Friday, July 27, 2012

The Liberal Birther Movement

The Birther Movement is the collective word for the crazies that persistently insist that President Barrack Obama was born in Kenya rather than Hawaii.  Even though his birth certificate has been validated well enough to get onto the ballots of all 50 states and then some, even though he has had to prove he's been born in the U.S. more than any person in history ... the Birthers, and  political hacks like Donald Trump, persist.  I know Republicans get upset when non-Republicans call them racists for criticizing President Obama, but when their criticism is outright illogical and clear fabricated, it is difficult to see it as anything else. 

Every week I listen to the's Political Gabfest podcast.  It is one of my favorite political talk shows because it is informative, entertaining and at time very funny.   In last week's show, one of the commentators, David Platz, jokingly suggested that the Republicans might have a Birther problem of their own.  Louisiana's governor, Bobby Jindal, is one of the front runners in Mitt Romney's VP selection process.  Mr. Jindal was born in Baton Rouge, LA which isn't a problem obviously, but he was conceived in India.  His parents emigrated when his mother was pregnant.  Jindal is a pro-lifer and has said any number of times that he believes that life begins at conception, not birth.  Taking his own beliefs to task, is he really an American citizen?

Of course, there is no legal argument here at all, but facts  haven't stopped the Birthers from causing the President grief.  Why shouldn't this be taken up by the liberal wing of our politics and run with it?  What could be gained?  For one, it would expose Jindal's and the Republicans' hypocrisy.  For another, to show the ridiculousness of his belief that life begins at conception.  If life begins at conception, then aren't we citizens of the country where our parents had sex and not where you emerged from the womb?  How would we prove where we were conceived?  If a lot of countries instituted this, pregnant women could all take a world tour in the early ages of their birth.  They could pick where their child was conceived. 

Romney is probably going to pick Marco Rubio anyway, but it is a fun exercise nonetheless. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tolkien Females

While on vacation on Prince Edward Island this summer I reread J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit again.  This is my third time reading it.  I mainly wanted to read it again in preparation of the new Peter Jackson adaptation coming out this December. When a film is made of one of my favorite books, I feel both excitement and trepidation. I am glad that Peter Jackson is doing it because he did such a great job with The Lord of the Rings, but I don't like what happens after you see one of your favorite books in movie form. The images from the film take over the images you have in your head from the book. For example, whenever anyone mentions John Irving's The World According to Garp, I cannot help but think of Robin Williams from the George Roy Hill film of the same name. I prefer to keep my image of the characters rather than have the tyrannical Hollywood images taking over. After seeing a film it seems the intimate relationship between reader and writer is disturbed.  It is for this reason that I sometimes don't see the film versions of my favorite books. I still haven't seen Johnathon Demme's version of Toni Morrison's Beloved. I have no interest in having the image of the main character Sethe being overtaken by Oprah Winfrey.

Regardless, with Peter Jackson doing The Lord of the Rings, I really couldn't have missed it. He did an amazing job. The thing I am most impressed with is how much of the book made it into the film.  I noticed two major parts of the trilogy that didn't make it into the film. There are a lot more, I am impressed with this website that compares the book and film scene by scene. The first major difference I noticed in the first book when the character, Tom Bombadil, was completely written out of the story. For this, I am grateful.  This is probably the worst part of The Fellowship of the Ring.  Peter Jackson says he removed the character because Tom doesn't little to advance the plot, which I agree with, and he wanted to make room for Gandalf's capture by Saruman.  The second thing, I notice is a good part of Book 6 in The Return of the King is not in the film. When Frodo returns home, he has to deal with the corruption and evil that have overtaken The Shire during his absence. I have read the entire trilogy twice and each time I get to this point in the book, I wish it had been cut out.  After read 2,000 or so pages about Middle Earth, I could care less about the Shire.

Basically, I agree with the changes that Jackson did with the book. He made it his own without taking too much license with it. I hope he does the same with The Hobbit, but unfortunately, I am already irritated with it after only seeing the trailer.  I notice one very interesting thing in my most recent reading of it. There are no female characters in this book. The Lord of the Rings had very few, but at least had some.  Only three female characters are referred to in the entire book but are not actually in it.  Bilbo's mother, Beladonna Took, is mentioned, Kili and Fili's mother is mentioned yet not named and the unnamed wife of Girion of the Dale is also mentioned.  I also believe the narrator mentions "women and children" running for their lives when Smaug the Dragon is destroying Laketown.  So why, oh why, is Cate Blanchett in the trailer?  She played Galadriel the elf, in The Lord of the Rings but what is she doing in The Hobbit? Don't get me wrong, she is great actress, but this film should have no main female characters. This is a very short novel, written for kids. Specifically, Tolkien wrote it for his son. They are making this into a two part film.  Does this really constitute two films? So I get it, he's going to add a bunch of stuff so that he can get another $8.00 out of me. If I walk out of the first film and Smaug isn't dead, I am going to be pissed ... (deep sigh ... breath Mark, count to ten).  

Why are there so few female characters in Tolkien's books?  Some believe (like Jerry Seinfeld) he just didn't feel comfortable writing female characters.  He had little exposure to women.  He had one sibling, a little brother. His mother died when he was twelve.  After her death, he was brought up by a catholic priest.  He went to all boys' schools, served in the military during World War I and then was an academic.  Other than his wife Edith, he had very little exposure to women.  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Hyper-Vigilance and Badly Worded Street Signs

I suffer from a mild case of hyper-vigilance.  Okay, perhaps suffer is too strong of a word.  I have hyper-vigilance ... the people who know me suffer because of my hyper-vigilance. Being hyper-vigilant is the opposite of apathy.  I care too much.  I am hyper aware of my surroundings.  I am too busy, in social situations, scanning the room and taking in all the stimulus to actually enjoy myself.  Also, I see things that are wrong, and I want to fix them. I can't blow it off, I have to do something about it. I get a little obsessed, just a little, not enough to lock me away or make me dangerous. This can get me in trouble sometimes, but nothing serious.

I remember sitting in JP Licks in Boston, trying to enjoy some ice cream, while sitting on the side of a door that had a sign that said "Please close door after using." Of course, half the people who used the door left it wide open. I could not enjoy myself.  Luckily I was with other hyper-vigilant people who could commiserate. And what's the deal with people who converge at the bottom of stairs, escalators or in doorways? I'm the guy that walks through them saying "excuse me," loudly, giving them the scum-of-the-Earth look. I might even say to them, "you know, you are blocking the flow of traffic."  Speaking of traffic ... (deep sigh) .... driving ... not my favorite activity. I lived in Boston for ten years, the best thing I ever did was get rid of my car. City life is way too stressful, too much going on and way too much of it out of my control. Country life is much easier when you have hyper-vigilance. Telecommuting even better.  

But still, I have no problem finding things to complain about. The Internet making this easier. A country drive can have its stress. I've been driving by this street sign, on Osgood Hill Road in Essex VT, for years.  It bothered me because I didn't know what it meant. What the hell does "Limited Site Distance" mean?  Was there a site somewhere that I need to look out for? I'd just ignore it.

One day my wife pointed out to me that this is a spelling mistake.  It is supposed to be "sight," not "site."  Now that I understand the sign, I am irritated by it.  It is bothering me so much that I wrote an email to the Essex town government to fix it.  I'll let you know how that works out.

Extreme cases of hyper-vigilance is usually a symptom of something more serious like posttraumatic stress disorder or schizophrenia.  A more entertaining version of hyper-vigilance than mine is when comedian Adam Carolla does his "What Can Adam Complain About?"  He has it much a much worse case than I do and he's learned a way to make money off of it as well.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

September 11th, 1683 and 1697

Since the infamous terrorist attacks of 2001, a lot of speculation has been made as to why date September 11th was chosen for the attacks. There appears to be no definitive answer to this question. Those who know the significance are likely dead and if they are not, we have a lot more important questions for them.  Some speculate that it is because in America 911 is number we call on our phones for emergencies, which seem completely silly and just a coincidence. Some have said that it was due to the Camp David Accord being signed by Sadat, Carter and Begin in September but that was on the 17th, not the 11th.

Going way back to the 17th century, the Battle of Zenta was fought on September 11th, 1697 when the Hapsburg Imperial Forces made a surprise attack on the Ottoman Empire during the Great Turkish War in what we now know as Serbia.  In this attack,  which was the last decisive battle of the war, Prince Eugene of Savoy and his troops killed 20,000 Ottomans, took control over Belgrade, seized the Ottoman treasury and took ten of the Sultan's wives captive . After the battle, the treaty of Karlowitz was signed, in which the Ottomans ceded Croatia, Hungary, Transylvania, and Slavonia to Austria.  Could this be the date that influenced the terrorists?  Could something that happened such a long time ago really hold such significance? Considering the fanatical nature of the people involved, I think it is possible.  But it is probably more likely that Sept. 11th from six years earlier that is the date they held more significant.

The Battle of Vienna took place September 11th and 12th, 1683.  It is considered by many historians the date on which the West became Christian (as opposed to Muslim) or at least preserved their Christianity for centuries to come.  For two months, the Ottoman Empire had been besieging Vienna. If they could take Vienna, they could have possibly sweep through Europe.  The King of Poland, Jan III Sobieski, took joint control over the Polish, German and Austrian forces and retook Vienna.  Sobieski was called the savior of Western Civilization by the Pope.  This was the first of many humiliating defeats for the Ottoman Empire stopping their advances west.

The idea that the date September 11th has no significance is not one that many believe.  Fanatics usually don't do anything for no reason including what day to commit mass murder.  

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Lawrence v the State of Texas

The Internet have been abuzz about the Supreme Court since the Affordable Care Act was deemed constitutional... also, gay rights has been a hot topic for the past ten years. Why has gay rights made so much progress in recent years?  Are we more progressive? It seems this is the perfect time to bring up John Geddes Lawrence and Tyron Garner vs. Texas 

Sodomy laws have existed in American states since the 18th century. All states have had them in one form or another. The earliest is from the state of Virginia where in 1778 Thomas Jefferson tried to ease the punishment from death to a mere castration. Until very recently, in many parts of America  gay men could lose their right to vote and go to jail just for being gay. Because of the private nature of sodomy, these laws were almost never prosecuted. Laws that not prosecuted are difficult to challenge because they never come to trial. No big deal right? Since no one was getting hurt, the laws were harmless. Right?  ... Not exactly. Because being gay was illegal, discriminating against them was legal. They could lose their jobs and/or lose housing as a result of being outed. You could basically deny gays service on pretty much anything you chose. The problem activists had for decades was that they couldn't challenge a law if the laws at the root of the problem were not being executed. No one was going to jail for sodomy, so the law couldn't be challenged because they weren't going to trial.

In researching this blog post, I pulled out my dusty copy of the Oxford Guide to United States Supreme Court Decisions.  I was disappointed that Lawrence vs. Texas is not listed.  My book was printed 1999 and this decision is too recent (in 2003).  I need a more recent copy, apparently. It does list its predecessor Bowers vs. Hardwick (1986).  This is the case that Lawrence vs. Texas overturned. In Bowers vs. Hardwick the Supreme Court ruled that the right to privacy only applied to "family, marriage or procreation." Since sodomy doesn't fall into this these categories, the majority decision was that gay couples should not have the expectation of the privacy.  In 1986, 24 states and DC still had laws against sodomy.  

In the Houston area, in 1998, four police officers responded to a bogus call regarding weapons fire.  They entered an apartment via an unlocked door with his weapons drawn.  No weapons were found but apparently two men were having sex, John Lawrence and Tyron Garner.  They were arrested and went to trial.  Thanks to some very hard working rights advocates, it eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court.  The Texas law was deemed unconstitutional by a 6 to 3 vote, so 13 other similar state statutes were overturned.  As you probably guessed, the three minority judges were Scalia, Rehnquist and Thomas.  

As a straight man, I understand how gay sex can make people uncomfortable, but this is something that most of us get over. We grow up. I don't think I will ever understand why social conservatives, like Rick Santorum and the like, are so against gay rights. Conservatives are supposed to be against "big government," yet they advocate for a government that is big enough to take away the rights of free tax-paying citizens to love and/or have sex with whomever they want. I guess we just add this to the long list of things-I-don't-get.  

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island is Canada's Rhode Island.  PEI is Canada's smallest Province by far with an area 2185 square miles in comparison their largest, Nunavet  (808,185 square miles).  You can fit about 550 Rhode Island's in Alaska and you can fit 370 PEI's in Ninuvet.

Unlike Rhode Island (RI), PEI is actually an island.  It's climate, culture and setting is much more like Vermont (VT) than RI.  It is largely pastoral.  If you plopped VT into the North Atlantic somewhere and flattened it a bit, it would be an awful lot like PEI.  PEI's largest city, Charlottetown, is about the size of VT's Burlington.   Up until 1997, you had to take a ferry to the island.  In May of that year the Confederation Bridge was built.  It is 8 miles long and charges a fee of $44.50 (Canadian) per car when you leave the island.  I was disappointed to find out that it is not the longest bridge in the world, not even close.  It isn't even the longest in North America, but it is (according to Wikipedia) the longest bridge over ice in the world.

The most interesting things about PEI that I have noticed so far is the reddish copper colored beaches of the south side of the island.  The sediments that formed the rocks contained a large amount of iron. This iron over the years has oxidized, forming rust which makes it's sedimentary rocks red.  This is a picture I took at East Point, a spot where you can see Cape Breton in far away Nova Scotia in the distance:

When you walk on the beach, you come home with your foot red like it has been rusting.  

Monday, July 2, 2012

Bragg, Guthrie, Bergman and Rossellini

Recently, I shared a list of my top 100 favorite rock 'n roll albums with my Facebook friends. Making lists is something that hyper-vigilant people, like myself, do to pass the time.  On this list, you might be surprised to find the album Mermaid Avenue: Volume One by Billy Bragg & Wilco creeping close to the top. Every time I hear anything from it, I want to move it up.  I don't use this term lightly, but it might just be a masterpiece. Although, I might just feel that way today because I haven't yet come down from my high of seeing Billy Bragg live last night at the Higher Ground in South Burlington, VT.  

Woody Guthrie wrote over 1,000 songs in his lifetime.  Most of them were not recorded because recording music in the 1930's and 1940's was very expensive, hence rare.  These unrecorded songs don't have music written with them.  We have no idea how Woody would have performed them.  In 1992, Woody's daughter, Nora, contacted British punk musician Billy Bragg about this problem.  She would like these lost songs set to music believing that a new generation of musicians and listeners should be exposed to his songs.  Bragg contacted the American band Wilco (perhaps America's greatest rock band) to help him with the huge undertaking and Natalie Merchant for backing vocals. They ended up recording a lot more than one album's worth with over 50 songs.  What they came up with is Mermaid Avenue Volumes I, II & III.  III was recently released.

I knew all this going into last night's performance.  Last night Billy's first set consisted entirely of Woody Guthrie songs.  I think he may have talked more in between songs than he actually played, which just seems to happen to performers when they play folk music.  During the course of his banter, Billy explained one of my favorite songs on Volume One, "Ingrid Berman." As you probably know Bergman was one of the great Hollywood actresses of the 1940's starring in many Hitchcock films and of course, Casablanca and Gaslight.  Early in her career, when she was in her 20's, she was married to a Swedish dentist, but during the shooting of the film Stromboli, she had a scandalous affair with the director, Roberto Rossellini. This didn't go over well with the prissy American public. Interviews were cancelled and  she was even denounced on the floor of the US Congress.  She eventually marries Rossellini and has two children with him, one of which is the actress Isabella Rossellini, probably most famous for Blue Velvet.  Not only was Woody a great writer of social commentary, but he wrote with some sexual gusto and had a thing for the great actress. Bragg quoted Patti Smith saying something like (paraphrasing) "all great artist write with one hand stuffed down their pants."  I will never be able to listen this song the same way again:

                                 This old mountain it's been waiting
                                 All its life for you to work it
                                 For your hand to touch the hardrock,   
                                 Ingrid Bergman, Ingrid Bergman

I probably should listen more closely to lyrics when I sing along.