Thursday, September 29, 2011

What's Wrong With This Picture? Ohhhhh, Pretty Much Everything.

If you don't live in my neck of the woods, you can be forgiven for not being aware of The State of New Jersey Vs. MTV's Jersey Shore (which is totally figurative at the moment but - I predict - will become a real-live court case in the foreseeable future).  New Jersey, like many other states enacted a Tax Incentive a few years ago to bring film and TV projects to their state.  The various programs are all different, but the general shape of them is, if you come spend money in our state, we'll give you a break on taxes you incur while you're here.  Predictably, I think this is a fine idea (especially in places close to home like NY, NJ and CT).  YMMV.

The short version is that Jersey Shore applied for the credit for their first year of production and they qualified. A couple of weeks ago, NJ finished their review of Jersey Shore's submitted accounting and announced that the show had qualified for a $420,000 tax credit.

The State promptly succumbed to a cranial aneurysm, e-bola, and arrhythmia. News cameramen who usually have to chase politicians down the courthouse steps suddenly required crowd control so they could keep their shots limited to one bloviator at a time.  Everybody wanted to be the first to denounce the tax credit.

Where to start?

Fine, we'll start with the way the story was reported. WPIX's headline was, NJ Taxpayers Paying $420,000 to cover Production Costs for 'Jersey Shore'.  The clear inference was that NJ was, somehow, partnering with MTV or footing the bill for the honor of having them shoot in the state.  Every other news story I ran across used some variation on that theme.  The problem is that that's a completely inaccurate depiction -- it just makes for a more sensational story.

If you spend just, oh, 30 seconds running around the internet, you can find the actual statute for NJ's tax incentive.   The high points are:

New Jersey offers a tax credit in an amount equal to 20% of qualified production expenses, available to production companies meeting certain criteria, chiefly:
At least 60% of the total expenses of a project, exclusive of post-production costs, will be incurred for services performed and goods used or consumed in New Jersey (emphasis mine).

In short, to qualify for a BIG tax credit, you have to spend BIG money in the state.

How did Jersey Shore spend money?  I don't have the details for that season, but according to the the NJ Film Commission, here is part of what they spent money on during the summer of 2011:

-4,000 hotel room-nights for 125 crew members
-50 local construction jobs
-10 police officers hired daily for several months (the bill for this usually covers the officers' time PLUS an administrative fee paid to the department or municipality.)
-45,000 meals purchased in local restaurants
20% increase in paid beach fees and parking revenues.

That's $6 million spent directly in Seaside Heights, NJ and surrounding towns.

Now, you may find yourself saying, why bother giving a credit to Jersey Shore?  I mean, where the hell else are they gonna shoot the Jersey Shore, HUH?  Oh, I don't know...maybe they could shoot in Italy.  The entire idea behind State tax incentives is an acknowledgment that shows can shoot whatever they want, pretty much wherever  they want.  Revenge is set in The Hamptons and it's shot in North Carolina. The Good Wife is set in Chicago -- and it's shot in New York.  You win some; you lose some.

More importantly is an understanding of exactly what the tax credit entails.  Contrary to the way it's portrayed, the state doesn't have some guy show up and deliver bags of money to the production office.  Once again, the particulars vary from state to state, but in NJ, here's how it works:

-The production submits records of its qualified expenses (i.e. money spent in NJ to the benefit of NJ companies and individuals - which, by the way, will be taxable income for those businesses and individuals).
-The state agency gives them a certificate for the amount of the credit they've qualified for. (That happens a couple of years after the production should have already paid the state any incurred tax liability.)
-In order to realize any actual benefit, the production must now sell their tax credit certificate to a  company in New Jersey -- typically a company that has a massive tax liability already (and probably delinquent, as well).  Also:
               1.) To find such a company, the production will need to go through a broker -- another
                     company doing business in the state who will charge a fee.
                2.) The law stipulates that the purchasing company must pay the production at least 75%
                      of the value of the certificate -- why would they pay more; they're trying to pay they're
                     back taxes.
                3.) Whatever amount the production actually gets paid for their certificate is taxable
                      income  in the state.

There's no question that the state is generating income for businesses, individuals and itself, in return for discounting the tax owed.  It's money that could have easily gone somewhere else and generated zero income at home.

But discovering these details and conveying them to the public is hard (not so much), so why would a news outlet bother.  Much easier to make it sound like that guy with the bags of money ran around paying Jersey Shore's bills for them.

Let's get back to the politicians. I'm not going to bother going back and looking for all of the names, but one State Assemblyman, who supported the tax credit program, demanded that Gov. Christie veto it in this case.  Even though the statute is blind to content (aside from porn - "We'll know it when we see it"), he expected to have the tax credit bring in only quality shows.  Dude, it's about economic impact, not about having New Jersey be a latter-day  Medici Family leaving an artistic legacy.  If you want to sponsor worthy art, you should be having some kind of grant program with a completely subjective set of criteria (in which case, incidentally, you will be sponsoring art without regard to economic impact).

Gov. Christie, who to be fair, has always bitched about what a festering piece of crap Jersey Shore is, and has always hated the tax incentives and killed the program when he came into office, first said he didn't have any power to rescind the $420,000 tax credit.  A few days later, he decided he could veto it...and promptly did.  However you feel about this tax credit specifically, or tax credits in general, the fact is that Jersey Shore followed all the rules, spent all of that money and qualified for it.  I have no idea what grounds Christie used for vetoing it, but I'd be shocked if MTV doesn't initiate a lawsuit to get it back.

I've never seen Jersey Shore and I'm fairly certain I'd hate it if I did.  But that's not the point.  I have no problem with a state deciding they don't think tax incentives for film are a good idea (I disagree, but I'm only a citizen of NY), but if they have a statute, they need to follow it while it's in effect.   And if they're going to have an incentive program, it ought to be strictly mercenary.  You can measure actual money spent by a production, but the side benefit of added tourism is a lot more fuzzy. So leave out the subjective part about a film being required to "portray the state in a good light".  That's just bullshit.

P.S. I know that I'm guilty of being a little lazy in reporting this; something I've called WPIX and their colleagues to task for.  But they're supposed to be legitimate news sources.  I'm just a blabbermouth with a blog.  They should really do better than me.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Holy Shit, I Made Bagels!

In addition to a non-craptacular picture, you'd also be hearing about 5 seconds of a Celestial Choir singing a beautiful chord in unison. I don't know how to do that either, so join with me for a moment, if you will.


Here's the thing.  There are certain foods that, irrationally, I've always just assumed had to be made by professionals in a professional setting.  I distinctly recall the first time Anon GF said she was making Chinese Food for dinner and I just looked at her and said, "Oh, sure. Like you can do that at home." In my defense, we did not then, nor do we now, have one of those big swinging faucets that reach out over the burners on our stove.

We don't have a wok the size of Nebraska either! In her defense, she just looked at me like I was a mildly retarded child and went on to make Chinese Food for dinner.*

Anyway, for some reason I got it into my head yesterday that I should make bagels.  I looked around at a variety of recipes and chose one that looked like I might be able to handle it.  But let's be honest; I absolutely expected to fuck it up.  Imagine my shock, surprise and near ecstasy when they came out looking like bagels and tasting like bagels.  With the texture of bagels!  A little crunchy on the outside; soft and chewy on the inside.

If you didn't know any better, you'd think they were bagels! And it was really easy.  You should try it.

This recipe makes 8 reasonable sized bagels.  I decided to make 4 of them plain and to get creative with the other 4.  More on this later.  You'll need...

4 cups of bread flour
1 tablespoon of sugar
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons yeast
1-1/4 (and then an additional 1/4) cup of warm water

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water until it looks like Lake Erie (ugly and frothy). Add the sugar, salt, and oil.  Mix that in until it dissolves and then sift in the flour.

Mix this all in your mixer with a bread hook just until all of the flour is incorporated. This is where the additional 1/4 cup of warm water comes in. Depending on how dry the mixture seems, you may need to add a bit more moisture. You want to end up with a fairly stiff dough ball that just releases from the mixing bowl -- I think I ended up using an additional couple of tablespoons of water to get it right.

Dump the mixture out onto your counter and knead it for about ten minutes until smooth. If your forearms aren't singing, you aren't doing it right.  Cut the dough into 8 equal parts and let it rest for 20 minutes.
I purposely did my dividing a little sloppy to maintain that "rustic" homemade look. (Also, my name is Elmer J. Fudd; millionaire.  I own a mansion and a yacht.)

When the 20 minutes of resting time is over is a good time to start preheating your oven to 425º.  Also, it's time to form your bagels.  For the plain ones, use two hands to roll out little caterpillars just wider than your two hands next to each other.  Hold one end of the doughy caterpillar in the palm of your hand; Bring the little guy around the back of your hand; and then mooosh the ends together in your palm.  You can roll it up off of your hand like a rubber band and then sorta plump it up before setting it down to rest and rise a little. Also, this is when you should put a big ole pot of water on to boil. (The recipe I used called for plain water.  Others call for a sorta malty brine.  I'll probably play around with this a bit in the future.)

This is where we'll briefly address the topic of getting creative and adding stuff. If you're just putting stuff on the top, you'll wait until after the next step - the boiling. If you're adding other stuff, that goes inside, this is when you do it. Those two bagels on the upper left had the added step of flattening the little dough caterpillar so I could sprinkle in cinnamon and raisins. Then, I pinched them back into cylinders and formed them into bagels. The problem is...other than being the two biggest bagels, I didn't give myself any way of distinguishing them from the plain bagels.  Oh well...surprise bagels are fun.  The one on the bottom left is loaded with garlic.  I'll let you know, but I'm betting that one is a failure since I doubt the garlic got cooked enough and I'm sure it isn't nice and toasty.  Live and learn.

Next step: Boiling.
They don't need long; only a minute or so on each side.  The important thing is to make sure your water is boiling decently and that you use a pan with as much surface area as possible.  They'll float, so you really only need a few inches of depth, but you want to be able to boil a few at a time.  A pair of chop sticks are a really good tool for flipping them in the water with a two-handed non-authentic grip.

When it comes time to take them out of the pot, you'll need to find whatever the best tool is in your house.  I tried lifting them out by sticking a chopstick through the middle but that was a mistake.  At this point, they've absorbed some water and, in addition to still being really soft, they're relatively heavy.  The chopstick through the middle is a good way to mess up the shape.
I had more success with a flat hole-y utensil (that I'm sure has a name).  You want to choose something that supports the weight and let's the water drain.  Don't worry about it still being damp or getting a small amount of water on your greased baking pan; the hot oven will deal with that. (Also, if you tried to pat them dry on paper towels, they'd stick and that would be bad.)
Sorry about the focus on the last two shots; I cook better than I stand still modeling. 

If you're adding toppings - seeds or whatever, now's the time. I probably should have waited til this point to add the garlic.

Now, bake them! Ten minutes on one side.  Flip 'em.  Ten minutes on the other side.  Ding, ding, ding!  You've got bagels.

And here are some followup Before & After pics. (Before and after toasting - not eating.  That would be gross.)

 The Cinnamon-Raisin ones turned out quite nicely, but I think I could improve my cinnamon and raisin distribution.

 The garlic bagel needs work. First of all, since I didn't put any garlic on the surface, there are no visible toasty bits, so I had to sniff and cut open two bagels before I found the bagel one. Even the inside wasn't real obvious visibly.  But it did taste really good.  That's one shredded clove of garlic in that one bagel and it turned out pretty mild and tasty -- not overpoweringly garlicky at all.

Oops! I almost forgot.  LuLu didn't help even a little bit.

*I'm not sure how authentic it was, but that's fine by me.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

More Pictures In One Day? Why, Yes. It's The Thursday Photo Challenge.

Once again, it's Thursday, and Michelle is making us run around with our cameras snapping away willy-nilly.  And this made me realize that my neighborhood is a lot cleaner than it used to be (not a non sequitur at all).  Ya see, Michelle had a lot of brown in today's assignment. And my inner eight-year-old wanted a shot of some huge steaming dog crap. (The steam would have been a bonus, but can't ya just picture it?)  Anyway, I couldn't find any dog shit!  None!  I'll tell ya; It's one thing that Bloomberg is outlawing cigarettes everywhere.  It's one thing that you can't find any fries done up in month old, gelatinous saturated fat.  But I say he's GONE TOO FAR, when you can't find a proper steamer on the sidewalk!

So, while I try to get over my disappointment, here's what I came up with.

Brown Plant Matter

A Brown Man In Brown Clothes and His Brown Truck (Brown Vehicle and Something Else Brown)


 Sign (and it's something else else brown!)


If A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words, Then Here Are A Few Thousand Words. (Plus A Few Word-Words About The Picture-Words)

While I continue to be lazy about actually writing anything, I'll share a few pictures of stuff I've run across in the last week.

Let's start with this unassuming church. This falls into the category of stuff I'm sure has been there a while, but I just don't seem to have ever noticed.

Nothing unusual here, right?  Just a perfectly lovely, if ordinary church.  But what's this?
That building behind it (an NYU building) seems awfully close.
There's no church in that church.  NYU preserved the front wall and the steeple and built their hi-rise behind it!  This gets three polite golf-claps from me.

Next, we've got this item. I'm sure you're all familiar with this famous image.
Well, this next thing falls into the category of stuff I've seen a bunch of times and I never get tired of it.  I'm not sure what prompted this guy to create this on his truck, but I like it.

Next, we have a building that I'll forgive myself for never having noticed before.  I'm pretty sure that it endured a number of years with some sort of hokey-crappy facade covering the front. And I know that the last time I spent any time on this block, the front was covered in scaffolding during restoration.  This is a pretty unique building. I'm pretty sure I've never seen a spiral staircase going up the 3 floors on the front of a building.

And now, last but not least, is a little photo essay I like to call "Photographer on the Downtown Platform shoots woman on an Uptown Train: Pissed, Pissed-er, Pissed-est."

P.S. I thought it was ingenious of me to opt for posting a few pictures I'd already shot instead of going to all the effort of writing something.  It turns out that I forgot to reduce the size of these images, so it took for-fucking-ever to upload them.  Best laid plans and all that.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Manhattan Wildlife

Let's be honest; when you think of going somewhere to see wildlife in its natural habitat, the first place you think of is NYC.  Right?

Oh, c'mon!  Sure you do.  We have rats the size of armadillos.  And they carry Mac-10's.  For every froo-froo, yappy lap dog, there are 37.6 pit bulls who have been released into the wilds by someone who had no idea they could be moody.*  There are hoardes of mutant feral cats roaming the streets.**  At least once a year, there's a news story about all the wild raccoons in the city.  I'm not sure anyone has ever actually seen one but knocked-over garbage cans are all the proof anybody needs.

Anyway, I was out roaming the East Village yesterday in search of a certain building type and happened to wander by The NYC Marble Cemetery. This is a cemetery that was active (as in digging holes and filling them) from 1831 to 1937.  Now it's a historic site.
Anyway, I was kinda glancing into the place as I walked past, and the last thought that was running through my head was, "Oooh, I should pay close attention in case there's any of nature's majesty to be witnessed here on East 2nd Street".  In fact, what I was thinking was, "Damn, my feet hurt.  I wonder if I can make it to the subway before the rush-hour crowd gets there."

As I passed the gate, some movement in a tree caught my eye.  It's not every day I see a red-tailed hawk enjoying some fresh pigeon tartare!

I popped off about 150 frames of the guy (or girl...I have no idea how to tell the difference). If you look close, you can see that his (or her) leg is banded, so somebody's got this bird in their records.  When I get a chance to go through the rest of the shots, I'll add some more.  I'm pretty sure I've got a couple of shots where Mr. Hawk was staring straight at me as if to say, "What the fuck are you looking at", in perfect NY fashion.
*Not really.  I totally made that up.

**Really.  I totally didn't make that up.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Damn, Those Guys Could Make Some Noise!

 I've got a few things I want to put up on the blog, but I haven't got the time (or energy) to get them written up right now.  So, here... have a little Sly & The Family Stone from an ABC TV show in 1969.

Two things:  1. I'm kind of amazed that ABC aired this in 1969.  Or ever. (You'll know what I'm talking about near the middle of the clip.)  And 2. As a kid, I grew up hearing all sorts of great trumpeters, but Cynthia Robinson is the one who made me think playing trumpet would be the coolest thing in the world.

BTW, you may note that the guitars are actually plugged in!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Keeping A Good Thought

Every time I'm about to start scouting locations for something new, I go through this train of thought:

-I won't see anything worth scouting.
-If I see anything worth scouting, nobody will answer the doorbell.
-If anybody answers the doorbell, they'll "decline the honor" of being scouted.
-If they let me in to scout, what looked promising from the outside will be frighteningly horrible on the inside.
-If the inside is interesting, all of my pictures will be out of focus.

It's never actually this bad, but bothering to charge my camera battery the night before is really an act of supreme optimism.

Wish me luck.

Friday, September 16, 2011

No Parking Today Cuz We Made A Park In The Parking Space Where You Usually Park. Park You!

Also known as Kill Some Sod For Nature Day.  Or something.

Honestly, I know they do this every year and I'm pretty sure I knew what it was all about once upon a time.  And I even saw a story online somewhere this morning and I didn't bother to read it.  Because, beyond giving me a bit of fodder for the blog today, I don't really care all that much.

Anyway, here are some miniature parks (made in parking spaces) in my neighborhood today.

The first, you'll find outside of a little dress boutique right around the corner from me.  I could tell they're the ones who put it up because they've also got some matching balloons on their storefront. I do recall that in previous years, these little parks seemed to be put up by random granola eating, Birkenstock wearing, whale saving individuals, not by businesses on the block. But since (as I've acknowledged), I don't remember what it's all for, I won't get all incensed over the commercialization of Soon-To-Be-Dead-Grass-In-The-Street Day.

As you continue down Myrtle Avenue (I was headed toward the grocery store, after all), you'll pass that place that magically transforms me into a dick.  And their little park.

The woman in the picture is not responsible for either of my two previous  forced-to-be-a-dick experiences.  She is, however a perfect demonstration of how this store projects forced-to-be-a-dick rays clear out onto the sidewalk at me. As I walked up, she was standing on the sidewalk holding her clipboard. Here is the transcript of our brief interaction:

Me: Hey, would you mind sitting in your park so I can get a picture?
She: Sure.

As she sits, the forced-to-be-a-dick ray ZAPS me right in the back of the head.

She: (continued) Do you know what this is all about?
Me: Nope.  Don't care.
She: I've got a flyer.
Me: Nope.  Just want a picture.
She: We're giving away free green tea samples inside if you'd like one.

This last was too much. So I shot her.

OK, I didn't turn into that much of a dick, but I did say something neutral-ish and continued on my way.

Lastly, we have one right across the street from the grocery store. Like I said, I don't remember the point of the entire exercise, but I kinda doubt it's about providing extra seating space for restaurants.  Having said that, I don't know if I should give it a break because it was set up by the folks who own a little coffee shop I really like or if I should be all-on-my-high-horse because it was set up by the folks next door who I don't know from a hole in the wall.  It's also possible that they set it up together, in which case I'll just let the voices in my head duke it out.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

C'mon Meredith. Gimme A Call.

I have a habit of watching Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and That Other Game Show Which Shall Remain Nameless (where that guy with the initials "A" and "T" tells three people answers and they have to say the question) and hollering at the screen a lot because, of course, I know all the answers. So every time I see that one of them is having auditions (online or not), I try to get my ass on the show.  O.K., not really every time, but I've taken that online quiz for The Other Game Show Which Shall Remain Nameless a few times and since I've never heard back from them I'll have to assume they were grading from the wrong set of answers.

And once, about 5 years ago, I went in and tried out for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.  There were about 300 people in an auditorium and they gave us a test in the form of a booklet which kinda made the SAT's seem like a short pop quiz.  On that occasion, I passed the test (with maybe 1/3rd of the other people) and went off to the Interview Segment of the tryout.  I'm not sure what happened to me in the interview.  I sat down with two of their Associate Producers (I assume that's what they were) for about 5 minutes and proceeded to wow them with the fact that I had apparently forgotten how to speak English. This did not impress them and I never heard from them again.

So, yesterday, for no reason I can recall, I went on their website and discovered that they were in the midst of holding auditions for the Fall Season.  I signed up around 12:30 in the afternoon.  I wandered off to do other things.  At 4:00pm, I checked my email and Holy Crap--I discovered that I had to be at ABC for auditions in an hour and a half!  Cool beans, huh?

So I put on a clean shirt (the bluish-green one that shows off my dirt-brown eyes so nicely), and hopped on the subway.

This time, there were maybe 30 people there.  It turns out that they're looking for contestants for both the regular show and for their special Movie Week shows. So I got to take a general trivia test and a movie trivia test.

If you've been hanging out here for any length of time, you may recall that in spite of working on movies and knowing a hell of a lot about how they're made (if I do say so myself), I'm not really good at movie trivia.  I'm pretty sure I couldn't name any of the movies nominated for the last Academy Awards if you pointed a gun at my head.  (Yes, I know that might be a stressful situation in which to come up with movie trivia, but I couldn't do it if you left out the gun and offered me a nice piece of choclolate for the answer either.)

Anyway, when you take the tests, there are 30 questions for each one and they give you one of those old style answer cards (please fill in the box completely with a number two pencil).  The questionnaire comes in a manila envelope (please don't open your envelope until we say to), and -- here's the important part -- there's a random number written on the upper corner of the envelope.  That number is your personal I.D. for the test.  I was utterly distracted by the assumption that I'd forget my I.D. numbers (412 and 78 -- Ta Daaaaaa), and wouldn't get called for an interview even if I did well on either of the tests. (I managed to remember them.)

Well, we all take our tests and then they shove our answer cards into their UNIVAC and the UNIVAC spits out the ones who passed.  And then they call out the I.D. numbers for those of us who passed.  They called out a surprisingly small number of I.D. numbers. 

And two of them were mine.  I passed both tests! I have to admit that when one of the questions involves a maternal hamster and a father who smells of elderberries, the Gods must be smiling on me.

Anyway, I sat down for my interview.  I tried my best to be engaging and energetic. I think they like that sort of thing. Certainly my previous attempt at channeling Marcel Marceau didn't impress anyone.

So now, I have to wait "two or three weeks" to receive a postcard telling me they want me on the show.

Or not. (Receiving a postcard, that is.  I don't think they send you anything to notify you that you sucked and they don't want you anywhere near their studio again.)

Anyway, let's all keep our fingers crossed. If I get on, you can all root for me to be a big winner.  Or, if you think it'd be more fun, A Beeg Weiner! 

BTW, I don't know how far in advance they tape shows, but if I get on, I assume I'll be signing something promising not to talk about my appearance until after it airs.  But we'll have a Super-Sekrit Code.  If I announce that I've actually bought one of these things, you can assume I did pretty well.  But let's keep that just between us, K?

Monday, September 12, 2011

September 12, 2011

Yesterday, people gathered in lower Manhattan and Shanksville, PA and in Arlington, VA. Names were read.  Tears were shed. Politicians, past and present, spoke and posed.  The media watched and so did we.  When the ceremonies ended the  somber images were replaced with a couple of NFL games and a World Cup Rugby match between Ireland and the U.S.

That's probably as it should be.

I've mentioned that my grandfather served in World War I. I'd seen a picture of him in uniform, but I have no memory of ever having spoken with him about it. I'm sure it played a large part in molding the man he'd become, but it doesn't seem to have been the defining moment in his life. Other men didn't come home.  Or they came home damaged in obvious or less visible ways.

Nearly 100 years later, I know the broad strokes of America's involvement in World War I and I know some details and dates, but with the exception of some reading I've done or some movies I've seen, World War I is no more real for me than Henry V at Agincourt. A cursory search of the internet will find you stories about High School students who can't identify which countries were allied with which.

For those who lived it, World War I was an occasion for heroism or glory. Or opportunism or barbarity.  There was worry and pain, suffering and relief; mourning and celebration.  For me, and probably for you, it's history.  I'm pretty sure I can find a World War I memorial in practically every town in America, most of them fairly quaint; glorifying all things martial in the fashion of their time.

On December 7, 1941, The Empire of Japan executed a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, HI.  To my way of thinking, nobody on the ground that day was a combatant. If America was at war already, nobody had told them. My father was 13 years old on that day, living in Florida. I have no memory of him ever speaking about his personal experience of those war years other than how they followed campaigns on maps.  Logic tells me he must have known, or been aware of people who served and didn't come home.  Or came home damaged in obvious or less visible ways.

For me, World War II is more real than World War I. Is it because it's more recent?  Because there's so much surviving documentation?  Because I grew up with movies telling the story from every imaginable angle?  It's still history, but it's history I can process and experience on some level.

But once again, for those who lived it, whether at home or on the front, World War II was an occasion for heroism or glory. Or opportunism or barbarity.  There was worry and pain, suffering and relief; mourning and celebration. In the aftermath, names were read. Tears were shed. Politicians spoke and posed. The media and the public paid attention.

Eventually, there were memorials.  The U.S.S. Arizona lies visible below the surface of Pearl Harbor, a shrine to the sailors still entombed in her; still leaking oil into the surrounding water.  A number of it's survivors have chosen to have their ashes interred there after death.  I've never been there, but even reading about it is a deeply moving experience.  I've never visited Auschwitz but I can't help thinking you'd have to be made of stone to see it and be unmoved.

It was only recently that the National World War II Memorial opened on The Mall in Washington DC.  I recall a controversy when it was revealed that one of the construction firms building the memorial, (a company that had been founded in America in the early 20th century), had financial ties to a German company that had used slave labor during the war.  Personally, I saw that as just one more tangible demonstration of how thoroughly America had won the war. Just a bit more than half a century after the end of WWII, Germany and Japan are two of our most important allies and trading partners.

A cursory search of the internet will find you stories about High School students who can't identify which countries were allied with which. And it's probably easier to spout Nazi propaganda in Topeka than it is in Munich. One of the peculiarities of our system is that you have a Constitutional right to be vile.

Regardless of whether you find that sad, or infuriating, or just pathetic, it's probably as it should be.

My experience of September 11, 2001 took place  2-1/2 miles from the World Trade Center.  The smoke was visible from my rear window. The sounds and smells were present in my living room. I had walked through the Plaza at the World Trade Center three days earlier.  The attacks took place within my personal geography.  But I wasn't there any more than most of you were.  In truth, my experience of September 11, 2001 was closer to that of someone watching events unfold from Chicago than it was to anyone who was there or was worrying about someone who was.

It's the height of unseemliness to try to assign varying degrees of victimhood or heroism on that day and the days that have followed, but the truth is, there are people who were in those buildings and on the planes that hit them and other people ran in trying to help afterward.  There are people who jumped from those buildings when the alternative seemed worse and there are the people who can never forget being first hand witnesses.  There are people who never managed to reach a loved one by phone and people who had the most harrowing last conversations I can imagine.

For months afterward, an army of volunteers and City and State and Federal employees worked the site -- first, looking for survivors, any survivors and then searching for remains. Many of them have catastrophic health problems and I'd be amazed if most weren't permanently traumatized by the experience to some degree or another.

Within a month of the attacks, the first U.S. Troops were on the ground in Afghanistan.  A year and a half later, rightly or wrongly, there were troops in Iraq.  Thousands will never come home. Others have come home damaged in obvious or in less visible ways. At present, there's no end in sight to the trauma for these people or the families they leave behind -- or come home to so fundamentally changed.

Today, on September 12, 2011, 9/11 is both history and a continuing trauma.   There continue to be heroes and victims -- sometimes present in the same person.  There will continue to be barbarism.  There will continue to be opportunists of every stripe, not the least of them political. Eventually, hopefully sooner rather than later, it will all be history. At least until the next crisis.

As a society, we'll fulfill our debt to many of those who acted on our behalf and we'll fail others.  I hope history will look back and decide we made a good faith effort.  But the War on Terrorism will eventually give way to some other conflict, be it hot or cold.

A hundred years from now, whatever shape mass media takes will have human interest stories on the last surviving child born to a 9/11 victim.  A disappointing number of High School students will answer that the Khmer Rouge attacked the World Trade Center and that Shanksville, PA was a Civil War Battlefield where Teddy Roosevelt delivered some speech.  They'll be convinced that the question about an attack on The Pentagon must be a trick question.

In the meantime, Ground Zero doesn't seem to exist anymore.  It's been replaced by a well conceived and executed memorial. And every day it requires less imagination to see the completed new World Trade Center surrounding it.

This is as it should be.

Right now, to visit the site, you need a reservation and they seem to be booked solidly until late October.  I plan to visit before the year ends.   I'm pleased that they decided a traditional memorial combined with resurrecting a vibrant part of lower Manhattan was the right approach; was the right way to pay homage.

And I hope when I visit, there are children chasing each other through the trees with no idea they're anywhere other than a really pretty park.

That, too, is as it should be.
Gothamist Photo Tour of the Memorial.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Science Fiction Movies Always Get It Wrong.

You know how the aliens, or alien robots, or alien cyborg robots, or clones, or alien cyborg clone monster robots (or alien clone monster robot dogs with bees in their mouth so when they bark they shoot bees at their enemies), always show up and the first thing they say is, "Take me to your leaders."?  How stupid is that?  When I show up on some alien planet, I'm gonna say, "Take me to your followers"!  Once I get those simps obeying me, the leaders won't be able to resist!


With that in mind, I invite you to visit RoboHash to create your own awesome Robot Representative for when you decide to colonize the galaxy. When they shoot at your Robot Representative -- or chew on him or spit corrosive acid or whatever -- you'll still be sitting comfortably behind the scenes ready to execute Plan B.  Here's the Representative they generated for me.
His genial appearance will surely lull my enemies into a false sense of security and then BAM!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Try A Little Cheesiness

I don't think I'd ever heard the original version of Try a Little Tenderness until the other night when I went looking for it.  Sample a few of these cheestastic examples and then listen in awe and wonder to what Otis Redding and co-arranger Isaac Hayes managed to turn it into.

First up, Ray Noble and his Orchestra with the 1932 recording of the original version.  It's completely and utterly forgettable and the only miracle is that anyone else ever bothered to record the thing again.

Click forward to 1:05 if you want to skip most of the cloying instrumental lead-in. (I won't advise on how much of it you should listen to after that. You know your tolerances better than I do.)

But, for some reason, other big names couldn't resist this gem. Here's Mel Torme from some time in the '40's.

How about Bing Crosby? Bing could never resist taking a bit of saccharine and dumping in an additional heaping spoonful of sugar. And I suppose I'll always have a soft spot for Bing. Can't you just picture him crooning away while he beats the living shit out of one of his kids? (I was going to say they don't make singers like they used to, but apparently, Chris Brown has recorded the song too.)

I'll put you out of your misery. Here's the Otis Redding (and don't forget Isaac Hayes) version. The only reason the others shouldn't have their masters burned and all copies tracked down and destroyed is to demonstrate the genius of a couple of guys who could take such a piece of shit and turn it into a defining moment in music. I haven't got the first clue what gave them the idea to re-imagine the song this way, but I'm glad they did.


I wish I had more of an educated music vocabulary so I could expound a bit more on this.  If you're like me, you've found yourself screaming this song in the car at some point in your life.  And if you're like me, you've found yourself starting a phrase just a beat before or after Otis.  The song has a completely simple melody and, at the same time, it's a highly complex bit of arrangement with constant shifts in tempo and pace.

And, just for the hell of it, here's Ducky...from before Charlie was dissing him.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Today is Badass Women Day on Polybloggimous.

On June 17th, Brig. Gen. Lori Reynolds assumed command of U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Center, Parris Island. If I'm not mistaken, the Navy is opening up submarine duty to women. Women are serving in roles that, if not actually classified as combat, are only distinguished from combat by some really creative defining of the term. I don't think twice when I see a female NYPD Officer.* I've probably had almost as many women bosses as men. The fact of the matter is that nowadays, the thing that stands out most to me about these "milestones" for women is that I find myself surprised that they are milestones.

With that in mind, I ran across stories in the last few days about a couple of different extraordinary women.  They'd be extraordinary in any era, but their achievements stand out all the more because of when they lived.  But, bearing that in mind, ask yourself if you could have done the things they did. Yeah, I'm lookin' at you, you big macho dudes.**

First up, on August 31st, Betty Skelton died at the age of 85. At the age of 12, she took her first solo flight (illegally).  At the age of 19, in 1946, she performed in her first aerobatics show at the same show where the the Navy's Blue Angels made their debut.  Flying a Pitt Special biplane, one of her signature tricks was to cut a ribbon with the propeller -- while flying inverted 10' off the ground. The first time she attempted the trick, her plane stalled and she managed to right the plane and land on its wheels unscathed.

Twice, she set altitude records for  light aircraft, reaching 29,050' in 1951 in a Piper Cub. It's worth noting that the temperature at that altitude was 53 below zero and she flew barefooted. She also got a P-51 Mustang up to 421 mph, which would have been a women's speed record, but she didn't get credit for it because she didn't land at the same field she took off from.  Her engine exploded at her top speed and she couldn't bail out over Tampa Bay because she remembered, "I can't swim"; so she made a dead stick landing at a nearby Air Force base.

When she was finished with her aerobatics career, she started in on a couple of other careers. In 1954, she became the first woman test driver for the auto industry.  This led to her being an Ad Exec on the Corvette account. In 1957, she was the first woman pace car driver at the Indy 500. Throughout the 50's she set a number of speed and acceleration records at Daytona and the Bonneville Salt Flats. She set records for driving from NY to Los Angeles and also across South America from Buenos Aires to Chile.

Early in the Space Program, there was an school of thought that said women, due to smaller size and weight, might be better candidates for NASA's Astronaut Program.  Betty Skelton took -- and passed -- exactly the same battery of tests administered to the original Mercury Astronauts. She appeared on the Feb. 2, 1960 cover of Look Magazine wearing a spacesuit with the inside story headlined, “Should a Girl Be First in Space?”

Skelton set her final major land-speed record in 1965, when she topped 315 mph during one run at Bonneville, driving a jet-powered car and wearing no more protective gear than an open-faced helmet and a windbreaker.

Our second badass woman is Nellie Granger.  Nellie was part of the 2nd Class to qualify as Stewardesses for Transcontinental & Western Airways.  She was a registered nurse.  She was 22 years old, weighed 110 lbs. and stood 5'2" tall -- all within the narrow parameters required to have been considered for training in the first place.
On April 7, 1936, she was the lone Air Hostess on TWA Flight 1, a DC-2 "Sun Racer" traveling from Newark, NJ to Los Angeles with nearly a dozen stops in between.  Headed toward their 2nd stop in Pittsburgh, the pilot flew into low clouds over the Alleghenies and crashed near Uniontown, PA. (An investigation confirmed that radio beacons were functioning properly and judged the crash to be caused by pilot error.) 

The pilot, co-pilot and nine of the 11 passengers were killed in the crash.  Granger was thrown clear of the wreckage and when she came to, approximately 125' from the plane, she went back into the flaming fuselage and dragged out the two survivors, Mrs. Meyer Ellenstein, (wife of Newark's Mayor), and Charles Challinor.  Both were severely injured and while Mrs. Ellenstein would recover, Mr. Challinor died the following week from infections that set in.

The crash site was near a mountain top and roughly 4 miles from the nearest road - a fact that Nellie Granger wasn't aware of.  After dragging the two survivors from the plane, she managed to locate a telephone line and followed it 11 miles cross-country through sleet and snow until she reached the first place she could report the crash.  Allegheny County Airport was aware that the plane was missing, but no one knew of the crash until she reached a telephone nearly 4 hours after the crash.

After reporting in, she rode back with a neighbor to lead ambulances to the crash site -- once again, 4 miles from the nearest road.

The stories I got this from contradict each other on some of the details, but I've pieced it together as best I could.  Other than stating that she returned to her job with TWA with a promotion, I can't find anything else about what became of Nellie Granger later in life or how long she lived.

Here are a few links worth reading:

A Time Magazine story from April 20, 1936.
A blog post on Props, Pistons, Old Jets and the Good Ole Days of Flying, created from a number of contemporaneous sources.

*FDNY is another story. From the most recent statistics I can find (September 2010), only 32 of 11,500 NY firefighters are women. And frankly, I don't buy the whole "upper body strength" argument.  This too shall change.

**You may take that challenge with a grain of salt since I happen to know that most of the men who read  this "are not now, nor have they ever been" big macho dudes.

Friday, September 2, 2011

What The Hell Is Going On Here?

For some odd reason, the world seems to be suddenly obsessed with finding out about "check".  What kind of check?  I don't know.  But they're asking Google about it and Google is sending them all to me for the answer.

Here's a screenshot of the search phrases for the last 40 visitors to Polybloggimous (You'll have to biggify it to read it.) You can ignore the search for "Wrongnumber cock".  I am.
Just so you know that isn't some GoogleBot or other nefarious thingie, here's the locations those searches originated from:
 They're from all over the place!

And this has been going on for days now.  Not that I'm really complaining, but my daily visits have almost doubled...and all because people are being sent to read this post.  I wonder if they're pleased with the results.

At any rate, does anyone out there have any idea what the sudden worldwide interest in "check" is?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Thursday Photo Challenge (Or Whatever Did We Do To Deserve Two Posts In One Day?)

This week, Michelle has declared a Yellow Submarine Edition to the Thursday Photo Scavenger Hunt.  It's surprising just how much yellow stuff you can find once you're looking for it.  And I'll admit that I'm recycling one picture...but I couldn't resist.  It's perfect and it's yellow!

So, without further ado...

Yellow Flower

Yellow Vehicle

Something Else Yellow

Summer Water:

Edited to add...LuLu is exhausted from holding the window open.