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Showing posts from February, 2014

Happy Birthday!

While it is impossible to date the Grand Canyon definitively, the national park turned 95 a couple days ago. President Wilson signed the park into being on February 26, 1919.  Teddy Roosevelt had visited the park in 1903 and declared it one of the greatest natural wonders of the world.

Hard to argue when you see this incredible site, as I did a few years back with my family.  Hiking down to its base takes some planning as there is a waiting list, but you can circumnavigate the rim by car, camping along the edges and taking short walks down some defined trails.  Not so long ago, a skywalk was created for those who want to look down between their feet into the canyon.

The canyon was first called to Americans' attention by John Wesley Powell in 1869, when he led a geographic expedition down the Colorado River.  He was a prime advocate of water management in the West, but unfortunately no one paid much attention to him, otherwise we might not have seen the many problems that exist t…

Bayou detectives

HBO's latest offering, True Detective has been getting a lot of attention, and soaring in the number of viewers each week for what is supposed to be a conclusive 8-part series.  Judging by the reviews, the series offers a a number of tantalizing metaphysical and existential trappings, with quotes from Nietzsche and a subtext lifted from the pages of Robert W. Chambers' The King in Yellow.  But, judging from trailers and clips this is a very stylish buddy cop movie with Woody Harrelson as your quintessential Southern good ol' boy and Matthew McConaughey as an existential cowboy.

The story is set in the bayous of Louisiana with industrial plants looming on the horizon, not much unlike Beasts of the Southern Wild.  Darkness blurs the edges, as if on the eve of destruction, so no surprise that religious motifs abound, but they have become perverted much like the Yellow King himself.

Emily Nussbaum wasn't as glowing in her New Yorker review as others have been.  Despite al…

Paine v. Burke

When you look at the quality (or lack thereof) of political debate today it seems a bit of a stretch to link it to Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine, but that's what conservative journalist Yuval Levin has done in his recent study of The Great Debate.  I can understand the desire to root the rhetorical differences in what passes for political debates, but come on now, how many Americans even know who Edmund Burke is?  As for Paine, he has been co-opted by right wing pundits like Glenn Beck, who see him as an early Libertarian maverick.

This doesn't stop Levin from cobbling together a "debate" of political differences, using their opposing thoughts on the French Revolution as a springboard.  One can understand why old guard conservatives would prefer Burke to Paine, as the British statesman espoused a "prudent conservatism" in keeping with the tone of the National Review, which Levin most often pens for.  But, Paine is more at heart an American than Burke, who …

You Are Who You Embrace

The GOP has had a bit of a "celebrity" problem over the years.  Clint Eastwood seemed like a sure bet at the Republican National Convention, but when he decided to carry on a conservation with a chair which he mistook for Obama this became a running gag on the late night television circuit.  Then came this motley selection of musicians to sing America the Beautiful with Mitt Romney on the campaign trail, which didn't come off very well either.

However, none can compare with Ted Nugent, who seems to be everywhere on the campaign trail these days, spouting off whatever comes to the top of his head and damn the consequences.  His latest act was calling the President a "subhuman mongrel," while stumping for Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott.  This led to rebukes from Rand Paul and Rick Perry, who are definitely no friends of Obama.  The Nuge was forced to apologize, "but on behalf of much better men than myself," which one assumes is Paul and Pe…

March Against Fear

James Meredith generally doesn't get much attention beyond being the first black man admitted to the University of Mississippi in October, 1962.  This didn't come without a lot of grandstanding on Governor Barnett's part, denying him admission a month earlier.  But, the state was forced to drop its objections, and Meredith was begrudgingly accepted into the university.  As you can see, Ole Miss still hasn't exercised its demons.

A young Meredith had much to fear, but he seemed little afraid, having previously defied state laws by registering to vote.  In June 6, he organized a March Against Fear in rural Mississippi, encouraging blacks to register to vote.  Meredith was met with a shotgun blast just South of Hernando, Mississippi, and the march temporarily came to an end.  With reports of the shooting quickly circulating in the press, members of CORE and SNCC mobilized persons and resumed the march.

Stokley Charmichael, who led the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Commi…

Call Me Ishmael

I've been reading Iain Sinclair's American Smoke and enjoying his anecdotes while on the trail of the Beats.  His favorite is Charles Olson, the unofficial bard of Gloucester, MA, whose major work was The Maximus Poems, published posthumously in 1983.  But, what attracted me was his study of Melville's Moby-Dick, simply titled Call Me Ishmael, first published in 1947.

Olson was apparently the first to recognize there were two books, the pre-Shakespeare and the post-Shakespeare  Moby-Dick.  In the first telling Ahab had a mostly incidental role, but upon reading King Lear Melville recast his Ahab as a latter-day Lear, obsessed with vengeance at the cost of everything else around him.  Other scholars have since bolstered this idea, noting the profound influence Shakepseare had on Melville.

The essay had first appeared  as Lear and Moby-Dick in 1938, but Olson worked on it continuously over a 10 year span, incorporating his ideas on "Empire," which he felt Melville…

My President the Car

Apparently, there is nothing like Presidents Day for a car sale.  This is peak time for the automotive industry, offering sales across the country, with red, white and blue bunting stretched across showroom floors and between lamp posts on dealers' lots.  The "holiday" still officially honors Big George but has become all-inclusive.

Abraham Lincoln (33%) edged out George Washington (30%) in a recent poll sponsored by Constitution Daily.  Ronald Reagan wasn't on the ballot.  It seems you had to be on Mt. Rushmore or have been a relative of one of the stony faces to qualify.  Historians generally tend to put Lincoln ahead of Washington as well.

Lincoln is also the only President to have an automotive company named after him, although Gerald Ford shares his name with one car company.  Henry Leland, who founded Lincoln Motor Company, was actually old enough to vote in 1864 and cast his ballot for Lincoln, his favorite president.  I suppose if you were to compare Presid…

The Politics of Science

Bill Nye finds himself in another debate, this time with Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn over climate change.  It seems Marsha took a few pointers from Ken Ham, finding a handful of "scientists" who reject climate change, but David Gregory wasn't a passive moderator in this debate, often challenging Blackburn himself.  Mercifully, this debate clocks in about 13 minutes, as opposed to the two-and-a-half hour snoozefest that was the Creation Debate.

I think Bill has learned by now that science is not really at issue here, but rather politics.  For whatever damn fool reason the Republicans have lined themselves up on the opposing side of just about every issue confronting this country.  They don't so much approach these issues in a scientific spirit but rather a litigious one, pulling up a few specious claims and statistics that cast what they consider to be "reasonable doubt."

As David Gregory noted, most Republican leaders accept climate change is occ…

Everyone a Speculator

To watch Martin Scorsese's unbridled Bacchanalia, The Wolf of Wall Street, the 80s and 90s were just one big fuckfest for stockbrokers in New York.  He follows the life of Jordan Belfort, a real life figure through the eyes of Leonardo DiCaprio, as a kind of anti-Gatsby.  It wasn't power or even prestige Jordan was after, but rather the pursuit of money and all the pleasures it provides.  Daisy in this case was a former Miller Light girl who now had her own lingerie line.

The narrative is filled with many memorable lines, probably taken from the book, and destined to be aped, much like Gordon Gekko's quotes from Oliver Stone's 1987 Wall Street, which prophetically took place the same year the stock market crashed.  This is where this new movie begins, so some might see it as a sequel of sorts, showing how young stockbrockers picked up the pieces, in this case penny stocks, and moved on.

Belfort apparently made quite a name for himself but this was the first time I hea…

Black History Month: What Have We Learned?

I do wonder who Black History Month is for?  Certainly, black Americans don't need to be reminded of their history.  They continue to have to put up with racial stereotypes and profiling today, often with tragic results like last year's Trayvon Martin case. But, someone needs to be reminded of this history, especially before suggesting such events as a George Zimmerman-DMX celebrity boxing match.  The promoter had the audacity of suggesting proceeds go to the Trayvon Martin Foundation.  I can't even begin to imagine what Trayvon's parents must have felt hearing about this horribly crass event.

In today's reality show environment anyone can become a celebrity.  A far cry from the Civil Rights Movement, which Black History Month was intended to keep fresh in people's minds.  Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks continue to get their due, but the struggle itself has been pretty much reduced to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington, conveniently…

Benito Cerreño

This is one of the stories Greg Grandin interweaves in his new book about the slave trade, Empire of Necessity.  Melville had written the short novel in the 1850s, modelling it on a slave revolt that took place fifty years before aboard the Spanish ship Tryal.  The mutinous Africans demanded the ship's captain sail them back to their home continent, but a New England merchant seaman interceded, forming the basis of Melville's novella.

Grandin's book takes the long view on the slave trade, showing how integral it had become in the fortunes of the European and American powers.  Grandin provides the backstory behind the novella, but takes the reader beyond the story as well, with an epilogue on Herman Melville's America that you can read in the preview of the book at amazon.  There is also this piece on the revolt, which Grandin wrote for The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Benito Cereno was made into a film in 1969 by Serge Roullet.

This could make for a very interestin…

Lone Star Blues

Seems the Republicans are losing their grip on the Lone Star state.  This once Democratic bastion (albeit conservatively Democratic) has been "red" for the past 20 years ever since Boy George knocked the Grand Dame of Texas off her throne in one of the biggest upsets of the 1994 midterm elections.  After 6 years of Bush and 14 years of Rick Perry, Texans seem to be a little GOP weary.  So, Rand Paul rode into Texas on his Libertarian white horse to try to urge state Republicans to be more friendly, seeming to evoke Dubya's "compassionate conservatism" from a generation before so that the Hispanic vote won't make the Lone Star State Blue.

Like so many states, the demographics seem to be turning against the Republicans.  An estimated 40 per cent of the Texas electorate is now Hispanic, and most of them tend to vote Democratic.  They might vote for one of their homeboys like Ted Cruz but run a guy like Greg Abbott and all bets are off.

Texas Republicans have…

The Old Switcheroo

I guess it depends which side of the political aisle you are on as to whether Charlie Crist's new book is good or bad.  Few like a turncoat, unless of course he is Ronald Reagan, so it is no surprise the Republicans have come to hate Crist with a passion almost as much as their hatred toward Obama.  Not surprisingly, this is the subject Crist tackles in his book, The Party's Over, noting how the GOP has degenerated to the point it no longer holds any respect for the Commander-in-Chief if he comes from the other party.

Crist describes a situation where Obama addressed the National Governors Association after his historic election victory.  Like most GOP governors, Crist was doubtful of the new President, but became very upset with the tone of some of his fellow GOP governors who took the opportunity to "lecture" the President, not offering him a shred of respect. Crist chose to scold these governors, noting their hypocrisy in taking stimulus money only to decry it in…

Black Reconstruction in the South

This is black history month, and it only seems fitting that Douglas Egerton's new book, The Wars of Reconstruction is now available.  I wasn't quite sure what to think of it with all the praise being heaped on it by the Wall Street Journal, but Eric Foner gives this book a big thumb up, so that seals the deal for me.

Egerton focuses mostly at the state and local level in the South, illustrating the gains that were made during Reconstruction.  He contrasts this with the violent reactionary elements such as the Ku Klux Klan, ultimately showing that Reconstruction was not a failure, but rather was violently overthrown.

This of course was not the long held view, which Foner focused on his excellent book on Reconstruction.  He, along with Leon Litwack rescued Reconstruction from the dust bin of history, by drawing from the seminal work of W.E.B. DuBois and other prime sources to counter the long prevailing Dunning school of thought on the subject, which rendered Reconstruction a f…

The Science Smackdown

Sad to say, but it looks like Bill Nye took a hard one on the chin in the Debate of the Decade the other night.  I watched a little bit of it on youtube.  It was like watching paint dry.  Gone, was Bill Nye's trademark humor.  Instead, he seemed to take the topic seriously, and tried to argue that the acceptance of Creationism by so many Americans has held the country back technologically.  Ken Ham was ready for that one, as he cited leading technological innovators who accepted the Creation myth.  Nye never recovered.

Science will probably never trump faith.  Even Dostoevsky said if he had to choose, he would take faith over reason.  Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, noted in his wonderful book on Dostoevsky that faith and reason can coexist, but they shouldn't be put at odds with each other.  He believes that since the Age of Enlightenment, we also shouldn't view the Bible as a literal text.

In fact, this is the general Catholic and Anglican view, but…

The Monuments Men

It is nice to draw attention to the Monuments Men, who helped save valuable historic landmarks and priceless treasures during WWII, but you have to wonder at the casting.  This was an organization initially set up by the British government and eventually came to include American art experts, but this cast seems to be mostly a Hollywood crew, and a largely fictionalized account.

Judging from the trailer, the intent appears to be largely the same, only with a little more bang for your buck, as George Clooney and Matt Damon lead a "Dirty Dozen" across battle lines in an attempt to keep Europe's valuable treasures out of Nazi hands, as well as caution Allied military leaders on what to target.  These actions didn't save Dresden, but that was in enemy territory, so I guess it was open season.

Here, the focus is mostly on Italy, where the most valuable European treasures resided, as Allied Monuments Officers worked with the Italian soprintendenti to identify and save key…

Ham on Nye

Tonight is the Big Night for what is being billed as the "Debate of the Decade."  However, it sounds more like The Scopes Monkey Trial, Part Deux, as the "Science Guy" Bill Nye takes on the "The Creationist" Ken Ham in a 2 1/2 hour debate on Is Creation a Viable Model of Origins?  CNN correspondent Tom Foreman will moderate the debate and "70 credentialed media" will be in attendance to help make it feel just like the real thing.

Ken plans to soak as much money as possible off this one, with everyone from WCPO in Cincinnati to Christian Today offering a live feed, starting at 7 pm.  Even Piers Morgan will offer a post-debate analysis.  All proceeds will go to his Answers in Genesis, which is sponsoring the event.

You have to admire Ken Ham's audacity if nothing else.  This guy doesn't buy into "intelligent design."  He is a straight Creationist.  The world is no more than 7000 years old and Dinosaurs and other extinct species …

Pardon me while I gloat ...

Apparently, I'm not the only one suffering a hangover from the big game yesterday.  There are calls for a Super Bowl Monday, a national holiday so that the legion of fans can rest after all those Super Bowl parties.  However, my problem is that the game didn't end until 5 am Eastern European time and I only got about 2 hours of sleep.
The game was originally an afternoon game, but slowly crept into the early hours of the evening to make room for all the pre-game hype and what now appears to be the traditional Presidential interview.  This year Fox News had the honors and Baba O'Reilly got to sit down with the president for 10 minutes, dredging up one right-wing conspiracy theory after another, with the President gamely responding to each faux question in turn, and dropping a few football metaphors along the way.  When asked to predict the outcome of the game, all he would state was the score 24-21.

He was pretty close on the number of points, but unfortunately for Manni…

The 12th Man in Vilnius

Seattle is more known for its rain than it is football, but when Paul Allen bought the Seahawks in the late 1990s, he vowed he would make every effort to make the team a contender, and the city plunked huge money on a new stadium to keep the franchise, which had been in danger of being moved to Los Angeles.  The city of Angels had long been aching for a football team ever since losing its Rams.

American football is a funny thing, especially when viewed from abroad.  Most of my Lithuanian friends have a hard time figuring it out.  What does any of this have to do with football, they ask?  Yes, it is more like rugby than any other sport, only these guys are dressed like gladiators for the kill.

There have been attempts to export the game with mixed results.  The World Football League was a big failure back in the 70s.  A new European Football League was started in mid 80s and has managed to grow in teams over the years, with a Eurobowl played each year.  Needless to say, it doesn'…