Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Forget about Herman Cain!

Let's get back to relevant campaign issues.


I'm no fan of Herman Cain, the erstwhile Republican candidate for the presidency of the United States. He's a one-trick pony, and the "9-9-9" plan, frankly, was a non-starter from the git-go. It's not a "bold" plan, it's a simplistic, unrealistic plan. All headline, no body copy. All sound bite, much too little substance. That is, it's perfect for cable news talking heads, but goofy for a campaign plank.

But this isn't a partisan rant against Herman Cain. It is a fed-up, despairing complaint about the degraded, voyeuristic coverage of Cain's alleged habit of sexual harassment and his alleged long-running affair with a woman not his wife. Is there anyone who's never, ever heard of stories like these? The sexual harassment cases can't be trivialized, but our current embattled national political discourse is not about sexual harassment. Extramarital peccadilloes are pathetically commonplace, and, as a nation, surely, we must be almost completely if not actually completely jaded to the revelation of yet one more, even if it does involve a presidential candidate. I don't care who Herman Cain sleeps with….

I do care about the transfixed media attention to Cain squirming in the unwelcome limelight of accusers and reporter/interrogators. I do care about the waste of unrelenting media speculation about if or when Cain will bow out of the Republican primary race. I do care about the fact that Cain hasn't said one substantial word about domestic or foreign policy issues for days, and still he's the celebrity in media coverage.

Is there any reasonably realistic person anywhere in America, and, indeed, among Cain's remaining adherents, who doesn't know that Cain is washed up as a candidate? Why are the media wasting air time, ink and bandwidth on continuing coverage of Herman Cain? Forget about him! No need to hear any more about Herman Cain. Let's get back to the relevant campaign issues.

A random bit of comment on Cain media coverage:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hot Times---Global Climate Change

The U.N. reported today that 2011 will be the 10th hottest year on record. Every one of the top 10 hottest years on record were recorded during the last 15 years. Like, y'know, global climate change is real. Global warming is real. People—our industries, our energy consumption, our heedless non-green lifestyles, our disregard for degradation of our environment—are causing dangerous changes in the atmosphere which are already guaranteed to come back to bite us real soon. The lifestyles we enjoy today are not sustainable. The world we live in will change within OUR lifetimes. The world our children and grandchildren will live in will be less hospitable than the world we have enjoyed, even as we have been cooking it for the last 200 years. It's time to start making a difference. You owe it to yourself. And your kids. And their kids….do something about it today

Monday, November 28, 2011

We're cooking the planet

The U.N. estimates that human being No. 7,000,000,000 (that's seven BILLION) was born on October 31, 2011. That means that the human population on earth has doubled since 1965…..and this dangerous growth rate continues.

The lifestyles and commerce of affluent Westerners squander energy and generate greenhouse gases that are cooking our planet. Everyone else on the planet wants the goodies we enjoy, and they're moving quickly to get them. Some degree of harsh climatic change and seasonal disruption of agriculture and desperate disruption of life on our seacoasts is already guaranteed, because we and our elected representatives have dithered in our pathetic national and international efforts to come to grips with the very expensive changes we're going to have to make in our lifestyles and commerce if we want to keep the good times even modestly rolling.

The science on global climate change is well-grounded and indisputable….some radio talk show hosts, and a couple presidential candidates, and some doctrinaire political partisans haven't figured it out yet, still, they're going to sweat just like everyone else. Some companies and industries are cravenly and criminally trying to delay implementing costly changes that will protect the environment.

Not so long ago I privately reassured myself that "I'll be dead before worldwide climate change and global warming starts to cause the really bad stuff." I was concerned, but in a rather abstract way. My first grandchild was born 11 months ago. Very sadly, I expect that she'll be alive when the really bad stuff starts to be unavoidably obvious. Abstract concern isn't good enough for me anymore. How about you?



NASA has details:
 
See Wikipedia for more links on climate change:

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Musical Review: "Billy Elliot The Musical"

You had to be there. The Academy of Music in Philadelphia, it happened to be Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, but inside the Academy is another world, no worries, a high comfort level for me sitting in that wonderful historic place…………..it opened in 1857, it's America's oldest opera house still in use for opera performances, the original architects concentrated their time (and money) on interior decoration, leaving the fa├žade "plain and simple like a Markethouse" (see history link below), the 19th century gilded interior is flamboyantly excessive, one feels a transient time warp………….I have to say that I would buy a ticket just to sit there, all by myself, grandly indulging my imagination……….when I was a youngster, my grandfather several times took my brother and me to Philadelphia Orchestra concerts at the Academy, I was a bit too young to appreciate the orchestra's classical repertoire, the music seemed strange and "grown up" to me, I usually fell asleep during the second half of the concert, but my memory of being in that luscious, luxurious place is vivid and warm.


Anyway, Billy Elliot The Musical. First, I loved it. Masterful staging, the dancing was intriguing and entrancing, the loving bond between Billy and his departed mother was palpable, heart-felt pathos, the cast was exuberant, the singing lusty………I can't avoid the fact that the heavy dose of miner strike polemics was dry and formulaic—except for the Margaret Thatcher-bashing scenes, all of them were a hoot and I won't spoil the fun for you by recalling them in detail. Billy's dance scenes were heroic, that young man didn't disappoint.

Finally, I'm bound to say I like the movie version of "Billy Elliot" better. For my taste, the film is a more personal and more warmly developed story of Billy's inner turmoil as a working class lad who prefers ballet to boxing, who reacts with confusion and tortured faith to the grownups who don't hesitate to influence him, who learns to articulate the electricity he feels and manifests when he dances. The final triumphant scene of the movie is duplicated, not quite sublimely, during the second act of the stage production…..but the film's ending soars, it is so profoundly, almost abstractly powerful that I can understand why the folks who produced the musical might have been assured that they needed to throw in some Elton John music to give it equal horsepower. Good try. Check out the movie. I'm going to watch it again.


Billy Elliot The Musical:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Elliot_the_Musical

Billy Elliot, movie version:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0249462/


The Academy of Music in Philadelphia:
http://www.academyofmusic.org/home.php
http://academyofmusic.org/fs_history.htm

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Shame of the Super Committee

I am just about terminally sickened by the antics of the Super Committee that's been pretending all these weeks that it's working hard on a deficit-busting proposal that can be supported by both Dems and Repubs in Congress. It has not been working with the public good in mind. Think "charade." Think "folly." Think "doctrinaire play-acting." Think "pandering to the base," whatever "base" may mean. Just don't think that the Super Committee members have been acting with your best interests in mind, and don't bother thinking that they are conscientiously working for the good and the betterment of America.


I say "shame on you" to all twelve committee members, not least for their failure to talk straight to all of us about the problem(s) they were instructed to deal with…….seriously, do you think that what those twelve have been doing, and what they plan to do, has been conceived with your present and future welfare in mind?

Tell me about it!


Super Committee diddles, says CNN

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Book review: "1491" by Charles C. Mann

"1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus"

2011, Vintage Books

Everything you never knew about civilized people in the Americas before the Europeans arrived and killed most of them (OK, many died in battle, but it was European diseases, mostly). Maybe close to 100 million "native" people died within 100 years or so of the "discovery" by Columbus…..but hold on, this book is not about Wounded Knee-type criticism or ex post facto self-flagellation.

Mann beautifully describes the marvelous sophistication of cultures, cities, agriculture, arts and science that blossomed in North America, Central America, and South America thousands of years ago, in many cases predating achievements and growth and civilization in Europe. Yes, the Incas never used the wheel except for children's toys. And yes, the Mississippian city of Cahokia was a bustling port and a trading center with population equal to Paris in France---and that was 500 years before Columbus sailed.

                                                  Beautiful downtown Cahokia


And yes, there were grand cities in the Americas before there was pyramid-building in Egypt. And yes, the Olmec culture in what is now Mexico invented the zero whole centuries before mathematicians in India did the same.

My recollection of learning about the history of the Americas is that the dates and events were tied to discovery and conquest and colonization by Europeans. The implication was that, before the white men with guns, germs and steel arrived, nothing much was going on in whole continents characterized more by "virgin land" and "endless wilderness" than by people who had agriculture, city life, art, trade, commerce, religion, science, kings and philosophers.

For me, the joy of reading this book is learning about the multiplicity of cultures that flourished in the Americas, and learning how they tamed and managed and very greenly conserved their environment…and for me, the sad revelation of this book is understanding that the peoples of the Americas were human beings whose achievements were noble and notable, and yet, lamentably, their legacies are largely lost and the losses are barely mourned.

In 1533 Pizarro and his conquistadors at Cuzco precipitated the decline of the 300-year-old Inca empire in Peru. Fifty years later, the Spanish colonial administrators in Peru ordered the burning of all the Incan "khipu" knotted string records because they were "idolatrous objects." Khipu were the Incas' only form of writing. The smoke from the burning of the books gets in your eyes, forever and ever.

                   Khipu knotted string:


Charles Mann's website:    http://www.charlesmann.org/Book-index.htm

Some other book reviews:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1491:_New_Revelations_of_the_Americas_Before_Columbus

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/04/AR2005080401609_pf.html

http://www.boston.com/ae/books/articles/2005/08/28/a_whole_new_world/

http://www.reviewsofbooks.com/1491/

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2002/03/1491/2445/

http://www.amazon.com/1491-Revelations-Americas-Before-Columbus/dp/140004006X