How Will You Remember Michael Jackson?

Michael_Jackson_with_the_Reagans

Michael Jackson’s tragic death has saturated the news media like no other story since the death of Princess Diana, and as if there were no other important stories to follow.  The equally tragic death of Farrah Fawcett has been but a footnote.  And what’s happened to the protesters on the streets of Tehran demanding democratic reforms?  Hasn’t there been a brutal crackdown by the Iranian regime?  And wasn’t there something about a cheating Republican Governor who slipped away to Argentina to have a affair? What’s his name?  What is clear is that Michael Jackson in death is larger than life.  And though enormously popular and successful throughout his career with millions of adoring fans worldwide, the King of Pop led a lonely, at times reclusive and often bizarre lifestyle that both fascinated and repulsed the general public. Dead at 50, Michael predicted he’d follow in the footsteps of another King….Elvis, whose daughter, Lisa Marie, MJ was married to briefly. Like Elvis, MJ, by many accounts had became addicted to prescription medication which compromised his health and could very well have been a contributing factor to his untimely death.   According to Deepak Chopra in a tribute piece published in the Huffington Post, unscrupulous physicians enabled Michael’s drug habit.

In a CNN Interview with Wolf Blitzer, Chopra said:

there’s a plethora of doctors in Hollywood, they are drug-peddlers…they are drug- pushers. They just happen to be having a medical license…And I hope that this episode today, this tragic death of a great human being, will bring to light the huge problem we have in Hollywood with some of the medical establishment, the celebrity doctors who not only initiate people into the drug experience, but then they perpetuate it, so that the — the people become dependent on them….the number-one cause of drug addiction in the world, and particularly in the — the United States, is not street drugs, but medical prescriptions given legally by physicians.”

Millions of fans will remember him for his music and generosity; for the joy and excitement he brought to their lives through music and entertainment.  A cultural icon with superhuman talents, Michael Jackson was also generous with his time and money supporting many charitable causes to better the lives of people around the world.

I’ll remember him most for these 12  songs:

Off the Wall (1979)

  1. Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough
  2. Rock With You

Thriller (1982)

  1. Off The Wall
  2. Want To Be Startin’ Somethin’
  3. The Girl Is Mine
  4. Thriller
  5. Beat It
  6. Billie Jean
  7. P.Y.T

Bad (1987)

  1. The Way You Make Me Feel

Dangerous (1991)

  1. Black Or White

RIP Michael Jackson.

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First 33 RPM LP in 1948 A Sinatra Reissue

On this day in 1948, Columbia Records rolled out the first Long Playing (LP) microgroove record spinning at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute.  One of the first, if not the first LP commercially available was actually a reissue of the Sinatra record, The Voice of Frank Sinatra.

VoiceoffranksinatraAs you can see on the Sinatra album cover, the vinyl was said to be nonbreakable, as if this were some amazing feature.   Now if only the engineers could have figured out a way to make vinyl unwarpable and scratch free, there might not have been a subsequent market for reel-to-reel, 8 track and cassette tapes.  And today we might live in a digital and CD free world.

There’s a tune on the Sinatra LP called “I Don’t Know Why”.  I would have liked to have heard Sinatra’s version of the Nora Jones hit,  “Don’t Know Why” written by her band mate, guitarist Jessie Harris.

Nestle Tollhouse Cookie Dough Recalled

Toll_House_cookies

Well, this is the duh, don’t eat raw cookie dough moment.  And especially don’t eat Nestle Toll House cookie dough which is suspected of being contaminated with E. coli bacteria prompting Nestle USA to issue a voluntary recall of the product.  The FDA reports that 66 people have been sickened by the dough – 25 seriously enough to be hospitalized.  7 have developed Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) which can cause kidney damage and death.  The young and elderly are most susceptible to HUS.

It is not clear how many of the 66 victims ate raw cooking dough, but I would guess a high percentage.   Even handling the tainted dough poses a risk,  therefore the FDA advises consumers to discard any prepackaged Toll House cookie dough recently purchased.

If you must get your cookie fix, have a few Oreos or 4 Vanilla Wafers (not more) or a handful of pink frosted animal crackers, my personal favorite, with a super homogenized, double pasteurized milk chaser (if there is such a thing) just in case.

Swine Flu Will Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

H1N1 has not gone “gentle into that goodnight and seems to “rage against the dying of the light”, to quote Dylan Thomas.  When I last posted on the topic back on May 25th, there were 6,754 cases reported by the CDC in the U.S.  In just 19 days, that number has nearly tripled to 17,855.  Wisconsin now has the dubious distinction of having the most confirmed H1N1 cases in the nation with 3,008.

On June 11, the World Heath Organization issued its highest alert – Phase 6 – indicating that a worldwide pandemic is now in progress.  Close to 30,000 cases have been reported worldwide in 74 countries.  The U.S. leads all countries by a substantial margin – with nearly half of all cases reported and 30% of the 145 fatalities to date.

The virus has not invaded some of the most densely populated areas of the world – Japan, China and India where only about 2% of the total number of cases have been documented.  Perhaps this number is higher as it is difficult to believe any data coming out of China.  However, China has been agressive in its efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.   Visitors to China have been under the microscope.  Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans was quarantined for a week by Chinese authorities in Shanghai when a passenger on his flight was thought to be infected.

On the local front, dozens of schools in Massachusetts have been closed during the last two months as an unusually high number of students and staff have been out sick.   The medical establishment no longer tests for swine flu when a patient presents with flu like symptoms unless there is a serious underlying health issue that would make testing prudent.  Patients are urged (but not required) to stay home for 7 days.  I think both the closing of schools and testing only when necessary is a sensible approach to this public health crisis, that “will not go gentle into that good night”.

WBW #58 – Wine and Coltrane

Francis Coppola 2007 Alicante Bouschet Katie over at gonzo gastronomy issued a creative challenge:  write about your experience with a wine or wines and different kinds of music.   I love music and wine so I simply could not pass up this month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday (WBW) theme.

I’m approaching the task as an opportunity to try a grape I’ve never tasted before by a producer whose wines are also unfamiliar to me.  To give credit where it is due, I got the idea to go outside my wine comfort zone after watching Gary Vaynerchuk in a video with the ladies of Galavanting TV.

So I visited my local wine shop, and asked the wine director for a suggestion in the obscure red grape department.  He handed me  a 2007 Francis Coppola Alicante Bouschet and told me that the Coppola winery was one of the few left in California still producing the wine for commercial consumption.   He said it was a hearty food wine.   Actually, I had only planned to serve the wine with a meal of music, so just to be safe, I asked for a cheese suggestion, to which he quickly replied, blue.  I just so happened to have some in my fridge.

When I got home, I consulted my copy of the Wine Lover’s Companion for more information on this mysterious grape (mysterious to me anyway).  I learned that Alicante Bouschet is a hybrid vine created by Frenchman Louis Bouschet de Bernard and his son by crossing Grenache and Petit Bouschet, Petit Bouschet itself a blend of Teinturier du Cher and Aramon.   Planted widely in Southern France and North Africa, the grape is cultivated to provide intense color to wine, not to stand on its own, though Francis Coppola would beg to differ and I do too; this wine can stand alone…with the right kind of music.

As to the music,  I wanted to sample the wine first with something I had never heard before, so I stopped off at my favorite internet radio site, Beyond Jazz, and cued up the tune Breakdown by Homecut featuring Andreya Triana from the compilation mix, Boom-Boom-Boom.  I uncorked and hit play at the same time.   The vibe was melodic and smooth, a sort of soul-hop groove.  The nose was a bit mellow, with some muted signs of berries.  A taste revealed cherries, maybe raspberry even some raisins in there, and a sugary taffy aftertaste like a cherry Now and Later.  I dug the tune and the hypnotic refrain: “I know there’s something much better, something much more than this”.   I hope so! Time for the next group, Jazz Liberatorz and a tune called Mountain Sunlight featuring Mos Def.   This is an upbeat composition featured on the same Beyond Jazz mix with a jazzy hip-hop feel and some trippy synth effects.  My mood changed and the wine seemed to sweeten and elevate, scaling the mountain.   I felt like dancing.

Next stop to music I know – Santana from Welcome – a cut called Yours is the Light.  Really old stuff – 1973.  Makes me want to drink right from the bottle and pass it around Woodstock style.  There’s a tinge of smoke to this wine, and a little acidity, two substances quite popular in 1973.   Feeling a bit hungry, I broke out the blue cheese and to my delight the two paired magically with Santana.

Shifting gears, I broke out my Stereolab LP, something from a compilation called Serene Velocity.  I chose this record because the album art has a h45016twjlumagenta like coloration that matches the wine label and it just looks like wine in the abstract.  I put on Come and Play in the Milky Night and immediately got lost in the sound and forgot about the wine.  I took a sip to wake up, but the wine seemed asleep too.  I had to switch into overdrive.

Jazz, but something complex and intellectual.  Coltrane’s Giant Stepsh90867ek9wk.  This is it.  I’ve found the right music for this wine.  The title track, Giant Steps, brought out my senses, a heightened awareness of my surroundings.  And there is so much going on in Coltrane’s work – for me it’s like a spiritual experience trying to follow his saxophone solo.  Coltrane plays like no other could, with complete mastery.  He rescued my mood from the spacey sounds of Stereolab and transformed this otherwise ordinary grape into a wine with structure, complexity and balance – giant steps indeed!

Star Trek the Movie, a Disappointment

Start Trek Admit

I am not a trekkie, but I am a fan of the original TV series.  And as a fan of the original series, I have to say the movie Star Trek fell short of my expectations.  Sure it was entertaining – plenty of bone shaking special effects and intense action scenes.  Seeing the young crew of the Enterprise working together on their “first mission” brought back fond memories of watching the show in syndication for many years.  However, I was disappointed in the historical inaccuracies peppered throughout the film, which made me think the writers never bothered to study the original series.

Star Trek technology and the companion soundscape from the original series always fascinated me:  the swishing sound of the doors automatically opening and closing;  the hypnotic hum of space travel, with a complete repertoire of sound effects for the ships computers and all the interesting and innovative gadgets and medical devices.  The movie had lots of sound effects, but mostly to accompany the action, not the technology.  The technology I would have expected was curiously absent, or so modernized as to be undetectable.  No tricorder on board?  And what about the food replicator, and the universal translator  – are these technologies too old school? And three dimensional chess – couldn’t there have been at least one game? The film featured an updated transporter operated with a joystick and a computer screen.  Fascinating, but what happened to the sliding controls of the mixing board for beaming up the landing party?

The actors were mostly cast well and played their parts admirably.  “Bones” McCoy though was unconvincing – too tall and calm…no “damnit man” but he did call Spock a “greenblooded hobgoblin”.  Unfortunately, the script seemed to veer off course, especially the romance that developed between Uhura and Spock, which would have been unlikely in the original series given the ritualized mating traditions of Spock’s Vulcan heritage to which he was bound.   The script strayed further off course by suggesting the Enterprise was Kirk’s first “assignment”.  I won’t divulge the plot details, but should point out that a quick bio check on James T. Kirk reveals that he was actually assigned to two ships prior to the Enterprise and that in the original series, there is no mention of a training mission, on which the movie is based.   And young Chekov is portrayed with such a thick accent that the voice recognition system can’t even understand him.   Not funny – if you want funny, see the Star Trek spoof film Galaxy Quest.  In the original series, Chekov was known more for his hot temper and fierce Russian pride, which led him to comment once that “scotch was invented by an old lady from Leningrad”.

And what happened to Shatner?  Did he not approve of the movie citing artistic differences?  Nimoy does the voice over for “Space, the final frontier….” stealing Kirk’s lines.  Blasphemous!

I did enjoy the film, but ultimately reject the arrogant notion that after all these years, the producers have the right to invent a story that does not jibe with the history of the original show.   The main plot line was weak – not nearly as interesting as any of the TV episodes; the action scenes were over the top; the romantic subplot, simply silly and out of place; and the nuances of technology that made the show in the words of Spock, “fascinating”, were sadly absent.

The Samsung Instinct – Quirky But Hip

Instinct

Anybody got a Samsung Instinct?  It’s not a car, but not a bad name for one.  Imagine, a car that drives itself.  Log in the GPS coordinates and hands free driving!  Text to your heart’s delight.  Read the newspaper or a book.  Blog!

The Samsung Instinct is a phone very much like an iPhone.  In fact, it wishes it were.  But is the iPhone really an iPhone?  Shouldn’t it be an aPhone – I mean if the i stands for Internet, what does that have to do with the iPod, for example – true, you can buy tunes off the Internet, but folks buy the iPod to listen to tunes and the iPhone for a whole lot more than browse the Internet. The real IPhone is the Instinct – and it’s cheaper too…but it is a bit quirky and takes a little time to get to know.

I hate manuals and refuse to read them.  If a gadget is not intuitive, I can’t be bothered.  I don’t want training or to talk to customer service.  Fortunately, true to its name, the Instinct is an intuitive device.

The Instinct can do pretty much what the iPhone does.  It has a sensitive touchscreen for tap and scroll.   You can take and store tons of tunes, pictures and videos.  You can watch TV and listen to the radio or groove to your favorite music if you are so inclined.   The thing comes loaded with games and cool apps, that I have not yet tried.  It comes with GPS, a calendar, lots of clocks – an alarm, a stopwatch and timer plus a world clock.  And of course you can access the Internet, make phone calls at the touch of a contact and text.  Cool device, but it has its flaws.

the camera….takes snaps at 2 megapixels but the sharpness of the images leave a lot to be desired. I suspect the lens is cheap – certainly nothing approaching the quality of lens you can find in today’s digital cameras.   You trade quality for convenience.

the stylus…I don’t know why they have to call it a stylus.  When I think of a stylus, I think of a record player.  The thing comes with a stick as far as I’m concerned for tapping and scrolling.  If you lose it, like I did, you have to use your fingers and this is problematic for two reasons:  1) fingerprints on the touchscreen, which dull the view and require constant wiping away and 2) tapping cleanly on links is next to impossible with a fingernail.  You could use a pen or just about anything else, but the stylus apparently protects the screen and is  made for tapping links.

happy scroll…the scroll is so sensitive, with one flick of your finger it’ll scroll to the last name in your contact book…but if you don’t apply the right pressure, it will open a random contact and dial the number.

phantom dialing…after you’ve made a call, if you don’t press the button to turn off your display, essentially putting your phone in sleep mode, and then put the phone in your pocket, the phone could dial a random contact because it would still be in scroll mode in your address book.   Also, if you aren’t careful, the random person you have no idea you dialed, could hear everything you say (almost as if you were miked) either at the other end of the line, or as a message you unwittingly record.  All a bit bizarre.

music player…stores tons of tunes, but plays them back at a lower volume level than you might like.  The only solution is to buy a decent pair of headphones; makes all the difference.  I suggest a pair of Sennheiser earbuds.

Despite these flaws, I like the Instinct.  It does all I need it to do at a fraction of the cost of an iPhone.  If you’re in the market for a phone, check out the Instinct – it’s quirky, but hip and true to its name.

Boone’s Farm – My Introduction to Wine

Boone's FarmDo you remember the Emerson Lake and Palmer song, From the Beginning? Great tune and brings back memories of my first forays into the world of wine, well if you can call it that.  From the beginning,  I would only buy bottles with twist off caps, Boone’s Farm, a wine I once thought had been brewed out in the boones in some barn.  I never liked it much but at the time, I didn’t know how to extract a cork, so it was either Boone’s Farm, Reunite Lambrusco or the Pink stuff in the box.   But even the corkless Franzia carton intimidated me with its potentially leaky extractable tap.

MateusOn the homefront, the parentals usually had a bottle of Blue Nun or Mateus in the fridge, decidely unhip wines that I secretly respected because of the cork.  The Mateus vessle looked like an antique vase or an industrial sized bottle of aftershave – a deluxe edition of Brut.

My first experience with a decent wine came in the mid 80’s when a quick scan of the radio waves would have revealed a still youthful but maturing REM and yet another U2 mega hit.  One evening I got together with some friends at a wine bar.  I made the mistake of sitting at the head of the table.  Someone ordered a bottle, nothing too fancy, but corked – that is to say, not screw capped.  Our sommelier adroitly extracted the cork,  set it on the table next to my hand and poured a little wine in my glass.  If the truth be told, I’d have preferred a beer; I still had a dreadful Boone’s Farm aftertaste in my mind even after all those years removed – or maybe it was Riunte Lambrusco, I couldn’t be sure.  Anyway, I thought it was nice of the wine steward to serve me first, but what about the others?  After a long and awkward pause, my cultured friend who had ordered the wine mumbled something about the cork and taking a sip.  I turned as red as the wine in my glass, picked up the cork, looked at it to acknowledge that it indeed was a cork, and downed the wine like a shot of whiskey.  The sommelier with a napkin delicately drapped around his arm stood staring at me and I was thinking – what…does he want a tip?   And all I could think to say was “thanks”.  And then he walked away.  My friends were rolling in laughter and I was like, “what”?