About webnerbob

A Cleveland and Ohio State sports fan who lives in Columbus, Ohio

Peter Tork, R.I.P.

There are news reports today that Peter Tork, one of the members of the musical group the Monkees, has died.  Tork was 77, but for those of us of a certain generation — including me — he’ll always be remembered as he was as a young guy, when he was one of the four stars of the TV show The Monkees and part of the band that produced lots of hit singles and albums during the ’60s.

gettyimages-530242673-e1550770849823The Monkees were the first designer musical group, carefully crafted to appeal to a mainstream TV audience, a mainstream musical audience, and the teenyboppers who bought magazines like Tiger Beat.  They borrowed some of the antics that the Beatles popularized in movies like A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, and the four members of the group followed a pretty rote formula.  There was the cute one (Davy Jones), the quirky smart one (Mike Nesmith), and the zany, funny ones (Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork).  In the TV shows, Peter Tork seemed to be the happy-go-lucky Monkee who always got into goofy predicaments and took the comedic pratfalls.

I liked Peter Tork then, and I’m not ashamed to say that I liked the Monkees and their records, too.  I still do, in fact, and I’ve got a bunch of their songs on my iPod — including Tork’s big song, Your Auntie Grizelda, complete with its odd sound effects and fuzz guitar.  Who cares if the Monkees didn’t play all of the instruments themselves?  The songs were classic examples of ’60s flower power music that still stand the test of time.

It’s sad when figures from your childhood pass on, because it just makes you feel old.  Rest in peace, Peter Tork.  You’ll live on in your music and our fond memories of an innocent TV show from days gone by.

Advertisements

Reining In Excessive Fines

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — which states that “[e]xcessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted” — imposes limits on the abilities of state and local governments to seize assets and property and impose financial penalties.  And the Court’s ruling applying the “excessive fines” clause of the amendment to state and local governments was a unanimous one, which is a welcome development in our era of increasingly divided politics.

gettyimages-1066751830The case involved an Indiana man who was arrested for selling several hundred dollars’ worth of heroin, had his $42,000 Range Rover seized as part of the process — even though the maximum fine for his crime was $10,000 — and sued to get his car back.  The Indiana Supreme Court ruled that the “excessive fines” clause of the Eighth Amendment did not apply to the states, even though the “excessive bail” and “cruel and unusual punishment” clauses have long been applied to the states.  The Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, disagreed.

The decision yesterday addresses a significant real world issue — namely, how far can states and local governments go in imposing monetary penalties and seizing property from people who violate the law . . . or, in some cases, are only accused of violating the law.  Because raising taxes isn’t popular with voters, state and local governments have increasingly looked to aggressive forfeiture practices to fund part of their operations.  Briefs filed in the Supreme Court noted that more than half of municipal and county agencies who participated in a survey said reliance on forfeiture profits was a “necessary” part of their budgets, and that, in 2017, 10 million people owed more than $50 billion in criminal fines, fees and forfeitures. And the aggressive penalties aren’t limited to drug offenses.  One brief in the Supreme Court, for example, described how a $100 ticket for a red-light violation in California results in another $390 in fees.

In holding that the excessive fines clause applies to the states and local governments, Justice Ginsberg noted that “[e]xorbitant tolls undermine other constitutional liberties,” and added:  “Excessive fines can be used, for example, to retaliate against or chill the speech of political enemies. . . . Even absent a political motive, fines may be employed in a measure out of accord with the penal goals of retribution and deterrence.”

Now that the states know that they can’t impose excessive fines, it will be up to the courts to determine whether the aggressive property forfeiture and fining practices, like the seizure of the Range Rover, are “excessive” or not.  We’ll have to see how that works out, but for now it’s nice to know that Americans have another constitutional protection against potentially overreaching governmental actions.

The Winter That Wouldn’t Leave

Last night we received breathless reports of another winter storm “bearing down” on the hapless residents of the Midwest.  I groaned when I heard them.  The winter storms always seem to be presented as evilly “bearing down,” as if they are a malevolent living thing bent on doing us harm and moving intentionally in furtherance of that goal, rather than the random product of atmospheric conditions, ocean currents, the tilt of the Earth’s axis, solar flares, butterfly wings, and other unthinking variables that produce what we know as weather.

Sure enough, this morning, when I woke up and looked out the front door, an inch or so of snow had already fallen and large, heavy snowflakes were pelting down like raindrops and accumulating rapidly.  Sirens sounded in the distance because — of course — the latest winter storm just had to hit Columbus on the front edge of rush hour, when it could cause maximum disruption and havoc and misery for the unfortunate souls commuting to work.

Maybe there really is something to this “bearing down” stuff.  Maybe a Midwestern winter really is a living thing that just wants to hang on, like the unwelcome guest that wouldn’t leave, and make us cold and wet and drippy and put us in an ugly funk for as long as it can.

When another winter storm hits on February 20, you can’t help but think grim, gray thoughts.  You wonder when it will finally end, and we’ll finally — or ever — get to see the blossoms and green shoots of spring.

The Simple Pleasures Of Hooked Handles

I’ve got a black office umbrella, and a black house umbrella, so I’m covered — literally — whether it’s raining when I’m leaving the office and heading for home or when I’m leaving home and heading for the office.  For my little system to work, though, I have to remember to take the umbrella back to its “home,” rain or shine.

gold-umbrella-handle-flatThat means it’s not unusual for me to be walking one way or the other with a closed-up and snapped shut umbrella that isn’t being used to shield me from the rain.  And that means that, on those brief journeys, I get to enjoy some “hook time,” where I can use the umbrella’s hooked handle to twirl the umbrella windmill style, trying to do so a la Gene Kelly in Singin’ In The Rain, or carry it on my forearm, like a proper British gentleman, or use it as a cane and tap the sidewalk as I go along.  The hook is crucial to such maneuvers and my innocent fun, and I got to wondering:  when and why did umbrellas start to be manufactured with hooked handles?

According to The Gentleman’s Gazette, the hooked handle was added to the umbrella design in the 17th century.  That website explains:  “The curvature of the handle was intended to allow a servant to easily hold the umbrella at an angle to shield their employer. Although we primarily use this handle today as a method of hanging the umbrella from the arm, it still maintains its original practicality for doormen style umbrellas used by valets and doormen throughout much of the world. In fact, even in American cities like New York, it’s widely considered inappropriate for a doorman not to be prepared with a large canopy for those entering or exiting the premises.”

I’m not sure whether the servant explanation is historically accurate, but it’s certainly plausible, as anybody who has had to position their umbrella at an angle to brace it against the wind on a gusty day can attest.  It’s a lot more comfortable to do so with a hooked handle than a straight handle, because the hooked handle really allows you to get a firm grip.  But if the hooked handle was invented for that utilitarian purpose, it’s certainly provided other important benefits that perhaps weren’t fully appreciated in those pre-Singin’ In The Rain days.

Beggars can’t be choosers, and if I’m caught somewhere during an unexpected rainstorm I’ll use any umbrella to keep the rain off.  But if I’ve got a choice, give me an umbrella with a hook.

Cannabusiness

Cannabis sativa — the name of the plant species that includes marijuana and industrial hemp — seems to have gone mainstream in modern America.

When I was walking through LaGuardia Airport last week for my flight back to Columbus, I passed a shop that featured the above advertisement for cannabis sativa seed oil, as an “herbal fix for problem skin” with “100% naturally derived ingredients.”  And Kish and I have been to parties where people our age have knowledgeably and seriously discussed the claimed health benefits of cannabis-infused oils and creams for conditions like sore shoulders and aching backs.  For years, people who have pushed for legalization have claimed that the plant could produce many different types of useful products — and now it seems those claims are being realized.

If cannabis products are being accepted by the masses for skin care and health care purposes, it’s a pretty good indicator that cannabis has become big business.  In America, there aren’t many product areas that are bigger than skin care and health care.

David Copperfield And Historical Fiction

I’ve been steadily moving through David Copperfield — ignoring the Norton Critical Edition/Penguin Classics footnotes and bric a brac — and I’ve been grabbed by the story.  I’m at the point where young Master Davy has been kicked out of his pleasant and loving house, after his widowed mother unwisely married a mean man who brought along his equally mean spinster sister, and has been sent to a brutish boarding school.  I’m interested in finding out what happens to this poor kid.

charles-dickens-9274087-2-rawThe prose in David Copperfield is dense, with tiny typeface that wreaks havoc on my 60-year-old eyes, but it’s an interesting read.  In the book Charles Dickens provides lots of descriptive information about the world surrounding young Davy, and pointed social commentary in the guise of the innocent observations of the naive and trusting Davy in his childish years.  I’m finding that I am enjoying those passages as much as the passages that advance the narrative arc of the novel.

I’ve always enjoyed good historical fiction, because along with the story it conveys information about life in a different time and place, with different rules of conduct, different issues, and different social mores.  David Copperfield is like historical fiction in that it provides a fascinating window into England during the Victorian period, with its distinctive culture and social strata.  And in some ways David Copperfield is better than modern historical fiction, because it was written at the time, by someone who was actually there, observing in real time the details of a world and its people that have long since vanished.  Of course, there’s no doubt that Dickens, like any good novelist, has thrown in some exaggeration for the sake of the story, but I have no doubt that his depiction of the harshness of British boarding schools, for example, with barbaric, ignorant masters eager to use the rod to beat an education into their youthful charges, is based on more than a few kernels of truth.

I don’t know how well Dickens novels are selling these days and whether they are flying off library shelves, but I wonder if booksellers and librarians wouldn’t be well advised to pitch Dickens not as something that must be read to establish your intellectual bona fides, but rather as an interesting read for the historical fiction lovers of the world.

Debunking Drinking Wisdom

Shortly after I passed the legal drinking age and started drinking adult beverages, I first heard the aphorism “wine, then beer, and have no fear.”  Some years later, I heard the flip side:  “beer, then wine, and I feel fine.”  The idea behind each of the sayings — which are seemingly contradictory, in case you hadn’t noticed — was that if you sequenced what you drank, you could avoid a hangover.

wineandbeerAre either of the sayings true?

No, of course not . . . and now a study has confirmed it.  Researchers from the Witten/Herdecke University in Germany and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom — two countries, incidentally, that are very serious about their wine and beer — studied whether the sequence in which alcoholic beverages are consumed might affect how people who overindulge feel the next day.  One group drank beer, then wine, and another drank wine, then beer.  A third, control group drank only one or the other.

The study found that the drinking sequence made no difference in the hangover impact.  One of the researchers explained: “The truth is that drinking too much of any alcoholic drink is likely to result in a hangover. The only reliable way of predicting how miserable you’ll feel the next day is by how drunk you feel and whether you are sick. We should all pay attention to these red flags when drinking.”  (No kidding!)

And get this:  another of the researchers makes the dubious argument that hangovers actually can have positive effects.  He stated: “Unpleasant as hangovers are, we should remember that they do have one important benefit, at least: They are a protective warning sign that will certainly have aided humans over the ages to change their future behavior. In other words, they can help us learn from our mistakes.”  Boy, scientists are perverse, aren’t they?

I’d never argue that hangovers are a good thing, but I do know this — any perceived folk wisdom about drinking that rhymes and is capable of being remembered after a few drinks probably isn’t that wise after all.