Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What Color Is Your Parachute

So my job will soon be ending.

Which is weird.

Until now I've always left jobs, not taken contracts when offered, or worked positions where it was known ahead of time when the end date was scheduled.

For the first time none of these is the case. My school said they'd appreciated the work I did, thought I was a good teacher and professional, and would not be renewing my contract.

On the advice, then, of family I picked up a copy of What Color Is Your Parachute. Now, unfortunately, a day or so after I took it out of the library the author died. But I'm not the superstitious sort, and so I pressed forward undaunted.

The book, essentially, is really good at helping you do the following: figure out what sort of person you are, then figure out what makes you happy. Check to see if what you do for work now aligns with what makes you happy, if not, what steps do you need to take to get there?

Most interesting, to me, was an exercise where you write out seven of your happiest experiences / achievements. Times when you were proud of your accomplishments and felt it in a joyful form.

Only one of the seven which came to mind (last) had to do with education.

When you then figured out which skills you had, and which were the ones which lined up with your happy stories, none of my teaching skills lined up.

For example, I have a fairly prodigious memory, am a very good editor, and talented at getting students to empathize with difficult historical perspectives. But these, or their constituent parts, typically don't factor in to what made me happy.

The rule for the happy achievement stories was that they had to be events - not "getting a college degree" for example (which would take years and far too many aspects to tabulate effectively) or, in my case, "reading the Classics" or some such. Here, then, with tweaks to protect the innocent, are my seven stories:

1. Biking with Jane on Palau Ubin

Went to the ferry, hung out, had no real plan. When the ferry was ready to go we left and enjoyed the passage. At the port we got food at a nice shack, again unplanned, then decided on a whim to get bikes to rent and then go around the island.  I was blissfully happy watching Jane bike in the afternoon light on that sleepy tropical isle. We went where we wanted to go, and eventually found our way back to the port, returned the bikes, and took the ferry back.

2. USVI Hike to Waterlemon Key

Used the map at the hostel-place to find the most direct route. Found the road, got lost, found the paths again. Hiked up the side of the mountain, had an incident with the hermit crabs and orb weavers. Torrential rain but continued unperturbed and determined. Found the Key, took some photos, headed back to the town, got a nice meal ducking out of the rain.

3. Framing and Flower Arranging at the Monastery

For the framing, it was nice to be a liaison, to be out of the compound on official business. It required my input, my artistic sensibilities – and it was lasting, unlike sweeping or mopping which would need to be done again next week. The publicity of the pieces being hung in the main foyer was nice, the feeling of contribution – and going with a friend, so much as I could consider anyone there to be a friend. The flower arranging was so impromptu and spontaneous it was unlocking a hidden talent, an almost savant-quality. The aesthetic aspect, the thought required in the pairings of vases and flowers, the trimming – it all was to create something, rather than erase dust.

4. Teaching Improv at AJC in Singapore

The idea that I was making an impact, making a difference to these kids specifically, to the school, possibly to the island. Introducing something new, changing the game, subverting the system. It felt edgy and provocative to make fun and challenge the OBMs. The performance had a lot of students come to see, and performing was fun, after so much training. They will remember that performance, I think.

5. Hiking from GG Park to Home

As a kid in middle school I was able to piece together in my mind a good enough map of the city to figure out how to make it from the Academy to the Beach, to follow the Great Highway, then take Sloat to Ocean, and finally home. Having never done it, the challenge and spur-of-the-moment decision made it all the more exciting and increased the feeling of accomplishment. Similarly when I was able to talk my teachers into letting me stay on in the Park when we were done at the Arboretum, and get myself home. My knowledge and ability to navigate the Park, or the MUNI bus lines even if I got lost to still figure out the way, was nice.

6. Biking to Redstone

The sheer insanity of biking from Carbondale to Redstone on the side of the highway, by myself, age 14, is astounding to me. It was uphill! (But at least I got to coast back.) Sense of accomplishment, going the extra mile. Similarly on Wilderness, my willingness to keep working on the drainage project while others rested, that Boxer mentality, gave me a sense of pride and I enjoyed showing off that I could do what others couldn’t.

7. My Columbus Lesson

Getting high school students at MAUHS to ‘click’ and to tackle the biggest questions History has to offer on relativistic versus absolute ethics, all while analyzing a primary source and having a Socratic discussion was pretty awesome. I felt like I had ‘arrived’ as a teacher.

Some observations:

1) Hiking / Biking. I eschew physical exertion, most notably the gym. But I really do love taking long rambling walks, and when I was younger loved to bike. 

2) Nature. The first two happy memories I could think of were both topical. Golden Gate Park also played a role - long my favorite San Francisco destination.

3) These aren't jobs. Hiking and biking around in nature is not a paid position. Which, frankly, is rather disappointing. I wish I could spend my days wandering the City of San Francisco, driving to Marin, hiking through the woods, or exploring a park. In part this reminded me of why I got into teaching in the first place: time off for good behavior.

4) The last time I could think of when I was happy was at least four years ago, which isn't a great sign.

As it happens everything else in the book pointed to politics, which is not a huge surprise. The overriding issue was that while these moments were my happiest, they were weren't what I wanted to do. I feel a strong urge to solve the world's problems and help people. To use the example of the monastery, even when I was there, and quite happy, I couldn't shake the nagging feeling that my time would be better served working on something other than myself. 

Here I am, 30 year sold, having taught for the better part of a decade, and ready to move on. 

So I'm looking into politics. But if you can find me a job where my wandering around the City or in nature is beneficial to mankind - I'd like to hear about it.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Favorite Movie Each Year Since Birth

As my sister said on her blog: All the cool kids are doing it. I define this to mean film you want to watch on any given day, so it skews towards the 'fun' (although, clearly, not in all years) as well as giving priority to films I actually own, since that seems a good indicator.

1986: Labyrinth
1987: The Princess Bride
1988: A Fish Called Wanda
1989: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
1990: Goodfellas
1991: Hook
1992: Reservoir Dogs
1993: Groundhog Day
1994: Chungking Express
1995: Ulysses' Gaze
1996: Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie
1997: The Fifth Element
1998: The Big Lebowski
1999: Galaxy Quest
2000: Snatch
2001: Spirited Away
2002: Talk to Her
2003: Zatoichi
2004: The Incredibles
2005: MirrorMask
2006: Paprika
2007: Across the Universe, I guess? A particularly crummy year.
2008: Synecdoche, New York
2009: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
2010: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
2011: Midnight in Paris
2012: Les Miserables
2013: 12 Years a Slave
2014: Guardians of the Galaxy
2015: Spotlight
2016: Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World

There you go. Incidentally Jess and I only share *two* films in common - 1986 and 1987. Go us.

America's Cultural UNESCO Sites

Four-ish years ago I began to wonder about why America had relatively few cultural UNESCO sites - and two years ago why the 20th century is generally underrepresented by World Heritage inscriptions, at least for history. (They have a good track record for industrial and architectural heritage.)

Of course, America's cultural and historical dominance of the 20th century may be a factor.

Our currently designated cultural sites, though, aren't even American. Two are earthworks (Poverty Point and Cahokia) and three are from Southwest cultures (Mesa Verde, Taos Pueblo, and Chaco Canyon). Besides these five indigenous selections, there are two from the Spanish (La Fortaleza in Puerto Rico and San Antonio Missions) and two from the British colonial era (Independence Hall and Monticello). The only UNESCO property on the list that post-dates 1776 is the Statue of Liberty - a gift from the French. A single mixed property on the list (considered both natural and cultural) is Papahanamoukoukea. This site, of sacred value to native Hawaiians I believe as the origins of creation, has no actual structure, or monument, just cultural religious significance.

Back in 2014 I mentioned which American sites were being considered for inclusion, on the 'tentative' list, and the list hasn't changed much (they added the San Antonio missions, expanded Monticello). Below is that updated enumeration, only here it's only the cultural properties under consideration (the natural properties still on the docket are the Okefenokee, White Sands, Petrified Forest National Park, and Fagatele Bay. Except White Sands I'm down.)

1. Civil Rights Movement Sites (Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, Bethel Baptist Church, 16th Street Baptist Church)

Sure. I think the US Civil Rights movement is of global significance. Heck, Robben Island in South Africa is a UNESCO site, so why not our buildings?

2. Dayton Aviation Sites (Huffman Prairie Flying Field, Wright Cycle Company and Wright & Wright Printing, Wright Hall, Hawthorn Hill)

Sure. We invented flight, it happened at a certain place, let’s commemorate that place. Odd that it's not Kittyhawk, but whatever.

3. Frank Lloyd Wright Buildings (Unity Temple, Frederick C. Robie House, Hollyhock House, Taliesin, Fallingwater, Herbert and Katherine Jacobs First House, Taliesin West, Price Tower, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Marin County Civic Center)

Definitely. I’m a huge fan of Wright, and have been to five of these sites. Other countries have similar UNESCO designations, such as the works of Anton Gaudi in Spain or the multi-country inscription for Le Corbusier designated in 2016.

4. Fort Ancient State Memorial (Hopewell Culture National Historic Park, Newark Earthworks State Memorial)

Meh. We have two major earthwork designations already – Cahokia in Illinois, designated in 1982 for the Mississippian culture, and Poverty Point in Louisiana, designated in 2014, for the Poverty Point culture. Now, the Hopewell are very important to North American culture, so if it becomes a site that’s cool. But that should be it for earthworks.

5. Mount Vernon

I guess? I mean, if we’re talking precedents of Presidential homes in Virginia, Monticello is a very unique space that Jefferson designed. What makes Mount Vernon special? It’s postcard perfect, but so far as I'm aware it's a pretty typical plantation house. Of course, it was George Washington’s home, and that’s swell, but does that make it globally important?

6. Serpent Mound

Nope. Potentially of the Hopewell types listed above. Either meld the two sites, both located in Ohio an hour away from each other, or just go with Fort Ancient. I’m for grouping them and calling them ‘Earthwork Legacy of the Ohio Valley’. That’s an inclusion I’d support.

Note - even if these are all added, we've only gained three American sites. Mount Vernon was begun during the era of British colonialism, the two earthwork sites, again, predate our founding. I am a huge FL Wright fan, but that's an architectural heritage, not as much historical (at least we'd be int he twentieth century). So the two historical sites are for flight and Civil Rights. Both deserving, but I think we can do better.

As such I've expanded upon my original post, below, for eight sites we should definitely add of universal cultural importance. Not all are 20th century, one isn't even of the American era, but all I think are most deserving.

1. The National Mall, Washington D.C
. (Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, National Archives Building, Smithsonian Building 'The Castle')

The Washington Monument in the largest stone obelisk in the world. The Lincoln Memorial and Thomas Jefferson Building represent the influence of the Beaux-Arts in America. The National Archives Building houses our Constitution, and Declaration of Independence. The Vietnam Memorial had global ramifications on memorial design, and the Smithsonian Institute was arguably the first of its kind. This grouping of buildings has become universally recognized as quintessentially American, grouped around the lawn and reflecting pool. All have been restored or preserved under the most rigorous standards.

2. Historic San Francisco, California
(Golden Gate Bridge and Fort Point, Alcatraz, Angel Island, Presidio, Waterfront from Land's End to the Ferry Terminal, Cable Car Lines, and Chinatown)

San Francisco is an iconic, globally identifiable city. A city of incredible historic significance, it was originally settled by Native Americans five thousand years ago. Sighted by Sir Francis Drake in 1579, the Spanish arrived in the mid-1700s, and the city was the epicenter of the 1849 Gold Rush, bringing cultures from around the world to develop a unique, lively city. In the 20th century San Francisco was privy to many counter-cultures from the beats to the hippies to the gay culture the city is now famous for. Initially the seat of the United Nations, it is undoubtedly a global center.

3. Points of Departure: Gagarin’s Start and Kennedy Space Center
(Joint-party site: Kazakhstan and Florida, United States)

This joint-party site is designed to venerate one of the few positive developments of the 20th century’s Cold War in the form of the Space Race. Gagarin’s Start, part of Baikonur Cosmodrome launched both the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, and first manned spacecraft, the Vostok 1. The Kennedy Space Center was the site of the first trip to another celestial body, as well as the space shuttle program that ushered in a new age of scientific discovery and international cooperation, in the form of the International Space Station serviced by both the United States and Russia.

4. Historic New Orleans, Louisiana

The French Quarter (Vieux Carre) comprises a little less than a square mile of buildings dating from the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, with an array of cultural influences – Spanish, French, and Afro-Caribbean – that has played a critical role in America’s culture, and the world’s. Culturally the area may be most famous for Bourbon Street. Other historically significant districts besides the French Quarter include Treme, of tremendous global important as the site where jazz was invented as well as being a major influence in the blues, zydeco and Cajun culture generally. As the mouth of the Mississippi, it has played a very important role in the country’s military, economic, and cultural heritage including the development of steamboat technology in the 1800s by Robert Fulton.

5. New York City Cultural Landscape, New York
(Skyscraper Ensemble: Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Woolworth Building, Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower, Times Square, Brooklyn Bridge, United Nations Headquarters, Central Park, Seagram Building, Federal Hall National Memorial, Grand Central Terminal, 9/11 Memorial)

New York is the largest city in America; located on the island of Manhattan it is considered one of the critical ports and cultural centers of the world. Initially settled by Native Americans the Dutch created permanent settlements in the early 1600s, with the English gaining control before the 18th century. It was part of the American Revolution, and was the city where Washington was inaugurated and Congress first convened. As the entrance for millions of immigrants in the 19th century the city grew significantly, and the city became an important focus of industrial developments. The growth of Wall Street in the 20th century lead to New York becoming a financial center, while movements such as the Harlem Renaissance, the East Village, and New York’s museums solidified a cultural influence. Perhaps most famously New York is home to Broadway – the leading light in global theater. Skyscrapers reached new heights in New York, as well as other engineering feats and designs into the mid-century. Finally the adoption of New York as the location of the United Nations cemented the importance of the city in world affairs.

6. Electric Pioneers, New Jersey and New York (Thomas Edison National Historic Park and Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe)

The workshops of Edison and Tesla capture the place where the modern world began to become electrified. Menlo Park saw the invention of the commercially viable light bulb, the phonograph, and significant improvement in the technology that allowed for moving pictures. Tesla's Wardenclyffe saw a giant batshit crazy "wireless energy" tower (since demolished) but the original building - designed by noted American architect Stanford white- still remains.

7. Ford Plants, Michigan (Piquette, River Rouge, Highland)

The assembly-line, the industrial, interchangeable parts revolution began with Ford's practices of industrial design. The three locations, from what was basically a small garage (where the first Model T was made) to the massive factory structures and plants that came to dominate the 20th century's reliance on mass market economies and production and mass consumption lifestyles.

8. Historic Jamestowne and Fort Raleigh, Virginia and North Carolina (Jamestown National Historic Site and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site)

Where it all began - the foothold that started the British on the path to becoming an empire. The origins of North America's colonization, and the origins of North America's slave trade. Unfortunately this designation would be rather difficult to get the U.N.'s 'okay' to preserve. We have located the two areas - but no real surviving structures from those colonies exist (at Jamestown there's part of a church tower from the 1600s - but that's it). Arguably it would not be a viable choice, therefore. If they're feeling generous, however, they totally should.

Friday, March 17, 2017

National Film Registry 2017

Way back in 2014 I came up with twenty-five National Film Registry recommendations. Four of those recommendations have been added (well, one was added back in the 1990s, and somehow eluded me). They are:

The Big Lebowski, 1998 – Added in 2014
The Old Mill, 1937 – Added in 2015
Paths of Glory, 1957 – Added in 1992
The Princess Bride, 1987 – ​Added in 2016

So that's nice. Most of my list remains unchanged, however. Even so, my four new replacement films are found below (along with the holdovers) marked in red.​

1776 – narrative feature, 1972.
Apollo 11 Moon Landing Footage – documentary, 1969. Why?: Is the first film shot on another celestial body.
Army-McCarthy Hearings – newsreel, 1954. Why?: Documents a critical moment in American politics.
Camille – narrative feature, 1936.
The Cat Concerto – animated short subject, 1947. Why?: Exemplifies the Tom and Jerry shorts that won seven Academy Awards.
Clerks – narrative feature, 1994.
Closed Mondays – animated short subject. Why?: Exemplifies Will Vinton’s very influential Claymation style.
Der Fuehrer's Face – animated short subject, 1942. Why?: Exemplifies WWII anti-Nazi propaganda.
Everything Will Be OK – animated short subject, 2006. Why?: Typifies Don Hertzfeldt’s popular animation style.
F for Fake – documentary/narrative feature, 1973.
Fiddler on the Roof – narrative feature, 1971.
Hearts and Minds – documentary, 1974. Why?: One of the most influential American documentaries of the 1970s, with extensive footage of the Vietnam War.
I Like America and America Likes Me - experimental film/short subject, 1974. Why?: One of the defining moments of performance art by Joseph Beuys.
Jurassic Park – narrative feature, 1993.
Meat Joy – experimental film/short subject, 1964. Why?: One of the defining moments of performance art by Carol Schneemann.
The Mind’s Eye: A Computer Animation Odyssey – animated short subject, 1990. Why?: Was a pioneer in computer animation technology.
Monterrey Pop – documentary, 1968. Why?: Documents the first great American rock festival, before Woodstock.
My Dinner with Andre – narrative feature, 1981.
President Nixon's Resignation Speech – newsreel, 1974. Why?: Documents a critical moment in American politics.
Street of Crocodiles – animated short subject, 1986. Why?: Magnum opus of influential stop-motion artists the Brothers Quay.
Superman – animated short subject, 1941. Why?: Was the first film adaptation of the comic book icon, heavily influencing future depictions.
Treasure Island – narrative feature, 1950.
Tron – narrative feature, 1982.
The Truman Show – narrative film, 1998.
Twice Upon a Time – animated feature film, 1983. Why?: Only example of a feature-length animation to use lumage.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Great American Experiment

Around ten years ago I took a class on democracy which afforded me a chance to read Alexis de Tocqueville's 1835 work "Democracy in America". I'd certainly heard the phrase before reading the work, but it was a passage from the Frenchman, the closing words of the first chapter, which brought the notion into the general lexicon:

"In that land the great experiment was to be made, by civilized man, of the attempt to construct society upon a new basis; and it was there, for the first time, that theories hitherto unknown, or deemed impracticable, were to exhibit a spectacle for which the world had not been prepared by the history of the past."

That experiment is our democracy. Notice - although De Tocqueville mentions the idea of America's democracy as an experiment multiple times throughout his tome, he never once uses the precise phrase "the great American experiment". And of course it is telling that this is the metaphor he applies, in the 1830s, as the Western world was moving from the heady Enlightenment days into the scientific era of the nineteenth century. 

Is America an experiment? Or is it an idea? Or, as the President would have it, a simple geography: "A nation without borders is not a nation"? (The latter seems almost certainly to be not the case. Many definitions of nationhood are not geographically bound.) For my money, I think America is an experiment - ideas are too nebulous. Jefferson and Franklin were tinkerers, experimenters, they were looking at how to improve the world. And the experiment metaphor backs that nicely. An idea, by contrast, can be all sorts of unpleasant things. To quote from an old Disney cartoon, the state of one's mind can be quite a mess of lousy ideas: "Antiquated ideas, bungling, false concepts, superstitions, confusion..." Not to mention even more disconcerting fare, such as prejudices. Experiments propel us forward, but ideas can be clung to, statically, unchanging. People can hold all sorts of crummy ideas. Experiments are more rigorous - certain aspects of America must be tested for the experiment to continue.

So rather than have America as an idea, or ideal, let's resuscitate America as experiment. With it we will need to agree to a few hypotheses to test out. Isolate some variables. Measure results. Draw conclusions.

Originating in the heady days of the late 1700s, I think it's fair to suggest the reason we started this experiment is to create the best possible form of government, to serve the demos - the people. Democracy has a way of coupling with Utilitarianism. What is best for the majority is best for the country. Or if you prefer, use the unique leverage of democratic statecraft to minimize suffering and improve the general welfare - without a tyranny of the majority stripping rights from minorities.

That's our hypothesis - the state serves the people, not the king or ruler. The greatest benefit for the people needs to be sought. That which does not work towards this end is to be discarded, or destroyed.

Imagine a simple science experiment: You are trying to find which type of food is most nutritious for hamsters. You may hypothesize....*quickly looks up hamster facts*...seeds, grass, and small insects are best. But you'll try other things. Perhaps Twinkies are the ideal food for hamsters, only they've not had sufficient access to the sweet treats in the wild. Now, I suspect feeding hamsters Twinkies would be a disaster. But you could try. And, sure enough, when Wiggles gets very ill, you could return her to a diet of grass and seed.

What you don't do - is keep trying Twinkies.

When something doesn't work you can try again, I guess. But if Snuffles, Fancy-Pants, Mr. Big Bottom, and Whiskers all also get sick you should stop. You have proven the point - it doesn't work. Continuing to stuff hydrogenated soybean cake into their gullet at this point is just cruelty.

Liberals often make this sort of argument for America's experiments in the past forty years. Trickle-down economics doesn't work. You don't have to keep trying - and not only that, but doing so is cruel, given the consistently harmful results we've experienced over the past four decades. The experimental ethos for America is beneficial, therefore, because it should allow us to discard the crappy ideas that don't work.

Charles Lindbergh was a big hero when he flew across the Atlantic. But then he though fascism was just nifty, and his reputation has been crippled ever since. And he was not the only one - lots of Americans thought Hitler was neat-o, and we look back at them with disdain usually reserved for cockroaches and Congress. The communist menace was certainly a real concern that seemed justified - no one in the States wanted the Soviets to have nuclear capabilities or to be spying on us. Fair enough. But McCarthy started his witch-hunts, and now we view the whole era with distaste. Jim Crow and segregation - these were an experiment. A failed one. To rerun any of these past experiments would be disastrous, as we've already learned. Fascist ideology is bad for the American state. Check. Done. Witch-hunts are bad for American democracy. Check. Done. Segregation and racism are repulsive to American values. Check...

But not done yet. Racist ideas still flourish. Proof again of why ideas are more pernicious than experiments.

What I contend is this: The Republican Party, of the Nixon-Reagan mold, is an experiment that we've run enough to say it has failed. The Republican answers to our hypotheses of limiting needless suffering and increasing benefits for America's people, the Great American Experiment of Democracy, have lead to the opposite of what they claim to provide. We need to stop running this experiment. It's killing us, like the hamsters. Trumpism is the consequence - a death of democratic strongholds. The Republican Party - the party of the Southern Strategy, union busting, trickle-down economics and tax cuts for the wealthiest, of No Child Left Behind, of letting billionaires buy elections, of supporting coal over renewables, and taking away people's healthcare - this party keeps hurting the American people. Don't mistake me - I don't suggest we should be a one-party system. That's a bad idea. Very bad. But we must retire this particular experiment. The last real Republican, of the old mold, was Eisenhower. I don't mind that they tried a different system - new ideas should be tried - when they ran Nixon, and then Reagan. Like the Twinkies I think a bit of basic insight should have suggested the outcomes before the experiment was tried - you should have a good guess at what your results will be, after all. But the disasters that resulted were enough to show from those two administrations that the new ideas did not work. They did not hold up under scrutiny and experimentation.

Ideas are dangerous things. It was in 1969, one year after Nixon was elected, when the musical '1776' made the following prescient, and sobering observation: "Don't forget that most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor." This, in a sentence, is the idea behind the GOP's persistent idea. It is a bad idea. It is a selfish idea. And as we have repeatedly seen in experiments, it is an idea harmful to our nation. De Tocqueville understood this nearly two centuries ago - that what was best for the commonwealth is essentially antagonistic to the Republican ideology: namely that of enriching yourself at whatever cost, no matter the effect on other citizens. He warned people of the consequences of such a system:

"The wealthy individual, on the contrary, always escapes imprisonment in civil causes; nay, more, he may readily elude the punishment which awaits him for a delinquency by breaking his bail. So that all the penalties of the law are, for him, reducible to fines."

Nor was this all he had to say on the subject of Trumpism - the epitome of the Republican mania for self-advancement and wealth at any cost. He ends his tenth chapter with this ominous warning, which echoes through the centuries as a clear indictment of a Trumpist Republican Party:

"But beneath this artificial enthusiasm, and these obsequious attentions to the preponderating power, it is easy to perceive that the wealthy members of the community entertain a hearty distaste to the democratic institutions of their country. The populace is at once the object of their scorn and of their fears. If the maladministration of the democracy ever brings about a revolutionary crisis, and if monarchical institutions ever become practicable in the United States, the truth of what I advance will become obvious.

The two chief weapons which parties use in order to ensure success are the public press and the formation of associations."

No surprise, then, that these are the areas the Republicans are now attacking.

For American democracy to survive we must remember that it is an experiment. We can change the variables - and must do so if we wish to see whether that Great American Experiment of democracy, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

ThfusAntiquated ideas, bungling, false concepts, With
superstitions, confusion

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

NaNoReMo 2017

For a number of years the excellent John Wiswell of The Bathroom Monologues has led the charge on National Novel Reading Month (NaNoReMo). The basic idea is that you will read a novel by the 31st of March that you've been meaning to read for too long and putting off. Usually it's some work on the shelf that it's never been quite the right time for, or that classic tome you always said you'd get around to...but didn't. For the month of March we set aside excuses and read the thing.

When I was fifteen I made my 'to read' list. Of the first five books I added, I've read them all, except one, which I am now going to finally vanquish in 2017.

Atypically it is not a new author for me, which I usually try to check off for a NaNoReMo. Maybe that's why I put it aside - or perhaps it's a fear derived from the buildup over all these years of folks telling me how fabulous it is, which will instead lead to disappointment. Either way, I'm going to finally read One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. 

I encountered him in high school, first through the short story 'A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings' Freshman year and then with the novel 'Love in the Time of Cholera' as a Senior. Both were great.

I never owned a copy of Solitude until this past year, so, admittedly, there are books on my shelf that are maybe more deserving. But since this has been on the top of my 'to read' list for fifteen years, I feel as though it's an acceptable offering to the gods of literary... something or other.

Wish me luck.

Image result for gabriel garcia marquez

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Most Powerful Disney Villains

So I finally saw Moana, which was decent, if pat. But it got me thinking about what makes a good Disney villain, and then thinking about which were most powerful. So here's my ranking, open for debate, of Disney's top ten most powerful villains.

Notably, regular human types are essentially absent, and everyone on the list will have some sort of incredible or supernatural ability. Which brings us to our honorable mention:

Honorable Mention:

Yokai – Big Hero 6. The ability to control robots with your mind makes Yokai a phenomenally powerful adversary. In the realm on non-magical humans it is close to a supernatural ability. Arguably he could devastate some of the people on the list. But one incantation and – poof – your mind robots are now daisies.

10. Evil Queen

The Evil Queen from Snow White has a rather limited sort of magic – one of spells and incantations. And she uses it, destructively, on herself. Time, preparation, the need for ingredients – these all relegate her to the final spot on the list.

09. Tamatoa

The crab is able to beat the crud out of a demigod, which is pretty significant power. But…he’s a giant crab. Super strength can only go so far, and his vanity and laziness put him in a passive role. He could still easily destroy / eat a Gaston-level villain, though. So he gets a nod.

08. Madam Mim

Mim has incredible power of transformation – but she only uses it in a very limited way. Even when she uses her anamorphic skills to become a dragon her shortsightedness still undoes her. Lacking ambition, creativity, and other traits, restricts her. Could probably take Tamatoa, though.

07. Ursula

Ursula has phenomenal power once she achieves the power of the trident. But she’s significantly handicapped – she only has control over the ocean, and while storms and gigantism are not nothing…she is defeated fairly easily even at the height of her powers. Being water-bound also means easier to escape.

06. Doctor Facilier

Facilier’s sight into the past, and people’s desires, is tremendous. He also seems to possess a number of smaller magical abilities – but they all come at too steep a price. Being tied to his magical talisman, he is vulnerable. Further need of support for these gifts, which can be (and are) rescinded makes him only as powerful as his ‘friends’ will allow.

05. Maleficent

No need for spells or items of power here. Maleficent has incredible dark magic within her - she can control whole kingdoms, transform into a dragon, and summon her army of (stupid) demons. More impressive – she is not sidetracked. No distractions: she doesn’t let vanity, laziness, or a lust for power blind her from her purposes and goals.

04. Chernabog

He’s limited in a couple of critical ways – he only has power of the dead for a single night of the year – which is phenomenal, but also, seemingly, he's geographically hampered by his need to stay on his mountain. And then, you know, dawn. Since he’s only a conscious, empowered entity for that one eve, though, he could probably take most comers, even Maleficent, when he’s alive.

03. The Horned King

What’s better than controlling the dead for a night? Controlling them for longer than a night! Assuming he steered clear of Chernabog that one night, he could wreak havoc and rule the land with his undead army for the rest of the year. He would be difficult to oppose, although he is constrained by his item – the necromancer’s black cauldron. Still…compared to singing nuns and dawn…

02. Jafar

“The universe is mine to command! To control!” With universe-wielding might, Jafar-as-genie is the most powerful villain in terms of outright capacity. The servitude – the cuffs on the wrist – are what limits him. In the right hands he could destroy essentially any enemy. But in the hands of another he can only use his powers for their beneficent purposes, hamstringing his villainous nature. And, you know, itty bitty living space.

01. Hades

As a literal god Hades is pretty difficult to beat in a fair fight. He suffers from Movie Villain Syndrome, true (why not destroy Hercules by sending all of your beasties at once?) Yet he is a pretty good strategist, for example, using the Titans to help with his overthrow of Olympus. His literal hot temper is a drawback, but not a significant one. He gets very close to achieving his goal. Only another godlike power can vanquish him, making him the most powerful of Disney villains.