Friday, November 30, 2012

The Guns of November

Someone is shooting the dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico. On hearing this, my first thought was "Where is Sarah Palin these days?" After taking a moment to reflect on my wittiness, my second thought was "Why would anyone be doing this?" Over the past few months, carcasses of dolphins have been showing up on the beaches of the Gulf Coast. I can't imagine what pleasure anyone could be getting out of this. Why would anyone kill for pleasure? This is just another thing on my long list of things that I don't understand .. the killing of a beautiful creature, seemingly, for pleasure.

While on vacation on the coast of Georgia I was boarding a gambling boat when an employee of the casino said something very stupid about my home state. I mentioned that we were from Vermont and the person collecting tickets looked at me suspiciously and said, "Guns are illegal in Vermont!" I didn't know what to say. If I weren't so surprised I might have said, "Then what the heck are all those explosions in the woods behind my house every November?" Of course, guns are legal in Vermont.  Hunting is very much a part of the culture here. When I google gun ownership by state, it seems that Vermont is in the middle of the pack, somewhere around 20th highest percentage, around 42% of households have guns. So, that guy in Georgia, I am guessing he is just an idiot that watches Fox News. At least, that's how I like to think of him.

Hunting is something that has always bothered me, not because I have any moral objections, mostly because I just don't understand it. I understand the idea of communing with nature, but I get that in my kayak or while out hiking ... without hunting. I understand the excitement of the hunt, but you could get that with a camera as well as a gun. I don't object to eating meat. I am a carnivore. I've tried vegetarianism for a few months and I was not happy. I recently heard Mr. Spock say in an old episode of the original Star Trek, "we all feed on death, even vegetarians." That sums up my "logical" approach to any moral culinary thoughts I might have. I think of the meat I eat as being slaughtered by someone who is doing their job, not someone who is enjoying it. What I don't get about hunting is the killing, I would hunt if I had to, if I needed the meat, but I can't imagine enjoying killing the creature. I know several hunters ... people I respect, people I like and some of them, I love, but there is always a huge divide between when this subject comes up. When I see a deer in my yard, I look on it in awe. They look on and wonder where their gun is.  That is a wide chasm.

While many people I know are hunters, I know many people who are adamantly anti-hunting. I assume that there is something evolutionary going here. Are some people hardwired to hunt while others are not? I don't know the answer to this. I hope most of the rage against hunting, is against the irresponsible hunter (the dolphin shooters). As an environmentalist, I find the rage to be counterproductive. The environmental movement should embrace hunting. If you want to save a mountain from mining or clear cutting, introduce a group of hunters into the mix and you will see conservation in action. These guys (and most of them are guys) love nature, they just go about it differently than I do. Provided that they follow the rules set forth by their local game warden, it might even be good for region. Most areas in North America, like here in Vermont, have a disappearing population of predators. If not for the hunters, the deer population would explode. Their over-population could really damage a region with a variety of problems from the effects on the plant life to problems on the highways.

My neighbor has a deer stand where we sits for hours waiting for a deer to kill.  As long it sits in a tree, somewhere on his 70 acres, far away from my house ... we'll get along.  Now, I am going for a walk.  My dogs and I have our orange vest on.  Time for me to do some communing.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The SS Exodus

Breakfast at Tiffany's is one of my favorite films of any era. It is bitingly dark, sardonic and thought provoking. Also, when I watch it, I get to look at Audrey Hepburn, as the iconic Holly Golightly, which is always a treat. If not for one scene in the film, I would say it was the perfect film. Anyone in a modern audience will notice this scene immediately because it is completely out of sync with the rest of the film. Of course, I am talking about the Mickey Rooney scene. It might just be the most outright racist scene I have ever seen in a Hollywood film, which is saying a lot considering their treatment of African and Native Americans throughout the years. Rooney plays Holly's Japanese landlord, believe it or not. I think it was meant as comic relief at the time, but does not have the same effect nowadays. The scene is just painful to watch. Like the rain of frogs in the film Magnolia, this scene simply ruins an otherwise perfect film.

I could not help but think of this scene today when I start watching Otto Preminger's 1960 war epic Exodus  with the very WASP-looking Paul Newman as the star in his first big roll. Throughout the film, I kept thinking of how badly this film was cast.  Exodus is based on the Leon Uris novel of the same name about the founding of Israel. This was pre-Dustin Hoffman Hollywood, where it was okay to be Jewish when you are behind the camera or in production, but you certainly couldn't be in front of the camera. If you were on film and Jewish, you certainly couldn't look it.  Newman's father was Jewish and his mother was a Christian Scientist. I have read that  Kirk Douglas wanted to star in this film but I cannot find anywhere as to why Newman chosen. Douglas does seem to be a better match for this role.

Since I am woefully ignorant of most things Middle Eastern, I watched this film with my Mac on my lap giving Google and Wikipedia a good workout for the 3.5 hour run time. Leon Uris was famous for the amount of research he did for his historical fiction. The biggest criticism I could find of the book was that it was biased toward Israel, while the Arabs were portrayed as thugs. The film's biggest criticism seems to be its length. Preminger was so faithful to the novel that the film went so long.  At one point during the film premiere, comedian Mort Sahl yelled "Otto, let my people go." In the film, the British seemed to be much more thug-like than the Arabs. Overall, I found it entertaining, but indeed too long.  It was only educational in that I was researching the gaps in my knowledge throughout my viewing.

The biggest gap in my knowledge is the transition period after World War II and the founding of Israel in 1948.  Where did those people go? Nine concentration camps were created on the island of Cyprus to house over 50,000 survivors of Hitler death camps. After surviving the Holocaust, living through ungodly horrors, they were moved to Cyprus awaiting admission to Palestine. The camps were operated by the British from August 1946 to January 1949. Camp conditions were horrendous. Better than Terezine, but surely not comfortable. Britain had their own problems at the time.

The SS Exodus was a ship that left port in France in 1947 carrying thousands of Jews, mostly Holocaust survivors, seemingly headed toward Cyprus. None of them had certification for immigration to Palestine, so they had to go to the camps instead.  The ship was actually commanded by the Haganah, a Jewish paramilitary organization. It intended to break through the blockade and illegally immigrate to Palestine. Eventually, it was seized by the British navy and forced to return to France. To add insult to injury, it was refused entry and they eventually relocated back to Germany.

It is very easy to get angry and frustrated with modern Israel. Indeed, they have a right to defend themselves, but they do seem to overcompensate. I am not qualified or informed enough to discuss the situation much more. The more I learn of how the Jewish people have been treated throughout history, the more I understand their behavior in modern times. I don't justify it, but I do begin to understand it.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Ubiquity of Poor Spelling

Occasionally, I pick up a book called War Letters edited by Andrew Carroll.  It is a great read but rarely do I read it for long. I enjoy it in short spurts.  It is a compilation of actual war correspondence from American wars starting with the American Civil War.  It has moments of beauty and can give the reader a real connection with history.  The problem with the book is the letters in it are just spelled so badly that I cannot read the book for long.  It is a reminder that people have always been bad spellers, even worse than today. These letter writers have good excuses too.  Some of them were writing in foxholes, from battlefield hospitals and/or in bad lighting. Most of them didn't have dictionaries readily available and had a lot of other things to worry about.

Nowadays, there really aren't a lot of good excuses for poor spelling. Every person on the net has access the greatest reference library ever created. You can double check everything that you write. It takes only a few seconds (not an exaggeration) to check the spelling on any number of websites like or

Spell check software is part of the solution but it is also a big part of the problem. Even though, Facebook will put little red squiggle lines below a bad word like "alot" (that's right "alot" is not a word, it is spell "a lot"), I still see "a lot" spelled as one word. Spell checks are demons because so many people become dependent on them and think that if their posting passes the spell check, then they are okay. But spell check won't tell you if you are using the wrong word. It won't tell you if you are using "your" instead of "you're," "sense" instead of "since," "then" instead of "than," "do" instead of "due," "hear" instead of "here" or "to" instead of "too." These are the mistakes I see on a daily basis. Some of this come from college educated people. How do I explain this?

One explanation is some of them are non-native English speakers. I know someone who continues to mistaken the words "such" and "should." Her emails are very confusing. Since Spanish is her native tongue, she is forgiven. Actually, a lot of the people I know from non-English cultures write and spell better than a lot of the Americans I grew up with.  The next explanation I have is stupidity, but since most of the people I know are not stupid ... I have to let this slide for most of them.

I do not purport infallibility.  My greatest demon is leaving out small words. When I proof read and edit, my brain has a tendency to fill in words that are not really there. This is particularly a problem when that little word is "not" which usually changes the entire meaning of a sentence. But spelling is not my hobgoblin, it is not because I am good at spelling, it is because I take the time to look it up when I have to. This is because I care about what I am writing. When people say to me that they are bad spellers, I think the same about them as I do about people who say that they are "bad at school."  Everyone is "bad at school," but some of us work very hard to overcome it and learn how to be good at it. Those who are "bad at school" or "bad at spelling," they are just lazy.

I do spell things incorrectly sometimes, but I do learn from this. I usually don't make the same mistake more than once.  Some of the people I converse with electronically clearly don't learn from their mistakes or don't care. I discuss politics a lot with friends on Facebook. I have one friend that seems to be obsessed with rhetoric, but he hasn't once spelled word "rhetoric" correctly.  It is clear to me that these people just don't give a shit about what they are writing. If they did, they'd take a few extra seconds to at least write something in English. If they don't care about what they are writing, why should I?

What's the solution? One big solution is don't let them get away with it. Point it out to them. Just tell them, blatantly if you have to, "sorry but I don't understand what you wrote." This goes a long way, I hope.  Maybe they will take time to write something clearly in the future.  It just takes a few seconds. The onus of clarity is on the writer not the reader. A reader shouldn't have to guess as to what word a writer meant. And for all those messages you get from people saying "your welcome," write back simply stating "I don't own a welcome."  Hopefully, they will figure it out.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Foreign Aide. the ARA and the Great Famine

I could never run for office.  If I did I'd be like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie or Chicago Mayor Rom Emanuel where I'd be swearing and yelling the entire time. I'd be doing this mostly because I'd be frustrated with voters, not so much with red tape or the media. Everyone agrees that the government spends too much ... across the board everyone seems to agree. The huge unmanageable Federal Deficit is proof to this. The bone of contention is what to cut. The more specific about spending-cuts any politician gets, the more intense the voters freak out. If a politician wants to cut medicare, seniors freak out ... he/she wants to "kill grandma."  Cut defense spending ... he/she is "unpatriotic" or "giving aid to the terrorists."  I don't know how politicians do it.  I will never run for office, so I have a certain level of respect for those who do (while I yell and complain about them myself). The only expense voters consistently poll as unpopular, across the board, is foreign aide. The $1 billion that the Obama Administration gave to the new Egyptian government seems to have pissed off everyone, conservatives and liberals alike.

I don't purport to be an expert on this subject, not in the least. But I do know that sometimes spending now can greatly decrease your expenses later. A thriving and stable Democracy in Egypt would be advantageous to everyone and in the long run save us money. We look towards history for examples of these types of situations.

Over 5 million people died during the Great Famine in Russia in 1921 and 1922.  Many years of war (the Russian Revolution, World War I and the Russian Civil War) left the Volga-Ural region devastated and starving. Much of the nation's infrastructure was no longer functioning. Only 30% of their railroads remained. Corruption and a bloated bureaucracy were mostly to blame for the famine, not drought or any other natural disaster. The pictures I have seen of the famine are horrendous. The American Relief Administration (ARA) headed by future president Herbert Hoover helped provide relief to the starving. They employed hundreds of Americans, thousands of Russians and fed millions.

Hoover believed that the Russian people would see what we were doing and revolt against their own government. That didn't happen, but this generation of children did become the army that fought the Nazis. If we wouldn't have assisted, the famine would have lasted longer. The Russian army that held Hitler at bay during those awful Russian winters of World War II, may not have done so if not for the relief from ARA many years earlier. A small amount of foreign aid  in the 1920's quite possible saved us all.