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Showing posts from December, 2013

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Not surprisingly, the GOP'ers have seized on the end of the incandescent light bulb, which will be phased out completely at the start of 2014, with the last factories already closed for the holidays.  An NBC writer tries to evoke nostalgia for the old Edison bulb in this article, failing to point out that most halogen, LED and CFL packages offer the equivalent of lumens in watts so that persons won't get confused with their replacement bulbs.  But, the general view seems to be that incandescent bulbs were the only bulbs still made in America, although this industry had been farmed out to China long ago.
It is too easy to draw allusions here.  We already had Michelle Bachmann make her last stand against the moratorium in 2011, when she introduced her Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act to repeal a law signed by George Bush in 2007 which would phase out the wasteful lights by 2012.  As it is, the 60 and 40 watt bulbs were allowed to be continued through this year.  But, of course,…

Fort Ross and the Russia-American Company

I want to say thank you for all this interest from Russia in our blog.  As a tip of the hat, I couldn't resist posting a little bit about Fort Ross in Northern California. This was apparently the most eastward expansion of the Russian-American Company, chartered by Tsar Paul I in the late 18th century.  The Spanish apparently got very worried and Father Junipero Serra established missions as far north as present-day San Franciso in an effort to stake out the domain of the Spanish empire.

This was just a few short years before Lewis and Clark's "Journey of Discovery," so apparently the fledgling United States was a bit worried too, although the extent of its landholdings at the time only extended as far as Montana with the acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.  But, the US already considered the West Coast a part of its Manifest Destiny and it would be only a matter of decades before California and the Oregon Territory were acquired in the wake of the Mexica…

The Water is Wide

I found myself searching through the new titles at amazon for something interesting to read in the way of history and fell across this title, By the Rivers of Water, which tells the story of a Southern missionary couple who chose to go to West Africa in the 1830s to spread the message.  This would have been at the dawn of the Second Great Awakening.

The twist is that the couple apparently viewed the Africans as equals and made every effort to learn their language and culture, while still struggling with their own family legacy at home.  They owned slaves by inheritance and couldn't quite bring themselves to free them, feeling that the freed slaves would be cast adrift and unable to fend for themselves.

Erskine Clark probes this moral dilemma and others in a book that seems to have garnered surprisingly little attention, especially since Clark had previously won the prestigious Bancroft Prize for Dwelling Place, a meticulous study of antebellum Georgian plantation life.    Clark …

Time to take the gloves off

Boxing Day never took hold in the States.  This traditional British holiday was a day off for the servants who obviously had to put in a full day on Christmas.  They were given gifts on this day in the form of a "Christmas box."  It seemed to evolve from Saturnalia, where slave owners and slaves would switch roles for one day  It later became a banking holiday throughout the Commonwealth nations.

For Americans the day after Christmas is the big day for returns.  The shops have to deal with exchanges for all those Christmas sweaters and other items Americans politely said thank you for but set aside to be redeemed for something else, assuming receipts were included.

It seems much of our holiday season is driven by consumption, and it seems this was a banner year for the retail and food industry as signs seem to be pointing up as far as the economy goes, although Conservatives would be loathe to admit it.  2014 is predicted to be a good year economically, which doesn't b…

Anno Domini

One of the many things I found fascinating in John Barry's book on Roger Williams is that the Puritans in America suppressed the celebration of Christmas, considering it too closely associated with paganism and idolatory.  I think anti-Catholic bias figured in as well.  It wasn't until the 19th century that New England states began to relax these laws.  Christmas became a federal holiday in 1870, largely for commercial reasons, not religious ones.  Yet, we see all this anxiety over Christmas being marginalized in today's society.

There is no scriptural record of Jesus' birth.  Dates varied but the Romans decided to link his birth to December 25 in 336 AD.  Apparently, there was no surviving birth record even though the Romans kept birth records for tax purposes.  Most scholars feel that by linking Jesus' birth to the winter solstice, missionaries would have an easier time converting pagans, who already honored this day in ceremonies throughout Europe.

With the bre…

The World and the Heavens According to Phil

I suppose if you are sitting at the Boar's Nest bar having a few drinks and overhearing this kind of conversation, it doesn't really much matter, but finding it in GQ magazine is a little disconcerting.  Do we really need to give guys like Phil Robertson an international audience? Isn't it enough to let them just have their page on facebook or some other social network and garner "likes" like the rest of us.

This infatuation with "White Trash" is really something.  It seems like the cable networks are constantly tripping over themselves to find the next local bigot or racist to make into an overnight celebrity.  With All In the Family and Sanford and Son it was satire, but this new wave of cable reality show programming is all too real and Duck Dynasty has been a huge hit for A&E network.

I remember when A&E was about cultural programming, something sorely lacking on the major cable channels.  Now it has fallen into the same trap, or should I s…

What if ...

Each year 25 films are added to the National Film Registry.  Most of them you've heard of like this year's selection Mary Poppins. long overdue.  Other headliners include Pulp Fiction and Roger & Me, which gave us two of Hollywood's favorite bad boys Quentin Tarantino and Michael Moore.  Some you are surprised aren't already in the registry like Gilda and The Quiet Man.  But one film you probably never heard of is the animated short film The Hole.

I watched it for the first time today and was mesmerized by the clever animation and the wonderful dialog between characters voiced by Dizzy Gillespie and George Matthews.  The film dates to 1962, highlighting not only Cold War fears but race relations as well, as we see a black and white construction worker having what seems to be an easy rapport between each other in a hole of a New York construction site.  The film is as apt today as it was then.

The Hole won an Oscar back in '62, which makes it surprising that it …

A Writer in Waiting

I've long been interested in George Packer, not exactly in a positive way, but not negative either.  That was the way I felt about his first book The Village in Waiting, which my sister sent me to try to spur me to write about my own experiences in Lesotho.  His were about another small African country, Togo, at the opposite end of the continent.

He seemed to feel disillusioned after his Peace Corps experience, and it seems that feeling has carried with him in his writing.  For him America appears in decay, like the international programs it continues to sponsor.  Of course, I could have written about all those rusting hulks of farm machinery USAID had supplied to Lesotho, that didn't work in the mountainous terrain, where terrace farming was practiced.  Many of these old tractors had been stripped down and parts used for other machinery.  But, I wasn't able to find the words at the time and still struggle to find the right words.

Apparently, not George Packer, who has wr…

Festivus for the rest of us

In keeping with the spirit of the Holiday season, or Festivus as some would call it, Fox news has begun its annual cries of victimhood, most notably in Megyn Kelly setting the record straight on Santa.  We can't have kids think that Santa is anything other than White, otherwise it wouldn't be a White Christmas.  But, Megyn wasn't content to leave it there, she also wanted everyone to know that Jesus is White too, just for the record.

Megyn was singling out an article in Slate magazine where Aisha Harris questioned the idea of a White Santa and the possible harm it does children of color.  Her argument was that an animal might be the better way to personify Santa and suggested a penguin, although I don't think penguins live in the North Pole.

Gretchen Carlson went one step further, by expressing her moral outrage over an atheist who was successfully able to display at "Festivus pole" made from beer cans in the Florida state capitol, mostly in protest to the n…

Motor City Blues

In many ways, Jim Jarmusch's recent film, Only Lovers Left Alive, is an ode to Lost Detroit, shot at night as his vampires cruise around the faded Motor City in a white Jaguar XJS to the plaintive chords of Adam's presumed musical score.  I suppose the Jaguar was a touch of irony in a faded world of great cars like the Packard, as Adam points out the towering old plant to his ageless lover Eve.  They pause to take in the once majestic Michigan Theater that now serves as a car park, before returning to Adam's dilapidated brick Victorian, where he generates electricity from a Tesla coil, and Eve spins an old 45 of Denise Lasalle's Trapped in This Thing Called Love.

It's the kind of movie you can only really enjoy if you have a nostalgia for such things.  Not that I am a native of Detroit, but it is sad just the same to see this once thriving city now viewed as Gothic ruins.  However, the vampires, having been around at least since Christopher Marlowe's time, put…

The Handshake

Some are calling it a Mandela-like gesture, others are calling it nauseating, but whatever your opinion it is more than just a handshake, which apparently is the way the White House is spinning it.

In the run up to last year's election, Obama was making overtures to Cuba, which suggested a thaw in relations that were greeted warmly by most of the Cuban-American community in Florida.  From a pragmatic point of view, it probably helped him carry the state in the election, but Obama seems to be looking beyond the polls and didn't miss the opportunity to make contact with Raul Castro on the way to the podium to make a speech commemorating Nelson Mandela.

Back in 1990 when Mandela visited the United States, many Republican and a few Democratic lawmakers insisted that he renounce his support of Cuba, among other pariah nations.  Mandela politely refused.  This earned him the enmity of Jesse Helms, who turned his back on Mandela when he addressed a joint session of Congress.

Cuba h…

What direction do we take?

The forum is open to suggestions for the next reading group.  Quite a few books came out this past fall in the way of history and politics.  Some of the best reviewed books are:

The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin;
Collision 2012 by Dan Balz;
Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation by John Ferling;
The Unwinding by George Packer;
Wilson by Scott Berg;

Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff.
feel free to add your own suggestions.

Yes, Virginia, it's still called a Christmas Tree

It seems that every year we go through the same debate as to whether it is a holiday tree or Christmas tree. Rhode Island was apparently "outraged" that Gov. Lincoln Chaffee had the temerity to call it a "holiday tree," but this is just the tip of the iceberg.  A Ben Stein meme is finding its way around facebook (not the first year) in which he reportedly said the White House is calling the Christmas tree a Holiday tree for the first time.

As you can see, the Obamas still refer to it as the National Christmas Tree with Michelle reading the Christmas classic, The Night Before Christmas, to the audience.  Of course, the White House also pays respect to Ramadan and Hanukkah as well, as well as makes a tribute to Kwanzaa each year.

So why all the fuss?  It's not like the Christmas tree is an inherent part of Christianity.  The idea of worshiping trees is traditionally pagan and this time of year would have been in conjunction with the Festival of Light, still ce…

The Unexpected

The Mustang turns 50 next year, April 17 to be exact, but I wasn't giving it much thought until I heard the introduction of the 2015 model a few days ago.  This is probably the most iconic American automobile and is apparently popular enough in Europe that Ford plans to distribute new models abroad for the first time.   Ironic, given that European styling was what make the Mustang unique in the American market at the time.  I see a few of these little "ponies" running around Vilnius, but to me it is hard to beat the early models.  Clean and crisp with enough horsepower to satisfy me.  But, as my son pointed out to me, still doesn't have independent suspension which is standard over here.

Above is the 1965 model as shown at the 1964 World's Fair in New York.  Here is the press kit that came with it.  It didn't take much to get people to notice.  The sports car exceeded all expectations.  Over 550,000 models were sold with a basic sticker price of $2,320 (abou…

God and Money

The Pope hasn't been very kind on supply-side economics, which has ruffled a few feathers on Wall St.  Not that they really care what goes on in the Vatican, although I'm sure they are bemused by how the Holy See can tolerate  a Pope who seems to be lashing out against the Vatican's own enormous wealth.  But, it appears for the time being the Pope has become detached from the Vatican, floating on his own cloud as he reaches out to people the world over with simple messages taken directly from the New Testatment, such as,

No man can serve two masters for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other.  Ye cannot serve God and mammon -- Matthew 6:24

Words that are not exactly music to everyone's ears, especially the pundits at Fox "News" who have been trying to piece them out without being disrespectful to the Pope.  Jon Stewart had a field day with the financial pundits, calling out Stuart Varney and Larr…

So long, Nelson Mandela

On June 26, 1990, Nelson Mandela addressed a joint session of Congress.  The speech begins at the 13:30 minute mark in the C-Span clip.  It was one of many historic events that shook the world in the short period between 1989 and 1991, creating a huge shift in the balance of power.  To George H.W. Bush's credit, he chose to recognize these changes, not ignore them as many within his own Republican Party would have preferred.

The Republicans had fought hard against the Anti-Apartheid Act that passed Congress in 1986.  Jesse Helms staged a filibuster against the final vote, supported by several of his vituperative Southern colleagues.  Ronald Reagan vetoed the legislation, but his veto was overridden.  Sometimes, the tide of history is simply too strong to be overcome.

George H.W. Bush wasn't going to make the same mistake, welcoming Nelson Mandela to the White House before the historic joint session.  He like so many Americans embraced Mandela because the ANC leader represent…

The Incomparable Nina Simone

Nina Simone's beauty came from within.  She sang from the depth of her heart, with many of her songs and interpretations of classic songs, like Pirate Jenny from Kurt Weill's Three-Penny Opera, becoming iconic of the Civil Rights Movement.  It really is hard to imagine anyone playing her in film, but I see the beautiful young Zoe Saldana has been cast in the role of an upcoming biopic.

Needless to say this has caused quite a stir. Mary J. Blige was first cast in the role, which also ruffled a few feathers.  My suggestion would be anyone of these four women because there is absolutely no question anyone of them can sing Simone's signature songs, and if beauty is what you are looking for there are few women more beautiful than Lizz Wright.  Instead, we most likely will get another film along the lines of Ray that meticulously chronicles the life of the legendary artist, who left America to make a better life for herself in France.

Probably her greatest performance was recor…

Superman at 80

It was nice to see Jerry Siegel and Joe Scuster credited in the latest adaptation of Superman.  The director indulged greatly in the origins of the super hero, spending an inordinate amount of time on Krypton, telling us all about the uprising and Zod's sentence to eternal darkness; as well as young Clark's boyhood years in Smallville, Kansas, with Kevin Costner playing his exceedingly earnest father.  Halfway into this epic tale we finally get to the action, which played out pretty much like Superman II only without Lex Luther around to stir the pot.

Superman was originally created in 1933 by two high school kids searching for something that would lift their spirits during the Great Depression.  The Reign of the Superman appeared in Fanzine science fiction in 1933.  Superman underwent a major metamorphosis from super villain to super hero before appearing in Action Comics  in 1938.  

Siegel and Shuster worked out a deal with DC Comics, which succeeded Action Comics.  This gr…

The Year of Bushehr

A little over a year ago Benjamin Netanyahu made this memorable display in front of the UN assembly and ever since has been pushing hard and heavy for the Obama administration to drop the bomb on Iran.  So, imagine Bibi's surprise when the US brokered a historic peace agreement that would curb Iran's nuclear weapon development and bring Iran back into the international fold.

Republicans don't know quite how to react to the deal, which is still being worked out.  What began as shuttle diplomacy evolved into face-to-face talks between American and Iranian foreign representatives for the first time in over 30 years.  It seems the specter of the infamous 1980 hostage crisis may have been finally lifted.

This isn't the first time Iran has approached the US and vice-versa.  Back in 1998, the US and Iran had a friendly soccer match and Presidents Clinton and Khatami seemed to be reaching out to each other before the Monica Lewinsky dominated the headlines and led the House R…