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Category: Random Musings

Grab-bag of Craneish goodies

Yoikes! It’s been way too long since I posted something here. Work has been crazy recently. As you know, I work as a labor union organizer, and that’s not a 9 to 5 job. I worked every night last week, and almost every night this week (in addition to every day).

Despite all that, I have had a bit of time to read, watch and listen to some cool stuff. In the reading department: I just checked out Scurvy Dogs, a pirate comic written by Andrew Boyd and Ryan Yount. The premise? Classic pirates (Yar! and all that) try to get jobs and find love in the modern city. It’s hilarious, and the preceeding description can’t hope to do it justice. Get it today. You can thank me later.

I also had a conversation in my local comic shop (Comics, Etc.) the other day about the big crossovers of the 1980s. I was buying some back issues to fill in my collection of DC’s Millennium crossover, and the guys and I got to talking about how “the kids these days are reading Infinite Crisis without ever having read the original Crisis On Infinite Earths.” Before I go on, I’d just like to reiterate: I’m married, and I’ve fathered two children. Thank you.

The point is that some of those old crossovers were really hip. OK, they were also shameless attempts to get you to drop a whole month’s allowance in one trip to the comic shop, but still…

In defense of “these kids today,” the big comics companies (DC and Marvel, primarily) haven’t made it easy to get into the back-catalog material. It seems like they reset their entire universes about every six months, and most of the changes that take place in the big crossovers don’t last. Robin died — now he’s back. Superman died — he’s back, too. In Millennium, the parents and friends of many of the DC universe’s biggest heroes were revealed to be Manhunters bent on destroying the universe. All those people are still in their respective comics, and it’s as if the whole Millennium series never happened. Oy!

On the listening tip: My friend Otto Bruno is host of the fantastic Sunday Music Festa program on my favorite jazz station, Jazz90.1. He recently loaded me up with more than 400 episodes of the Jack Benny radio show from the 1930s and 1940s. I’ve been collecting old radio shows since I was a kid. This was quite a haul! I’ve been listening to them in cronological order. I’m still in 1933. It’s great to hear Jack make jokes about current events, just like Letterman or Leno (except funny, unlike the latter example). For example, one 1933 monologue contained jokes about Greta Garbo, King Kong, and Gandhi. That’s right, Gandhi. The sound quality is all over the place on these recordings, but they’re a priceless snapshot of that time. You can check out a big collection of Old-Time Radio mp3 CDs at

Back to the reading list for a moment: In combination with these radio shows, I’m reading a biography of Jack Benny written by his wife, Mary Livingstone, with the help of her brother (and former Benny writer) Hilliard Marks. It’s a fun read, and a touching look at the life of a great entertainer. As far as I know, it’s long out of print. I found a first edition of it this week at the Yankee Peddler Bookshop here in Rochester, NY.

Finally, the watching list. Jen and I have been catching up on the TV show Scrubs. My sister gave Jen the first two seasons for her birthday and Xmas. It amazes me that a show this good even made it on to TV, let alone that it has survived for several years. Brilliant!

A final note: If you’d like to know more about my family than you could ever imagine, you can head over to The Flanders Family Blog and download the latest edition of Flanders Family News, the monthly newsletter I publish. Enjoy!

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Stardust (the NASA mission, not the ballad)

In the interest of full disclosure, I want you to know what kind of nerd you’re dealing with when you visit this Web site. In 1998, NASA put out a call for names to be inscribed onto two microchips that would go into space on the Stardust mission. Stardust was NASA’s first attempt to fly through a comet and collect a sample.

Jen and I were living in Japan at the time, and I submitted my name. I made it on Chip #2! That still thrills me, and I realize what that implies, so you don’t need to bring it up. There were actually two sets of chips — one set that would fly through the comet and return with the sample-collecting spacecraft, and another set that would stay out in space forever.

Early this morning, Stardust returned to Earth. Welcome back, and bring on the science!

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Hatin’ on comic books

Back in the 80’s, my favorite part of any week was a trip to the now-defunct Top Shelf Comics in Victor, NY, to spend my tiny allowance on comic books. My cousin hooked me on comics when I was a wee lad in the late 70’s, and I stayed hooked for about a decade. Back in the day, my faves were Batman and The Man Called Nova. Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of Nova. You’re not alone.

When I moved back to the Rochester area five years ago, I started going to Comics Etc. in Village Gate, the best comics store in the area. I read Sandman and a bit of Preacher and a few others, but I stopped after a while.

About a year ago, I fell off the No Comics Wagon again — even going so far as to set up a weekly reserve list at Comics, Etc. That means that the fine folks at CE pull a bunch of comics for me every week, and I troop in every Wednesday to pick them up. I’m hooked again.

I’m not sure why I’m enjoying comic books so much these days, but I’m definitely recapturing some of the excitement I felt when I was a kid. There are a lot of great comics out there these days, although most of them seem to be outside the normal superhero realm. Here are a few I’ve been reading recently:

  • Fell
  • DMZ
  • Local
  • Batman
  • Detective Comics
  • Ex Machina
  • Tom Strong
  • Chicanos
  • Daredevil
  • Fear Agent
  • Ferro City
  • Godland

I’m reading more than that, but the memory ain’t what it used to be.

Turns out that my love of podcasting dovetails nicely with my new funnybook passion. And one of the best comic book podcasts out there is The Comic Book Haters. Two guys from New Jersey who spend 30 minutes every couple days hatin’ or lovin’ (but mostly hatin’) a particular issue of some comic book. Sloofus digs comics, Schooly G hates ’em. They’ve done a dozen-plus episodes so far, and you’d be doing yourself a favor to check them out. NOTE: If you’re easily offended, beware. However, if you’re easily offended, we probably don’t run in the same circles, and you’re probably not reading this blog. ANOTHER NOTE: You can subscribe to The Comic Book Haters podcast through iTunes, too, using this link. If you drop the guys a note, tell them you heard about them at Enjoy!

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A message from one of Abundance Co-op’s new board members

Tonight I was elected to the board of Abundance Cooperative Market. Abundance is a shareholder-owned co-op. In other words, it’s owned by the folks who shop at the store. The co-op has a general manager, but the policies and practices of the co-op are governed by the board, on which I now sit.

I’ve written before about Abundance, and about the idea of shopping locally. The Abundance Co-op is modeling a better world, and I ran for the board to help protect that cooperative system. The store turned its first profit this year, and as it grows, it’s vital that we remain true to the principles on which the co-op was founded. The “co-op” is the people — the store is just a happy result of the people’s efforts.

I’m excited to start working with the board. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for me as I start on this journey, feel free to contact me.

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Big Box Mart

Go to right now and watch the Big Box Mart video. You can thank me later.

(By the way, Jay Leno showed this whole video on The Tonight Show last night. And no, that is not a type-o.)

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The land beneath our feet

Chris Clarke has a very interesting interview with Ward Churchill on his blog. Most of the interview is about Native American issues, and at one point, Churchill makes a very arresting comment about implementing a progressive agenda on land you stole from someone else:

“You can take all the progressive agenda items you want, including environmentalism and ecology, OK? The movement to combat sexism, the movement to combat racism, the movement against oppressive class structures, all of it. And if in the end, you come up with a scenario in which all of those goals are suddenly realized, do you know what you end up with? You end up with a society that is still predicated fundamentally in colonialism. It would still be a colonial society because it would have been implementing these relations, however progressive they may seem on their face, on somebody else’s land without their permission. You’ve still got an imperialist culture. You’ve got a culture that will reinvent all these forms you thought you just combated and destroyed. You gotta deal with the fundamental issue first and work out from there. You gotta lay a foundation for a different social order, a different social consciousness and all the rest of it. And the place to begin that, of course, is in relation to the land.”

Sometimes I agree with Churchill, and sometimes I don’t. I must admit, though, that I’d never really considered this particular point before. What do you think? You can click on Submit A Comment right below this message to add your thoughts.

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Rochester loses one of the good guys

Forrest Cummings

I’m very sad to report the passing of Forrest Cummings, who I knew through his work at Jazz90.1, where he hosted the great show Jazz Ain’t Nothin’ But Soul. Forrest was one of those people who make the world a better place, and it was truly an honor to know him and work with him.

Forrest had a show on WRUR for decades, and when his time there ended, I was on the phone with him immediately, asking him to come to Jazz90.1 and work his magic. We met for lunch, and he agreed to make the move. Most of our volunteers and staff members already knew who Forrest was, and he was welcomed with open arms to our Sunday night lineup.

Even after I left the station, I’d see Forrest at Red Wings games (he was on the board of Rochester Community Baseball) and at the Rochester International Jazz Festival and other musical events. It was always a pleasure to see him — everyone always seemed to know him and respect him wherever he was.

My thoughts are with the Cummings family. We’ve lost one of the good guys, but Rochester is a better place because he was here.

Here’s the obituary from The Democrat & Chronicle:

Forrest Cummings, 56, dies

He worked to give back to Rochester and to help children

by Ernst Lamothe Jr.
Staff writer

(September 24, 2005) —

Forrest Cummings Jr. could have left Rochester for bigger cities and bigger opportunities. Instead, he spent his life giving back to the only city that mattered in his book.

Mr. Cummings, 56, died Thursday of a massive heart attack.

He worked more than 20 years as regional director of the state Division of Human Rights. In addition, he served on the boards of the Boys and Girls Club, Urban League, Baden Street Settlement and the Rochester Red Wings.

Brenda D. Lee saw every step of Mr. Cummings’ path from a young boy at Edison Technical and Industrial High School to the man who was well respected in the community.

“He was a person who had incredible discipline on one hand but could be very humorous on the other,” said Lee, a childhood friend. “The person you would see in a social setting was completely different than the person you would see as regional director.”

While his time was often spread thin, one area always had a priority on his schedule.

“He was absolutely passionate about making a difference in the lives of children,” said Lee. “Forrest was an incredible role model for everyone, especially young African-American males.”

Gary Larder, Red Wings president and CEO, said Mr. Cummings was the first board member to financially contribute to offering season tickets for the underprivileged.

“He brought a mature attitude and certainly a team spirit,” said Larder.

When Mr. Cummings died, he was spending time with Maurice Stone, 43, a Penfield man with a developmental disability whom he visited every Thursday. Friends say it was an example of the life Mr. Cummings led.

“Even though he was in a position where he dealt with judges, lawyers and politicians, he was very comfortable with everyday folks,” said the Rev. Lawrence Hargrave, acting dean of black church studies at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.

“He could walk around the streets of Rochester and people would know him, and he could walk into the highest offices of the state and people would know him.”

Mr. Cummings hosted Jazz Ain’t Nothing but Soul for 26 years on WRUR-FM (88.5) Sunday evenings before moving to WGMC-FM (90.1) for the past two years.

He is survived by his wife, Juliette Rhodes-Cummings. Funeral arrangements are pending.

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Raymond Street, a logic-free zone

I just picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, figuring I’d better read the series before I’m the last person in the English-speaking world who hasn’t read it.

While I was reading the book, the neighbor kids came over and said that they’re not allowed to read Harry Potter books because the books are “bad.” I asked why the books are bad.

KIDS: “Because they have witches in them.”

ME: “And why is that bad?”

KIDS: “Because they do magic.”

ME: “What’s wrong with magic?”

KIDS: “Because we’re Christians.”

ME: “But didn’t Jesus do magic? You know, water into wine, bringing people back from the dead, things like that.”

KIDS: “God doesn’t do magic.”

ME: “How do you know?”

KIDS: “It’s in the Bible.”

ME: “But the Bible’s just a story, just like this Harry Potter book.”

KIDS: Blank stare.

And there you have it. As the conservative blogger Kung Fu Monkey recently wrote: “”Everybody who wants to live in the 21st century over here. Everybody who wants to live in the 1800’s over there. Good. Thanks. Good luck with that.”

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Dig this, ladies!

I thought the Savannah Sand Gnats had a lock on the most embarrassing contest at a minor-league baseball game: a fan racing around the bases trying to beat a guy dressed like a big toilet bowl. But that was before I went to see the Rochester Red Wings the other night.

After the game, about 75 women were given tiny shovels — roughly the size of grapefruit spoons — with which they were to dig in the infield dirt, looking for a poker chip that they could then redeem for a diamond.

Maybe you should go back and read the previous paragraph one more time.

So there you have it. The prize for the most demeaning contest ever goes to the Rochester Red Wings and Frontier Field, where it’s always 1951! Dig that, ladies!

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Ed McBain, R.I.P.

Jen and I are both big fans of the 87th Precinct novels of Ed McBain, a.k.a. Evan Hunter, a.k.a. Salvatore Lombino. I read today that he passed away on July 6. Here’s Adam B. Very’s remembrance from Entertainment Weekly:

Without Evan Hunter, a.k.a. Ed McBain, there would probably be no Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, or Law & Order. The prolific novelist, who died of cancer July 6 at 78, essentially invented the American police procedural with a single pulp paperback.

The book was 1956’s Cop Hater, and it marked a decisive turn in a varied career. Hunter, born Salvatore Lombino in New York City (he changed his name to avoid discrimination), had staked his first literary claim two years earlier with his semiautobiographical The Blackboard Jungle, a look at the life of an inner-city high school teacher. It was made into a popular 1955 film starring Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier.

When he penned Cop Hater, Hunter invented the McBain pseudonym to protect his reputation as a serious novelist. But it turned out to be the book that established his legacy in pop storytelling. Set in a fictitious big city, the crime story eschewed the lone PI hero that had long defined the genre and instead meticulously chronicled an entire precinct’s pursuit of a murder case. The book was a big enough success to yield 54 follow-ups over the next 50 years, the best of which were crafted with unpretentious, unflinching authority. (The final installment, Fiddlers, is due in September.) And the author amusingly nodded to his alter ego’s fame by having the two ”coauthor” the 2001 novel Candyland.

For all his influence on other crime novelists and his movie legacy (which included the screenplay for The Birds), Hunter may have made his most lasting impact on TV. ”He established so many conventions that came to be gospel,” says NYPD Blue cocreator David Milch. ”If someone came to me and asked how to write a police procedural and they hadn’t already read Ed McBain, I’d tell them to take a hike.”

© 2005 Entertainment Weekly

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Kids are pretty people

You might think it would be hard to top all the amazing music that’s been happening here over the past 10 days, but you’d be wrong. Tonight I saw something that was every bit as inspiring, and gave me a lot more hope for the future.

My friend Spero Michailidis teaches fourth grade at Genesee Community Charter School (GCCS). Tonight his class presented the results of their most recent “expedition” — a multi-month project that involved hands-on learning and field studies (not, as the kids are quick to point out, field trips), and resulted in a 35-minute film made by the students.

The film was truly magical. The expedition centered around the topic of personal power and community involvement. What was particularly fascinating was how every element of their education revolved around these concepts, from physical education to music to field studies.

In one of the most striking storylines of the movie, the students mobilized around a real issue — lifting the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in New York State. They met with city and state officials, mayoral candidates, and bureaucrats, even traveling to Albany to lobby state legislators. (The meetings with politicians led to one of the funniest — and most skillfully edited — moments in the film: a droning Bob Duffy campaigning for the fourth-grade vote.) Mind you, this wasn’t simplistic, dumbed-down stuff. These kids are smart, articulate and aware, and they brought all those qualities to bear as they pressured lawmakers, wrote and delivered speeches, and analyzed complex issues. (If you want to get involved, check out the Legislative Action Center at the New York State Charter Schools Association.)

Music also provided a platform for the idea of an individual voice and its application to collective goals. A talented teacher (Carrie Haymond-Hesketh) taught the kids about jazz and improvisation. The final result — a contrefact (zing!) based on “Three Blind Mice” — featured hip solos on the vibes, new lyrics and a real understanding of the music. So much cooler than the generic junk that passes for jazz education in most settings.

“Studies in state-sponsored terrorism — also known as gym class.” That’s how Calvin (of Calvin & Hobbes) described physical education. Not at GCCS. Their phys ed teacher, Sarah Morell, is also a dancer and a fan of the Brazilian martial art Capoeira. What? You say your gym experience focused more on getting the snot knocked out of you with a dodgeball? Mine, too. But not these kids. They performed a Capoeira routine set to music, and related the movements to the themes of personal power, community and conversation that were at the heart of the expedition.

All I can say is that I wish I’d gone to a school like GCCS when I was a kid. There are so many different (read: better) ways to learn than the memorize-and-regurgitate style mandated by No Child Left Behind and other standardized-test-based education systems. Genesee Community Charter School is engaging its students in the world around them, and that always results in a deeper understanding of the subject matter, and a greater likelihood that these kids will break free of the Couch Generation and get involved in the world.

If you’ve got a child in the K-6 age range, check out Genesee Community Charter School (GCCS), and be inspired. I was.

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Life without Wegmans and Tops

Jen and I are trying to start a new way of shopping for our family. We already do a fair amount of our shopping at Abundance Coop Market each week, supplemented by occasional runs to other places like Palermo’s Meat & Food Market on Culver Road (467-3950 / map) or The Ravioli Shop on Winton Road North (288-6420 / map).

A few weeks ago, we decided to try to go all the way, and cut out the big chains completely. Why? Several reasons: (1) it keeps more money in the community at the grassroots level; (2) it’s a great way to support local farmers and producers; (3) the quality of the food is often much better; (4) it’s rewarding to build relationships with local merchants; (5) the idea of shopping in neighborhoods from folks who live there fits in with our general economic and political philosophy.

All of that is easy to say, but it does actually take some effort to shop without the chain stores. The effort is leading to some interesting results, though. For example, we’re thinking more carefully about which things we actually need that we buy at the chains. The answer is that we need very few of them. In many cases, we can substitute healthier products, or cut things out altogether.

We do have some criteria for this experiment, the most important of which is cost. We have two small incomes, and we need to be very careful about how much we spend on groceries. Buying a $5 jar of mayo may be the earth-friendly thing to do, but having to eat it while living in our car isn’t the best outcome.

I’m interested in what you have to say on this topic. Where do you shop? Which little specialty stores do you use that everyone should know about? How do reconcile the various practical and philosophical concepts at issue?

At the bottom of this message, you can click on the link to submit a comment. Please do that, and let’s get the conversation started!

UPDATE: Please click on “View Comments” right below this sentence to see some of the great responses to this topic. Then submit your own comment!

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