Saturday, December 31, 2005

Saratoga getting BLOTTO on New Year's Eve

by Thomas Dimopoulos

SARATOGA SPRINGS – They will be forever known in Capital Region folklore
as Bowtie, Broadway, F. Lee Harvey and Sarge – the four surviving members of the band known as Blotto - making a rare local appearance Saturday Night, taking the stage at the
City Center on New Year’s Eve.

The show marks the band’s first live appearance in five months, and only the second performance of the year. You would think some pretty extensive preparations have been underway.

“Rehearsals?!? You must be joking,” laughed Sarge Blotto with a big, hearty chortle worthy of Santa Claus himself.

“I think our last rehearsal was about four years ago. That ought to be good enough to last us for the next 10 years or so,” he reckoned.

Bowtie Blotto was in agreement.

“We used to rehearse, but really, we do a lot of ad-libbing and goofing off,” offered the band’s Detroit-born rhythm guitarist.

“When it comes to playing on stage, we’re pretty selective,” Bowtie said. “We don’t play
a lot so it has to be a gig we really care about. Going out and playing makes you remember
how much fun it always was.”

The group’s origins date back more than 30 years when they performed as the early 70s acoustic group The Star Spangled Washboard Band.

Today, Sarge is a music journalist, Bowtie works as a software manager, and Broadway
lives on Long Island, working as a counselor for troubled youths.
Bass player Cheese Blotto died in 1999.

Saturday night’s lineup will include Hammerhead, Clyde, and long-time member F. Lee Harvey Blotto, who will be making the trip in from Massachusetts where has his own law office, specializing in intellectual property law.

Lee Harvey’s connection to the band spanning more than a generation has made for some humorous moments in his professional life.

“In my law practice I would be in the middle of negotiations with another attorney.
All of a sudden, they would lean over and say: ‘Look man, I know who you are," laughs the drummer-ing lawyer. “They would remember seeing you at some college, or maybe during a show when I was dressed as Karen Carpenter.”

Above all perhaps, Blotto will be remembered as the ultimate party band.

“That’s what makes us a great New Year’s Eve band,” Sarge said. “The Blotto concept was always about the party. Back in our heyday we would have beach parties, pajama parties, and those Halloween parties which were called Blottoween,” said Sarge, who has performed onstage as everything from Dracula and Alfred E. Newman, to Elvis, while clothed in a rhinestone-studded jumpsuit.

There was also one year when he donned a blue dress with white polka dots, a blonde wig, and spent a considerable amount of time shaving his legs before taking the stage at a roller
rink, that would later become JB Scott’s Theater.

“That year we went dressed as the Go-Go’s,” he says, “and I went as Belinda Carlisle. If you’re not enjoying yourself on stage, how can you expect anyone in the audience to have fun?” he asks.

Performing New Year’s Eve is unusual enough — “You can’t just roll off your sofa
that one night and go out,” advises Sarge, “it’s something you’ve really got to train for
all year long” — performing on stage in Saratoga has been a long time coming for the band.

“Since the early 80s there haven’t been that many opportunities to play there,” offers Lee Harvey. “But going back to the 1970s, Saratoga is really the town of our birth,” he said.

Blotto’s formative years were a result of the late Cheese Blotto pulling together musicians to play in the back room at 17 Maple Avenue where he was bartending at the time.

The group’s independently issued debut, “Hello! My Name is Blotto.
What’s Yours?” was released in 1980. Their first full-length album “Combo Akimbo,” came out in 1982. It was a year that saw them join Blue Oyster Cult for a North American tour.

The early 80s also delivered their most popular tune, “I Wanna Be a Lifeguard.” It became one of the first videos aired on a then brand new MTV.
They also developed a following of fans at collges across the country and among people like
the quirky DJ, Dr. Demento.

It is difficult to not imagine what might have been, had fate been a little kinder. In the summer of 1977, the pre-Blotto, Star Spangled Washboard Band was set to perform a major showcase at a Manhattan club for music industry big shots. Thirty seconds into the set, the lights
went dark. It became known as the night of the New York City blackout.

Three and a half years later, Blotto was back in Manhattan scheduled to make an appearance
at the Bottom Line nightclub. The set was going to be broadcast live on radio station WNEW-FM. In preceding years, similar broadcasts hook-ups between the club and the radio station helped propel artists like Bruce Springsteen and The Police from intimate club venues
into arena and stadium acts.

The performance was slated to take place during the holiday season.

“It was Dec. 9, 1980,” recalls Bowtie. “The night before the show was when John Lennon was shot. They played Beatles and Lennon music for three days straight and the broadcast was scrapped.”

A quarter century later, there is a new compilation DVD, “Play Something Good!” that traces the band’s development since the 1970s. Included are their early music video documents “I Wanna Be a Lifeguard,” and “Metal Head.”

The latter is a heavy metal spoof that to this day includes an onstage heat-biting decapitation ritual, Blotto-style.

“Initially it started with a sweet, innocent stuffed teddy bear,” recalled Sarge,
at the center of the “Metal Head” mayhem, and appointed Blotto decapitator.

“When we toured with Blue Oyster Cult, ET was the one who bit the dust at the end of the night. And during the Cabbage Patch doll era, we used to take them out.
Now I’m back in Saratoga and I’m thinking, I’m not sure just yet who is going to get the honor. But I will say to the youngsters:
"Keep away from the front of the stage when we play ‘Metal Head.’ Your newest Christmas toy may not make it through the night!”

Consider yourself warned.

Text published in The Saratogian, Dec. 29, 2005 and
in The Community News, Dec. 30, 2005.

(New Year's Eve photos of Blotto in concert taken by Thomas Dimopoulos
at the 2,300-seat Saratoga Springs City Center, Dec. 31, 2005).

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Are they dead and gone or alive and kicking?

For those who like to get into the predicting game of which celebrity will most likely
bite the dust in the new year: a primer.
And this warning: better make sure who you think is dead is really, really dead.
Oh, and try not kill anybody along the way.

by Thomas Dimopoulos

published in The Saratogian Jan. 14 & Jan. 21, 2005

Kitty Carlisle Hart spent more than 70 years entertaining millions of people, and I killed her.

You might know her as perennial game show panelist Kitty Carlisle of 'To Tell the Truth' in the 1950s, and 'Password' and 'What's My Line?' in the '60s. She was chairwoman of the New York State Council on the Arts for 20 years, appeared alongside Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx in the 1935 film 'A Night at the Opera,' and with Will Smith in the movie 'Six Degrees of Separation,' 60 years later.

In Albany, at the Empire State Plaza, Gov. Pataki dedicated a theater to her, and here I was, killing her off.

When once highly visible celebrities fall off the pop culture radar screen, the natural assumption is to bury them. But at 94 years old, Hart is alive and well thank-you-very-much, and appearing in a cabaret performance at the Grassmere Estate in Rhinebeck on Jan. 29 as a press
release received here stated. Its arrival met with an 'I-thought-she-was-dead' moment.

Inspired by this, I thought it might be a good idea to take the pulse of some other celebrities of note and see how they're doing these days.

Larry Hagman? Alive.
Ernest Borgnine? Alive.
You may recall George Burns and Bob Hope both died shortly after celebrating respective
100th birthdays, but did you know that World Heavyweight Boxing Champion of 1930 Max Schmeling will be celebrating his centennial this year? (R.I.P. 2005). Or that Art Linkletter, Merv Griffin and Peggy Lee are still with us?

Remember Charo, the 'cuchi-cuchi' girl? Alive.
Eddie Albert? He's 97 and still going strong.
Art Carney has passed, as has game show host Gene 'Match Game' Rayburn - although Bob Eubanks of 'Newlywed Game' fame is still on the earthly plane.

OK, it's your turn.

Remember the Addams Family TV series? The show centered around the doings of Gomez (John Astin) and Morticia (Carolyn Jones) Addams, Lurch (Ted Cassidy) and Uncle Fester (Jackie Coogan)?
Of the four main characters, who is the only one still living?
John Astin, last seen touring in his one person play, 'Edgar Allan Poe - Once upon a midnight.'

Fellow TV-era goth idol Fred Gwynne (who played Herman Munster) is gone, although Grandpa 'Al Lewis' is still very much alive.

Here's another quiz: Of the seven shipwrecked members of the 'Gilligan's Island' crew, which three are gone?

Thurston and 'Lovey' Howell (Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer in real life)
and Alan 'The Skipper' Hale, Jr., all gone.

Of the 'Batman' TV series, crime-fighters Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward)
are still going at it, while bad guys The Joker (Cesar Romero), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith) and Mr. Freeze (Otto Preminger) are gone, proving perhaps, that good trumps evil - at least in
regards to longevity.

There may be something to comedians and longevity.

Compare those tortured artists of rock 'n' roll with the characters on the cheesy TV series
'The Love Boat.'

Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones and Kurt Cobain all died at the age of 27. The Love Boat squad meanwhile, is still cruising along, a cast that includes Captain Stubing (Gavin MacLeod) and Dr. Bricker (Bernie Kopell), to 'Gopher' Smith (Fred Grandy - a
member of the U.S. House of Representatives by the way) and Isaac the bartender (Ted Lange).

While New York City tough guy Lt. Theo Kojak (Telly Savalas) and real life brother George Savalas (who played Detective Stavros) are both gone, the giddy air of 'Happy Days' survives today, a cast that includes 'the Fonz' (Henry Winkler) and Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard), and Howard and Marion Cunningham (Tom Bosley and Marion Ross).

As you're making your way around the Capital Region, try not to act so surprised if you see Albany native Andy Rooney today. Don't say something like, 'Geez, you're Andy Rooney. I thought you were dead.'

Are They Dead and Gone, part II, or Peggy Lee is dead; yes, it was a test (not)

Late last Friday night an e-mail arrived here at the newspaper.

The transmittal was from a national news agency announcing the winners of an annual journalism contest, and a number of us here in the newsroom were happy to see some of our work in 2004 recognized in a national juried competition.
Photographs would be taken.

Praise would be offered and plaques mounted on walls.

So first thing Monday morning, it came as no surprise that the first face I saw entering the newsroom belonged to The Boss.

There was a funny expression gracing The Boss' face, obviously reaching for exactly the right words to express the moment.

Finally, it came: 'Peggy Lee...' said The Boss, whose eyes were a piercing stare. 'Peggy Lee ...
is dead.'

If this was an omen of what was to come, it was going to be some week.

There are hundreds of listings for Peggy Lee in the national phone book and at least half a dozen in New York state alone, but I had a pretty good idea of which Peggy Lee The Boss was referring to.

In this column last Friday, I professed with no small amazement, that Kitty Carlisle Hart was still alive - and literally kicking - after hearing of her upcoming cabaret performance at the end of January. Having not followed Hart's career in recent years, I for some reason thought she had passed, made mention of this, and apologized for killing her off.

Then I proceeded to rattle off a still alive list of other one-time famous celebrities who may have slipped under the pop culture radar in recent years.
Included among the list of the living was Peggy Lee.

The first response came from Judy of Saratoga Springs: 'It was reported today that Peggy Lee was still with us. In fact she passed away.'

A second response came from someone named Richard, 'Sorry to report, Peggy Lee has been dead since 2002.'

After doing some detective work, Sandy from Gansevoort concluded: Yes indeed, Peggy Lee is no longer among the living. Sandy added that there was something else on her mind. 'I'm wondering - was this just a test or did you make an honest mistake?'

Apparently, while prematurely sending Kitty Carlisle Hart out to pasture, I had also brought back to life singer Peggy Lee. And while this one gone/one left may equate to even-Stevens in heaven, it doesn't play well among sharp-eyed readers.

'We lost Peggy Lee a couple of years ago,' offered John from Ballston Spa, but wondered whatever happened to the 'M*A*S*H*' crew.

Since you asked John, the best I can figure is that Loretta 'Hot Lips Houlihan' Swit, and Gary 'Corporal Radar' Burghoff are still with us, as is Jamie 'Corporal Max Klinger' Farr - although it is unknown whether or not he still makes his way around the TV set wearing women's dresses.

Larry Linville, who played Dr. Frank Burns, and McLean Stevenson, who portrayed Lt. Col. Henry Blake have passed away, but Wayne Rogers ('Trapper' John McIntyre) and Alan Alda ('Hawkeye' Pierce) still dwell among the living.

The funny thing I discovered in making absolutely positively sure that Alan Alda is still alive, is that his birth name was not Alan Alda, but Alphonso D'Abruzzo.

The name-change game is almost as fun as the who's dead and who's alive.

Did you know Woody Allen's real name was Allen Konigsberg?
Or that singer Elvis Costello was born Declan McManus?

The man who would be president - Gerald R. Ford - was born Leslie Lynch King Jr.
It is hard to imagine a nameplate in the oval office that reads 'Lynch King.'

As for those clamoring for the designs of Ralph Lauren, it's fun to point out that his
birth name is Ralph Lifschitz.
Imagine the conversations: 'Nice shirt, Lif-schitz'

As for the late Peggy Lee, fans of the singer will tell you she was born with the name Norma Deloris Egstrom in Jamestown, N.D. She died three years ago, today.

Thomas Dimopoulos
The Saratogian

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Crazy Songs to think about 'till the New Year comes

Each of them comes from psychoanalytical canon of U2 :

“All That You Can’t Leave Behind.”
“Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of.”
“Walk On.”

Each transcends an emotional progression, from anguish to release, and starting with the early mother-issue expressiveness of “I Will Follow,” and continuing through the obsessive coping strategies of “Bad,” - with its “If I could, yes I would / If I could, I would / Let it go” refrain - U2’s maturity and desire are meeting one another in a healthy place.

The lesson to be learned, it seems, is in the acknowledgment that somewhere along the line we’ve lost our way (if not our minds).
With that realization as our ally, we can start working to get it back.
How we lost it, or whether we ever really had it, is something that’s been reflected in pop music for generations.

In 1965, the Rolling Stones proclaimed themselves bound for kooksville with their album “Out of Our Heads,” following it up with the frenzied guitar crunch of “19th Nervous Breakdown.”

Jimi Hendrix countered with “Manic Depression,” and The Count Five with “Psychotic Reactions.”
Ever since Willie Nelson penned the ode “Crazy” - popularized by Patsy “I Fall to Pieces” Cline - it’s been a musical free-for-all.

The insidious worm of disorder penetrated the normally resilient metallic armor of ‘70s rock monsters.
Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” the New York Dolls’ “Personality Crisis,” and Slade’s “Mama, We’re All Crazy Now,” were all affected.

It took the mellow hands of Melanie to finally confront the madness. She swatted at the beast with her folk guitar in the tune “Psychotherapy,” sung to the melody of “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah,” no less.

The Grammy Awards have honored their own list of mentally imbalanced odes.
In 1966, Wes Montgomery won Best Instrumental Jazz Performance for the song “Going Out of My Head.” The following year John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind” won for Folk Performance.

Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” garnered Album of the Year in 1975, and “A Wild And Crazy Guy” netted Steve Martin the 1978 top comedy recording.

Since the 1980s, the use of the word “crazy” has been Grammy-victorious no less than four different times, creating new fodder for The Judds (“Mama He’s Crazy”),
Metallica (“Stone Cold Crazy”), Aerosmith (“Crazy”) and TLC (“Crazysexycool”).

If all this crazy talk is making you nuts, relax. It probably bodes well for our progress as a people that our delusions, hallucinations and hyper-maniacal episodes are being transcended-
at least in Grammy world - with a nod to the healing.
Coping strategies for mental maladies are already finding a home in the pop culture marketplace by way of relaxation discs and “good mood” tapes.
Personally, I’m waiting for my Paxil Rose T-shirt.

by Thomas Dimopoulos
The Saratogian

Monday, December 26, 2005

'Earworm' infestation temporarily disables music lovers

Earworm - now they have a name for it.

You could flip through the Bruce Springsteen songbook and find some of the most memorable music of the past 30 years.
These are modern anthems, really: passion-fueled songs like ‘Born to Run,’ ‘Jungleland’ and ‘Born in the USA’; a solemn mourning of passing time in ‘Independence Day’ and ‘The River;’ the gifted prose that weaves through ‘Thunder Road;’ and the call of resurrection that inspires ‘Badlands,’ ‘No Surrender’ and the most recent issue, ‘The Rising.’

Despite the glory and portrayal of human emotion however, the most nagging and incessant delivery from The Boss’ creative arsenal comes from an otherwise forgettable tune called ‘Cadillac Ranch.’ ‘Cadillac, Cadillac,’ sings The Boss, ‘long and dark, shiny and black.’

The song has haunted me for years. I have no idea why.
It could, I suppose, be worse.

Now that the haunting phenomenon has a name - ‘earworm,’ as it has been labeled by professor James Kellaris, who has been studying it for the past three years - the appalling stories from the afflicted are beginning to see the light of day.

What person hasn’t found himself with a tune ringing obsessively in his or her head, only to find - quite horrifically - upon closer inspection that the catchy strains of the melodic intruder are the product of Abba’s schmaltzy ‘Dancing Queen’; the droning whine of Mac Davis’s ‘Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me’; or the faux funk folly of the theme song from ‘Barney Miller’?

At 8 a.m. most weekday mornings, 3-year-old Zoe Mies is seated in the back of her mom’s purple Toyota as it zooms up the Northway en route to a Clifton Park day care center. Even as Zoe’s mom, Deanna, is submerged in thoughts of recent concerts she has attended featuring head-banging favorites Queensryche and those glam-rocking noisemaking members of Kiss - she is consumed, instead, by the catchy rhythms of those four grown men in her daughter’s favorite band: The Wiggles. As Amore makes her way to the offices of this newspaper where she works, the Kiss fan is particularly smitten with a Wiggles’ tune called ‘Fruit Salad.’ As in ‘Fruit salad. Yummy, yummy.’

‘It’s a catchy tune,’ Amore insists.

Fellow co-worker Julie Joly says she notices an equally mystifying batch of tunes playing in the heavy rotation list of her mind.

‘I get Frank Sinatra songs stuck in my head all the time,’ the Bon Jovi fan admits, perplexed by the notion.
‘It’s not like I’m even a Sinatra fan. They just get stuck in my head, and I can’t get them out.’
A quick study of the newsroom reveals that pretty much no one is spared the invasion of these unwanted tunes that somehow get lodged in the subconscious.

Society columnist Jeannette Jordan confesses to a long-running duel with Andy Williams’ rendition of ‘Moon River.’
‘The only way I can get rid of it,’ Jordan says, ‘is by going to bed.’

Assistant copy editor Anne Orgren ‘fesses up to a lifelong infestation by the theme song from the ‘Odd Couple’ TV show. The song’s sticking power, she says, is approached only by tunes from the movie ‘Chicago,’ which jazzed up her life for two consecutive weeks after she watched the DVD.

Award-winning staff photographer Ed Burke, normally on the quiet side, becomes quite animated when relating the two-song soundtrack of his private hauntings.
‘One is the song ‘Midnight at the Oasis,’’ Burke says, before launching into the verse of the second tune: ‘Her name is Lola / She was a show girl.’

Intern Rachel Arnheiter admits to her own hopelessness with Chingy’s tune ‘Right Thurr’ and Black-Eyed Peas’ ‘Where is the Love.’ She has attempted ridding herself of the offending verses with a novel approach: by sharing them with friends. So far, however, the results have not been good.
‘They get real angry at me,’ she says, after she puts the tunes in her friends’ heads. ‘Sometimes, they even hate me for it.’ Two desks over, Amore thinks some retribution is in order and shares some hideously infectious tunes of her own.
Innocent bystanders quickly plug their ears and cringe in terror as she rains down with a chorus from the obnoxious television jingle ‘Mama’s got the magic of Clorox bleach.’ Perhaps the cruelest thing about the tunes that inexplicably inhabit the inner spittle of a person’s brain is that in most cases the songs are unwelcome.

Imagine people raised in the 1970s on the Sex Pistols’ ‘Pretty Vacant’ and ‘Garageland’ by The Clash having to suddenly, and quite horrifically, be forced to endure songs like ‘Turn the Beat Around’ and ‘Do The Hustle’ inside their Day-Glo streaked and spiky domes.
One tune is bad enough, but stereo images provide their own little slice of hell. A particularly frightening occurrence, one yet to undergo study, is what happens when two songs occur simultaneously. All that musical sampling in the last 15 years has to have had some repercussions.

It begs the question: What do you do if Rick James’ ‘Superfreak’ suddenly segues with MC Hammer’s ‘U Can’t Touch This’?
Even more perplexing is what to make of the catchy backward looping phrases of Missy Elliott’s ‘Work It,’ where the chorus is literally ‘Ti esrever dna ti pilf nwod gniht eht tup I,’ (‘I put the thing down flip it and reverse it,’ in reverse, y’all).

Needing someone to set the record straight, I paid a visit to Walt Wallen, manager of Last Vestige music shop on Broadway. I have known Walt for nearly a decade, and can vouch for the fact that he has been blessed by an entire planet of music that has passed through his ears, from some obscure indie garage band that you just gotta hear, to aboriginal didgeridoo-playing funk-bluegrass mix in the dunes of Australia.

‘What kind of music gets stuck in your head?’ this musical man of the world was asked.
And I swear to you, he stood up tall, spread his denim-clad arms and bellowed: ‘Aye-Aye-Aye / I’m hooked on a feeling/ I’m high on believing ...’
I left him standing in front of a vintage Rolling Stones in London 1965 poster, and headed out to the cold Broadway drizzle, from which he could still be heard way across the street launching into a medley of earworm anthems, the last of which went ‘867-5309.’ So it was onto Caroline Street, and into Matt McCabe’s guitar palace, where McCabe said he is not particularly haunted by unfavorable tunes.

‘Maybe it’s because I look at music from the creative point of view of a musician,’ he said, surrounded by guitars hanging from above.
The staff does engage in some verbal play that has to do with the old Paul Simon song ‘50 Ways to leave your Lover’ and an employee named Leigh.
‘I’ll say something like ‘Pick up the key, Leigh, set yourself free,’ and then we’ll play around with those lyrics,’ McCabe says.
Next thing anybody knows, those catchy little phrase turners from Rhymin’ Simon are being flung around: ‘Hop on the bus, Gus/Slip out the back, Jack/Make a new plan, Stan ...’ While McCabe claims he is unaffected, he’ll go home humming the tune, much to the chagrin of his wife, who will unknowingly pick it up.
‘It will stick with her for days,’ he says. ‘And boy, does she get made at me.’ Just as everything finally seemed to come to a silent calm, McCabe unexpectedly busted out his best Frankie Valli falsetto: ‘’Who loves you pretty baby/Who’s gonna get you through the night.’

Now there’s a catchy tune,’ he said, his voice filling all of Caroline Street even as it mixed with the cool wind, the sweet rain and the gruff harmonies pouring from Broadway where Walt was on either the eighth or ninth chorus of ‘867-5309.’ A car roared around the corner, opened its engines and tore up the street.

It was a Cadillac, long and tall, shiny and black.

by Thomas Dimopoulos
The Saratogian

Revelations along the long and winding road

It was deep into the black night, the end days of the old year.

I was driving the long road originally cut by American colonists in 1783, a route which took a considerably longer time by foot or horse in those early days of America.

It was a night to burn the past and, in those pre-dawn hours, to toast the future. And except for some unfortunate emergency, an hour that no good reason would exist for roaring up the old road. You would think.

The drive was harshly interrupted by a pair of beaming headlights making their appearance in the rearview mirror. Not the bright beams mind you, but bright enough to interrupt a peaceful journey filled with meditations of regrets and resolutions.


An act that hovers near the top of my personal hate list, particularly when the one-lane road pretty much guarantees everyone gets to the same place at the same time. So while engaged in an entertaining driving game of speeding up and slowing down at precise intervals -
a guaranteed way to aggravate and retaliate against The Tailgater - it seemed to be a logical task to add to the beginning of the year's list of resolutions.

The problem with previous New Year's resolutions is they are always seeking something less: reduce calories, stop drinking, lose weight, quit smoking. This year, I want more.
More fun. More time. More money. More, more, more.

From filmmakers I want more creative plots. From the theater, more creative characters. I would like more variety in radio programming and a summer-filled musical celebration at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, where at least some of the bands haven't left their best work in the Richard Nixon era.
From broadcast television, I would just be satisfied with anything new at all.

As part of these wishes, I would also like to gain some clarity on some of the things I don't understand. I can't comprehend a president with poor grammar, particularly after receiving degrees from both Yale and Harvard.

I don't understand the chunk in the middle of the country with all those so-called red states.
I need someone to explain to me why abortion is murder, but state-sponsored killing is not.
I don't understand how it is possible to shrug your shoulders and say that it's all part of God's Master Plan.

I just don't get reality TV and I don't understand tailgating at midnight. But at least here, I have a solution.

I am having a mirror installed in my rear window, three-feet wide and one foot high that will be angled downward facing out the back of the car. Any startling beams of light seeking to invade the space will reflect right back to their owners and anyone driving within five feet of the trunk will see a mirrored reflection of themselves.

I am also going to have one of those little inscriptions engraved on the side of the glass that says something like: 'Warning. Objects in mirror may be dumber than they appear.'

It won't change the world, but it's a start.

by Thomas Dimopoulos
The Saratogian

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Smoke Signals: Status quo message from the Vatican?

White smoke poured from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel.

From St. Peter's Square came the clanging of the bells. The television cameras broadcasting images from the Vatican allowed millions to be fixated on the orange-shingled roof of the chapel where the chimney stands.

In the moment that German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was taking the name of Pope Benedict XVI, Saratoga Springs bloomed beneath a beautiful blue sky. It was just after noon, and things were pretty much business as usual.

In Congress Park, a group of young boys watched the tallest of their group inch his way up the fountain of the Congress Spring, then just as quickly recoil with a face masked in distaste at the mineral water.

At the Church of St. Peter's, standing at the same spot on Broadway since 1853, all was quiet. The music from the bars along Caroline Street poured into the street. And on Broadway, a man slapped rhythms on his bongos beneath a flag restored to its high post two weeks after President Bush ordered it be flown at half staff following the death of Pope John Paul II.

Slowly, the news began circulating among people in the street, the sidewalks filled with pedestrians clutching their cell phones, saying: 'Did'ya hear? They picked a new pope.'

'I think it's fabulous,' said Teresa Califano, enjoying a Cherry Garcia ice cream cone. She described herself as a Roman Catholic and, while expressing an interest to learn more about the German cardinal, she was comfortable with leaving the selection of Ratzinger to those who do the choosing.

'The cardinals elected him for a reason,' she offered. 'It has to be a good reason that he was selected.'

Another offered up similar faith to those who do the selecting. 'He is the one that God chose,' she said. 'So he is my pope.'

For a number of Catholics and non-Catholics alike, the church's views on issues of birth control, abortion, homosexuality and women's issues are impenetrable roadblocks that no bridge can gap.

'I work with foster children, with people that need a lot of help,' Lori Gilmartin said. 'But they don't look at those people. They care more about a person's sexuality than they do about social issues and those kids.'

There was a gathering of many faiths from different corners of the world a few weeks ago as the final goodbyes were being said to Pope John Paul II, despite strong disagreements from many regarding the church's views on social issues.

In retrospect, the accomplishment of bringing together such a diverse gathering of tribes seems to be a testament to the abilities of the late pope as an inspiring force for the people, rather than the notion of a religion-and-dogma unification of sorts.

The newly elected pope, if we can believe what we have heard, is a status quo kind of guy. The rules have stayed the same and, where public opinion is concerned, everyone seems to be quickly retreating back into line.

If there is something to be remembered in all of this, it is that the inspiration of the people doesn't comes from the color of the smoke, but, like politics in the 21st century, from whichever way the wind may blow.

by Thomas Dimopoulos
The Saratogian, originally published April 22, 2005