Thursday, December 24, 2009

TR and American Football

The more I learn about Teddy Roosevelt, the more I like him. I have been watching Ken Burns' National Parks. This film has elevated TR to hero status for me. Much of the stuff about him I already knew, but it is great to see it all in one place and so well arrange. One thing that I didn't know about him (that I learned by listening to NPR) is that he saved American football.

In 1905, there were close to 20 deaths on college football field. The death were related to brawls, gang tackles and to all around unsportsmanlike behavior. TR threatened to outlaw the sport not because he wasn't a fan but because he was. The sport fits right in with his manly shtick. Ten of his fellow Rough Riders were footballers. Football was still a fringe sport, at the time, being played by Ivy League College students. It didn't become popular until major newspaper actually printed a sports pages later in the century.

In 1906, upon TR's urging, the American Football Rules Committee met and changed the rules of the game to make it more safe. The forward pass was created which is really amazing. It was just a running game. The distance to get a first down was changed from five to ten. I am not sure how this made it safer. Perhaps, ten yards made passing more viable, certainly it made it a more interesting game. The biggest safety improvement was the banning of the gang tackle.

The biggest danger to modern day footballers is probably brain damage so much so that many pros are donating their brains to Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. Some of the brains of 40 year old football players show deterioration that one would expect of an 80 year old Alzheimer's patient. It makes me wonder what kind of rule changes are coming to the game to compensate for this.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Fairness Doctrine

The Fairness Doctrine was a policy that the US's FCC (Federal Communications Commission) applied to radio stations that discussed politics. It was an attempt to force these discussions to be balanced, honest and equitable. This basically shut down discourse on the airwaves. It was introduced in 1949, made into actual policy in 1967 and eventually repealed completely in 1987. This explains the explosion of talk radio in my lifetime. Rush Limbaugh was the first talk radio personality to take advantage of it. I can't imagine having the country at war in Vietnam and not being able to talk about the issues on a call-in show. I don't particular care for the state of talk radio now in America but I do agree (even if I disagree with most of it) that they have a right to their opinions and to the airwaves.

The first problem with this doctrine is that it is very hard thing to enforce not only for the FCC but for the radio stations. What exactly does balanced and equitable mean? For example if you have a scientist on your show to talk about Evolution ... do you really have to have a Creationist on? Since Evolution is basically accepted as fact by most (if not all scientists) ... do you really have to have a non-scientist on and then give them equal time? If you were talking about the link between autism and immunization ... would you really have to show both sides of this issue even though there is no science to show that there is a link at all? Enforcing honesty has a similar problem because when someone has an opinion and you don't agree with it, this doesn't make them dishonest. There is no such thing as a dishonest opinion. Too much gray area prevents a small town radio station from policing themselves.

Enforcing such a policy made this very expensive (particularly with a call in show). Most small time radio stations avoided political discussions altogether. For every topic you had to have two people on and they had to have equal time. This was cost prohibitive and very unfair considering that their competition, print media, did not have to do so. That's right ... the Fairness Doctrine was unfair ... not the first government policy that was inappropriately named.

Some people want to bring back the Fairness Doctrine because of the current state of talk radio which is a lot more like hate radio than it is talk radio these days. I am not one of them but I understand their concerns. Whenever I hear someone like Rush or Michael Savage on the radio or some of the Fox personalities like Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity on television, I think of Radio Rwanda. The media's role in spreading speech in the Rwandan Genocide is well known. In 1994 two radio stations and some newspapers started spreading hate speech and promoting violence against Tutsi by Hutu. The Tutsi were referred to as "cockroaches" for several years on these radio stations. Everyone ignored it until the violence started. One million dead bodies later ... we think maybe they should have been stopped.

As a liberal, I fear not only for my country and future, but for my own personal safety. I am only annoyed when they spread moronic lies, like Sarah Palin's Death Panels, but I am scared when I am being painted as unpatriotic or as an internal threat because I have a different opinion. People should be able to gather at a church or any other public place without fear of being gunned down (see Knoxville Shooting). Fear is their broadest tool and hate is what they create. The Fairness Doctrine seems like it was a bad thing but perhaps we need something that is a bit more fair in its place ... like a small dose of sanity and respect for one's neighbor.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Canadian Mounties

Most Americans know nothing about Canadian history. I have visited most of Canada's provinces and I may be more educated about Canada than most Americans, but I still find myself woefully ignorant about our friendly neighbors to the north. Sarah Vowell, one of my favorite non-fiction writers, says it is because Canada's history is basically boring. It lacks the cataclysm in which their troubled neighbor to the south is mired. Perhaps it is, but I must say, I admire the boredom.

One big example of US's troubled history is our treatment of the natives of this continent. 19th century events are mired with such massacres (Sand Creek, Little Big Horn and Wounded Knee) ... truly shameful events in our past. Canada's one such massacre is called the Cypress Hill Massacre. In 1873 some horses in Montana were stolen from some whiskey traders. The traders chased the thieves into Canada (into what is now known as Saskatchewan) where they they lost the thieves but came across a camp of Nakotas. They blamed the Nakotas for the theft, killed 23 of them and burned their trading posts to the ground. Please note: Canada's worst Indian massacre had only 23 dead and the killing was done by Americans.

While the American government encouraged such violence offering bounties on scalps, the Canadian government tried to avoid it. To help maintain the peace in the Northwest Territories, Canada's Prime Minister John MacDonald (their first) created the Royal Canadian Mounted Policy (RCMP) aka the Mounties. While America's west was rife with corruption and violence, Canada's was controlled by a police force. While the US's Calvary waged war, Canada's maintained peace. I am sure their harsh weather has a lot to do with the peace being maintained as well.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Flat Earth Society

I am a skeptic. Quite some time ago, I came to the realization that most people are not. I just deal with it. I tend to want more evidence than most people. When I don't understand something or when I find it unexplainable, I try not to cling to a popular idea or a simple explanation ... I usually need more evidence. I find it okay to say that "it is unknown ... at the moment."

Lately I have heard people on podcasts, radio shows and in person refer to things that I just don't believe exist. Of course, this is not new but it does seem to be happening more these days. They talk about ghosts or Sasquatch with such strong conviction and an assumptive air about them that I am taken aback. I am not sure if this is something I should point out to them or just shut up and accept the fact that they see the world differently than I do. I feel the same way when people assume that I believe in God, but on these occasions I don't hesitate to state that I am an atheist. In an era of political correctness, don't they have tolerate me as well?

Last week I heard someone refer to the Flat Earth Society. I thought this was a joke until I thought to look it up today on the net. There are actually people who still believe that the earth is flat, specifically, a flat bottomed disc with the North Pole at the center with a large sheet of ice surrounding the continents. Their view of the planet looks a lot like the flag of the UN. These are the same people who started the conspiracy theory that the Apollo landing was a hoax. Even Christopher Columbus believed the world was round. He thought he was in Asia instead of being on the "new" continent of North America, but even he knew he traveled around the planet.

I have to say that I am a little fascinated by their on-line forum. They were founded in 1956 by an English astronomer named Samuel Shelton. When he saw the first few satellite pictures of the Earth and claimed its shape was a dome and not a sphere. The Society officially disbanded in 2001 but they still have a presence ... you got it ... on the net. I hate posting the link for fear of spreading this nonsense, but I find myself too fascinated not to (kinda like attending a freak show).

My first thought on hearing about this is group that they were just another group that were not being skeptical enough. But perhaps the opposite is going on here. Perhaps they are being so skeptical that they are not accepting something that is just too obvious. Believing in a conspiracy of this magnitude is mind blowing.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Vermont International Film Festival

Today I attended the Vermont International Film Festival at the Palace 9 in South Burlington. I watched two great documentaries and missed the third because I was listening to the directors speak about the second film. Finding one thing to blog about after all that I was exposed to today is difficult so I tried to stick to one thing for each film.

Afghan Star is about Afghanistan's version of American Idol where singers compete to be #1. The film follows 4 of the contestants as they compete. Some of the contestants in the Afghan version risk their lives to compete, particularly the women. What was really cool about the film was that the last three contestants in the competition were from three distinct ethnic groups (Pashtun, Tajik and Hazara). In decades past, these groups had engaged in civil war, but on the show they competed peacefully. The show not only seems to unite the citizens but has created a productive boom in their economy boosting sales in televisions, batteries and CDs.

RFK in the Land of Apartheid: A Ripple of Hope is about Robert F. Kennedy's five day trip to South Africa in 1966. We had the pleasure of having a question and answer session after the film was over by the directors Tami Gold and Larry Shore. The Junior Senator from New York visited white colleges, black colleges, the shanties in Soweto and banned activists and leaders like Chief Albert Luthuli. It was an inspiring film. I learned a lot from this film, the most interesting things I learned were about Apartheid in South Africa.

I always knew in the Apartheid system, every person had a racial designation (black, white, coloured, or Indian/Asian). Depending on a person's distinction, they were granted different rights and had to abide by different rules. It determined everything from where they could live, shop, sit and which bus you could take. Madness! What I didn't know was that children were designated by the racial distinction of their father. The film shows an interview with a woman that was considered "coloured" because of her Malaysian background when her Indian husband died she was forced to move from her home because she was coloured. She could live there when her husband was alive because of his Indian status. After he died, she had to move but the children could stay. She had to go to court to have herself reclassified.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Al Gore and the Internet

I was listening to a Podcast today and I heard some right wing jerk mention, sarcastically, how Al Gore invented the internet. This is one of those things that Bush and other right wingers like to say to bring down this man. It occurred to me that I had never seen the speech where this occurred. So I looked it up on YouTube.

When you watch please note that he doesn't use the word "invented" but "created." So if you were watching President Eisenhower claim that he "created" the US Interstate Highway System ... would you assume that he was claiming to be one of the construction workers at the site or would you assume that he meant that he assisted politically or economically? I think the latter, but this didn't stop Bush from claiming otherwise during the general election. Bush wasn't really trying to appeal to the intelligence of voters, was he? Clearly, in this political environment Gore should have used a better choice of words. Maybe he should have said that he "helped" create the internet or assisted in the creation of the internet. Regardless, you still hear people throwing this into conversations when Al Gore is mentioned.

What was Gore talking about? In the early 90's I was at an IBM convention in New Orleans where he spoke. Environmentalism and technology have always been an obsession of his. I am not a techie and I was young at the time so some of what he was talking about was over my head. I'd love to hear that speech today. I was impressed with him. As a Senator, Gore created the High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991. This created the national research and education network (NREN) which, among other things, helps create standards for the net around the world. The World Wide Web (WWW) was born when this act was enacted. It was signed into law by President George Bush, Senior. So in 1991, the net already existed but the World Wide Web did not because there were no standards. Gore could claim that he contributed to the creation of the WWW, but not the net because it existed for two decades before this. Again, he misspoke ... something that just about anyone does the more a person talks and politicians talk a lot.

This also lead to creation of the Mosaic browser (the first I ever used at the Dedham public library) which is the first browser ever. It was later renamed Netscape. The creation of standards allowed software to be developed in a reasonably static environment. Before Mosaic, we had navigate around the net via the DOS prompt. One of the creators of Mosaic, Marc Andreesen, said that without Al Gore the internet "would not be where it is today."

The ironic thing is that this right wing jerk of a Podcaster, I mentioned earlier, owes homage to Gore. For if not for Gore, the Podcast would not exist.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Rant About Football

I am not a huge football fan. Since Friday Night Lights went off the air, you can safely say that I have cut my consumption of anything football related in half. Perhaps it is down to nothing since I haven't yet watched a game this year. It is not just that the NFL (the No Fun League) is made up of a bunch of felons and apologists for those felons ... it is not just that American ex-football players, aged 30 to 49, are 19 times more likely to have memory loss than the general population... it is not just that Michael Vick disgusts me ... it is mostly because I am bored with football. I see the athleticism, strategy and analogies to warfare in the game, I get it. I understand the game. Again it bores me and makes me uncomfortable watching it. I much rather watch a good tennis match, a baseball game or even walk around a golf course watching my niece play. Golf is very boring too but at least I get a walk in. Football just looks painful and watching people in pain, just is not very interesting to me. I've never enjoyed watching fights either so that's where I'm at.

I once saw a graphic of what happens to the brain when a person's body slams up against another. It looked like jello in a Tupperware bowl being thrown against the wall. I keep thinking of jello brains whenever I see a game. Not an image I want to hold onto.

I recently created a group in Facebook called "Boycott Michael Vick." This is obviously a very easy thing for me to do since I don't watch a lot of football. Not watching Philadelphia Eagles is pretty easy to do. I don't even have television reception in my home. But I do like to go out to pubs for a micro-brew and a burger and watch whatever is on. I guess I will have to schedule this around Eagles games. I am not so naive that I think boycotting this monster is going to accomplish anything other making me feel better. Also, I don't think his crime is any worse than many of the other felons in the NFL (domesticate abuse, rape, etc). I just think that if you train a bunch of beautiful creatures (in Vicks' case pit bulls) to kill each other for your entertainment, you rescind your right to be called a hero. His jail time is done but it is the NFL that I hold accountable for bringing him into people's living rooms and bars.

I bring this up today because I learned of a situation at the Philadelphia Eagles game a couple of weeks ago that pissed me off. A woman name Kori Martin entered their stadium with a t-shirt with the words "Losers fight pit bulls" on the front with Vicks' name and number scratched out. On the back were the words "you don't deserve a second chance." The officials at the stadium told her she could not wear the shirt. As a compromise, she could go to the game but only with the shirt turned inside out. This is maddening because I am a life long sports fan and I have witnessed some pretty atrocious things on t-shirta directed at players. Most of them have been worse than this. A t-shirt saying "Arod sucks and Jeter swallows" comes to mind. Once when I was a kid at Fenway (pre-Political Correctness), my dad and I listened to a drunk yell at Yastremski calling him a "dumb Pollock" for the whole game. But Phillie officials didn't allow a shirt that criticized a heinous crime like dog fighting. This is pretty outrageous to me. I'm about ready to boycott pretty much anything Phillie related at this point. Go Dodgers! It's Always Sunny in Los Angeles!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Power Distance

An overwhelming majority of the plane accidents in the world are caused by miscommunications among the flight crew, in particular between pilot and co-pilot. In this sort of work environment a subordinate needs to feel comfortable with bringing up problems and questioning authority. Power Distance measures how much the less powerful members of organizations feel about unequal distributions of power. This is a concept created by Dutch sociologist Geert Hofstede.

In cultures with low power distances, like most Western democratic civilizations (Australia, the US, Denmark), people expect and accept power relations that are more consultative. In these cultures subordinates expect to be able to contribute and think for themselves, plane accidents occur less often because critical information flows more easily. In such cultures like Korea or Malaysia (with high Power Distance) where subordinates are expected to do what they are told without questioning authority, plane accidents are much higher. Korean airlines had such a bad reputation that for a while some countries, like Canada, didn't even allow them in their air space.

Check out this link of Korean Air accidents:

They have solved this problem by training their crews to communicate better. Notice that the incidents stopped in the late 90's. So you have plans to visit Korea soon, like I do, it is now safe to travel there via a Korean Airline.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Decorum? What decorum?

I can't remember ever experiencing a week where I witnessed such lack of decorum among the famous as I have this week. These lapses in judgment have spanned pop culture, sports and politics. Some of these I am sure involved alcohol (or some other drug), definitely adrenaline or just plain arrogance and stupidity. This week alone we have seen:
  • Kanye West cuts in front of Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards during her acceptance speech to tell everyone that Beyonce deserves it more.
  • SC Congressman Joe Wilson yells "you lie" during the US President's speech before a joint session of the US Congress.
  • Tennis superstar Serena Williams loses it and threatens a line judge after she looses a match at the US Open.
  • Michael Jordan takes the opportunity during his Basketball Hall of Fame speech to, instead of thanking those who helped him, chide those who stood in his way.
I have been bracing myself whenever I am about to hear or watch a live event these days. What is going on out here? Do they feel so entitled that they don't care about decorum? Are they above it all? Or are they stoned?

Something I learned today that might explain it (probably not). LSD is not only not in anymore but it is no where to be found. When I was in college LSD was as ubiquitous as pot as a drug of choice when I was attending Grateful Dead, Max Creek and later Phish shows. Apparently, now it is nowhere to be found. It is an anomaly among drugs. The supply in the United States has almost disappeared, so the demand went elsewhere. I found this on Slate. A 2000 drug bust in Kansas took out the labs that were possibly supplying 90% of the stuff to the US.

I jest when I suggest that this explains Kanye West's behavior. But I do think that if he were on LSD instead of whatever else he was on, he'd probably would have just stayed in his hotel room and stared at the wall or his hands all night contemplating the universe. You choice which is better.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Pledge of Allegiance and Atheism

The "Pledge of Allegiance" was written in 1892 by a Baptist minister and socialist, Francis Bellamy. He accompanied the pledge with a salute, called the Belamy salute, which looked an awful lot like the Nazi salute. Because of this similarity, FDR did away with the salute during WW II replacing it with the placement of one's right hand on one's heart. It remains that way today.

The original pledge did not have the words "under God" in it. Since it was written by a minster I find this to relevant in that obviously he didn't think it was necessary. The words "under God" were introduced in 1954. Please note the upper-case G which means it is in reference to specific God and not a general term.

Generally, I wouldn't have a problem with this since I don't really care if someone believes in God (or god) or not. This is an individual choice. Since I don't believe in god in the slightest and haven't for several decades, I find it a little disturbing that we are still forcing children to recite this thing. This wouldn't bother me so much if the words "under God" weren't present. Many Americans are atheists or agnostics and have the right to bring up their kids however they choose. A pledge of allegiance to a nation where religion is a choice that has a the words "under God" seems to be a contradiction and extremely unfair to those tax paying individuals who disagree. I don't have any children but I find this to be an injustice regardless. By the time I was in high school, I already considered myself an atheist and would skip these two words while reciting the pledge. I suggest non-believers to do the same.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Cove

I've always wanted to attend Sundance Film Festival. One of the biggest hits this year was the documentary film The Cove. It is supposed to be part action/adventure and part horror film. It is about dolphins. It traces America's love for dolphins from the television show Flipper, to sea world, to dolphin therapy and eventually to the actual subject of the film, a cove off the coast of Japan in a quaint town called Taijii where dolphins are capture and slaughtered at an alarming rate. Over 23,000 dolphins are slaughtered annually in this cove. I hear the film is wonderful, exciting and horrible. Difficult to watch.

Louie Psihoyos's (the director) adventure to get to the cove is the exciting part. The cove is guarded 24 hours a day. You have to go through tunnels to get there. I hear it has a James Bond quality. What he filmed when he arrived at the cove, a place never filmed before, is the horrible part. When dolphins are slaughtered they scream. I'm not sure if I could take this, but a sense of duty as concerned Earthling binds me to seek it out.

Some of the dolphins are captured alive. A live dolphin can be sold for $150.00.00. If you've been to sea world, you probably have seen a dolphin that came from this cove. These are not only beautiful and cute animals but sentient creatures capable of thought, communication and self awareness.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Steven, Cat and Yusuf

Cat Stevens is one of the most enigmatic characters in pop/rock music history. He was born with the name, Steven Demetre Georgiou, changed his name to Cat Stevens while pursuing his musical career and then changed it to Yusef Islam after converting to Islam. Change is his thing. He's been on a search and I have to admire him for it.

I knew he was British, but knew nothing else about his early life until today. His father was Greek and his mother Swedish. I always assumed he was from Middle Eastern stock because of the Islamic conversion but that was obviously wrong. He received a guitar for his 15th birthday and started hanging with the hipster crowd in Soho shortly thereafter. He took the name Cat because his girl friend said he had cat-like eyes. He had a few early hits in Britain but they did not sound much like what we would recognize as your typically profound and introspective Cat Stevens song. At the age of 19 (in 1968) he had a life changing event when he contracted tuberculosis and almost died. While convalescing for a year or so, he wrote the songs that would make up his next five albums. This is the period that he wrote such songs as "Wild World," "Peace Train," "Father and Son," "Morning Has Broken," and "Moon Shadow." These are the songs you think of when you hear the name Cat Stevens. I think I'd volunteer to have T.B. if I had a guarantee I could come out of it with just one of these songs.

The more famous he became, the more miserable. He sought out religion. In 1976, he almost drowned off the coast of Malibu. While taking what he thought was one of his last breathe of air, he cried out "to God" that he would work for God if God saved him. He claims a huge wave came out of nowhere and pushed him ashore. He continued his spiritual search thereafter, he converted to Islam in 1977 and changed his name to Yusuf Islam. He gave up his music career for 25 years, but not because the music was evil or against his religion, but that there were aspects of the music industry that were incompatible with the teachings of the Qu'ran. He returned to music in 1990's. I like what I have heard of his new stuff. If you like his old stuff, you should check it out. The new songs are similar but less catchy and more complex. My favorite of his new stuff is the song, "Indian Ocean."

Monday, July 27, 2009

Stowe and the European Canon

Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin was the best selling American novel of the 19th century. Overall, it was the 2nd best selling book behind the Bible. It was such an influential book at the time that Abe Lincoln referred to her as "the little lady" that started the war. But at the time, the American literary canon did not accept this book as literature. This is probably not only because it was written by a woman, but also because it was a very popular book. To this day, American intelligentsia think of a popular book as non-literature. At the time, the book was well accepted around the world. While great European writers like Tolstoy, Turgenev, Balzac and George Elliot were calling it a masterpiece, American universities wouldn't go near it.

This is one of those books that I started but never finished. Like a Ulysses or The Sound and the Fury, it is difficult read. Not something you pick up and read on the subway. I need a more controlled environment to read something like this. It is on my book shelf awaiting my retirement. Hopefully I get to it before then.

One embarrassing note is that I always assumed that she was a black writer. Apparently, she is not. Every picture I see of her she looks like caucasian. I checked several internet sites that list African American writers of the 19th century and she is not listed. She is from Connecticutt and wrote her most famous novel in Brunswick, Maine. Who would have thought it?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Stimulating Confusion

Confusion has set in! It has settled, relaxed and become the norm. I am not sure where to go with this. I've been stewing on these thoughts for so long, I might linger way too long for a blog post. I wonder if someone who knows a lot about history is destined to spin it ... and if someone doesn't know history is bound to repeat it ... then if someone just knows a little of history, like myself, does that mean I am destined to spin repeatedly around in confusion. Because this is what is happening to me and I don't like it.

To be specific one point of confusion is the naming of things. If you give something a new name, does that make it different from the old thing even though it is basically the same? ... like when you name something "The Surge" or "The Stimulus Package" but then do exactly what we were doing earlier... in this case, sending soldiers over seas and spending government money, respectively. Or do we name it something new because it slightly larger than what we have done in the past? We send soldiers overseas all the time, but since we are sending just a little bit more and concentrating it into one area ... does that constitute a new name? History and current events would be less confusing if rhetoric would go away.

A lot of confusion stems from those who complain about the Stimulus Package like it is a new idea or it has never worked before. Stimulus packages and government spending in general have not only worked on a very large scale, economically, but have worked culturally as well. Here are some examples:

A Stimulus Package defeated Hitler and Imperial Japan. The government spent an exorbitant amount of money on World War II, not only for weapons but parachutes, socks and uniforms for the troops among other things. This spending trickled throughout our communities and pulled us out of the biggest economic depression in our history.

A Stimulus Package sent these guys to college and created one of greatest cultural revolutions in the history of the world. After World War II, the government was going to stiff the GI's as usual but thanks to a handful of Senators, Congressmen and President Eisenhower, they received Grants to go to college, buy property and start businesses. Because most of them were working class, many believed that this would not come to anything. Yet here is just a handful of Americans who used the GI Bill to do amazing things with their lives: Harry Belafonte, Charles Bronson, Johnny Cash, Bill Cosby, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gene Hackman, Joseph Heller, Jack Klugman, Norman Mailer, Frank McCourt, William Rehnquist, Rod Steiger, James Whitmore and James Wright. Not only that but the GI Bill sent my father to college. How cool is that?

A Stimulus Package sent a man to the moon.
A Stimulus Package built the railroads and easily connected cities and towns from coast to coast to each other and their resources for the first time ever.
A Stimulus Package built our interstate highway system ... the envy of the world.
A Stimulus Package built the Hubble Telescope.
A Stimulus Package built the Panama Canal.
A Stimulus Package built the Erie Canal, Grand Coulee Dam and the Hoover Dam.
A Stimulus Package defeated polio.

Government spending paid for my primary education, paves my roads and brings me my mail each day. How much more evidence do you need? Because I have a lot more.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Celebrating Sarah

I am not very happy with how our country celebrates Independence Day. Fireworks are pretty but I enjoy the serenity of a lake much more than squiggly lines of color or big booms. Considering the amount of debris that ends up in our country's lakes due to fireworks and the effects that the big booms have on the wildlife ... a quiet time of reflection is more to my liking.

It also seems that we celebrate the wrong things during this holiday. Our parades and floats are filled with remnants of war: veterans, weapons and flags. Jet fighters fly by all day. I acknowledge the importance of these things and the sacrifices that are involved, but they have their own holiday in May. War is NOT what is great about America, our Independence is. Our country's great documents like The Declaration of Independence, The Federalist Papers and The Constitution were put together by the geeks of 18th century. Many of them didn't even fight in the war. Shouldn't we be celebrating geeks on Independence Days, not war heroes? War is something that we do to maintain our Independence and way of life, hopefully, as a last resort. It is not a good thing, it is a necessary evil. This is not something that is good about America. I understand that freedom is not free, I get that, I just resent having the idea beaten over my head like it is.

Why has war become so much of a focus of Independence Day? July 4th, 1776 is the date that we signed the Declaration of Independence. Shouldn't it be a day that we celebrate boldness or bravery in spirit, not so much in war but in deeds ... in innovation? Geekiness? Shouldn't we be celebrating Thomas Edison, Henry Ford or even Susan B. Anthony or Arthur Miller on this day? Not the guys down at the Elk's Clubs? Why aren't scientists, business leaders, writers and/or journalists being put on pedestals as great patriots on Independence Day? Surely, our independence means more to us than a 19th cannon or the 1812 Overtures (composed by a Russian).

Why aren't we celebrating Sarah Vowell? I ask this question today because when I hear Sarah Vowell speak or read from her journals, I hear such amazing reverence for America in her voice. I just shake my head and think what a wonderful country this is. Her books are amazing. Isn't Fourth of July the perfect day to celebrate Sarah?

I just heard a piece by her on NPR's This American Life (one of my favorite podcasts). It was about the Maquis Lafayette. In 1824, President Monroe welcomed Lafayette back to America for a visit. He hadn't been here since his days in the Revolutionary War. He was only 19 when he originally came to America in 1777. He was an unpaid volunteer in Washington's Continental Army. His charisma earned him much accolades. George Washington claimed that he wanted to adopt him. He was a pen pal of Alexander Hamilton. Lafayette's welcome party was probably the biggest party ever thrown, proportionately, in America. At a time when the population of New York City was 120,000 people, 80,000 people showed up to greet him. Sarah says his arrival not only saved Independence Hall in Phillie but he kissed Walt Whitman as a child. What an amazing country we have! Thanks Sarah for sharing this. I only wish I heard this a couple of days when I was reflecting on America while my neighbor's fireworks were keeping me awake.

I am not going to regurgitate everything she says in her piece. You can hear the whole thing on This American Life's web site. Her piece starts at around 49 minute mark and is only 9 minutes long. I just want to let you all know that when you are celebrating the war heroes during the 4th of July ... I am celebrating Sarah ... (and other innovators like her) ... and the country that produced her and her awesomeness. That is my America.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Restoring Your Virginity

I listen to podcast all day while I work. I feel more informed than I have ever been in my life. I feel even enlightened at times. Some of the stories I hear sometimes renew my faith in humanity. Not today though. Today I heard about how plastic surgeons are now offering the restoration of a woman's virginity. They surgically restore the hymen and tighten the vagina. Some women are doing it as a gift for their lovers/husbands. It is like something out of a bad sci-fi novel. This not only exists but it is growing in popularity.

While googling about this subject, I also learned that some women are auctioning their virginity. A young woman recently auctioned her virginity on the Howard Stern Show to pay for college. Considering the virginity could be fake, I hope she didn't get a lot.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

He Was a Baum

Some events in history seem to change how people think. Some of these events are in your face like the events of 9/11/01 or world wars etc., while others are more subtle like the moon landing or even Caption Kirk kissing Lt. Uhura on network TV. They change the way people see the world and by doing so change the world like that REM song, "it's the end of the world as we know it / I feel fine." The more I learn about the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, more I think that this maybe one of those events. One in four Americans attended this event. Think of that for a minute. This was an era where the train was the fastest mode of transportation. This was a huge event. Hamburgers, cream of wheat, chocolate bars, Ferris wheels, chewing gum, pancake mix, hula dancing and ragtime music (by none other than Scott Joplin) were introduced to the American public. It made some heads spin.

Frank Baum was a middle-aged man when he attended this event. It was a game changer for him. He was an author and an unsuccessful businessman. He wrote about raising chickens and published a trade journal about the subject. A few years later he published The Wonderful World of Oz. Among other things, the Emerald City had incredible inventions like color televisions, laptops and wireless phones. His Oz was an incarnation of the Chicago World's Fair.

A few other things I learned about him is that he grew up in up-state New York State not far from the original Yellow Brick Road:

He based both the good witch and the bad witch on his mother-in-law, Matilda Joslyn Gage, who was a big name in the woman suffrage movement. She and her friends were also interested in witchcraft so the connection wasn't a big leap. She was a nag to him but she also was the biggest supporter of his writing and urged him to put his stories in print. Ironically, she was also a big advocate for Native American rights. Baum's other claim to fame, later in his life, was publishing some scathing verbal attacks on plains Indians in the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer provoking fear and urging their extermination. He did this mostly because he was broke.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Flaming Lips and the Oklahoma State song

A few years ago, my friend Patrick let me borrow a copy of The Flaming Lips CD Yashimi Battles the Pink Robots. I was so impressed. It is not often that I like (or love in this case) a CD on the first listen. It usually takes several close listens. It is not only a great musical experience but it tells a story about a Japanese girl defeating pink robots. How cool is that!

Back in March, the state of Oklahoma voted on a state rock song. Since the Lips are from OK, their song "Do You Realize?" was on the list for Oklahomans to cast their vote for. This is a beautiful song. The other songs included "After Midnight" by JJ Cale, "Home Sweet Oklahoma" by Leon Russell, "Heartbreak Hotel," by Elvis because it was co-written by, Oakie, Mae Boren Axton and Three Dog Night's "Never Been to Spain" written by her son, Hoyt Axton ... among others. The Lips won by a large margin getting 51% of the vote. When one of the band members showed up at the award ceremony with a red t-shirt with a hammer and sickle on it, two Republican state reps made a stink and it was rejected in the state House of Representatives. The governor overrode it and now "Do You Realize?" is OK state's rock song. Nice to see they have time to spend on this kind of stuff!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Hamilton's Youth

Of all the US founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton's youth is the most fascinating. It reads like a Dickens or a Hardy novel. He was born on the island of Nevis in British West Indies to parents who were not married. His family moved to St. Croix when he was around the age of 10, his father left the family a few years later and then his mother died of a severe fever before he was a teen. He and his older half brother, James, were left as orphans. Because James was the son of a man that his mother was once married to, he received most of their mother's belongings in probate. Alexander did receive a library of 34 books ( Greek and Roman classics) that were bought at auction by a family friend who then gave them to young Alexander as a gift ... an act of kindness that might have changed the world. He could not attend the Church of England's school because his parents were not married, so these books went a long way. Both boys were adopted by their cousin, Peter Lytton, who committed suicide shortly thereafter. The boys were split up when Alexander was adopted by a merchant Thomas Stevens. As a teenager, a letter of his describing a hurricane that devastated the island was published in a local paper. His community was so impressed with him they created a fund for his enducation on the main land. He arrived in the New Jersey/New York area in early 1770's where he eventually attended King's College which is now called Columbia University (this makes me happy).

Hamilton knew nothing about artillery before the war so picked up a book and taught himself. George Washington noticed him during the war while Hamilton was a captain of the New York Provincial Company of Aritllery. He noticed his wit and ability to learn quickly. He ended up serving for four years as Washington's Chief of Staff and eventually was the first US Secretary of Treasury in Washington's cabinet. Other than George Washington, none of the other founding fathers liked him much. He was a know-it-all with brash social skills and he did not dress well.

Friday, April 10, 2009

George Takei and the Japanese American Relocation Camps

Few actor's voices have as great affect on me than George Takei. Like Morgan Freeman's, his voice is calming and soothing. I could listen to this man read the dictionary. I wish I had a voice like this. It didn't surprise me to learn that he got his start in acting doing voice over. He is fluent in Japanese, English and Spanish so would do the dubbed voice over for many famous Hollywood actor's foreign releases. Like many Japanese actors of his era, he got his start in front of the camera in war films playing the enemy. You could imagine how excited he was when he landed his role as Mr. Sulu on the original Star Trek TV series. Gene Rodenberry understood that a crew that represented the planet Earth should have more than just a Caucasian crew. He is more recently known as Kaito Nakamura on the NBC show Heroes.

When he was the age of five, Takei's family was notified that they (an American family) were to be escorted out of their homes to an interment camp for Japanese Americans. A few days later some uniformed men appeared at their door with guns and brought them to a truck that brought them from their Los Angeles home to the Rohwer War Relocation Center in south eastern Arkansas. Over a period of two years, close to 8,500 Americans of Japanese descent were kept in this camp. The Takei's were eventually moved to the Tule Lake Relocation Camp in Newell, CA. He lived in an interment camp until he was eight. Takei says of the experience that they were treated reasonably well but the fact that they were surround by guards with machine guns gave them all a sense of fear. They didn't know what was going to happen to them. When they were eventually released after the war, some had difficult recovering their valuables and property.

There are not many situations in American history that make me frustrated than stories of our fellow citizens were treated this way purely because of their ethnicity. Some of these families were here for a century, yet that didn't stop the government treating them all like traitors. German Americans were not treated this way. Some German Americans were thrown in jail, but only if they were confessed German nationals. In recent years, after seeing how some Middle Eastern Americans are treated, I can't say we have changed that much. FDR may be one of my favorite US Presidents, but this does seem like one of his gravest errors.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Baseball in Korea

When we invited a Korean foreign exchange student into our home, I was expecting to learn and grow some appreciation for Korean culture. This has happened. It was been an enlightening experience, but I didn't expect to grow more appreciative about my own culture here in America. This has been an added bonus to this experience. I hear not only appreciation from him in regards to how America how helped South Korea throughout history but admiration. He is now a daily reminder for me to be a bit more patriotic and appreciative for what I have been born into.

While driving him into school this morning we were not talking about history but baseball. I asked him if he had ever played for a team because he is a fan of the sport. He explained to me in Korea that the college bound kids don't play sports. At an early age you are put on a track from which you don't deviate. After lunch, the high school athletes leave school and go to practice for the rest of the day while the college bound kids stay in class until 9pm. I explained to him that some of our athletes are also scholars (but I emphasized some). He told he thought that the reason why the Korean team lost to the Japanese team at the WBC was because the Japanese team played smarter and were smarter. I don't know if this is true, but it is certainly his perception.

Here in the states every town (or close to it) has at least one baseball diamond. Little league is a right of passage with our youth. If you want to participate, it is there. He told me that Korea probably has a total of 50 baseball diamonds in the whole country. Of course, this is not an official number. I have no idea how many they actually have, but he said that when he visited Japan that he couldn't believe the number of baseball diamonds he saw. Korea has Little League but it appears to be a small organization, only in the big cities and not for everyone. If you know more about this, please let me know. I am very interested. I couldn't find much about it on the net.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Alien Hand Syndrome

One of my favorite films is Dr. Strangelove. In the film, the character Dr. Strangelove is a comically dark character who has lost control of his arm. Occasionally, while in the War Room, he puts his arm up in the air as if to say, "Hile Hitler," and knocks it down with the other arm. This is a subtle reminder to the fact that the US enlisted the help of Nazi scientists to assist with the building of the Hydrogen bomb.

What he suffers from is called Alien Hand Syndrome aka Dr. Strangelove syndrome. It is an extremely rare neurological disorder where the victim has lost control of one of their arms. Sometimes it is so bad that they don't even notice until it is pointed out to them. It happens when the connection between the brain's two hemisphere is severed. Sometimes it is caused by surgery for extreme cases of epilepsy.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

MLB.TV is a joke

I live in one of those remotes areas of the country that does not yet have cable access. I am in that 5% of the US that has to get their television via their analog (soon to be digital) signal or via a satellite dish. I have chosen a third option. I get most of my television via the net. Most of the shows I watch are available via Hulu. Those few shows like Lost or South Park that are not available there so I go right to source. I get them through the networks web sites. So basically, I really don't need cable. I can even get baseball ... up until today. I don't think I am going to do business with MLB-TV anymore.

I have a Korean high school student living with me and he loves baseball, particularly the Korean team. This interest that we have in common has been key in our bonding with him. I subscribed to the MLB-TV early this year so that we could watch the World Baseball Classic. This is the second WBC. The next year should be 2012 (every 3 years). Korea has a very exciting team. They won the Olympics in 2008. Tonight they are playing Venezuela in the semi-finals. Tomorrow the US plays Japan. The winner of these two games go to the finals. We haven't been able to see much of the Korean games because their games have been in Tokyo or San Dieago so they have been on late here on the East Coast. We stayed home tonight with intention of watching the game. I had my popcorn ready ... I had my laptop hooked to my big screen TV ... but thanks to MLB.TV and Major League Baseball, it is not going to happen. The game is blacked out. The last 3 games of the WBC are blacked out on the net even if you have paid for it like I did.

The WBC has a total of 39 games. With the last three games being blacked out, that is almost 10% of the series that is blocked ... the three most important games. I didn't expect MLB to have a blackout on any of these games especially since most sports fans are watching March Madness right about now. I guess I also expect that any company that is going to take your money for a product might make it obvious that 10% of that product wouldn't be available. I would expect that they wouldn't hide this fact in their terms of service. This is just another example of the state of baseball in the US ... more about the money than the baseball.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Annie Hall's other titles

I was a kid when I first watched Woody Allen's Annie Hall. I had previously watched his more slapstick films Take The Money and Run and Sleeper, so I was surprised when it was still very funny yet a deeper and more complex of a film. I don't think I understood a lot of the humor and the complexity at the time. It was probably the first art house (for lack of a better term) film that I saw and it really changed how I saw film from there on end. I know I am not unique in this experience. I have to say I am forever grateful, to not just Woody Allen and the creators of this masterpiece, but also to the program directors of whatever Boston/Providence television station that brought it into my home some time in the late 1970's. From that time forward I was hungry for the finer films the world had to offer.

The original title of the film was Anhedonia which according to Wikipedia is an emotional disorder of someone who cannot find any pleasure in life no matter what they do. This could be the title of a good many Woody Allen films. In looking at this word, anhedonia, one has to wonder if the name Annie Hall came from it. The film was changed to Annie Hall due to marketing which was probably a good move. Marshall Brickman, Allen's co-writer, had some other suggestions which I find to be very amusing: It Had to Be Jew, Roller Coaster Named Desire and Me and My Goy. One has to wonder if it would have won the Oscar if it had any of these titles. Can you imagine someone in a tuxedo announcing that Me and My Goy won the Oscar for best picture? Oy!

While writing the script, Brickman approached Allen to tell him that the script was very confusing and difficult to read. He was one of the writers and even he couldn't tell what was going on at points. It was after that point that they decided to concentrate on the two characters Alvy and Annie. I'd love to see the earlier script.

One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Annie and Alvy are hanging out in Central Park. Alvy, Allen's character, is pointing out people to Annie and making funny comments about them. He points to one guy and says, "Oh, there goes the winner of the Truman Capote Look-Alike Contest." The actor playing this man was actually Truman Capote. This is just an example of one of the things I missed when I watch it as a kid.

Friday, March 13, 2009


My wife and I had an interesting conversation today with the Korean teenager living with us. After dinner we somehow got on the topic of intimacy. It was a great conversation, nothing explicit, but open and mature. He used the term skinship that we had never heard before. He referred to his friends as his skinship friends. We thought he might be saying kinship, so I googled it after we got home. Apparently, it means a physical non-sexual relationship. It could mean the physical relationship between a parent and a child, like when you bathe an infant, but it could also be used like he did ... between friends. So if you have a friend over to watch a movie and use his/her leg to lay your head down on, in a non-sexual way, that is skinship. He said it like he does with our dog, it is comforting and physical, but not sexual.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers are a group of articles, 85 of them, that appeared in the New York City newspapers from October 1787 and August 1788. 51 of the articles were written by Alexander Hamilton, 29 by James Madison and five by John Jay all under the pseudonym Publius. The purpose of these articles were to convince people to ratify the US Constitution. It was written in response to the Anti-Federalist papers that appeared in the same papers earlier in 1787.

The most important issues addressed by The Federalist Papers was the role of the president. At the time, the idea that the US should have three presidents was common to avoid the presidency from evolving into a monarchy. The Federalist Papers argued for one president with limited power. One of the most controversial power of the presidency was his ability to declare war. Among other things, the papers addressed judicial review and the fact that the Constitution was a flawed document. Because it was flawed, it was suggested that it be revisited every 20 years with another Constitutional Convention. The next time you hear someone mention the original intent of the Constitution, you might want to mention this.

The Federalists obviously won this battle but much of the Anti-Federalist's concerns were addressed in the Bill of Rights published a few years later.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I visited Charleston, South Carolina today for the first time. For a northern liberal like myself visiting a southern city for the first time is always interesting. While I am interested in history and I love visiting places where something important happened, I find myself having to hold my tongue when I do something like walk by the grave of John C. Calhoun. Today I started to tell my wife about Calhoun's politics and I had to stop because another tourists was listening. I am pretty sure that this southern man probably wouldn't have like what I had to say. Calhoun was a state's rights man which isn't enough for me to bash anyone, but in his time state's rights was shorthand for slavery and slave owner's rights. I always thought that if not for Calhoun and his secessionist rhetoric the American Civil War may not have ever happen. But I learned today that he died 11 years before the war. So perhaps not. It is hard to say.

Charleston is on the Atlantic Ocean but it is also in between two rivers, the Ashley and the Cooper. The bridge going over the Cooper, the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge, is the largest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere. It is quite impressive. Charleston is also home to Fort Sumter, the site of the first battle of the American Civil War and the Citadel, the famous military school made even more famous by the Conroy novel, The Lords of Discipline.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Road Trip log: PA Changes

I take at least one major road trip a year. The more the better. I love being on the road. It is exhausting and sometimes difficult, but in the long run, the stimuli, the experience and the adventure make it worth it.

I noticed a couple of changes in Pennsylvania this year, one change I liked and one I did not. Along the ridge of some mountains, I saw a long line of huge wind mills. I find these to be quite awe-inspiring and exciting. I don't know why anyone would find these to be ugly. There are only 13 of them now, but they are expected to add 51 more soon. This is an awesome trend that I hope catches on everywhere. It is sights like these that make me want to buy products in PA to support their economy.

The change that I saw that I didn't like was electric billboards. It is probably the fact that I live in a state without billboards (against the law in Vermont) that I didn't know about these yet. What an awful idea. They are LED screens and their messages change before your eyes. This idea combines two really bad ideas ... wasting energy and distracting drivers. I find billboards so incredibly ugly. Pennsylvania is such a lovely state, I don't know why they would clutter their countryside with this crap. The all mighter dollar rules, I guess. If not for the windmills, I'd be looking for a way to avoid the state. I love driving through Canada.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

William Zantzinger is finally dead

One of the most haunting songs Dylan ever wrote is The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll. It chronicles the death of a 51 year old black woman, Hattie Carroll, at the hands of a 24 year old drunken white racist, William Zantzinger in October 1963. In the song, Dylan calls him Zanzinger. I don't know why he misspelled the name. Perhaps it was a legal issue or perhaps it sounded better. I couldn't find anything about this.

Zantzinger struck Carroll over the head and shoulders with a cane in Baltimore's Emerson Hotel after she took too long to bring him his glass of bourbon. Eight hours later she was dead. Zantzinger served 6 months at a county jail after being convicted of this crime. His defense: he was drunk. Also, Carroll's health was not good so the charges were reduced to manslaughter. His wife, whom he also beat that day, stated "Nobody treats his niggers as well as Billy does around here." Zantzigger was actually freed for a time during his sentence so that he could tend his tobacco crop. He spent more time in jail in the 1990's for 50 misdemeanor counts of unfair and deceptive trade practice.

This is a sad story of injustice but is only uncommon because it was immortalized in a song one of best selling pop albums of the era, The Times They Are a'Changin'. If not for the song, most of us would know nothing about this particular story. Zantzinger died a few weeks ago, a wealthy real-estate developer. I am willing to bet that Carroll's 11 kids didn't fair as well. If it is any consolation, the song did help the cause of the Civil Rights movement and his name has become synonymous with white privilege. Not much of a consolation for the Carroll family.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Happiness is a Warm Gun

John Lennon got the title of the song, "Happiness is a Warm Gun," from an NRA advertisement he saw in a magazine. The full quote "Happiness is a warm gun in your hand" was the working title of the song. The idea of a warm gun (meaning that it was just fired) being the object of happiness was a little shocking to Lennon. He thought a love song for one's gun would be a great exercise in irony. This is ironic in a lot of ways, not only because of Lennon's death by gun violence, but the fact that he may not have known that the advertisement itself was a parody of a Charles Schultz Peanuts books, Happiness is a Warm Puppy. This Beatles' song is a parody of a parody.

Lennon called this song a chronicle of the history of rock n' roll. It changes tempo many times going from 2/4 time to 3/4 time to 6/8, 3/4, 4/4 and ends in 6/4 time. It also includes some spoken word and a doo-wop featuring the lyrics bang bang shoot shoot. It also contains one of my favorite Beatles' lines, Mother Superior jump the gun. It is a great song but didn't get a lot of airplay as you could imagine. Lennon was not only a victim of gun violence but he was a victim of bad timing. The Beatles album (more common known as The White Album) was released in November 1968. Considering what was happening in the news in 1968, one can understand why no radio station would go near this song. The public had had enough of gun violence, the irony of the song would have been lost on most of them I am afraid.

What I have always found interesting about The White Album is how if you shuffle some of the songs around, you basically have a couple of solo albums featuring Lennon and Paul McCartney with a handful of Ringo and George songs thrown in. The Lennon/McCartney songs were a lot more just Lennon or just McCartney songs rather than the usual collaborative pieces. The fissures in the band were very deep by then. The end was near.

The album was originally going to be titled The Doll House but was changed when another band called Family released an album with the same name. The White Album is 10th best selling album of all time and considered by many to be the best Beatles album. Rock 'n roll lends itself well to discord. Some of the best rock albums were created during chaotic situations where the band members were not even talking to each other. Off the top of my head I can think of Rumours by Fleetwood Mac and The Final Cut by Pink Floyd. I am sure there are more.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

John Maynard Keynes

John Maynard Keynes is in the news almost every day lately. The guy died over 50 years ago, yet his name is in the news more now than ever before. Due to the bailouts and the stimulus packages, Keyes' economic theories are being put to the test like never before. I went to business school in the 1980's when that it was taught why Keynes was wrong. Yet, here we are. Can the government spend the country out of economic ruin? Can the stimulus pay for itself by stimulating and then taxing the business that results from it? I guess we'll see.

Keynes was an interesting character. He was openly gay in an era that was not tolerant to this, at all. He dine out ever night with his partner and referred to him as his husband. Eventually, he married a Russian ballerina. He was an extreme elitist who basically believed that if you took a handful of smart guys (preferably from Cambridge) in a room could you solve any problem. He hated the working class, Americans and the Irish. He thought they were all better off being managed from afar, preferably Cambridge.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The War Against the Trees

I grew up in a southern New England town where people hated trees. It is a northern Rhode Island (aka the Pavement State) mill town that has very few trees and probably getting more paved everyday. People who live there seem to have a love affair with pavement. You could actually hear people complain about a tree in their yard that is destroying the pavement. The roots of the tree were busting through and cracking the pavement ... must kill the tree. I grew up there and it wasn't until I was older, in my twenties, that I started noticing how odd this was. The ironic thing is that the city stank and no one seemed to connect the two. The same people who hated the trees would also complain the loudest about the smell. Since trees are actually clean air factories ... you think they would want more trees. Ignorance is infectious and it is easier to move when you are an American, than it is to change people's minds.

I know this is not a "city thing." I lived in Boston for 10 years. Actually for a few of those years, in the largest city in New England, I lived on a dirt road. It was a dead end road and a lot more like an alley than a road, but it was dirt and gravel. This is rare in Boston but I wasn't far from a lot of trees. The arboretum wasn't far. Bostonians are in love with their arboretum. Visiting Arnold Arboretum on a sunny day in any season is a joyous event. This is all you need if you ever need any proof that Bostonians really are not that rude, but quite friendly. They just need some trees and perhaps a little sun to cheer them up. The same could be said about Central Park in Manhattan and probably any other big city. I am not sure why the tiny city that I grew up is any different. I don't know if it has changed. I haven't been there for years.

I live in northern New England now in a rural setting. I would have to walk for over a mile from my front door to find pavement. For a while, if you looked up my address in Google Earth, all you would see on your screen is a big green patch. Quite lovely! When I step out my door each day, I take a deep breath of fresh air to remind myself of where I live. I am grateful for getting out and pleased of the choices I have made in life.

We lost an apple tree during the first snow storm at our current house. It was the closest tree to our back deck so we were quite sad to lose it. But now, several years later, another tree is growing in its place. I sometimes feel that I have not moved two states north, but a different planet. People love their trees up here. I guess I am a tree hugger. I feel at home here in tree-hugger-central.

One of my favorite NPR commentators is Robert Krulwich. His show Radio Lab is my favorite science radio show. I listen to a lot of science shows but this one is the best. He also does a commentary now and then on NPR and I heard one today about trees. That's what got me thinking and then writing about them. According to this commentary the ratio of trees to humans on the Earth are 61 to 1. Considering the amount of tree products we use everyday from toilet paper to chewing gum, this number isn't very big at all. But Krulwich points out that unlike oil, trees are a renewable resources. If you are feeling guilty about your tree product use, plant a tree now and then. If you don't have room, I do. I have a few acres that are only field. You buy the tree I will plant it for you and please stop hating the trees, they are our friends and when they fall, they do make a big sound even if there is no one there to listen.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Willie Lincoln and parties at the White House

Mary Todd Lincoln was the first First Lady of the United States to actually throw a private party at the White House. Before then parties at the White House were open to the public. I can't imagine this happening now, but considering the population of DC in 1850 this was a lot easier. The most interesting of these parties is the wedding reception the Lincolns threw for General Tom Thumb ( Charles C. Stratton) and his wife, Amy Sharpe, who were the very famous two foot tall members of P.T. Barnum's Circus.

The first of these parties was in January 1850. For those who were not invited this was an outrage and for those who were ... they were the talk-of-the-town. This particular party was very stressful for the Lincolns because their 11 year old son, Willie, was sick in bed with a fever. Each of them would excuse themselves from their guests to go upstairs to cater to the boy. Willie died a week later of what we now believe to have been typhoid fever.

Of the President's four sons, only one grew to full adulthood. Robert Todd Lincoln lived to be 86 and served as our 35th Secretary of War. His brother Edward died at the age of four and Thomas at the age of 18. Childhood death was fairly common before the 20th century.

Friday, January 30, 2009

New World Blitzkrieg

Once you realize that you have a favorite historian, you have probably already realized how much of a geek you are. I have several like Doris Kearns Goodwin, Barbara Tuchman, David McCullough and Thomas Cahill. But the most intrigue of them, I believe is Jared Diamond. Diamond likes to write about long term issues like why do some cultures or civilization survives and other don't. Some cultures simply disappear in history while others flourish. One of things he points out is how the Old World (Europe and Asia) had many domesticatable animals while the New World (America and Australia) did not. This allowed for speedier advancement and faster growing populations. Some animals in the new world and Africa are just not domesticatable , like the buffalo and the zebra, no matter how hard you try.

What I learned today is that this didn't occur naturally but that in many parts of the planet, the
domesticatable animals did exist but were simply hunted to extinction. The term for this is the New World Blitzkrieg.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Night of the Long Knives

The term, the Night of the Long Knives, refers to the events that occurred between June 30 and July 2, 1934 in the Bavarian region of Germany. Adolf Hitler ordered the arrest of all the members of the SA (Sturmabteilung) and the execution of its leaders. Sturmabteilung translates to English roughly as stormtroopers, but they were more commonly referred to as brown shirts.

The SA were a paramilitary group that was formed by disenfranchised combat veterans of WW I that were unhappy with how Germany was being treated as a result of the Versailles Treaty. They were an increasingly unpopular group, particularly unpopular with the German army, mostly for their use of street violence to get what they wanted. Among other things, the SA were responsible for security at Nazi Party rallies and in charge of the Hitler Youth corp. They were members of the Nazi Party but were mostly autonomous. Hitler could not control them.

Hitler used this opportunity to gain favor with the army. He (along with Göring, Goebbels, Himmler and Hess) had some documents forged that would show how the leaders of the SA were plotting to over throw the Nazis with the assistance of France. He justified their executions claiming that they were a treasonous coupe. This act is considered one of turning points in giving Hitler supreme power of the German government.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Gone with the Wind on MLK Day

I awoke this morning intended to start my work week. I logged in and noticed that none of my co-workers were at work. After doing some research, I discovered that my employer does indeed celebrate Martin Luther King day and I had the day off. I thought for sure I had to work today, but I was pleased. If I had known I might have made plans to celebrate MLK day by volunteering like so many of my friends. Since it is cold and snowing, I decided to stay in and watch a movie. The only movie I had that I hadn't seen yet was the epic Gone With the Wind.

I have seen parts of this classic Hollywood film but I had never seen the entire thing from start to finish. The dilemma here is do I really want to spend MLK day watching something that is so racist, especially on the day before Obama's historic nomination? I told myself if I did, I had to blog about it (mostly to appease my white liberal guilt). I realize that the film is about the Old South so many of the characters are meant to be racist which isn't the problem. The problem is the portrayal of the slaves as simple, empty stereo-types. Also, to show slavery in the Civil War South without the brutality is in itself racist. It is a sin of exclusion. It is difficult to watch sometimes for what they excluded as opposed to included. Even after the war in the film, there is little reference to the slaves being freed. Regardless, the film is enjoyable and any fan of film like myself should have seen it a long time ago. The photography and score alone are reason enough to see it.

The film is also a bit biased against the North. Only a few Northerners are portrayed in the film, one is the slave master that impregnates an underage "white trash" girl. He eventually becomes a carpetbagger that tries to buy Tara, the family plantation, from the desperate O'Hara's. Another is a lone Yankee soldier that enters Tara with the intention of robbing them after the estate has already been stripped clean by the Northern army earlier in the war. Of course, the worst is General Sherman who isn't actually in the film but the resulting horror of his deeds is. His march of destruction from Atlanta to the Georgia coastline is one of the more disgusting events in American military history. I haven't read the novel Gone with the Wind, not yet, but I have no doubt that it has the same bias and why not, it is supposed to be about southerns during the Civil War. The devastation caused by Sherman is not glossed over in the film. The destruction of white families and their homes is portrayed very well ... and again there is little shown of destructive force of slavery. The film shows what the North did but none of the reasons why they did it.

Probably the most disturbing portrayal of Northerners is when the main male characters raid the shanties along the river. In the book, it is shown as an example of the early days of the KKK while the film makes no note of this. The burning of robes is mentioned by Rhett in the film but this is the closest you will find to a reference to the KKK. Once Northerner officers attempt to stop the raid, they are portrayed as interlopers. The raid is portrayed as completely justified in the film. Other differences between the novel and the film are less politically charged. In the book, Scarlett has 3 kids, one by each of her husbands. In the film, Scarlett only has Bonnie who is the daughter of Rhett Butler. Rhet Butler's blockade running exploits during the war are described in detail in the book. What I under a Southern blockade runner does is help supply ships get through the Northern blockade. The first line of the novel mentions that Scarlett is no beauty but Vivien Leigh certainly is. The sex in the film was also cleaned up to pass the sensors, particularly the scenes involving Belle the prostitute. Some characters were dropped or fused while entire scenes from the book were eliminated. Regardless, it is considered an accurate filming of the novel. If the entire book were to be put on film, it is estimated that you'd have to give up 20 hours of your day to watch in one sitting.

The novel is still one of the best selling English language books in the world and I believe still the best selling English language novel ever. One million copies sold in its first six months of publication. Margaret "Peggy" Mitchell wrote its last chapter first in 1929. She finished all but 3 chapters by 1935 and only finished the last 3 chapters after the book was accepted for publishing in 1937. The working title of the book was "Tomorrow is Another Day" which is also the last line of dialogue in the movie which is spoken by the protagonist Scarlet O'Hara. Mitchell eventually decided on Gone with the Wind which she stumbled on in an Ernest Dowson poem, called Non Sum Qualis eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae. She liked how the line in the poem sounded far away and sad. Scarlet O'Hara was originally named Pansy O'Hara and her home, Tara, was originally name Fontanoy Hall. The impeccable accuracy of the research Mitchell did about Atlanta during the war helped earn her win a Pulitzer Prize in 1937. I want to point out I only watch this film because I thought that any film buff should. I didn't expect to enjoy it, but I did love it. I recognize its problems, but it is still quite a beautiful film. I am also adding the book to wish list.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Midnight Regulations

Midnight Regulations is the term used to describe the laws that are passed during the lame duck period of a departing president when the new incoming president is from a different political party. The US Congress grants some authority to the Executive branch to create laws that dictate the operations of the executive branch. What makes these laws so nefarious or at least suspect is that they have a 60 day waiting period before they officially become law. So if you pass a law in late November, it won't become law until late January ... the next president's administration. The new president can repeal these laws but it does take time and resources. A new president generally have a lot of other things on his plate and so they go ignored.

The term was created after President Jimmy Carter produced 10,000 pages of regulations in this period. This was the record until Bill Clinton blew it away producing over 40,000 pages. Some called him a procrastinator while others claimed that earlier in his administration he and his staff were too busy defending their personal lives. They never had time to do what they wanted to until later. I should also point out that much of Clinton's Midnight Regulations were directly in opposition to the Bush 43rd's campaign platform.

Speaking of Bush 43, he seems to be having a go at it. Here is scary stuff to warm your heart during the new year. Much of his midnight regulations seem to have these 3 letters in the title: EPA. With the environmental protection agency being a part of executive branch, he has passed some stuff in the past 3 months that might just turn your stomach: power plants are exempted from pollution controls, the easement of restrictions of coal fired plants near national parks, allowing of hazardous waste to be used as fuel, fisheries will no longer be subject to scientific review but will regulate themselves and rocket fuel being allowed in drinking water. If you are not significantly scared or pissed off yet, here is another link that will you how financial planners won't have to tell you of any conflicts of interest, some changes in the Americans with Disabilities Act, Medicaid and Family Leave and about how tired trucks can drive even longer hours than they used to. Sorry for the bummer, but the Bush administration doesn't exactly make my heart go-pitter-patter ... well, it does ... but not in a good way.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

This Old Cub

If you are from anywhere other than Chicago, there is probably a really good chance that you have never heard the name Ron Santo. In Chicago his is a household name. I listen to the Cubs games now on the radio via the net and I think he is the worst announcer I have ever heard ... but he is not famous for being an announcer. He was the Cubs third baseman during the famous 1969 season. Every baseball fan remembers the '69 season for the Miracle Mets. The New York Mets were an expansion team in 1962, they were the worst in the league their entire history up that point but late in the 1969 season came out of no where with a surge in September while the Cubs were slumping. The Cubs went 9 and 16 the last 25 games of the year while the Mets went 27 and 11 in their last 48. The last series of the year they played head to head ... the rest is baseball history. The Mets went to the World Series and beat the best team in baseball that year, the Baltimore Orioles. The Cubs team that year was probably the best team they have had in a century with an all star infield with such greats on the team as Billy Williams, Ernie Banks and Fergie Jenkins.

At the age of 18, Ron was diagnosed with diabetes. He was expected not to live to the age 25. The entire time he was on the Cubs, only the team doctor knew he had diabetes. The technology to check your own blood sugar didn't exist at the time. He had to monitor himself by how he felt. He kept a candy bar in the dugout with him at all times. Both his legs have been amputated due to diabetes, the right in 2001 and the left the next year. He still announces for the Cubs.

When he was drafted as a teenager every major league team had made him an offer, the Cubs offered him the least amount of money. He chose the Cubs for two reasons Ernie Banks and Wrigley Field. If you ever been lucky enough to see Ernie Banks play you'd know why ... and Wrigley Field, do I really have to say more? He and Ernie have played more games together than any other two players in Major League Baseball history. Since he left the team in 1973, the Cubs have had over 100 third basemen.

He has not yet been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and probably won't be, but hasn't affect his popularity in Chicago. His offensive numbers probably don't justify him being in the hallowed hall, but his defensive numbers more than make up for them.