Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Presidential Libraries

The US capital moved to Washington DC from Philadelphia in 1800. When it did Congress earmarked $5,000.00 for the purchase of books that would become the Library of Congress. During the War of 1812, the capital building was burned to the ground by the British. In September 1814 Thomas Jefferson donated his personal library to the Library of Congress so that it could start over. Three wagons carried the over 6400 books fromMonticello in Virginia to the building in Washington DC.

Today, some of Jefferson's books are still used. On January 4th this year, when Congress swore in its first Muslim Congressman, Keith Ellison from Minnesota. Jefferson's Koran was used.

Franklin Roosevelt was the first President to create a presidential library. He was president for so long, he accumulated a lot of books and documents that he thought should be preserved. So he donated them to a library in Hyde Park, NY upon his death. Since then, it has been expectation for a president to have a Presidential Library.

One has to wonder what W. Bush is going to be donating to his library. Can you have a library with only a kids section featuring My Pet Goat?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Why is crime going down?

Why is crime going down? No one seems to know.

I listened to Professor Franklin Zimring on KQED last night via the Forum's Podcast. He was talking about his new book The Great American Crime Decline and it was pretty amazing hearing him talk about what has brought about the American decline in crime since 1991. There has been some amazing examples of declines in crime, like New York City's crime rate dropping 75% in that time, but overall crime has dropped everywhere in the states and much of the industrialized world. New York's drop is twice the national average.

While conservatives will say that the increase in the number of prisons and prisoners is the explanation ... and liberals will say that it is the conditions of society (the economy, education, etc.) that brought crime down. Zimring says it is neither but combinations of these and a variety of other things. While all of these things did fluctuate throughout this time, crime steadily dropped. He is a professor of law at Berkley and the head of the criminal justice department, but he seems to be a statistician at heart. He says that a 5% change/improvement in the social fabric of New York City, resulted in 75% a decrease in crime.

The most interesting part of this program I found was when the public kept calling in with their own theories and he kept knocking them down.

Like the theory that the passing of Roe vs. Wade in the 1970s had something to do with it. The thought is that once abortion was legalized in the 1970's, by the 1990's we had much less adults who had grown up unwanted by their parents. This was very interesting to me but then Zimring mentioned that a similar drop in crime happened in a lot of countries around the world that didn't make abortion legal in the 1970's or country that it had always been legal. So pro-choice folks would love this to be the case, but it doesn't appear to be true.

Someone else mentioned the Brady Bill being passed that made for more gun control, but he pointed out that some states like California already had a bill that was/is even stricter than the Brady Bill and the drop in crime there was similar to the other states without such laws.

I am adding this book to my Wish List on Amazon.com but it is unfortunately I could not have called into this show. I believe that Internet helped decrease crime. I heard no one mention of this. I believe that loneliness is awful things and that when one is lonely there is no telling what someone will do just to remind oneself that one is alive. The Internet has been an amazing tool to connect people around the world. I realize sometimes it makes us more isolated, but overall, I can hardly feel lonely with there being people IMing all day.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The First 40-40-40 Man

In the 2006 Major League baseball season, one of the players achieved something that no other player ever has. Alfonso Soriano of the Washington Nationals became the first player ever to hit 40 home runs, 40 doubles and steal 40 bases in one season. There have 40-40 players in the past, quite a few have hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases, but never also achieving the 40 doubles as well.

I know some Cubs fans that are going to be very happy to hear this. Mr. Soriano went to the Cubs with a multi-million dollar eight year contract. He should be a good match for the great fans of Wrigley.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

If Genius is Kept Down, Does It Turn to Madness?

I was surprised to learn that many critics consider Marilyn Monroe not only a comic genius but a great actress. She was so overcome by her rolls that she tackled them with an intensity that sometimes scared the other performers. Due to her beauty, her incredible figure, blonde hair and out of control popularity early in her career, the good roles didn't come her way easily. The studios wanted to pay her to be the dumb blonde or the eye-candy behind the "big" talent which she found unchallenging and demeaning. After making, The Seven Year Itch, where she was filmed in the famous sewer grating scene with the wind blowing her dress up and showing her panties, she left Hollywood in a personal search. The film of the scene not only took four hours to film, but took place in front of a NY City street crowd of rowdy and sometimes obnoxious fans. Her husband at time, Joe Dimaggio, got so infuriated by the incident, many believe it lead to her hospitalization at his hands later that day and to the couple's eventual divorce. The marriage lasted under a year (the damned Yankees).

The Seven Year Itch was the last of such films. She fled Hollywood for the Actor's Studio in New York even though she had a contract for four more of these films. Her time among the New Year theatre world (where she met her third and last husband, playwrite Arthur Miller) not only helped her refine her acting craft, but helped her get some leverage from the studios in Hollywood. They needed her to make money. Her new contract was for more money and gave her the ability to chose which films she would make. This was unheard of at the time in Hollywood. It was in this time that she made her best fims with her best performances, including Bus Stop, Some Like It Hot and The Misfits (based on the Arthur Miller play).

Unfortunately for her, this success came too late. Many years of insonmia, paranoia and the popping of sleeping pills (Nembutal).... the outrageous demands on her time and energy ... contributed to making her quite mad. She was unruly and late to the sets of all her later films. She was enventually found dead in her own bathtub at age 36 from an overdose of Nembutal.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

She Was the First of Her Kind, He Was the Last

I just watched a truly excellent film called Stage Beauty. It really
surprised me. I heard it was good, it really was great. It reminded me
of Shakespeare in Love but with a better story, deeper theme and all
around better performance from the cast. It co-starred one of my
favorite new actresses Claire Dane (who was excellent in Shop Girl) and Billy Crudup (also excellent in Almost Famous and Jesus's Son.

The film takes place in the 1660's in London where it is illegal for woman to appear on stage in theatre. So male actors would have to take the female roles. Crudup plays a very famous actor of the time, Edward Kynaston. King Charles II did away with this law and such actors as Kynaston were without a job or had to learn how to act like a man on stage.

The real star of the film is Dane with her portrayal of Margaret Hughes the
first of the female actresses in London. I discovered with a quickgoogle search after watching the film that these are indeed real people. The film has Hughes and Kynstaon as lovers in the end but I have found no evidence of that. Later in life, Hughes married a Duke and I cannot find much about Kynaston other than that he became a very successful Shakespearean actor late in his live.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Rock N' Roll Chameleon

I don't hide it, I think David Bowie is probably the coolest person alive. I think the only person that comes even close to him in coolness is Beck and that is pushing it since Beck hasn't been around half as long as Bowie.

Bowie's been called the rock n' roll chameleon because of his ability to change along with music trends year to year ... decade to decade. But I don't think this analogy is altogether accurate because a chameleon changes itself based on its environment, the reptile doesn't change its environment. While Bowie does. Bowie may not have created glamour rock or acid rock nor did he introduce an element of theatre into the show (Peter Gabriel probably did that) ... but he made these things cool. When he did these things ... others could follow.

It is obvious from reading this that I have been a big fan most of my life so it is not often that I learn anything new about the Thin White Duke. Today, I learned a few.

* As a boy, Bowie's first instrument was the saxophone. He wanted to play for Little Richard's band. He still plays on some tracks today. I knew he played, I just didn't know it was his first.

* I knew the name of his early bands back in the early 60's were The King Bees, The Mannish Boys and The Lower Third. But what I didn't know is that the lead guitarist of The Mannish Boys was a young guitar player named Jimi Page which you hopefully recognize as the lead axe from Led Zepplin. I could imagine that The Mannish Boys is lifted from the Muddy Waters song but I have no proof of this.

* Bowie has always had some great guitarists on his records and tours with him. The three most famous of "Bowie" guitarist are probably Mick Ronson, Carlos Alomar and the vibrator wielding Reeves Gabrelle who are basically just famous for playing with him, but Bowie has also done work with such greats as Peter Frampton, Nils Lofgren and Stevie Ray Vaughn. What I learned today is that Stevie Ray was an obscure unknown musician before he played on the Let's Dance disc and toured on the Curious Moonlight tour. Stevie turned some heads.

* One of his eyes is partially blind due to a fight he had with one of his best friends in childhood. He has little depth perception in this eye (not sure which one) and little distinction of color. Something to think about next time you see him running around on stage or see something that he painted. I know that his eyes are different colors but I don't know if this has anything to do with this accident.

* He took his name from John Bowie of Alamo fame, the creator of the Bowie knife. Why I don't know. This was news to me. I know he had to change his name because his was already taken by Davey Jones of the Monkees and god knows, one wouldn't want to be mistaken as a Monkee.

* He is currently working on a rock opera based on the graphic novel, The Watchmen. Wow!

And proof that coolness begets coolness, I just discovered that Beck sampled a guitar riff off of Bowie's song Win on one of my favorite Beck songs, Debra. I will have to listen closer to this now.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

CSI reality check

I am not a huge fan of the television shows CSI (Vegas, Miami, NYC or otherwise). Their McGyverizing of science and their lack of interesting character development turned me off immediately. Due to its popularity, I have given it way too many chances and it has always failed to pull me in. This is just not a very good show and simply a twisting of reality. Their science is bad, they treat it like magic or a convenient tool for the twisting of plot. Forensic people just don't do the things that they do on this show. Why watch a bad cop show like this when there are so many good ones like HBO's The Wire or Barry Levinson's old show Homicide: Life on the Street.

The New York Times' Times Talk Podcast recently had a show that not only supported much of my complaints about CSI but also challenged some of my beliefs about the show. There are some good aspects of the show that I hadn't considered. The talk consisted of mystery writer Linda Fairstein, forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee and the creator of the show, Anthony Zuiker.

One of the many things Dr. Lee pointed out is that even the most wealthiest of police departments don't have the equipment or personnel available that the CSI departments do on this show (even if some of these technologies did exist). One of the problems he sees, because of the popularity of the show, the general public has some unrealistic expectations of forensics. He has had privates citizens tell him at crime scenes "to spray the luminol" on the scene. On the show, luminol is similar to a magic potion where any forensic scientist can spray it on the crime scene, it will show them whatever the writer needs to move the show along. Where in reality luminol only works in complete darkness. It works in a lab, not with a dead body on the sidewalk in broad day light. These unrealistic expectations are not only annoying in his opinion but downright dangerous when the public brings these expectations into a court room as a jurist. When they look for the magic bullet of forensics and it doesn't show, what else do they go on. One of the guests pointed out that some prosecutors say in their opening dialogues that "this is not CSI" ...

Forensic scientists never talk to victim's families, don't talk to suspect and don't do any crime busting at all. They spend most of their time in labs and they file the reports for the police to use. A show based on real CSI's would be very boring. You want to see such a show, check out the Discovery Channel or Court TV, but you're not going to get anything like reality on a big network. This wouldn't bother me so much if CSI did the drama thing better, but they don't do that either. Why is this show so popular? I don't know. Maybe you do. Maybe the belief that detectives with amazing Star Trek like prowess are behind our neighborhood cops makes some people feeling safer than NYPD does.

One other thing I found very interesting was that since CSI has been on, criminals seem to getting more careful. For example, many rapists now are using condoms which makes identifying them much more difficult by limiting the possibilities of DNA tests. But one could see this as a positive because rapists are also less likely of getting their victims pregnant or infected with awful STDs.

The positive I did hear from this podcast is quite positive. It might just wipe out everything bad I just said. Everyone wants to be a forensic scientist now! When people ask little kids what they want to be when they grow up, forensic scientist is a very popular answer now. Why is this good? As a life long believer is education, I found this to be awesome. Anything that is getting kids into science is a good thing. Some high school science teachers are using CSI in their curriculum, using this interest to spark hopefully lifelong careers in science. With so few people going into science these days, this is a very good thing. What All the President's Men did to journalism 30 years ago, CSI is doing for science today. This alone makes me love this show regardless of how badly I think it sucks.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Hail Mary

Beth and I went for breakfast this morning at Peggy's Kitchen in Jeffersonville. We went out in the beginning of our blizzard to check out this restaurant's breakfast fare. It was very low on service and food quality but high on ambiance. It is in a beautiful old wood beamed room near the ski areas and inns. Some great people watching there as well.

There was a very enthusiastic Patriots fan at the table next to us. We got into a discussion with him about football. Since Beth is a Bears fan this was a lot of fun, but the discussion got onto Doug Flutie and his famous Hail Mary pass in the 1980's when he was playing for Boston College. Mr. Pats said that the first Hail Mary pass was originally done at Notre Dame and that is why it is called a Hail Mary pass because they are a Catholic school.

Well, I didn't believe this, but I couldn't remember where the term Hail Mary pass came from so I didn't say anything. I googled it when we got back home and I am right ... Mr. Pats is wrong. The original Hail Mary pass was thrown by Dallas Cowboy Roger Staubach on 12/28/1975 in a game at the final seconds game, with no other play possible, he closed his eye, threw the ball into the end zone (apparently said a Hail Mary to himself) and the ball was caught by the receiver. This is the first Hail Mary pass on record in professional football or any other type of football. Doug Flutie's 1984 pass may be the most famous, but Staubach's is the first. I could not find any record of Notre Dame ever completing such a pass.

Go Pats! Go Bears! Both teams play today. Which reminds me, I got to get in the car and drive to the Essex Inn to watch the games on the big screen.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Iphone, Uphone, we all phone ... and much more

Yesterday, Apple's Steve Jobs announced the Iphone. Just a day after it was announce, Cisco could be sueing them because of the name. One of their child company's Linksys has an Iphone for VOiP phone. Not sure how they are going to make it through this but apparently they have an agreement written up and the lawyers are reviewing it. It kinda make you want to go out and copyright a bunch of product called I something (iChair, iBush, iHat etc.) or the other vowels a uPhone, an aTV or a yPod. You could be a vowel squatter.

If you haven't seen it yet, here it is "Apple's Iphone". It is an MP3 player with a phone. Or is a phone with an MP3 player? It has email capacity, it has the Safari web browser and a nicer video screen for a movie if you like. It is a $500.00 cell phone but you won't need an iPod.

I don't know about you but I am having a geekgasm.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

One more thing to be worried about!

HPV is short for human papillomavirus. This is a virus that all sexually active adults will one day contract. It is an STD but because it is a virus, it will, in most cases, just go away with rest and good health. That is the good news that I learned today. Most of us will never even realize we have it.

The bad news (why is there always bad news?) is that some of us will get sick from this. In woman this virus can cause cervix cancer. Of the 120 types of HPV viruses, only 37 of them can cause cancer. The rest of them just cause warts (foot, hands, genital). Men don't have a cervix, hence the warts on the cervix won't lead to cancer of the cervix in men.

More good news (thankfully there is often more good news)! A vacine called Gardasil was approved by the FDA in 2006. Another one called GlaxoSmithKline is expected to be approved this year.

Thus ends my public health message.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Walk The Line

If you have already seen the film by James Mangold, Walk The Line, then what I learned today about Johnny Cash will not be a surprise to you. I enjoyed the film very much and I was very impressed with Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon's singing. I was also very pleased to see one of my newer favorite actresses, Ginnifer Goodwin from HBO's Big Love in the flim as Cash's first wife, Vivian. The differences in her character in this film compared to her performance as the third wife in Big Love shows how good of an actress she is.

The first thing I learned was that June Carter Cash was a member of the singing family, The Carter Family. I knew nothing about this group other than they were a country singing group in mid-century southern America. The film portrays them as having a lot of class and being very supportive of June and her beau, Johnny.

Vivian (full name Vivian Dorraine Liberto Cash Distin) was Roseanne Cash's mother. I guess I always assumed that June Carter was Roseanne's mother but apparently not. Vivian's other daughter, Kathleen Cash, apparently didn't like how her mother was portrayed in the film. I didn't see anything wrong with how she was portrayed since (1) the film was supposed to be from Johnny's perspective so anyone with half a brain would take that into account when watching it and (2) I don't really think she was portrayed that badly. She seemed to be someone really grappling with being the spouse of a travelling musician.

Also, June Carter Cash wrote one of Johnny's darkest songs "Ring of Fire." This is surprising because most of her songs are quite light.

I have always loved the songs I know by Johnny Cash but since I have not been a huge country fan throughout my life I don't know a lot of his songs. When I was young I did have the Folsom Prison live album but since it skipped, I didn't listen to it much. I just added it to my ITUNES shopping cart. I don't know a lot about this guy, but I know more now thanks to this film and to my fact checking on Wikipedia:

* I learned his brother Jack died at a very young age from an accident involving a table saw.
* I learned Johnny was an addict (amphetamines and barbiturates).
* He played with a band called the Tennessee Two that consisted of guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant.
* He auditioned with Sam Phillips playing gospel songs that Mr. Phillips wasn't very happy with.
* His first song was "Hey Porter" which didn't become a hit but the flip side made it to #6 on the country charts, "Cry Cry Cry."
* He was a member of the Air Force during the Korean War but was stationed in Germany so saw no action.

Currently, there are some country musicians I listen to but most of them are also considered folk or blue grass (Mary Gauthier, Eliza Gilkison, John Prine, Emmy Lou Harris, Dave Carter and Tracey Grammar and Vermont's own Smokin' Grass). I guess I can add Johnny to the list now.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Tolkien and the Elven language

When JRR Tolkien was attending Oxford University, he studied philology which is basically the study of language. It was there at Oxford he created the language of the elves that is spoken, written and often song in the Lord of the Rings. He wanted to write the entire book in the language of the elves, but realized that not even his closest friends would read such a volume written in a made up language. So he wrote it in English with the intent that his friend and colleagues to read it. One has to wonder what he would think of Peter Jackson's films and his current popularity. Maybe if he wrote the books in elven Mel Gibson would have taken the project on instead!

Luckily his colleagues did read his stuff because C.S. Lewis read The Hobbit and convinced him to publish it as a children's book. It was then then he decided that this elven project would be the sequel to The Hobbit. But evolved into a story geared more towards adults due to its complexity and darkness.

I also learned today that Tolkien was South African. He was born in Orange Free State (now name Free State Province), South African. His family moved to England when he was the age of 3.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

The Riot Act

The Riot Act was actually an act of British Parliament introduced in 1714. This was a time of unrest when George I had just become King. He was extremely unpopular and the commoners were rioting. Parliament introduced the Riot Act so that any official could read the Riot Act to any group of 12 people. Upon the completion of the reading of the act, the group had 20 minutes to disband. If they didn't disband, force could be used to do so. This is how the act read:

"Our Sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God Save the King."

Hence, the phrase "reading you the riot act" was formed. The act was repealed in 1973, but the phrase is still used today for anyone that wants you to stop gathering. So if anyone is really pissed off at you and they reached to you (as if reading the Riot Act), this means you and your 11 friends have 20 minutes to disband.