Sunday, February 28, 2010

Au Revoir Vancouver

The curtain falls on the Winter Olympics today in a style that is the thing of legend. Not since Lake Placid in 1980 has a men's hockey game been more significant. At least for the winners. It might be difficult for the average American (that is United Statesian) to fathom what it means to be a Canadian; sharing the majority of a continent with the world's only Super Power. And yet, tonight, in a powerfully played and intense match, they met us on the ice and walked away the victors. Congratulations, Canada. No sour grapes here, but we both know that it (like the battle between the US and the USSR in Lake Placid in 1980) could have so easily gone either way.

Dame Fortuna has smiled upon Canada and turned Sidney Crosby into an instant super star. Watching it all happen on TV, I was a wreck of emotions. Everyone played so hard. To see the despair in the face of Ryan Miller, the US goalie, was as profoundly hurtful as the abject joy in the eyes of Crosby was equally elative. And isn't that the essence of sport? An emotional catharsis played out through others. In the end the grace of both teams in victory and lesser victory really summed up the power of the Olympics to speak to our humanity while still imagining a world where nationalism means anything. After all, the coach of the Canadians is the coach of the Detroit Red Wings, and Monsieur Crosby is captain of the Chicago Black Hawks. The American team member, Ryan Kesler, plays for the Vancouver Canucks.

We must appreciate this thing we call the Olympics while it still holds any relevancy. And today we were given a wonderful event to conclude a wonderful games. I wonder how many more like it will occur.

Homage To The Fox

Prairie Home Companion broadcast this week from the Fox Theatre in Detroit. As part of his monologue, Garrison Keeler gave a history of the theater. Housed in an Art Deco office building in the heart of the Motor City, the Fox Theatre is truly one of the most amazing venues of its kind in the country.

From the moment you enter the lobby, you know you're not in Kansas anymore! The grand stairway is guarded by two huge marble lions, one on each side. Corinthian columns with gilded crowns are the main focus but by all means take time to admire the pair of griffins that adorn the ceiling.
Once inside the theater the world of the Fox is no less gaudy or opulent. And at one time the entire place was abandoned and lay in virtual ruin. It's a testimony to the people of Detroit and their desire to rise from the malaise of their current economic depression. It's an amazing place.

What I'm Watching #231

This sweet film by the director/writer of "Coffee Date" features the story of a young man in high school dealing with his homosexuality. As an African American, and the quarterback of the high school's football team, he's feeling the pressure to pass when a new student enters the picture. She's the daughter of two mom's (and two dads!), and becomes for him the catalyst for his coming out. The film features a handful of progressive actors in wonderful cameos, Alec Mapa, Jane Lynch, Nichelle Nickols, Marcia Wallace, and Bruce Vilanch. In an homage to gay athletes everywhere, David Kopay makes a brief appearance, as well. Wonderful little film!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Shake, Rattle and Role?

Weren't we just here a month ago? It's enough to make one ask, "What the Hell is going on around this little planet?"

In the old days, our ancestors would have thought God was angry or something. (I remember touring the ruins of a Cathedral constructed in Cartagena, Costa Rica in 1525 that was destroyed by a series of earthquakes. In the end, it was determined that the disaster was God's retribution for the dead babies sealed within the church's walls and conceived between a priest and some of the nuns then serving the community. And I admit that a just God would do well to chastise such heinous acts, but why kill gobs of other innocent people just to make your point?--no one ever asks that question!) So, if not God; then what?

Well, first of all, Chile is no stranger to earthquakes. Chile tops the list of all time largest quakes ever recorded with the May 22, 1960 magnitude 9.5 "Valdivia" earthquake. Today's quake jumps into the list at #7 with its 8.8 magnitude. The 10th strongest magnitude level of quake, 8.5, also occurred in Chile on December 16, 1575. The fact that Chile is basically an isolated nation contributes to fact that the average citizen of the United States might find this event unexpected. But who ever expects an earthquake?

Chile is a modern nation. It has in the last 30 years moved from a "banana republic/US puppet" nation to the full fledged independent and stable democracy. It's current president, Michelle Bachelet is one of the few and newly emerging female heads of state on the planet (and a graduate of my public school system here in Maryland!). She is one of the only heads of state to have personally visited Haiti since its disasterous earthquake.

And yet, the death toll in Chile thus far is being calculated in the hundreds. It could clearly enter the thousands or even tens of thousands when all is said and done. While Haiti's carnage has reached epic proportions in the range of 250,000 to 300,000 casualties. It's a complicated calculus no matter how you view it, but here's a whopper of an idea: today's Chilean quake was 500 TIMES STRONGER than Haiti's 7.0 quake. In other words: Do something. Then do it twice as hard. Now do it 500 times as vigorously! You can't. It's not a magnitude of power that we even have the ability to replicate.

The earth is really shaking. And how! Study this map of South America. It shows the earthquake activity for the past week. A quake can likely be felt at a magnitude of 3.5. At 4.5, it will knock things off of shelves and bounce you around a bit--most nations with frequent tremors at this level will automatically shut down power grids until they can be securely restarted.

In the past week Central America has had two well felt quakes: one ont he Guatemala/Mexico boarder, the other between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Today, a quake of similar proportions occurred under the Altantic Ocean, and a much larger quake rattle northwestern Argentina.

The world is like a ball of fabric that is stretched and torn along various seams. When one patch moves, it places pressure on all of the other tears. Eventually they are so taut that they move, too. Were the pair of Central American quakes precursors to today's Chilean disaster? It's hard to say, but they are not unrelated. The trick is to figure out how to understand all of the patches and tears so as to predict their movements.

A curious after thought would be the set of quakes in central Oklahoma. Three tiny quakes that probably went unnoticed, and then just hours ago a 4.4 magnitude quake that would have been clearly felt by anyone within a radius of 15 miles of it's epicenter. Still a small event, but one likely to be talked about by those who were there.

This American Life

A word on a show that is a complete treasure and a gift to our world: This American Life broadcast via NPR and produced by Chicago Public Radio. It's hosted by Ira Glass, and each week they give you an hour of thoughtful amazing ideas and stories. Rarely am I ever disappointed, and more often than not reduced to tears by the narratives of our better angels and our dark hearts, of the depth of our humanity's best and worst intentions.

Two weeks ago, this tale of the life of a female chimpan- zee, Lucy, who was first purchased as a pet by a Connecticut couple, and then repatriated with a group of other chimps on an island in Gambia west Africa. It's 29 minutes of absolutely transcendent listening.

This week the entire hour was devoted to the change by the American Psycho- logical Association in 1973 of the status of homo- sexuality from a mental illness to a natural variation of speciation. It exposes the particulars of this culturally mind-shattering event through the voices and memories of some of its key players. Three of whom have actually passed into ancestry since sharing their thoughts for this story. You can listen to it on line if you missed it on the radio.

What impressed me most was the idea that the initial classification of homosexuality was based upon the effeminate stereotype of the "sissy" man. In particular, the idea that such a person is the result of an absent father and an overbearing mother. As I thought about that I wondered why a sea of trained researchers with expertise in human psychology never seemed to asked the question in reverse. I mean, besides that fact that gay men come in all shapes and sizes and personalities, why did they assume that the parents caused the child to become what he was, versus the child causing the parents to behave in the way they did? It's just a thought. But that's what I love about This American Life, it gives me so much to think about!

Where There's A Will......There's A Way!

Evgeni's World

What's an olympics without some controversy? In this case the website posting of Evgeni Plushenko featuring his "platinum" (versus Silver) medal at the Vancouver Olympics. The image which was up on his official site, is not gone. It's been replaced by an article that reads:

[Reports Tuesday said a picture of the Olympic silver medalist's latest prize was labeled "platinum of Vancouver" on Plushenko's official Web site. His medal from the Salt Lake City Games was properly identified as silver. But agent Ari Zakarian said no one had authority to do this "stupid thing," and Plushenko himself was not aware of it.

There were no labels beneath the pictures of Plushenko's three Olympic medals as of Tuesday afternoon. The Russian also has a gold from the Turin Olympics.

"It's absolutely a mistake. Evgeni has absolutely no idea about this. Absolutely no idea," Zakarian said. "Nobody from our team is awarding a platinum medal."

Plushenko just wants to move on, Zakarian said, and incidents like Tuesday don't help.

"Of course he's sad. He wanted to do his best," Zakarian said. "But it's past, it's done and he's looking forward to the next competition. This is history. It's over."]

Of course, it was HIS official website. And someone with access to it, did it, but there no mention of responsibility, OR accountability. But hey, if he and his coach hadn't both made whiny comments after the competition, no one would have taken this incident seriously in first place. Just sayin'.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Gay Marriage Comes to Maryland!

This from the Washington Post:

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) declared Wednesday that Maryland will recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere and that its agencies should immediately begin affording gay married couples the same rights as heterosexual ones.

With Gansler's decision, Maryland in effect joins the District and a handful of states including New York that recognize same-sex marriages performed in four New England states and Iowa. The District also has its own measure legalizing those unions that is expected to take effect next week.

Gansler, a supporter of legalizing same-sex marriages, was asserting his authority as the top legal adviser to state agencies to answer a question that experts say had been left unclear by Maryland law. He was responding to a legislator's request that he issue an opinion.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The "F" Word

I used the word fart to a group of kindergardeners this'd think I said the other "F" word to them. Such innocence! How wonderful.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What I'm Watching #230

Law & Order: SVU season #1. The shake out season. Very sophisticated cases upon which to cut one's teeth.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Winter Olympics History 101

To be honest, I hadn't given the Winter Olympics very much thought before they started. Perhaps being "snowed in" gave me more time to both watch and ponder. I thought the opening ceremonies were lame. But then, how on earth will any nation ever compare to China's?

Then I watched the men's normal ski jump and with each successive athlete I found myself glued to the red line and willing each young man a jump that would take him closer and closer to it. When I watched the Women's Moguls and found myself entranced by the beauty of the athleticism in the face of the condition of the venue--an Us versus Mother Nature sort of thing.

And today, while watching the Men's 15 K Cross-Country skiing, I became fascinated by something else. NBC's commentators' obsession with Norway-bashing: i.e. delighting in the lack of prowess displayed by the men from Norway in this event. In particular, one particularly obnoxious young man, Petter Northug. To hear them carry on, you'd swear that this guy was the freaking Viking who had raided their village, raped their daughters, and then bragged about it all on Oprah Winfrey!

So, I decided to actually look into the history of the Winter Olympics and which nations have dominated the event since it's inception in 1924. (I know, winter sports were part of the general olympics before then, but 1924 was the first year that they were celebrated as a unique and separate event.)

My graph depicts every team that won 10 or medals in a particular olympics from 1924 to 2006. The order of nations is chronological based on the first time and in descending order that a nation secured 10 or more medals. Finally the length of the band who's color coresponds to a particular year, also represents the number of medals by its length.

Ergo, Norway is the kid to beat. Norway dominated the first two Olympics and seven in total (a record only matched by the now defunct Soviet Union). Norway holds the most medals over all throughout the winter olympics. By comparison, the United States has only held medal top honors twice, in 1932 (the 3rd occurrence of the games held in Lake Placid, New York); and in 2002 (games held in Salt Lake City, Utah) when it shared this feat with Germany (both nations achieving a winter Olympic record of 34 medals).

Other insights: 1) The momentum seems to clearly favor far east Asia. I would look for Korea and China in particular to enter more sports and win. 2) The assertion of athletes from Canada, Italy, Austria, France, and the United States beginning in 1992 demonstrates that the movement is fluid and not Scandanavia-centric. 3) Untapped potential? Other nations have the environments, if they can produce a national will, they ought to expand the competition: Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, India, and Nepal are on the top of my list. 4) Why is Shani Davis the only Black athlete from the United States? Honestly, the inclusion of athletes of color could only serve to boost our chances. Black, Hispanic, Native, Pacific Islander, and Asian American's have much to offer and bringing them into the competitive fold by offering a wider variety of opportunities can only make the experience of the Winter Olympics richer for everyone.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Winter Olympics 2010.02

O CANADA! You've done it. You've crossed the divide and won gold on your own turf. An amazing performance. Congratulations!

What I'm Listening To #79

A bit of a blast from the past, Chuck Mangione has made some of the most up-lifting music. I fell in love with him in college. One of the only studio art courses that I took was printmaking. A fellow printmaker loved the track "Land of Make Believe" from the live recording done at Massey Hall in Toronto. I used to love to come into the studio with it playing. "Bellavia" likewise lifts my spirits, even as "Children Of Sanchez" brings me back to the ground. And it's all good.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Winter Olympics 2010.01

The Winter Olympics have begun and the first set of medals have been awarded. The very first gold medal going to Switzerland's Simon Ammann. After the tragic death of Nodar Kumaritashivili while practicing on the luge track, the innocent exuberance of Simon Ammann at winning his 3rd gold medal in this sport was the kind of anecdote for tragedy that this Olympics desperately needed.

The silver medal in the Men's 5,000 Speed Skating for Korea's Lee Seung-Hoon demonstrated that there are wonderful surprises yet to occur, even as the Netherland's Sven Kramer's gold medal in the same event thrilled a nation long diminished of any global influence, but never short on nationalist pride and identity. In the first 3 events to medal, nine medals where awarded and citizens of nine different nations received them.

This is a really exciting thing. The winter olympics tends to interest me more than the summer just because it seems like a more intimate affair. And yet winter is not something that most of the world experiences.

There are, as anyone who watched the decidedly lack luster opening ceremonies knows, 82 nations participating. However, there is absolutely no chance that an old man from Mexico or a kid from Ghana is going to win anything. And that's still the part that makes me sad: the tokenism. Of 82 nations, 38 of them have 5 or fewer athletes...go to 7 or less and you eliminate over half of the participants.

Sham or Inspiration? I don't know. I'm bi-polar on it. It is, either way, a helluva expensive party!

Lucille Clifton, 1936 - 2010 R.I.P.

I just learned of the death of poet Lucille Clifton earlier today. Her death is being attributed to an infection following surgery. She was 73; the same age as my mother when she died. Twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, twice serving as poet laureate of the state of Maryland, winner of the National Book Award in 2001, and first African American woman to receive the Ruth Lilly Prize for lifetime achievement from the Poetry Foundation, she was a poet whom I admired greatly.


(at St. Mary's)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

~ Lucille Clifton, 1936 - 2010

Good mother, may "that" be all you dreamed it would, and may your soul be bathed in the light of all generous goodness in perpetuity.

They're Back....

I awoke this morning to discover four deer consuming the vining "hedgerow" in my backyard. I'd been expected them. With the snow, food's not been easy for them to find, and my yard has long been a bit of a welcome cafe. Conveniently located just off of New Hampshire Avenue, they can always grab a bite before boarding the K14 bus into the District.... Oh bother.

It frustrates me, because they don't belong here. For the longest time, they weren't here. And now they're here again. My Palestinian refugees. My holocaust survivors. Wise and inventive, needy and indiscriminate. Who died and made me God?

What I'm Listening To #78

René Marie is a local jazz singer who's wisely recorded her music without regard to the 3.5 minute standard format. 6 to 10 minutes and you've been to church! She has two versions of the folk-gospel traditional "How Can I Keep From Singing?" and both stun the soul. The version on this album is done a Capella with such a pristine and restrained power that you just have to close your eyes and float with your arms outstretched for fear of remaining attached to the ground in the moment of rapture. The other version begins solo voice and gently slides into a Caribbean lilt that bounces like the breeze on a perfect beach. Rather than float above the ground, it leaves you feeling the cool sand between your toes as you suddenly discover that your hips really can salsa after all! They are both miraculous deliveries of one of my favorite songs.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Theme?

I seem to have stumbled upon a little pre-Valentine's Day theme: The Condom!

Back in 1990 during my first visit to Europe, I stayed with a friend of a friend in Amsterdam for a week. On one the first tours of the city he took me by the Condomerie. The first and only store dedicated to the sale of condoms. It was something that he was very proud of and bespoke the wonderfully liberal ethos of his chosen home town. At that point having had no real exposure to or need for the little rubber "gloves", I found the visit silly.

But in all fairness, it's a real place that still exists today, and offers a wide variety of product both real and novelty. Imagine the look on your lover's face with Bart Simpson jumps up to great him or her...OR speaking of jumping, how about an adorable kangaroo? Especially fair dinkum for when you crack onto your special Aussi Sheila or Bloke.

Some even come wrapped like lollipops. Flavored lollipops....mmmm banana!

They have a website that even includes a helpful guide on how to size the most appropriate condom for you!

Population Control Profelactics

Yup, just when you thought there was no new way to promote species diversification and remind us all of the price of extinction (and just in time for Valentine's day, too!), the good people at the Center for Biological Diversity bring us "Endangered Species Condoms! In their own words: "Through a network of more than 3,000 volunteers, the Center for Biological Diversity is distributing 100,000 free Endangered Species Condoms in all 50 states to highlight how unsustainable human population growth is driving species extinct at a cataclysmic rate." And to think we always thought that the good folk at CBD were just a bunch of kill-joys.... Coming to a single's bar near you!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Midweek Funny #5

Creative Marketing?

White OUT!

From the back door at midday. The blizzard was in full force. There's a large red brick church just beyond the trees, but you couldn't make it out today. Toward the bottom of the picture is the top of the fence, it's 48" high, and drifted over on the rightside.

Looking through my front door. The snow even stuck to the doors and windows to make it even more dramatic.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

What I'm Watching #229

"Firefly" is a science fiction series that made is debut and demise in 2002. My friend T. turned me on to it. I have watched the first 4 episodes. It had potential, but without the pre-requisite blockbuster audience, nothing that could have been realized.

Science fiction is really hard to make. With the end of series like Star Trek (Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager, and Enterprise), Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and Farscape, it's really REALLY hard to be original. EVERYTHING Is derivative. The challenge to me seems to be how to make compelling episodes with futuristic scientifically based plot twists and lines that don't just devolve into space soap opera. That's where Babylon 5 failed, and to some extent Battlestar Galactica.

Moot point as it is, the jury on this is still out for me regarding Firefly. It's not only trading on the Sci-Fi cliches at this point, but also stealing liberally from cowboy flicks and Kung Fu pics! When does too much deriving become ridiculous? Or can it create something original in its multi-breeding? My God, that's like a freaking metaphor for the United States on the cusp of our first census of the new millennium.... CHA!

More Icicle Predictions

This one off of the front porch!

Monday, February 08, 2010

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Ice Cycles

The storm over the weekend was barely over before the snow on my roof began to slide and melt and form ice cycles. This one reached 4 solid feet by the time I took this picture of it. The photo was shot through the screen mesh of the window, which explains the cross-hatching.

I come from a people of wive's tales. And the story says that the length of the ice cycle predicts the depth of the next snow storm. 48"!? Let's hope not!

Congratulations Saints

Saints won decisively. Two beleaguered cities, both needing the boost. The victory is sweet...and there are no losers. Only winners get this far.

First Snow Plow Sighting!

@2:30 PM, the first snow plow came to 13th Avenue. Yeah!

Weird Phenomena

This storm did something to the wires that was very weird and interesting. It coated them like candles being dipped in wax! Here's a pic of the electric, phone and cable lines coming into my home. The diameter of the sleeve is a good 5 to 6". I've seen snow form mounds along the top of wires, but can't remember ever seeing it envelop them like this. And before the sun and wind began knocking them down, virtually every overhead line looked like it was dealing with a major case of elephantitis.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Ice Is Nice

Ice And here newly minted cicles form a batch of stalactites off the snow ridge sliding off of the back of my house.

Super Bowl Wishes!

Here's hoping that the Super Bowl will be a jam packed fun fest full of fabulous plays and daring-do decisions that will keep both the fans and players excited and guessing as to what will come about in the end! Cheers!

First Views From Snowmaggedon Ground Zero!

This view of my backyard from ground level makes me think of the forest with the snow queen from Narnia. Like a magical place where friendly satyrs and enchanted folk lurk amidst the snow laden branches. The lump in the lower left hand corner reminds me of a Beehive hair-do which my birdbath is now sporting! The rim of the bowl on the bath is 24" and the snow at ground level is almost to the top of the rim, so say 26" (unofficially).

Looking down from the second floor of my home on the backyard you can also see how the snow have covered the deck.

The frozen fountain in the front yard also sports a beehive! My truck sits ensconced in the snow just beyond it.

A bird's eye view of the same. You can see the tracks left by the last vehicle to venture down the street (probably 3 to 4 hours before this picture was taken). Stepping into them the snow only went to the base of my calf, the snow outside of the furrow passed my knee and frankly took me by surprise when I first stepped out into it.

Here is a total from the side of my front walk. I can't open the back door, so no testing the snow on the deck! It comes in at 23.5". The snow depth behind it is a little higher, but the angle of the camera distorts that a bit.

Here is a total from my front stoop. It comes in at 30.25". The truth lay somewhere in the middle. Though the wind wasn't ferocious, it did cause a little drifting. My neighbor found a spot that he felt was representative of his yard and plunged the yardstick to a depth of 27".