My mother’s remaining cousin on her mother’s side, Fran, always refers to my mother as Gertie. Mom was named after HER mother, which I find endlessly fascinating.

Mom didn’t become Trudy until some point after marrying my father, Les. She pretty much hated the moniker Gertie, though long-time relatives were forgiven when they slipped into the old nickname.

Well, that guy with my mother in this undated photo, though clearly from the 1940s, isn’t Les. His name is Sonny. I don’t know a thing about him, including what his last name is. I don’t even know if Sonny is his given name or HIS nickname.

There were, in the day, a lot of nicknames for boys who formally bore their father’s names. Rather than being a diminutive of the name – Richard and Richie or William and Billy – they were sometimes dubbed Chip (as in a “chip off the old block“) or Bud (the next generation) or the initial of the father followed by J – Arthur Jr would be AJ.

Sonny, though, I always thought of as a generic nickname for any lad: “Hey, sonny, could I buy a newspaper from you?” But there are some Sonnys out there.

Gertie’s boyfriend Sonny, my mom told her kids many more times than once, would have been our father if Les Green weren’t so darn charming. This usually happened when she was irritated with our father, though she never said this in his presence.

This statement, even then, I thought was a really odd construction. If we had been Sonny’s kids, we wouldn’t have been…us. We’d have different DNA. We’d look different and sound different, and if we had been raised by Sonny, think differently.

I guess the fact that Les Green was “never a bore” is to the benefit of my sisters and me. No offense to you, Sonny, though. You look like a decent guy, even with that peculiar name.

Oh, today would have been my mom’s 90th birthday. Happy birthday, GertieTrudy.

Because smoking still kills hundreds of thousands of people a year, back in July 2017, the Food and Drug Administration was considering a new rule that would require tobacco companies to lower nicotine levels in cigarettes.

Essentially the plan is to get people to quit by trying to make cigarettes less addictive. Tobacco stocks tumbled over the news. “But the FDA says the change will help the market innovate, and push people to turn to alternatives like e-cigarettes.”

There is evidence in England that as the popularity of e-cigarettes rises, more smokers are able to quit.

In the US, though, prelimary research shows that the fall in sales of traditional cigarettes, which had been dropping for decades, “slowed in 2015, while sales of e-cigarettes — which also pose health hazards — are skyrocketing.”

The National Institutes of Health notes: “E-cigarettes are popular among teens and are now the most commonly used form of tobacco among youth in the United States. Their easy availability, alluring advertisements, various e-liquid flavors, and the belief that they’re safer than cigarettes have helped make them appealing to this age group. Further, a study of high school students found that one in four teens reported using e-cigarettes for dripping, a practice in which people produce and inhale vapors by placing e-liquid drops directly onto heated atomizer coils…

“In addition to the unknown health effects, early evidence suggests that e-cigarette use may serve as an introductory product for preteens and teens who then go on to use other tobacco products, including cigarettes… A study showed that students who had used e-cigarettes by the time they started 9th grade were more likely than others to start smoking cigarettes and other smokable tobacco products within the next year. However, more research is needed…”

E-cigarettes can also be dangerous to very small children who may access the product.

The e-cigarette craze may not be the panacea some had hoped for. For the Great American Smokeout, smokers might consider resources suggested by the American Cancer Society.

Ashley Bennett

It is very easy for me to focus on all the bad news going on. But there are stories recently that really pleased me, and I should note that fact occasionally:

ITEM: A whole bunch of diverse people were elected in November, often with a dollop of irony.

Voters in Helena, Montana, elected Wilmot Collins, a former refugee from Liberia, as their mayor, in a state where the issue of refugees have sparked political tension.

Ashley Bennett defeated John Carman for the Atlantic County, NJ freeholder seat. “Carman posted a meme on the day of the Women’s March [on January 21, 2017 with]… the message, ‘Will the women’s protest be over in time for them to cook dinner?'” This inspired Bennett to run against him. She had been targeted on a white supremacist blog for saying the Confederate flag has no place in New Jersey.

Danica Roem will be the first openly transgender woman to win a seat for the House of Delegates in Virginia, beating Bob Marshall, the state’s self-proclaimed “chief homophobe.”

And there were other groundbreaking elections.

ITEM: “The Walt Disney Company lifted its ban of Los Angeles Times critics from its press screenings after a widespread backlash prompted several media outlets to announce their own boycotts of Disney movies,” The Associated Press reported.

Disney was ticked by the Times’ September reporting on its relationship with the local municipalities, stating that the company received unwarranted assist from local governments on taxes, subsidies, and rent. Disney said the series was “biased and inaccurate…, wholly driven by a political agenda.”

“Disney’s punitive measures against the Times led to many outlets refusing advance coverage of the studio’s films, including The New York Times (which called Disney’s ban a ‘dangerous precedent and not at all in the public interest’), the Boston Globe and The A.V. Club.

Multiple critics groups announced they would bar Disney films from awards consideration, “hammering the company for choosing to punish journalists ‘rather than express its disagreement with a business story via ongoing public discussion. Disney’s response should gravely concern all who believe in the importance of a free press, artists included.'”

ITEM: In October, state trooper Ryan Sceviour arrested Alli Bibaud for driving under the influence. “Bibaud is the daughter of Dudley District Court Judge Timothy Bibaud.”

Sceviour’s initial arrest report said Bibaud told officers she got the drugs in exchange for sex. The report also said Bibaud claimed her father was a judge and offered Sceviour sex in exchange for leniency.

Trooper Sceviour filed a lawsuit alleging that after he arrested Bibaud near Worcester, “he was told to revise the arrest report to remove the references to sex and Bibaud’s father so as not to embarrass the judge.”

Colonel Richard McKeon, the superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police, who reportedly ordered the trooper to remove the embarrassing information, retired.

The conversation about Confederate statues in the United States is highly charged, as recent events in Charlottesville, VA have shown.

I absolutely agree with The Hill:
“Please don’t direct the discussion towards the ownership of slaves. Then we just get into the argument that people like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. That’s not the point! Washington and Jefferson are well known in history from the beginnings of our country. [General] Robert E. Lee was a traitor to his country. These monuments were constructed well before African-Americans were permitted to vote, and they are only a reminder that racism still exists.”

But, as The Week notes in How America forgot the true history of the Civil War: “Ex-Confederates and associated sympathizers began to think up alternative histories that sounded better [than slavery], starting right after the war ended. The major plank of this was the ‘Lost Cause,’ which argued that the war was not actually about slavery — instead, it was about ‘states’ rights.’

“The antebellum South was cast as a sepia-toned paradise of noble gentlemen, virtuous ladies, and happy slaves.” John Oliver reveals The Ugly Reality Behind The ‘Lost Cause’ Cult.

In other words, the Confederate memorials were an attempt to erase history, as this southern white male and this one note.

Most of those statues were erected during the Jim Crow era before and after World War I, after the re-imposition of white supremacy. As Smithsonian magazine makes clear, We Legitimize the ‘So-Called’ Confederacy With Our Vocabulary, and That’s a Problem. “Tearing down monuments is only the beginning to understanding the false narrative of Jim Crow.

More than 4,000 black people were lynched in the South — where are their monuments?

To understand how toxic the period was, read Before its subversion in the Jim Crow era, the fruit symbolized black self-sufficiency. So, what changed? And Lynching and Antilynching: Art and Politics in the 1930s.

Robert E. Lee was NOT “invariably kind and humane” to the people he enslaved, despite scuttlebutt of his benevolence. Here’s W.E.B. DuBois on Robert E. Lee. My fellow TU blogger Rob Hoffman noted:”The last thing we need in our divided nation is to excuse the behavior of a man, even one as talented as Robert E. Lee, for betraying his country at a time when it really needed him most.”

Moreover, Lee himself said: “I think it wiser …not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”

I’d like to see some of those statues in museums, where context can be explained. Listen to the semi-comedic The Ballad Of General Robert E. Lee’s Statue.

In my busyness, I neglected to write a review of the movie Victoria and Abdul, which my wife and I saw at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany in October 2017. It’s a mostly true story of a couple guys from India sent to England to present Her Royal Highness, Empress of India, Queen Victoria with a coin for her golden jubilee.

Victoria (Judy Dench) is, by her own description, old and fat and very much a curmudgeon, bored with the pomp of the affairs of state. It’s worse because her beloved husband Albert died, and her good friend John Brown is gone as well. (I saw the movie Mrs Brown, also starring Dame Judi, back in February 1998; V&A is is a sequel of sorts.)

As Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) and Adeel Akhtar (Mohammed) make their brief presentation, the former violates protocol by actually making eye contact with the queen. The handsome Abdul finds favor with the monarch and they develop a most unexpected friendship.

Her household and inner circle, notably Sir Henry Ponsonby (Tim Pigott-Smith) and her increasingly impatient heir apparent Bertie, Prince of Wales (Eddie Izzard) are NOT pleased with the queen’s fascination with the Indian interloper.

Victoria and Abdul, in a mostly humorously cheeky way, shows that someone can indeed show an old queen new tricks. It addresses Britain’s colonial past, making it clear that Victoria could actually learn from even her far-away subjects. And while her Mr. Brown was not well-regarded by those around the queen, the elevation of this brown-skinned man made them apoplectic.

I will admit that I liked Victoria and Abdul it more than some of the critics (only 66% positive on Rotten Tomatoes). One complained that “the film’s attempt to portray the Queen as more politically enlightened than her courtiers is kindly but unconvincing.” Well, my wife and I were convinced.

The leads plus Eddie Izzard were especially good. I may have now seen Judi Dench in more movies than any other actor, save perhaps Meryl Streep, and she always makes the trip to the cinema worthwhile.

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