Thursday, December 25, 2008

Basement of Birth

A birth can come from
Body, mind, or fortune.

The deformities can be
Unlearned or circumstantial.

Seldom, said Plutarch, do
Honesty and beauty abide in each other.

Hannibal had only one eye, but the
Retina of the soul perceives the best—

Anyway. And Socrates was as
Hairy as an Ape.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tell Detroit--No More!

Reality is setting in. I voted for Obama, yet his first foray into presidential politics found him asking President Bush to help bailout the automotive industry in Detroit. Well Mr. President-elect, you are now 0 for 1.

What happened to CHANGE?

This is the same type of thinking that has wielded the scepter in this country since the industrial revolution began: no matter how strong the evidence of market failure, we refuse to believe in anything but our own permanence. So once again the automotive industry has approached the federal government with its hand out, instead of changing their products or business model (They have rather chosen to spend fortunes on lobbyists). And let us not forget that in September of 2008, Congress already gave the industry a loan totaling $25 billion. But with $50 billion more, they can turn things around.

Not if they don’t CHANGE!

This is a market economy. The auto-industry will perish, whether they get a bailout or not, if they do not change their business model.

A solid business model is the bedrock of every successful investment. If we are to invest in an industry, we need to learn how to describe and evaluate a company’s business model, in order to distinguish the great companies from the losers. This is just simple business sense. We need to look at how the company makes money. It is equally clear; we need to understand that as industries change, companies can’t always stick to the same business model. Joan Magretta, former head of the Harvard Business Review, has said that when business models don’t work, it’s because they don’t make sense and the numbers just don’t add up to profits.

When you consider G.M.’s model, it becomes clear that they don’t make money selling cars and trucks. In fact their business is based on (more than 60%) earnings from finance payments. This is a business model that has failed the test. In 2003, Ford, Chrysler and G.M. (in order to compete against foreign markets) offered customers such deep discounts and interest-free financing that they sold vehicles for less than it cost to make them. This is as a model that squeezed all the profits out of their operations.

So now we have an industry adverse to change in an environment that is in the middle of a housing slump and credit crisis. There is a drop in demand and a change in the vehicles consumers are buying. Detroit has been making large trucks and sport utility vehicles, while the foreign markets (with working business plans) are making more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Detroit and our policy makers prefer continuity to discontinuity, evolution to revolution. What has become clear is that in discontinuous times, efforts to evolve at one’s own pace will spell doom. External thoughts and actions need to keep up with the pace of external change. Economics tells us that if you are not able to cope with external pressures that demand a revolutionary approach to structure- you need a new business model.

The automotive industry has convinced the federal government that our economy revolves around it. But what I want to know is—why? Target, AT&T, GE, IBM, McDonalds Citigroup, Kroger, Sears, and Wal-Mart, all employ larger number of workers than any of the Big Three auto makers. Since 1997, thirty one steel companies have gone bankrupt, putting at risk over 62,000 jobs. The economy didn’t tank then.

The precondition of successful transformation is to close the gap between the automotive industry management’s (and our own) perception of present reality and the truth. They don’t need a bailout. What they need is—

1. Look out for major shifts in the conditions governing the marketplace, and transform their business model to fit.

2. Let the customers and their needs determine the model.

3. Be prepared to cannibalize the present, in order to preserve the future.

So Mr. President-elect, please don’t just throw more money at the problem. Think—CHANGE. Fix the problem!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Stopped Traffic--What Would Charlie Do?

We all have our own particular annoyances when driving. Mine is what I refer to as the “Imaginary Slow Down Zone,” affectionately referred to as ISDZ’s. This happens on highways, when the traffic comes to a crawl. You slowly approach the area where everyone starts to speed up, and you look around for an accident or any other reason which could have caused the slow down, but there is nothing there. Cars just resume speed. This phenomenon happens quite frequently in Columbus, Ohio, so I was sure that this had to be an isolated thing.

Columbus has the worst drivers on the planet. Particularly so, if you can see a #3 decal displayed anywhere on the vehicle. This type of driver suffers from the disease called, “the NASCAR” syndrome. They weave in and out of lanes at high speed, as if headed for the checkered flag. Severe accidents are so common in Columbus that they have a section on the nightly local news broadcast, which is titled, “Car Crash Dejour.” Points are given based on death count (this is not quite true, but just wait for sweeps week).

Now I admit that there have been many times when I used to commute to work on I-270, when the slow down ended and I had to pass six or more mangled cars and at least two or more emergency helicopters parked on the medium revving up for take-off, so I don’t want to take this too lightly.

I used to think that we were so gun-shy in Columbus that the ISDZ’s were some sort of post-traumatic-stress thing. But my wife and I found ourselves in one, on I-77 in West Virginia recently. Not only did the traffic come to a crawl, but it actually came to a complete stop. I really thought that there had to have been a terrible accident ahead when the eighteen wheelers turned their lights off. Surely they knew the scoop and were getting ready for a considerable wait. It was dark (really, really dark). After I finally came to a sense of acceptance, the traffic started up. So I waited to see what in the world had caused this. As we approached the spot where all the cars started to gain speed there was nothing. I mean NOTHING!

So I decided that there has to an explanation for his irritating phenomenon. The next step was to ask: what would Charlie Epps do? For those of you who are not familiar with Charlie, he is the fictional character on the TV Show “Numbers.” He is a math genius who can figure the mathematical roots of any conceivable problem.

So here’s what I found out to my dilemma--

There actually is a mathematical model that shows that traffic jams, like ISDZ’s, are mostly caused by a single driver who brakes too much when faced with any number of unexpected events. The driver behind him will also slow down and then the next, until the road is totally blocked several miles back. The traffic jam moves backwards, creating a “backward traveling wave,” miles upstream from the initial braking, several minutes after it was triggered. So, in other words, when someone taps their brakes, the traffic may come to a stand-still several miles behind them. Now it is pointed out that it is the heavy braking, usually caused by a driver reacting to some idiot with the “NASCAR” syndrome who has cut them off, that can affect traffic flow for many miles.

Thanks to the work of Dr. Gabor Orosz of the Dynamical Systems & Control research institute of the School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics at the University of Exeter, UK, I can now impress my colleagues, friends, and family with the answer to this mystery, the next time one of them complains about all the unexplained traffic slow downs on the highway.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Scaring Children To Jesus

The American evangelical Christians have crossed the line. Their new tactic in saving souls is to scare the shit out of their children. Halloween time is upon us and churches across our fair nation are taking advantage of the opportunity by holding large-scale attractions called “Hell Escape,” costing up to $40,000 to produce and enlisting between two and three hundred church members. They are designed to emphasize the importance of a religious life, with Satan’s voice booming from the shadows, taunting children about their eternal damnation.

With regular haunted houses, which we love so much, there is a sense of suspended reality, because we all know that it is make believe. The difference here is that the parents are telling their young and impressionable children that the scenes they will be seeing in these productions are real and will happen to them if they don’t accept Christ for their salvation. The scenes are therefore more startling to the children, because it actually could happen to them.

Jerry Farwell’s Liberty University in Virginia has been running these things since the early 70’s, offering vignettes that include a gay wedding, date rape, satanic drug orgies, and ultimately, hell. Lately, the churches that have adopted this tactic are also focusing on newer issues such as teen abortion, drunken driving, on-line predators and spousal abuse. This often comes complete with an exceptionally realistic bloody surgical table and tiny replica of a fetus. (Remember—this is for the kids) According to Pastor Rick Lewis, from the Shelby Church of God in Ohio, “There’s a lot of rooms that are kind of violent.” His rational for the realistic violence is, “We’ve seen it touch a lot of people’s lives.” I guess so, when you see eight year olds coming out looking as if the blood has drained from their bodies.

My first thought, about all of this, was to remember an old skit from SCTV (that great comedy series from Canada) where a father (Joe Flaherty) scares his kid literally to death when telling him a ghost story.

Here we have parents telling their kids (instructed that these things actually happen) about school shootings and the funeral of a gay AIDS patient overtaken by demons. How irresponsible can you get? Don’t kids already have enough anxiety about school shootings? As for AIDS patients being tormented by demons, all I have to say is, “F**k You! How dare you! Try telling that to all the families who have lost loved ones to this disease.”

Now here’s the kicker—these religious leaders believe that THE END JUSTIFY THE MEANS. Pastor Greg Griffith of the Willard Church of God in northern Ohio said, “The church doing the outreach must come to terms with that and have a clearer understanding that the message and methods justify the end result—a person who has made a decision to change a lifestyle.”

One definition of child abuse explicitly includes any, “Harm or threatened harm to a child's health or welfare that occurs through nonaccidental physical or mental injury, or maltreatment, by a parent, a legal guardian, or any other person responsible for the child's health or welfare, or by a teacher or pastor.” This also includes, “Any form of cruelty to a child, which includes not only physical cruelty but mental cruelty.” Scaring the shit out of your kid, to me, falls into this category.

According to Kyla Ward, “It's not as though producing scary stories for children is a new idea. Fairy tales were not designed for children. The collections made in the 1670s by Charles Perrault, and the 1830s by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm were for adults, reflecting in each case an upsurge of interest in the national folklore. When fairy tales began to be considered childish, they were carefully reworked into what was considered suitable for children, by adults.” There is no doubt that in our culture, children are routinely scared by the most responsible of guardians in order to inculcate them to the principles of it's bad to steal, or lie, etc. But it is done responsibly and not to shake them to the core. We don’t tell our children that they will be damned for the things all children do, as part of being inculcated into the society.

The idea that deliberately scaring children is in some way immoral seems to run deep in the consciousness of the main culture in America. We’re not talking about the kind of “horror,” where there is distinct line between reality and fantasy. It is a real horror. I just hope that the rest of us will find this intolerable and hideous.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


I have just been informed that there is a new phenomenon overtaking America: the Pirate re-enactors. Due to the Disney pirate movies with Mr. Depp, those in need of grease paint and pantaloons now have an outlet. Arrggh, is the mantra--so avast yee maties and start sharpening your cutlass. Now you want to board ship before the Jimmie Buffet-Barmy-Army beats you. There’s nothing worse than joining a new fad after it has become homogenized by the “followers” of fashion; after they think it is safe and coalitional (grandparents and children in tow).

Sorry Jimmy—the music was great and the shows were cool, before the all the squares started drinking the Kool-Aid!

The investiture today is disposed toward the Keith Richards/Johnny Depp transliteration of history. But I’m sure that before long, the costumery will be available at concession stands: tee shirts, beards, hats, and cutlasses. Get the Kool-Aid ready.

So what’s wrong with having a little fun? Well, nothing really. I just wish that people wouldn’t wait till it has become sanctioned. I remember trying to get my father to listen to Jimmy Buffett for years, but it wasn’t until my cousins and his sister-in-law (well beyond middle age) jumped on the “parrot head” band wagon that he started to listen to the music. He fell in love with it. I guess my sentiment was too aboriginal for him. It had to become rudiment ally tenable.

Which leads me to…

I spent a lot of time in my youth in the West Indies. If any pirate movie has any relevance to me, it would be “A High Wind in Jamaica.” This movie captured what a pirate’s life would be like better than any other pirate film could. Every time I see it, it activates my memories of sailing from island to island on a three mast wooden ship (all true), with dolphin riding the bow wake and flying fish scampering over the water as if racing us onward. My childhood retrospection includes sugar mills, mongoose, and chewing raw cane for the liquid extract. When on the island of St. Lucia, my friend Craig and I would swim across Marigot Bay to climb on the large fiberglass snail shell (left behind by the people who filmed the movie Dr. Doolittle there).

On the island of Barbados, we took a day trip to the south side of the island to visit Sam Lord’s castle. He was a real pirate who would hang lanterns in the coconut trees around his estate, to lure passing ships far out at sea, thinking that it was the port city of Bridgetown and would sail towards the reef. The ships would wreck on the reef. Sam Lord and his men would then board the ships and steal the riches. I remember the house well. It had a large turtle pond that I was convinced had something to do with a hidden treasure. I would walk off paces from the well toward the pond, sure that I could figure out the hidden location of pirate booty. Remember, I was just a kid. A kid in the Caribbean, though.

Back, to recommending music. I still have a record that I bought when I was kid. It is called “Caribbean Treasure Chest,” by the Merrymen--featuring Emile Straker, Robin Hunte, Stephen Fields, and Chris Gibbs. One of their songs is called, “The Legend of Sam Lord.”

He used to hang de lanterns
On de coconut trees
And lure the ships upon de reef
And when de sailors thought
They’d sighted land,
Alas they ran aground
Alas they ran aground!

I have no idea if this record can be found anywhere. My copy is from when I bought it in the 60s. Emile’s voice is one of the best I have ever heard, especially on “Cu-Cu-Ru-Cu-Cu Paloma.” The record is one of the few that I used to pull out of the stack, in the past, when three-sheets-to-the-wind and lying on the floor (Semi-comatose) listening to music. The steel drum songs remind me of the same one’s I was introduced to on Barbados--when I first saw those old Pan-Am barrels played on for my first time.

If you can find it, tape it (or whatever it is they do these days) and bring it with you poolside on your next Caribbean vacation. The Jimmy thing is passé. Show off your new retro-calypso-chic music, that is the real-Caribbean deal.

Lastly, I hate to put Jimmy down. It’s the “Parrot Heads” I can’t stand! I still love “Barometer Soup.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Spreading the Wealth

There are only a few days left till the Presidential election. But until it’s over, I have a bone to pick with John McCain. He has been saying in his attacks against Barrack Obama that he (Obama) wants to “spread the wealth”—as if this is a bad thing.

Wait a minute! I thought that was what America was all about. Everybody gets the opportunity to better themselves.

It seems that John McCain has become the poster boy for John Edwards’ TWO AMERICAS. The conservative policies of the Bush administration, which McCain has voted for 90% of the time, have left an exceptionally high poverty rate, particularly among children. These policies have obviously made things worse than when Bush came into office. Changes in marginal income tax rates in the US combined with cuts in programs targeted on the most needy have reduced the tax burden of the very wealthy while leaving the poor worse off.

In Bush’s America the top 1% of American households is doing especially well. They have taken home more than one-quarter of all household income. They receive more than 63 times the average after-tax income of the poorest fifth. This means that the richest 3 million Americans earned more than the least well-off 100 million. Leaving markets alone to address people’s needs has only driven incomes further apart.

It has taken a banking collapse to bring the discussion back to our heritage of imposing limits on the inequality resulting from unequal market incomes. After all, that was what the welfare state was all about. From the late 19th century up to 8 years ago, the US adopted spending and taxing programs to mitigate capitalism’s worst effects. It was a system that helped provide poor parents jobs and income and support services they needed to keep them and their children out of poverty.

What we have ended up with though is a rise in unemployment and stagnation in family incomes. At the same time, the top 1% of households are getting one third of the benefits of Bush’s pro-investment tax cuts. These are the same policies that John McCain has proposed recently, saying that these tax cuts would increase public spending. But what we have seen for the past eight years is actually less spending, not more, yet still skewing the payout to the very wealthy. And let’s not forget, that the current fiscal nightmare in which any future effort to reduce the burgeoning deficit will only lead to demands to increase taxes on the working and middle classes.

While millions of working Americans are struggling to find adequate food, health care and housing for their families, the pay for wealthier Americans has risen dramatically—all fueled by growth in salaries, exorbitant bonuses, stock options and other compensation. This is while wages for millions of lower-wage workers has dwindled. Many find themselves unable to earn a living wage, and many have resorted to food banks and community centers for help.

We have just been educated to the excesses of the rich, while watching the nation’s CEO’s trying to explain their compensation to the people (In Congress and to the media). In the US the richest 0.5% of the population spends around $125 billion a year. This is equal to the total household expenditure in Italy. Steve Forbes has said that the rich have never had it so good. “These are the richest years in human history.”

Remember the term—Rich as Rockefeller? Well, John D. Rockefeller’s fortune of around $900 million, which many analysts thought would never be topped in real terms, wouldn't (in today’s money) even get you near the Forbes Top 10.

So, to John McCain, spreading this wealth around is a horrifying prospect. I guess the fact that he owns seven homes might indicate where his heart really lies.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Killing Whales for National Security

On Thursday, some of the judges of the US Supreme Court indicated that they favored slapping down a lower court ruling that would curb the use of powerful sonar in US Navy training exercises off the southern California coast. They stated that even if the sonar harmed the sea mammals, national security would take priority.

This has touched off a controversy over presidential power and the military’s obligation to follow environmental laws which require federal agencies to consider and mitigate the environmental impacts of their activities. All the while, the Navy plans to conduct a series of 14 submarine hunting exercises using its active sonar.

The World Conservation Congress has said that the underwater cacophony caused by military ships has become so intense that it is killing whales. The sonar used by the Navy is so powerful that, “a whale can be killed outright by the shock,” said Carl Gustav Landin, head of marine programs for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Eighty-five decibels can cause permanent damage to the human ear. The sonar used by the Navy can exceed 230 decibels in volume, and can be deadly within a one or two kilometer radius.

The problem is only getting worse, since the acidification of oceans caused by rising sea temperatures reduces sound absorption in the water by up to 40 percent. This means that noise will only travel much farther.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and five other environmental groups filed suit, saying that the Navy had failed to properly assess the potential impact to marine mammals, which was in violation of federal environmental laws. A California judge, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper, agreed with the claim. She issued a preliminary injunction, which ordered the Navy to restrict the power and location of its sonar testing. The Bush administration then moved to exempt the Navy from any environmental laws by stating that the sonar training exercises were essential to national security.

The Navy has repeatedly downplayed the impact of active sonar on marine mammals even after they found concerns when they completed their own environmental assessment. According to Robert Kendall, the attorney representing the National Resources Defense Council, that assessment predicted the sonar exercises would disturb or injure an estimated 170,000 marine mammals, including permanent injury to more than 500 rare beaked whales.

Unfortunately for the Navy’s and the President’s vanity, whales and dolphins have much larger frontal lobes than they do. Whales are highly social beings and have a highly complex form of communication with each other. This can only be described as language. They even address each other by name. They are intelligent beings.

My grandfather had a record, back in the sixties, which was a recording of whale “sounds” (as they called it back then). He loved to listen to it. He was one of our country’s leading men of science (as head of Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio), and he was certain that it was a language, long before science caught up.
As far as I’m concerned--killing a living, intelligent mammal is the same as killing a human being.

The claim that the exercise is necessary for national security is based on the obvious contribution to readiness and strategic access. But it also provides political and diplomatic returns. Exercises demonstrate US resolve and capability to project military power anywhere in the world in support of US national interests and in support of US allies.

Does this mean that we need to have “death causing” military exercises in our own waters and on our own soil?

Just recently, the mayor of Toledo, Ohio told a battalion of armed Marines to get out of his city. He ordered about 200 Marines who traveled from Grand Rapids, Michigan to halt their military exercises and leave his city. The armed Marines—members of Company A, 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, had showed up to participate in an urban warfare training exercise, one of several planned across the nation by the Pentagon.

Whales can’t shoot back. But I’m sure if the Marines showed up in one the hollers, here in southern Ohio, they might get some real training. We’re armed in these hills.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Yankees Say Goodbye; Remembering our Old Ballparks

The New York Yankees have played their last game at the old stadium and are now moving on in history. Well, so long old ballpark. I have been reading essays about childhood memories, and viewing television essays, all weekend long that would make you think that New York is the only city with a rich baseball history. Sure, New York baseball history is rich. But guess what? Baseball history exists elsewhere, and we also have stories passed down to us from fathers, grandfathers, and uncles, concerning that “great old park.”

In my family, that ballpark is “League Park” in Cleveland, Ohio. Its rich history had come and gone before I was even born. Many who grow up in New York will be hearing stories about Yankee Stadium for the rest of their lives, and will never have their own memories of it. It will move into the realm of myth. Unfortunately for them, the old stadium is going to be torn down. In Cleveland, you can still go to the location of League Park and see an empty lot. You can imagine the ballpark. It can still be created in your mind at the corner of 66th Street and Lexington Avenue. The original ticket office still remains and was converted into a recreation hall. There is a historical maker in an open lot, which is the only way you would know that such history took place at this spot.

Cleveland had a team in the National League. They built a park in 1891 for them. The grandstand was made of wood and was placed behind home plate. In 1910 it was dismantled and rebuilt of steel and concrete. We like to think of old ballparks in America as being unique. League Park was all that and more. It was basically a rectangular shape. This was because the owners of the property in right field would not sell. So the right field fence ended up being a very short 290 ft. with a 40 foot wall.

A double deck grandstand extended from the right field fence to home plate, and went around to the left field post. There was a small section in left-center field made of wooden bleachers. The baseball diamond is in the same spot that it was when the Indians played on it.

My uncle William Van Aken, used to tell me stories about how he would skip school and take the train from Shaker Heights down to the park to watch games. Back then all the games were played during the day. There was never a game played at night in League Park. My dad’s stories were all about the “knot hole” gang in Columbus, Ohio. His team was the Redbirds (minor league team for the St’ Louis Cardinals).

Here are just a few of the things that happened there:

Cy Young pitched the first game, on May 1, 1891.

It was a National league park until 1900.

Balls hitting the 20-foot-high screen above the 40-foot-high-right field wall were still in play.

When seats were added in center field for the 1920 World Series, the distance shrank from 460 ft. to 420 ft.

Bill Wambsganss made the only unassisted triple play in World Series history on Oct. 10, 1920, in game five against the Brooklyn Robins. In the same game, Elmer Smith hit the first grand-slam and Jim Bagby became the first pitcher to hit a home run in World Series history.

Joe DiMaggio set a record by hitting safely in his 56th consecutive game, in 1941.

It was where baseball legend Babe Ruth hit his 500th home run on August 11, 1929.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Nude Opera

The Metropolitan Opera is going to stage Strauss’s “Salome,” featuring one of the HOT BABES of opera, Karita Mattila. The “Dance of the Seven Veils” is the highlight of the production. During the dance, Salome slowly removes each of her sheer veils, ending the dance in the nude. So you have to have a singer that has a nice figure (no big voice in a big body).

To some with a sense of propriety, this might be a little challenging—because first, Salome is supposed to be a teenage girl; and secondly, they are mixing scripture with sex.

Nudity is not new to opera. Years ago, the New York City opera introduced American audiences to nudity in Arnold Schoenberg’s “Moses und Aron.” They were threatened with the withdrawal of funding, if they presented a work that might be considered obscene under the Supreme Court’s definition of obscenity, included in its 1973 ruling in Miller vs. California. A key to this decision was whether a work “appeals to the prurient interest.” They went ahead with the production anyway.

Trust me—Karita Mattila performing a veiled strip tease definitely appeals to my prurient interests. Remember, she is HOT and stripping.

The argument that the world of theater has used forever, concerning nudity in plays, can be summed up by Heather Haney, when asked about being in a nude Shakespeare production—“The nudity in this play is not at all sexual or titillating. It’s about being completely human.”

WHAT in the world does that mean?

Theater has blazed the trail that opera seems to be following. When certain plays have been performed so many times, the director feels the need to put his stamp on it or do something different to fill the seats. The Washington Shakespeare Company’s director of “Macbeth,” said about nudity in their production, that he was inspired to create a radically different visual presentation after reading the same histories of Scotland that Shakespeare could have read before writing “Macbeth.” They described “a really tribal, almost animal like clan and society.” I guess that means—really nude society.

I have no doubt that the use of explicit nude scenes have been used to compensate for shallow writing. But the classics do not have shallow writing. The great playwright will use verbal means and brilliantly crafted words that are precise, to produce the emotions he or she wants in each scene (including sexiness and vulnerability). They convey their presence through the ear and not the eye. Physical nudity interferes with this. The same is true with music.

Dance, on the other hand, is a different story. The instrument of dance is the human body, including all of its beauty and expressivity. Nudity, when not used to eroticize a mediocre piece, is quite valid.

And then there is the “just plain” silly. In Germany, there was a recent production of Verdi’s “A Masked Ball,” where thirty-five nude, pension-age, people come on stage wearing nothing but Mickey Mouse masks. There were also lots of naked young women and a woman in a red swimsuit sporting a Hitler moustache. Get this—“The naked stand for people without means, the victims of capitalism, the underclass, who don’t have anything any more.”

You know, you didn’t have to tell me that. I could have figured that out by myself—OR NOT.

If opera ventures down this same path, it will also have to grapple with the same questions of relevance, gimmickry, and inflated shamelessness that have plagued the theater. When some audience members were asked to comment on the “Macbeth” production, it tuned out that many quickly got used to the nudity, while others merely blocked it out of their minds--which to a certain extent deadened its intended impact.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sarah Palin Screen Test or How Linda Lamont Went to Washington

I have been off-line for awhile, finishing a novel. Since my absence, the internet has become filled with different angles on the Republican V.P. pick.

So here’s my take on the Sarah Palin story:

The majority of blog angles have related to the “Disney” bad script scenario. I like this because it is so American and so true.

Being a film buff, my film theory quickly focused on two in particular: 42nd Street and Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington. Let’s see if we can’t combine them.

In 42nd Street, we have two onscreen stars, Don Lockwood and Linda Lamont, who are romantically linked. In the background is Cosmo Brown, who used to work with Lockwood before he became a big silent movie success. The movie The Jazz Singer is a huge hit and ushers in the new era of the “talkies.” Silent film actors at first mock the new genre, but eventually find themselves taking speech and singing lesson. Don has no problem. Linda on the other hand has one of most irritating voices imaginable (Do you see where I’m going here? I don’t, but Palin’s voice reminds me of Lamont’s).

Enter Kathy Seldon, the chorus girl, who is hired to overdub Lamont’s voice (Don’t forget that lip-syncing is still alive and well). Not soon after this, Lockwood falls head-over-heals for Seldon. Lamont does her best to break it up. [There has to be some fodder here for the script we’re working on, don’t you think?]

In the movie the humor is cruel, with much of it at the expense of the voice and character of Palin (I mean Lamont). Her character was a stereotyped portrayal of many of those who failed to transcend to the world of sound. Many had thick foreign accents and were forgotten by the moguls who had made millions off of them previously (I can’t remember any of them becoming Governors of a major economy). In essence, Linda Lamont is portrayed as an IDIOT-VILLIAN.

Segway: Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington. It starred James Stewart and Jean Arthur. Now, some of you movie buffs might actually be aware of the fact that Jean Arthur started her career in the Silent era. She also had a quirky, funny voice, not suited for the “talkies.” When the “talkies” came in, she had an affair with David O. Selznick (hmm, now there’s an idea for you—slept her way to the glass ceiling). He got her slightly better parts, until her break came—playing many roles as a more than competent career woman that could be romantically vulnerable but had just not met her match yet (so to speak).

In the movie Stewart’s character represents the images we saw on the giant screen in St. Paul, this summer—American freedom, democracy and morality over repression and evil, while being what the republican pundits would term: naïve, idealist, patriotic, mature in wisdom, fights political corruption within the governments political machine, and guards American values as a moral hero (Wow, that was a mouthful).

So now we have the funny voiced Idiot-Villain, the Uber-Patriot, and a convoluted script with all kinds of potential for mayhem, madness, and of course--a couple of kooky neighbors thrown in for good measure.

So please help me out here: Can you put this all together and fill in the blanks? I know we’ll make it huge in Hollywood and we can split the royalties (that is, if you have a green-card).

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Dialogue

try not to burden
me with things
that i have never felt
under the influence
of weightlessness

tell me again about
feather-weighted bones
that will carry me
beyond the lamp which
lights the lifting

speak carefully when
addressing the environment
of uncertainty
for solar flares will
assault the principle

i tend to enjoy the
part where pine boughs
fall upon the headstone
far below the floating
moon where wildly i spin

Friday, August 8, 2008

"Last Comic Standing": Paul Foot was actually the Funniest

The television program Last Comic Standing finished up last night by declaring Iliza Shlesinger the winner for 2008. As the other comics tried to get her booted off the show, their strategy failed because Iliza was given the opportunity to show off her act, while the others were spouting off their mouths back at the house, as if they were Muhhamid Ali. The audience was getting to know her comedy, while the others were only talking about theirs. Kudos Eliza, but—you were not the funniest. That honor goes to His Comedic Majesty Mister Paul Foot Life President, the Guild of Paul Foot Connoisseurs.

“Eccentric comic Paul Foot is what many people outside of this country believe a stereotypical English person to be: a slightly posh, cravat-wearing, tea-drinking screwball,” according to his web site. What I consider him to be is funny.

He helps us to embrace the inner-nerd in all of us. I’m sure that all of you have had people like Paul enrich your life somewhere in the past, help you glimpse into the absurdities of life and let a little bit of irreverence into your solicitude. I can remember all the way back to high school when a group highly intelligent kids, two grades below me, started a group called “The Swamp”, named after the tent on the show MASH. I was directing the Spring Play for my Senior Project (Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite), when they initiated me into their inner circle. After the final performance, I got in my car to head to the cast party, when a few miles down the road two of them popped up from my back seat, pointed a water pistol at my head and declared, “Takes us to the Swiss border!”

Do us a favor Paul, if this blog ever reaches you—don’t stay on the other side of the pond for too long. You have a whole country of over 300 million people who get your humor. You wouldn’t have made it as far as you did in Last Comic Standing if we weren’t just as irreverent as you, deep down inside. Take a look at the fall line-up of new TV shows for this fall in the US. Almost all of them are based on British shows.

Hey, here’s one for you Your Comedic Majesty: A renowned philosopher was held in high regard by his driver, who listened in awe at every speech while his boss would easily answer questions about morality and ethics.
Then one day the driver approached the philosopher and asked if he was willing to switch roles for the evening's lecture. The philosopher agreed and, for a while, the driver handled himself remarkably well. When it came time for questions from the guests, a woman in the back asked, "Is the epistemological view of the universe still valid in an existentialist world?"
"That is an extremely simple question," he responded. "So simple, in fact, that even my driver could answer that, which is exactly what he will do."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Soccer Hooliganism Invades America

Soccer hooliganism, often referred to as “the British disease” has finally come to America. It was brought by the supporters of the English team, West Ham United. Recently they played an exhibition game with the Columbus Crew in Columbus Ohio. West Ham fans wandered; as they would put it, the entire length of the stadium, and entered the section inhabited by the Crew’s most ardent supporters and started a fight. There was little security in the area, because soccer games in America are a family friendly experience: safe, fun, and cheap.

Whenever I tell someone that I’m a soccer fan, they usually say something like, “Isn’t that the game that causes all those riots?” It’s a good question, because the game of “football” (soccer) has been associated with violence since its beginnings in 13th century England. The term hooliganism originated in the early 60s. It has been linked with the televising of games and with the reclaiming of the game by the working class.

In the medieval times, football matches could involve hundreds of players and would be used as an excuse to settle old feuds, personal arguments, and land disputes, in what were essentially pitched battles (not so unlike those crazy Mayan Games where the losers had their heads cut off).

Now it is even organized. Rival hooligans will pick pre-arranged locations away from stadiums, in order to avoid police, to have their fight. Cleveland Browns and Pittsburg Steelers fans seem like attendees at the Ice Follies, compared to these guys. British fans hit the headlines the most, because of their tendency to spread their violence onto the international stage. Hooligans in the rest of the world, usually fight their battles at home, expressing local, regional, and sub-national rivalries. Most incidents occur at club-level matches, while supporters of the national team abroad are better behaved. The English are the obvious exception to this rule.

In the 70s, the hooliganism started to spread to other European countries, when a similar “proletarianisation” of the game evolved. The Marxist sociologists, figurationalists, social scientists, and empirically oriented researchers all have theories now, about the how and why.

What they have concluded is anybody's guess. But I can tell you, that it is clear that one form or another of disorderly behavior has occurred in every country in which soccer is played. So far it has been avoided in America. What we don’t need is for our youth to have British idiots teaching us how not to behave. I just hope that it is not a near-universal and seemingly inevitable accompaniment to the game.

Football violence often results from excessive alcohol consumption. Unfortunately, little research has focused specifically on the role of alcohol in football hooliganism. I’ll bet you 10 to 1 odds that the West Ham fans who wandered into the Crew side of the stadium were not drinking tea. Some investigators, however, have recently claimed that drinking can aggravate violence.

Do you think?

Ask any Cleveland Browns fan, who grew up going to that ‘Old” stadium on the lake. There were sections of the stadium that you just knew not to wander into. You knew that after the beer started flowing, there were going to be fights breaking out frequently. But the NFL has done an incredible job of stifling any of this kind of behavior in the recent past.

The British authorities are just now starting to reduce football hooliganism. It has largely been a reactive measure—increasing sophisticated policing, surveillance, and monitoring techniques, segregation of fans, and putting restrictions on alcohol. A friend of my wife and I, who lives in London and grew up a West Ham supporter, e-mailed us after we sent him a copy of an article about the Columbus incident. He said that, “Violence at matches was a big problem in the 70s and 80s and it still flares up when the teams travel abroad, and the idiots are away from the eagle eye of the local plod (that’s us in the Met). Its not tolerated here, a massive police presence including mounted officers used as cavalry, dogs, helicopters etc. sees to that.”

Now I keep mentioning the Cleveland Browns, because they are my “West Ham.” I grew up in Cleveland and have been a life long supporter. When you go to a game these days, the presence of security is so prevalent, that you can’t even light up a cigarette without security coming down on you before you take your second toke. The team actually hired the former head of The United States Secret Service, Lewis C. Merletti, as the person to keep tabs on every movement within the massive structure with a seating capacity of 73,200. There are so many security cameras, that nothing goes unnoticed. As Ross Benjamin said, “It became apparent very early that we needed more cameras to give us eyes where we couldn’t necessarily put people. It also helped us to clearly identify our primary security objectives: protect our fans, players and employees; reduce liability; help deter criminal activity; and apprehend and prosecute offenders.”

My wife and I attend MLS soccer games also and we enjoy the “family” type of environment. Please, keep West Ham as far away as possible. Bring Fulham Football Club back (they are the team the Crew plays often in exhibitions). They are a great team and have great fans, not only in London, but here in Ohio as well.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I Can't Drive 55!

Oil prices have soared to a startling$145 per barrel, and the national gas price average is hovering above $4 per gallon. And as many consider all of the possible strategies which could ease this burden on American drivers, the 55-mph speed limit is starting to be hashed over. For those of you who remember, it was imposed in the mid-1970s and remained in effect for 20 years. In 1974, in response to an oil shortage caused by the Arab oil embargo, Congress set the speed limit at this fixed number and saved Americans 167,000 barrels of petroleum a day.

The Energy Department correctly predicted that at lower speeds, cars would operate at optimum efficiency. It turned out that fuel efficiency decreases rapidly at speeds higher than 60 mph. Each additional 5 mph above 60 costs drivers another 30 cents per gallon. Even hybrid vehicles (only now becoming the rage) also lose efficiency at higher speeds. A hybrid that averages around 38 miles per gallon can reach 50 mpg at 55 mph. When that increases to 65 mph, the efficiency drops to a mpg in the low 30’s.

Since 55 was abolished, states have been free to set their own speed limits. This has been logical. The highest are found in the inland West and the lowest are found in the Northeast. Some are in a class by themselves, and rightly so. In stretches of West Texas, where your nearest drugstore is only a short 200 miles away, 80 mph is the limit. When there is only cactus and jack rabbits within a 500 mile radius, does 125 mph seem like a crime?

The idea of another 55 mph speed limit is as bad an idea as bringing back the bell-bottom pants!

Studies have shown that the reduced speed limit lessoned the nation’s highway fuel consumption by only 2 per cent. The answer to our problem is not limiting the speed on our highways; it is by addressing our consumption in ways that really matter. First of all, let’s face it, Americans don’t reduce their speed because of imposed limits (a Michigan state traffic study supports this). “Reducing a speed limit doesn’t reduce how fast people drive,” said State Police spokeswoman Shanon Akans.

It turns out that speed variations are more dangerous than high speeds. Agencies, country wide, are working together to actually raise speed limits from 65 to 70 on freeways in order to improve safer, uniform traffic.

The real need is to address our oil demand. The amount of oil consumed during rush hour traffic in any major city seems to be more of a concern than what is happening on our nation’s highways. While oil consumption in other industrialized countries has either leveled off or declined, in the United States, oil demand has soared 38 per cent since the original oil shock of 1973.

The Bush administration’s focus has been to increase the supply of oil, which also happens to be the priority of the energy industry, instead of finding ways to cut back on energy demand. Barrack Obama’s spokesman said that he would leave setting speed limits to the states and would focus instead on renewable energy and improved efficiency. Getting the automobile industry to increase the average mileage per gallon requirement would be a good start. Increased diligence towards finding renewable energy, carpooling, and limiting trips is a far more promising strategy.

Go on & write me up for 125
Post my face, wanted dead or alive
Take my license n’ all that jive
I can’t drive 55!—Sammy Hagar

And as someone said, “Otherwise it seems like another ploy to get money by writing tickets.”

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Movie Monsters: The New Kid on the Block

Since the very early days of movie making, movie buffs have been spellbound by the transformations of the actors through makeup, into monsters and fantastic characters. The makeup artist was not only an artist, but also scientist experimenting with materials. Actors like Lon Chaney did his own work, using things such as wax, fish skin, and grease paint to lay emphasis upon certain facial features for different roles.

At first, producers were unsure if audiences would attend “horror films.” But after the success of a stage version of Dracula, they were convinced at Universal Studios to proceed with the play Frankenstein: An Adventure in the Macabre in 1930, by Peggy Webling, which had premiered three years earlier in London. They cast an obscure English actor, William Henry Pratt (Boris Karloff) to play the monster. His success in this movie made him a star. The film became an instant classic and started the new genre of the horror film.

The man who transformed Karloff was the makeup artist Jack P. Pierce. He was the head of Universal’s makeup department and devoted three months to researching anatomy and surgery for the project. He concluded that a surgeon who was going to transplant a brain would cut the top of the skull straight across, wedge it open, put in the new brain, and then sew it shut. Ergo, the flat, squared off head. Pierce was involved with almost every film the studio produced in this genre.

Before the ability to enhance our monsters through computerized digital manipulation, the makeup artist was the creator of our favorite movie monsters such as: Erik, The Phantom of the Opera; Zenobia, The Gypsy Witch; The Adominable Dr. Phibes; The Creature from the Black Lagoon; Count Dracula; The Mole People; The Mummy; The Fly; The Wolf Man; and Count Orlock.

Finally, there is a new kid on the block. He can use all of the new technology, but his creations pay homage to the great makeup artists of the past. In fact, he spent almost ten years as a makeup supervisor before starting his career as a director. I’m referring to Guillermo del Toro, who learned about makeup and effects from the legendary Dick Smith (The Exorcist). Del Toro was born in Mexico in 1964 and was raised by his Catholic grandmother, which is probably why the use of religious relics and artifacts seem to always make it into his films. His favorite movie monsters are Frankenstein's monster and The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

He weaves magical things and magical occurrences into the life of his films, with the brush strokes of a surrealist painter. As he put it, “It feels like I have to have a melting watch. It feels like I have to have a melting face next to it. It feels like an eye should be floating in the sky.”

Does this sound like anyone familiar to you?

Where I grew up the Salvador Dali museum, before it moved to Florida, was in nearby Beachwood Ohio. I became a huge fan of the surrealist, as did many of my friends. I even now own a Dali etching.

Guillermo del Toro uses clockwork designs and motifs, archangels, insects or insect imagery, and likes to use amber as a dominant color in his films. He has also said, "So I riff on things and I riff like a stream of consciousness. The head of the faun has the horns and so does the reproductive organs of a woman, and the tree and the dagger and there are so many echoes in the movie (Pan’s Labyrinth) of this shape, so what I do is I work on my notebook.”

He is in a position to follow his heart these days, something that few directors are able to accomplish presently. He turned down a chance to direct Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2008) to work on Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008).

Jack Pierce studied human anatomy in an effort to make the non-human characters more lifelike. Guillermo del Toro disarms us with his curiosity, through the “supranatural” dimension (instinctive or collective), to place his characters and images into the creature concept.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The New Veil of Accusation

You can now rate and review good and bad neighbors (emphasis on the bad) before you move into a neighborhood. The argument is that this can help you make a smart real estate decision. The information is contributed by the people in these neighborhoods. Rotten Neighbors is the real estate search engine. And here’s the catch—most of the postings are anonymous. It gets several thousand “hits” per day.

Let us talk about creating an atmosphere that fosters a sense of guilt by innuendo and how this creates a corrosive presence. It is through the internet that we can find this gangway to intellectual and social cowardice. Even though the internet provides freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press in one connection, it also is now available for trafficking in innuendo and argument by implication.

Normally, neighborhoods have been rated for Noise, Safety, Appearance, Services, and Traffic. Now you can peruse for types of neighbors: the careless dog owner, the talker, the racket maker, and the scariest of all—the helper (beware of little old ladies bearing cookies). Using Google Maps, Rotten Neighbors shows homes of the accused (Red Monopoly-style houses for rotten and Green for good). Thanks to the internet, you can dig up all the dirt with only a few clicks. Remember—running a background check isn’t very difficult these days.

Unfortunately we have already seen, as social networking sites and internet blogs continue to increase in popularity and use, the opportunities for defamation have also increased. Defamation, by definition, is spoken or written words (and now Monopoly houses) that falsely and negatively reflect on a living person’s reputation.

Fortunately, we are also seeing blogs and social networks coming under the scrutiny of new legal rulings, where defamatory statements are presenting several potential sources of liability and recovery for the person whose character was defamed. The problems with bringing action, though, largely lie in proving that the defendant actually made the posting. If that connection can be made, a stronger case can be made. This usually requires the expertise and cost of an attorney who is experienced in cyber law and internet cases, to help with evidentiary sources.

So why is this a corrosive issue? It impacts our culture. Our heritage of liberty rests on moral equality, reciprocity, toleration, and as John Locke said, applying the same law to “the favorite at court, and the country man at plough.”

I have an idea--

Let’s go into a potential neighborhood and offer up some “witch cakes.” This comes from a part of our rich history, when in 1692 Mary Sibly (Salem Massachusetts) instructed John Indian (a slave) to make a witch cake, using traditional English white magic to discover the identity of the witch who was afflicting the girls of Salem. The witch cake was made of rye and urine from the afflicted girls and fed to a dog. When the dog ate the cake, the witch would be hurt because invisible particles she had sent to afflict the girls remained in their urine, and her cries of pain when the dog ate the cake would identify her as a witch. This superstition was based on the Cartesian Doctrine of Effluvia. If you hear any screaming from any of the households, don’t purchase any adjoining property.

But if this seems to hold the proxy of false accusation, perhaps we could take a little council from the good book: Everyone is to be secure against slander and false accusation. “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” Exodus 20:16. “Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbors’ life.” Leviticus 19:16, Deuteronomy 19:15-21.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Coffee,Tea, Or Me?

I hate to say this, but if I can get there by car, that’s how I’ll do it. The airline industry is seeing prices that are about to explode and service that is going down to nothing at all. Air travel used to be a luxury and a fun experience. It was a bank and shoal of time when passengers were well dressed (this meant no pajama bottoms) and on their best behavior. Today barely a day goes by without an incident of air rage, in the terminal or on-board causing flights to be diverted. Our options are now: cattle car or royalty.

My introduction to air travel came in the 1960s. It was a period that started with the turbo-propeller aircraft, saw the introduction of the transatlantic jets, and ended with the new generation of jumbo airliners, led by the Boeing 747. There was the promise of major advances in every aspect of air travel, including capacity, range, comfort, operating efficiency, safety, and costs. Boeing, Douglas, Convair, and Lockheed are the darlings of my remembrance of things past. By the time I had taken my first flight, nearly two-thirds of the American population had never flown.

My brother was particularly enamored with flying and started a life-long hobby of collecting OAGs (Official Airline Guides) as a boy. In fact, he would plan and schedule all flights for family vacations, even though he was not ten-years-old yet. We would make the observation deck at any airport a mandatory obligation. A meal at an airport restaurant was a coat-and-tie affair.

Do you remember any of this? Observation decks were actually how most families would observe planes—from the ground.

In the sixties, air travelers were still mostly wealthy people and business people on expense accounts, who flew repeatedly. Most Americans could not afford to fly, to see their loved ones in other cities, or to visit exciting vacation spots. I was fortunate in that my family got to go on vacations. It was an economic stretch for my father, but he felt that it was worth the debt. He was right; I remember every minute of those experiences.

The family would go up to Toronto, from Cleveland, to board an Air Canada Vickers Vanguard (Turbo Prop) en route to Antigua, with a refueling in Bermuda. It was a long flight, but I have many fond memories of those incredibly gorgeous Air Canada stewardesses. Yes, I may have been a tot, but I still knew a good thing when I saw it.

Here’s a life-long kudos to Air Canada. You had the best stewardesses ever!

Since those days, air travel has rapidly expanded to cope with the increasing flood of travelers. Many of the airports have become miniature cities, containing shops, restaurants, and even places of worship. There is a whole industry of hotels enveloping these mega-ports. At the modern airport, Americans spend around 3.7 billion hours stuck in traffic, burning gasoline whose price has soared by 60 percent. Security lines snake endlessly, runways are choked, and delays are common. Experts predict that, with the population climbing well past 300 million, the demand for travel will only grow.

Back in the 60s stewardesses had to be single, attractive, and thin. Today, as anyone can tell you, flight attendants tend not to be any of these things. Does anybody remember a book called Coffee, Tea or Me? The Uninhibited Memoirs of Two Airline Stewardesses. It was considered racy at the time. My brother got hold of a copy and we would surreptitiously share it. Of course my imagination put the faces of the lovely Air Canada Girls into the characters of this classic piece of literature. I wonder if I re-read this as an adult—would it lose its prestige? I guess some things are better left alone.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Profile This, You...

This just in—The City of New York has announced a plan to test every adult living in the Bronx, for H.I.V. This is the poorest of all the boroughs in the city. Let’s face it, Americans hold negative stereotypes about poor people, and the general population often distance themselves from poor individuals


Most upper class individuals have never experienced severe and enduring financial hardship, and therefore are unsympathetic to the plight of the ill-provided. Attitudes of disregard and avoidance of the poor are often implicitly and explicitly conveyed to their children, because the poor are often portrayed as ignorant, lazy, dishonest, and disinterested in self-improvement. It is therefore likely that children in the United States come to think about and understand individuals from low socioeconomic backgrounds negatively.

Let us not ignore the subrogation of the term urban poverty for race. Most health statistics in the U.S. are stratified by race. Data on morbidity and morality are routinely collected by race, and are routinely used as a control variable in medical research factors. They believe that race is a good indicator of the risks of death and disease. One can only conclude that race is being used for a proxy. When you use race as a proxy, in any circumstance, you engage in what has come to be called “racial profiling.”

So, New York, get busy profiling all those poor blacks and Hispanics for H.I.V. and AIDS. God forbid that their plague should spread over into other boroughs. You claim that 40 percent of the population there already has the disease. I guess that means that the rest have it too, but it just hasn’t been confirmed yet.

Why stop there? I say, that we should do a little more profiling!

First, we’ll start in Holmby Hills, a neighborhood just west of the Los Angeles Country Club in the so-called Platinum triangle. It has some of the most gargantuan houses in the U.S.. Diseases are starting to spread from here to the rest of the world. The World Health Organization used to focus on malnutrition and infectious diseases in developing nations, but now non-communicable diseases are becoming so prevalent the emphasis is changing. Well, it looks like diabetes and heart disease, long thought to be the presumptive right of the affluent, have in a significant shift been identified as the emerging big killers in developing countries. Recent estimates predict that the numbers of people with diabetes will more than double to 300 million worldwide in the next 25 years. We need to keep this killer quarantined, my friends.

I’m not making this up. Here is the math I’m using for the profiling—

One Variable is used for a proxy for another Y when X is used in the place of Y to make a particular decision about an individual. Let Y be a variable that is material to an interest I but that cannot be directly measured and X a variable that can be directly measured but is not material to I but correlates with Y. In that case, X is a proxy for Y if X is used instead of Y in making a decision about the individual in order to further I.

Second, we’ll go to North Greenwich-Round Hill and The Indian Hill Club-Woodley Road area in Southern Winnetka. Here we find older and traditional dwellings with mature landscaping on carefully screened acreage. The diseases of semi-irrational phobias need to be profiled here. These phobias have been quietly hiding in these communities. Noise phobia seems to be the most common. It is an excessive fear of a sound that results in the person attempting to avoid or escape from the sound. The most consistent signs seen with noise phobias are panting and trembling. Other behaviors that frequently occur include drooling, whining, house soiling, hiding, and seeking constant contact with the Nicaraguan housekeeper.

It may be too late, but here are a couple of signs that you might be infected:

*You occasionally wake up in rooms you didn’t know you had.
*It is more than two football fields from your front door to the street.

Oh and let’s not forget:

*You have an entertainment center in your bathroom.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Either Intrinsic or From God

The crimes you are about to hear have all been specially committed for this blog. Here to tell you a story with the aid of smoke-glass ear-trumpet and reconditioned head is yours truly:

I remember when it all started. At the time I was asleep in my electrified elephant hammock, when through the pigeonhole flew a carrier pigeon. There was something strapped to its leg - it was a postman.

He began to play the pontiff and started to get to the bottom of the Myth of Sisyphus. “Life is veritably absurd, sir. So it is even more absurd to counteract it; instead we should engage in fetching breath and reconcile the fact that we live in a world without purpose.” This advice was none too soon, for I had been contemplating the efforts of humanity to find meaning in the universe. In fact I was beginning to become certain that no such meaning exists, at least in relation to humanity.

In other words, meaning is humanly impossible, even though there may be some inherent meaning in the universe. It is just not within our reach. This was made clear when my postman enlightened me to the confrontation between man’s desire for significance, meaning, and clarity, and the word-bound, cryospheric universe. This is when I had my “Ah Ha” moment. There are specific experiences that evoke the notion of absurdity. When we encounter them, we are taking a leap of faith, so to speak, to acceptance. And when we do, we are acting with the “virtue of the absurd,” as Johannes de Silentio said.

This faith has no expectations. It is flexible and set into motion by our notions. So this got me thinking about where my notion of the absurd came from. My first tutors were Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Recent absurdist trends in television comedy are now referred as being "Pythonesque." Through them I discovered the ludicrous arising out of the improbable or distressing; usually where the defect or weakness was of man’s own seeking. With the Python's comedy, the more the incredible the effrontery, the greater the joke.

How can I apply this today? Well all I have to do is to pay attention to what is happening in the world. By the time Paul Bremer, the American pro consul in Baghdad left his post, $8.8bn had disappeared. Americans overseeing cash handouts in Iraq could not adequately account for the money, according to an audit by a government watchdog. One official said, on the condition of anonymity, “The worse-case scenario is that someone took it home.”

Do you think?

Here’s another one—The Denver Police had kept files on 3,200 people and 208 organizations who could pose possible security risks. It was discovered by The American Civil Liberties Union that the American Friends Service Committee was one of these groups under surveillance. Guess what? They are a Quaker pacifist organization. I imagine that their subversive prayer and potluck meetings deserved recognition.

Keeping in comic character is consistency in absurdity. Doesn’t it sound a little bit like our current administration? They have a determined and laudable attachment to the incongruous and singular.

At least in comedy the devotion to nonsense, and enthusiasm about trifles, is highly affective as a moral lesson. And this, as we know, is one of the striking weaknesses and greatest amusements of our nature.

It is through my devotion to absurdity that I have been able to understand our President’s morphemics. A common element of surreal humor is the non-sequitur, in which one statement is followed by another with no logical progression. Yes, I guess I do know what you’re saying Gov.
But, does your administration have problems communicating with one another, and is their language oftentimes ludicrous? And, following the cyclical pattern, is your administration going to end in the same state it began in, with nothing really changed? Well, we're WAITING.

As Samuel Beckett said, " What doI know about man's destiny? I could tell you more about radishes."

(The beginning of this essay was borrowed from The Whistling Spy Enigma—The Goon Show, broadcast 9-28-54.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Make Me Laugh, Please.

The death of George Carlin, the astringent stand-up comic, recently has caused me to reminisce about something that was dear to my heart and a great influence to my sense of the world: the comedy album. I came of age in the late 60s and early 70s, a time when comedy was evolving from the buttoned-down decorum to the counterculture hero. This is when George’s comedy took flight. His irreverent and tempestuous social commentary examined the absurdities of everyday life that I was trying to come to grips with.

Follow for yourself the metamorphosis from Take-Offs and Put-Ons to FM & AM, followed by Class Clown, Occupation: Foole, and An Evening With Wally Lambo. Politicians, advertisements, religion, the media and conventional thinking were all fair game in his routines.

The first comedy album to cross my path was from my father’s collection. It represented the button-down comedy generation. The First Family was a collection of satiric sketches about the Kennedy family, where Vaughn Meader stole the show as the President. I would roll on the floor, in stitches, as the first family perfused our living room. Apparently, this was the fastest-selling record in history. This was followed by My Son the Nut by Allan Sherman. I would sing “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” to and with my friends. The subjects and the punchlines were always funny. They were soft-hued and delightful.

My father has a friend who owns and runs a classical music radio station in Cleveland—WCLV FM. Bob, the friend, had a show where he played bits from all sorts of comedy albums. My dad and I would listen to the show together. The comedy that I loved the most, on his show, was from An Evening With Nichols and May—Mike Nichols and Elaine May. They were hip, extended pieces filled with clever lines, pathos and biting satire.

I lived a short distance from Shaker Square in Cleveland, Ohio. There used to be a small record store there that I would frequent. I would walk from my home and enter the store full of anticipation for what would be waiting in the comedy bin. I would work for my parents or for neighbors, just to raise enough money to buy new records, especially anything new from Bill Cosby. He was my favorite. In fact the only surviving artifact from this era is a scratched copy of To Russell My Brother Whom I Slept With. I love to pull it out every now and then. His visual pictures come to life every time I listen to it. When my wife and I married, I used to jokingly say while in bed, “This is my side of the bed” in one of the characters voices, and she would respond by saying, “What are you talking about?” Comedy references can be so personal and arcane.

Here are some other albums that need to be mentioned as all-time greatest comedy albums:

*The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart—Bob Newhart. It is highly stylized, often with Bob using a phone as a prop but letting us hear only one side of the conversation (Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Ave.).

*The Devil Made Me Buy This Dress—Flip Wilson. With his alter-ego, Geraldine, Flip helped open the door to African-American performers. It won the Grammy for best comedy album of 1970.

*The Wonderful World of Jonathan Winters—Jonathan Winters. This album is not about jokes, but about the characters he creates. It demonstrates how creative comedy can be. Talk about voices in someone’s head. Watch out!

*Derek and Clive Live—Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore. Just two blokes drunk off their asses and having a good time.

*Child of the 50’s—Robert Kline. This is smart, funny, and original. Robert was one of my favorite comedians appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show. He lacked the political edge of some of his contemporaries, but he did show that the baby-boomers had arrived (younger and hipper).

*Standup Comic—Woody Allen. If you have never heard Woody’s standup act, you have to get a copy of this. It is a classic in comedy writing.

Do any of you have any favorite comedy albums that you would like to share? Leave a comment if you do.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Circus by Moonlight

flanked by a quiet of night
they watch
the parade, migrating
circus figures,
passing in unfamiliar
outlines of pygmy
and ballooning-bubble-elasticity.

limp sleepers, hanging
by moon’s hooking crescent,
space babies with
no planet, dangling
to the organ grinder’s
hypnotic spell,
while cotton candy—
cocoon, envelopes them, in sticky.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Bicycle Built For Two (Me And You)

I guess it is now perfectly clear that our president wants us to perpetuate our addiction to oil. He wants more offshore drilling (that’s right Florida, you heard me).

What we need to get through our heads, Mister President, is that we now need to follow the lead of the rest of the world. It is time for us to follow, since we no longer know how to lead. Gas is hitting the high prices that other countries already experience. The 4 to 5 dollar gallon is here to stay.

Think of China: while the bicycle is still used as an essential form of transportation, the country has recently seen a rapid decrease in bike ownership as their population becomes wealthier and turns to cars.

Think of the enlightened countries: a number of European and South American cities have set the standard for bicycle use and promotion, via pro-bike transportation and land use policies. They have provided heavy funding for bicycle infrastructure and public education. While biking remains popular for recreation in the US, it is underused for transportation. It now accounts for only 0.9 percent of all trips, with cycling to work at only 0.4 percent. The more progressive leaders today are working to bring cycling back to prominence in the urban transport landscape. It is a clean and efficient alternative to the automobile and a practical way to reduce congestion and pollution. Remember—more than half the world’s population now lives in cities.

There is tremendous potential for governments and urban planners to increase bicycle use. It promotes people’s physical fitness while helping to create cleaner, more livable communities, as well as addressing climate change. In Amsterdam, cycling accounts for 55 percent of trips to jobs that are less than 4.7 miles from home. The Dutch government has pledged to spend $160 million from 2006 to 2010 on bicycle paths, parking, and safety. Bogotá, Columbia, has more than 300 kilometers of bikeways, the most for any city in the developing world. In Australia, the state of Victoria has amended planning laws to require all new large buildings to provide bike parking and other facilities such as showers and lockers.

The best example is in Paris, with the low-cost Vélib rental scheme. They offer 20,600 bikes that can be rented by credit card at 1,451 stations throughout the city. The program logged 6 million rides in its first three months.

Funding for bicycle usage in the US has been for recreation use only, with $900 million a year in federal funding for the promotion of biking and walking. At least this can be seen as an encouraging sign, despite the unimpressive statistics. Perhaps if we follow the lead, this funding for recreation could be targeted towards integrating bicycles in transportation planning, educating the public about cycling’s benefits, and discouraging driving with restrictions and taxes on car ownership and parking.

With gas prices rising, we need a call for a broad coalition of citizen and environmental groups to call for safer, pedestrian-and cyclist-friendly roads designed for everyone, not just cars. Six states and more than 50 cities, counties, and metro regions have now enacted some form of this legislation. Let’s keep the momentum going. Forget about the quick fix of offshore drilling. Let’s think about our children’s future.

The world produced an estimated 130 million bicycles in 2007—more than twice the 52 million cars produced. Bike production is gaining steam.

It’s time to flip through my new Trek catalogue now. I’m thinking—the Soho S (single speed).

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Cultivation of the Mind (Old School)

The new version of Get Smart is now out in a movie theater near you. You will probably come across articles and reviews in the newspapers comparing Steve Carell to Don Adams, in the role of CONTROL spy Maxwell Smart (Agent 86). I suppose I will go see the movie, simply as an oblation to one of my heroes—Don Adams.

Why Don Adams? My education came from so much more than school.

My entire life I have been hearing people besmirch television. Guess what? I like television—have and always will. There is great stuff there, if only you look hard enough. Unfortunately my search for the good stuff lately has crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Since the writer’s strike, my wife and I have been acquiring BBC shows on DVD (MI-5 and The Thin Blue Line are our favorites).

Similar to my spiritual enlightenment, my education has come from a plenitude of sources. Don Adams was the voice of the wise-cracking penguin Tennessee Tuxedo, a television cartoon character between 1963 and 1966. Along with his dim-witted pal Chumley, they constantly schemed against zookeeper Stanley Livingston and his assistant Flunky, in an attempt to improve the quality of zoo-life.

Here’s where the education part comes in—their projects required the assistance of their educated friend, Phineas J. Whoopee and his three dimensional blackboard. The voice of Phineas was provided by Larry Storch (I got an autographed photograph of Larry when he was a cast member of the show F-Troop). The blackboard helped demonstrate basic scientific principles through the use of instructional film clips. In fact, the show was introduced on CBS-TV in response to a speech by FCC Chairman Newton R. Minnow, which addressed television as a “vast wasteland.” The purpose of the show was to educate as well as entertain young viewers.

The sad part was that, even with the help of Whoopee, the pair failed to get their plans to work. I guess there were life-lessons to be gained—

1. I've learned that heroes are people who do what has to be done when it needs to be done, regardless of the consequences, or if they don’t always succeed.
2. Surrounding yourself with positive relationships is half the battle.
3. Most success boils down to perseverance, determination, tenacity.

Adams went on from Tennessee Tuxedo and gained worldwide fame and three Emmy Awards for his role as Maxwell Smart.

I just want you to know, Don: I remember Tennessee and can attribute part of my education to him. Oh, and I understand that you spent your leisure time, later in life, either at the racetrack or in card games at the Playboy Mansion. I hope there’s a lesson there also.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Carrying Spears

the tiny

had a bit

on such a

halfway to

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Let's Talk Business

When you think of social websites, I have no doubt that what comes to mind is something like; some Ashley or Courtney prattling on about that cute boy in biology class; or Dude and Dude comparing Phish concert tapes. But take note—Facebook and MySpace have new competition within the cosmic constant of cybernation. A social network for business professionals, called LinkedIn, has just arrived for the career-minded, white collar camarilla. According to Dan Nye, the chief executive of LinkedIn, “We want to create a broad and critical business tool that is used by tens of millions of business professionals every day to make them better at what they do.” In other words—build a network.

Business networking is the process of establishing a beneficial relationship with other business people and potential clients and/or customers. The purpose is to increase business revenue. With this new site, people will be able to create and maintain online résumés and establish links with colleagues and acquaintances, then be able to expand their network through contacts. This career driven caucus doesn’t have time to waste with developing real relationships. It is too slow and too grueling: tennis, dinners, golf, charity balls, etc.

If you are not included in this sodality, you may have discerned how boring they may appear. Anton Chekhov said, “People who lead a lonely existence always have something on their minds that they are eager to talk about.” Now there is no genetic trait that says a person is doomed to be boring. Perhaps their terms of reference make them that way. To me, business types tend to talk about themselves too much. If you are not in their club, you don’t exist. Have you ever been talked down to, because you work in the service industry?

The fact is—some of the smartest and most interesting people I have ever met were not rich business folk, but had normal working class jobs.

Now, let’s consider all the lying that is going to take place on this site. A survey entitled Manners and Behavior released by the website found that 30% of men and 19% of women believe telling white lies online is acceptable. And don’t forget that almost everyone involved in online dating is lying, just to get laid. Think what people will say to get ahead in the business world. I remember a cartoon, from my youth, where a retired British military officer told the most fantastic tales of heroism and bravery. In fact, so utterly fantastic as to be laughable. I can see it now, “Warren Buffet and I waved as our Gulfstreams passed at 50 thousand feet.”

There will also be a whole can of worms opened when business rivals start slandering each other, because now Internet providers as well as individual users can be liable for intentionally distributing defamatory information online. LinkedIn may find themselves busy policing their site to remove postings from chatrooms and message groups, whenever someone complains about a libelous statement made by a third party.

The 1st District Court of Appeals, in Barrett v. Rosenthal, AO96451, disagreed with the decision of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Zeron v. America Online Inc., 129 F.3rd 327. In that case, a federal three-judge panel dismissed a plaintiffs complaint that AOL did nothing to stop an unidentified third party who maliciously posted messages on an AOL bulletin advertising offensive T-shirts and listing the plaintiff’s home phone number.

Ouch! Lying in cyberspace just got riskier.

One more thing to look out for: the résumé. In 2004, the federal Government Accountability Office released a report that found that at least 28 senior-level federal workers had claimed degrees from diploma mills and other unaccredited schools. It doesn’t take much imagination, to wonder what hyperbolical embellishments will appear in this new network.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Humpty-Dumpty Complex

It’s time to usher in the eggheads.

This is what Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has announced with a proactive plan to recruit social scientists, and a brain trust of economists and scholars, to help combat our security threats. The Pentagon has regularly financed Research and Development for science and engineering. Now it’s the social sciences and humanities (those two concepts that make all engineering students cringe) turn.

Cooperation between universities and the Pentagon has a long history of contention, because of the instinctive unease among scholars cooperating with the government. This conceivably, could be due to the nature of protecting independence and quality.

According to Mr. Gates, “The key principle of all components,” of this undertaking, “will be complete openness and rigid adherence to academic freedom and integrity. We are interested in furthering our knowledge of these issues and in soliciting diverse points of view, regardless of whether those views are critical of the department’s efforts.” Let’s hope this is true. What we don’t need, is another think tank.

A think tank is an organization, institute or corporation that engages in advocacy in areas such as social science. They mostly tend to concentrate on the affairs of political strategy, economy, technology and industrial or business policies. Don’t forget- also military issues. Unfortunately they have become little more than public relations fronts. They are experts at spinning webs of self-serving scholarship which serve the needs of the advocacy goals of their sponsors.

I like the idea of our leaders surrounding themselves with smart people, as long as they are impartial and listened to. Of course if you surround yourself with people saying what you want to hear, then it serves a nefarious function. The term kitchen cabinet, the popular name for a group of intimate, unofficial advisors, originated during the term of President Andrew Jackson. There can be good and bad kitchen cabinets, depending on your political views. Ronald Reagan had a kitchen cabinet of allies and friends from California who advised him during his terms. Clark Clifford was considered a member of the kitchen cabinet for John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, before becoming Secretary of Defense. Robert Kennedy was considered part of his brother’s kitchen cabinet while also being a member of the Cabinet as Attorney General.

Now even a better idea is what is referred to as a brain trust. This is a group of experts who serve, usually unofficially, as advisors and policy planners, or a group of experts gathered to discuss issues informally in public. Franklin Roosevelt had such a group of advisors. They presented Roosevelt with analysis of national social and economic problems and helped him devise public-policy solutions.

Barak Obama seems to be taking a cue from Roosevelt’s play book. He is already starting to surround himself with smart people. This includes a Swahili-speaking Air Force general, a 30-year-old speechwriter who helped draft the final report from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, and President Clinton’s first national security advisor. Whether they will turn out to be a kitchen cabinet or a brain trust is only speculation at this time. I’m hoping for the later.

So now, let’s get back to Secretary Gates’ plan. Here are a few things that these scholars might be able to help with-

1. Specific expert advisory groups, committees and roundtables.
2. Critiquing and providing intellectual rigor to department responses to various discussion papers, position papers and reviews.
3. Advice on research and policy issues currently affecting the department.
4. Assistance and advice on the rigor of planned research and evaluation.
5. Assistance with the scope and design of research projects planned to assess the impact of various programs and policies within the department’s reform agenda.
6. Provision of advice on the use of current data base holdings for secondary analysis and conduct of analysis using existing data where appropriate.

Remember, Humpty-Dumpty was the biggest egghead of them all, and we know what happened to him. So best of luck, Mr. Secretary.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

It Isn't Over Till The Skinny Chick Sings!

There is something funny happening in Opera these days; the slimming down of sopranos. The 47-year old American, Deborah Voigt, was recently fired by the Royal Opera House for being too fat. Now, I want to make this clear, Deborah is known for her Wagnerian roles. You know- the ones famous for the coining of the term it isn’t over till the fat lady sings. Apparently, the singers’ appearance has become more important than the voice.

Ms. Voigt has just started her comeback, after losing 120 pounds as a result of gastric-bypass surgery. There was a time when the casting for an operatic production was done on the merits of the quality of the voice and not the singer’s physique and beauty.

In March of 2005, Jennifer Wilson burst onto the international scene by understudying for Jane Eaglen as Brünnhilde in Wagner’s five hour Götterdämmerung, just a day after singing the same character in a rehearsal of Die Walküre. This was an athletic feat, not only for the voice, but also for the physical stamina involved. She has, what could be described as a big-voice. Also you could say, she had the “goods.” Unfortunately, American vocal training favors lighter, flexible voices with a wide range. But opera has traditionally relied for it’s survival on the powerful, concert-hall filling voices.

Segway into: the microphone.

The coordination of lungs and diaphragm, and the proper use of breath, which are the fundamental prerequisites for sustaining powerful voices in huge auditoriums, are no longer required. As Deborah Voigt said, “I’m hoping that we don’t go so far as to put microphones on soubrette sopranos and have them singing Isolde.”

Now we have to take into account that bigger voices take longer to mature. By the time they do, many of those that possess them are 35 years or older. In other words, they are no longer the “Hot Babes” of opera; the ones that sell CD’s like Cecilia Bartoli. Speight Jenkins of the Seattle Opera said, “Voice teachers in general do not encourage the unique, original voice.” Instead, they encourage “the voice that can hit all the notes and do what is supposed to be done,” regardless if they have any flair or artistry.

So now we have singers with attractive bodies, and light, agile voices. Quick fame, like we have with American Idol, is the way to go. OK, so you just had dinner and you have to sit through an opera. So who wouldn’t rather watch a “hot babe” perform a virtuosic aria from Mozart’s Abduction From the Seraglio, instead of that “huge chick” belting out five hours worth of schnapps and sausage music.

This shift towards “popera”, with the use of microphones and pretty girls is starting to blend the genres of Broadway and Opera. Will we be seeing Sarah Brightman singing “Dich, teure Halle” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser, on 42nd street next season?

So Deborah Voigt is back now, in her slimmed down version. But will the voice be the same? ''I think that the face of opera is changing,'' Voigt said. ''To assume that one can weigh 300-plus pounds and still be viable on today's opera stage is naive.” But as they say, it isn’t over till the skinny chick sings.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Beam Me Up Jesus!

I received an e-mail yesterday from a friend with a link to a web page. At first, I thought it was a joke, but at closer inspection, I realized it was real. How many times have you thought that when you have seen it all, another surprise is just around the corner to upset your perceived harmony among irrational impulses?

Well, here it is: Post Rapture Pets.

Those who are taken up in the rapture (this is when Jesus beams you up) will be safe in the arms of God; but what about the pets we love and care for?

The web page tells you that, by buying their book, you too can make sure that little Fluffy won’t be plagued by the demonic savages of the post-rapture. This apparently is another, in a long line of Rapture books, and we know how many millions of people and millions of dollars have been made by Tim LeHaye and Jerry Jenkins.

In the fundamentalist Christian eschatology, the Rapture is the moment in which they believe that Jesus will descend from Heaven, accompanied by his posse, whose bodies (rotting corpses I presume) are reunited with their spirits in a resurrection. Just imagine bodies popping out of the ground. Does that remind you of anything? How about- Night of the Living Dead. Immediately after this all “true” Christians (meaning fundamentalist Protestants, not Catholics, etc.) alive on the earth are simultaneously transported to meet the Lord.

The Left Behind books are popular apocalyptic thrillers in which Jesus returns to slaughter everyone who is not a born-again Christian. The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof said, “If Saudi Arabians wrote an Islamic version of this series, we would furiously demand that sensible Muslims repudiate such hatemongering.” Even the conservative theologian Barbara R. Rossing, an associate professor of New Testament studies at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, and who received her doctorate from the Harvard Divinity School, said “Today’s Christian fixation on Armageddon and war is a sickness even while it may be thrilling and entertaining.”

What this fear mongering really does, is to control people through fear- plain and simple. And don’t forget, that societies (this includes religious societies) living in fear are no longer functioning to their full potential. Fear is crippling to productivity, confidence and mental serenity. So the “Flock” is best managed through fear. There will always be some cause for fear created by those in power to keep followers in line.

This is why, rather than confidently laying out a positive program of beliefs (like traditional denominations do); fundamentalism is more concerned with raising alarm over putative dangers lying in wait.

Now my family has a rich spiritual history that includes The Catholic Church, Protestantism, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Buddhism and Atheism. Perhaps my spiritual view of the world has amalgamated positions from all of these and more, which is why my wife and I are about to start attending the Universalist-Unitarian Church here in Athens. My spiritual enlightenment can also come from a variety of other sources. In fact, I relish what Yoda of Star Wars says about this issue, “Fear is the path to the dark side: fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”

Oh, and by the way, if you buy anything from links on the Post Rapture Pets page, Enoch will get a small percentage of the price. I just hope that a portion of these proceeds are going into a Trust for Fluffy.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Renaissance Fair?

Well it’s that time of year again, to slip on your favorite woolen clothing, with undergarments made of linen, and head off to the nearest Renaissance Fair. Yes, I’m talking about those ubiquitous flea markets plumed in cap and bells. And for those who are greatly experienced in costumery (from all those science fiction conventions), break out the hose and jacket with pleating or skirting, or the tunic with a surcoat. Women don’t forget your flowing gowns and elaborate headwear, ranging from headdresses shaped like hearts or butterflies to tall steeple caps.

For those of you unversed in fair punctilio, I suggest that you scour your closet and attic for the following:

1. Natural leather shoes, boots, and sandals.
2. Blowsy shirts in natural colors.
3. Natural leather vests.
4. Blowsy dresses in natural colors.
5. Snug fitting pants without pockets if possible

In other words, break out the old hippie stuff!

Now, when you show up, here’s what you’ll encounter: a replica of a formed small community, supposedly around a central lord or master. Not unlike the real thing, which were isolated, with occasional visits from peddlers, pilgrims on their way to the Crusades, or soldiers from other fiefdoms (who would practice their jousting skills with each other). There was no electricity, no water from faucets, no television, and no cars.

This is the Renaissance Fair experience- partly a craft fair, partly historical reenactment, and partly performance art.

But wait!

I want to know which idiot came up with the name, because if you know anything about history, everything I have just been describing can be referred to as: The Middle Ages. And as we all know (at least those who care about history), the Renaissance Period comes after the Middle Ages.

The Middle Ages are commonly dated from the fall of the Western Roman Empire (5th century) to the beginning of the Renaissance. This new modern period , lasted from around 1400 to 1500 A.D. It was a time that saw the birth of Humanism, a search for knowledge rather than accepting what already exists, and a faith in the republican ideal. In the arts it produced the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael Sanzio, and Michelangelo Buonarotti (not “Theater in the Mud”) (Face it; it’s your favorite part of the fair).

I don’t believe that thinkers like Galileo (mathematics and astronomy), Nicolaus Copernicus (astronomy), Tycho Brahe (astronomy), Johannes Kepler (mathematics and astronomy) and Isaac Newton (astronomy, physics, and mathematics), walked around peddling turkey drumsticks or replica swords.

But I do believe that their contribution to science was the foundation for modern science and technology, which eventually brought out the possibility of space travel and all of the ancillary science fiction, including the sci-fi conventions where you can really express yourself via costume. By the way, some of the alien creations that I have seen at these conventions could put a Hollywood makeup/wardrobe artist to shame.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Musicology of Rage

The orgy of fury,
Compels us to
Pule the dying days,
Make our moans to a
Crepuscular address,
With neutral contempt.

Take no pity of us,
Or aggravate our
Hemorrhaging elixir.
But give us festering language,
That is frugal and
Will embalm our orthodoxy.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Recommended Poets

As someone once said, “I really want a poem to spout roses and spit bullets.” I agree. It’s no wonder that one of my favorite songs from a while ago was Send Lawyers, Guns and Money by Warren Zevon.

Now I'm hiding in Honduras
I'm a desperate man
Send lawyers, guns and money
The shit has hit the fan

So what constitutes a good poem? For me, it is something that says more in a few words than a novel can in five hundred pages, with wit and word-play. It has an extraordinary mixing of music and image, word and thought. The job of the poet is to choose the right words, not only for sound (the music of poignant language) and connotation (landscape), but even for the countenance of them.

The poem corresponds to a centrifuge of sound, alliteration and rhythm. The reader will be walking into a world for the very first time; a world of terseness and parsimony.

Poetry IS about words!

Another person also said, “What makes a good poem? A good poet.”

So I have two great poets for you to discover this summer: Zbigniew Herbert and Miroslav Holub. They are two of my favorite poets.

Zbigniew Herbert is an avant-garde poet from Poland, who experiments with precise, restrained rhythms. His poetry is continually exposed to the impersonal, external pressures of politics and history. He started writing poetry during the Nazi occupation of Poland, and during the years of Stalinism his poems were continually banned. A. Alvarez says “Irony", such as Herbert’s, “is a two-edged weapon, which turns on the poet as readily as on the world outside. It is based on a sense of his own ineffectual fragility when faced with the steam-roller of political force." His politics is of sanity and survival; something that is completely relevant for this new century.

Also a survivor of WWII, Miroslav Holub was conscripted as a railway worker under the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. He went on to become one of his country’s most important scientists, as a research immunologist at The Institute for Clinical and Experimental Medicine. He argued that, “The emotional, aesthetic and existential value is the same (that scientific method and poetry-making are basically similar)…When looking into the microscope and seeing the expected and when looking at the nascent organism of the poem.” He felt an affinity for the aesthetic of his fellow doctor-poet William Carlos Williams, who is also one of my favorite American poets (along with Wallace Stevens).

So here’s Holub spitting a few bullets at you-

Here too are dreaming landscapes,
Lunar, derelict.
Here too are the masses,
Tillers of the soil.
And cells, fighters
Who lay down their lives
For a song.

Here too are cemeteries,
Fame and snow.
And I hear murmuring,
The revolt of immense estates.

Does anybody have any poets that they would like recommend to me?