Thursday, December 12, 2013

Observations from the Window 12.12

This is just an update to my post on International Human Rights Day which you can read here. On Wednesday, the day after International Human Rights Day, the Supreme Court of India threw out a four year old ruling by a lower court, the Delhi High Court, which had decriminalized gay sex. Section 377 of India's penal code bans "sex against the order of nature" and dates to the 19th century. The Supreme Court said the lower court had no authority in the matter and that only the Indian government could change the law.

The ruling stunned even the federal government. Several ministers openly criticized the court's verdict and the home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said they would propose a new law that would negate the court ruling. Also the United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay said today that the ruling violates international law.

After the ruling was announced protests erupted in various cities including Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore. Activists have threatened to continue the protests until the judgment is overrules either by further court review or through a new law in parliament.

But for now my list of countries in which homosexuality is crime now includes India.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Observations from the Window 12.10.2

Today was International Human Rights Day which marks the 1948 signing of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A sign of how far we have come is the little noted use of three words in President Obama's remarks at today's memorial for Nelson Mandela:

"Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs, and are still persecuted for what they look like, and how they worship, and who they love."

"It always seems impossible until it is done," Nelson Mandela.

Observations from the Window 12.10.1

Today was International Human Rights Day which marks the 1948 signing of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A measure of how far the world has to go in one category is the fact that homosexuality is still illegal in 76 countries:

Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Bhutan, Botswana, Brunei, Burundi, Cameroon, Comoros, Dominica, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guinea, Guyana, Iran, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, São Tomé and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Tanzania, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

In addition to that, in five countries, Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen, being queer can get you executed.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


"It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones."

Nelson Mandela who died today in his Johannesburg home, he was 95.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Observations from the Road 12.1

Something happened a few days ago that I found so funny I had to share the even if it says way too much about today's world and not in a good way. If you don't know I'm originally from a smallish town in Pennsylvania. I was at the final Penn State home game last weekend and due to the weather forecast decided to just go to my dad's afterwords, there was nothing I needed to do that I couldn't do from there. To understand why I found this story so funny you have to try and imagine it happening in a small town, one with a large elderly population, and in an area not exactly known as a hotbed of a liberal agenda. On top of that it happened the day before Thanksgiving.

I was driving through town when I saw three county sheriffs in riot gear standing outside a one chair barber shop. There is a small apartment above the barber and the black clad sheriffs seemed to be pointing up at it. My one uncle works in law enforcement so I texted him to see if he knew what was going on.

This is the quick version of the story I got by text over the next hour as I laughed hysterically. Apparently the sheriffs had shown up to serve a warrant to the man who lives in the apartment. He didn't answer the door and the sheriffs thought they heard a shotgun being loaded so they called for support. My uncle informed me the county rapid response team, read that SWAT team, was staging on a parking lot a block from the barber shop. This is where I couldn't stop laughing because all I could imagine is the scene in Home Alone where Macaulay Culkin  uses the TV for sound effects. As my uncle said, waste all that money, storm the building, and all they find is an empty apartment with a TV blaring what I hoped was Scarface (warning, clip is not approved for all audiences). On my way home I drove a back way to avoid the bedlam but at the last minute swung into town because I just had to see, only there was nothing to see but the original sheriffs. Apparently the long deceased suspect had been found before the team could fully assemble and the coroner had been called but hadn't yet arrived. However the event did make all the local news shows.

I can only imagine the conversations around the town's dinner tables the following day.

note - If you didn't understand what I meant by this little episode saying something about today's world it's this. Police departments, down to the smallest town it seems, are way too well armed and they look for any excuse to use their toys. Imagine what could have happened had the suspect simply been passed out drunk as the 'rapid response team' stormed his apartment.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Observations 11.21

I have to be very careful what I say here because I don't want to take anything away from what I said a few days ago. Florida Congressman Trey Radel is a hypocrite, of that there is no doubt, I stand by everything I wrote. While watching a video of Radel's press conference I found myself feeling compassion for a man who seems to have, or had, little of the same for people in his own condition. Sometimes in life events hit a little too close to home, for him and for myself. I don't need to get into my story, suffice to say I know how it feels. If you need to know that's what tags are for, you can find it, it's all in here somewhere.

My problems with Radel begin with his vote to require food stamp recipients be drug tested. To what end? Would he deny or revoke someone's food stamps if they tested positive for a substance? Maybe if they didn't seek some sort of Congressional mandated treatment because we know Radel thinks government should stay out of people lives. But wait, food stamp recipients are obviously poor, probably have no health insurance, and Radel is against the Affordable Care Act. Who is going to pay for tests or treatment? It's a stunningly crafted catch 22 for the poor.

Trey Radel stood in front of the cameras, the slightest hint of tears in his eyes, and asked for redemption and forgiveness. As he exited his press conference a reporter either began to ask a question or simply made a statement by saying " you voted to drug test people who have food stamps." The words hung in the air as Radel walked out and never looked back.

He asked for the very things he isn't willing to give the poor and I have a problem with that.

notes - Radel began rehabilitation in Florida Thursday afternoon, he has never raised the idea of resigning, and plans to take a leave of absence from Congress until just the end of  the year. He faces a maximum 160 days in jail for misdemeanor cocaine possession.

Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, also from Florida, told the Washington Post, "I don’t presume what is best for him. Other members have gotten in trouble. There but for the grace of God go all of us, perfect only God. I’m careful not to cast stones, because I live in a glass house as all of us do." Obviously this too doesn't include the poor.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Observations 11.20

Hypocrite, according to the Urban Dictionary, a person who engages in the same behaviors he condemns others for.

This morning Republican Rep. Trey Radel of Florida pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine. Radel, a freshman congressman, had been arrested in Washington earlier this month as he purchased cocaine from an undercover agent and also had cocaine in his apartment. Radel will enter in-patient treatment in Florida and has already been seeing a drug counselor in Washington. In court today Radel’s lawyer, David Schertler, said the congressman has been in treatment at the Executive Addiction Disease Program.

As the Pope said, who am I to judge, unless ....

Last month Radel voted in favor of the House version of the farm bill which included a provision that would require food stamp recipients be drug tested.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Observations from the Coffee Shop 11.19

Last week I started a post about our broken political system, which turned into a vent about Obamacare, and I wanted to get back to that. Yes the system is broken, it's not really a question open to debate, but what is startling is how much of it has nothing to do with the times or the economy but is by pure Republican design. There is a very good article in the latest issue of Rolling Stone that explains it all very clearly and is worth reading. Rather than get into it I'm posting some highlights of "How Republicans Rig the Game" and hoping that's enough to get you to read the entire article.

Illustration by Victor Juhasz for Rolling Stone
Something to keep in mind, yes gerrymandering  has gone on forever but not in the nationally planned, calculated, well funded, and computerized way it was after the last census.

"National Republicans have waged an unrelenting campaign to exploit every weakness and anachronism in our electoral system. Through a combination of hyperpartisan redistricting of the House, unprecedented obstructionism in the Senate and racist voter suppression in the states, today's GOP has locked in political power that it could never have secured on a level playing field.

"Explicit racial gerrymandering is illegal under the 14th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act. So Hofeller used a proxy for race, redrawing boundaries by identifying the wards where President Obama received the highest returns in 2008. According to court documents, this approach 'allowed black voters to be carved apart from their white neighbors and friends, on a block-by-block basis.'

"Pennsylvanians cast 83,000 more votes for Democratic U.S. House candidates but elected a 13-5 Republican majority to represent them in Washington; Michiganders cast over 240,000 more votes for Democratic congressional candidates than Republicans, but still elected a 9-5 Republican delegation to Congress. In Wisconsin Republicans prevailed by a five-to-three margin in House seats despite losing the popular vote by more than 43,000. In Ohio, only 52 percent of voters cast ballots for Republicans, but thanks to maps drawn in a Columbus-area Doubletree Hotel, referred to by GOP operatives in court documents as "the bunker," John Boehner's home-state delegation swings 12-4 for the GOP.

But gerrymandering only effects the House, the problems of the Senate are Republican made with the aid of the founding fathers. When the Constitution was written the largest state, Virginia, had 10 times the population of the smallest, Delaware, while today California has 65 times the population of Wyoming.

"Half of the U.S. population now resides in just nine states. Which is to say that the other 50 percent of Americans control 82 votes in the U.S. Senate.

"In today's Senate, 41 small-state Republicans can mount a filibuster on behalf of 28 percent of the country. And the departure from historical practice is shocking: LBJ faced one filibuster as Senate majority leader. Harry Reid, the current majority leader, has faced more than 430. Nearly half the filibusters of executive-branch nominations in the nation's history – 16 of 36 – have occurred under Obama."

The scariest idea of all may be the Republican one that would restructure the electoral system which decides presidential elections. Personally I think the entire system is outdated in the extreme and should just go but the Republicans have an idea of their own. Electoral votes would be divided among a state's congressional districts instead of on a state by state winner take all basis. Due to the above mentioned extreme gerrymandering under that system we would have a President Romney today.

But, frustrating as this rigged political system has become, there is always hope as the final lines of the article show.

"The GOP may have postponed its day of reckoning at the hands of a younger, browner, queerer electorate, 'They're holding back the tides,' says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, but sooner or later, they're going to get swamped."

Read the article than vote whenever you can.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Observations 11.17

Even though I've been told Halloween doesn't count the holiday season is fast approaching. You can tell by the damn store displays which only means the music can't be far behind. Actually I don't mind Christmas music, I have about a thousand songs on my iTunes but I only listen to them in the month of December, sometimes July. But this is all besides the point because I didn't bring up the holidays to talk about music, I have something in ways in rather extraordinary to report. Due to holiday commitments I needed a dress, yesterday I went dress shopping, I bought two dresses because my shopping partner and I couldn't agree and I wasn't about to go a second time.  One dress is black while the other is slightly longer and black, enough on the matter. That should be enough dresses to last me the rest of my life but now I may need shoes.

It being Sunday I should stay away from politics but this in a way combines sports and politics. The Washington football team should just change their name now before they are forced to do so. Longtime owner Dan Snyder says he never will change the name but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell might soon have other ideas. The reasons given for not changing the name include tradition, as if it always having been called the 'Redskins' makes it right, and the team losing money. The latter reason is laughable because of all the new name merchandise the team could sell.

While I'm picking on Washington football I'll mention their quarterback Robert Griffin III, known to the world as RG3. Until he learns how to play football and wins something please just call him Robert. Robert is like the second coming of Cowboys' quarterback Tony Romo, another whom the world anointed savior and one the greats but Romo has yet to win anything that matters. Romo has won just one playoff game in his ten year NFL career and is probably better known for dating Jessica Simpson a few years ago.

Joe D. Horse Capture, currently Associate Curator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, had a novel idea. Instead of changing Washington's name change its emblem, to a red potato.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Observations from the Coffee Shop 11.15

The system is broken, so totally broken that at times I have been shying away from politics. That's not completely true because I can only shy away for a short time before I'm right back in it but it says something that even I just want to run away sometimes. When you watch any main stream news everything has to be reported in apocalyptic tones while on the panel shows they endlessly debate the same thing, usually the wrong thing. Obamacare is just the current example.

The talking heads endlessly debated a broken website when in fact there was no debate, it didn't work very well. Anybody who has ever worked on the web knows that a large website never works well at first, remember Twitter's ever present fail whale? Now the debate has moved to people who have gotten cancellation notices from their insurers, also no debate here because they did. What nobody mentions is that in many cases the notices come from greedy insurance companies looking to make a fast profit and blame Obamacare because, you know, everything is Obamacare's fault. The people totally lost in the debate are the tens of millions who have no health insurance at all.

Politicians and talking heads making hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars a year have the best insurance policies their or their employers money can buy. They don't have to worry about not going for care because they don't have insurance. They don't have to worry about not going to a doctor because they spend so much for their insurance they don't have the money for a co-pay. They don't have to worry about anything at all.

One thing to remember when discussing healthcare is that Republicans have no plan of their own other than the good old way. They don't want to fix Obamacare, they don't want to adjust it, they don't want to use it as a starting point, they want it gone. The good old way is to have the most expensive system in the world, spend more per capita than any other nation on Earth, and as a reward for all that spending have the 39th longest life expectancy. That puts the U.S. behind every European country, Canada, Japan, and South Korea. All those countries with the hated socialized medicine. Also ahead of the U.S. are Hong Kong, Israel, Chile and Cuba.

I think whenever there is a debate or discussion about healthcare at least one person involved in the discussion should be somebody with no health insurance at all. That way maybe, just maybe, we could have an honest discussion about this mess.

note - This wasn't meant to be an Obamacare vent, it just ended up that way. I was going to write about the broken system because I just read a good article on why the system is the way it is, because that was the Republican plan all along. I'll get to that later.

update - Just a small update and not of the good kind because my life expectancy number was off a bit. The number I used was a five year average. Yesterday afternoon I saw a tweet from Mother Jones' David Corn that included a link to the CIA's World Fact Book. The CIA estimates that in 2013 the U.S. will finish 51st in life expectancy, worse than the number I had used and putting among others Jordan, Greece, and the European Union (as a whole ahead) of us. I think a well done is called for.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Observations from the Coffee Shop 11.12

This is another update of sorts. I've read a lot of memorials, tributes, and good-bye's since Lou reed passed away but two stick out and I wanted to share them.

The first is from The New Yorker and was written by Patti Smith. "Before I slept, I searched for the significance of the date, October 27th, and found it to be the birthday of both Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath. Lou had chosen the perfect day to set sail, the day of poets, on Sunday morning, the world behind him." Smith also told The Hollywood Reporter, "We all owe him a debt. Most of us that owe a debt are not very happy to own up to it. Sometimes you like to imagine that you did everything on your own. But I think with Lou, everyone will stand in line to say 'thank you,' in their own way."

The second is from The New York Times, "The Real-Life Stories Told in ‘Walk on the Wild Side," and was written by Times culture reporter Guy Trebay. "That was the era of fun for fun’s sake, fun art," Viva said, referring to the world and city of "Walk on the Wild Side." "I have no idea what kids do for fun anymore."

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Observations from the Coffee Shop 11.9

I thought I would take a minute to update some of my recent posts.

On Tuesday Illinois became the 15th to legalize same sex marriage. Governor Pat Quinn has announced that he will sign the bill on November 20 at the University of Illinois with marriages beginning June 1, 2014.

As was expected when I posted Thursday morning the U.S. Senate passed ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, later that afternoon by a vote of 64-32. Ten Republican Senators voted for the bill. ENDA has now passed the Senate for the first time and is supported by President Obama along with a majority of Americans. However ENDA is not supported by House Speaker John Boehner and it's unlikely the House will ever vote on it. In calling for a House vote Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he thought Republicans would have to allow a vote "if they have any hope of having a president candidate that can be a viable candidate or they think they can elect some Republicans and they want to hang onto the House."

Meanwhile the Aloha State of Hawaii is on the verge of becoming the 16th state with same sex marriage after the Hawaiian legislature passed it's bill 30-19 early Saturday morning east coast time. The Hawaiian Senate will vote and likely pass the House's amended bill on Tuesday and Governor Abercrombie will sign it. Maybe because of the time difference, or because it came after the celebration of Illinois, the vote in Hawaii just doesn't feel as good as some of the others. I try to follow these state debates as much as possible, the Hawaiian special session has been downright exhausting and at times hateful.

At other times the session became a farce as over 5,000 witnesses testified and 30 amendments were proposed by same sex marriage opponents, most simply to slow the inevitable passage as long as possible. One amendment would have created a task force to further discuss the impact of marriage equality. Further discussion twenty years after the Hawaiian Supreme Court first ruled on same sex marriage, a ruling that started the marriage equality movement, and after 57 hours of testimony this week. Other 'highlights' included an out lesbian representative voting against marriage equality, more recesses than a first grade class in summer school, and the argument that marriage equality would scare away Asian tourists. My favorite quote came from Republican Representative Bob McDermott who argued, "people of religion are now the minority, they're the ones we never take care of."

As I said the Hawaiian Senate will pass the bill next week, the Governor will sign it, and Hawaii will become one of the sweet sixteen. You just have to smile and say mahalo to the Hawaiian Legislature.

Current betting is on New Mexico becoming number 17.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Observations from the Coffee Shop 11.7

Later today, possibly early afternoon, the full U.S. Senate will vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act which would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. First proposed in 1974 ENDA has been submitted to every Congress since Senator Edward Kennedy introduced it to the Senate in 1994. It has failed to pass both Houses of Congress every year and this year probably won't be any different. ENDA should pass the Senate with a clear majority but I don't see it getting a vote in the House where Republican Speaker John Boehner is once again scared of his own shadow. Boehner, whose office likes to tweet with the hashtag #FairnessForAll, said Monday he wouldn't bring the bill up for a vote.

In a poll taken in May 73% of those polled favored some kind of job protection while only 22% were against it. In a recent poll, which I can't seem to find, 80% of those asked actually thought it was already illegal to fire someone for being gay. It should be noted that even in Mississippi, the state with the lowest level of support, 63% support protection. Boehner's usual claim that a bill will cost jobs is mute because most large corporations have rules against such discrimination and 21 states ban it.

I just wanted to take a moment this morning to honor the 29 states where it is still legal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation. It is legal to fire someone for simply being born.

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Well done.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Observations 11.5

Today Illinois became the fifteenth state to legalize same sex marriage and couples may begin applying for marriage licences on June 1, 2014. I'm sure I could write more but I think champagne is called for so I'll leave it to President Obama.

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release November 05, 2013

Statement by the President on Marriage Equality in Illinois

Tonight, I applaud the men and women of the Illinois General Assembly, a body in which I was proud to serve, for voting to legalize marriage equality in my home state.

As President, I have always believed that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally under the law.  Over time, I also came to believe that same-sex couples should be able to get married like anyone else.  So tonight, Michelle and I are overjoyed for all the committed couples in Illinois whose love will now be as legal as ours – and for their friends and family who have long wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and equally under the law.

I also commend the members of the General Assembly for approaching this issue in a fair and open way, and for recognizing the importance of our commitment to religious freedom by engaging the religious community in this conversation.  Throughout this debate, they've made it clear that this is about civil marriages and civil laws, and made sure that churches and other institutions of faith are still free to make their own decisions that conform to their own teachings.

As I said in my Inaugural Address last January, our journey as a nation is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.  And tonight, I’m so proud that the men and women elected to serve the people of the great state of Illinois have chosen to take us one step further on that journey to perfect our union.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Observations 11.4

The Winter Olympics in Sochi begin in 94 Days.

"Russia’s law makes it unclear whether public displays of affection, coming out on television by mentioning an athlete’s loved one, or even hugging your partner after winning the gold medal could result in fines or deportation. Putin would like us to think gays and lesbians are welcome during the Olympics, but no one will feel safe and welcome while this law is in place," Andre Banks co-founder of All Out.

What if living your dream meant living a lie?

Published on Nov 4, 2013

Russia is in the midst of a violent crackdown against lesbian, gay, bi and trans people - fueled by laws that make it a crime to be open about who you are and who you love. The Olympic games are our best chance to end to Russia's outrageous anti-gay laws -- but to do it, it's going to take lots more of us to hear about what's happening in Russia. Watch this beautiful 2-minute video, and please share it with your family and friends.

La Russie est en proie à une répression violente contre les personnes lesbiennes, gays, bi et trans -- alimentée par des lois anti-gays qui rendent illégal le simple fait de parler en public de son identité. Les Jeux olympiques sont notre meilleur espoir de mettre fin à ces lois anti-gays -- mais pour réussir, nous devons être beaucoup plus nombreux à parler de ce qui se passe en Russie. Découvrez cette magnifique vidéo de deux minutes et partagez-la avec votre famille et vos amis.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Observations on Art 10.29

Last week Banksy, the British graffiti artist, submitted an op-ed to The New York Times that the Times board rejected. This is the text of that op-ed, a text the Times has said Banksy changed. I'm not going to say I agree with what he wrote, mostly I don't, but I do think that if the Times can print an op-ed supposedly written by Vladimir Putin they can print this.

"As a visitor staying in New York for the past few weeks one thing has become very clear to me, and I say this as a friend, you've got to do something about the new World Trade Center. The building is a disaster. Well no, disasters are interesting. One World Trade Center is a non-event. Its vanilla. Its like something they would build in Canada.

The attacks of September 11th were an attack on all of us and we will live out our lives in their shadow. But it's also how we react to adversity that defines us. And the response? 104 floors of compromise?

Remarkable for such a tall structure One World Trade Center lacks any self-confidence. How does it stand up without a spine? It looks like it never wanted to built in the first place. It reminds you of a really tall kid at a party, awkwardly shifting his shoulders trying not to stand out from the crowd. It's the first time I've ever seen a shy skyscraper.

It would be easy to view One World Trade Center as a betrayal of everyone who lost their lives on September 11th, because it so clearly proclaims the terrorists won. Those 10 men have condemned us to live in a world more mediocre than the one they attacked, rather than be the catalyst for a dazzling new one.

Nobody comes to New York to bathe in your well-mannered common sense. We're here for the spirit and audacity. Of which One World Trade Center has none. Instead you have to look to the rooftops, to the chorus of precariously roller painted names and slogans crawling over the skyline like poison ivy. This is the city's true heritage, a city that made it's name giving space to the mercurial and the brave.

 One World Trade declares the glory days of New York are gone. You really need to put up a better building in front of it right away. Or better still, let the kids with the roller poles finish it off. Because you currently have under construction a one thousand foot tall sign that reads, New York - we lost our nerve."

Given the opportunity I would ask Banksy a question.  If the glory days of New York are gone why did you spend a month here?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Observations on Art 10.24

The quest to define what is or what isn't art is as old as time. For something different here is an awesome definition of what an artist is.

"For me, artists are driven to do what they do no matter what. It’s a very powerful ambition and they pursue it in whatever way works best for them. Artists have a practice and pursuing and developing it is always the motivating factor, not whether or not they will sell something or even find a venue in which it can be seen. In my experience, artists are among the most self-motivated, organized, the most disciplined and the hardest working people I know. Sure, some artists are lucky enough that they can make a living doing it while other artists work day jobs or supplement their practice by teaching or other means. But I don’t think the distinction is important. It’s the seriousness of purpose that I admire the most."

Carter Foster, Curator of Drawing at Whitney Museum of American Art, from Living and Sustaining a Creative Life: Essays by 40 Working Artists by Sharon Loudon.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Observations from the Abyss 10.17

By now you all know what happened yesterday, last minute deal, signed by the President, the government is reopening today. At the moment I have nothing to add to that. This is about finding something to laugh at even on the brink of disaster. Tuesday night as the nation teetered on that brink Anderson Cooper was live from Washington with AC 360 Later and one of his commentators was Republican strategist Alex Castellanos. That is all the background you are going to need. What follows is from the official AC 360 transcript which you can read here or you can watch a short clip here.

Cooper: Alex, you don't want to admit this, but you actually agree with Paul that this is not the way to go about it, to risk the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.

Castellanos: I think it's a terrible idea. I think the Republicans are going to pay a big price in the short-term. A friend explained to me today finally what Ted Cruz is doing. And I finally understand. He's having bunny sex.

Cooper: Wow. This is the late-night edition of 360.

Castellanos: In nature, there are boom-and-bust cycles. The snowshoe hare every 10 years multiplies sixfold.

Cooper: Are you high? What are you talking about?

Castellanos: I am high. Let me explain. Let me explain. Totally high. I wish I was. The bunny, the snowshoe hare, I thought it's a marvelous explanation every six years, every 10 years multiplies sixfold. Bunnies like sex apparently.

Cooper: You're digging a ditch, Alex.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Observations from the Abyss 10.16

Two weeks into the government shutdown, hours away from the debt ceiling, and there is possibly a deal in the U.S. Senate that would open the government and fund it until January 15, 2014 as well as raise the debt ceiling until February 7, 2014. We shall see what happens because a lot depends on whether Texas Senator Ted Cruz wants to read more Dr. Seuss books from the Senate floor and how bad John Boehner wants to keep his House Speakership. Honestly I think it will get done because in the end the powers that matter know it has to be. I mean seriously, this isn't Argentina. I apologize if you are Argentina.

I've talked and tweeted about this debacle until people are tired of listening to me. I haven't written much about it because my thoughts change faster than I can write them down but there is one thing I wanted to say. It's in the same line of thought as the Bible quote I posted yesterday.

Let me start by saying this is totally a Republican shutdown and I'm not even willing to debate that fact. If you change House rules to make it harder to end the shutdown the day before it begins you own it, saying there is plenty of blame to go around politically just isn't true and helps no one. Try and imagine the Democrats shutting down the government to pass gun control. You can't imagine it because they wouldn't do it.

But there is plenty of blame to go around in a larger sense and that blame is all ours. It's ours for allowing those around us to say things like get rid of all the bums, I don't vote because they're all the same, or they're just crazy but they won't really do it. The Tea Party Republicans said they would do it, they were elected to do it, and they did it. Why is everybody so shocked and surprised this happened? We shake our heads and laugh at Sarah Palin and her like but there are people out there who hang on her every word as if it were handed down from some temple mount in Alaska. These people claim to be 'patriots' but they care about themselves, their bank accounts, and their ideology, nothing more. I'm not even going to bring up the total crazies who think this is the beginning of the end of days and are ecstatic.

It's not funny, it's not a game, and it's not a joke. It's our country and they are trying to destroy it for their own pathetic reasons.

One thing I can't get out of my head is the sight of the House Republican Caucus singing "Amazing Grace" yesterday. When I first saw it all I could think of is the band playing as the Titanic sank.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Observations from the Abyss 10.14

I've been writing this blog for a few years now so I can't be totally sure but I would be willing to bet I have never quoted the Bible in it. After listening to Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, and all the other crazies for the past couple weeks, and seeing a Confederate flag being waved outside the White House yesterday, a biblical quote comes to mind. On the fourteenth day of the government shutdown, and with three days to go until we hit the debt ceiling, my first Bible quote is in honor of the Republican Party. It shouldn't be hard to guess, Hosea 8-7.

"For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind."

Monday, October 7, 2013

Observations on Art 10.6

Part 1: When it is it is ....

Over a month ago the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam announced Sunset at Montmajour was indeed an original painting by Vincent van Gogh. I've been wanting to write a post about it because the history of the painting is an awesome story and most of what I have read has left out parts of it. More often than not articles have been more like reviews of Sunset at Montmajour and nothing more. The powers that be in the art world have decided it isn't one of van Gogh's best works as if it were some sketch tossed into the trash can. It's a van Gogh, that's my review. Now the story behind it.

When Sunset at Montmajour was painted in 1888 Vincent van Gogh was 35 years old and had by then sold just one painting. He wrote a letter to his brother Theo van Gogh describing the painting which he said he had painted the previous day, "at sunset, I was on a stony heath where very small, twisted oaks grow, in the background a ruin on the hill and wheat fields in the valley." (Read the letter here.) Vincent later sent the painting to Theo for storage. Two years later, in 1890, Vincent van Gogh arguably committed suicide in a field near Auvers-sur-Oise, now in the suburbs of Paris.

After Vincent's death Theo van Gogh inventoried his collection of paintings and gave Sunset at Montmajour the number 180. Just two years after Vincents death Theo himself died and his collection was broken up and sold as the paintings had rapidly begun to increase in value.

In 1901 painting number 180, than known by its original name Sun Setting at Arles, was sold to the French art dealer Maurice Fabre during one of the first retrospectives of van Gogh's paintings. In 1908 Fabre sold the painting to a novice collector and Norwegian industrialist Christian Nicolai Mustad. Mustad proudly showed his new treasure to France's ambassador to Sweden who told Mustad that he doubted its authenticity. Probably embarrassed at his mistake Mustad never showed the painting again and Sun Setting at Arles disappeared into Mustad's attic and from history.

The painting was stored in the attic until Mustad's death in 1970 when the family called in collector Daniel Wildenstein who dismissed it as a fake or possibly a painting by Adolphe Monticelli who preceded van Gogh's period and who van Gogh admired. The family sold the painting to an unknown collector who later sold it to it's current, also unnamed, owner. In 1991 the Van Gogh Museum itself refused to authenticate, or even look at, the painting.

There are many reasons for the doubted authenticity over there years not the least of which is that the painting wasn't signed but van Gogh didn't sign many of his paintings. It is from a late traditional period of his painting after which he began using thicker brush strokes. Also there is an almost total lack of paper trail as beginning with Fabre none of the transactions were properly recorded.

What changed between 1991 and 2011 when the Van Gogh Museum began the authentication of Sunset at Montmajour and what went into authenticating it? The museum finished editing and had published Vincent's letters to Theo and had the detailed description I mentioned above. During the authenticating process X-ray examination of the canvas showed it identical to canvas van Gogh used for other paintings from the period including The Rocks which is in Houston's Museum of Fine Arts. Finally modern analysis of the pigment, the artistic equivalent of genetic sequencing, showed the painting's were the same as those used by van Gogh at Arles.

Is Sunset at Montmajour the 'last' van Gogh? One never knows because the painter was known to destroy works he didn't like and his letters are filled with descriptions of paintings that have never been see.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Observations from the Abyss 10.5

This photo was posted on twitter by House Majority Leader Eric Ivan Cantor on the day the government shutdown started. Apparently it's supposed to show how the Republicans were ready to negotiate and that the Democrats of the Senate were the ones responsible for the shutdown. Rather get into that rather obvious falsehood I thought I would post the photo for strictly artistic reasons. I think it may be the best example of white and white photography I have ever seen.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Observations from the Abyss 10.4

"We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is." Yesterday I finished my post yesterday with that quote from Marlin Stutzman who is a Republican congressman from Indiana. I bring it up again because during a speech he made in Rockville, Maryland yesterday afternoon President Obama answered Stutzman, "You have already gotten the opportunity to serve the American people. There is no higher honor than that." Later in his speech the President added, "If you're being disrespected, it's because of that attitude you got that you deserve to get something for doing your job." You can read the full speech here, that is you can read it if the White House site is up.

I heard somewhere that as the shutdown gets longer politicians will begin to say increasingly stupid things. The tension level increases, yesterday's events at the Capital only added to that, and they start to hear more and more from angry constituents. Publicly admitting you don't know what you are after is a good example. Another is Rep. Randy Neugebauer, a Republican from Texas, berating a Park Service Ranger at the WWII Memorial for not allowing the public to enter a park his shutdown had closed. To it's credit Fox News noted that "in his breast pocket, he (Neugebauer) carried a small American flag."

But, as should probably be expected, the stupid comments aren't limited to politicians and can show how a person truly feels. The following paragraph comes from Fox Business host Stuart Varney who was asked if he thought government employees should get back pay when the shutdown ends. If this sample doesn't make you ill enough you can listen to his full tirade here.

"No, I don't think they should get their back pay, frankly, I really don't. I'm sick and tired of a massive, bloated federal bureaucracy living on our backs, and taking money out of us, a lot more money than most of us earn in the private sector, then getting a furlough, and then getting their money back at the end of it. Sorry, I'm not for that. I want to punish these people. Sorry to say that, but that's what I want to do."

According to the website Celebrity Net Worth Stuart Varney is worth in excess of $10 million. Behold the New Age of the Robber Barons.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Observations from the Abyss 10.3

After a few days of the U.S. government being shut down I'm beginning to learn a few things. I may have known them all along but I'm getting a quick refresher course. I'll finish with one of the many quotes coming from the GOP that you just can't make up.

A large percentage of Americans don't like government, don't like paying taxes, and will never admit government is doing anything at all for them. It's part of the same national psyche that is so in love with guns. Keeping that in mind I think maybe we need to shut the government down every twenty years or so just to show no-government nuts that they do indeed need it. After just a few days I'm already sick of hearing people struck dumb by the fact that government actually does something for them.

It's fairly obvious but Democrats always want to be liked to a fault while a majority of Republicans today don't care if you like them so long as you fear them. Democrats can be overbearing sometimes but it's like a parent who cares and thinks they know better. Republicans and the conservative talking heads always have a smile on their face like they are scolding a petulant child who needs to be shown the obviously correct way.

I've heard the GOP shutdown called extortion or scorched earth politics but I have my own words for it. In today's world it probably isn't politically correct to use the term but I can say what I want, it's terrorism. Economic terrorism to be precise. If the shutdown runs into the debt ceiling on October 17th and the United states of America defaults on its debts it will do more economic damage to the world economy than a terrorist could even dream of doing. It's that simple but you wont hear anybody call it that.

Speaking of petulant, this quote explains what's going better than anything else. "We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is," said Marlin Stutzman, conservative congressman from Indiana and member of the Republican Suicide Caucus. On the off chance Stutzman doesn't remember what respect is here is its definition; a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

Respect. Honestly I have nothing to add.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Observations on Penn State 9.30

Something about Penn State has been on my mind for the past few weeks that in a way relates to our current political mess. One of this country's, maybe the world's, biggest problems is that some of us have become so isolated in our ideological cocoons that we talk over, more likely yell over, each other. There is no room for honest debate or that most heinous of things, compromise.

I mentioned before that John Amaechi, a 1994 graduate of Penn State, had been named the Grand Marshall for this year's homecoming. Amaechi is also a former member of the NBA who after retiring announced he was gay. Ever since the homecoming announcement two small but vocal groups have criticized the decision. The first group is made up of the usual bigoted homophobes who for the most part choose to remain anonymous. They don't concern me because, as the saying goes, haters are going to hate.

The second group, made up of alumni, does concern me because they show how the times we live are beginning to effect even the most close knit communities. There is a group of angry Penn State alumni that, for lack of a better term, have become known as 'Penn State truthers.' These alumni don't hate Amaechi because he is gay but because of statements he had made in the days after the Sandusky scandal first broke. Amaechi said that he was personally ashamed of the situation and openly regretted ever having anything to do with Sandusky's Second Mile charity. Since the homecoming announcement Amaechi has received racist and homophobic e-mails and twitter messages and has considered not attending homecoming at all. John Amaechi is one of the Penn State graduates I most admire and I find saddening that he is now being attacked by some of his fellow graduates.

Ryan Jones, senior editor of The Penn Stater, wrote about the situation and put what I was thinking into words.

"The past two years have provided a harsh lesson on how easy it is for others to hold the actions of a few against an entire community. We've all heard countless references to 'Penn State’s guilt,' as if an institution can do anything, and as if such careless language doesn't have repercussions for everyone affiliated with it. We know this; we've lived it.

Too often now, such generalizations are directed at fellow members of this community. Alumni think this; students don’t understand that. Our internal discourse has taken on the worst aspects of our national political discourse: so much shouting, so little listening. No matter what side you’re on, you can see where that’s gotten us. If it continues, we only hurt Penn State. Which is to say, we only hurt ourselves."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Observations on Art 9.25

I was beginning to think all the time lapse film makers out there had taken some sort of collective holiday because I hadn't seen any really good ones lately. Than I saw this. Photographer and filmmaker Jason Phipps and his crew climbed nearby Trego Peak to capture their unique view of this year's Burning Man.


Burning Man 2013 Time-Lapse:
Seen Miles Away From A Mountain Top
by Jason Phipps
Published on Sep 14, 2013

This video captures Burning Man 2013 from an elevation of 5495 feet above sea level and over 4 linear miles from the center of Black Rock City. Old Razorback, aka Trego Peak, provides a unique vista of this incredible annual event. Climbing to the peak of Old Razorback has become a challenging and rewarding tradition for our team. This is a view that most will never experience in person. It is our passion to share it with the world through the lens of a camera. Climbing 1,888 feet in less than a mile over steep, unstable mountainside is a dangerous and exhilarating mission. This year we deployed cameras during the build week, capturing the growth of the city and ending it the night of the burn. We express gratitude to the family and friends that joined us for this epic climb. We could not do it alone. Many thanks to our team this year: Mark Phipps, John Phipps, Dallon Phipps, Kevin Johnson & Meghan Johnson. We also offer heartfelt thanks to OpenOptics (Inspired Flight) and Dusty Nix for designing such an incredible sound score for this year's rendition.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Observations from the Coffee Shop 9.23

Last Thursday, before they even got to voting for a government shutdown, House Republicans reached one of their all too frequent lows when they voted to cut $39 billion from the food stamp program. In effect the richest nation in history voted to let 3 million of its poorest citizens starve. It's easy to put the blame on conservative House Republicans for the simple reason that they were the only ones to vote for the bill. Not one Democrat voted for it and even 15 Republicans voted against it. The bill doesn't literally cut people from the program but uses multiple requirements to do the dirty work.

My personal favorite part of the bill is the rule that allows states to require drug tests before providing assistance. We all know it's those drug addicts buying lobster with their food stamps that are causing the problems. I'll consider such a rule the day someone has to pee in a cup in order to buy a gun. Another part of the bill eliminates a system that lets people receiving other forms of government assistance automatically qualify for food stamps. In simple terms that means millions of unemployed Americans could lose their eligibility.

Jason Kirell is an Afghanistan combat veteran and food stamp recipient who wrote a small piece in The Huffington Post. In it he wrote this:

"Are you fucking kidding me? I didn't risk my life in Afghanistan so I could come back and watch people go hungry in America. I certainly didn't risk it so I could come back and go hungry."

Republicans are always fond of saying support the troops but I suppose that only pertains to troops in a war zone.

notes - You can read a summary of the so-called Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013 here and a complete roll call here.

update - Republican Rep. Stephen Fincher of Tennessee voted to cut food stamps. From 1999 to 2012 his business, Stephen & Lynn Fincher Farms, received $3,483,824 in federal government farm subsidies including $70,574 last year. During debate on the bill Fincher quoted the bible saying "the one who is unwilling to work shall not eat."

Friday, September 20, 2013

Observations 9.20

And so it's time for Democrats, progressives, and liberals to sit back and watch as the Republican Party destroys itself. The only problem with this is the Republican Party may also destroy the world economy in the process, it may be worth it.

This short statement on the Republican budget, released by The White House yesterday, is worth reading. Maybe if the Republicans bothered to read it they could save themselves before they takeoff on what even the The Wall Street Journal called a kamikaze mission. I doubt they will bother. Italics are my own.

September 19, 2013
H.J. Res. 59 – Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014
(Rep. Rogers, R-KY)

The Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.J. Res. 59, making continuing appropriations for fiscal year 2014 and for other purposes, because it advances a narrow ideological agenda that threatens our economy and the interests of the middle class. The Resolution would defund the Affordable Care Act, denying millions of hard-working middle class families the security of affordable health coverage.

If the President were presented with H.J. Res. 59, he would veto the bill.

The Administration is willing to support a short-term continuing resolution to allow critical Government functions to operate without interruption and looks forward to working with the Congress on appropriations legislation for the remainder of the fiscal year that preserves critical national priorities, protects national security, and makes investments to spur economic growth and job creation for years to come.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Observations 9.16

The primary for New York's mayoral election was last Tuesday and I have to say New York City politics just confuses the hell out of me sometimes. New York City is so big that when I look at the politics of the city it's as if I'm looking at completely different nation. Viewing it as an outsider, I may live in it most of the time but I never totally consider myself a New Yorker, I have to say New Yorkers don't always look at the grander scheme of things. It's as if they don't see the effect what happens in New York City has on the rest of the country. They don't see it even as they take it for granted.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn would have been the first woman mayor of the city, a married lesbian Mayor of New York City. I know she would have had to beat the Republican nominee in November but after two terms of Rudy Giuliani, followed by three terms of Michael Bloomberg, there isn't a chance in hell the city is going to elect another Republican mayor.

A married lesbian mayor of New York City. Think about that. Think about the effect that could have had on the drive for same sex marriage around the nation. We'll never know because 49% of lesbian and gay voters went with the winner Bill de Blasio compared to 36% for Quinn. There are plenty of reasons being thrown around for Quinn's poor performance among LGBT voters. The primary one being that we have moved beyond voting for someone simply because they are gay or lesbian, we now vote the issues. That may be the case in New York but in an election as historic as this election could have been, how a Quinn win would have looked around the country,  it reeks of New Yorkers saying we got ours now you're on your own.

I don't totally buy that argument and as always I have a theory of my own. Looking at the numbers it's something that seems fairly obvious but I haven't heard it talked about much and in fact I didn't get a very good reaction from friends when I mentioned it. I don't think being gay cost Quinn the election nor do I think it was her stand on some issues. I think she lost the election because she is a woman. What is even more boggling than her poor performance with LGBT voters is the even lower number of women voters who went with Quinn, just 19%. Reading the numbers I just think men, including gay men, didn't vote for Quinn because she is a woman and women didn't vote for her because she is a lesbian. What got me in trouble was saying that I thought a gay man, a Christopher Quinn, would have won handily. Maybe I'm totally wrong but I'd rather believe that is the reason Quinn lost than believe LGBT voters turned on her, and history, to prove a point.

But this is a city whose Democratic Party that gave Anthony Weiner 6% of the vote. I'm sure there is a lesson in that number too but it's a lesson I don't want to learn.

9/17 update - After I posted this a friend of mine pointed out a column by Joshua Greenman, a New York Daily News opinion writer. I have to admit I don't always read the Daily News so I missed it. I may have to read him more often ...

"Let’s be honest. Even in 2013, it’s really hard to project yourself as a tough-as-nails character with uniquely mayoral mettle when you’re a woman. Perhaps doubly so when you’re a lesbian woman. That put Quinn in a box. She had to be strong but simultaneously struggled, no doubt coached in this direction by campaign consultants, to project charm."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Observations 9.12

Just a some numbers I find fascinating and also more than a bit sad. Other than that I'm not going to comment, you can make of them what you want.

"In the United States women now receive 62 percent of the associate's degrees, 58 percent of the bachelor's degrees, 61 percent of the master's degrees, and 51 percent of the doctoral degrees." That comes from Al Gore's book "The Future." On average 51 percent of all degrees given the world over are received by women.

VIDA: Women in Literary Arts is an organization that "seeks to explore critical and cultural perceptions of writing by women through meaningful conversation and the exchange of ideas among existing and emerging literary communities." VIDA is best known for its count which keeps track of how many women and men are published in major magazines. You can read the full count here but I'll give you a sample.

In 2012 Harper’s had 76 bylines by men and 17 by women, The Atlantic had 176 bylines by men and 47 by women, and The New Yorker had 445 bylines by men and 160 by women.

As I said at the beginning, sad.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Observations from the Coffee Shop 9.9

Over the weekend I tried very hard to not pay any attention to the news. Let's just say it's been all too depressing lately, primarily the Syria debate. Cable news and politics in America has gotten to the point that Syria itself isn't the news, not chemical weapons, not the tens of thousands dead, or the millions of refugees. No the news about Syria is primarily about the debate about Syria. Much like Edward Snowden himself became the story and overshadowed the NSA spying the Syria debate is about the debaters themselves. Who is for or against an attack, who was for or against the Iraq war, one big round of look at us because we matter. Another way of putting it is I always found politics entertaining but now, at least at times, it seems politics has become just another form of entertainment. But don't worry, I still love Rachel.

Last Thursday Rachel Maddow finished her show with a commentary. She did it after Donald Rumsfeld appeared on Fox News and called President Obama a "so-called commander in chief" and it should be required watching for every American. The transcript hasn't been posted yet so below is my own attempt at transcribing the finish of it. I should note that in this case I don't guarantee my work. You can watch the full commentary here.

"If you're an architect or a conspirator or one of the primary actors in the Iraq war. In arguably the grandest and most craven foreign policy disaster in american history. Your opinion is no longer required on matters of war and peace. Please enjoy painting portraits of dogs or something. Painting portraits of yourself in the bathroom trying to get clean. Please enjoy the forgiving company of your family, your loved ones, and your god. But we as a country never, ever, need to hear from you about war ever again. You can go now."

You can go now, if only.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Observations from the Coffee Shop 9.4

Because of  my brief post yesterday at breakfast today I was forced, forced, to come up with some sort of definitive opinion on Syria. What is going to happen is the easy part. There will be some limited bombing, that's just a given. What is harder is what I think of it. As I said in my post, damned if you do damned if you don't.

Off the top of my head, and with too little coffee, I think it's something that needs to be done. That isn't to say I like the idea. To just stand by and watch, debate, to do nothing as the slaughter goes on, I just can't stomach that. Rather be damned now than be damned by history. What is more important is what happens next. I don't mean more bombing or arming the opposition, whatever that is, but what we can do to help the millions of refugees with winter approaching.

I was going to make this an update to yesterday's post but than I read an article from Foreign Policy, I know, called "Muse of the Revolution"  which is about Libyan novelist Hisham Matar and written by Syrian writer Amal Hanano. It's very good and you should read it. I wanted to pass on the following paragraph.

"How do you measure time during a revolution, during a war? The seasons pass, and no one places bets on a date for Assad's fall anymore. Syrian time is measured by massacres and tragedies and the growing number of dead. Remember when it was 2,000? 10,000? 40,000? 70,000? 100,000? Remember?"

If nothing else history has a good memory.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Observations 9.3

Some quick thoughts on Syria with the assumption you already know the background. Syria, the debate on Syria, and any attack on Syria is just a classic damned if you do and damned if you don't situation. I say classic because really both sides are right and both sides are wrong. The Middle East is now a tragedy even by standards of the Middle East with the hopes and dreams of a year ago turned to dust and blown away.

Any comparisons between Syria and the lead up to Iraq are overblown as the excuse of Iraq's WMD was a lie from the beginning. Syria has, and always had, those weapons and now has used them. Still the same arguments are being used today as were used than and they all sound so hollow. Also I don't trust any of the talking heads who ten years ago pushed for total war and now are totally against even a limited attack as if it somehow wipes their war slate clean.

After two arguably failed Middle Eastern wars an attack, even a limited attack, on Syria is the last thing this country needs to debate. At the same time Assad's using the world's deadliest weapons against his most defenseless citizens is a horror on a scale all it's own. Is it more of a horror than a war that has  killed 100,000 and created 2 million refugees created in two years? I have no idea.

I also have no idea what the correct answer is. As I alluded to at the start, in all likelihood there isn't one.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Observations from the Coffee Shop 8.29

If you are anything like me you're probably confused by what is going on with same sex marriage in New Mexico. I didn't understand why when one county in Pennsylvania began issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples all hell broke loose yet in New Mexico it seemed the opposite happened. One county followed another in issuing licenses or was ordered to do so. I didn't realize that not only doesn't New Mexico have a law banning same sex marriage it has no laws regulating marriage at all. I found this opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times that does a good job of explaining what is happening in New Mexico and because the Times is sometimes behind a paywall I thought I would post the entire article. Quirky indeed but whatever works.

New Mexico's quirky path on gay marriage
By Karin Klein
2:05 PM PDT, August 27, 2013

"Welcome, New Mexico, to the roster of states where same-sex marriage is performed and recognized. Sort of.

It has been a bumpy ride on the way to marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples. Some states have come to that point through the courts, sometimes though their legislatures, sometimes by the voters themselves. Not counting New Mexico, 13 states and the District of Columbia now recognize such marriages.

Why leave out New Mexico? Same-sex marriage hasn't exactly been legalized there because of some unusual factors particular to the sometimes quirky state. For one thing, New Mexico doesn't have any laws that ban same-sex marriage. It in fact doesn't have laws regulating marriage, period. As a result, a clerk in one southern county recently began issuing marriage licenses and, unlike in other states where municipal governments took it upon themselves to make marriage law, it’s OK. There is no state law to override the clerk’s decision.

Meanwhile, the New Mexico Supreme Court has made clear that it’s in no rush to make a decision about same-sex marriage. In fact, the court suggested that lower courts just see if they couldn't handle this on their own. And that just happened twice over the last week in separate court victories that institute same-sex weddings in New Mexico’s two most populous counties.

How this affects the other counties in the state is unknown for now; the rulings aren't binding on them yet. Republican politicians are talking about a lawsuit to stop the weddings, saying that the governance of marriage is up to states. That’s true, but in the case of New Mexico, the state’s governance up to now could best be described as “Hey, whatever.” Gay marriage foes might try legislating against the marriages, but it’s late in the game and any such attempt might be viewed skeptically by courts that see it for what it is: An attempt to take away a civil right that a group already has.

It’s a messy way to go about achieving the admirable goal of full recognition for same-sex couples. But then, California’s  struggle over marriage rights involved a much more twisted tale. As Shakespeare might put it, the course to true civil rights never did run smooth."

8/30 update - Just after I posted last night I saw some news that throws a new twist into this story. All of New mexico's county clerks (21 Democrats and 12 Republicans) have joined the ACLU of New Mexico's lawsuit as defendants. New Mexico is the only state that has not explicitly allowed or banned same-sex marriage in law and the clerks are seeking a definitive answer.

This is from an article in the Albuquerque Journal News. "During a Wednesday conference call, county clerks voted 31-0 to have their attorney seek a state Supreme Court ruling to address their concerns and determine whether the constitution’s equal-rights protection allows for same-sex marriage," said Daniel Ivey-Soto, executive director of the New Mexico County Clerks Affiliate.

And here is a statement issued by the ACLU of New Mexico.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Observations 8.28

Now this is an idea whose time has come, start naming hurricanes after climate change deniers. I first saw this video on Joe My God.

Published on Aug 26, 2013

"If you agree that it's time for a naming system that names extreme storms caused change after policy makers who deny climate change sign the petition at, before John Boehner blows your entire city away."

note - I stopped using the tag 'global warming' a bit ago and switched to climate change. Rather than have a mess noting that fact here and tagging this post with global warming. If you want to see previous posts on the subject, including those during Sandy, click that tag.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Observations from the Window 8.27

A few days ago Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison which, all things considered, I didn't find that bad. Wikileaks called the sentence a "significant strategic victory." With credit for time served she could be out in 8 years which is far better with the 90 years without parole she faced and didn't deserve. While the sentence is by far the longest ever given to a whistleblower, people need to remember that Manning is a member of the military and that fact changes everything.

While my feelings about Manning are tainted some by how I feel about Julian Assange I do consider her heroic in many ways. She didn't run from what she did, she stood up for what she believed, and she paid the price. If I were President I would at least commute Manning's sentence to time served when she requests a pardon. I doubt very much President Obama will do the same but I think history will be kind to Chelsea Manning.

I wasn't irritated by the sentence itself, if anything I was surprised because it bordered on fair, but I was irritated by the reaction some people had to it. I haven't been around any Occupy people in some time but I still have a Twitter list I use to keep track of them. While most on the list reacted to the Manning sentence with disgust and outrage there was no mention at all of the other breaking story that day, the chemical weapons attack in Syria.

Keeping with the subject of tinkers, geeks, whistleblowers, and spies yesterday I saw some new things about Edward Snowden's excellent adventure. The Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that the reason Snowden didn't fly to Cuba wasn't the fear of being forced down by some grand international conspiracy but something far less sinister. Cuba didn't want him. They and The Washington Post also reported that far from surprising the Russians by flying to Moscow on June 23rd, Vladimir Putin himself said "It is true that Mr. Snowden arrived in Moscow, which was completely unexpected for us," Snowden actually spent several days in the Russian Consulate while in Hong Kong. Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian must have missed that minor part of the story. I don't think history will judge Snowden as kindly as it does Manning.

I've made no secret of the fact that I do not like Snowden or his sideshow at all because it takes away from a very important discussion of privacy in the digital world. I do however have a bit of advice for Mr. Snowden. Get a new photo taken, there are some good Russian photographers out there, because the world is really tired of that same photo of you it's been forced to look at since day one.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sunday Observations, Sports Edition

It's the sports edition because I don't feel like getting into all the ways the world seems to be falling apart at the moment. Another reason is the time of year, this was always the time of year I obsessed about the coming hockey season.

Before I get to the sports one non-sports related item I think I'll pass on. The Penn State class of 2017 met for the first time today and includes students from 41 states and 71 countries. Classes begin tomorrow.

Penn State's field hockey and women's soccer teams start their season on Friday. The football team begins it's season Saturday in a game that will mark my first ever trip to MetLife Stadium. Penn State opens with a game against Syracuse at the Meadowlands Saturday afternoon and I shall be there along with my brother and a few others. Don't expect any photos from the game due to the new NFL and NCAA regulations which allow nothing into a stadium not resembling a large zip-lock bag. The days of sneaking beverages into a game are gone forever, just another way the terrorists have won.

Have I ever mentioned what a most awesome brother I have? For my birthday he gave me a HartnellDown t-shirt autographed by Scott Hartnell himself. For the uninformed HartnellDown is a charity started by Flyers' forward Scott Hartnell. Why is it called Hartnell Down? A few years ago a group of Flyers fans on twitter started posting with the hashtag #hartnelldown whenever Hartnell fell on the ice, mostly mocking him because he sometimes isn't the best skater in the rink. Instead of getting mad Hartnell commandeered the tag and made it his own. His foundation sells apparel and other things with the tag and donates all the proceeds to various youth sports related charities.

Admittedly it hasn't been the best of summers for the Phillies but last night they played in a rather historic game. The 7 hour 6 minute 18 inning marathon was the longest game in the Phillies storied history. It was also the longest game in Major League baseball in 25 years and tied the record for most pitchers used by both teams in a game, 20. The Phillies' final two pitchers weren't pitchers at all but a center fielder and a third basemen which may explain why the Phillies lost.

Tonight it was announced that former Penn State and NBA player John Amaechi will be Penn State's Homecoming Grand Marshall this year. Normally I wouldn't care who the Grand Marshall was but Amaechi has a bit of history I personally find important. In 2007, in his book Man In The Middle, Amaechi became the first former NBA player to come out of the closet.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Observations from the Window 8.22

I wrote this a few days ago. I was catching up on magazines, but now have no idea where I was going with it. I'll just post it as is with a link to the complete article at the bottom.

Sometimes I'll read a whole magazine and have only one sentence or paragraph linger after I finish. That's what happened when I read The New York Times Magazine from a few weeks back. In an article about a French base jumper who had died I found the following words that ring true in more areas than base jumping.

"If you’re all tuned in, there’s ‘Yes,’" he said. "On the mediocre days, there are two other voices. One’s ‘Fear.’ Your body is screaming out at you, ‘Don’t do this,’ because it’s dangerous, unnatural. You’re there to conquer your fear. But there’s another voice that hangs around every now and again, and that’s called ‘No.’ Something’s not right. You can never put your finger on it, it could be something in your pack job, or the weather, or the people you’re jumping with, or your mind-set. It’s just, ‘Walk away, don’t go jumping today.’ The difficulty is trying to discern between ‘Fear’ and ‘No,’ because they’re both telling you the same thing. ‘No’ is your sixth sense that’s trying to save your life."

"It’s More Like a Suicide Than a Sport"

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Dear Mr. Putin

Last Saturday, after winning the 4 x 400 meter relay at the World Athletics Championship in Moscow, Russian sprinter Ksenia Ryzhova kissed Yulia Guschina on the podium, on the lips. Maybe they meant the kiss to be a protest, maybe they didn't, in fact both sprinters are married to men though I don't know what that proves.

Under Russia's anti-gay law anyone who distributes information with the intention of persuading minors that nontraditional sexual relationships are attractive or interesting, or are even the social equivalent of traditional relationships, can be arrested and accused of breaking the law.

Granted I'm far from a minor but as a strictly impersonal observer, try to cut me some slack on the impersonal part, I have to say this looks very attractive and interesting to me. No matter what their intent this certainly looks like, and under Russian law should be considered, gay propaganda.

See you in Sochi Mr. Putin.

Grigory Dukor/Reuters

Monday, August 19, 2013

Observations 8.19

This is just an addition to yesterday's post. It's a second video Dior film from Versailles with more outside shots and less of the Hall of Mirrors.

Dior - Secret Garden 2 - Versailles
from Inez & Vinoodh on Vimeo.

"Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin disclose Versailles is a more intimate way. The chateau and its park abound with well-kept secrets. The heart of the royal lands conceals an extraordinary world of poetry and color: in the depth of its mysterious woods a secret garden blooms out of sight, inhabited by flower-women. From the Petit Trianon to the enchanted forest, the Top-model, Daria Strokous becomes the reincarnation of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, of fashion and elegance. The painting “Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe” of Edouard Manet becomes the picturesque backdrop of the dreamlike tale embodied by Daria and transposed at the Château de Versailles."

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Observations from the Window 8.18

I suppose I could say I'm officially obsessed. Not that I haven't to some degree been obsessed with France, more specifically with Paris, my whole life. At the moment it's worse than it's ever been, much worse.

I just finished reading The Story of Paris and now have Thomas Carlyle's The French Revolution, Charles Dukeyonge's The Life of Marie Antoinette, Jeanne Louise Henriette Campan's Memoirs of the Court of Marie Antoinette, and François Auguste Marie Mignet's History of the French Revolution from 1789 to 1814 all lined up on my Kindle.

Add to the reading list the course I'm registered for at NYU, Women Writers in France (12th century to the present), and you begin to see what I mean by obsession.

How bad is it? I can watch this short film and not see the models or hear one of my favorite songs. All I see is Versailles' Hall of Mirrors which is something I neglected to see last year. I won't make that mistake next time.

Christian Dior - Secret Garden - Versailles
from Inez & Vinoodh on Vimeo.

"Secret Garden - Versailles"
A film by Inez and Vinoodh
Starring Daria Strokus, Melissa Stasiuk and Xiao Wen Ju in La Galeries Des Glaces - Château de Versailles.
Music by Depeche Mode: 'Enjoy the Silence'

"Before the camera lens of Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, the looks from the fall 2012 collection are brought to glorious life. In a deserted Versailles, as if plucked from a fantasy, the model Daria Strokous invites you to follow her on a wondrous path that winds through the Galerie des Glaces, through the palace's endless interconnecting salons, as far as the grand tree-lined walks that sweep through the classic parkland à la française.

Along the way she's joined by fellow models Melissa Stasiuk and Xiao Wen Ju for a dreamlike fashion show where Versailles is transformed into Christian Dior's secret garden, his emblematic château. D'or et Dior."

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Observations from the Window 8.13

This summer it seems like one weather event after another is a major news item. Just in the past week we've had out of control wildfires in the west, flooding in the midwest, resort swallowing sinkholes in Florida, and this morning massive thunderstorms in the northeast. We haven't even gotten to the peak hurricane season yet. At times like this it's good to be reminded that human caused climate change is just a massive liberal atheistic hoax.

I haven't mentioned America's tard in chief in some time, possibly because he has so much competition or possibly because I'm being overly politically correct, but this seems as good a moment as any to bring him back. I give you Rush Limbaugh during his radio show yesterday when he somehow managed to go from abortion to climate change with hardly a breath. He was commenting on Secretary of State John Kerry's remark that climate change was "a challenge to our responsibilities as the guardians, safe guarders of God’s creation."

"What about God’s creation called a fetus? See, in my humble opinion, folks, if you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in manmade global warming. You must be either agnostic or atheistic to believe that man controls something that he can’t create. The vanity! These people on the one hand, ‘We’re no different than a mouse or a rat.’ If you listen to the animal rights activists, we are the pollutants of this planet. If it weren't for humanity, the military environmentalist wackos, the Earth would be pristine and wonderful and beautiful, and nobody would see it. According to them we are not as entitled to life on this planet as other creatures because we destroy it. But how can we destroy it when we’re no different from the lowest life forms? And then on the other end, ‘We are so powerful. And we are so impotent — omnipotent that we can destroy — we can’t even stop a rain shower, but we can destroy the climate.’ And how? With barbecue pits and automobiles, particularly SUVs. It’s absurd."

You can listen to the entire Limbaugh segment here, if you dare.

I like the beginning where Limbaugh corrects Secretary Kerry's use of the English language. More than likely it was a rather crude attempt at bringing attention to Kerry's Boston accent but as most of Limbaugh's listeners are rather crude I'm sure they fully understood.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sunday Observations 8.11

This is an odd mix of things but it's Sunday and I'm cleaning up notes.

Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is the first openly bisexual member of Congress. Sinema says she was always open about her sexuality but her first comment on it as an elected official is classic. In 2005, while she was a member of the Arizona State Legislature, a Republican colleague gave a speech in which he insulted LGBT people. "We’re simply people like everyone else who want and deserve respect," Sinema said. Later reporters asked her about her comment and she answered "Duh, I’m bisexual."

Jay Leno was talking about comedy but the Republican Party could have learned an important lesson had they listened to him a few nights ago. He said that when you play to one group, a part of the audience in his case, in the end all you do is pander to that group at the expense of the rest of the group.

I enjoy Abby Huntsman on The Cycle so much more than I did Sarah Elizabeth Cupp.

Something I want to read is Five Star Billionaire, a new novel set in Shanghai and written by Malaysian writer Tash Aw. I was reading a column about it and others in the current rash of Asian superwealth novels when I saw the following line. "Does the rapid ascent of the $30,000 handbag spell some sort of apocalyptic, karmic doom? Or a societal dynastic pattern in which Asian superwealth will end up where America is now, divided and waiting for the revolution." The review was written by Chinese author Janice Y. K. Lee who resides in Hong Kong. Nice to know that the residents of Hong Kong think Americans are awaiting the revolution, they might be right.

Another book i just added to my wish list is Taipei by Tao Lin. Technically Tao Lin is an American writer but his parents are Taiwanese so I guess you could say I'm currently looking at Asian writers. But then I haven't read any of them yet, right now I'm reading The Story Of Paris by Thomas Okey which was written in 1906.

Finally a link I've been saving so long I forgot what it was, "Architecture: Pre-emptive Moves, Predemolition." It's about the New York practice of tearing the decorative pieces off of classic buildings so there is no reason to give them historic designations and clearing the way for the developer to tear down the entire building. I saved the article because it reminded me of a cool store in Adamstown, Pennsylvania. The 'store' is a warehouse next to a huge century old barn both of which are filled with things salvaged from buildings about to be torn down. Everything from doors and windows to mantels and antique crystal door knobs, this place has it all. According to it's website Oley Valley Architectural Antiques even has 150 antique bars.

I warned you it was an odd mix of topics.