December 31, 2018

I’m writing this post on a late Saturday night instead of New Year’s Eve so the whole “rolling of the year” nonsense doesn’t influence this post with any kind of sentimentality. The twins are fast asleep and it’s just me, a cold Sam Adams Boston Lager at the ready, and Marlie the rabbit in her rabbit area behind me, the sounds of typing in an otherwise-quiet house.

Whenever I start my last post of any year, the first thing I do is copy the last post from the previous year to see if it contains anything relevant to what I might use as a muse for this year’s. Reading the very first paragraph of last year’s December 31 post, I had to laugh (italics mine):

And so another year goes into the history books. While this year was a far improvement over 2016 – a year when we lost my mom and our beloved rabbit Cosmo – the shadows cast by this past month and the ongoing crisis at work remain long and deep, with the chaos promising to extend into the first few weeks of 2018, if not longer. As a result, my job security isn’t what it seemed to be just five long weeks ago; when and if the dust settles on this particular engagement you can bet folks are going to lose their jobs and everyone will be looking for scapegoats. I just hope mine is not one of them, but you never know..

What a laugh. The chaos lasted longer than a “first few weeks”. Try, instead, the better part of five months. Five. Friggin’. Months. And, after hundreds of thousands of dollars – if not a million – given away to “The Client Who Shall Remain Nameless” in order to get their software solution stable, no one – and I mean no one – has lost their job. The incompetents, morons, and dick-heads are all still around – some in different positions, others still inflicting the same kind of damage on other clients, but no one (at least to my knowledge) on the unemployment rolls. It’s pretty damned pathetic when you think of it.

Me and my team? We’re all still slogging away, still working towards a “final solution” where we can finish our implementation and move on. But I will say this: perhaps it’s all in one’s perception. One of the big-wigs we have been working with at “TCWSRN” and I were both talking after a call. He told me that, while there were a few of his cohorts who were still pissed at being promised functionality that really wasn’t there (something I had nothing to do with) overall he and his unit were very satisfied at the responsiveness, competence, and dedication of my team to make things right. He told me how one of his industry cohorts in a similar position at another company implementing a similar solution from another software vendor were still struggling to get the basic fundamentals down five years after their initial implementation. That may well be true, but it’s still not solace for how badly I was treated those first chaotic months of 2018 when no one – and I mean no one had my back. Not only will I never forget, I won’t forgive, either.

Looking back, 2018 was really a tale of two years: the first five months and the last seven. And while the first five months were really bad between work, worrying about my dad’s health and living arrangements, losing my beloved Auntie Marge (my mom’s sister), and Tracey reinjuring her shoulder, during that time who could have known that the seeds were being planted for the kind of turnaround the second half of the year would bring. Dad’s illness in January led to my exploratory visit on a bitterly cold and icy afternoon to the senior living facility he would eventually move into in August. At the time, it seemed a huge stretch with too many hoops and hurdles to overcome, but while the process was incredibly stressful for everyone involved (not the least, Dad), we slowly and gradually worked through them all, and everything ended up working out better than any of us could have reasonably hoped. By the end of April, my team had finally figured out a way to stabilize things at “TCWSRN”, and so the daily 7 AM and nightly 10 PM calls finally dwindled away to nothing.

By the time July came, all the focus was on my dad’s inevitable move. After a few months of looking at the options available, he was ready for a visit to Summer Place. After which we sat down, ran the numbers, and knew we could make it happen. All of a sudden there was lots to do (after all, he and my mom had lived in the same apartment for the better part of fifteen years) but Dad was excited about the move and that made it all so much easier. Within six weeks, he was in his new digs, he had turned in the last car he would ever drive, and was happy in his new living arrangements, which in turn made all of us who love and care for him happy as well!

Around that time we had our annual Goodboys Invitational weekend, but with everything else going on at the time my heart wasn’t really in it. I hadn’t worked as hard on my golf game as I had in the past, and I was still learning how to play with new graphite irons, so between everything going on off and on the course I didn’t play well. On top of that, the hotel arrangements for the Goodboys I thought I had locked down tight with the Foxwoods folks didn’t turn out to be locked down at all. They screwed everything up, and it was left to you-know-who to get all the arrangements re-worked out. To me, the weekend was just more stress on top of the stress I was already feeling, and I was too burned out to enjoy myself at all.

Actually, it wasn’t until late September and nine holes played on the last 100-degree day of the year at TPC Scottsdale that my love for the game was re-kindled. It wasn’t due to anything in particular – the staff, the course, and the people I played with just made it such an enjoyable experience that I was able to remove all the expectations and just play the game for the love of it. A couple of weeks later, I got a great golf tip from my Goodboys pal Killer, and it has really helped out my game. In December, I finally decided to have my right hand worked on to correct the Dupuytren’s contracture that had become more than just a passing nuisance. Until the guy showing us back patio replacement doors shook my hand earlier today, my recovery seemed to be progressing nicely. Now I’m not so sure. But we’ll see what the doc says at my follow-up appointment in a week’s time.

So that’s about it in a nutshell. Another year older and survived. More time passed to see just how quickly the passage of time now passes. I’m sixty-three years old, and next October we’ll be meeting with our finance guy to look at – gasp! – Medicare options. Sigh. Forget the idea of what folks call the “golden years”. Not to get maudlin about it, but where’s the “golden” in a future where more bodily functions and parts stop working as efficiently or as you’ve been accustomed to? I guess all you can do is try to keep yourself in as good a shape as possible.

So what about 2019? Well, for starters I’m planning on following in my dad’s footsteps – he’s always loved to walk and is religious about it – and start walking a brisk two-mile walk three times a week. Our subdivision is perfectly designed for taking walks without the risk of getting killed, so I’m going to do it as soon as work is finished for the day. I’d like to start playing more golf in 2019, but I’m not as optimistic as I felt just a few days ago. Tonight my hand hurts, and badly. I’ve been thinking a lot about the blog and just how long I can keep it going. While a favorite Beach Boys board disappeared without so much of a murmur and another of my favorite bloggers recently tossed in the towel, I’m planning to keep on keeping on as long I’m (and I hope y’all) are entertained enough with what I write. But as Betsy decided, I won’t blog just for the sake of blogging. When I feel I’ve said everything that needs to be said, or it becomes more of a chore than enjoyment, I too will shut the lid on the PC and just walk away.

So that’s that. Another year in the books. Who knows what will happen in 2019. Will I still be blogging? Will I still be employed? Will I still be a Goodboy? Will I still be alive? Who knows? But y’all will be there to witness the ride as long as the ride is good. I want to sincerely thank everyone who considers this outpost in the blogsphere a part of your daily (or occasional) Internet habit. I enjoy writing for the entertainment it provides, but it’s always nicer when you know there are people who occasionally read what you write. So thank you for that.

OK, time to skedaddle. See y’all on the flip of the calendar and the start of a New Year. I know I’m ready for that flip, are you? Take us outta here, George!

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December 29, 2018

It’s the last weekend of the year. It’s gonna be a cold one in the Valley of the Sun, with freeze warnings up through beyond the New Year. I hope everyone enjoyed the pic of my bougainvillea on my Christmas Colors post the other day, because they’re surely going to get whacked in the coming days – especially if, as predicted, our lows drop into the high twenties on Tuesday and Wednesday.

But things are already looking up as a new year approaches – yesterday I actually had to adjust my landscaping lights to come on later for the first time. Sunrise is still getting a tad later – they won’t start getting earlier for another week, but the later sunsets are making up for that, and more.

It’s pretty clear President Trump is getting ready to drop the bomb on recalcitrant Democrats resisting the funding for the border wall – my guess is he’ll announce the closing of our southern border starting New Year’s Day. As Powerline blog’s John Hinderaker writes, this is an issue the President can’t lose on. It not only makes sense both practically and politically, but only the most fervent anti-Trump, open borders advocate would know it’s the right thing to do. Especially given recent headlines. The Democrats are going to get killed on this politically (even “San Fran Nan” Pelosi and Chuckles Schumer know it), but they are being held captive by the radical leftist “resisters” of their party.

OK, here’s a good joke, courtesy of a recent Ace of Spades post:

Seal pup waddles into the bar.
Barkeep: Wadda’have?
Seal pup: Canadian Club, on ice.

…and from the same post:

You’re locked in a cage with a lawyer, a snarling tiger, and a coiled boa constrictor. Fortunately, you have a gun with two bullets. What do you do? Answer: Shoot the lawyer. Twice.

Yuck yuck!

As a fan of Nikki Haley, I think President Trump would be doing the country – not to mention the GOP – in considering replacing Mike Pence with Haley as his running mate come 2020. It would not only expand Trump’s base, but it would a dynamic to the ticket – not to mention the race – that Pence simply can’t come close to adding. Were it any other, ahem, politician, it would never happen, but Trump is not your ordinary politician, and nothing he does would surprise me.

I sure hope good taxpayer money wasn’t spent on this study. I mean, isn’t that, like, obvious?

If I can find the time I’m thinking of actually going out to see this movie on a big screen. It’s a phenomenon few saw coming.

Time for the NFL to reap the whirlwind it has created. When the emphasis becomes fairness, equal opportunity, and social justice instead of on winning being the “the only thing” (as ol’ Vince Lombardi used to say), you’re just an exercise in political correctness, not a sport.

Progressives are crazy. Not to mention dangerous as well, because inside every progressive is a fascist totalitarian waiting to crawl out.

Not everyone would agree, but I’ve always believed that prostitution (male and female) should be completely legal, regulated, and taxed as any other service or commodity. Why? Because while golf is hard, life is harder and oh so short. Therefore, whatever connections you need to help make it more tolerable and fulfilling, it should be OK to pursue it. There are many forms of love, and as equal forms of connections – emotional, physical, spiritual – and if a little legal nookie on the side is what would help keep your boat afloat, why not?

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December 27, 2018

A few items and observations to finish off Christmas like so much used-up bows and torn wrapping paper…

Larry Scheweikart recalls the miracles of Christmas in 1776.

How the Creator of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” got the Gospel past network executives.

Mark Steyn tells the story of Elvis’s classic “Blue Christmas”, and, surprisingly, it starts long before Elvis got a hold of it.

Professional golfers share their Christmas photos.

The phenomenon of Christmas movies on cable. And it’s not just the Hallmark channels (there are more than one, but ION has had them as well. I find this interesting:

What’s even more interesting is that they all suggest Christmas is a time of magical salvation from the forces of modern isolation and loneliness. The plots almost always involve a young woman from a big city who finds herself, for some reason, in a picturesque small town. She is either unmarried, or engaged to someone unexciting, or sadly widowed. In the small town she finds a manly man, usually someone who works with his hands, who was either her high school boyfriend and has remained a bachelor because he pines for her or is sadly widowered.

The town is wonderful. The man is wonderful. And yet the woman has a life back in the city. But a few poinsettias, a crackling fire with some stockings hanging nearby and somehow kept from catching fire, a spinet playing carols, and a bearded man who just may be the actual Santa Claus, and you know she’s not going back to her soulless lonely modern existence. She will stay in the small town, protected from the Christmas-lessness of the everyday world, and find peace.

The movies are all predictable, where only the faces and names have been changed. And, as Al Perrotta notes they all have fifteen essentials:

1. A quaint picturesque village wrapped in garland and holiday lights and a blanket of snow.
2. A quaint name for the village or the lodge or inn or farm that is the setting for the action.
3. An equally quaint little kid with one or more parents dead. (In the case of Finding Father Christmas, Mom drops dead while performing A Christmas Carol.)
4. An apple-cheeked older woman who wants to help everyone, with husband who tells her to “leave ’em be.”
5. A professional woman who has lost track of her true self. She’s either given up on dating or is dating someone equally driven in his career who is perfect for where she is in life. Or so she tells people in a not quite believable way.
6. A sassy sidekick or sibling or assistant really hoping she lightens up.
7. Arrival, whether planned or accidental, in said quaint village.
8. A hunk who the professional woman who has lost track of herself happens upon seconds after arriving in said picturesque village. Usually the hunk is a total stranger seemingly opposite in every way. However, union rules require that one in four be a childhood or high school sweetheart who just didn’t work out for all the wrong reasons.
9. Cups of hot chocolate with a peppermint stick. (To my chagrin, no one ever seems to poke their eye out.)
10. A bakery with desserts that make you gain three pounds just from watching.
11. A former, aged soap star chewing scenery.
12. A sudden snowstorm.
13. A gradual falling in love, even though everyone in the family, town — even the animal life — knew it from the second they saw the two together.
14. A touch of supernatural Christmas magic.
15. A final (or first) kiss as the snow flakes fall.

It’s all just pretty people acting around snow that isn’t really snow, air that isn’t cold (not a breath to be seen anywhere), and the same plots acted out behind stock winter footage. What I have noticed is, that, unlike, say, movies based off of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, there’s precious little mention of “the reason for the season” at all: one movie Tracey was watching had a scene inside a church where a choir was practicing Christmas hymns, but it was just because the couple happened in their by accident. As far as the Hallmark movies are concerned, nativity scenes are replaced by homes and offices resplendent in Christmas decorations, ugly Christmas sweaters are everywhere, and the brokenness of the world can only be repaired with togetherness and family as a result of “Christmas” making things right.

…speaking of nativity scenes, the opening scene of Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” is a classic. The writing is both funny and superb, and the music schmaltzy and over-the-top – worthy of Cecil B. DeMille, but the genius lies in how the writers were able to weave in physical comedy and irreverent wordplay while still treating the Gospel account with reverence. It’s classic.

But I digress.

There was one Hallmark movie I saw a fair piece of where a church hires a social outreach coordinator to “help lift the town’s spirits”, so how does she do that? Evangelize to grow the church so it can increase its ability to help those most needy in the community? Of course not, you silly goose! She recruits town members to make sure the church and the town is most happily and seasonally decorated in the most secular fashion. After all, you don’t need Jesus when you can have Christmas trees, decorations, and lights of all kinds to lift folks spirits, right?

Bottom line is, you’d be hard-pressed to find any real Christian (or even spiritual) message in any of these movies. It’s as if the concept of Christmas came out of nowhere. And I find that kind of disturbing and sad.

Oh well, at least this year I’ve noticed more African-American actors, but I don’t think (I may be wrong) I’ve seen any Asians in any major role. Maybe next year. eh? Or perhaps there will be Asians in a leading role in the winter-themed movies they’ll be showing once we get past the holidays – I heard that last night. Not sure what these “winter”-themed movies will be about, but I’m guessing it will all be the same, without the Christmas decorations; they’ll keep the snow and the plot lines, just eliminate the Christmas theme. It’s not too early to start pushing Valentine’s Day, so perhaps that will be the overriding concept.

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December 25, 2018

…from everyone at Goodboys Nation weblog and the Goodboys!

Hey, I always thought Ebenezer Scrooge got a bad rap – after all, he was just trying to protect what he earned from the do-gooders.

The Twelve Days of Feminist Christmas.

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December 24, 2018

So this is what our dining room looks like all dressed up for Christmas. It didn’t look like this a week ago, I’ll tell you! It was full of empty boxes and piles of clothes from Tracey’s walk-in closet as a result of our little redesign project. Having her closet all nice and organized meant that all the clothes she no longer needed had to go somewhere, so for the better part of six months that place was the dining room. Everyone who came in through the front door saw all the clothes and empty boxes and asked us if we were moving. One guy even asked us what our asking price was – he was that interested in buying our house on the spot!

But last weekend the twins got motivated, and within the course of an hour or two the dining room was restored to its normal function and prettied up with a tablecloth perfect for the holidays. On Thursday, the boxes full of clothes were picked up Big Brothers / Big Sisters where they will be put to very good use, I’m certain. The Christmas tree on the end of the table is perfectly positioned to make folks passing by our house think we have a huge tree in the front room. Hey, it does the job!

Today, I’ll be venturing out to buy enough wine to fill the wine rack (under the wall hanging, left) so that the room is truly ready for the kind of holiday cheer that lasts through the New Year (at least the first two weeks!). So the three of us will be having Christmas Eve dinner by Christmas light – an Omaha Steaks pot roast with roasted potatoes, vegetables, and shrimp cocktail as an appetizer, with a bottle or two of Greg Norman Estates Cabernet Merlot. Ought to be festive, no?

Of course, over at my sister-in-law Tam’s apartment, the only creatures that will be stirring this Christmas Eve are her three rabbits (Butterscotch, Bailey, and Midget Lee), who could care less whether it is Christmas or not. But just so they do know, Tam has left the radio on to that station that’s been playing Christmas music since the day after Halloween. Lots of it is just absolute crap, the Christmas music equivalent of dishwater – just while I was over feeding the rabbits and doing my own Christmas wrapping in private I was “treated” to the likes of that insipid orgy of ’80s music self-indulgence, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (total rot), Wham!’s “Last Christmas” (soooo gay), Chuck Berry’s “Run, Run, Rudolph” (sooooo bad), and the Jackson 5’s “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” (ugh). The absolute dregs of Christmas music. Out of respect for the audience that I believe frequents this blog, I ain’t linking to them; if your own Christmas tradition includes having your ears tortured, you can find them all on YouTube.

You’d think with all that time on their hands they’d find a way embed stuff that was truly interesting and uniquely seasonal – stuff like Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne” (the fascinating story of which is here), Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’s “Let It Snow, Let It Snow”, Let It Snow” (one of several standout tracks on their “Christmas Album”, BTW), The Beach Boys’ “Morning Christmas”, Mariah Carey’s “O Holy Night”, or Shawn Colvin’s “In The Bleak Midwinter”, Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Carol of the Bells”, Alison Kraus and Yo-Yo Ma’s “Wexford Carol”, or anything Christmas by Loreena McKennitt or Enya. But alas, that would be expecting far too much.

Of course, not everything I heard was crap, but when Whitney Houston’s overwrought “Do You Hear What I Hear”, the Eagles’ “Please Be Home for Christmas”, and The Carpenters’ “Merry Christmas, Darling” are the best of the lot – well, I’m glad the rabbits really don’t give a bunny hoot.

Still, decorating presents by Tam’s tree and the nativity scene we gave her as part of my parents’ old Christmas stuff when we cleaned out Dad’s apartment earlier this year was nice. The nativity scene goes back to my childhood and holds fond memories – me and my brothers would know Christmas was coming when Dad would drag out the card table and put the nativity scene and my mom’s Christmas card address box on it. So time passes as does life in its own way.

—-

What a difference from last year where the better part of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were spent on the computer with my team trying to get “The Client Who Shall Remain Nameless” under some kind of control (something that would take the next four months to do, but I didn’t know it then). It was a miserable time – the worst I’ve ever known in my life. But let’s forget about the past, shall we? Let’s just enjoy what we have and the relative peace and normalcy of the present – after all, who knows where we’ll all be and in what situations we’ll each be in a year from now, right?

I do hope everyone’s Christmas preparations are all going well, wherever y’all may be.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:54 | Comments (2)
December 23, 2018

(Hat tip: Powerline blog)

…because, after all – especially if you’re a Goodboy – as the two do-gooders inform Ebenezer Scrooge in his office on Christmas Eve in one of those memorable scenes from “Scrooge”, “it’s that time of year where want is most keen”.

After which, BTW, the following classic interaction takes place:

Do-gooder: “So what will I put you down for?”
Scrooge: “Nothing.”
Do-gooder: “You wish to remain anonymous?”
Scrooge: “I wish to be left alone!”

So if all the hustle and bustle of this season is getting you down, you can blame Charles Dickens for it.

Hah! A “Merry Christmas” to all the Goodboys out there from this Goodboy.

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December 22, 2018

It’s a warm, sunny weekend here in the Valley of the Sun – perfect for playing a relaxing round or two of golf while the rest of world spends its days in traffic, online shopping with Amazon Prime, or standing in lines for those essential last-minute gifts. Even if you give folks an extra week of holiday shopping, like we had this year, I guess it always comes down to the last-minute dash for some folks. As for me, the right is progressing nicely, and while I was finally able to grip my seven-iron yesterday, it’s gonna be a while before I’m going to be able to swing it without pain. I do think I’ll be able to practice putting in a week’s time. That would be nice – I’m feeling really itchy and apprehensive at the same time about playing golf.

…between the PT exercises I’ve been given and the passage of time, the swelling in the right hand has gone down enough so I can begin measuring progress by the simple day-to-day activities I am slowly getting back to doing, even if somewhat awkwardly. Brushing my teeth seems to be the best barometer: think about it the next time you brush, and all the different ways you manipulate the brush with your fingers. It may not seem like much, but try doing it when your right hand has five puncture marks in it and is blown up like a pufferfish. And things like being able to make coffee in the morning – try separating out the coffee filter with just one hand that moves freely, or holding a bar of soap in your hand while washing. These are all things we take so much for granted!

…now, I’ll grant you, if we spent every second of every daily not taking for granted all the things we do as part of our daily routines, we’d never get anything done. Awakened gratitude and appreciation for everything you have and everything you do without normally thinking about would be a time-consuming thing, indeed. We’d never get anything done. Still, this week’s minor procedure (“minor” relative to the right hand as opposed to having something done on other parts of the body, not minor if you were to ask my hand how it felt!), is just another reminder of how health truly is wealth, that, as John Lennon once sang, “you don’t know what you got until you lose it”, and that as one gets older, these kinds of daily health “interruptions” are going to become more the norm than the exception.

…which is also a reminder that the only thing I’m going to be doing at the gym in the near future is stair-climbing, treadmill, and bike, with some minimal weight work with my left hand only. I’m probably (so the doc says) a good two months away from using my right hand for any kind of weight work. Not that I’m that much of a weight worker in the gym, but one of my days is going down the line of various machines, and all but one of them require two strong and healthy hands. Something to look forward to come the New Year, fer shure.

—–

Put me down as enthusiastically supportive of President Trump’s announcement of pulling our troops out of Syria and (so the word goes) reducing our presence in Afghanistan to a forward operations base for monitoring the Taliban, Iran, and Pakistan. Just as the Russians found out in the late ’70s, our attempt to “nation build” in Afghanistan has been a wasteful and abysmal failure. And if Turkey and Assad think they can handle what remains of ISIS themselves, more power to them. I’m sick of the GOP elite “neocons” having their pockets feathered by defense industry interests, and the “Deep State” and the Department of State treating the world as but chess pieces to be moved around on a whim. Time to put a halt to “red state” young men and women fighting and dying for the worldly interests of “blue state” elites. Because that’s what it comes down to. Lee Stranahan is absolutely correct when he says:

“Elites love sending your kids into war. Not their kids. But your kids. That’s the essence of elitism. Waging war, stealing stuff from other countries, enslaving people. But having your kids do it. And your kids don’t get the ‘stuff’ by the way.”

George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton have blood on their hands for the chaos they caused in the world with their foolish adventures, and that’s not the way Trump sees the world. Trump is right when he says you build up your military so that no one wants to test it, and if they do, they’ll see they get punched back hard enough.

…and the mainstream media and cable networks are particularly despicable in their criticism of Trump following up on campaign promises to pull our troops out of harm’s way when the end doesn’t justify the means. As Richard Baris tweets:

Less than two years ago, the media hysterically covered Trump’s appointment of hawks as a “military junta” – Mattis, Kelly, Flynn/McMaster.

He didn’t listen to their call for endless war, and now we’re all supposed to be terrified of that decision.

Make up your little minds?

…and as the always on-point Tammy Bruce tweets:

Political swamp that sent us into Afghanistan for 17 yrs w/o a resolution, that invaded Iraq on bad intel, that allowed NoKo to get the bomb, that froze in fear as ISIS spread like cancer, are now condemning @realDonaldTrump for not following their rules & orders. Got it.

Whoever thought the liberal media to be so warmonger-ish? Can you imagine them behaving this way if it was Barack Obama doing it? Why, they’d be pushing Their Messiah for another Peace Prize! Now, in the Age of Trump, he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Well, damn them all to hell.

…As Michael Walsh writes at American Greatness:

If Trump does nothing else but put an end to the endless wars bequeathed to us by the house of Bush [Ed. note: …and the likes of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton] his will have been a consequential presidency.

And as Ace of Spades writes, Trump has succeeded where George W. Bush failed: he has turned the anti-war left into passionate neocon warhawks and intervention-adventurers.

Mark my words, this is not going to end well for the Democrats in 2020.

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December 21, 2018

Given that we’ve gone two winters without a hard freeze, the bougainvillea are especially big and beautiful this Christmas. The gold flowers are from the two bushes I planted years and years ago right behind the A/C unit. The red flowers are from the other side of the wall from the two bushes in the prayer grove that have tumbled over the wall to mix with their gold counterparts; they came along with the house when we bought it fifteen years ago. Beautiful, aren’t they?

Fifteen years ago. It’s hard to believe we’ve been out here that long. Just goes to show you how time flies!

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December 19, 2018

I’m back in the saddle again following two days associated with my Xiaflex procedure to correct the Dupuytren’s contracture in my right hand. In my case, the treatment involved three injections just below the ring finger and thereabouts in the hand to soften up tissue that was pulling my ring finger down towards the palm and causing pain and discomfort when doing the most ordinary of things, like clapping or high-fiving someone or turning a door knob or gripping the steering wheel of my car.

I won’t kid you – they practically had to scrape me off the ceiling during the injections, but the next day, where they numb the hand and then yank the fingers back to break up the tissue underneath (creating some pretty bizarre crunching sounds), was pretty interesting. And it was nice to have my ring finger back to its old position! Very seldom in medicine do you get instantaneous gratification like this did: the only thing that beat it, at least in my case, was when I got LASIK treatment on my eyes back in 1999 – nothing will ever beat that. But this was still pretty cool, and a worthy thing to done with before it got even more serious, where the treatment and recovery options are not as simple and straight-forward. Now I’ve got a seriously swollen hand with some lovely shades of black and blue, and some physical therapy and daily exercises ahead of me for the near future. It doesn’t appear that I’ll be be touching a golf club for a while – they’re saying 1-2 months – but it’s worth it.

I think in my case the recovery time is going to be pretty quick: I’m already back to doing simple things with my right hand that I couldn’t twenty-four hours ago (typing, for instance). And getting some Percocets for the pain was pretty cool in how they make you sleepy and a little bit loopy. Just another part of the overall experience.

The advances being made in modern medicine are really something – the Xiaflex treatment is fairly recent, and the hand doctor swears by it. It wasn’t too long ago the only option was surgery, and that was reserved for only the most serious of cases, since anyone will tell you that if you ever have to get your hand operated on – for any reason – it likely won’t ever be 100% the same ever again. So I’m grateful for the advances being made that enables this kind of non-invasive (well, to a certain extent!) treatment to be available for folks like me.

We now return you to our regularly-scheduled programming.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 21:53 | Comments (0)
December 17, 2018

[Ed. note: Is Phil Spector still around? I checked his Wikipedia page and there’s no indication he has, as they say, left this earthy coil, so good for him. And screw Robert Mueller, while we’re at it – he’s the one who should be in prison. But this is what life is like in 2018 America. It’s all about zero respect for both the president and the office that he holds. Man, do I long for the innocence of 1963 – the year Phil put his holiday gem together. We weren’t surrounded at that time by social media “social justice warriors” and their pathetic daily outrage at anything and everything that offends their LGBTQUVWXYZ, etc. etc. sensibilities. Screw them too.

But I digress.

Merry Christmas, Phil – you’re still a musical hero of mine, and you changed the way pop music commemorated the season.]

That’s right, cats and chicks of all ages, it’s that time of year again. I know the guy’s still sitting in a prison cell, whacked out, burned out, and for all intents and purposes checked out of society and the rock n’ roll world he was once such an iconic part of. But heck, it is the Christmas season and I know it’s not REALLY Christmas until I slap into my CD player the best damned rock n’ roll Christmas record of all time. Which is (for those of you cats and chicks who may not be hip to these kinds of grooves), Phil Spector’s magnificent “A Christmas Gift For You”.

I know what you’re thinking – that’s just The Great White Shank spoutin’ his “yeah-i-know-he’s-in-jail-for-murder-but-believe-me-Phil-Spector-really-was-a-genius” bull$hit, but in this case you need to give me a break. ‘Cause it’s not just me, it’s a whole range of critics across the media spectrum, from Rolling Stone (who rated it #142 in its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time), to bloggers like Hip Christmas and BlogCritics. BC’s praise of the album and its greatness is especially spot-on:

A Christmas Gift For You contains thirteen performances, all captured during that incredible early sixties period when Spector was producing these amazing records. You already know all of the songs, as they have all become tried and true radio staples at Christmas time over the years. Song for song, the wall of sound production — with all of its bells, whistles, and strings — captures all the magic and wonder of Christmas like very little music I can think of. When you hear these songs, it’s like being instantly transported to a kinder, simpler time. It really does feel like Christmas.

In addition to the Ronettes and Crystals classics already mentioned, the standouts here include Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and a version of “White Christmas” so gorgeous you’ll be checking your window for snowflakes. On Bob B. Soxx And The Blue Jeans’ “The Bells of Saint Mary,” the bells and the castanets ring gloriously amid a swirl of gospel-charged backing vocals.

So the thing is, Phil Spector’s recent legal troubles aside, this record just doesn’t sound any different to me. For my money, it’s still the single greatest Christmas record ever made. And tougher sell that it may be these days, it will definitely be on my CD player when the guys and I get together for some Christmas cheer next weekend.

For me, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without it.

The album, considered by many to be Spector’s finest piece of collective work (The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”, The Righteous Brothers’ “(You’ve Lost That) Lovin’ Feelin'”, and, of course, Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High” being singular achievements), had a bumpy ride on the road to becoming a much-loved and respected holiday pop classic. Originally recorded during the summer and fall of 1963, it was understandably overlooked in those tragic weeks following the assassination of JFK and then virtually forgotten. It was only until its re-introduction to the public on the Beatles’ Apple Records label in 1971 – at the urging of John Lennon and George Harrison (both of whom utilized Spector on their first post-Beatles’ solo albums following his work on Let It Be) – that the album got radio play and finally earned its long-deserved place in pop music history.

So what exactly is it about A Christmas Gift For You that makes it both a holiday pop classic and a piece of work sufficient enough to warrant recognition among rock’s all-time greatest works? David Sprague, in his Amazon.com review, puts it simply: “[Spector’s] “wall-of-sound” technique is perfectly suited to the music of the season, as he proves with layer upon layer of piano, sleigh bells, buoyant percussion, and, of course, those legendary Spectorsound harmonies.”

True enough, but it’s only after you buy it and crank it up VERY loud that you start to appreciate not just the massive sound Spector lovingly and painstakingly crafted, but the way his session players and musical artists make the most out of the material given them. Here, Spector’s artists The Crystals, The Ronettes, Darlene Love, and Bobby Sheen are simply vocal instruments in the overall mix, working within the material and the arrangements, not overpowering them. Listen closely, and you begin to see how the subtleties within each arrangement illustrate Spector’s respect for both the material and the genre that brought him such fame and respect in his day:

* On “White Christmas”, Darlene Love’s lead is beautifully understated (something virtually unheard of in this post-Whitney armageddon of Britneys and Christinas who sound like wailing alleycats in heat). And listen to how the pianos, basses, and saxes (alto and tenor) underscore the rhythm, and how beautifully they finish the song’s fade-out. Magical.

* On “Frosty The Snowman”, Ronnie Spector takes a harmless children’s tune and turns it into a holiday pop masterpiece. Her earnest vocal is the showpiece here – think ‘Frosty’ meets ‘Be My Baby’, with enough warmth and sweetness to turn ‘the Frostster’ into a puddle of lukewarm H2O. Loved hearing it in that iconic scene in GoodFellas where Jimmy goes nuts with everyone buying expensive stuff after the Lufthansa heist.

* On “The The Bells of St. Mary’s“, Bobby Sheen’s lead is sweet and soulful out in front of a driving rhythm highlighted by chimes and Hal Blaine‘s amazing drumwork on the fade-out. Oh, and that’s Darlene Love doing the “yeah, yeah”‘s towards the end.

* The Crystals’ version of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” rejuvenated the classic so much so that the artists as varied as the Jackson 5 (ugh!) and Bruce Springsteen, among others, felt it necessary to pay it homage with their own versions. Listen for how the bells tinkle out Brahms’s Lullaby behind La La Brooks’ spoken intro – talk about attention to detail!

* On “Sleigh Ride” The Ronettes give a big fat wet kiss to Leroy Anderson’s classic arrangement; their now-classic “ring-a-ling-a-ling-a-ding-dong-ding” back-up is pure icing on this sweet holiday confection.

* “Marshmallow World” is a fun piece – dig the opening piano with an absolute ton of echo on it. And listen to how the saxes underscore the piano/guitar rhythm – you’re talkin’ Wall of Sound here, baby! The mix has always sounded a little muddy to me, but I think that’s just the sheer number of musicians playing at the same time – Phil always did his mixing live while the entire ensemble was playing. Darlene Love’s vocal is energetic and playful, a great performance.

* “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”. You don’t get the #2 slot on my Top 10 Christmas list for nothing. Simply put, there is nothing wanting in this recording – the performances are top-notch throughout. Ronnie Spector’s lead is both devilish and sexy, and the arrangement rocks. Listen for the piano fills and the sleighbells workin’ behind the saxes. It almost sounds as if Ronnie is slurring her s’s here (‘kishing’ Santa Claus); I think she’s doing it deliberately so I fall in love with her voice all over again every year at this time.

* On “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer”, listen for the guitar riff (Tommy Tedesco? Barney Kessel?) that frames the song throughout, a style similar to what Brian Wilson would later employ on The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” a couple of years later. There’s also a piano (and guitar?) doing something funky from the instrumental break onward, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what it is.

* “Winter Wonderland” is a faithful and fun rendition. Listen for those trademark shimmering strings featured throughout – they sound kinda funky to me – and how drummer Hal Blaine absolutely beats the daylights out of his toms on every fill. Darlene Love’s vocal is both soulful and fun. A magnificent arrangement.

* “Parade of The Wooden Soldiers”. OK, listen to how the strings behind The Crystals’ rollicking performance absolutely shimmer like glistening snow, especially behind the trumpet solo in the middle. No one – and I mean NO ONE – could make Christmas pop music like Phil Spector. (If you doubt me, just listen to John & Yoko’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”) Again, Hal Blaine’s drum fills on the fade-out are pretty intense.

* “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)”. Arguably the showpiece of the album. If you want a true holiday audio feast, come inside Mr. Spector’s kitchen where everything – including the kitchen sink – has been tossed in here. Shimmering strings and double acoustic bass (how does he get that sound?) create the necessary tension, then horns introduce a TOTALLY PUMPED and unleashed Darlene Love vocal that leaves nothing – and I do mean NOTHING – in the tank. The grand build-up to close the song is classic Spector: layers and layers of guitar, piano, strings, and percussion back the call-and-answer vocals between Love and the backup singers (a seventeen-year-old Cher‘s voice can be clearly heard) until the tension is finally released in a tidal wave of vocal calisthenics, soaring strings, drum fills, and piano arpeggios. Simply put, one of the great pop vocal performances of all time.

* “Here Comes Santa Claus” is anticlimactic following Love’s tour de force, but it’s to Bobby Sheen’s credit that his straight, if understated, reading becomes the showpiece on this song. The trumpet solo in the middle has a ringing, jazzy touch to it which compliments Sheen’s soulful vocal.

What truly makes A Christmas Gift For You such a remarkable achievement is the success Spector achieved in fusing together what was then a radical way of interpreting familiar holiday songs without, as he would write in the album’s liner notes, “losing for a second the feeling of Christmas and without destroying or invading the sensitivity and the beauty that surrounds all of the great Christmas music.” More than anything else, Spector respected the music he was trying to interpret as his own. In the end, this is what makes this work an enduring classic for the ages.Geez.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 02:32 | Comments (0)

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