Thursday, November 29, 2007

Mugshot Art

The New York Public Library has a new exhibit that it's quite proud of. The exhibit is a series of fake mug shots of President Bush, VP Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld. Each holds a placard that says "Washington, DC Police" and the date that each made what are termed "incriminating statements" about the war in Iraq. The exhibit is entitled "Line Up" by artists(?) Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese.

Let's put aside the fact that the New York Library is a public institution and that the Library's disclaimer that the exhibit doesn't represent any political statement is laughable (members of the Bush administration portrayed as criminals is not a political statment?), but let's get down the important point: This is art?

Excuse me for being unsophisticated about modern art, but since when does photoshopping a picture make you an artist?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Depp and Burton Team Again for Sweeney Todd

Johnny Depp is a brilliant actor no matter what part he is playing, but something magical happens when he is teamed with director Tim Burton.

The first Tim Burton/Johnny Depp movie I ever saw was Edward Scissorhands. It's a wonderful film, and just the type of story that Tim Burton's dark vision is perfect for. Johnny Depp is Edward, a sort of modern-day Frankenstein's monster who has been created by a recluse inventor (played by the late Vincent Price). The inventor unfortunately dies before he can complete his creation and so Edward is left with knives and scissor blades instead of hands. It's a sad and touching story of a man whose outward appearance keeps people from seeing his gentle heart.

Depp's character in another Tim Burton film, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, is in some ways about as far from Edward as you can get, yet there are similarities. Willie Wonka has also lived in isolation, keeping to his factory just as Edward was confined to the inventor's old mansion. Willie Wonka has a quirky personality, and often it is hard to tell whether he is being sinister or is just completely innocent of the effect of his words. I love his expression and his delivery when he tells the children in the chocolate room that "Everything in this room is eatable, even I am eatable. But that is called cannibalism, my dear children and is in fact, frowned upon in most societies". That's probably my favorite moment in the film.

And interestingly, cannibalism figures into Depp's current teaming with Burton on Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Although it seemed a most unlikely tale for a Broadway musical, it was nevertheless a spectacular success with a score by Stephen Sondheim. In case you don't know the story, Sweeney Todd is a barber who out of a pathological need for revenge commits serial murders with his straight razor. Mrs. Lovett (played by the still-lovely Helena Bonham-Carter) is his partner in crime who disposes of the bodies by baking them into meat pies. I have already been to visit the official Sweeney Todd movie site. It will be interesting to see what Johnny Depp does with this character, but he's a versatile actor who, so far, has yet to disappoint.

To check out some video and more info you can visit Sweeney Todd on MySpace

Monday, November 26, 2007

Flogging for Saudi Rape Victim

The case of the young Saudi woman, just 19 years old, who has been sentenced to be flogged, brings up just some of the stark differences in the Saudi legal system and the legal system we so often sneer at here in the West. Too often, we feel that the criminal gets far too many rights and the victims too few.

In this case, the girl was the victim of a gang rape by seven men. She was with a friend, who happens to be male. She was alone with him in his car. For the crime of being alone with a male who is not a relative, she received a sentence of 90 lashes. When her lawyer appealed the sentence, it was increased to 200 lashes. Her lawyer was removed from the case and his license revoked. The judge chastised both the girl and her lawyer for bringing media attention to the case. If it is a just ruling, why must no one know about it?

Left without representation, and with a stiffer sentence, it is being said now that she has confessed to adulterous intentions in meeting with the male friend. There is no one to speak up for her and confirm or deny the truth of this. The male friend's sentence has remained at 90 lashes - he is unlikely to appeal it for fear of being punished more severely.

The seven men who were convicted of her rape also sexually assaulted the male friend, according to reports. What I find interesting is that under Saudi law, homosexual acts can be punishable by execution. However, in this case, the focus seems to be more on the crime of the girl from Qatif than on the actions of the rapists. The seven men originally received sentences of 10 months to five years in prison. Possibly due to the worldwide attention this case has garnered, their sentences were increased too. They now face two to nine years in prison. I say can be punishable by execution, but the judge holds full discretion as to what and how much punishment is meted out.

In the US we pound our fists and fret over the miscarriage of justice whenever a criminal is freed on a legal technicality or gains parole sooner than seems fitting considering the crime. But this is part of what makes the system just a little bit safer for all. The accused are provided with legal representation freely if they can't afford it. The convicted file endless appeals that jam the system and crowd the docket. There are overturned verdicts and commuted sentences. But as wrong as it is when criminals are set free or lightly punished, how much faith could we have in the system if any appeal was likely to be answered with a harsher sentence?

Because we are free to do so, we look at our society, our government and our legal system and point out flaws and needed improvements. We point out mistakes, we speak out against injustices. It's important in all this to remember, that it is just this ability to publicly name and try to correct what we perceive as being wrong with our society is exactly what is right about it.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Defending Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving, so designated by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It's traditionally a day when American families gather together to give thanks for all that they have. Thanksgiving embodies the spirit of peace, cooperation and gratitude. Well, it used to anyway.

The first Thanksgiving, in 1621, was truly a heartfelt affair. When the Pilgrims first arrived, the natives eyed them suspiciously. For all they knew, these people may be slave traders. By the end of that first winter, nearly half of the 102 pilgrims who had made the trip were dead. It was then that Squanto and the Wampanoag Indians stepped in to help the ragged and weary pilgrims by teaching them about the land and what to eat and grow.

The bountiful harvest that year was a time of great thanksgiving, and the surviving remnant of the Mayflower's passengers were sincerely grateful. The harvest meant they would live through the harsh winter.

Nowadays, history is rewritten daily according to the current political atmosphere. In these days of self-flagellation over our politically incorrect ancestors, we are told that the Pilgrims were already trying at this early stage to rob the natives of their land and the whole Thanksgiving feast was a cover.

In Seattle, a school district sent out a letter to employees debunking Thanksgiving "myths", explaining that it was really a time of mourning for Native Americans. The list includes the assertion that the settlers were not seeking religious freedom at all, they were just dissidents and "rigid fundamentalists". Further the letter asserts that the puritans had determined before they set out to steal the land from the native inhabitants.

One of the contentions is that the Pilgrims never invited the Natives to the feast. Indeed, Massasoit showed up uninvited with 90 men. He was there because the Indians thought the settlers were gathering for war. When they discovered it was a party, they went out and killed five deer and brought them back as a contribution. The myth-busters say that they had to do this, because the settlers didn't have enough food. Of course not, 91 unexpected guests had just shown up. It was only polite that they bring their own food.

That's actually a very nice dispelling of a myth, the fact that although the Indians were suspicious of these Europeans, they discovered that they were not planning to wage war as they feared, they were simply giving thanks and throwing a party to celebrate their harvest and their survival.

What is it then, that makes Thanksgiving so odious to liberals? Simply, that the Pilgrims (puritans, separatists, whatever) were giving thanks to God. The act of giving requires a recipient, and these people were thanking their God for their safety, their lives and the food that would insure their survival.

This early feast was simply a celebration. It was not a time to plan for ultimate takeover, and the events to come were not even suspected at that time. There were only about 50 of them left after that first winter, they were only just learning the skills necessary to live in this new land. How likely is it that they were already plotting complete conquest? They were simply happy to be alive.

Thanksgiving should be celebrated exactly in the manner of this early feast. A time when people reflect on the difficulties they have overcome, take respite from their daily struggles, celebrate their lives and those of their family and friends and give thanks for all they have, instead of wallowing in discontent over what they are lacking.

So, Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers. Here's hoping that you and yours are celebrating a time of good health and happiness.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

San Fran Plans No Man's ID card

In their first brash acts of freedom, youth in the sixties shrugged off stereotypes and convention regarding hair styles and fashion. The older generation found the whole thing a bit confusing, and eventually became stereotyped themselves by their most-asked question: "is that a boy or a girl?". But nowadays, a woman in slacks or a man with a ponytail doesn't faze us a bit. We've all become liberal thinkers. But are we liberated enough to dispense with gender altogether?

According to this article, the city of San Francisco thinks its ready. Starting next year, municipal ID cards will not specify gender. Applicants for the ID card will still need to know when they were born and their names, but not their gender. This will make it easier on people who haven't discovered their gender, are ashamed of their gender, are likely to change their gender or still haven't quite decided on a gender. The ID cards will still carry photos, so it is always possible that anyone looking at the ID may assign you a gender based on your picture. There is no legal recourse in place yet to punish people who may mentally assign you a gender based on their antiquated and politically incorrect perceptions of gender and its importance. Perhaps they can cover that with state-mandated diversity training for people classified as "old-fashioned".

But check this out:

Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who introduced the measure, says illegal immigrants will benefit most. They will be able to open bank accounts and use the card for city services such as checking out library books.

Does it make you a little more uneasy about illegal immigrants to know that we expect an influx of them who aren't sure if they are a boy or a girl?

Friday, November 16, 2007

It's unusual to find a Hollywood celeb espousing a conservative viewpoint. But as this article in The Washington Times points out, it may be that it's a little like career suicide for a celebrity to voice anything but the standard liberal line.

Consider this:

One high-profile celebrity, when asked about her political views, even had her lawyers declare "our client's rights of privacy and other legally protectable intangible rights" and warn that she should not be labeled a Republican.

Left-leaning Hollywood has long been vocal about their political views, Barbra Streisand had a dedicated fax line to Congress as she poked and prodded legislators with her instructions for how they should vote. But apparently, to be labeled "Republican" is deadly in Hollywood, worse than being a wife-beater, a drunkard and a puppy strangler all rolled into one.

The whole attitude smacks of McCarthyism but the pendulum has swung completely to the opposite side. Communism in Hollywood would be okay, as is almost any form of extremism, radicalism, activism, belief in UFOs, and probably even believing you are a UFO. There's really only one great sin in Hollywood. Not being a kook. That'll get you booted right out.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

How Hillary Runs Things

First you deny. Then, if confronted with the facts, you skew them and say that it didn't happen that way, it was some other way. Finally, if you must, you admit that it happened but it never happened before and it won't happen again. Then when it happens again, you deny.

That's the basic game plan in the Hillary Clinton campaign. First there was the waitress at the Maid-Rite in Toledo,Ohio who served Clinton and staff at the lunch counter, but didn't get a tip. The response from the campaign was initially that they left a $100 tip on the credit card, but the receipt showed none. Then they said that it may have been left in cash, however, the cash was not seen by any restaurant staff. After a campaign staffer argued with the waitress, Anita Esterday, on the phone and insisted a tip was left, another campaign staffer was sent to bring her $20 cash. That's not even 20% of their $157 tab - heck, that's not even 15%. Worse yet, the staffer who contacted Ms. Esterday tried to convince her that other restaurant workers must have pocketed the money, thus attempting to take friends who have worked together for years pit them against one another.

On Tuesday Clinton spoke at Grinnell College in Iowa where student Muriel Gallo-Chasanoff reported that she was given a prepared question by a Clinton aide who requested that she ask the question. The student stated that Clinton was directed by aides to call on her during the question and answer period. Initially denied by the Clinton campaign, the story was later acknowledged as true with a promise that it was not standard policy and wouldn't happen again.

And then, it happened again. This time it was Geoffrey Mitchell who was spoken to by a campaign staffer and it was suggested he ask a specific question about funding for the war in Iraq. Mr. Mitchell declined to ask the question, stating he had one of his own he would rather have answered. Clinton spokesman Mo Elliethee told Fox News that indeed, Clinton aide Chris Hayler had spoken to Geoffrey Mitchell but that was because they knew each other and had a previous relationship but there was no attempt to plant a question.

When contacted by Fox, Geoffrey Mitchell said that he knew Hayler by name only from Sen. Bayh's campaign, but had never met him before.

Your turn, Hillary.

Friday, November 09, 2007

You Have The Right to Be Popular

In 20 states it is legal to discriminate against smokers. That is, regardless of whether they abstain from smoking in the workplace or while on work hours, if they light up at home or in their car, or at a party, you can fire them. One Florida company recently made the news for its policy against smokers.

Westgate Resorts' president and CEO, David Siegel, told Local 6 News "When I found out it was legal to discriminate against smokers, I put the policy in place".

But it doesn't stop there, Siegel added that if he found out it was legal to discriminate against obesity, he wouldn't hire fat people either or he would fire them for gaining weight. This on the heels of a study that says that overweight people tend to live longer than normal weight or underweight people.

The issue at stake, in case nobody has noticed, is civil rights. This is America and citizens engaging in legal behavior on their own time is no business of an employer unless it represents a conflict of interest - like doing consultations for a competitor. Smoking may be unhealthy, it may be unpopular, but as long as cigarettes may be legally sold and purchased by adults, then aside from invoking laws against smoking in the workplace, no company should have the right to dictate what an employee does in their time away from work.

The comments on this story run heavily against Mr. Siegel's policy and many of the comments are from non-smokers who are able to grasp the bigger issue, which is personal freedom under attack.

Watch the Local 6 video on the site. It shows Siegel's employees having furtive cigarette breaks away from the building, but of note is that a few of these employees, including Siegel himself, might also be in danger if he could fire people for being overweight.

As an applicant to the company who was rejected for being a smoker pointed out, it's about your rights too. Today it is smoking, what will it be tomorrow?

First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up,
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left
to speak up for me.

anti-Nazi poem written by Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Live Long and Fat

There's an article in the New York Times about a study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Briefly put, overweight people live longer than normal weight and underweight people.

They use data from 2004 to show that 100,000 fewer deaths occurred among overweight people than would have occurred if they were of normal weight. Of course, their definition of overweight is based on the government's standard of BMI, or body mass index. BMI can be a flawed measure because it doesn't take into account the amount of weight that is muscle mass so that Arnold Schwarzenegger, for instance, would have a BMI in the overweight range.

BMI in the 25 to 30 range is considered "overweight" but may be optimal for longevity

However, the research clearly indicates that fewer overweight people die from diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and even certain types of cancer. The leading cause of death for overweight people is heart disease, as might be expected. Still, they are living longer.

I found this quote from Dr. JoAnn Manson of Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston, to be very interesting. According to Dr. Manson, "Health extends far beyond mortality rates".

I know the point she is making is that fat people are miserable, non-joggers who don't walk fast or look good and so in today's society, their "quality of life" is considered sub-standard. But where is "quality" when it comes to a human being? In the body or the mind? If a vegetarian marathon runner whose BMI is optimal and whose toned and sleek body is the envy of athletes everywhere develops Alzheimer's and slips into the dark world of dementia, is his quality of life better than someone who doesn't exercise but has all his faculties?

I know there is a case to be made for living well until you die rather than languishing on a sick bed for years in a care facility, but there is still little sense to be made of the "health extends far beyond mortality rates" quote. I don't care how you slice it, the living person of whatever weight or activity level is still healthier than the dead person next to him.

One point may be that the BMI the government considers overweight is set too low, but more importantly, society makes thinness too high a priority. Previous studies have shown that especially in older adults, a little extra weight is protective against illness. Still we can't help admiring thin people so much we are literally dying to be one of them.

No one should set being fat as a goal in life, assuming they will live longer, but maybe society needs to get the focus off stick-thin bodies and onto important things.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Look in the Sky, It's a Bird, It's a Plane - It's a Cow?

If you're driving along a winding road and you see this road sign, your first response might be hysterical laughter but the sign does warn of a known (however, rare) road hazard. Yes, a cow did just recently topple off a cliff in Manson, Washington and crashed into a traveling vehicle, narrowly missing the occupants.

The late cow fell 200 feet off the cliff and landed on the hood of Charles and Linda Everson's minivan. The couple escaped serious injury. The same could not be said for the cow. See the AP story and photo here.

A man walking along the street in Japan was not as lucky as the Eversons. A woman who committed suicide by jumping off a department store roof (they didn't have her size?) landed on the hapless pedestrian, sending him to the hospital with critical injuries. The police determined that the jump was intended as a suicide since the woman had first removed her shoes. Removing one's shoes is a common tradition before suicide in Japan. Thank goodness. A woman landing on you from several stories up is bad enough, but a high heel coming at you from that height would be deadly.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Trick or Treat

Women are known to love chocolate, some are even addicted to its dark sweetness, its ability to elevate mood and delight the senses. But a couple of women in Alaska went a bit far to satisfy their chocolate cravings on Halloween which led to a bit of craven behavior.

According to this story, two women wearing ski masks hopped out of a truck and robbed a group of 10 and 11-year-old trick or treaters at gunpoint. They fired a shot into the air and threatened the kids, then took six bags of candy and an iPhone. Police have taken one 20-year-old suspect, Amber Martin, into custody.

It's hard to figure out just where to start. If you're a 20-year-old woman and you think bullying little kids is cool, then you have some emotional development issues. If you're 20 and you need a gun to bully little kids, you are pretty pathetic. If you go out on the one night that every house has a bucket of candy that's free for the taking and you rob little kids at gunpoint to get a bag of treats, you're just stupid.

Remember the good old days when all we worried about on Halloween were sick, twisted individuals who would put razor blades in apples and stick needles in candy bars?

Friday, November 02, 2007

More Bathroom Crime

A bathroom sex sting in Daytona Beach Florida nabbed mayoral candidate Mike Shallow and high school teacher David Behringer as well as some assorted known sex offenders. Police who conducted the sting say they received a tip that lewd conduct was going on in a second floor bathroom at Sears in the Volusia Mall.

All nine men arrested were charged with lewd and lascivious conduct and exposure of a sexual organ.

"Most everything that's occurring is nonverbal," said Sgt. Jeff Hoffman, supervisor of the criminal suppression team.

Offenders coughed or sneezed, tapped their feet, sometimes under the stall beside them, or made loud zipper noises to attract attention from others interested in engaging in sexual acts, Hoffman said.

Police did not say however, that any of the men were charged with coughing, sneezing, tapping their feet or zippering their pants.

Strange that they actually waited for them to expose a sexual organ before calling it lewd and lascivious behavior, something that police in Minneapolis didn't do before arresting Senator Larry Craig.

Which brings us back to what evidence there must be of a crime before someone is led away by a police officer. At least in Daytona Beach, they wait until everything is umm... out in the open shall we say?