Saturday, December 31, 2011
I just finished a chapter in Freakonomics (by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner) that gave me new appreciation for Superman, not the comic but the radio show. In the 1940's political activist Stetson Kennedy went undercover with the Ku Klux Klan with the intention of publishing a book about their inner workings. He learned a lot of their secrets like their recruiting techniques, passwords, handshakes and terminology. For example, when a Klansman went on the road, they could find other Klansmen by asking around for "Mr Ayak" which stood for "Are you a Klansman?". If a Klansman heard someone asking for Mr. Ayak at a bar, a church etc., they could identify themselves by replying "Yes, and I also know a Mr. Akai" which stood for "A Klansman Am I."
The Klan was growing strong. Kennedy thought that just another journalistic book would not affect the spread of bigotry enough, he had a better idea. He contacted the producers of the very popular Superman radio show. Superman was running out of villains. Why not take on the Klan? "The Clan of the Fiery Cross" was born in 1946. For 16 episodes Superman battled the Klan. In these episodes the Ayak/Akai passwords were revealed and the Klan mystique was demystified. If the following years the Klan attendance dropped and recruitment plummeted. What was once a secret code was now common and afloat in the pop culture airways.
Levitt and Dubner call Kennedy, the "biggest blow" to the KKK in their history. They may have over stated this, but the idea that tolerance is good business may have started here. Nonetheless my appreciation for Superman, real world or otherwise has greatly increased.
Friday, December 30, 2011
Thursday, December 29, 2011
The 27th Amendment is not very interesting or controversial. It basically states that Congressional pay raises can only be granted directly after a House of Representatives election. So after a increase is voted in, an election must take place before it can go into effect. Six states originally ratified it: Maryland, Vermont, Virginia, Delaware and the Carolina's. At the time, 10 states were needed to make it a law. Ohio ratified it in 1873 and Wyoming in 1978. It wasn't until 1982 that it started getting wider recognition by the rest of the states. An under-graduate student at the University of Texas, Austin, Gregory Watson, started a letter writing campaign to get the rest of the states to ratify it. It took ten years. On May 7th, 1992, Michigan and New Jersey became the 39th and 40th states to ratify the Amendment. There are still five states that did not ratify it: Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York and Pennsylvania.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
When you think of novels that had an affect on American political movements of the19th Century, the first two books that come to mind are Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin and Twain's Huckleberry Finn. These two books affects on the abolitionists movements are undeniable. A book that is much lesser known today had an equally large affect on a different political movement, on Indian affairs, Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson.
Ramona was published in 1884 in serialized form in the Christian Union magazine. It chronicles the life of a fictionalized Scottish-Native American orphan woman and her husband, Allesandra in what is now Southern California in the days following the Mexican-American War. It is almost an unknown novel today, but it was one of the most popular books of the 19th century. The racial discrimination and hardships that Ramona and Allesandro face created much empathy in its readers and may have been the first time white readers saw natives portrayed as being human ... as exhibiting love, ambition and charity. One of the recurring themes of the book is how easily white Americans can legally take land from the natives. You could say that the affect that the book had on politics was so strong that you could possibly draw a direct line from the novel's publication to the passing of the Dawes Act.
The Dawes Act was passed in 1887 with good intentions to help protect Native American land rights. The act took tribally owned land and split it up to be owned by individual natives. Another selling point of the bill was that it promoted assimilation by forcing them into tradition European style living situations. The end result was disruption of the traditional communal life of the tribes and provided an easier way of taking Indian land for it was now split up and speculators could now deal with (aka philander or steal from) individuals rather than large tribes and tracts of land. In the 47 years of the Dawes Act about two-thirds of their land base were lost to the white man. Helen Hunt Jackson was opposed to it from the beginning. She wrote some famous letters to Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow expressing the problems with the act.
Among other things, Ramona had a positive affect on commerce in the region. The place names in the book were fictitious and Jackson died before she could set everyone straight as to where they actually represented. So many places in Southern California claimed to be the "home of Ramona" to attract wealthy tourists. The railroad was connecting California to the rest of the world so these were hot destinations. The place of her wedding and her grave were also other popular attractions. Today there is a town named Ramona and the Ramona Pageant has been held in Helmut, California annually since 1923. The San Bernardino Freeway was once named the Ramona Freeway.
Like so many Hollywood adaptations, the most famous adaption by D. W. Griffith in 1910 was an extremely watered down version of the novel. This silent film, starring the wonderful Mary Pickford, concentrated strictly on the romance between Ramona and Allesandro so the social commentary was lost. I can't help but think of Hollywood's butchering of some of my favorite books like Will Smith's I, Robot or Disney's take on Huckleberry Finn. It seems that somethings just don't change.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
On December 6th, 1917, amidst World War I, two ships collided in Halifax harbor causing the largest unintentional explosion in the history of the world. 2,000 people died and 12,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed when 500 acres of the city were obliterated. The explosion caused a tsunami, the gust of wind from the blast knocked over trees and shot a fireball into the air. The very next day, during rescue operations, 16 inches of snow fell on the town.
The Norwegian ship the SS Imo, carrying relief supplies for war victims, collided with the French supply ship the SS Mont-Blanc. The French ship was carrying munitions including TNT, picric acid, benzol and guncotton. The harbor was particularly crowded during the war due to a U-boat net that surrounded the harbor and increased traffic due to the war.
I know I am ignorant of Canadian history and my ears perk up whenever I hear something interesting about our neighbors to the north. Regardless of how ignorant I am not, watching this video makes me feel knowledgeable:
Asking Americans about Canada
Monday, December 19, 2011
One of the main characters in the film is Méliès (portrayed by Ben Kingsley). This is a fictitious portrayal of a real person. Georges Méliès was a French illusionist who by the 1896 became interested in the new art form of film. He started making films using some of his illusionist techniques. He is attributed with creating some of the first science fiction films ever and being the first special effects specialist. He created over 500 films from 1896 to 1913 ranging from 1 to 45 minutes long. Without the use of a Mac that is a lot of work. He was one of the first film editors and dabbled with out-of-the-box techniques like over-exposing film. Most of the films didn't have any plot whatsoever ... they just showed off his illusions ... a person disappearing, a person growing very large, a man turning a skeleton, a trip to the moon, a trip to the sun.
I had never heard of him before Hugo was released but I am familiar with this film, Viaje a la Luna (in english Trip to the Moon). You might be as well. It is about a bunch of astronomers who build a rocket to the moon (loosely based on works of Verne and HG Wells). Perhaps Scorsese was drawn to this book because of the Méliès character. Think of Hugo as an homage ... for what else is special effects other than illusion?
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
After googling the message I figured out that this happens when you are using Google Chrome as your browser. If you shut down your computer while Chrome it is still open, this message comes up. I couldn't reproduce it on my PC but it does happen consistently on hers now that we know what is causing it.
Apparently, an engineer at Google thought that it would be funny to use Dr. McCoy's words (when talking to Jim Kirk) in this message without considering how many people out there know someone named Jim and who will some day die. Stumbling on this at the wrong time, could be a very shocking experience.
I found this on Youtube. It is a compilation of all Dr. McCoy's death pronouncements from the original Star Trek: He's Dead, Jim.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
The HMS Titanic sank in the Northern Atlantic on the 14th of April, 1912. There is only one set of stars that should have been visible on that night. Yet this film, that totes scientific and historical accuracy, had the wrong set of stars in the sky. Not only were they the wrong stars, but that star pattern that hangs over Kate Winslet shoulder at the end of the film, just doesn't exist. Only half the pattern exists, the rest of the sky is a mirror image of the first half of the sky. He got lazy here perhaps hoping that no one would notice or care.
It is nice to have some pull. In 2012 a revised 3D version Titanic will be released for the film's 15th anniversary. The correct sky is in the new release of the film. James Cameron has bumped into Tyson a number of times. I think Cameron might just be sick of Tyson bringing it up.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
George Romney was the Governor of Michigan and a successful businessman. He was popular and handsome but had a tendency to go off on tangents. Also, his Mormon religious affiliation was an issue with a largely Protestant populace. The more Americans got to know Romney, the more Nixon gained in the polls. Nixon was not popular but he was a known entity. It wasn't until an old interview with Romney was released that he plummeted. He was asked by a Michigan newspaper reporter about why his opinion on the Vietnam War had change. He was pro war until he flipped to anti-war. He explained his initial support of the war as being "brain washed" by the American military. He was a staunch anti-war candidate from there on end. It wasn't the anti-war stance that sank him, but the use of the term "brain washed." Both Nixon and the Democrats road this to Romney's easy defeat in the primaries. You could say it went viral in an era prior to the Internet.
Romney came in fifth in the primaries and polled 40% below Nixon by November. At the convention, he refused to give his delegates over to Nixon. This is something that Nixon never forgot. If not for this move, Romney may have been VP over Agnew and Ford and may have eventually been president.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
This film is about the MPAA (Movie Picture Association of America) and spends a lot of time on the decision process involved in rating a film NC-17 which is the rating that they give films that children are not allowed to see in the theater. They are not quite as explicit to warrant an X rating (aka pornography) and generally have more of a plot than an X rated film. NC-17 means no children under 17 admitted under any circumstances. There are not a lot of hard and fast rules about ratings. They are decided by a group of anonymous parents who watch the film and decide who should be able to watch it. The difference between an NC-17 rating and an R rating can mean millions of dollars because the NC-17 rating can limit the distribution of the film. Sometimes the offending scene is a few second long while other times, the entire film would need to be re-edited.
I find some of the decisions made by the MPAA to be very odd. They seem very concerned about sexual content and have little concern over violence. Boys Don't Cry, Blue Valentine and The Cooler, good films with relevant social commentary, were initially given an NC-17 rating due to some fairly innocuous sexually content. The Cooler received the rating due to the exposure of Maria Bello's pubic hair. Yet, the film Scary Movie is rated R and depicts a cheerleader being decapitated and her head thrown in a lost-and-found bin. If I were a parent, I'd be more concerned about gratuitous violence against woman (or violence in general) than a pubic hair.
This wouldn't be a problem with me if the MPAA didn't have a monopoly and since their raters are anonymous they are beyond scrutiny. If there were other pre-distribution rating agencies, people (parents in particular) and theater owners could choose the rating system that better suited their values and/or tastes. Until then, I don't take the ratings from the MPAA very seriously.
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Napoleon went to Elba after his loss in the Battle of Leipzig in 1813 and abdicated from his title of Emperor of France. Elba appears to be a beautiful place. If I were exiled, it would nice place to spend my time. It is in the Mediterranean not too far from his native Corsica. He lived in a villa, no prison cell. He was given an escort of a 1000 men and the title of Emperor of Elba. In the nine months he was there he formed an army and navy, he ruled over the 110,000 people, developed the iron mines and resided over the island's social calendar.
After he escaped from Elba, he returned to Paris and was greeted by the people with cheer and was reinstated as Emperor. He then took up arms again and returned to the battlefield and met his biggest defeat at Waterloo in what is now Belgium. When he was sent to exile this time, it was not a cushy exile. No one wanted to ever see him again. He was sent to St. Helena because it was the one of the most remote islands in the British Empire. It was damp, windswept and mostly desolate. He spent the last five or so years of his life depressed and sickly.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
The Second Great Migration started during World War II, when factory jobs were many, through the booming time of the 1950's and 1960's. Five million African Americans migrated from the South this time spreading out West to California, to the Midwest as well as North. Much of the migration routes of families can be traced by the train and other travel routes of the times. For example, Mississippi families migrated to the Chicago area, Alabamans to Ohio and Michigan cities and Louisianans over to California. Up to this point, African Americans were thought to be rural folk This is also where the Black American middle class got its roots.
Author Toni Morrison's family is one of the families that migrated in the First Great Migration. Her maternal grandparent migrated from Alabama to Lorain, Ohio (on Lake Erie) in 1910 after they lost the family farm. Her father's family migrated from Georgia to the same town where both sides of the family worked in steel mills. The Nobel Prize winning author is famous to being a voracious reader, even as a child. If she had grown up in the Jim Crow South, depending on what state and what year, it is possible that she wouldn't have been allowed to read, to attend a good school or even have a library card. The world would be missing one of America greatest writers. You have to wonder who or what other potential was lost during the lynchings in the Jim Crow South.
Friday, October 7, 2011
When I was in my 20's, I thought I was on the radical left. It wasn't until I moved to Boston in the 1990's and actually met people who were on the radical left, that I realized that I wasn't radical at all. I realized that people on the far left are as whacked as those on the far right. Now that my political dust has settled, I have landed on left-of-center clinging desperately, with less faith daily, to a dysfunctional political system. I can see why some people run away screaming from politics. Everyone has their own sets of facts, stats and favorite pundits. I think of how many hours I've spent yelling back and forth with friends in bars, at parties and on road trips. We must have looked like such assholes. Politics is fun, even funny sometimes, but is tiring and sometimes ugly.
Regardless of how far left I thought I was, I have never attended a protest. Never held a sign, never chanted a slogan. I've driven by and beeped a few times for protests against the Iraq war. For the most part, I find the protests annoying. They never seem to accomplish anything and I have always felt that they probably do more harm to their causes than good. I am no activist, not because I am apathetic, but because I have not really seen anyway that actually has a positive effect on change. My political activity, in addition to arguing in bars, mostly involve writing letters, blog posts, attending town meetings and an occasional phone call to a politician. Nowadays, I am slowly appreciating why one would attend a protest, not because it would affect change, but simply because nothing else will. So attending a protest, might at least make you feel good and give you the delusion that you are doing something. Calling your Senator or Rep. isn't going to do anything when a corporation lobbyist can wipe out any appeal you might have as a voter. For the first time in my life I am tempted to join the protest, for in a world where nothing you do can change anything, it would nice to be around a bunch of people who at least share your concerns.
I have no idea what the Occupy Wall Street folks are up to. They don't seem to know themselves. Is Wall Street at the root of this country's problems? Probably, yes. So Wall Street is probably good place to start. Their disrespect for environment, their blind dedication to the bottom-line, their true lack of accountability and ethics ... do you really need anything specific to complain about Wall Street? Revolt is in the air regardless of what side of the political spectrum you are on. Can you imagine if Occupy Wall Street crowd got together with the Tea Party movement and rallied together? I realize that these two crowds probably have little in common, other than dissent, but that might just be enough. Earlier this week, one of my favorite thinkers Cornell West, twitted "Don't Be Afraid to Say Revolution." Probably the most profound statement I have seen on Twitter. Are we afraid to call it a revolution? Perhaps. The Age of Revolution took place from 1775 to 1848. Perhaps we are there again. After see what has been happening in the Middle East and Northern Africa, it certainly seems that way. Is this a time of new political thought? or are we just a group of whiners? I don't know, but I may just show up at the protest this weekend when they organize in Burlington. Not because I see solutions in sight, but because I see no other options. Thanks for Dr. West, I am not afraid to say "revolution."
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
I usually don't have a lot of use for genre. I tend to think that when you start putting music (or any creative form) into categories, you start losing what it is all about. Rock 'n roll is about freedom and rebellion, so when a bunch of corporate executives start packaging it and putting it into easily defined boxes of "country & western," "rock," "rock-a-billy" or "blue grass" etc, it stops being about rebellion and starts being about revenue. No one doubts that some good has come out of the business of music, but those of us who like expanding horizons, have to look elsewhere. In 1978, Neil Young had just released his Comes a Time album. This is a decent traditional acoustic album, not his best and not his worst. Then he heard the Sex Pistols and Devo and he became embarrassed of his own work. He tried to pull Comes a Time from the shelves; he even bought a bunch of them himself to prevent his fans from hearing it. This might be one of the reasons this album is lesser known than a lot of his others. While most musicians in his circle were recoiling from the punk movement, Young embraced it. He immediately started working on Rust Never Sleeps, perhaps his best album, solo or otherwise.
If you listen to the second side of Rust Never Sleeps (for those of you who don't have vinyl, I am talking about the second half of the album), it doesn't sound like California in 1979 but more like Seattle in 1992. Here is where grunge was born. It is angry, socially conscious, full of distortion and ambiguity. There are no answers in the lyrics, only images at war with each other and the listener. You don't sit put this album on if you intend to relax. It was recorded live at San Francisco's Cow Palace, but the audience noise was removed giving it a rawer sound than most studio albums. Side one is acoustic with some of his most powerful lyrics with songs like "Pocahontas" and "The Thrasher." He recorded some of these during the Comes a Time sessions. I can see why these songs didn't make it onto that album. They fit better with the angry songs of side two. In 1978, it took someone who had creative control and a large following to produce something like Rust Never Sleeps. Nowadays, with people carrying virtual recording studios in their pockets, the business executives only has control of your creativity if you want them to.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Baseball is a game of failures. In Major League baseball, a good hitter will fail 70% of the time, hitting only three times while coming up to bat ten times. Getting three hits (H's) in ten at bats (AB's) is called a 300 hitter because their average is .300 (H/AB). The best hitter of all time failed 60% of the time aka a 400 hitter. Of course, I am talking about Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox. He is the last hitter to hit .400 and he did so 70 years ago. Only a few players since then have come close. The two most recently were Rod Carew of the Minnesota Twins (1977 hit .388) and George Brett of the Kansas City Royals (1980 hit .390).
Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941 and what I have always found amazing about this is that he did not win the MVP award (Most Valuable Player). That award went to Joe DiMaggio of the Yankees winning with 291 votes to Williams's 254. 1941 was a great year for hitters because this is also the year that DiMaggio had his famous record setting 56 game hitting streak. If I had to pick one of these players, I would pick the player who hit .406 for an entire year over the player who had at least one hit per game 56 times in a row. But since I wasn't even born in 1941, it is a moot point. For those 56 games, DiMaggio hit .408. Impressive, but for the same time period Williams hit .417. Is it more impressive to spread them out over consistent games? I don't think so. Williams had a 21 hitting streak in May that year where he hit .536 ... that is amazing. With hitting like that baseball is more of a game of success than failure, but Williams in an oddity.
Why did DiMaggio get the MVP? For one, he was a much better fielder than Williams. With poor defense, Williams would have been a great Designated Hitter but that rule wasn't added until 1973. When Red Sox fans compare Williams with Carl Yastrzemski (Yazz) who replaced him, there is no comparison. Williams was a better hitter but Yazz was the complete player, like DiMaggio. Also, Williams was not as likable as DiMaggio. Williams didn't like the fans and didn't handle the media well. Since it was the media voting for MVP that alone could explain it. Williams was very stubborn guy. Because he always hit to right field, opposing teams would often shift to the right sometimes leaving a huge gap in left field. Even though he had the ability to hit into left, he refused to do so. This didn't go over well with the fans. Can you imagine his average if he had?
Batting average is supposed to measure a player's ability to hit. Because of this, when a player reaches base by way of a walk (BB), it doesn't affect his batting average. So the AB of the Batting Average stat doesn't include walks. As of 1953, AB doesn't include sacrifice flies either. A sacrifice fly is when the batter gets an out by hitting a fly ball into the outfield but moves one of his teammates along on the base path (from first to second or third to home etc.) Because this is good thing, the idea was that the batter's average shouldn't be penalized nor rewarded. So batting average formula could be seen as AVG = H / ( AB-BB-SF). But the AB stat on its own excludes walks and sacrifices.
I bring up the rule of 1953 because if it had applied to Ted Williams, his average in 1941 would have been somewhere around.411. So if anyone ever comes close to hitting .400 in the future, keep it in mind, until they hit at least .411, their names shouldn't be put beside Ted Williams'. I would love to have seen what he would have done in 1942. But unfortunately, he didn't play in 1942. Just a few months after he was came in second in MVP voting, Japan attached Pearl Harbor. He didn't return to baseball until 1946. This is where the true sacrifice took place.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
The Beginning of the Great Revival is about the founding of the Communist Party of China. It dramatizes the events from 1911 to 1921 in a positive and heroic light. It is directed by John Woo, the same guy who directed Mission: Impossible II and Face/Off. It is less than two hours long but has an all-star cast of 100 performers that any Chinese film goer will recognize. In some parts of the country, it has been the only film available to watch. All school children are required to see it.
I'd love to see this film purely for curiosity sake. It is getting panned (2 stars out of 10 on IMBD.com). I am sure some of the bad reviews are due to the anger over the censorship. It probably has no chance of coming to the Vermont. With so many great American films, British or French (or from the rest of the free world) coming out every year, I think I can skip this one. As an American tax payer, enough of my money goes towards the Chinese economy.
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Suicide numbers spike after a famous person commits suicide. Not only do they spike, but they spike for people who seem to have a lot in common with the person who died. For example, a lot of young blonde women committed suicide after Marilyn Monroe offed herself. The month she died there were 200 more suicides in the US than any other August in that era. This is called the Werther Effect. It gets its name from the Goethe novel The Sorrows of Young Werther. This is an 18th century German novel where the protagonist, Werther, kills himself after a long period of unrequited love. After its publication, a slew of copycat suicides followed committed by young men in the same method as Werther in the novel with a pistol to the head. You might see this as the beginning of blaming the media for suicide. Does the media or a novel or a heavy metal song plant the idea of suicide in the person's head? No, of course not. The idea is probably already there and when someone they idolize or admire kills themselves it may just act as permission being granted.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
The Independent State of Samoa is an island nation about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii. It is a short distance east of the International Date Line (the imaginary line that separates today from tomorrow). In 1892 they agreed to be in this time zone so that they could on the same business day as their largest trading partner, the USA. Before the invention of the telegraph, it wasn't very important to have a standard calendar with consistent time zones because people and data traveled so slowly.
On December 29th of this year, 2011, Samoa will be changing sides of the international date line. The line will be redrawn so that they will be west of the line. The change is due to the fact that they now do more business with Australia, China and New Zealand than they with the US. They prefer to be on the same day as their strongest trading partners. So after the change, they will be three hours ahead of Australia rather than 21 hours behind. Seems like a logical change from their point of view. What makes this really interesting is that they will not have a December 30th this year. At midnight on December 29th, they will be on December 31st. So if you live on Samoa and your birthday is December 30th ... you are off the hook.
This isn't the first change they have made to realign themselves with Australia. Back in 2009 they stopped driving on the right side of the road and changed to the left. That must have a been a blast! The changes for this were economic as well because it is much cheaper for them to import cars from Australia, with the driving column on the right, than to import from the US.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
- For one, she didn't drop the coffee. The styrofoam cup that was carrying the coffee dissolved in her hand. This is because the coffee was over 170 degrees Fahrenheit (this is the low estimate). The standard cup of coffee is 140 degrees.
- She had third degree burns on her thighs, groin and buttocks. She had to be in the hospital for 8 days getting skin removed and repaired.
- She was not driving, she was the passenger.
- The car was parked while she was opening the top of the coffee to put cream and sugar in it.
- She didn't sue for millions. She sued for the balance of her medical bills that her Medicare didn't pay. She was 79 years old. McDonald's only offered her $800 which didn't cover it. The jury moved in her favor awarding her $2.9 million. The judge reduced it to $260,000.00 (about 2 days worth of profit for McDonald's).
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Friday, July 22, 2011
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
The events of 9/11 didn't change my life or have any direct affect on me. What did affect me was what happened on 9/12/01 and beyond. Considering how awful American foreign policy has been toward the Middle East in the past century, the attacks did not surprise me. What did surprise was how my government, run by a president that had no mandate, could use the events of 9/11 to justify invasions, torture and violations of our privacy and the American people let him do it. Not only did they let him do it but he gained popularity while he did it. This did affected me. I expected heinous crimes from maniacs and religious zealots, I did not expect it from my government. Looking back at myself prior to 9/11, I feel naive. I used to consider myself an independent voter. I have voted for Republicans in the past (Senators Chafee and Jeffords come to mind). Since 9/11 I haven't voted for a single Republican on any level of government and I don't plan to ever again. I am not an independent now, I am an anti-Republican. Not only for the actions of the Bush administration, but for those who let them do it and for those who defend him ... you will get nothing from me. I just thought my country was better than that. Again, I feel naive.
Prior to 9/11, the only other events that qualified as watershed moments for me were the assassination of John Lennon and Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. Most people older than me will refer to the Kennedy assassination as their watershed moment or of Martin Luther King or Robert Kennedy. A watershed moment can also be something positive like the moon landing or the Beatles arrival in America. These happened before I was born or when I was very young. Many people say that these events changed their lives as it changed how they thought about the world, made them more bitter, unsafe or paranoid. In the case of the positive watershed, these made them feel more connected or more motivated for greatness. I can related to these. The events of the larger world can certainly affect the inner self. I would hope that this is what motivates us to change the world ... in a positive way.
In the 19th century, for Americans, one of the big watershed moments was the bombardment of Fort Sumter in South Carolina on April 12, 1861. This marked the beginning of the American Civil War. The first shots were fired at around 4am. By late evening news had already hit New York newspapers. This is impressive in the days before telephones and automobiles. The American poet Walt Whitman (my personal favorite) was leaving a theater in Manhattan at around midnight. He stood on the steps of the Metropolitan Hotel reading the special edition news. The street were abuzz with the news. For those who didn't have a paper, some read aloud for them (the 19th century equivalent of Twitter). At this point in his life, Whitman was a muckraking journalist making money by trashing the Irish immigrant and drumming the beat of demagoguery. He was fast on his way to being his generations Rush Limbaugh and a footnote in a history. The events at Fort Sumter, and the war that followed, sent Whitman into service as a male nurse in Washington DC. What he saw there changed his life. He stopped writing hateful trash and wrote volumes of poetry that rocked the literary world. Leaves of Grass is perhaps the first great American collection of poetry and perhaps the beginning of modern poetry in English.
Perhaps I am leaning back on my personal history of liberal naivity by saying that I hope that some Whitman-like conversion is happening in the midst of this cluster fuck that is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq. Perhaps the next great American poet is somewhere in the ranks of the military or another nurse in a field hospital. We can only hope that from the ashes of our greatest barbaric acts can come some contemplative beauty and reflection that will rock our worlds. I await another literary watershed.
Monday, June 6, 2011
Friday, May 27, 2011
With the exception of Isaac Newton, Jefferson believed that Jesus was the greatest man in history. This is why he thought that the King James Bible was not a sufficient document to show the story of his life. He thought Jesus, who was not divine, produced the greatest progress in ethics in world history, even more so than Socrates. Of all Jefferson's accomplishments, he believed that his greatest was the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. This statute was the first of its kind in the world because it established the separation of church and state. So it may very well be his greatest achievement.
In his time Jefferson was widely thought of as a religious radical. At one point in his life, he predicted that, in 50 years, most young men in the nation would be Unitarians. I think he might be disappointed with our current makeup. As an ex-Unitarian myself, I find this amusing. During the election of 1796, it was believed that he was going to confiscate people’s Bibles. Perhaps one of the reasons why Adams defeated him. These types of stories always remind of the 2008 election when stories of Obama being a Muslim surfaced. Of course, these were untrue. Jeffferson believed in the neutrality of the government. He didn't care what people believed, he just thought they should have the freedom to pursue their own beliefs. This was indeed very radical at the time, even now in some circles.
Saturday, May 14, 2011
The last time the Cubs played in Fenway was in the 1918 World Series where the Boston Red Sox beat them in six games thanks to their pitching phenom Babe Ruth (among others) who won game 1 (shut out) and game 4. Due to the Black Sox Scandal in 1919, where the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series, there will always be some doubt as to whether the Cubs also did so. In 1920, during the hearings in front of congress, White Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte, made a vague reference to getting the idea to throw the series because the Cubs did it in 1918. There is never any follow-through and there is no other "proof". This will always be another reason why Cubs fans will always dislike their neighboring fans on the south side.
The only thing that makes you think that the Cubs indeed threw the series is that the score was so low. The Cubs scored a total of 10 runs in the whole series, but since the Red Sox only scored 9 this seems irrelevant. Cubs committed a total of five errors in the whole series (Boston committed one) which is not a lot. When you throw a game of baseball, the easiest way to do so is to commit intentional errors. The infamous 1919 White Sox committed 12 and their opponent, the Cincinnati Reds, committed 13. This was not uncommon in that era, the 1917 World Series had a total of 23 errors. This only makes me conclude that the 1918 World Series was a great series between two great teams that had impeccable defenses (both fielding and pitching). The Cubs might have won if their best pitcher, Pete Alexander, had not had to leave due to World War I. Also, the Cubs had to play their home game in unfamiliar Comiskey Park because it had a larger capacity than their home field, Wrigley (at that point named Weeghman Park).
The 1918 World Series in famous for a few more interesting reasons. For one, it was the last World Series in which there were no home runs hit during the entire series. You really have to wonder how this would have changed if the Red Sox had Ruth playing as a position player every game rather than only pitching two of them. It was also played in early September, due to the War. This was an era where players had to leave their teams to go to War. Players also had to leave teams to make more money elsewhere. They didn't make a lot of money (hence the gambling). This was also the first time that The Star Spangled Banner was played at a game. It was played during the seventh inning stretch and was not yet the US national anthem. And every game was played in under two hours. The game has changed a lot.
Monday, May 9, 2011
This was long before Air Force One could take the president anywhere on the globe in luxury. He disembarked on the presidential train. Because this was a secret trip, it headed north as if he were going on one of his trips home to Hyde Park. The train stopped somewhere north of DC and came back south on another track. It continued on to Miami. Can you imagine how this disrupted travel in the states? In Miami he met up with a Boeing Clipper and flew across the Atlantic to North Africa.
Churchill's travels were shorter but probably more uncomfortable. He flew from England in a bomber. Two mattresses were spread across the bottom of the plane. He burned his toe on the heater while trying to sleep. Stalin was invited but declined due to the besiege of Hitler upon Stalingrad. De Gaulle showed but only because Churchill threatened to recognize Henri Giraud as the leader of Free France. This was the first time the two French leaders would meet.
The union of the two French leader did little to affect the progress of the war. The major accomplishments of Casablanca was the call for Hitler's "unconditional surrender". They also created the second front in France instead of the Balkans. One has to wonder if this would have happened if Stalin had shown up. Some say this is where the war started to take a turn toward the Allies.
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Recently, Vermont's current government representatives sparred over the sin tax, namely a tax on cigarettes. The tax would fund Gov. Shumlin's new healthcare proposal. The problem with this is that having a healthcare that is dependent on people smoking doesn't seem to be very forthcoming. If people decide to stop smoking where will your revenue stream come from? One of the arguments against the sin tax is that it will drive business over the border into tax-free New Hampshire, but wouldn't it drive the litter into New Hampshire as well. This works for me.
Friday, April 22, 2011
Very few president have actually decreased the federal budgets. Presidents during great crises always increase spending. Lincoln during the Civil War, Wilson during World War I and FDR during WW II, George W Bush for his two wars all increased spending drastically. All but Bush increased taxes to pay for those wars. Presidents after big crises usually cut the budget but never bring them down to the previous levels before the crisis. If you take into account the average amount spent during Presidents terms, you get some interesting numbers.
- John Adams was the first $10 million president.
- Lincoln was the first $1 billion president. He inherited a $66 million budget and by 1865, at his death, it was $1.2 billion. This is a huge amount of money in 19th century dollars. This is an increase of 1800%, the largest in our history (including our current president ... so far). Lincoln had a civil war to pay for.
- Wilson increased the budget six times ... World War I.
- FDR is the first $50 billion president ... World War II and the Great Depression.
- Eisenhower was the first $100 billion president.
- Nixon was the first $100 billion ... Vietnam.
- Reagan was the first $1 trillion president.
- George W Bush was the first $2 trillion president ... his two wars.
- Obama is the first $3 trillion president ... his two inherited wars and a recession.
After reading this, you might expect that I am a bit outraged by the Obama administration but I am not. I remember my Keynes, you don't cut government spending during a recession. You get through the recession and then you cut. Our continual participation in these wars is much more of a concern of mine. I am also quite a bit more upset with the tax cuts for billionaires which do nothing for our economy ... but that is a thought for another day.
After the recession is over, I agree, we should cut the hell out of spending. This seems to be something that everyone can agree upon. The question is how much and what to cut. My thoughts about spending are fairly simple. You spend now for savings in the long run. You spend on education on a federal level now because a decentralized department of education is a recipe for disaster and a poorly educated populace is far more expensive than an educated one. An educated populace creates innovation, jobs and votes responsibly. An uneducated populace is not innovative, is unemployed and commits more crime. Schools are cheaper and more productive than prisons.
The amount of money the US government is spending is scary even for a whacked-out liberal like myself. This is such a hot topic that some politicians are actually crossing the third rail and actually considering cutting defense spending and entitlements. It is about time don't you think? Everyone seems to want the government to cut spending but whenever anyone brings up something to cut, they freak out. Not my NPR, not NASA, not the EPA .... okay, I love all three of these. But these are tiny budget items. Even NASA is .1% of the federal budget. Nothing should be touched until our military spending is cut in half. Until then ... why the hell is anyone talking about cutting NPR funding?
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
I love learning that an artist that you like is somehow connected with another artist that you had no idea even knew each other. Like one day I learned that the singer Norah Jones was sitar player Ravi Shankar's daughter. I used to listen to his live album during lonely evenings when I was in college. Now I hum along to his daughter while relaxing with my wife to jazz in the evenings. It just blew my mind when I learned that they were related.
Friday, April 1, 2011
From the Halls of Montezuma
To the shores of Tripoli ....
The "Halls of Montezuma" is obviously in reference to the Mexican-American War where the US took Texas from Mexico. But the reference to the "shores of Tripoli" has always been a mystery to me. Why the heck were the 18th and 19th century military involved with Libya? That sounds more like a modern headline than something that Jefferson had to deal with.
Apparently, this is in reference to one of our lesser known wars, the First Barbary War. Libya at the time didn't exist as a nation. Tripoli was loosely governed by the Ottoman Empire. The Barbary pirates (on the northern coast of Africa) were notorious for hijacking ships on the Mediterranean Sea. They demanded $225,000.00 ransom from President Jefferson in 1801, an annual fee that they expected as like a toll to use the Mediterranean. Prior to Jefferson's presidency we had been paying $83,000 which was still a lot of money at the time. The war lasted four years and the end results was that the US would pay $65,000.00 annually.
I put the word patriotic in quotes above because I challenge the current use of this word. All too often patriotism is tied to war and the military. I reject this. I find this to be sad and a little sickening. When I think of the things that I like about about the US ... our military history does not come to mind. What comes to mind is our spirit of independence and innovation. It would really please me if I went to a "patriotic" event and people were reading Whitman and Twain or singing Bob Dylan and Paul Simon songs. If only when we celebrated patriotism, we'd celebrate the inventiveness of Thomas Edison, Steve Wozniak, Woody Allen or Elias Howe. There are so many other things to celebrate about this country other than our military might.