police.public_corruption_1In light of all of the recent incidents involving young black men and the police in America, it got me to wondering how I managed to luck out and largely avoid confrontations with them. Growing up, I have no specific recollection of dealing with police much at all. Of course, I was a “good” kid, but that didn’t always inoculate one from confrontation.

There a Facebook friend of mine, who’s about a decade older than I, who went my church when I was a youth, who tells an ugly tale about him and cop, a doughnut on the ground not dropped by him, and the abusive language from the cop. And he was surely a “good” kid.

During some antiwar demonstrations, I do recall moving quickly to avoid teargas, or police on horses, or the like, but those were in mass demonstrations.

As an adult, most of my dealings with the police have been as a victim of crime: bicycles stolen, boom box stolen from work, my credit card compromised. Then there was that time when I found someone’s checkbook, called the guy and had police at my door; didn’t like that.

The only police officer I knew personally, albeit peripherally, was a guy from my former church; I knew his parents far better. He seemed to be a nice guy.

But I spent the most time with police officers was when I was a janitor at Binghamton (NY) City Hall from about April to August 1975, after I had temporarily dropped out of college. I was pretty much invisible to the detectives, although there were a few snarky remarks, which I attributed less to race than my lowly position. And I swear some of them missed tossing things into the garbage cans, so they could make more work for me.

On the other hand, I was very fond of the captain. Sometimes, when my work was done, he’d invite me to sit in his office and chat. We’d talk about current events, how the city had changed over time, my plans for the future, and even how the police were perceived in the community. He seemed to appreciate my POV, and recognize that I actually had a working brain. I wish I could remember his name.

I like talking to police in the right environment. A few months ago, three other Albany school parents and I talked with one of the assistant chiefs about the problem with the crossing guards near the schools; it was a productive chat.

In a few months, I’ll write about riding with some police officers.
When I think of the police, unfortunately, I always think of two not-so-affirming songs:

What Did You Learn In School? – Pete Seeger (written by Tom Paxton)
Police on my Back – The Clash (written by Eddy Grant)

opt-out5There has been a great deal of controversy in the state of New York about the school tests tied to something called Common Core. It is more complicated than I wish to get into here, but I wrote about it a bit in my Times Union blog.

There was a statewide movement to get students in grades 3 to 8 to opt out of the test, which was somewhat successful in many districts, including in my area.

The movement has been around a couple years, but I had not paid a great deal of attention. Read the rest of this entry »

There was a time when I thought there were bad guys and good guys, and they were very easily distinguishable.

But now I think war is failure. Even a “just war” may be, at very best, the least bad outcome. And usually, just a bad outcome, with war profiteers (Blackwater, or whatever they’re calling themselves now). Pope Francis got it right this month: “Many powerful people don’t want peace because they live off war.”
Read the rest of this entry »

People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo  in WarsawI joined Twitter in July 2007, I’m told. I tried it out for a few weeks, but didn’t “get” it and frankly forgot about it for at least a couple years.

Now I post my various blogs to it automatically through Networked Blogs. I only have about 7,100 tweets. I follow about 1,850 people, and am followed by almost 1,300, but I am genuinely unconcerned about the numbers.

Whereas Twitter, for some people, seems to be the lifeblood for their connectedness to the world. Unfortunately, because it’s so easy, because the message are necessarily so short – like people’s attention spans – folks have made bad choices on the platform:
Read the rest of this entry »

shuggieotisFor a birthday some years back, I was given this CD of songs by Shuggie Otis, born Johnny Alexander Veliotes, Jr. on November 30, 1953, son of the really cool musician, rhythm and blues pioneer Johnny Otis. The album featured his song Strawberry Letter #23.

From the Wikipedia:

“George Johnson of the Brothers Johnson was dating one of Otis’ cousins when he came across the album Freedom Flight.

“The group recorded ‘Strawberry Letter 23′ for their 1977 album Right on Time, which was produced by Quincy Jones, and the album went platinum. They recorded the song in a funkier, more dance-oriented vein than the original Otis version.
“Their rendition hit the Hot 100 and peaked at number five and reached number one on the Soul Singles chart in 1977.

“Studio guitar player Lee Ritenour recreated Otis’ original guitar solo for the Brothers Johnson cover.”

Here’s the Shuggie Otis original version.

Here’s the Brothers Johnson cover version, which I have on vinyl.

Very trippy lyrics:

Red magic satin playing near
Rainbows and waterfalls run through my mind
Purple shower, bells and tea
Orange birds and river cousins dressed in green
Blue flower echo from a cherry cloud
Feel sunshine sparkle pink and blue
Strawberry Letter #23 by the Brothers Johnson has been sampled several times, including by Beyonce, and covered by Kevin Campbell and others.

Michael Jackson used bassist Louis Johnson on his Off the Wall and Thriller albums.

Before that, The Brothers Johnson sang on this 1976 Lesley Gore number Sometimes, from her Love Me By Name album, produced, like her early hits, and Michael’s albums, by Quincy Jones. (Hat tip to Dustbury.)

Sadly, Louis Johnson passed away at the age of 60 on May 21, 2015.

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