worker. And while we are sometimes cautioned against overwork, most people would rather be thought of as workaholics, rather than slackers. For many, being thought of as lazy ranks right down there with being a liar or a thief.

But what exactly do we mean by the phrase "working hard"? Do we mean always doing physically or mentally ardous work every moment of every working day. Does it mean working to the point where we drag ourselves home physically or mentally spent and drop into bed exhausted at the end of every work day? Does it mean we always work as fast as we possibly can? Does it mean searching out more work, even busy work, when there is nothing productive to do, so that every minute is spent "Doing Something", even if it's pointless labor?

And this brings me to the point of this entry, the difference between "working hard" and "working smart". Someone working smart will attend to necessary tasks in a timely fashion in order to meet specific productive goals and at a steady, though not necessarily, frenetic, pace. Work done is always toward a useful goal and is not engaged in merely to "keep busy". Work is seen as but one component of a balanced life, where rest and leisure are seen as equally important, as someone who gets enough rest and leisure usually tends to work more productively. Work is seen merely as a means to an end, rather than an end of itself, so anything that can make a job easier is seen as an advantage.

Someone who works smart realizes that above all, we are paid for the time we give up for the needs of our employers, apart from the actual labor we do. Time is our most important cmmodity as , once spent, we can never have a particular block of time back in our lives to do over. In other words, once June 11, 2010 is over, I'll never have another June 11, 2010 to spend again doing different things.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Book Review: Hester: The Missing Years of the Scarlet Letter by Paula Reed

Hester: The Missing Years of the Scarlet Letter
by Paula Reed

St. Martin's Press, February 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-58392-7, ISBN10: 0-312-58392-3,
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches, 320 pages,

When Paula Reed asked me to read through a draft of her book, Hester, a couple of years ago, I was at first a bit hesitant that I would be able to give her a useful and informed opinion. I’d never read Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter all the way through, having been put off by his writing style the one time I’d attempted to read it. And despite being a history buff, the 17th century is not an era that I am much familiar with.

Nevertheless, I decided to go ahead and share my thoughts, as the opinion Paula sought from me was whether the character of John Manning, the philosophical libertine who became Hester’s lover and friend, resonated with me. As one who has spent my adult life living the life of a libertine without shame and as one who has always been interested in philosophical questions, this was something I felt I could adequately do.

In our blogs, I’d previously expressed to Paula that I’d like to see her write an unapologetic libertine character who did not change his ways by story’s end. She assured me that she’d remembered these blog conversations when creating Manning.

To answer Paula’s original question, I would say that John Manning’s character did indeed resonate with me. Unlike improbable romance novel libertines, who always, without fail, decide all they ever really wanted was a wife and children by story’s end, Paula Reed’s John Manning rings true to reality as he stays true to his self.

While reading, I often found myself nodding along with things he said, agreeing and understanding exactly where he was coming from. To quote Paula’s own words, John Manning “never changes, never repents, and remains a dear friend of Hester’s even after their sexual relationship ends.”

As well as being Hester’s friend and lover, I saw John as a steadying influence in her life, bolstering her resolve to live without shame or apology, especially during the times when her confidence faltered. He was, to use an expression my father often used, her “BS detector”, just as she was the “BS detector” for everyone else.

What I think I enjoyed most about this book, were the questions about the nature of sin, shame, integrity, and the dictates of individual conscience vs. religion that ran through the novel, which I thought best addressed by Hester’s conversations with John. And, of course, I found it particularly appropriate and satisfying that Manning worked for the downfall of Puritanism.

One thing I particularly liked was how Sir John Manning was eulogized in the Epilogue:

“There lies Sir John Manning,” proclaimed Lady G--- “an impenitent sinner and the only man who never lied to a single woman. Not so much as ‘I shall see thee in the morning.’”

“He may never have lied to one,” avowed Lord H---, “but God knows he lay with more than his share. Can’t hate him for it, though. Many an Englishman benefited by way of a more skillful wife.”

I have to say that I would be quite happy to be eulogized similarly when my time comes.

Though I’m sure that those who have read Hawthorne’s original novel will enjoy this book as a companion novel, it also works well as a standalone for those, such as myself, who did not read The Scarlet Letter. Highly recommended for those who enjoys historical fiction.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Boortz the Boor

Listening to the Neal Boortz show on the radio the other day, I was yet again reminded of what a jerk he can be.

He mentioned being in the supermarket and seeing a large, fat woman with her nine year old little boy and how their grocery cart was filled with junk food. He proudly informed the listening audience that he went up to the little boy and told him that if he ate the type of food in the cart that he would end up big and fat like his mother.


I don't know how he was raised, but I was raised to believe that you never direct criticism of a parent to a child, especially one that young. In my book, what he did was totally reprehensible; hurting a child's feelings with his rudeness about something the child had absolutely no control over.

First of all, what business is it of his what strangers eat? Last time I checked, this was a free country and people are free to eat whatever they can afford to pay for, even if their choices are not the best ones.

Secondly, I highly doubt if he'd have meddled into what was none of his business if the woman had been loading up the cart with booze and cigarettes.

Thirdly, what kind of a fucking coward goes up to a little kid and vents his spleen about a problem he has with the child's mother? Wasn't he man enough to state his opinion directly to her? Was he afraid she'd be better able to defend herself against such cattiness than a defenseless little boy would? Did it make him feel like a big man to hurt a child's feelings?


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Telltale Smarminess

I spend a lot of time in my car so I hear quite a bit of radio advertising. One annoying commercial is for Andy Willoughby's 3 Step Plan for work at home businesses. Every commercial starts off with him saying, "How in the world are you, anyway?" in a smarmy tone of voice that oozes fake sincerity, akin to that of the stereotypical used car salesman.

My instant reaction when I heard his smarmy presentation for the first time was to think, "This guy must be a fundamentalist Christian", even though he never mentioned anything religious on the commercial. I'd never heard of this guy, so when I got home I Googled him. And, sure enough, he's a fundie.

This type of image is common among the fundamentalist set. Many of them try to present an image of golly-gee-whiz wholesomeness, complete with the squeaky-clean Howdy Doody haircuts and deer-in-the-headlight expressions. This is combined with a forced earnestness in their tone of voice, that ends up coming across as smarmy, rather than sincere. I don't know why this is so common among fundamentalists, but I'm always able to spot it in a minute, as I did with these radio commercials.

I have news for them. God doesn't like smarmy.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

China's Demographic Crisis and Foreign Adoptions of Its Children

I recently heard of an old acquaintance who adopted a baby girl from China. I've heard of others in the past who have also done this, with the sex of the child always being female.

After reading several recent news stories about the lopsided sex ratio that China is facing with the current generation coming into adulthood because of the widespread one-child policy and China's traditional preference for boys with the resultant practice of sex-selective abortions, this left me scratching my head. China's rising marriageable generation will have a surplus of 30 million males who will be unable to find brides in a monogamy-only society, yet China is allowing and promoting foreign adoptions of baby girls.

I did a bit of research and China has allowed foreign adoptions since the mid to late 1990s. In 2005 alone, 7000 children were adopted by Americans, and who knows how many more from other countries. Ninety-five percent of the children adopted are female. I can only see this as widening the sex ratio, rather than repairing it.

Does this make the least bit of sense to anyone?

I'm not knocking those from other countries who adopt such baby girls; after all, they do deserve loving homes. But one would think that China would want to do anything in its power to alleviate the current demographic crisis. In previous blog posts, I've suggested polyandry as an immediate solution to the problem, which is highly unlikely to be seriously considered. But I would also think that their government would give incentives for Chinese couples to have preference in adopting these baby girls, in that they'd be doing a patriotic duty by helping to alleviate the demographic crisis.