Saturday, November 24, 2012

Hats Off to Jerry

I don't want to write no damn Black Friday post.  Instead I'll write about Jerry's Records.

Jerry's Records is a used record store in Pittsburgh.  Jerry used to have a shop or two in Oakland but now he's got one big one in Squirrel Hill.  He sells music in other new and used formats but vinyl is his specialty.  Like a lot of quality used stores, he does business on the Internet (the photo is from his web page.)

I shopped at his Squirrel Hill store when I lived there, and sold him about half my record collection when I left.  He dealt fairly and I enjoyed talking to him.  He's about my age and when the conversation drifted to how the ecological shit was certain to hit the fan someday soon, he owned what is our generation's secret guilty thought--fortunately by the time it gets really bad we'll be dead.

Recently Jerry has had one of those rare and maybe once in a lifetime experiences--in a pile of old records, most of them in bad condition, he founds gems--and one major gem in particular: a very rare original Robert Johnson record: the 1936 Vocalion release of "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom," the second song the reclusive Johnson is known to have recorded.  All Robert Johnson records are rare.  This one, says Jerry, is the "Holy Grail of 78s."

True to his nature (and besides, it's good for business) Jerry is sharing this wonder by playing it for anybody who comes by the store on the next few Saturday nights.  I'll be there in spirit.  The last time I talked to him (about 2  or 3 years ago, when I went in to buy back an album I sold him years before--might have been the same copy) it was clear that the used record business was becoming a tough one.  Now that the sale of new vinyl records has reached its highest volume since the 1990s, maybe interest in the old stuff will also increase.  This one record is bound to pay off pretty big.

So good for Jerry is all I want to say.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Gratitude 2012

It's only been a couple of weeks since the election, and so perhaps appropriately it comes to mind when considering this year's reasons for gratitude.

Of course there are the personal and family things--everybody being healthy at the top of that list.  Several of our younger generation bought homes in recent months, despite recent tough times.  So there's that.

But considering how close we came to disasters of amazing breadth and proportion, and how important these election victories are to the near future and hopefully to the farther future, it's hard not to think of gratitude at the outcome.

We need not even speak of the poetic justice of Mitt Romney's final share of the popular vote likely being 47%.   But considering the consequences of electing him and fellow GOPers is inevitable even while viewing the consequences of the positive outcome.  For example, President Obama's southeast Asia trip, and his successful gaining of a cease fire in the Middle East, with the important assistance of Secretary Clinton.  President Obama is pursuing a forward-looking Pacific strategy that has vast potential for American benefits for decades to come.  No GOPer these days seems to have any conception of a forward-looking foreign policy.  They don't even approach a sane one.  Mitt Romney and Ryan were together the least experienced, least interested and most incompetent candidates in history on foreign policy and diplomacy.  It should be shocking, and maybe, judging by the election returns, it was.

As details about the election continue to come out, we can become even more thankful for the volunteers and the staff of the Obama campaign that worked so hard and so well for so long. And again, as GOPers in several states push even more voter suppression, we can be thankful for those who stubbornly stood in line for hours to make sure their votes counted.

I'm still a little wary of the talk about amity in Washington and the new weakness of the GOP--we heard it all right after the 2008 election.  Then came 2010, and soon comes 2014.  But maybe the mood has changed.  It's one thing to give a brand new President a vote of confidence in approval ratings, etc.  But it's something more to boost a reelected President's approval rate (to 58%), and to have more confidence in his leadership (and his party) to solve pressing problems by a wide margin, as evidenced in other recent polls.

The country is perhaps ready to treat this President as their President, more openly than before.  That photo above, for instance, is the most shared photo in the history of Twitter, and the most liked photo in the history of Facebook.  Not long histories exactly, but that's overcoming some big, big numbers.

But this President very deliberately campaigned on a philosophy and a set of policies, so they won, too. There has never quite been as stark a choice before.  In terms of general issues like fact-based science, womens rights over their bodies, equal rights, against growing income inequality, for universal health care, etc.--the future was affirmed.  A diverse American community was affirmed--even slightly in advance of true demographic equality. 

And so, perhaps most appropriately to the holiday, let's note that compassion won.  "We're all in this together" won.  "You'd do the same for me" won.  

So with wishes for a happy thanksgiving to U.S. readers (and belated greetings to readers in Canada, who celebrate their thanksgiving in October), once again here's a link to excerpts from Joanna Macy's essay on Gratitude.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Shhhh--The Biggest News Story in History

News from the NASA Rover on Mars has been pretty perky lately.  For instance, that surface radiation isn't as bad as feared for humans--it's about the same as in low Earth orbit.

But today NPR has a story about a story that can't yet be told.  It's about data that suggests a discovery by the Curiosity rover--"a big" one--but that has to be further evaluated before an official announcement is made.

It's pretty clear what that story might be: life on Mars.  Probably not alive now, but evidence of it in the past.  Or at least the organic compounds.

Other news, of Curiosity moving to a new location, tends to cast some doubt on how strongly NASA feels the data is.  Still.

It would be the biggest news story in human history, unless we're contacted by intelligent extraterrestrials before then.  Life has existed somewhere else.  In the broadest sense, but a very profound one, we are not alone. 

It may take several weeks to test this data.  Which means that an announcement, if it comes, might be made very close to the winter solstice, and all the holidays that celebrate birth, life emerging from winter, life emerging from darkness.
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Monday Night Football

It's a pretty sad contrast.  Both the Pittsburgh Steelers (who played Sunday night) and the San Francisco 49ers (who played Monday night) lost their primo quarterbacks to injuries before an important game.  The Steelers defense stopped a mostly inept Ravens offense, but the Steelers' backup quarterback, a skilled veteran, and their beat-up running backs couldn't score more than 10 points, and gave up 3.  Special teams gave up another 7, and that was the ball game.

On Monday, the 49ers backup quarterback, a first year player, became a future and maybe present star. True, they beat another backup quarterback, but the 49er defense totally dominated.  They won easily over the Chicago Bears.

I was bred a Steelers fan and always will be loyal.  But the truth is that the Steelers haven't been fun to watch for awhile.  And the 49ers are fun to watch, as they certainly were Monday night.  (They're also easier for me to watch--more of their games are broadcast here.)

It's also true however that for me pro football is increasingly hard to watch in general.  There's just so many guys you can watch being carted off the field in pain, before it's not a fun game anymore.  And when so many of the best players are injured--as is increasingly the case, certainly this year but for at least the past few--the games are less interesting, less admirable.