11/22/6311/22/63 by Stephen King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Stephen King reins himself in, there’s no better storyteller. The man knows how to spin a yarn. Unfortunately, he also knows how to overwrite a book into the ground, and, that’s what he’s done here. This tome weighs in at more than 800 pages. At 500 or so, it would have been a good read, but he spends way too much time on unnecessary side plots and characters and little gimmicks that went nowhere. The book’s predictable payoff would have been worth the effort in a more compact work, but not one that could double as a doorstop.

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Time to kill Columbus Day

Posted: October 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

Want to know why kids don’t have to go to school on Columbus Day? It’s to spare teachers the embarrassment of having to explain the holiday. Okay, I made that up, but just to make a point – Why the hell are we still celebrating this holiday, which should have been wiped off of the calendar as a national embarrassment years ago?

While growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, we were taught the usual Columbus Canon – he was a brave and daring explorer who, though intending to find a sea route to Asia, wound up discovering America. In the process, of course, he proved that the world is round, not flat. All hail Columbus and the bounties he brought to the New World!

That fairy tale long ago evaporated. Columbus did not “discover” America – there were indigenous peoples living here who, as far as I know, weren’t tossing messages in bottles into the ocean, hoping to become spear carriers in an opera being staged by Europeans. What Columbus DID bring to the “New World” was disease, brutality and exploitation. And he did not discover the world was round. You can go here to one up on some of the specifics.

Of course, Columbus Day isn’t all about Columbus himself. The holiday has been celebrated for centuries in one way or another and became an official federal holiday in the early 20th Century. Italian and Catholic fraternal organizations defend the holiday as a point of ethnic pride. Fair enough, I suppose, but I’d like to think that they can find better role models than Columbus.

Without seeming to be TOO politically correct I think it’s safe to say that Columbus is far from the great hero of history that the myths of my youth made him out to be. Perhaps we should be following the lead of communities such as Berkeley, California, which celebrates the second Monday of October as “Indigenous People’s Day.”

Or, if we insist on continuing Columbus Day, let’s change the emphasis. The great explorer never meant to discover a New World – just a better route to an old one. Perhaps we should rename the holiday, “The Day of Unintended Consequences.” And we know how those go.

Boycott Stingray Sushi!

Posted: September 9, 2012 in Arizona, Politics
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This, being the height of silly season, even the tiniest patch of public land is now plastered with candidate campaign signs. Unsightly? Yes. But it’s a small — if ugly — price to pay for democracy, I suppose.

A Stingray political “ad” during last year’s Phoenix mayoral campaign.

However, one local business has decided to take advantage of the opportunity for free advertising by putting up “campaign signs” all over Phoenix and Scottsdale. Some endorse Romney, some endorse Obama. What’s most prominently displayed however is the name of the business “Stingray Sushi” and its logo.

Apparently, it’s legal, thanks to a loophole concerning political advertising that Stingray has decided to take advantage of. Free advertising on the public dime. Some people think this makes Stingray clever. I think they’re just cheapskate freeloaders. What’s a little more ugly clutter on street corners if Stingray can make another buck or two. All for one, and all for one! It’s SO Scottsdale.

There’s irony, of course: Amid the hue and cry over the need for more transparency over who is financing political campaigns, Stingray is giving us that, alright. It’s just the political messages are bogus.

The good news, I guess, is that it appears no other business has followed Stingray’s tacky example.

Are these the type of people you want preparing and serving you raw fish? Me either. Boycott Stingray Sushi.

Among the laziest, most mindless claims I’ve been hearing in this election campaign (and almost all other election campaigns for the past couple of decades) is that candidate Joe Blow would make a better president / senator / congressman / dog catcher than his opponent because of Blow’s experience as a businessman. “I know what it’s like to make a payroll,” says Blow. “I’ve built a successful business, so I have what it takes to be your president.” Mitt Romney, of course, is touting his experience in executive suites as the reason we should allow him to park his keester in the oval office.

Uh-huh. If you buy this line of hooey, you probably haven’t spent much time in business, working under hard-driving CEOs.

I spent seven years working at Honeywell Inc. under a number of strong, demanding executives. Their styles varied of course. Some were thoughtful and deliberative in their decision-making; others were impulsive, shoot-from-the-hip types. Some were good humored and easy-going; others were wrapped way too tight and rarely smiled. In all cases, however, once the boss made a decision and said, “Teach that bear to dance,” the only thing you worried about was whether Mr. Big (or Ms. Big) wanted to see a tango or foxtrot and how soon he or she wanted to see it. What the Big Kahuna wants, the Big Kahuna gets, no matter how silly or ill-considered.

The presidency does not work this way. Sure, the president runs the executive branch and has thousands of people at his beck and call. But when he says, “Turn the Queen Mary,” or “This is how we’re going to overhaul the country’s ailing health-care system,” there are hundreds of legislators on Capitol Hill who will tell him to put his plan where the sun doesn’t shine. The president can sign executive orders and decrees until his writing hand screams for mercy, but entrenched bureaucrats throughout the country are not necessarily going to follow his lead. And then there are the hundreds of other constituents, lobbyists and deep-pocketed men and women who can obstruct him. The presidential agenda? It’s a wonder he’s able to dress himself without touching off a constitutional crisis.

This fact of life might come as a rude awakening some corporate kings of the world who suddenly find that their words carry a lot less weight than when they were running Amalgamated Widgets, Inc. But of course, most know the “I’m an experienced businessman” claim for the scam it is — just a shuck to convince voters that their boardroom experience really makes a damn bit of difference when you’re leader of the free world.

If want candidates whose experience REALLY qualifies them for the White House, we should probably be looking for people who truly know how to function in challenging environments that closely resemble the presidency. Any jugglers, air traffic controllers and kindergarten teachers out there interested in a new gig?

I turned 60 a few weeks ago, which means that I’m probably “playing the back nine,” as my golfer buddy Steve likes to say. But, I keep myself open to new ideas and, as crusty as I might be some times, I have never yelled “Hey you kids, get off my lawn!” (This may have as much to do with the dearth of youngsters in my neighborhood and the fact that my Phoenix front law consists of river rock instead of grass, but never mind.)

Robert Plant

When it comes to music, I’ve discovered and enjoyed many artists a generation or two younger than me, but like many folks of my vintage, my playlists are still filled with the performers who are intimately tied up with my youth – The Who, the Beatles, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Traffic and so on. Many of them are still around – I saw Dave Mason at a club a few months ago and have tickets to see It’s A Beautiful Day next week. Truth be told, though, to have heard most of them 30 or 40 years ago is to have heard them, period. They haven’t changed much.

What fascinates me, however, is the artists of my youth who continue to evolve. In some cases, they embrace and work within the limitations of age and wind up fresh and vital. Guitarist Jeff Beck is one of those (listen to his beautiful album “Emotion and Commotion”). Van Morrison is another. But to me, the real standout who’s captured my interest in recent years is Robert Plant – he of the soaring vocals with Led Zeppelin. Plant can’t reach those stratospheric high notes that were his trademark with Led Zeppelin (a group I was always lukewarm about), but in their place are more controlled, nuanced vocals and a repertoire largely grounded in British and American folk music. If you haven’t listened to it by now, I strongly recommend “Raising Sand,” his beautiful collaboration with Alison Krauss and producer T-Bone Burnett. Also, check out “Band of Joy” which he recorded a year or two ago and is very much in the same vein.

As for me, I’ll be checking out a recently recorded live date with his latest group, “Sensational Space Shifters.” My bet is that it’s will be a rewarding set and well worth the cost.

Back in the 1980s, Dunkin’ Donuts aired a long-running series of commercials featuring actor Michael Vale as “Fred,” the tireless worker whose entire existence apparently revolved around making and selling the deep-fried treats. (Vale died in 2005 of diabetes. There may be a lesson here, but I digress.) Perhaps the most memorablImagee spot featured Fred, shambling through his dark house in the very wee hours of the morning, muttering “Time to make the donuts.”

Cut to the newsroom of The Record, a Hackensack, NJ newspaper where I worked as an editor in the late 1980s. A large part of my nightly duties consisted of laying out a half-dozen or so pages and then supervising their “paste-up” in the composing room. After finishing one edition, it was back up to the newsroom to start the “remakes” for later editions. It felt more like a grinding factory operation than artistry, so it’s no wonder that the phrase “Time to make the donuts,” would pop into my head and out of my mouth as soon as my shift began. Soon, my fellow editors were muttering the same phrase as we got down to work, and a piece of Record jargon was born.

Every business has its own lingo, be it generally understood (every news photographer knows  what a “grip and grin” shot is) or specific (see the donut example.) It’s very mysterious to the outsider, but once you get the translation dictionary, these private languages can be a source of sheer delight.

All of this is a way of recommending a new series of articles in the NY Times on private language. In the first entry, writer Ben Schott casts light on the expressions used in a number of New York’s restaurants. My favorite is from Sammy’s Roumanian Steak House, where a mention of “Mr. Schwartz and his niece” refers to any older Jewish man and his way-too-young girlfriend.

Love language? It’s definitely worth a read.

With the exception of NPR, which I live and die by, I rarely listen to radio anymore. For many of us who grew up in an era when life’s soundtrack came out of a tinny speaker in an 8-transistor radio, today’s bland, homogenized, zombified stations aren’t worth the effort to tune them in. I listen to far more new and interesting music today than I ever did, but I get my hit via the net.

Back in the “good old days” (I guess I’m now officially an old fogey), radio stations were like audio pinball machines, with music, deejays and elaborately produced jingles ricocheting off each other on a reverberating playfield of sound.

The jingles – those well-produced orchestral and choral nuggets – would introduce time and temperature, traffic reports, or the top hit of the week. Forget which station you were listening to or who was hosting the show? No problem. Station IDs and “name drops” were as effective in branding them aurally as any visual corporate logo.

Alas, those days are gone. In the late 1960s, programmer Bill Drake assumed responsibility for five or six of the country’s biggest stations and introduced stripped down stingers – shorter and punchier. Almost all were vocal only. Stations all over the country started copying the Drake sound (they were known as “Fake Drakes”), and it’s been downhill ever since.

Yesterday, NPR’s Weekend Edition recalled the jingle-meisters with this report on the jingle houses – including Dallas-based PAMS, the biggest name in jingles, and some audio samples that will snap you right back to the 60s. I particularly enjoyed the interview with Dan Ingram, the afternoon drive time jock at New York’s WABC and one of the most talented announcers in radio. The piece contains numerous jingles that many of us undoubtedly grew up on, but if you want to hear more, you can go here for examples.