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Does The World Really Need Another Blog?

TWO POETS WALK INTO A BAR

Two Poets Walked Into A Bar…
 
There isn't a punchline to follow, but there is a story that may be worth telling.


The two poets—one very famous and one less so—got snookered in that bar (the now defunct Beef & Ale on Main St.), and stumbled back to the apartment I shared with the less famous one. They woke me up, sounding as if they were about to come to blows, arguing over a single word in a poem, one that had something to do with…well, you'll find out.
 
But I jumped ahead.
 
I was 19 and attending UB's night school when I took a class from the Lessor Poet (LP) and we connected. When a spare bedroom opened up in his apartment directly across from campus, I couldn't turn it down.  I'd left Niagara U after one wasted year there and was back living at home, so I jumped at the chance to get out on my own.

 

Living with the LP had its ups and downs.

 

On the upside, he was a warm, gentle soul and a very good poet. He encouraged my writing and we spent a lot of time together.  I learned much from him about writing, and how to drink gin straight on the rocks (not sure if that was an up or a down).

 

On the downside, the LP had some…um…issues, that resulted in his coming home after a night out with his face bloodied, his glasses broken and his wallet missing. Once he was deep in his cups, he had a habit of coming on to the wrong  people, who took strong exception to his advances. While he always respected my heterosexuality, and didn't cross any lines, it was painful to see someone I liked and admired continue to make the same mistake over and over again.

 

Still, we had some interesting times together.

 

Accompanying him and another UB poet to a reading the LP gave in Fredonia, everything was normal…until it wasn't. The reading went well, and it was the after party that set things in motion. We accepted a toke or two from the obligatory proffered joints, thinking nothing of it. But… whoa!  Once back in the car, driving the 60 miles up the NYS Thruway, things took a dark turn, literally.

 

I was in the passenger seat next to the driver, and for the life of me I don't know how he kept that car on the road. It was clear that someone at that party had  spiked our drinks or the joint with a psychedelic substance. I thought that if he was half as stoned as I was, we'd likely die, or worse, get pulled over by State Troopers, who have never been known for their support of the arts. Every curve in the road gave the impression that we were about to drive off a cliff. That short trip (no pun intended) seemed to last forever, and I didn't relax until we arrived home safely.
 
But back to those Two Poets.
 
The more famous of the two was a man named Robert Bly.
 
In a career that began with his first book of poetry in 1962 and went on for the next 50 years, Bly became famous not only for his poetry and prose, but for his political stance against the Viet Nam war, and for his translations of and support for poets from other nations.


He won the 1968 National Book Award for a book of poetry, but his most popular book was a work of prose entitled Iron John: A Book About Men.  Published in 1990, it spent 62 weeks on the NY Times Best Seller List and helped popularize a movement intended to help men connect spiritually with their lost masculine identity. The movement included therapeutic workshops and wilderness retreats, often using Native American rituals such as drumming, chanting and sweat lodges (something Fox News' Tucker Carlson would endorse today).
 

But let's cut to the chase.
 
In 1968 Bly was in Buffalo for a reading and afterwards he, the LP and I headed to the Beef & Ale, where they stayed long after I'd gone home to bed. Fueled by drink, they returned to our apartment, where the LP read Bly his latest poem.

 

Apparently Bly, a very large man with a booming voice, had concerns about the poem, and they centered on one word that occurred multiple times. They argued back and forth over this word until Bly summarized his objection in a voice that woke me from a sound sleep.

 

"Goddam it, (LP)!" he shouted, "There's too much semen in this poem!  You've got to clean it up!"
 
And so it is that my last memory of meeting Robert Bly, who went on to become the poet laureate of his home state of Minnesota, and who died last November at the age of 94, was that thunderous voice complaining about too much sperm in his colleague's poem.  


 
As always, thanks for reading this far.
 

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Podcasts I Have Known & Loved

     In a recent post about Ukraine I included a link to Ezra Klein's interview with Fiona Hill.  It got me thinking about podcasts I listen to regularly, and I wanted to share a few of my favorites with you.

 

     I won't include links to them because you can use any Android or Apple smartphone or tablet to search for them by name and then listen, and if you wish, subscribe.

     

     I'm certain everyone knows what a podcast is, but here's a brief overview:
 
     Podcasts, which might be thought of simply as radio shows you can download and save on your phone or computer, have exploded since 2004 when the first known one was created. It's now estimated that there are 4.2 MILLION of them floating out there in cyberspace.

     

     They come in all shapes and sizes, from segments of broadcast news programs, to serialized novels and true crime stories, to podcasts that include visual material—slides and video. But I believe the most common format still involves interviews and monologues.
     

     Many (most?) podcasts are free to download, paid for by sponsors or by the inclusion of commercial advertisements, while some are based on a paid subscription model. There are also "hybrid" models, where the basic podcast is free with ads, but additional content and/or an ad-free version is available for a monthly fee.
     

     I first became aware of podcasts via Mark Maron's "WTF" (it stands for exactly what you think) in which he interviews movie stars, musicians, politicians—including President Obama—and  others. Maron's podcast gained fame, and  helped spread the word about podcasts, by his ability to get his subjects to open up about the most intimate details of their lives (the coolest President ever wasn't one of those who did). WTF is currently airing (if that's the proper term for something that doesn't actually go over the air) its 1,330th episode. I've since moved on from WTF, and have a number of other podcasts that I listen to regularly.
 
The Ezra Klein Show


     This is easily my favorite.
     Ezra, who focuses on politics and world events, started out as a blogger, became a frequent talking head on MSNBC, then moved to the NY Times. He writes a column for them, and has a weekly podcast as well. He is easily the best prepared interviewer in the business, and he and his staff do intensive research on the subjects and guests he has on.

     One smart cookie.
 
"Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me!"


     This podcast is a replay of a weekly NPR radio show that airs on Saturday mornings. The format is simple. The host, Peter Sagar, and a panel of three comedians/commentators dissect the week's news events with humor, and it is FUNNY. And I mean—laugh out  loud funny.

     The hour long show also includes a guest of some prominence who is forced to play a Q&A game called "Not My Job" where they are asked about a subject that has nothing to do with whatever it is that brought them fame.
     The show has advertisements, but my iPhone has a little > button that allows me to skip ahead in 30 second increments, so I avoid them. 
     (PS. "Wait, Wait" is often performed in front of an audience, and this week's show airs from Shea's Buffalo Theater here in town.)
 
To The Best of Our Knowledge


     This podcast comes from Wisconsin Public Radio, and its hosts cover a wide-ranging list of subjects using interviews with experts in the field and/or people who have experienced the events being discussed. The titles of recent episodes will give you a flavor of their range: "Plants As Persons", "Secrets of Alchemy", "Taking Pop Seriously" and "Searching For Order In The Universe."

     It's intelligent and thoughtful, and one you need to pay close attention to as you listen.
 
Fresh Air


     Another famous interview podcast, Fresh Air stars Terry Gross (who, coincidentally, attended the University of Buffalo). Gross's podcast pre-dates WTF, and she is admired as one of the best interviewers out there. I myself am not a huge fan—she sometimes she seems unprepared, and too often interrupts her guests—but her guest list is pretty amazing. If there's anything of interest going on in society at the moment, you can be sure that Fresh Air will bring in the right guest to talk about it.  
 
The Axe Files


     This interview podcast stars David Axelrod, who was Obama's chief campaign strategist and a Senior Advisor during much of their time in the White House.  As you might expect from a political consultant, Axelrod's guests come from the ranks of politicians and print and television journalists. He doesn't play political favorites. His guests come from both ends of the political spectrum.

     He has a nice way of introducing us to his guests by exploring their life story in detail before diving in to his questions. 


Sarah Silverman


     Sarah, a self-proclaimed potty-mouthed comedian and committed progressive, has a simple format to her podcast. It consists of a brief monologue on what's happening in her world—from something as mundane as a silly argument with her boyfriend to the tragic loss of a close friend—and then segues into callers' voicemails. The calls generally involve someone asking her for personal relationship advice, or questions about show business and Sarah's life as a comedian.
     While Sarah is the first to admit she isn't a trained therapist, there's always something straightforward and wise about her responses to people's problems. She appears to be thinking out loud, and isn't shy about doubting the value of her own advice even as she's giving it. Yet, by the end of her response you realize she just nailed it again.
     Two warnings: 1) she really is often X-rated; and 2) the podcast gets bogged down by commercials that can last 2+ minutes at a time. But there's always that skip-ahead button to let you avoid the worst of them. 
 
Hope you'll check out one of the above.  And let me know if you have other favorite podcasts you'd recommend.
 
And, as always, thanks for reading this far.

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Michigan Senator Fights Back Against LGBTQ Discrimination

Michigan State Senator Mallory McMorrow was accused of being a "groomer" of children and a pedophile by one of her female, Republican colleagues in a sleazy fundraising email. 

 

She refused to take it lying down.
 
See and hear for yourself (and notice that she looks directly to her accuser as she speaks):
 

https://twitter.com/MalloryMcMorrow/status/1516453738403143681?s=20&t=Ruy0DM1xhHbF08eb7F8Qdg

 

 

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Ukraine: Dark Clouds & Silver Linings

There's litle I can add to the condemnation of Putin (and his American enablers: T***p, Tucker Carlson, Fox News, et al) regarding the torture and killings of innocent civilians in Ukraine.  It's a dark time. Not just for Ukraine, but for the world. But there may be an unexpected silver lining in these dark clouds.


Putin's invasion, successful or not, will have far reaching global effects, especially in terms of the availability of food (wheat and other grains) for populations in the Middle East and Africa already at risk of famine. Ukraine is the breadbasket of much of the world, and farmers can't go into their fields if they're full of mines left or they're under fire from retreating Russian troops. 


For more about the broader impact of the invasion, listen to the podcast where Ezra Klein interviews Fiona Hill, the most knowledgeable U.S. Russian expert we have. Hill sketches out a dark future, one in which global famine  becomes a reality, and offers a sobering view of what is to come from a war where Putin refuses to recognize the integrity of an independent nation. It kept me up long into the night.

 
But is there a reason for hope? Is there possibly a silver lining somewhere within these dark clouds?


Perhaps.


First, as you've seen in the reporting on the Ukrainian army, it's holding its own against Putin's best. The most recent success was their sinking of his flagship in the Black Sea. That ship not only sent cruise missiles into Ukraine, it also provided air cover for their bombers, and was their center for command & control. The Ukrainians are fighting for their lives, and doing a damned good job of it.


Secondly , the only way Putin can finance his war and prop up the Russian economy against the West's economic sanctions, is through the sale of fossil fuels.  Proceeds from gas and oil sales are paying for the bombs which rain down on hospitals, schools, train stations and apartment buildings in Ukraine, and for the bullets being put into the heads of civilians.


But this has led Europe to an "ah-ha" moment in re: to their dependency on Russian fossil fuels. They are now working, with our help, to wean themselves off the Russian oil/gas teat, and finding new sources of energy, including renewables. Europeans are well ahead of America in using renewable, non-fossil fuel sources of energy to stem the climate tsunami that is coming from rising global temperatures and, hopefully, impetus from the Ukrainian war will result in their moving even faster in this direction.

 
In light of this, I believe that, though we feel our hearts breaking at visions of civilians being bound and executed by Russian soldiers, the world is being given an opportunity to do both the honorable and the good thing by cutting off fossil fuel sales from Putin's regime, while at the same time, finding ways to wean ourselves off fossil fuels FOREVER.


Europe and progressive states in the U.S. are working toward a goal of saving the earth for our grandchildren (sorry, folks, it's already too late for our children), but too many Americans act as if there were no crisis, as if Mother Nature will somehow pull us out of this hell of wildfires and floods that are becoming second nature.


But what can one person do?


It's got me considering two things: heat pumps and electric vehicles.
Heat pumps are an efficient way to use the earth's stable below ground temperature to heat and cool our homes.  At the bottom of this post I'll share some links to information on this technology and what it can do for you. And, while the technology can be expensive, there are governmental subsidies which lower the cost.


The same is true for electric vehicles, which are being improved with every new model that comes off the assembly line. They provide the equivalent of from 85 to 110 miles per gallon, with a range of 220 – 350 miles, and most come with a large government rebate.


Heat pumps and/or electric cars may not work for everyone, but for those with enough land for the heat pump piping, and for who don't need a car to drive long distances on a regular basis, these two options can significantly reduce one's use of gasoline and natural gas.


So it is that Putin's brutal attempt to destroy Ukraine, by highlighting the danger of  Western Europe's addiction to Russian fossil fuels, could possibly have a silver lining: an unintended, positive impact on the battle against the ongoing effects of climate change.

 

Thanks for reading this far.
 
Here are some links related to the above:

 

How To Help Ukraine:

 

https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=9366


 
Ezra Klein Podcast:


https://podcasts.apple.com/la/podcast/the-ezra-klein-show/id1548604447 

 

https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9mZWVkcy5zaW1wbGVjYXN0LmNvbS84MkZJMzVQeA==
 
Heat Pumps:

 

https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/heat-pump-systems

 

https://www.nyserda.ny.gov/Residents-and-Homeowners/Heat-and-Cool-Your-Home/Heat-Pumps
 
Fully Electric Vehicles & Subsides:

 

https://www.edmunds.com/electric-car/#electric-vehicles

https://fueleconomy.gov/feg/taxevb.shtml

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New Bills Stadium: The Last Word

 
That title is a bit misleading in that I'm certain people will be talking about this decision for years to come.  It is accurate insofar as this is the last time I'm going to talk about it. Once I get this off my chest I'll move on.
 
First, full disclosure: I'm no longer much of a football fan, so my opinions about the stadium deal are likely biased. There was a time when I watched every game, but after spending the fall of 2015 in a Cleveland hospital bed where the only game on TV was the lowly Browns, I realized I didn't miss it.  I found it was nice to have my Sunday afternoons back to do other things.
 
         So, here goes:
 
-       It's obviously crazy for taxpayers to subsidize what's essentially a billionaire's playground, but I understand what the Bills bring to the area, in emotional if not economic terms, and I think the financial arrangements are about as good a deal as we could have gotten.  I'm especially glad the Pegulas (the team's owners) are on the hook for any cost overruns during construction, which I expect to be significant in light of supply chain and global economic issues. Still, it's hard to swallow throwing tax dollars at owners and a league that rake in billions every year.  


-       The new stadium is being built in the wrong place. Despite the fact that a South Park site in the city scored the highest in the Pegula's own study, they've insisted on building it in the middle of nowhere. Granted, building in Orchard Park will be cheaper and quicker, meaning the Pegula's and the NFL's contributions will be smaller, and they can reap the financial benefits that much sooner, but it does nothing for the Western New York community at large. Building it in the city would cost more and take longer, but the overall economic payoff, as outlined in the team's study, would be much greater. Thus, the new stadium joins a famous list of failed opportunities, from putting the University of Buffalo campus in the suburbs, to cutting an expressway through the heart of the East Side and destroying an Olmstead Parkway in the process.  


-       It is hard to blame the owners for doing what's in their best financial interests, but one aspect of their plan—to partner with and benefit financially from the exploding sports gambling market—is especially appalling.  Gambling addiction leads to increases in bankruptcies, family breakups, and even suicide. Yet, the Pegula's plan includes a provision to make it easier for fans in the new stadium to gamble on the game. Kim Pegula said (paraphrasing now) that while she isn't morally for gambling, their study identified it as a new revenue source, so they'll embrace it. Apparently, for the right price she's willing to hold her nose and take the money.
 
That's all I've got.
 
Thanks for reading this far.

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I Caved

In my first post (see below) I claimed I wouldn't pester friends by announcing the existence of this blog.  

 

And now I have. 

 

Boy that didn't take long!

 

Thus, the score remains, Ego - 1, Modesty - 0.

 

Now I don't intend to bug folks every time I put a new post up, but hey, I lied about this once before, so why should you believe me?

 

Seriously, if you do want to get an alert now and then, let me know, either via email or by posting a comment to this message. I promise not to overload your inbox by sending out a note every time a new post goes up.

 

As it is, too much of our time is taken up with fending off the internet's intrusions, so I wouldn't take it personally if you silently decline the offer.  

 

Thanks for reading this far. 

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Why This? Why Now?

Blogs have been in existence since the early-mid 1990s, and there are now hundreds of millions of them floating out there in cyberspace. So, it seems reasonable to ask, "Why would anyone wish to add to this cacophony of voices, and why now?"

 

The answer?

 

There isn't just one.  In no particular order:

 

   - Writers write, and lately I've been a bit blocked and looking for a new outlet. 

   

   - My opinions on local and national events need a place to be, and though the city's newspaper prints my essays and letters to the editor on a regular basis, they limit both what and how often they accept submissions.

 

   - One could imagine this blog being the equivalent of my Facebook page, which is something I've so far successfully avoided. I know that FB has the power to make valuable connections among people. Unfortunately, it also is designed to monetize your personal information, and it spreads disinformation that undermines our democracy and the very fabric of our society. Thus, this becomes my alternative to a FB page.

 

   - Ego. There. I said it.

 

I have no idea how often I'll post here, or even whether or not I'll tell folks of the existence of the blog and alert them to new posts when they arrive.

 

It can be awkward to say to friends, "Hey, look here!" when that includes the implied question, "What did you think of it?"

 

I mean, seriously now, other than asking someone to help you move your 50 boxes of books and records to a new 3rd floor apartment, is there anyting worse than saying to a friend, "I just finished my new 500 page novel. Would you read it and give me your opinion?" 

 

That's a burden one should rarely place on the shoulders of a close friend, let alone a group of acqaintances. 

 

In light of all that, perhaps for now I'll just leave this blog to finds its own audience, and wait to see what happens. 

 

Thanks for reading this far. 

 

 

 

 

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