Monday, April 30, 2007

Royal Occasion: HM Puggles' Birthday Celebrations

Royal Announcement
Puggingham Palace

HM's Birthday Celebrations

Today, we celebrate the 8th birthday of Puggles Duchess Windsor, Queen of Pugs, Supreme Ruler of Alaska, Princess Royal of Baltimore Place, Grand Duchess of Missouri, Grand Duchess of Kansas City and St Louis, Duchess of Illinois, Duchess of Clinton, Baroness Pugtona, Royal Order of the Greenie and Treat, Grand Order of the Scrunchie, Knight Commander of the Royal Order of Kibble, Patroness of the Royal Pugharmonic Orchestra.

By Royal Decree, all Pugs in PugVillage, Alaska, Kansas City, all places mentioned above and everywhere HM sees and rules will get extra treats in honor of the Royal Birth.

HM will be spending the day at the Palace, receiving guests and reading birthday wishes from all over the world. Later this PM, after a photo shoot from Lord Snowpug, she has ordered the Limo to take her to the Three Dog Bakery for her only public appearance and to receive her customary Birthday Big Scary Kitty Cookies.

We wish HM many more birthdays and a most happy one today.
~ Palace Communications

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Ben Linder 1959-1987

Benjamin Linder was a young US engineer killed in an ambush on April 28, 1987 In El Cua, Nicaragua during the height of the Contra War. He and two Nicaraguans were cold bloodedly murdered by a group of CIA-funded Contras while working on a small hydroelectric dam that was to bring electricity and water to the village. Linder's death made front-page headlines around the world and polarized opinion in the United States.

Linder's murder and the revelations of more brutality led to softening of support in the U.S. for the covert war in Nicaragua. Congress prohibited any military aid to the Contras, but Ronald Reagan and his henchman Oliver North found a way to subvert that and led to the Iran-Contra scandal that should have defeated Reagan but to amazement, never did.

Linder, an engineer by training and a clown/juggler by hobby, was inspired by Nicaragua's Sandinista revolution. He came during the middle of the Contra war to support efforts to improve the lives of the country's poorest people. Many of us do that today. It was common for the Contras, who were of course against the Sandinistas, to attack projects aimed to help the poor, so as to weaken the people's support of the Revolution. Linder, simply was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Incredibly, his death was brushed off by the leading Republicans (there you go again, assholes) of the administration. One senator told Linder's mother that "she was using her son's death to politicize the situation and told her "I don't want to be tough on you, but I really feel you have asked for it". The official spokesperson for the White House said basically the same thing.

Linder's take on it: "It's a wonderful feeling to work in a country where the government's first concern is for its people, for all of its people. "

The singer Sting wrote a song in honor of Ben Linder in 1987 called "Fragile". A Ben Linder House in Managua carries on his work.

Rest in Peace Ben Linder. Know that some of your work goes on.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Condom Fear

Maybe it was September 11th, could be Virgina Tech, or having mindless morons running the country for so long, out of control police and persecutors (ooops there I go again I mean prosecutors) or maybe too many lawsuit happy nitwits, but we as a nation are becoming paranoid.


This past Friday some classrooms at Des Moines (IA) Area Community College were evacuated and local police and postal inspectors called because of a suspicious package. A bomb?? Anthrax?? Fan Mail from some flounder?? (a great line from Rocky and Bullwinkle). Nope, it was only a box containing 500 condoms.

The package, from a previous guest speaker, was sent to the teacher of a human sexuality class. No reason was given as to why it was so suspicious. I am sure charges will be filed for some reason against someone.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Joy of Blogging

I am surprised I am a blogger, I usually do not go in for the latest fads and such. But as a long time journal keeper, I enjoy the discipline of making regular if not daily entries in the blog. Keeps me off the streets.

They say that the blogging phenomenon is at its peak and that interest will begin to fall shortly. I assume some casual bloggers will fall by the wayside, I may do so as well. But for the foreseeable future, I will continue to litter the Net with my ramblings.

It does amaze me that anyone reads this stuff I put out. I have a few loyal followers, some new come, some old go. Some I know, some I do not have a clue who they are, maybe they just like what I write or maybe are online friends from Pug Village and such. Whatever or wherever, I do bid you welcome!

For some reason, Pato News has reached the top of a lot of blog listings when you Google search for blogs and even general information. Sometimes, I am sure, they are disappointed with the content.

Recently, for example, I had a flurry of hits looking for information on Nereus the baby walrus. I posted about that a while back. Most of my posts revolved around Puggles' toy walrus named Nereus and not the real one featured on Animal Planet. I figure they must have shown the episode again and people are looking for updates. All they get from me is a pic of Puggles and her toy.

I do think PN fills a need here in Kansas City, one of the reasons I continue. We have one newspaper and really not much else in competition. Only one person does reviews of classical music concerts for the KC Star. So, since I do not believe in monopoly, I give him some very minor competition. I can't get to all the concerts he gets to, so I mainly give him a run for his money at the Symphony, Lyric opera and some of the special concerts I get to attend. I think some of the players in the Symphony are on to me, since PN gets a lot of hits searching for "Kansas City Symphony" immediately after a concert. I am sure it is not the brass section, as I am always bitching about them. I know the Maestro reads me. So have some other famous artists.

So, for those sticking around, here is a preview of some upcoming PN entries:

"Ligeti Piano Music"
"Christine Brewer: Britten War Requiem"
"KC Symphony: Emmanuel Pahud, Flute Virtuoso"
"KC Symphony: Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2 featuring world-renowned soloist Marc-André Hamelin and the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra"
A Series on "Injustice Files", exposing the corrupt and harsh legal system here in the US
More "Republican Antics"
"Tales from the Towers", how pseudo-rich people manage to survive in mock elegance.

So, loyal readers, all 3 of you, (you still here Callalily??) you are stuck with me for a while.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Town Car No One Wants

Seems not everyone wants a Lincoln Town Car, the epitome of luxury and spacious old fashioned style. Kansas City's newly elected mayor Mark Funkhouser is reportedly not amused that outgoing mayor Barnes agreed to lease a brand new 2007 Lincoln Town Car. Since 1969, the city has leased a Town Car and provided a driver for the mayor. Since an attack on former mayor Clever a few years ago, a security detail went along as well.

Funkhouser, who won on an outsider, clean up and make the city more frugal platform, has decided his older model Toyota Corolla with slipping clutch is fine with him.

Some say he is just trying to make a political gesture, a "see I really mean it" symbolic act. Some say he is just being ignorant and setting himself up for problems. A driver can get him to functions faster and more effectively, and what if some nut case tries to knock him off? Besides, some said, the car allowance he is getting will amount to about $100 less a month than the cost of leasing the car. Security and driver extra. Union leaders and some made in the USA advocates told him to ditch the Toyota and at least get a American car. Of course, that distinction is blurred these days, the Town Car will soon be built in Canada and the Toyota he drives was made in California. More to the point, some suggested he drive a Ford, Pontiac or Saturn built here in Kansas City.

The race to replace popular outgoing mayor Kay Barnes was tough. Everyone wanted the job and it came down to two good candidates, Funkhouser and Alvin Brooks. Both had good credentials but in the end Funkhouser's "let's be frugal" approach won the day. Although popular, Barnes was criticized for over spending and giving tax breaks to any new development that asked. Some of these breaks were dubious, such as Briarcliff, a tony development just north of downtown. Funkhouser wants to rein that in and take some time and money for neighborhood development.

I think he would be happier on our bumpy streets in a Town Car, but having a Town Car myself (albeit an old one) I am prejudiced.

Anyone want a new silver birch metallic Town Car, slightly used??

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Ok I know it was stupid but I downloaded the America Online (AOL) software to my computer. Yes... and soon regretted it.

I use Time Warner Cable as my ISP. They have been great in my opinion, no problems whatsoever. Time Warner bought AOL a while back thus anyone with Time Warner can have a an AOL account as well as a RoadRunner account. A bit redundant but people like to have a choice.

My old computer had AOL on it, as I used AOL (as did most of the world) for my ISP for a long time. For awhile, AOL was the biggest and best ISP; everybody was using it. I learned the art of internet browsing and chatroom lurking from AOL. I remember when you had to pay by the minute with it, causing many people to default on their phone bills (all dial-up then) with huge AOL connection fees. It is safe to say the AOL instant message system spawned the huge market for Yahoo, Google and other IM software. Talking to the world in real time was pure science fiction. It worked pretty well, but it had its moments. When it would fail or act up the service became "AOHell".

Over time AOL, as have a lot of pioneers, got fat and lazy and soon found itself challenged by Yahoo, Google, and then cable. Membership dropped and they found themselves floundering. I dropped AOL as my primary ISP when cable internet came to Grain Valley in the late 90's. But, since the software was on the computer, I really was never rid of it.

Until this past week. A wild hair got me to reload the software on the new computer. Easy enough as I had my old account name and password, it was free. Why not?

AOL had not changed much, now 9.0vr whatever that is. I was a veteran of AOL 4.0 and the amazement that came with each new version. I poked around, checked out chatrooms (a lot duller than they used to be)cleared 20 junk emails from my box (It still shouts "You've Got Mail" in all its ungrammatical glory) and let it be, to be used whenever I wanted to see what was up over there.

This AM upon signing on through my regular channels, I could get my Firefox home page to come up but no bookmarks or links. Google seemed ok however. It was the same story using Internet Explorer. So I looked to see if AOL was working. Yep, signed on, and lo and behold, I could access any website I wanted using AOL. Not so on Firefox or IE. Hummmmmmmm????

There was a new icon on my desktop a folder "AOLDNLD". I got rid of it. Rebooted the computer, all sorts of error messages saying "Closing Program" came up as she shut down. Restarted everything is fine. Then Real Player told me it was no longer the default audio player. Hummmmmm.....

Thus, AOL was banished...forever. I blamed it on them, who else?? Everything else was screwed up and AOL worked fine?? Hello!!, they took over. Danm them. I should have known better.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Spot the Loony

Remember the Monty Python game show "Spot the Loony" where the player saw clips of ordinary people doing ordinary things but one person was doing something totally whacko?? Well, let's play "Spot the Loony" here!

Who is the Loony one here??:

1) Keeping Roberto Gonzales as attorney general will be "harmful to the Justice Department because he has lost his credibility. When he said that he wasn't involved in discussions or deliberations, and then is contradicted by his three top aides and also by documentary evidence, ... his credibility has been substantially undermined and I think it does hurt the administration, and inevitably it hurts the (Republican) party." ~ Senator Arlen Spector R-PA

2)"All of America saw why so many of us had felt for so long that he shouldn't be attorney general. He was not in command of the facts. He contradicted himself, and he doesn't really appreciate the role of attorney general." ~ Senator Charles Schumer, D-N.Y

3)To Atty General Gonzales: "I don't believe that you're involved in a conspiracy to fire somebody because they wouldn't prosecute a particular enemy of a politician or a friend of a politician, but at the end of the day, you said something that struck me: that sometimes it just came down to these were not the right people at the right time. If I applied that standard to you, what would you say?" ~ Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC

4)"Be alert and direct and honest with this committee. Give it your best shot." ~ Senator Jeff Sessions, R-AL

5)"The attorney general went up and gave a very candid assessment, and answered every question he could possibly answer, honestly answer, in a way that increased my confidence in his ability to do the job. And as the investigation, the hearings, went forward, it was clear that the attorney general broke no law, did no wrongdoing. And some senators didn’t like his explanation, but he answered as honestly as he could. This is an honest, honorable man, in whom I have confidence." ~ G. W Bush, Emperor

That is easy, in GW's world people # 1-4 are the loonies!!

We loose.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The End of the Affair

4th time the charm?? Some think so, I am less convinced.

Jake Heggie’s opera “The End of the Affair” received its Kansas City Premiere in its 4th version last night. I am sorry but I do not think Graham Greene’s novel is adequate material for an opera. Yes, I know great operas have been created around flimsy stories and improbable tales. However, this one is almost too moralistic, with complex characters and subtle psychological motives to work. But, from what I read of past reviews it is a definite improvement, tighter and more direct.

The first version for Houston was substantially thrown out, the composer and librettist shifting the focus from Sarah telling the story to Graham’s approach of having Maurice as the narrator. Houston reviews called it a “..banal morality play”. Heggie himself realized the audiences didn’t get it.

Revisions came for performances in Madison and Seattle. Seattle’s performance seemed to be the most successful. However, it seemed the main focus in the Seattle performances was the shapely buns of the young baritone who sung Maurice. He drops his boxers and gets into bed naked with Sarah in the pivotal scene when they consummate and also end their affair. Kansas City’s performance kept the boxers on (how silly) as the General Manager and the Music Director thought audiences here would not accept that. Bull-hockey, as Col. Potter from MASH used to say. More likely the main sponsors and influential patrons had some reservations. Audiences here are generally more mature and accepting than that.

But it was seeing Seattle’s production that influenced The Lyric’s General Manager to book the opera here and inspired Heggie (who was at last night's performance) to create a 4th version. In a talk to a small group of patrons before the show, Heggie was most enthusiastic and devoted to his “baby” and appreciative of the opportunity. The opera is to be recorded here as well, but not sure if it is to be a live recording or in studio.

The sets are great, the singing is superb. Emily Pulley as Sarah Miles negotiated the long arching phrases with aplomb and drama. Keith Phares as Maurice (sans butt shot) was in great voice and the most fluid actor of the cast. The supporting cast was uniformly excellent in their supporting roles.

All other reviews tended to mention that the music was taught and accessible. The Lyric GM even waxed enthusiastically that “there are duets and arias… and melody, lots of melody.” But to me, the music needs a bit of color and descriptive drama and less emphasis on long lines. The introduction of some period 40’s music now and then lightened things up a bit and the orchestra’s heaving and accelerating tension accompanying the love scene was as appropriate as that in Shostakovich’s “Lady Macbeth”. Maybe the problem is that Heggie was too inspired by the film versions, as the music just has a detached, cinematographic quality that just seems to get in the way.

Someone I talked to compared this opera to Britten’s “Turn of the Screw”, a similar dark, psychological opera (and an uncelebrated masterpiece in my humble opinion). It may have taken a genius like Britten to make sense of the story in “End of the Affair”.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Kansas City Chamber Orchestra: Strauss and Beethoven

I admit I have rarely heard a performance of the Kansas City Chamber Orchestra; the last time was probably before I left KC in 2001. The Orchestra, founded and conducted by Bruce Sorrell, is celebrating its 20th season and features some fine local and regional players. "Chamber Symphony" to me elicits thoughts of all baroque or early classical fare. Indeed, several of their concerts this season were of that sort. But with the promise of two masterpieces, the Richard Strauss Oboe Concerto and the "Apotheosis of the Dance" Beethoven Symphony No. Seven as main courses, this concert held more interest.

It was fascinating to hear Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony with a reduced orchestra of about 30 players including 17 (if the program is right) strings. With the reduced forces comes transparency; thus one can hear the wonderful inner voices, the wind and brass punctuations and the subtle timpani strokes. Even a simple chord progression can be satisfyingly powerful when you easily hear how it fits into the architecture of the piece. I may have missed a bit more powerful first movement, and a few retrained climaxes here and there but the quiet, measured tread of the opening of the second movement Allegretto was perfectly presented. A rhythmically perfect Presto 3rd movement lead to the joyous dance of the Finale, building to the resounding climax marred only by the bobbles of the horns. What is it with brass in Kansas City???

The Strauss Oboe Concerto is a product of Strauss' last years, 1945. Suggested by noted American Oboist John De Lancie, who was the principal oboe of the Philadelphia Orchestra for years, the work is standard repertoire for oboists around the world. One expecting the huge forces and soaring drama of the tone poems will find this pastorale, charming work alien. But those who know the more introspective parts of the Strauss tone poems and operas will hear the arching melody of the "Don Juan" love theme and the more bucolic parts of "Don Quixote" or "An Alpine Symphony".

With KC Symphony Oboist Barbara Bishop as solo, this was a respectful and frequently moving performance of this marvelous work. Only some breath control issues made some of the oboe solo phrases a bit precarious and chopped, and the orchestra and solo seemed out of sync at the beginning. The lush slow movement was marvelous and the finale was spot on. The audience, many of whom I am sure had not heard this work, were quite appreciative.

The opening two works were less successful; the first movement of the Saint Saens Piano Concerto and Mozart's Overture to The Marriage of Figaro. 14 year old Christina Yuen banged and plowed her way through the admittedly tough and heavy Concerto movement. With time and maturity will come the realization of subtlety, nuance and balance with the orchestra. Her technique is there for sure. Not a good choice for a "chamber" orchestra.

The overture was a welcome change of pace from the Saint Saens. Good tempo, great playing but nothing really special; it did however, set the scene for the more successful remainder of the concert.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Injustice Files

It is not just here. It seems that in Malaysia, prosecutors filed a corruption charge against a policeman who died of a stroke in 2005. A Judge was surprised when she noticed documents stating that one of two police officers accused in a bribery case was actually deceased. The prosecutors were still planning to prosecute the case. The Judge chewed them out. "You can't prosecute a dead man" she is reported to have said.

Well finally, a Judge with brains.

The prosecutors are considering dropping the charges.

Nice of them isn't it?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

An Utter Failure

No not Virginia Tech gunman Cho Seung-Hui but the US system of treating people who are mentally ill.

I feel sorry for him, he was disturbed, if he lived, he would likely been ruled incompetent to stand trial. But our mental health system is riddled with incompetency, torn to shreds with budget cuts and many insurance companies will not pay for mental health coverage. The severely mentally ill are in the prisons or on the streets. It is a basic truth, said a Reuters' article, that one must be arrested in many cases to get treatment! According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, "untreated mental health is the nation's No. 1 public health crisis". Who would have known? Absurd!

It has come to light that Cho had many mental health issues from a young age and had sought treatment. In 2005 Virginia Tech authorities had complaints that he was stalking and annoying female students. He spent some time in a psychiatric hospital because of worries he was suicidal. His poetry professor, poet Nikki Giovanni, threatened to quit if he wasn't removed from her class. Teachers and students alike were stunned by his violent, dark writing.

It took these complaints to get a judge to get him therapy. But it is not clear he ever got it. It seems he may have been there for one day. The laws and the financial restraints on patients and providers for many mentally ill to forgo treatment, or get inadequate treatment. I recently read a story of a young man, suicidal, who was told by the hospital he was not sick enough to be kept. He was dead by his own hand the next day. When someone gets treatment, privacy laws may prevent a school or employer or anyone from knowing a ticking time bomb is in their midst. That was apparently the case here.

Why does the US, the richest nation on Earth, feel it has to skimp on healthcare while bombing the shit out of the world? Why is Bushie's pride worth more than the health of the nation? When more and more students (up to 40% in some studies) report being stressed, depressed and overwhelmed by school. When depression is on the rise as our world gets more violent and out of control, we cut mental health services to the bone.

Maybe we should not blame Cho but our inadequate medical system and our turning a blind eye to the mentally ill for allowing it to happen.

Rest in Peace Cho Seung-Hui. Rest in Peace all his victims. What a tragedy it came to this.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Do Yourself a Favor

Go to my friend Shaun's Blog "Jon's Jail Journal" and read his fellow inmate "Two Tonys'" rant on TV Mourners. I could not say it any better!

Two Tonys on TV Mourners

Be forewarned, He pulls no punches.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Worship Her Majesty

Her Majesty wants all to see her new throne. Don't tell her it was given to me, she thinks it is a present from Martha Stewart.

Monday, April 16, 2007


As the NRA celebrates its power over American politics at its convention in St Louis, I am sure they are blindly ignoring the unfolding horror at Virginia Tech.

Fuck it people, get a grip. Guns do kill people. The whole world looks at the US as a bunch of idiots as this shit happens annually.

Ban guns NOW!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

1957 verus 2007

I wish this was original to me, but it sums up our dehumanized, paranoid lives these days. How have we come to this??


Scenario: Jack pulls into school parking lot with rifle in gun rack.

1957 - Vice Principal comes over, takes a look at Jack's rifle, goes to his car and gets his to show Jack.

2007 - School goes into lockdown, FBI called, Jack hauled off to jail and never sees his truck or gun again. Counselors called in for traumatized students and teachers.


Scenario: Johnny and Mark get into a fist fight after school.

1957 - Crowd gathers. Mark wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up best friends. Nobody goes to jail, nobody arrested, nobody expelled.

2007 - Police called, SWAT team arrives, arrests Johnny and Mark. Charge them with assault, both expelled even though Johnny started it.


Scenario: Jason won't be still in class, disrupts other students.

1957 - Jason sent to office and given a good paddling by Principal. Sits still in class.

2007 - Jason given huge doses of Ritalin. Becomes a zombie. School gets extra money from state because Jason has a disability.


Scenario: Billy breaks a window in his father's car and his Dad gives him a whipping.

1957 - Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college, and becomes a successful businessman.

2007 - Billy's Dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy removed to foster care and joins a gang. Billy's sister is told by state psychologist that she remembers being abused herself and their Dad goes to prison. Billy's mom has affair with psychologist.


Scenario: Mark gets a headache and takes some headache medicine to school.

1957 - Mark shares headache medicine with Principal out on the smoking dock.

2007 - Police called, Mark expelled from school for drug violations. Car searched for drugs and weapons.


Scenario: Pedro fails high school English.

1957 : Pedro goes to summer school, passes English, goes to college.

2007 : Pedro's cause is noted by local activists. Newspaper articles appear nationally explaining that teaching English as a requirement for graduation is racist. ACLU files class action lawsuit against state school system and Pedro's English teacher. English banned from core curriculum. Pedro given diploma anyway but ends up mowing lawns for a living because he can't speak English.


Scenario: Johnny takes apart leftover firecrackers from the 4th of July, puts them in a model airplane paint bottle, blows up a red ant bed.

1957 - Ants die.

2007 - BATF, Homeland Security, FBI called. Johnny charged with domestic terrorism, FBI investigates parents, siblings removed from home, computers confiscated, Johnny's Dad goes on a terror watch list and is never allowed to fly again.


Scenario: Johnny falls while running during recess and scrapes his knee. He is found crying by his teacher, Mary. Mary, hugs him to comfort him.

1957 - In a short time Johnny feels better and goes on playing.

2007 - Mary is accused of being a sexual predator and loses her job. She faces 3 years in State Prison.

Friday, April 13, 2007


If nothing else, the recent Duke Lacrosse players' travails has introduced a new word to the American lexicon, "to Nifong". "To Nifong" is similar to "to frame someone" or trump up criminal charges based on circumstantial or even no evidence for political gain. The Lacrosse players were nifonged, big time.

I hope this case brings to light the unchecked, frightening power of persecutors... ooops...I mean prosecutors that have flooded our local governments in the last 20 years since the Reagan invasion and the unelected Bush regime. Just ask David Stagg here in Kansas City, our local nifonged music professor, victim of a made up story and finally exonerated after two costly trials. Or Eric Volz in Nicaragua, nigfonged by a whole country. And unfortunately, it does not matter Republican or Democrat, persecutors.. damn there I go again... feel they have to be tough and aggressive to keep their jobs and feed the gulag of the prisons.

One of the nifonged players Collin Finnerty was never interviewed by Nifong, yet was publicly accused of not co-operating. The case is well documented and I won't go into it here, but suffice to say it was a sordid plot of racial politics, class differences and out of control politics.

Nifong apologized, nice of him. I hope they all sue his ass. Where is the apology from Jesse Jackson and Sharpton, et al?? They are too busy basking in their defeat of Don Imus to apologize. But that is another story of out of control nutcases.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut 1922-2007

I awoke this AM to the news of the death of one of our great writers, thinkers and humanists, Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut, who was 84, had fallen a couple of weeks ago and had suffered some brain damage. It is a wonder he lived as long as he did; years of smoking, depression and a suicide attempt had taken its toll. This traumatic life and tortured mind was the catalyst for some of the most remarkable literature of the last 50 years.

I discovered Vonnegut in high school and have been an avid reader ever since. I do not totally remember my first Vonnegut book, but I think it was "Breakfast of Champions" which remains my favorite to this day. Of course "Slaughterhouse 5", "Cat's Cradle", "God Bless You Mr Rosewater" and all the rest were duly added to my library. This was in the era when his works were categorized as science fiction, due mostly to his penchant for using other planets (who can forget the planet Tralfamadore)and aliens as metaphors and protagonists in his stories. His recurring characters, Kilgore Trout, Eliot Rosewater and Billy Pilgrim, took on lives of their own. Critics initially panned his books and style, but over time realized the brilliance and biting satire of his work.

His novels were structurally unique as well. Many were punctuated with child-like drawings, several early works had numerous short chapters of 1 page or less, some had novels within the novel or had multiple story lines that sometimes overlapped, sometimes not. I particularly enjoyed his technique, testimony to my own hyperactive, disorganized mind. We thought alike. In an era where many writers set their stories in 1940's New York among Italian-Jewish immigrants, Vonnegut frequently wrote about his hometown of Indianapolis, someplace I actually had been to and knew something about. I even have relatives that knew of Vonnegut Hardware, his father's business.

In my humble opinion, after "Breakfast of Champions" in 1973, his work nosedived. "Slapstick", "Jailbird", "Deadeye Dick" and the hideous "Timequake" were shadows of his past work. There were also several attempts to set his books in film, but they defied that treatment and were artistic and commercial disasters. Only in a compilation of short essays "Man Without a Country" published in 2005 did he regain his voice.

Kurt Vonnegut was a revelation to this sheltered, middle class boy from Central Illinois. He taught me to question the institutions and leaders that were dehumanizing us all. He taught me to think, to question and to laugh at the absurdity of things beyond our control. I owe this man from Indy a lot.

So it goes. Or should I say: so it went.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Cruel Spring

On this Wednesday morning, it is raining and somewhat chilly. The rain is welcome for the grass and trees and to wash winter's dirt away, but the chill has not been met with the same enthusiasm.

It has been an ugly spring. The cold snap, albeit not uncommon, came at a most inopportune time. A couple of weeks of 70 and even 80 degree temperatures brought out the tulips and daffodils plus all the flowering trees. Then as if to say "gotcha"!, temps nosedived into the upper teens and struggled to get above 30.

Beds of tulips lay crumpled and forlorn where they fell as if they fought a valiant battle and lost. Trees are strangely bare, blossoms rare as hen's teeth. Just a few scout leaves peer out from the canopy of gray-brown branches, braving what the elements may yet bring and reporting back to HQ. Only the hardy grass is a brilliant green, enjoying the abundant rainfall.

Last Sunday, Easter morning, dawned with temperatures in the teens. Sunrise services canceled or went indoors. Easter Popsicles were as likely to be found as Easter eggs. Mrs. Ford went to church in her fur coat and hat, looking all fluffy and fuzzy. The brilliant sunshine warmed things up a bit, but step out of the sun and the bitter north wind reminded you it still held sway.

We expect 40s and even 30s as high temperatures for a few days. We may see some snow yet. Mr Groundhog, did you do this?? Global Warming?? Hilary Clinton, are you to blame??

I went shopping last night. The 75% off sweaters were popular at Macy's. Some life in them yet this season.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bartók's Last: The Concerto For Viola

Hungarian composer Bela Bartók did not live to finish his Viola Concerto. He wrote this last work (along with the 3rd Piano Concerto)in the summer of 1945 while suffering from the terminal stages of leukemia. The concerto was a commission by William Primrose, who did so much to lift the viola from an "also ran" status. Around that time, Bartók wrote to Primrose that his concerto was "ready in draft, so that only the score has to be written." Just three weeks later the composer was dead of leukemia, September 26, 1945 age 64.

The unfinished concerto, was completed by violist, conductor, composer and Bartok pupil Tibor Serly. This is version most often performed and thus most familiar to listeners. Despite its familiarity, Serly's version is criticized for adding too much of his own style and embellishments to the score. Peter Bartók (Bela's son) and Paul Neubauer published a new completion of the concerto in 1995 that is a bit less of a stretch. Even though Bartók said the work was complete, it was in a very early stage of composition and would likely have been revised extensively. There is written evidence that the work would have had a 4th movement, a scherzo seems to be missing, and the finale "beginning Allegretto and developing the tempo to Allegro Molto" does not seem to have transpired completely. Some scholars, however, feel that the 3 movement scheme was deliberately planned by Bartók.

In any case, the piece is fascinating but frustrating in that one longs for what Bartók would have accomplished if it was completed. Unlike a number of Bartók's compositions, this is a gentle, almost romantic piece. Never allowing the viola to wallow, it brings out the clarinet-like quality of the instrument and shows that it can be as expressive through its range as a violin. Indeed the work has a valedictory feel about it, Bartók undoubtedly knew this was his last utterance.

The Kansas City Symphony and Violist Roberto Diaz performed the piece a few weeks ago, but unfortunately I missed it, being in Nicaragua and all. I was told by our mailman, who is an avid listener and talented musician, that it was wonderful. Diaz and the orchestra provided a convincing performance, full of virtuosity and lyricism and boldly showing that this intriguing, flawed work deserves its place in the repertoire.

Naxos has a great recording of the two versions(P.Bartók/Neubauer and Serly) in the same recording for comparison. Worth the small price.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Persevering Prison Pages

I am being lazy, so here is another entry with a link to something interesting. This time it is my friend Shannon's blog. Shannon is an inmate at an Arizona Prison and was inspired by a fellow inmate to write a blog. I have enjoyed watching Shannon grow as a writer and finally realize he has something to offer to the world.

I won't go into it here, but Shannon has had a hell of a life, never had a break and has been mistreated by the injustice and health non-care system of this, the world's richest but most cruel country.

Give his blog a spin, he does not update frequently, but when he does, it is a fascinating glimpse inside the monster that is the Arizona Prison System.

Persevering Prison Pages

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Rusty's Story

Some clever chap has taken just about every gay man's childhood and turned it into a vintage schoolbook story a la Dick and Jane.

Rusty is a Homosexual

This is for all the Rustys who didn't have any support and blew their brains out or drank themselves to death. Sadly, there are still many out there. Finally, and too late for many, on this date in 1974, The American Psychiatric Association removed its "sickness" definition of homosexuality.

To you!, my friends and brothers and sisters, I hope you have found rest.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Look What I Found

We are doing some spring cleaning here at the Towers. Tons of junk is being tossed or distributed around town. As soon as a bundle of junk goes to the curb, the scavengers descend, soon to be picked clean of anything usable. Wall paper, nuts and bolts, fabric samples, lampshades, carpeting, tile, flower pots by the dozens (a local amateur botanist got those), wood scraps and more, all a testimony to one man's junk is another's gold.

But one thing caught my eye and I quickly glommed on to it. An antique fire extinguisher. Pyrene (love the name, sounds like an insult..."you pyrene, you..")1 1/2 quart brass Heavy Duty Type fire extinguisher. Supposedly They were used on many of the larger military vehicles in World War II. It is about 17" tall and is mounted on a bracket. Seems to be in good shape, never used and still full of some kind of liquid. The design was patented in 1928, but a similar extinguisher had been around for sometime before that. The Pyrene Company still sells equipment, mostly in Canada it appears.

This did not go to the curb, it was dusted and wiped off. I think I'll sell it on Ebay and see if I can get something for it, or at least get it to someone who is interested in this type of thing. One never knows what someone will pay for something collectible.

Friday, April 06, 2007

China Blues

The Chinese have given the world many gifts, spaghetti, silk, kites, fireworks, compass, abacus, the boat rudder and of course General Tso's Chicken. An inventive, industrious people for sure, the Chinese continue to produce goods for the whole world, an economic powerhouse that has yet to see full potential.

So why produce all the damn junk? I think they could do better. It bodes poor for the world if everything is going to be made in China. Not a damn thing will work.

Now, don't get me wrong. I like the Chinese for the most part. Their culture is fascinating and with so damn many of them, it is wise to be friends. But I have a problem with Chinese goods. The ones I have used are junk.

Don't even ask me my opinion about the dog food scare; due of course to tainted wheat gluten from you-know-where.

A while back, my Lincoln (aka the Queen Mary) had a gas tank issue. Years of Illinois salt had rusted the gas tank, resulting in a slow leak. So obviously a new one was in order. I ordered an after-market one and it duly arrived. When it came time to install, it would not fit. Everything was 1/100 off spec. Holes were off, a place to put a bracket was not there, the welded seam was crooked and close to the edge. Upon getting it on with some rigging, the fuel pump seal refused to seal tight: in short, it leaked worse than the old one.

Made in China.

I got a new fuel pump that sounds like it is pumping water from Hoover Dam.

Made in China.

When my Dr. diagnosed me as diabetic, he gave me a blood glucometer and test strips to get started. When I ran out of test strips, I went to my nearby CVS Pharmacy to get some more.

"We have never heard of this brand", said the clerk. The RPh told me it was not even in their catalogs.

So upon returning home, I looked at the unit and noted a website. The damn page was in Chinese.

I can't win.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Protect Your Right to Make Pie Crust!

In the continuing tradition of silly ass legislation, a St. Louis legislator wants you to show ID and have retailers log sales of baking soda — because it's used to make crack cocaine. Can you imagine grandma having to whip out her license in order to make pie crust?

Currently, we have to make a special trip to the pharmacy counter to buy certain cold medicines. Any sneezing and sniffling cold sufferer needing medications containing pseudoephedrine, such as Sudafed, must show a photo ID when they buy the medicine. Pharmacists must log the names and addresses of buyers, including how much they buy. Don't send 16yr old Suzie to get you some, you must be over 18.

The sponsor of the baking soda bill said the same approach would work in reducing crack cocaine because it is often produced by dissolving powdered cocaine in a mixture of water and baking soda.

Why not go after water? Or mixing bowls? Or better yet, cocaine?

Drug enforcement officials laughed at it basically. Too many people use baking soda on a regular basis, as opposed to occasional use of Sudafed. Why even I have baking soda in my fridge, just like Arm and Hammer ask me to do. Others said that the crack makers would just turn to other substances, some of them dangerous like ammonia and batteries, even coffee filters.

Please do not regulate coffee filters.

Luckily, the bill has little chance of passage.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Nicaragua Trip, a Summary

We had a successful trip to Nicaragua with the 2007 UMKC Dental Delegation. As usual, Dan and Cesar have documented it well. Check out the UMKC Dental Delegation link on their website.

Lots of patients seen, some pain relieved, contacts made, and more important, the Generation Y students saw how most of the world lives. No iPods, no internet, no fancy new cars, no Big Macs and no health care. The Generation of privilege and me first came face to face with reality. It did them good.

Thus exposed to the world, some came home appreciating the things they have. Some came home wanting more. But most came home to Gringolandia, where the dogma of "Me First" and "Success at Any Cost" enslaves us to lousy jobs and companies that treat humans as disposable liabilities, with their eyes opened and hearts melted. I think of this group, some will come back. Despite the beans and rice, the bugs, the dirt, the heat, the hard work. There are still teeth to fix, frisbees to be thrown, Victoria will brew some more beer to drink (they drank most of it), and kids to delight with our antics.

Next year looks good.