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The big gong

Life is full of unexpected expenses. Some of them involve money.

First flakes

I live 70 miles south of Buffalo, about 10 minutes from the New York/Pennsylvania line, and I spotted the first snowflakes of the season this afternoon.

I'm predicting there's a possibility of a 40 percent chance that this coming winter will include a mix of colder and warmer weather, and I also predict it could be probable that there's a 60 percent chance it will snow more during some months and less during other months. All of this is somewhat similar but not identical to systems depicted in this map from 2006.

That's my prediction, and I'm sticking to it.

Working the Kinks Out

I needed a Kinks fix this morning, so I scrolled my iTunes music collection to the band's Ultimate Collection disc, and these three consecutive songs cleared my brain's funky fog:


Any mail today?

I don't know what's worse: the idea that my mail may be monitored, or the idea that the monitoring program seemingly is run by the Three Stooges:

(Stamp of disapproval)

A great one, gone

Jack Bruce, my bassist hero, is dead at 71

Cream was the first grownup music I listened to. It was the fall of 1971, and I had picked up the group's first live album for 99 cents in a local store's cut-out bin. Until then, I'd listened to some good bands and artists—Jethro Tull, Jefferson Airplane, Allman Brothers, Zappa—but Cream seemed miles ahead of them. Live Cream was—and still is—a remarkable record, capturing the band's incendiary sound during its extensive improvisations.

At the time, I paid the most attention to drummers in the music I listened to. Cream had a great one: Peter "Ginger" Baker. Cream had a great guitarist too, Eric Clapton, and one listen to Live Cream had me wanting to hear more of him. Jack Bruce was an afterthought.

Until one day, when I was listening to "Crossroads" from the band's double-disc Wheels of Fire.Play onCollapse )


The university where I work is staging its annual photograph update of faculty members. The photos will appear on the university website and in promotional materials.

Part of the notice about the photos said this: "Please dress appropriately, men preferably with a tie."

Really? Yes, really: Male faculty members need to be reminded that they should dress professionally when they are, in effect, a face of the institution.

I had an interesting email exchange with a member of the theology department a few weeks ago. The faculty email listserv was caught up in a discussion about enrollment, and I proposed that our image is hurt by too many male faculty members who dress as if they're taking trash to the landfill.

This guy unloaded a front-end loader full of academic elitism on me, pointing out that he had done his doctorate work at Yale (har-RUMPH kaff-kaff) and the professors he worked with didn't wear ties, and also, when he and his son visited a dozen or so major universities over the summer, the faculty members they spoke with didn't wear ties either.

Then came the line from another planet, as he suggested students might find it easier to work with professors who look—his word—"cool."

If this guy is an arbiter of cool, then I am the reincarnation of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Too clever by half

The governor's race in New York this year has the self-aggrandizing incumbent, Andrew Cuomo, in the Democratic corner. In the Republican corner is Rob Astorino, someone I had never heard of before he was nominated and someone I'll soon forget unless he pulls off an upset like George Pataki's defeat of Mario Cuomo—Andrew's father—20 years ago.

Anyway, an attack ad Cuomo's minions have been running berates Astorino and his running mate for their failure to release their tax returns for public scrutiny. Astorino, the ad claims, has released a return for only one year, while his running mate has released none.

Why are they withholding? the ads ask. What are they hiding? And then, the finishing line:

"You can't clean up Albany with dirty hands."

So: an attack ad from Cuomo's minions says, in effect, that Albany needs to be cleansed of rampant political corruption—a cleanup that did not occur during Cuomo's term.

This is an attack ad that inflicts damage on both sides. A good trick, that.

(I voted for Andrew Cuomo but over the last couple of years have come to believe he works better as a concept.)

Who's who. Say what?

Today's email brought, among other things, a message with this subject line:

You've Been Accepted by Global Who's Who U

I immediately chortled. Sometimes I don't even know what's what, so surely, I'm not who's who material. For kicks, though, I opened the message, which began with a surprisingly informal salutation:


That's how I expect email from my students to begin, although some of them carry the informality a little too far when they begin their messages with "Hey Vecchio." I used to growl at them, "You don't know me well enough to call me by just my last name," but that's just the way many of them talk. When I reply, I call them by just their last names; they don't even notice.

Many of my colleagues in the academy would do a lot of har-RUMPH kaf-kaff-ing about being called by their last names. They'd say students are being disrespectful. I think professors have other, more pressing matters to deal with. But I'm off track. Back to the message informing me I've been accepted—even though I've never applied—to Global Who Are You Who's Who:

It is my pleasure to inform you that you qualify for 2014 membership to the Who's Who Network of Executives and Professionals, the largest professional association for business executives and professionals in the United States! (Note the exclamation point! Wow! What a Terrific Organization This Must Be!)

The invite continues, The Who's Who Network highlights and profiles the country's most accomplished individuals in over 200 industries and professions. We provide an exclusive and powerful networking forum for our members to communicate and successfully achieve social and career development.

After I stopped snickering, I realized this might be something I can use in a performance review. "Look," I could tell my dean, "I am one of the country's most accomplished individuals in over 200 industries and professions."

Seriously, I immediately thought of the quotation attributed to Groucho Marx: "I wouldn't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member." Actually, there's no consensus about what Groucho said exactly, but I look at it from a similar point of view: that any club that invites me to join it has got to be pretty damned desperate for members.

Something tells me that's what my dean would say during that performance review.

How our military chews up people who serve

Photo from The Long War Journal

Say what you will about the decision by W., Cheney, et al to go to war with Iraq, this story by The New York Times's C.J. Chivers is just another example of how the military tosses aside people who have served valiantly:

(Secret casualties)

Not to put too fine a point on it, but ...

... college professors can be real dicks. Here is part of the instructions a student of mine was given on an essay assignment in another course:

12 point font Times New Roman ONLY

Really? I mean, couldn't the professor have read the paper if the print were in Palatino or, say, a nice sans serif font like Verdana?

As a former newspaper colleague once observed about someone equally obsessed with meaningless minutiae, "His ass is so tight that when he farts, dogs two counties over start howling."


Enough already

If I were the king of the English language, I'd hand down a death sentence for the word "passion."

Nobody is enthusiastic about anything anymore. Nobody is excited by anything. No one likes something a lot. Instead, people "have a passion" for something. They're "passionate" about it. There is so much passion in the world that scientists think it might be contributing to global warming.

"Passion" used to be a fine word. Now, it's a cliché. As the photo above proves. Passion? Bread? Really? What do people who are passionate about bread do—have a cigarette after they bake a loaf?


Another one, gone

IMG_0841 copy
The "Three Divas" (from left, Zsa-Zsa, Gypsy and Lola) are seen here during happier times. Gypsy's unexpected death Monday night leaves Lola as the sole surviving Shi-tzu sister.

Someday I will be able to write about our dog Gypsy, who died unexpectedly Monday night on a drive to an animal hospital for treatment. We knew she was ill, but we didn't expect her to pass peacefully on my wife's lap during the trip.

Someday I will be able to write about her. But not today.

New York Times

The Washington Post reports this:
The Secret Service’s new acting interim director, Joseph Clancy, served as head of the agency’s presidential protection division until 2011.

And, from an article about White House security breaches, the Post also reports this:
• November 24, 2009: Michaele and Tareq Salahi crash White House dinner
During a state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Singh, reality television stars Michaele and Tareq Salahi, who were not invited to the event, managed to pass through two security check points and meet President Obama. Then-White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told CNN "the president was concerned about the security breach here, as was the Secret Service. The Secret Service is evaluating their procedures."


The New York Times news alert at the top of my email inbox this morning said:

Several Arab countries have offered to carry out airstrikes against militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a senior State Department official said Sunday.

I guess they were airstrikes. I say "I guess" because two paragraphs later, the official said the countries would be "taking more aggressive kinetic action.”

I guess it's too much to expect him to say the countries in question were going to blow the militants to smithereens, but "aggressive kinetic action"? Really?

The great Richard Thompson

Dan Addison Photography

If this one doesn't tug at your heart, then you've got no heart:

(Keep your distance)

Walter Trout

My friend and colleague penshark introduced me this week to a guitarist I'd never listened to: Robert Trout.

All I can say is "holy ker-f**k!" This guy can play the blues. Think Joe Bonamassa, SRV, Albert King, B.B. King, Johnny Winter—my goodness. The only problem is that now I want to buy all of his stuff.

Jeff Beck update

Beck wound up playing tonight in Salamanca; first reports were that the Beck/ZZ Top tour was canceled after Dusty Hill, the ZZ Top bassist, fell and hurt his hip midweek.

My nephew and I had fourth-row seats, but they were way, way off to the side. No matter, because so many ZZ Top fans stayed away that there were empty seats all around—including the two we moved to in the front row, center stage. Dead center.

Not a bad place to watch a true legend, a genuine guitar god, make the impossible look routine. Beck has unmatched ability coupled with a boundless and frequently puckish imagination. For his first encore, he took the stage sans band and began noodling on the guitar, and the next thing you know, the noodles had turned into the theme for the Beverly Hillbillies. Fortunately, the crowd was old enough to appreciate it.

And, as usual, his playing melted all the wax in my ears and charred my eyebrows.

In what is my new pre-concert activity, I managed to evade security and made it to the door of Beck's tour bus, but a guy who was carrying a guitar and was leaving just as I arrived wouldn't let me in to say hello to Beck. That was the only off-note for the evening.

The highest degree of suckitude

It's been a lousy summer concert season—not a single show I've been interested in enough to drive 90 minutes to Buffalo or two hours to Rochester to see. But I kept thinking, "Well, at least I've got fourth-row seats for the Jeff Beck/ZZ Top tour when it plays at the casino"—specifically, the Seneca Nation of Indians casino about a half-hour down the road.

I didn't really care about seeing ZZ Top. Jeff Beck, though? That's another story. When Beck comes around, I go. Simple as that.

So, after waiting for months to see Beck, what happens? Dusty Hill, ZZ Top's bassist, falls on the tour bus and hurts his hip last night. And the rest of the tour is canceled.

"Sucks in a massive way" doesn't begin to do the situation justice.

Wish I'd Said It

Nota bene: “Fear has governed my life, if I think about it. ... I always feel like I’m not good enough for some reason. I wish that wasn’t the case, but left to my own devices, that voice starts speaking up.” – Trent Reznor

"The path's not yours till you've gone it alone a time." – William Carlos Williams

“Filling this empty space constitutes my identity.” – Twyla Tharp

"My definition of peace is having no noise in my head." – Eric Clapton

"The wreckage of the sky serves to confirm us in delicious error." – John Ashbery

"We are all here by the grace of the big bang. We are all literally the stuff of the stars." – Dwight Owsley

"For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of stars makes me dream." – Vincent van Gogh

"It is only with the heart that one can see right; what is essential is invisible to the eye." — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

"Forget about being a perfectionist, because entropy always wins out in the end." – Darren Kaufman.

"Impermanence. Impermanence. Impermanence." – Garry Shandling

"Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; the only earthly certainty is oblivion." – Mark Twain

"There is no realm wherein we have the truth." – Gordon Lish

"Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere." – E.M. Forster

“Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe." – Frank Zappa

“I try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” – Elmore Leonard

“The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.” – Voltaire

• Journal title and subtitle: Ian Hunter, “Man Overboard”

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November 2014


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