Just make sure I'm around when you've finally got something to say.--Toad the Wet Sprocket

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Saying Goodbye to George

I can't believe I'm writing another one of these this year. This year has been devastating in its death toll on those we feel as though we know in the spotlight who have shared their talents with us and entertained us for so many years. We should be shock proof at this point, but I have to say that this took me completely by surprise. George Michael was only 53.

I remember being eleven and seeing the video for "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" on MTV. He wore those short shorts in some of the sequences and that t-shirt that said Choose Life.  It was an utterly wacky video for an utterly wacky song. But one thing my little mind noticed was that he wore an earring in both ears. Back then we were so obsessed with which ear a boy wore an earring in. If it was one ear he was gay. If it was the other he was fine. When I saw that George had one in both ears I just figured he was bisexual and shrugged my shoulders and went on with it. You see I was raised to accept such things as being ok. Which, while not exceedingly rare, were not common either. My mother has a gay cousin and a brother who is something and she used to talk about them openly while I was growing up. Just matter-of-factly like it was normal. So it never occurred to me think of it as abnormal. When George came out as gay all those years later I wasn't terribly surprised because I had already assumed it all those years ago. Yes, it was based on something stupid and he could easily have been straight, but looking back at that video I have to say he really did look gay in that video.  But of course so did Andrew of Wham! a bit.

When Faith came out I did not realize that there was all this controversy going on until a school bus trip to Washingon D.C. I didn't know that radio stations were refusing to play "I Want Your Sex". Or that the kids I went to school with couldn't listen to the album at home. My parents put no restrictions on what I listened to. At one point in D.C., the two buses got separated and we parked our bus and the bus driver and the adults on the bus got off to try to figure out what to do. Suddenly a group of the students looks around at each other and one of them pulls out a small boom box and puts in the tape Faith and "I Want Your Sex" starts playing. They had been dying for a chance to listen to it because they couldn't listen to it at home with their parents around or on the bus with the adults around.

With that one song George did something, no one had really ever done before so blatantly. He said the word SEX multiple times in a song. He didn't say making love or some other term. He bold as brass said the word SEX. Some of the songwriters who write some of the sexiest songs with the dirtiest lyrics like Prince and Steven Tyler could list about a hundred different euphemisms for sex without breaking a sweat. "Little Red Corvette" is not about a car, the lyrics to "Get Off" are very racy and never once even mention making love never mind sex, and when Steven isn't singing about sassyfrass or whatever he says in "Walk This Way" the bluntest he gets is in "Pink" when he says he wants to be "your lover" and then "wrap you in rubber" because he is Steven. If the guys who write the dirtiest songs and even others who aren't worth mentioning here because they weren't great but even they didn't mention the word SEX either and they were pretty crass. The word SEX was so taboo. And George didn't just break that taboo. He shattered it.

My favorite song by George is Freedom 90. At the time I had spent a great deal of my life with no freedom. So a song where you could yell Freedom! at the chorus was a song for me. And while the lyrics fit what George was going through with his life and not what I was going through, the chorus fit with what I was going through.
I think there's something you should know
I think it's time I told you so
There's something deep inside of me
There's someone else I've got to be
Take back your picture in a frame
Take back your singing in the rain
I just hope you understand
Sometimes the clothes do not make the man

All we have to do now
Is take these lies and make them true somehow
All we have to see
Is that I don't belong to you
And you don't belong to me yea yea
You've gotta give for what you take
You've gotta give for what you take
There was someone to whom the lyrics to this song I still think of. Of course, I've added someone to that list as time has passed.    Maybe we all have someone for whom we need to be free of. Or maybe we just need to earn our freedom from something.

He gave so much to this world as we are now learning. His money to those in need. His time. And of course his music. That will live on forever. Thank you, George.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The First GPS...In 1912

I write this for all those who are traveling over the holidays who will be using your GPS to find your way about. This is the story of the first GPS.

In the early 1900s, there were barely any markings for roads or street signs. Drivers found themselves hopelessly lost without a reliable navigation system. In New York City engineer J.W. Jones invented a turn-by-turn navigation system he named the Jones Live Map. A small circular contraption would sit on your car's dashboard, connected to the odometer. The driver would place a 9 1/2 inch in diameter disk with step by step directions from one predetermined place to another onto the device at the start of the drive.  The driver reads the first set of instructions from the disk. As the car moves forward the arrow on the directions change according to the odometer. The driver follows the directions on the disk until he gets to his destination. Each disk can provide directions for up to one hundred miles. Then you would have to change disks. He began selling his invention in 1912 for $75 and drivers loved it and bought them up. They were a miracle device.

Then in the 1920s city governments began to install road signs at intersections and in 1926 the U.S. government organized roadways even further with a system of numbers we know as highways.  For drivers, this was a godsend. Then companies started printing maps of the nation's highways and byways and instead of paying top dollar for a complicated navigational device motorists preferred the convenience and cheap price of maps. Jones was forced to shut down. But his idea did not die. In the 2000s Global Positioning System (GPS) which is based on twenty-four linked satelites, came along and it is based on the Jones Live Map, in that it is a turn-by-turn navigation system. Now people started throwing out their maps in favor of the easier GPS method. Oddly enough, the some of the GPSs have cost around $75 just like Jones's Live Map.  I think Jones would feel vindicated.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Wonder Woman Chronicles Continue

When we left off my daughter was just learning to appreciate Wonder Woman. Things have progressed much farther from there.  We're still watching the Linda Carter TV series with much fervor and in one of the episodes Robert Reed who plays Mike Brady on the Brady Bunch shows up as a Nazi spy.  He is one of the few actors to do a genuine German accent. Robert Logia also appears as a Nazi, but his accent comes by way of New York Italian; every word stretched out instead of the clipped German sounds. We both make fun of Major Steve Trevor who seems to need to be saved by Wonder Woman constantly and who is almost as useless as tits on a bull.

We've added The Justice League to our viewing pleasure and no I do not mean the one from the 1970s that I watched when I was her age. I won't put her through the horrors of the Wonder Twins and Gleek. I understand that there is more than one Justice League out there that is newish. We watch the one that has The Flash, Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Hawk Girl, Vision, and sometimes Batman. I forgot how much I enjoyed Hawk Girl. Shelby is getting a real kick out of watching it.

But neither of these is what prompted me to write today. Yesterday my daughter asked for her first Barbie doll and it wasn't just any old Barbie doll, it was  Wonder Woman. We were in Wal-Mart shopping and we went down the doll aisle, because I collect red-headed dolls ever since my best friend from college bought me my first one, Irish Barbie when we were in college. That was the first redheaded Barbie I had ever seen. I had grown up with the blonde Barbies and seeing other girls dyeing their hair blonde because that's what guys liked. Or so I was told and led to believe. It was impossible to dye my hair blonde without using Clorox so I was stuck with a hair color that guys did not find attractive. At least not in high school. College would be a different story. What, as a child I would not have given to have had a Barbie that looked like me. So when they finally started making them, I started to collect them.

So we went down that aisle so I could look to see if they had any new redheaded Barbie dolls and my daughter spotted Wonder Woman and even though it's almost Christmas she begged me to get her this doll. There weren't many left so instead of coming back later and getting it for a Christmas gift, I just bought it for her outright. An early Christmas gift. I couldn't resist as my little tomboy has never asked me for a doll before. She told me she wants to collect the whole DC Universe set: Heroes and Villains. I didn't tell her I already had Poison Ivy and Batgirl because both dolls were redheaded because then she'd steal them from me. She stole an Ariel doll from me once when I brought it home from the store. I never said she didn't have a Barbie doll. Just that she's never asked for one. And she quickly tired of Ariel. Will she quickly tire of Wonder Woman too? I don't know. She hasn't so far. And if she decides to spend her money on getting another doll to play with she may play with both of them together. A hero versus a villain.   I'm so proud that out of all the Barbie dolls she could choose from my daughter chose Wonder Woman.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Black and White of Heroin

These days politicians are talking about treating the disease of drug use with treatment rather than jail time and police and judges are starting to back that up---but it seems to only be applicable if you are from a white affluent neighborhood. These days heroin use is up. The largest number of heroin users though is among whites from middle and upper-class families. A rise in a death rate of 260% over the last five years among whites, while the overdose rate among people of color has doubled and no one has noticed. Maybe it was a white person who got hooked by taking pain pills for an injury or a teen who started taking pills as a party drug. Drugs like Oxy, Percocet, and Vicodin are from the same family as heroin. They are all made from the poppy plant.  Oxy is virtually the same thing as heroin and Percocet is right up there too. Vicodin is a slightly less strong drug.  Just because they can be prescribed to you by your doctor does not make them any less dangerous. But with the color of the user changing, suddenly everyone wants to treat the users--certain ones--with special care.

In the suburbs of Chicago, Rolling Meadows began a program where you can walk into a police station, or if you are picked up for a drug offense, you can turn over your drugs in exchange for getting put into a program. Lake County and Naperville have also joined in on this idea. The common denominator? They are all affluent and white with Lake County at 75% ,Naperville at 76%, and Rolling Meadow 62% white.

In the poverty stricken inner city nine out of ten arrested on drug offenses will end up in Cook County Jail and of those arrested one in six had used drugs in the days leading up to their arrest. Blacks were also eight times more likely to be stopped and frisked by police and of 1400 heroin users in jail, only a fraction will get help.  State sponsored programs have been cut in half, which disproportionately affects blacks, but there is finally an addiction program in jail called Division 6 that is only open to low-level offenders.

In Seatle, they have a program called Law Enforcement Assistant Diversion (LEAD) that allow police to assign drug users to case workers for low-level offenses. 36% of those in the LEAD program were arrested after entering the program compared to a control group where 59% were and they were less likely to be charged with a felony. It has been implemented in such cities as Albany, Atlanta, Portland, Maine, Baltimore, Fayetteville, NC, San Fransico, and Louisville. The last I heard, Hartford, Connecticut was considering LEAD. Lorezo Jones, co-director and co-founder of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice had this to say:
 “We support LEAD, not because we think the police and courts are going to do the right thing,” Jones said. “They have never done the right thing by poor and marginalized people. This is not an answer but a lever that the have-nots can pull, a new door that the have-nots can go through.”

But for those who can't get help or for those who slide, 80% of drug offenders are reincarcerated for future offenses, whether it be to support their bag or two a day habit or what they have to do to get the money to pay for the $10 a bag habit (A single opioid pill costs $20 or $30 by contrast). The difference is in who gets the help and who goes to jail.  Right now two-thirds of those in jail on drug offenses are people of color. The white drug use has flooded the inner city with cheap heroin that makes it tempting for those who possibly grew up seeing family members or friends use.  It's a rigged game against those in the inner cities who are put in a position to sell it in order to be able to use it or to be able to afford to put food on the table for their families even as a young teen or a kid. And those who sell it end up going to jail under a felony and then cannot get a real job or any job, for that matter, when they get out and are stuck in a trap, while the white users get put in treatment centers and don't get charged with a crime and therefore have no criminal record to hinder them in the future.  Until we are helping everybody we are not actually fixing the problem we are part of the problem.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

How the Scott Brother Finally Convinced People To Use Toilet Paper

In 1879 the most commonly used method to clean yourself after using the bathroom was a piece of cloth, newspaper, catalog pages, or corn husks which had been acceptable for use in the outhouse. None of these were very comfortable, but more importantly, the pipes in a house could not handle them and as a result, the plumbing would clog up and overflow.

Irving and Clarence Scott out of Philadelphia owned a wrapping paper and paper bag company and therefore had rollers for long sheets of paper, which is what gave them the idea for toilet paper. The problem was, this was the height of the Victorian Era and bathroom talk of any kind was strictly taboo. To talk about something that personal would be bordering on the obscene. Americans would rather keep their old uncomfortable methods and keep paying a plumber rather than ask for or pay for toilet paper in the store.

So, the Scott brothers came up with a plan. They went to the hotels and asked if they would like to stock it in their bathrooms. They figured if people could get used to using it they would love it so much they would want to ask for it. The hotels, sick of the plumbing bills, gladly bought the toilet paper. And the Scott brothers were right. People fell so in love with toilet paper they couldn't dream of ever going back to what they had used before and they got over their embarrassment about asking for it. You can still buy Scott toilet paper today.