Saturday, February 8, 2014

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sunday Reading

The Champion — Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic on the legacy of African-American politics.

Last week The New Yorker ran a lengthy profile of Barack Obama, by David Remnick, in which you can hear the president’s opinions on everything from marijuana legalization to war to racism. Obama is as thoughtful as ever, and I expect that admiration for his thoughtfulness will grow as the ages pile upon us. I have tried to get my head around what he represents. Two years ago, I would have said that whatever America’s roots in white supremacy, the election of a black president is a real thing, worthy of celebration, a sign of actual progress. I would have pointed out that you should not expect a black head of state in any other Western country any time soon, and that this stands as singular accolade in the long American democratic tradition. Today, I’m less certain about national accolades. I’m not really sure that a writer—whose whole task is the attempt to see clearly—can afford such attachments.

More interesting to me is why this happened. If you begin from the proposition that African-Americans are fundamentally American, in a way that the Afro-French are not; and that America is, itself, a black country in a way that the other European countries are not, Barack Obama’s election strikes you somewhat differently. African-American politics is literally as old as American politics, as old as Crispus Attucks shot down for his nascent country. One of the earliest and bloodiest proving grounds for “Western” democratic ideals was Gettysburg. The line that saved the Union, that ensured that “government of the people, for the people, by the people, shall not perish from this earth” was marked by the house of the black farmer Abraham Brian. On that Brian property lived the great Mag Palm, currently lost to our memory, who fought off man-catchers determined to reduce her to peonage.

The first African-American to be nominated for president was Frederick Douglass, a biracial black man of exceptional gifts who dreamed of his estranged father as surely as the present occupant of the White House, perhaps even in this day, dreams of his. The last black Southerner to serve in Congress, before this country assented to the desecration of its own Constitution, was George Henry White, who did not leave in despair but in awesome prophecy:

This is perhaps the Negroes’ temporary farewell to the American Congress, but let me say, Phoenix-like he will rise up some day and come again. These parting words are in behalf of an outraged, heart-broken, bruised and bleeding, but God-fearing people; faithful, industrious, loyal, rising people—full of potential force.

And come again, we have.

All Together wit Pete Seeger — Emily Greenhouse remembers the impact he had on her family.

After the Second World War, my grandparents married and moved to Long Island, and my grandfather opened a dry-cleaning shop. On his delivery route, he would look for customers who received the right kind of magazines and then slip fliers underneath their doors: Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, the March on Washington, Ban the Bomb, Stop the War in Vietnam. That’s how my grandparents made new friends. They were meetings people—Grace Paley people, union people. They brought a baby in a stroller to the Rosenbergs’ funeral. Some winters before my grandfather died, he joined in a protest against the Iraq War, in Washington, D.C. After standing for four hours in fifteen-degree weather, he came down with pneumonia. I thought this was heroic, but for him it was normal. He was a Seeger man: he would not be moved or deterred.

The sad morning we learned that Seeger was gone, I spoke to Rob Rosenthal, a professor of sociology at Wesleyan University, and his son, Sam, who recently edited the book “Pete Seeger: In His Own Words.” They met Seeger when he replied to an ad that the elder Rosenthal had placed in the Nation. “He was never pessimistic,” Rosenthal said. “He always thought that humans would get it together.” He added: “When you look at the grand movements of the twentieth century, he was involved in them all (the women’s movement most peripherally). We may think now, ‘Wow, we’re so messed up.’ But he travelled through the South in the thirties, he saw the Hudson cleaned up—a huge, huge thing. He was realistic about how difficult all this was.”

Seeger got in at the ground level—on the union movement, the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the environmentalist movement—and spoke directly to those there. Gabriel Winant, a scholar of labor history, described how Seeger, with a song like “Miner’s Lifeguard,” showed coal miners that they were like sailors—widely perceived as the original modern workers—even if their work was out of the boss’s view. And that, like the sailors, the miners were stronger together.

Sam Rosenthal told me that it was hard to imagine Seeger’s perspective. “He didn’t feel the weight of history the way we did,” he said. “It was staggering to hear him talk about certain things—going to this huge historic march, hanging out with Guthrie or Lead Belly. In the next breath, he would start talking about his neighbor down the road who grew tomatoes.”

It’s Debatable — Sean McElwee and Abigail Salvatore in Salon argue that scientists shouldn’t debate Creationists.

Bill Nye and Ken Ham will be debating creationism on Feb. 4, and it’s a bad idea for both scientists and Christians. Ham’s young-earth creationism represents the distinct tendency of American Christian fundamentalists to reject science and use their religion to defend economic ideas, environmental degradation and anti-science extremism. But these views aren’t actually inherent in Christianity — they’ve been imposed on the biblical text by politically motivated and theologically inept readers. The solution is not anti-theism but better theological and scientific awareness.

The vast majority of right-wing Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. are evangelicals, followers of an offshoot of Protestantism. Protestantism is based on the premise that truth about God and his relationship with the world can be discovered by individuals, regardless of their level of education or social status. Because of its roots in a schism motivated by a distrust of religious experts (priests, bishops, the pope), Protestantism today is still highly individualistic. In the United States, Protestantism has been mixed with the similarly individualistic American frontier mythos, fomenting broad anti-intellectualism.

Richard Hofstadter’s classic, “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life,” perfectly summarizes the American distaste for intellectualism and how egalitarian sentiments became intertwined with religion. He and Walter Lippmann point to the first wave of opposition to Darwinian evolution theory, led by William Jennings Bryan, as the quintessential example of the convergence of anti-intellectualism, the egalitarian spirit and religion. Bryan worried about the conflation of Darwinian evolution theory and capitalist economics that allowed elites to declare themselves superior to lower classes. He felt that the teaching of evolution challenged popular democracy: “What right have the evolutionists — a relatively small percentage of the population — to teach at public expense a so-called scientific interpretation of the Bible when orthodox Christians are not permitted to teach an orthodox interpretation of the Bible?” He notes further, “The one beauty of the word of God, is that it does not take an expert to understand it.”

This American distrust of experts isn’t confined to religion. It explains the popularity of books like “Wrong” by David Freedman (a book that purports  to show “why experts are wrong”) that take those snobbish “experts” down a peg.  The delightfully cynical H.L. Mencken writes,

The agents of such quackeries gain their converts by the simple process of reducing the inordinately complex to the absurdly simple.  Unless a man is already equipped with a considerable knowledge of chemistry, bacteriology and physiology, no one can ever hope to make him understand what is meant by the term anaphylaxis, but any man, if only he be idiot enough, can grasp the whole theory of chiropractic in twenty minutes.

Thus, an American need not understand economics to challenge Keynes, nor possess a PhD to question climate change, nor to have read Darwin to declare his entire book a fraud. One need not read journals, for Gladwell suffices, and Jenny McCarthy’s personal anecdotes trump the Institute of Medicine and National Academy of Sciences.

Doonesbury — Keeping it real.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Thursday, January 16, 2014

And You Call Yourself a Theatre Person

The Oscar nominations are out, and once again I’ve batted 1,000: I have not seen any of the films nominated for Best Picture.

I think there was one year not too long ago that I didn’t even go to the movies in that calendar year.

It’s not that I have anything against the current crop of films; most of them look interesting and I’m sure that they are worth seeing.  But when I take into account the time and effort it takes to go to the local cineplex, find a parking place, get settled in, sit through endless previews of movies I wouldn’t watch if they were free, pay $5 for a box of popcorn that tastes like artificially buttered styrofoam, and then finally watch the movie, I’d rather wait until it’s on HBO.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m single and don’t have anyone to go with.  After all, going to the movies alone is a social stigma, and most people who go alone usually aren’t going to see movies like Saving Private Ryan; they’re going to see Shaving Ryan’s Privates and end up sitting in front of a guy in a trench coat (who hopefully isn’t as good a shot as the guy in Tampa).

So best wishes to the nominees.  See you in a year when it shows up in rotation on channel 301.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Random Thought

I have never seen an episode of either, so I have no idea if Downton Abbey is Duck Dynasty for the totebag contingent.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sunday Reading

Fascist Superheroes — Richard Cooper in Salon on the reality of the men of steel.

Critics tend to renounce superhero films only if they don’t like that kind of thing anyway. Everything has a political dimension, but this is all too often forgotten with superhero narratives, as defenders of the genre respond to any criticism with the fallacious standby, “What were you expecting, ‘Citizen Kane’?” The reason it’s so difficult to convince people that a superhero movie could be intelligent rather than fall back on right-wing clichés is because it’s been so rarely done: After so many movies that are clearly no more than bubble-gum, most people with a taste for proper drama understandably cut their losses and look for intelligent narrative elsewhere.

Yet the critics can’t leave them alone. It’s an unfortunate coincidence that the Marvel-led boon in comic-book movies (which had actually already gotten underway before 9/11 with “Blade” in 1998, ”X-Men” in 2000 and “Spider-Man” filmed in the summer of 2001) — should have coincided with the “War on Terror.” What has been overlooked, though, is just what a lousy metaphor superheroes are for nations. The main problem is force: sheer physical force, which lies at the heart of the superhero myth, something Steven T. Seagle observed nicely in “It’s a Bird…”, his poignant autobiographical graphic novel about his reluctance to write for a Superman comic, in which he points out that Superman triumphs by being able to move faster and hit harder than everyone else: essentially a fascist concept.

I was reminded of this by Jor-El’s speech in “Man of Steel”:

You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.

How, though? Those watching him can’t fly, topple buildings or fire heat rays from their eyes. What else does Superman do other than these purely physical feats? The 1978 version of Jor-El warned: “It is forbidden for you to interfere with human history. Rather let your leadership stir others to.” Can you really inspire others with steel? At this point it’s interesting to reflect on the real-life leader who chose a name meaning “Man Of Steel”: Stalin.

Fascism also reduces the role of anyone who isn’t Superman to that of an adoring onlooker. Anyone who has ever daydreamed about heroic activities as a child might remember the passive role the imaginary spectators take on while you rescue them, display superpowers or battle your antagonists. As China Miéville said of Frank Miller’s earlier celebrated comic-book miniseries “The Dark Knight Returns”: “The underlying idea is that people are sheep, who need Strong Shepherds.” Throughout Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, the people for whom Batman is fighting are absent. There are some awed children, and a couple of people foolish enough to think that they could dress up as Batman, but they put in no more than fleeting appearances.

A Princely Sum — Michael Ignatieff concludes that Machiavelli was right about politics and politicians.

Obama_and_Biden_await_updates_on_bin_LadenYou remember the photograph: President Obama hunched in a corner of the Situation Room with his national-security staff, including Hillary Clinton with a hand over her mouth, watching the live feed from the compound in Pakistan where the killing of Osama bin Laden is under way. This is a Machiavellian moment: a political leader taking the ultimate risks that go with the exercise of power, now awaiting the judgment of fate. He knows that if the mission fails, his presidency is over, while if it succeeds, no one should ever again question his willingness to risk all.

It’s a Machiavellian moment in a second sense: an instance when public necessity requires actions that private ethics and religious values might condemn as unjust and immoral. We call these moments Machiavellian because it was Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince, written in 1513, that first laid bare the moral world of politics and the gulf between private conscience and the demands of public action.

The Prince’s blunt candor has been a scandal for 500 years. The book was placed on the Papal Index of banned books in 1559, and its author was denounced on the Elizabethan stages of London as the “Evil Machiavel.” The outrage has not dimmed with time. The greatest modern conservative political theorist, Leo Strauss, taught his students at the University of Chicago in the 1950s to regard Machiavelli as “a teacher of evil.” Machiavelli’s enduring provocation is to baldly maintain that in politics, evil deeds cease to be evil if urgent public interest makes them necessary.

Strenuous efforts are being renewed in this 500th-anniversary year to draw the sting of this stark message. Four new books argue that to understand Machiavelli’s brutal candor, we need to grasp the times that made him: the tangled and violent politics of Italy between 1498, when he took office as a senior official in Florence, and 1527, when he died. Alan Ryan returns Machiavelli to his blood-soaked context, the decline and fall of the Florentine republic. Philip Bobbitt positions Machiavelli as the great theorist of the early modern state, the first thinker to understand that if power was no longer personal, no longer exercised by a medieval lord, it had to be moralized, in a new public ethic based on ragion di stato—reason of state.

Maurizio Viroli wants us to grasp that The Prince was not the cynically devious tract it seems, but rather a patriotic appeal for a redeemer politician to arise and save Italy from foreign invaders and its own shortsighted rulers. Corrado Vivanti’s learned intellectual biography reinforces Viroli’s image of Machiavelli as a misunderstood forerunner of the Italian Risorgimento, calling for the redemption of Italian republicanism four centuries before the final reunification of the Italian states.

All of these authors are at pains to stress that the “evil Machiavel” was in fact a brilliant writer, a good companion, and a passionate patriot. All stress that his ultimate ethical commitment was to the preservation of the vivere libero, the free life of the Florentine city-state and the other republics of Italy. The man himself certainly comes alive in his wonderful letter to his friend Francesco Vettori, written in 1513 after he had been thrown out of office, tossed into prison, and tortured. (Machiavelli was wrongly accused of conspiring against the Medicis, who had defeated the Florentine army and ousted the republican government the year before.) In the letter, he describes lonely days after his release from prison, hunting for birds on his small estate, drinking in the local tavern, and then coming back home at night to his study, to don the “garments of court and palace” and commune with “the venerable courts of the ancients.”

It’s True — Andy Borowitz reports that the Grand Ayatollah agreed to the nuclear deal to distract from Obamacare.

TEHRAN (The Borowitz Report)—The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told reporters today his nation agreed to a deal on its nuclear program in the hopes that it would distract attention from the trouble-plagued rollout of Obamacare.

“It’s true, we’ve resisted any deal on nukes for over three decades,” the Ayatollah said. “But when we saw how much trouble Obama was having with his Web site, we realized it would be uncaring of us not to try to help him out.”

The Ayatollah said he was not “overly optimistic” that signing a nuclear treaty with the West would be sufficient to distract attention from the President’s Obamacare woes, but, he added, “You never know. Every little bit helps.”

He said that he and Iran’s leaders will be putting their heads together in the days and weeks ahead to see “if there’s anything else we can do to help Obama out of this health-care mess.”

“One idea we’re tossing around is to get the Iranian people to stop chanting, ‘Death to America,’ the way they have for the past thirty-four years,” he said. “At the very least, maybe dial it back until he gets that Web site straightened out.”

Doonesbury — Please hold.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Easy Does It

Via TPM, the White House is hoping that there isn’t a huge deluge of people trying to hit the site next week.

The Obama administration is quietly asking health care advocacy groups not to send a flood of consumers to next week, pushing instead for a more phased approach that won’t overwhelm the website that the administration has pledged would be fully functional by Dec. 1.

The message is being communicated in private meetings, including one held Monday, a senior administration official told TPM. Groups like Enroll America and Planned Parenthood, which are among the leading organizations that are helping people sign up for coverage under Obamacare, are some of those to be targeted.

“We want to make sure that those who are reaching consumers at scale know that this isn’t like you flip the switch and everyone can come back on the first day,” the official said.

The plan would serve two purposes. First, it would lighten the load on next week, the first after the administration’s self-imposed Dec. 1 deadline to get it fully functioning. Limiting the number of people who are coming to the site should help prevent any embarrassing outages. And second, preventing outages would ensure that people who are returning to the site after being frustrated by its early problems will have a better experience.

In an interesting counterpoint, there are already people standing in line for Black Friday sales.

The first lines for Black Friday were already starting Monday in Central Florida — four days before the doors even open.

Local 6 found shoppers willing to put up with several days of rain and cold outside the Best Buy on East Colonial Drive near Semoran.

“It’s crazy, it’s really crazy, but its fun,” said Evelyn Pizarro. “We have our tent and our chairs and our family.”

We have people who can’t wait thirty seconds for a webpage to load, who stand in front of a microwave oven and yell “Hurry up!” and who think instant gratification takes too long, and yet we have the same people waiting four days to get 10% off on an Xbox.

Ain’t that America.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunday Reading

The GOP Is More Cooch Than Christie — Frank Rich with the lesson from Tuesday’s election.

There is no front-runner for 2016. But the excessive valuation given by the GOP Establishment to Christie’s New Jersey landslide (against an underfinanced and pallid Democratic sacrificial lamb who was no Cory Booker) is a fascinating window into the power of denial. That Establishment is desperate to believe that the tea party is dying, that the radicals in the House cannot pull another stunt like a government shutdown, and that a restoration of centrist Republicanism is at hand. And so if you tune in to the unofficial headquarters of the Christie ’16 campaign, Morning Joe at MSNBC, Christie is not only the front-runner, he’s his party’s savior, and is within a step of two of measuring the drapes for the White House. Christie is also the great white hope of Wall Street barons, of the foreign-policy neocons, and of mainstream conservative pundits. How many of the latter have written columns recently about “what the right can learn from Chris Christie”? I lost count after Peggy Noonan, Ramesh Ponnuru, and Jennifer Rubin. The point seems to be that a gregarious Republican presidential candidate can win over blue America by putting a happy face on conservative ideology and showing up to help poor people when a natural disaster hits. In other words, though no one will say this out loud, Christie is viewed by Republican grandees as a panacea in the way George W. Bush once was — a “compassionate conservative” with crossover appeal — albeit with a touch of the bullying once admired in another blue-state Republican boosted for president by much the same crowd: Rudy Giuliani.

The only problem with this scenario is that we are not in 2000 or 2004 anymore. Today’s GOP wouldn’t nominate a Bush unless it was done in a back room by the party’s financial benefactors and the entire primary process was junked. That’s not happening. Back in the real world, Christie is manifestly unacceptable to his own party’s base: He’s for immigration reform (a stance that has already turned the GOP base against Marco Rubio, a supposed 2016 front-runner only a few months ago); he has championed gun control; and he threw in the towel on his previous opposition to gay marriage. Good luck with that in any GOP primary state outside the Acela corridor. And we’re not even factoring in the vetting issues uncovered by the Romney campaign, as reported by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin in Double Down, among them potential financial improprieties and associations with both a mysterious female aide and Bernard Madoff.  Even yesterday’s New Jersey exit polls show that, the landslide notwithstanding, only 51 percent of Christie’s home-state voters think he will make a good president, only 39 percent have a favorable view of the GOP (Christie avoided the Republican brand like the toxin it is in his campaign), and that he would lose in a presidential face-off against Hillary Clinton. The notion of Christie as the GOP front-runner for 2016 is mainly a happy fantasy for those who simply don’t want to believe that the Republican party’s base is as radical, as uncompromising, and as determined as it has been ever since Obama entered the White House. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Hot Hot Hot — Lauren Collins in The New Yorker follows the trail to the hottest chili.

In recent years, “superhots”—chilis that score above 500,000 on the Scoville scale—have consumed the attention of chiliheads, who debate grow lights on Facebook (“You can overwinter with a few well-placed T-8s”), swap seeds in flat-rate boxes (Australian customs is their nemesis), and show up in droves at fiery-foods events (wares range from Kiss My Bhut hot sauce to Vanilla Heat coffee creamer). Chilis, in general, are beautiful. There is a reason no one makes Christmas lights in the shape of rutabagas. Superhots come in the brightest colors and the craziest shapes. Their names, evoking travel and conquest—Armageddon, Borg 9, Naga Morich, Brain Strain—sound as though they were made up by the evil twins of the people who brand body lotions. Trinidad 7-Pots are so called because it’s said that one of them is enough to season seven pots of stew.

Like computers, superhots are evolving at a rate that embarrasses the phenomena of just a few years ago. In 1992, Jane and Michael Stern observed, in this magazine, that five thousand Scoville units “would be considered very hot by most people, but even that is piddling compared with the blistering fury of the habanero pepper, which can reach three hundred thousand.” (The Scoville test originally measured how many drops of sugar water it would take to dilute the heat of a chili; pungency is now determined more reliably by high-performance liquid chromatography, whose results can still be reported in Scoville units.) From 1994 to 2007, the Red Savina—a scarlet, heart-shaped pod rating 570,000 SHU—held the Guinness World Record for hottest chili pepper. Then the bhut jolokia, the existence of which had been whispered about for years among chiliheads, as though it were a vegetable Loch Ness monster, surfaced on the international scene. In 2000, R. K. R. Singh, a scientist at a Ministry of Defense research laboratory in Assam, India, where the bhut jolokia is widely grown, submitted some samples for analysis. The test results, which indicated that it was significantly more powerful than the Red Savina, made their way to Paul Bosland, a professor of horticulture and former sauerkraut expert who, for the past twenty-two years, has run the Chile Pepper Institute, at New Mexico State University. Bosland was skeptical of the Indian scientists’ numbers, but he managed to obtain some bhut jolokia seeds, which he grew into plants. In January of 2007, he filed with Guinness, which awarded the C.P.I.’s bhut jolokia (1,001,300 SHU) the new world record.

In February of 2011, Guinness confirmed that the Infinity chili, grown in Lincolnshire, England, by a former R.A.F. security guard, had surpassed the bhut jolokia by more than sixty-five thousand SHU. Only two weeks later, a Cumbrian farmer named Gerald Fowler introduced the Naga Viper. At 1,382,118 SHU, it was, Fowler said, “hot enough to strip paint.” He told reporters, “We’re absolutely, absolutely chuffed. Everyone complains about the weather and rain here in Cumbria, but we think it helped us breed the hottest chili.” He posed for the Daily Mail wearing a sombrero.

Florida’s Slow Growth — Fred Grimm on the glacial pace of marijuana legalization in the Sunshine State.

I live in Florida, where the state leadership pretends public sentiment about marijuana hasn’t evolved since the days when young Republicans were grooving to The Captain & Tennille on their eight-track cartridges.

Last spring, in a burst of drug-war nostalgia, the Legislature passed a quaint throw-back law (32-2 in the Senate, 112-3 in the House) that outlawed sales of bongs and water pipes. In fact, selling any smoking device is now illegal in Florida other than a pipe “that is primarily made of briar, meerschaum, clay or corn cob.” Which is such a peculiar specification, it was as if legislators were puffing SleeStax X Skunk before the vote.

Meanwhile, 20 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, eleven of those by statewide referendum. Most of those passed by more than a 60 percent margin. Perhaps something similar could happen in Florida, given that we’re stuck with the most arthritic, oh-my-aching-back/knees/elbows electorate in the western world. A group called United for Care has collected 200,000 names on a petition toward the 683,149 needed by Feb. 1 to get a medical marijuana initiative on the statewide ballot next fall.

This has not pleased the state’s attorney general, speaker of the House and president of the Senate, who have demanded that the Florida Supreme Court keep this measure away from the voters. Senate President Don Gaetz complained the pot petition appealed “to voters by using language that evokes emotional responses [that] are not appropriate for ballot titles and summaries of proposed constitutional amendments.”

Gaetz knows something about misleading ballot initiatives. As the Herald’s Rochelle Koff pointed out, Gaetz was one of the architects of a blatant misnomer called the “Health Freedom Act,” which was designed to torpedo the Affordable Care Act. Last year, the state Supreme Court said the Health Freedom act was misleading and needed to be rewritten. It was. And voters rejected it.

Opponents of medical marijuana in Florida now have a new reason to be worried. On Tuesday, 64 percent of the voters in the Miami Beach municipal election favored legalizing medical marijuana. Granted, the ballot question was a non-binding straw vote, but as my colleague Marc Caputo noted, medical pot received 1,000 more votes than Philip Levine, the winning candidate for mayor. Unlike for Levine, no recount was necessary.

Doonesbury — History lesson.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Rated Arr

I feel that it is my obligation to warn you that today is Talk Like A Pirate Day.

PirateyActor Robert Newton, who specialized in portraying pirates, especially Long John Silver in the 1950 Disney film Treasure Island, the 1954 Australian film Long John Silver, and as the title character in the 1952 film Blackbeard, the Pirate,[10] is described as the “patron saint” of Talk Like A Pirate Day.[1] Newton was born in Dorset and educated in Cornwall, and it was his native West Country dialect, which he used in his portrayal of Long John Silver and Blackbeard, that some contend is the origin of the standard “pirate accent”.[11]

The archetypal pirate grunt “Arrr!” (alternatively “Rrrr!” or “Yarrr!”) first appeared in fiction as early as 1934 in the film Treasure Island starring Lionel Barrymore,[11] and was used by a character in the 1940 novel Adam Penfeather, Buccaneer by Jeffrey Farnol.[11] However it was popularized and widely remembered with Robert Newton’s usage in the classic 1950 Disney film Treasure Island. It has been speculated that the rolling “rrr” has been associated with pirates because of the location of major ports in the West Country of England, drawing workers from the surrounding countryside. West Country speech in general, and Cornish speech in particular, may have been a major influence on a generalized British nautical speech.[12][13] This can be seen in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance, which is set in Cornwall; although the play did not (originally) use the phrase “arrr”, the pirates used words with a lot of rrr’s such as “Hurrah” and “pour the pirate sherry”.[14]

Sorry, Bob.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Short Takes

President Obama supports plan for Syria to give up control of chemical weapons.

It’s Election Day in New York City.

Museum finds a new Van Gogh painting.

R.I.P. Cal Worthington, L.A. car dealer with crazy ads.

Tropical Update: We now have TS Humberto way out east in the Atlantic, and TS Gabrielle is still churning out there.

The Tigers lost to the White Sox 5-1.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Arts and Crafts

There’s a couple of things going on this weekend that sound like fun if you’re in the Miami area and want something to do.

Tonight, of course, is the Coffee House at the World and Eye Art Center in Fort Lauderdale where a couple of very short plays of mine will be done in staged reading.  This is the world premiere of these two works and I have two good friends helping me out on them: Bill Roudebush and Terri Garber-Roudebush.

World and Eye Arts 03-09-13

Hope you can make it.

Also this weekend on Miami Beach there is the pARTy at the ArtCenter/South Florida on Lincoln Road.  It looks like a fun event and it’s for a good cause.

Proceeds help fund ArtCenter’s mission of advancing contemporary visual arts and culture in South Florida, providing affordable studios and programming for local artists. The cultural epicenter of South Beach’s Lincoln Road, ArtCenter welcomes more than 100,000 visitors every year and has been home to more than 1,000 resident artists since its founding in 1984.

So get out there and have a good time.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Mixing Metaphors

President Obama got a lot of nerdy grief for seeming to mix up Star Wars and Star Trek when he bemoaned the fact that he couldn’t work a “Jedi mind meld” to solve the budget crisis.

Well, it turns out that there is such a thing as a Jedi mind meld after all.  So there.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Short Takes

Standoff with fugitive LAPD cop ends; police wait to search burned-out cabin.

Senate passes Violence Against Women Act; 22 Republicans — all men — voted against.

Senate committee votes on party line to advance Hagel nomination.

French Assembly passes same-sex marriage and adoption law.

Stocks close at their highest since 2007.

Florida legislator proposes to keep the state on permanent daylight saving time.

Banana Joe is Best In Show.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Art Deco Weekend

This weekend — January 18, 19 and 20 — is the annual Art Deco Weekend on Miami Beach hosted by the Miami Design Preservation League.  So if you’re not making it up to DC for the inauguration (it’s on Monday, anyway), come on out to the Beach for a tour of the classic architecture and design elements that define an era and a big part of South Florida’s culture.

Oh, by the way, there will be a classic car show on both Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Ocean Drive between 5th and 8th.  I’ll be there.  See you there.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunday Reading

The Bard Behind Bars — Shakespeare inspired prisoners at South Africa’s notorious Robben Island.

It doesn’t look like much — just a tattered, 1970 edition of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.” But inside, the book bears testament to an era.

Currently on display at the British Museum as part of an exhibition called “Shakespeare: Staging the World,” the book belongs to Sonny Venkatrathnam, who was incarcerated during the 1970s in South Africa’s apartheid-era political prison, Robben Island. Having convinced a warden that the volume was a Hindu religious text, Venkatrathnam was allowed to keep it with him in prison, where it was passed from prisoner to prisoner. At Venkatrathnam’s request, his comrades signed their names beside their favorite passages.

On Dec. 16, 1977, Nelson Mandela signed next to these lines: “Cowards die many times before their deaths; / The valiant never taste of death but once.”

Walter Sisulu, another African National Congress leader and close confidant of Mandela, put his name beside a passage in “The Merchant of Venice,” in which Shylock talks about the abuse he has taken as a Jewish money-lender: “Still have I borne it with a patient shrug / For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.”

And Billy Nair, who went on to become a member of Parliament in the new South Africa, chose Caliban’s challenge to Prospero from “The Tempest”: “This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother / Which thou tak’st from me.”

The Robben Island Shakespeare is the only book from the prison that records an act of personal literary appreciation by the major figures incarcerated at the time, many of whom went on to play major roles in post-apartheid South Africa. It is a kind of “guest book,” bearing the signatures of 34 of the Robben Island prisoners. But is also more than that.

When they signed their names against Shakespeare’s text, each prisoner recognized something of himself and his relation to others in the words of a stranger. The Robben Island Shakespeare records that community of character and signature as an example of Shakespeare’s global reach and as a historically specific witness to a common human identity and shared experience.

Cutting the Cord — What it’s like to go back to Slow TV.

Our options narrowed from a world of entertainment to the whims of the few channels that would deign to come clearly through what are essentially newfangled rabbit ears: a high-definition digital antenna intended to capture the over-the-air signal, which was once how everyone watched TV. Sure, some shows were online, but in the beginning the number of commercials in them seemed prohibitive. We’d just come from a paradise of DVR fast-forwarding. Now we had to sit through the same ad over and over? We also had only one computer; with two writers in the family, it wasn’t available for TV watching.

We quickly learned some lessons. Would “Mad Men” still run if we couldn’t watch it? (Yes.) Would people refrain from spoilers while “Breaking Bad” made its way to streaming? (No, they would not.) What was this “Walking Dead” everyone was talking about? (Still not sure, but apparently it’s a big deal.)

When the weather is right, we get most of the channels. Sometimes. CBS is the only network that shows up consistently and pristinely, and one day I’ll be old enough to enjoy its fare. There is also a channel that doesn’t seem to have a name but broadcasts reruns of “Three’s Company” or “Sanford and Son,” which is not so bad in the beggars/choosers category.

Yet what initially seemed like a torture we’d simply have to endure became a surprising reminder of the simple pleasures of simple TV.

Call it Slow TV. I had never stopped loving TV, but I had stopped appreciating it. Entire seasons of shows had piled up on the DVR, on the theory that they might be interesting someday. TV was everywhere now — on the phone, on the computer. It was on while I wrote, did taxes, folded laundry. It was background noise. When I really had to make choices about what to watch, and then pay attention with no rewind to fall back on, TV became absorbing again, an activity in itself, as it had been when I was younger. And I watched much less, if only for logistical reasons.

As it turns out, I unintentionally had become part of a growing group of Americans giving up wired cable and even televisions. Nielsen recently reported that TV set ownership has dropped to 96.7 percent of American households from 98.9 percent, and it isn’t because we’re reading more. Instead we’re cobbling together new ways of digesting programming. We watch on iPhones, computers, Rokus, other people’s HBO Go accounts, and yes, a digital antenna; one-size-fits-all TV is over.

Still, analog watching isn’t without its inconveniences. Even in the heady days of cable service, the DVR was overwhelmed by the choices on some nights. The answer should have been simple: Watch some shows online when the computer is available. But “Gossip Girl,” for instance, had so many unforwardable commercials on Hulu that it’s clear who the real demographic for those shows are: people who don’t yet believe that they have the right to not be advertised to for 30 minutes of a 60-minute show. When the ads became burdensome, the series had to do some mighty things to stay on the list. Blair’s marrying a prince, then leaving him for Chuck, simply didn’t qualify.

Keeping Hope Alive — How to keep young people engaged in politics and progressivism.

Young voters surprised pundits and Republicans again this year as we turned out in record numbers to vote, joining key constituencies including African Americans, Hispanics, and women to reelect President Obama. Composing 19 percent of the electorate, up from 18 percent in 2008 and 12 percent in 2004, young Americans demonstrated their importance to a growing progressive coalition.

Many question, however, whether our diverse and unprecedented coalition will be able to build on this foundation and sustain the power of our ideas and values throughout our lifetimes. Or, like the Reagan coalition after 1990, are we fated to fracture as a political force by 2016? Some suggest that the strong generational power of today’s 18-30-year-olds will become inconsequential as the hype dies down and we grow up. Our next steps are critical.

Young progressives are a distinct and large population that favors pragmatic problem-solving, opportunity for all, justice and equality, and government’s promotion of such ideals. Identifying more strongly with values than with a political party, we are a significant portion of President Obama’s alliance. Yet given the diversity of the Obama coalition, someone must lead productive grassroots dialogue, finding a broader progressive voice. As members of the largest and most diverse generation in American history, young progressives are the best candidates for the job.

Rather than waiting 30 or 40 years to see how this pans out, let’s write the story ourselves today. Young people are powerful influencers of elections, and we’ve built a strong foundation on which to stand. But it’s up to us to define citizenship for our generation and maintain a unified commitment to progressive values to solidify the political shift.

Doonesbury — Red Rascal returns?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Shiny Object

Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of the release of the first compact disc.

It’s been three decades since the first CD went on sale in Japan. The shiny discs came to dominate music industry sales, but their popularity has faded in the digital age they helped unleash. The CD is just the latest musical format to rise and fall in roughly the same 30-year cycle.

Compact discs had been pressed before 1982, but the first CD to officially go on sale was Billy Joel’s 52nd Street.

It would be a few years before I got my first CD player.  It was a Christmas gift from my parents in 1985, and I still have it.  I also have my first CD somewhere.

I also have a phonograph and a collection of vinyl albums, a collection of cassettes (I got my first cassette player in 1968), and I even have an 8-track player; it’s built into the radio in the kitchen.  Oh, and the Mustang has a hook-up for an MP3, so I’m ready for anything.

HT to JMG.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Meet George Jetson…

Fifty years ago today, The Jetsons premiered on ABC.


The original run lasted 24 episodes, but like its Stone Age counterpart, The Flintstones, it has been revived, made into a feature-length film, and become a part of the culture (“Ruh-roh!”) of boomers and generations after.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Rated Arr…

Lest we forget, scurvy knaves, it’s the tenth anniversary of International Talk Like A Pirate Day.

Ever since Dave Barry mentioned us in his nationally syndicated newspaper column in 2002, what once was a goofy idea celebrated by a handful of friends has turned into an international phenomenon that shows no sign of letting up. Maybe you read about us on line.. Maybe you caught one of our radio or TV interviews. Or maybe you just stumbled on to our site while googling around for sites your mother probably wouldn’t approve of. Or perhaps you’re one of the millions of people from South Africa to the South Pole, from New York to the Pacific Northwest, who’ve made it your own personal excuse to party like pirates every September 19th (and sometimes for days before and after)!


Yo ho ho and all that.