Archive for September, 2010

My friends Scott and Jean play a lot of golf.  They recently spent some time on the links….  Scott emerged with this story and photos.

“I saw a striking Great White Egret on the golf course a while ago.  Jean and I were no more than 15 feet away….


The bird ignored us as I clicked several times.  After a few seconds, I realized the three of us were not alone.  Soon Jean and I saw the object of the egret’s attention.



We were both on pins and needles as we quietly stood there, knowing that nature would soon take its course.


The croc never batted an eye.  Why did the egret not just fly where it wanted to go?

Guess it just thought it was safe, walking between the human and the alligator.  The gator just kept on sunning, the egret went right on fishing, and we finished eighteen holes.”

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You go, Salman!

“When thought becomes excessively painful, action is the finest remedy.” ~~Salman Rushdie

Bonus clip–Rushdie explains why Machiavelli wasn’t Machiavellian, he just wrote the book: Read More

via Steady Blue…clear view. Or at least my view, from…Manhattan?

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Every college campus has its colorful, often anonymous nonacademic eccentrics.  Outside the “Dirty Drug,” a favored lunch place, and “Smokey Joe’s,” everyone’s favorite underground beer joint at Penn, one of our best remembered homeless street people frequently harangued passers-by.  Only a few people on campus knew this woman’s real name.

We called her Duck Lady because she never spoke.  She quacked. Rumors identified her as an heiress manque, a syphilitic ex-hooker, whatever. Some said she had a mattress full of cash. She had quite a grim face, and you didn’t want to get too close.  But everyone looked after the Duck Lady. Often, donations, a cup of coffee, half a sandwich that would otherwise have gone to waste, came her way.

Her passing left the sidewalk steam vents a little lonelier, left an eddy of chill where once lived a loud, untidy bundle of woman with the voice of a bird.

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Officer down…

It was dusk, about 7:30 on a Friday evening, the September heat just beginning to cool.  I was in the kitchen.  I had just finished pouring myself a tall iced pink lemonade when I heard the crash.  Much, much louder than any auto accident I had ever witnessed, or participated in, before.

It took seconds to register.  Then I ran over to the balcony.  Lights were flashing already, and sirens going off, getting closer.  At the corner less than 100 yards away, people were trying to climb out of two tangled wrecks literally bonded at the fenders in a glittering crush of steel, chrome, and plastic. The lights of the broken squad car were still flashing.  The cop wrenched his door open and staggered, then wove in ragged circles, holding his neck, until he fell to the ground and rolled, screaming.

The driver and two passengers of the dark sedan made a troubled exit from their car.  A man and a woman ran away.  The second man, the driver, burly in a gray sweatshirt with antisocial message, could not free himself from the wrecks in time and was apprehended by two arriving officers.  They bent him to their car, patted him down and cuffed him, then shoved him in the back seat until the area had been secured.

More Oak Park police cars arrived, eventually with a fire engine, two ambulances, and one squad car from River Forest.  They blocked the four sides of the intersection and began searching for the other two bad guys, one of whom was a woman.  A crowd had begun to gather in little knots of twos and threes, watching and speculating on what had happened.

I ran up to my apartment to grab my camera and an ice pack for the wounded lawman.  His partner would not let me approach, but I tossed the ice.  The other cop shouted thanks and gave it to the hurt policeman, now lying on his back with kneeling squadmates, waiting for paramedics to arrive.

The scene was frantic, with cops still searching for the last occupant of the car, who was still at large.  I shot some photos of the accident, the emergency vehicles and cop cars circling the intersection, the suspects being remanded to the River Forest police, everywhere noise, lights, seemingly meaningless shouting.  They found the third suspect at last.

Two boys on bikes stopped on the sidewalk, eyes wide with fear, not just excitement.  I told them it was okay, there had been a crash, but the suspects had been caught and the cop on the ground was alive and waiting for transport.  The medics stabilized him on a board, cradling his neck, and carefully rolled his stretcher into the ambulance.  “Loyola,” I heard, the name of the medical facility where he would be taken.

My neighbors had heard something from one of the policemen about the three suspects leaving the scene of a crime in River Forest, two short miles away.  We watched as the knots of people dispersed and the emergency vehicles started to load up and depart.  I went upstairs and uploaded my photos to the local tv station.  In an hour the streets were clean.  Only four gashes in the grass remained, and a sprinking of mirror glass and metal to memorialize the scene.


Photographs by the author.

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Chances are, you’ve never thought about Raymond Burr’s close screen relationship with William Shatner.  In fact, as Perry Mason, the Los Angeles criminal defense attorney, Burr never appeared onstage with Shatner’s Captain Kirk, commander of the 24th century starship Enterprise.  Neither did Burr’s later character, the handicapped San Francisco detective Robert T. Ironside.

Perry and Kirk were not even contemporary. But Burr’s murder mysteries gave many of Shatner’s crewmates an early chance to let their talents shine in the world of television drama.  Every week on TV’s most successful and longest-running lawyer series, aspiring and skilled young actors performed in “guest star” roles.  On a lesser scale, Ironside followed suit.

Here’s the Perry Mason formula: at the beginning of each show, guest characters appear, usually one by one.  It quickly becomes obvious that several of them have strong motives to murder the same annoying person.  The murder occurs, an innocent person is apprehended, and Mason steps in to take the case. As evidence mounts against his client, Mason reaches into his formidable bag of lawyerly tricks.  He exonerates his client, in the process revealing the true malefactor(s). Courtroom confessions are a staple of the show, as wheelchair confrontations characterized Burr’s successor series, Ironside.

Raymond Burr’s mystery programs nurtured rising unknowns like Leonard Nimoy, Walter Koenig, Steve Ihnat, and George Takei.  Each of these actors later appeared in multiple episodes of Star Trek, with Nimoy a worthy co-star to Captain Kirk.  Oddly, all four budding actors played either patsies or villains on Burr’s tv shows.  (It is fortunate for Gene Roddenberry that the wicked nature of these early parts was forgotten by the time Star Trek came on the screen.)

In The Case of the Shoplifter’s Shoe, Nimoy, who starred in Trek as Spock, Kirk’s straightforward, logical, and pointy-eared first officer, portrayed an emotionally volatile and theatening young hood named Pete Channery.  Pete’s bluster and wife-battering raised suspicions from the beginning.  Questioned on the witness stand by the ever-striving and largely unsuccessful district attorney, Hamilton Burger (William Talman), Nimoy’s character nonetheless put on a very reasonable and credible front.

But later, during a rare hallway discussion between Mason and Burger while the trial was in recess, Channery stopped for a drink at a water fountain outside the courtroom.  The two lawyers teamed up to question him ad hoc. Paul Drake (William Hopper), Perry’s charming, dogged private detective, and the sinister but secretly amiable homicide Lieutenant Tragg (Ray Collins) looked on as the quiet, brooding Mason turned into a merciless accuser.

Hamilton Burger followed Mason’s lead.  Channery foundered but quickly recovered himself and began to threaten the lawmen.  He accused the other characters of making him play the fall guy.  Channery struggled fruitlessly as the cops closed in to take him away, loudly protesting “Quit shovin’, I didn’t do it.”  Definitely not the logical, emotionless Vulcan so many Trekkies came to admire.

Walter Koenig (later Ensign Chekhov) played a handsome young Monkee-haired would-be murderer in Ironside (1971).  During “The Summer Soldier” episode of the show,  Koenig wielded a hidden weapon during a life-threatening conflict with his enemies. He was ashamed to use it against his opponents, however. The scene in which he dropped the knife is unforgettable.

As Garth of Izar, one of the Federation’s strangest commanders-turned-revolutionaries, Steve Ihnat had an important role in the original Star Trek’s “Whom Gods Destroy.”  Ihnat played the legendary Fleet Captain Garth of Izar.

In “The Case of the Duplicate Case,” young Steve Ihnat got a hand up in his acting career by playing a runaway bit part in Perry Mason.  Ihnat performed more than credibly as Herbie, the nervous junior salesman of arch supports.  But poor Herbie lost, as his thieving wife two-timed him with, and then was murdered by, his conniving and corrupt sales manager.

Another Mason episode gave early airtime to George Takei, who later took on the role of helmsman of the starship Enterprise.  His first stint on Perry Mason was only Takei’s second television appearance.  The actor played the beetle-browed Toma Sakai in The Case of the Blushing Pearls, a story of theft, frame-up, and murder in the Japanese community.   Years later, Takei appeared in the second pilot of Star Trek, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” which was shot before the series officially started.    In over 50 subsequent episodes of Trek, Takei enlarged and greatly expanded the originally minor role of Hikaru Sulu.

It’s quite a stretch, going from studied courtroom bad guy to toting a phaser amid with outrageously made-up and costumed villains of the 24th-century, and the far-out tribbles and other noncorporeal entities dispatched by the Enterprise crew.  But it’s likely that the metamorphosis helped those guys sleep better at night.


Sources:  Years of watching courtroom drama and sci fi on the Boob Tube.  Also–














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Do you remember the Ithan area back in the late 50’s and early 60’s? What happened? What was wrong with farms, trees and grass? Why is it that all my life progress has always been destruction of the natural order and replacement with a reasonable plastic facsimile, or just memories for me to wander through…?”

I sure do.  Thanks, Tom McCaffrey, for the question.  I grew up at Ithan and Clyde Roads, right where the graceful old stone bridge over Ithan Creek was replaced by a perpendicular nightmare… where the lovely columned white Costello house and Tudor blacksmith’s were razed for an early plan of the highway, which never came near them in its final design… where the Smith botanical plantings were bulldozed and the creek was torn from its natural path and replaced by a weed-lined ditch… where the Bryn Mawr College land was bisected by a hard ribbon of concrete, and the pony was never seen again.

My grandparents helped to found the Ithan Valley Group, an association of local residents opposed to the building of the “Blue Route” (Interstate 476). I remember many a lively meeting of the group at the Booth School. At these times, the clamor of raised voices, the intermixed smells of liquor and tobacco smoke, and the hordes of tired people making for their cars after long, contentious meetings, drifted down the hill to the my parents’ house.

I also remember the guilty joy of my first journey down that then-spotless, lightly traveled highway before the weed trees and traffic came to spoil the ride. I well recall the relief of a smooth, uninterrupted 20-minute ride to the airport, contrasting so vividly with the stops and starts and backups of Route 320, Sproul Road where I came from. In the wee hours of the morning, returning from a night’s carouse in Center City, I was thankful for the easy connection with the Schuylkill Expressway and the relief of getting home in one piece instead of winding up crosswise in the Gladwyne ford.

Who can say what’s progress? The new road now backs up for hours with an accident or in the ever-extending “rush hours.” The creek swishes through its now-accustomed channels and flows over the waterfall, lowered in an effort to make the park “safer for the kids.” Reasonable plastic facsimiles too often seem the order of the day.

Yet one has to take with them the clearing of the mills lining the Wissahickon and the reestablishment of a fine natural space for all Philadelphians to relax in… the clearing of the air around Norristown’s once smoky industries… the return of shad to the Schuylkill… the greening of King of Prussia.

It’s a tradeoff. With it we must suffer the coming of snakeheads and kudzu and yes, enough plastic to fill five intrusive dead spots in the middle of the world’s oceans.

But even plastic, like the fossil fuels of its manufacture, has a lifetime that is finite. Not so are our bright memories.

  • PHOTO CREDITS to come.
  • Montages and many photos by the author.

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Writers of the world, especially teachers of English, please take note:

Don't put an apostrophe in "its" unless you mean "it is."
  • To make a word plural, add an “s” (i.e., chairs).
  • To make the word possessive, add an apostrophe and an “s” (chair’s).
  • To make a plural noun ending in “s” possessive, add only the apostrophe (chairs’, boys’ toys, Hardy Boys’, etc.).
  • Use the same punctuation mark for contracting verbs (can’t, wouldn’t, and it’s).

A friend of a facebook friend of a friend of mine just this instant posted a very catchy jingle that clarifies the correct use of this apparently terrifying and frequently [almost always] misused punctuation mark.

Video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vc2aSz9Ficw

Stephen Fry, an English writer, journalist, actor, comedian, quiz show host, and film director best known for playing the lead in the film Wilde and Melchett in the BBC television series Blackadder, seems to have raised the colossal boo-boo of the “inverted comma”–that’s what they call the mark overseas–by tweeting about it on twitter the day before yesterday.

And yesterday, FrankiiDoodle commented online on the dilemma. “I was thinking about taking Post-It notes with me and putting them on every wrong or missing apostrophe I see but then I realised that there aren’t enough Post-Its in the world.”

Also yesterday, a major news organization posted a plaintive editorial rerun about the error.  On December 20, 2005, Arianna Huffington had commented on the “apostrodemic”:

“I hate to make such a big stink about a little squiggle — especially at a time when Iraq continues to spin out of control, and the death toll mounts. But sometimes a small thing like this can have much bigger ramifications.

Think of it as the literary equivalent of the broken-windows theory of crime fighting, which holds that by fighting small quality-of-life crimes like graffiti and vandalism, police send a persuasive message that anti-social behavior, of any scale, will not be tolerated. In this case, putting an end to the chronic misplacement of apostrophes could eventually lead to a better-educated populace, a greater sense of harmony and order, more fuel efficient cars, a slimmer-trimmer you, cleaner air, an end to the heartbreak of psoriasis, and, who knows, maybe even world peace.

Okay. Putting an end to the scourge of punctuation abuse won’t actually lead to any of those things. But it will lower my blood pressure and that of a few million other grammar scolds across the English-speaking world.”   http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/01/a-cure-for-the-apostrophe_n_701842.html?ref=fb&src=sp

A year ago, Cool Rules Pty Ltd of Adelaide, South Australia, produced a ditty so that people could remember when (and when not) to use the apostrophe.  Cool Rules is dedicated to creating innovative, effective and entertaining learning resources for adults and children.  The company believes that learning can always be enjoyable.  Hence, the most effective learning occurs when multiple senses are stimulated.  Thus the video.

The grammatical dilemma apparently prompted the friend of a friend of a friend to loose the The Cool Rule song on facebook minutes ago.  Predictably, perhaps, The Apostrophe Song iPhone/iPad App is now available in hip hop, rock, and acoustic versions.  You can use the ringtone to remind your friends where to put apostrophes.  Visit www.coolrules.com for more information.

Those who encounter this app won’t forget the punctuation rule again.

See also http://www.apostrophecatastrophes.com/.  Thank beckytcy for this tip.  And if you want more, try searching “apostrophe” on google or YouTube.  I believe that it’s axiomatic the apostrophe be put back in its rightful place.
Received a nice note from Shaun McNicholas, creator of the song:

Dear Sandy,

A big thank you for your piece on The Apostrophe Song. It’s been a labour of love that I thought might never get off the ground, and finally something is happening.

Cheers from Adelaide



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