Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Quote of the Day/Week- Joe Montana

Since the Super Bowl is coming up on Feb. 3rd as the New England Patriots face the New York Giants, we are going to quote Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks for the next four weeks.

Joe Montana, 55, won four Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s, including wins over other star quarterbacks including Dan Marino (Miami Dolphins), John Elway (Denver Broncos) and Boomer Esiason (Cincinnati Bengals).

He played college football for Notre Dame (the image above is of Montana in a Notre Dame jersey):

"Confidence is a very fragile thing."

Quote of the Day/Week- Steve Jobs

Today, we conclude our month-long series of quotes from people who passed away within the calendar year of 2011.

Originally, we were contemplating quoting Kim Jong-Il, the ruthless North Korean dictator whom we actually quoted in 2010 when we were quoting one person from all 32 of the countries in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. We simply couldn't find anyone else from North Korea to quip.

Our quote today though comes from Steve Jobs (1955-2011) who died at age 56 on
Oct. 5, 2011 from complications due to cancer. He was a techno wizard innovator responsible for many gadgets, such as the iPhone, the iPod and the i Pad. He is also the subject of an acclaimed, best-selling biography by Walter Isaacson.

Jobs was also technically (pardon the ironic use of the word) a Middle Eastern American since his biological father was from Syria. Isaacson said that ironically Jobs unknowingly met him as the Syrian immigrant ran a deli near Palo Alto, California,the town with Stanford University where Jobs resided.

Here is the quote:

"Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected."

Monday, January 30, 2012

Silly Photo to Fill Space_ John Harvard

Today, we turn our attention to Ivy League sports since the men's basketball team for Harvard University (18-2) is nationally ranked, and really kicking butt. The school mascot is indeed John Harvard!

The Harvard Crimson (that is the school's nicknamed, we double-googled) beat arch rival Yale University on the road in New Haven, Conn., for just the second time in 13 ties by a 65-35 score. The team then turned around and won another road game at Brown by a 68-59 score.

Steve Mioundou-Missi, a junior from Cameroon (yes, we double-googled his name too), was named the Ivy League men's basketball player of the week.

Surprisingly, Harvard's men's hockey team had a home game against Yale on Friday, and the ice guys were also victorious as they beat the Bulldogs 4-3. The Crimson then beat Brown at home by a 3-1 margin on Saturday.

Harvard also has a strong women's hockey team this year, and they beat Yale 8-0 and Brown 6-0 (both road games) over the weekend.

This lead to Kaitlin Spurling, a junior from Byfield, Mass., being named as Harvard Athlete of the Week. Spurling scored four goals against Yale and two goals against Brown.

The men's basketball team will face Princeton on the road for nationally televised game on ESPN-U on Sat., Feb. 11 at 7:00 p.m. The last Ivy League men's basketball team to make the Final Four were the Pennsylvania Quakers in 1978.

Harvard also has water polo team's for both men and women, and recently the women's team traveled to Hungary.

Quote of the Day/Week- Vincent van Gogh

We conclude our month-long series of quips from famous artists with a quote from Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), though we are not good at math, we just realized that we have outlived the Dutch master!

There is a new van Gogh exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and we were hoping to read a "Wall Street Journal" piece about it, but someone in our office threw it away by accident (whoever it was, Javier the Intern shall be blamed!). But, there is a similar article from "Newsweek" on the web which seemingly suggests that the exhibit is meant to make the art museum gazer if van Gogh was sane or not.

Here is his quote, and quite frankly we don't care about a dead man's sanity status:

"I often think that the night is more alive and more colorful than the day."

SIDEBAR: Thanks to the PRI/public radio program "The World," which airs on many NPR stations here in America, we have some catch phrases for the day: this coming from a piece about fashion and coupling in Pakistan. These catch phrases are: "What the fatwa" and "ghetto hijab."

And, for some reason, Ferris Bueller, the fictional high school teenager played by Matthew Broderick in the 1985 movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," is trending today on Twitter.

Quote of the Day/Week- Stephen Hawking

Yes, we were gone for a while, but we assure it was not to a former republic of the Soviet Union, though we did travel to Azerbaijan in 2008.

Today, we turn our attention to American astronomer Stephen Hawking to conclude our month of quotes from famous scientists. Hawking, who turned 70 on Jan. 8, was the subject of the acclaimed Errol Morris documentary "A Brief History of Time" (1991).

Here is the quote from Hawking:

"It is not clear that intelligence has any long-term survival."

And, for those of you in Nassau, The Bahamas, hope you are enjoying your Cuban cigars which are illegal here in America.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

In the News_ American Postage Stamps Increase

On Monday, here in the United States, standard stamps for letters and bills will increase from 44 cents to 45 cents, though most stamps are now 'Forever Stamps," meaning they can be used even if stamp rates increase.

This image above is of the 1997 Marilyn Monroe stamp, which was part of the Legends of Hollywood stamp series.

SIDEBAR: Kudos to soccer star Clint Dempsey for being the first American to score three goals in the English Premiere League. His team Fulham defeated New Castle 5-2 yesterday.

In Turkish soccer, Istanbul powerhouse team Besiktas beat Antalyaspor 2-1 thanks to two goals from Portuguese nationals: Hugo Almeida (63rd min) and Manuel Fernandes (89th min).

Our favorite team in the Turkish league, Bursaspor fell to Sivasspor 2-1, but Argentinian star Pablo Battalla did kick one for the Crocodiles. Interestingly enough, the game-winning goal for Sivasspor, a team from eastern Turkey, came from Azerbaijani national Cihan Ozkara, who I mistook for a Turkish player (names are similar in both countries).

Friday, January 20, 2012

PSA_ Angry Birds More Addictive Than Heroin

The video/computer game "Angry Birds," which was developed in Finland_ of all places (I thought the game was of Japanese origin since the birds act like kamikaze pilots) way, way back in 2009 (apparently three years is like back in Paleozoic period in terms of technology), is in my view addictive.

I should point out that I've never engaged in recreational drug activity, and my claim that Angry Birds is more addictive than heroin is meant to be humourous (we used the English spelling to see if you are paying attention!).

I could not find any stories on the web about Angry Birds Addiction in terms of psychological research studies, however the web site "Forever Geek" published an online story on Sept. 13, 2011, which said that single people are more likely to get hooked on the game since it supposedly allows for the release of anger and tension.

Angry Birds has reportedly sold more than 12 million editions worldwide, and there are seasonal variations of the game for occasions such as Halloween and Christmas.

The other night I heard on the BBC that a satire of the game called "Angry Brides" has become popular in India. The game takes aim (no pun intended) at the highly controversial, archaic dowry system which was actually outlawed in India 50 years ago, but it is still apparently practiced in some circles.

The dowry system calls for the bride to give gifts for both the groom and his entire family. Among the slingshot items in "Angry Brides" are broomsticks, stiletto high heels and frying pans.

I just recently started playing "Angry Birds" and yes, the game is quite addictive. It almost reminds me of when I played "Ms. Pac-Man" as a teenager some 25 years ago.

Quote of the Day/Week- Amy Winehouse

We continue quoting famous people who died in 2011 with a quip from English soul/pop diva Amy Winehouse (1983-2007) who died at age 27; her last public concert performance was in Belgrade, Serbia, on June 18. She passed away on July 23.

Winehouse was known for her signature song "Rehab," which was a huge hit in 2007 as well "You Know I'm No Good" and "Stranger Than Me." Since much of her singing was encouraged by pop music of the '60s, Scottish singer Adele has said that Winehouse was a major influence for her.

Here is the quote from Winehouse:

"Girls talk to each other like men talk to each other. But girls have an eye for detail."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Quote of the Day/Week- Jackson Pollock

Today, for our series on quotes from famous artists, we are quipping the great American abstract expressionist master Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) who died in a car accident at age 44. On our other blog, we are quoting Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988).

Both artists were subjects of acclaimed independent films. The movie "Basquiat" (1996), which features David Bowie playing Andy Warhol who was a mentor to him in real life, was directed by Julian Schnabel, an artist himself who was also a contemporary of Basquiat when the artist was evolving from a graffiti artist to a no-expressionist in New York in the early '80s.

"Pollock" (2000), was directed by Ed Harris who also played Jackson Pollock in the film. For the role, Harris gained 30 pounds during the late stages of filming to make himself look like Pollock when the artist became a full-fledged alcoholic.

The above image is of Pollock's painting "Gothic" (1944); here is his quote:

"I have fear of making changes, destroying the images, etc., because the painting has a life of its own."

Quote of the Day/Week- Anton Leeuwenhoek

Though his name is just slightly less difficult to spell than that of acclaimed Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul ("Blissfully Your's), we are quoting the great Dutch biologist Anton Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) today as part of our month-long series of quotes from scientists and artists. Previously, on this blog, we quoted Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin for this series.

Here is the quote from Leeuwenhoek (yes, we got it right; it takes a few tries though!):

"A man has always to be busy with his thoughts if anything is to be accomplished."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My Choices for the Best 20 Films of 2011

Here is the list without commentary:

1. The Tree of Life

2. Melancholia

3. The Descendants

4. Hugo

5. Project Nim (documentary)

6. Tabloid (doc.)

7. Submarine

8. Midnight in Paris

9. The Skin I Live In (Spain)

10. The Ides of March

11. Senna (doc.)

12. The Troll Hunter (Norway)

13. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011 version)

14. J. Edgar

15. Moneyball

16. "Bal/Honey" (Turkey)

17. Beginners

18. Drive

19. The Adventures of Tintin

20. Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Silly Photo to Fill Space- VW Beetle

We were hoping to go to the Volkswagen Beetle Show at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, NC, over the weekend, but we were a bit stunned that the entry fee was $15! And, as it is, we had left the camera, in a hotel room in Welch, West Virginia (Yes, we are saying this in jest).

But, we can leave you with this image of a 1968 Beetle. For political buffs, this was the year that Republican Richard Nixon beat Democratic senator Hubert Humphrey to win the presidential election and well, the rest really is history.

Spoecial Quote of the Day/Week- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Since all the public libraries in Rock Hill, SC*, where I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of Jon Huntsman** at the same Golden Corral where Fred Thompson*** spoke four years ago, were closed yesterday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we are quoting the great Civil Rights leader today instead:

"A man can't ride your bak unless it's beat."

*- Not really where I am at

**- For those of you in Karachi, Pakistan, and other places far away from American shores, the former Utah governor dropped out of the Republican presidential race over the weekend.

***- This part is true, Fred Thompson did indeed have a rally at the Golden Corral in Rock Hill, SC, but he still didn't win the South Carolina Republican Primary.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Quote of the Day/Week- Elizabeth Taylor

This month we are quoting famous people who died in 2011, and we may very well continue that into next month. In February, we are also hoping to quote Oscar winners. Dame Elizabeth Taylor who died on March 23, 2011, at age 79, was a two-time Oscar winner. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress first for "BUtterfield 8" (1960) and then for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" (1966).

In 1960, she beat out Shirley Maclaine who starred in Billy Wilder's Oscar-winning film "The Apartment." But, Maclaine would win her own Best Actress Oscar for "Terms of Endearment" (1983). In 1966, Taylor won over sisters Vannesa Redgrave ("Morgan!") and Lynn Redgrave, who died in 2010, ("Georgy Girl").

Taylor's fans may want to set their tivos as her film "Father's Little Dividend," a sequel to the original "Father of the Bride" airs on TCM at 2:30 a.m. on January 15th.

Here is her quote:

"You find out who your friends are when you're involved in a scandal."

SIDEBAR: The answer to our last Bonus Road Trip question was C....it was a deliberate joke on my part as the answers for the last three entries in that series were all C.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Quote of the Day/Week- Marcel Duchamp

Today, for the very first time, we quote the great French surreal artist Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) who is best-known for his....hmmm, there is no nice way to say this, his urinal piece.....

Duchamp was also apparently an avid chess player, a sport which according to the NPR show "The World," the former Soviet Republic of Armenia is apparently very good at; here is his quote:

"Chess can be described as the movement of pieces eating one another."

We gather there is even a "Peanuts" version of chess where (you guessed it) Charlie Brown is the king and Lucy van Pelt is the queen.

SIDEBAR: Oh, I almost to mention that I am on way to the Golden Corral in Rock Hill, SC, where Fred Thompson once stumped* to formally endorse the one Republican candidate who I see fit to hold office; his name is Zippy the Pinhead**.

*-true story

**-underground comic book character that is the creation of Bill Griffith

Quote of the Day/Week- Charles Darwin

Today, Google used the image of Danish bishop and scientist Nicolas Steno (1638-1686) on his 374th birthday as their 'google doodle." Steno was instrumental for many things, including discovering human salivary ducts, and there is a Steno Museum in Arhus, Denmark, which is dedicated to displaying findings in the arenas of science and medicine. But, alas, for our purposes, Steno really didn't leave behind a meaningful quip.

The same can not be said for English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) whose findings on the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador are taught in classroom and disputed in places of worship around the globe; hence 'the Darwin fish' that is displayed here.

With that, here is our quote from Darwin, who made these comments long before the 'evolution of video games,' including Donkey Kong and Angry Birds:

"A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the whole of life."

SIDEBAR: We love this tweet from Onion Politics, a subdivision of the satirical faux news publication "The Onion:" "Fiercely independent New Hampshire voters pick guy everybody thought would win." For those of you in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, that person is Mitt Romney.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Last 10 Films I've Seen on the Big Screen

When we faced complications getting a decent image of Albert Brooks, the comedic actor, who gives a stunning, chilling performance as a ruthless gangster in "Drive," we figured we'd go with a book cover for the Stieg Larsson novel "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," which is now in its second cinematic incarnation.

We are still amused that a Fox News commentator called "The Muppets" communist propaganda hence we developed the tag Kermit the Kommunist (for Kermit the Frog), which is seemingly very popular.

Here are the last ten films we've seen on the big screen:

1. "Drive" (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn) with Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan and Albert Brooks.

2. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (dir. David Fincher) with Daniel Craig

3. "My Week with Marilyn" (dir. Simon Curtis) with Michelle Williams

4. "Young Adult" (dir. Jason Reitman) with Charlize Theron

5. "The Descendants" (dir. Alexander Payne) with George Clooney

6. "The Adventures of Tintin" (dir. Steven Spielberg)

7. "The Skin I Live In" (Spain, dir. Pedro Almodovar) with Antonio Banderas

8. "Hugo" (dir. Martin Scorsese)

9. "Melancholia" (Denmark/Sweden, dir. Lars von Trier) with Kristen Dunst

10. "The Muppets" (dir. James Bobin)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bonus Road Trip (10 of 10)_ LA to Athens (Georgia, not Greece)

We will go ahead and tell you that the air mileage between Los Angeles and Athens, Greece, is 6,907 miles, suprisingly enough, Istanbul, Turkey, which isn't quite as south as the Greek capital is slightly closer to L.A. at 6,832 air miles.

But, the UCLA Bruins women's gymnastics team coming off a narrow, but impressive home win over the Utah Utes yesterday (196.075-196.025) will travel to Athens, Georgia, on March 2nd to face the Georgia Bulldogs, also known as the 'Gym Dawgs.'

UGA scored its own win on Friday night as they defeated the Denver Pioneers at home by a score of 196.525-193.700. The Gym Dawgs will next head to the University of Alabama to face the defending champions in the Crimson Tide. Alabama is also vying for a national titled in football tonight against LSU.

For the UCLA Bruins, Samantha Peszek paved the way by winning the all-around with a score of 39.45. The Bruins also have stand-out gymnasts in Vanessa Zamarripa, whose name we have previously spelled incorrectly (don't tell the Associated Press!; forgive the journalism humor) and Aisha Gerber.

Among the outstanding gymnasts for the Gym Dawgs are seniors Kat Ding and Gina Nuccio.

For our points of destination, we are choosing Garage Pizza on West Seventh Street in Los Angeles and Taquiero Del Sol (one of several locations) on Prince Avenue in Athens, Ga.

So just how far is this commute, in terms of driving time (we assume the Bruins team will fly into Georgia; we'd ask the Bruins coach ourselves, but we think she has more pressing matters to tend to); is the answer:

A) 32 hours and 30 minutes

B) 33 hours and 30 minutes

C) 34 hours and 30 minutes

D) 35 hours and 30 minutes

SIDEBAR: The answer to our last Bonus Road Trip was C. Incidentally, the Dartmouth Big Green's men's basketball team lost on the road at Harvard by a score of 63-47. But, Gabas Maldunas, from Lithuania, was selected as the Ivy League Rookie of the Week for the third time this year. We refered to the game in an earlier post. Maldunas scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the loss at Harvard.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Bonus Road Trip (9 of 10)_ Should-Be Ivy League Schools

Today, we are looking at the destinations between two major conference schools which might just be better off in the Ivy League. Here in the United States, major conferences are expanding and dissolving to the point where West Virginia University, located in Morgantown, WVa, might be joining the Big-12 where they would meet teams from the likes of Baylor University in Waco, Texas. To put this in perspective, Istanbul, Turkey, where West Virginia Mountaineers men's basketball Deniz Kilicli hails from, is probably closer to Paris, France.

The two schools were are choosing are Big Ten Conference team Northwestern University, located in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, and Southestern Conference member Vanderbilt University, located in Nashville, Tennessee.

Both schools made it bowl games, but both teams lost. On New Year's Eve, Northwestern fell to Texas A & M 33-22 at a bowl game in Houston, Texas. Similarly, the Vandy Commodores lost to the Cincinnati Bearcats by a 31-24 score at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., on that same day.

For our two points of destination, we are choosing two coffeeshops: The Brothers K Coffee Shop in Evanston, Illinois, which might well elude to a certain famous Russian novel, and Ugly Mugs Cofeeshop in Nashville, which blogger Nate Baker is one of the best places to write in the city.

So, how far apart are these two zip codes?

Is the answer?:

A) 6 hours and 30 minutes

B) 7 hours and 30 mintes

C) 8 hours and 30 minutes

D) 9 hours and 30 minutes.

Of course, we are not including construction and accident delays.

SIDEBAR: The answer to yesterday's Bonus Road Quiz is C) six hours. Hans from Hamburg, Germany, is the winner of the Oak Ridge Greatest Hits on eight-track cassette!

And, for those of you in Riga, Latvia, who were not able to watch the Orange Bowl, which we mentioned in an earlier entry, West Virginia won that game handily over Clemson University by an amazing 70-34 score.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Bonus Road Trip (8 of 10)_ In the Ivy League

Today, we ask you the blog reader how far apart two Ivy League towns are. They are Princeton, New Jersey, where (of course) Princeton University is, and Hanover, New Hampshire, the home of Dartmouth College, where Ron Paul might very well be trying to pump students up for the upcoming New Hampshire Republican Primary so he can surge past Newt Gingrich, or as we like to call him here (we are a center-left blog) Sigmund the Sea Monster (forgive the retro humor).

Until today, we were unaware of Dartmouth's nickname; they are the 'Big Green.' And, their men's basketball team will have a daunting task when they face nationally ranked Harvard on the road at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday. As for Princeton, they can boast at least one NBA star and U.S. Senator from their alumni, as Bill Bradley, who was both, graduated from the school as a Rhodes scholar. Alas, he still lost the Democratic Party nomination to Al Gore in 2000, perhaps New Hampshire was to blame.

So, for this trip, our destination points are the Ivy Inn in Princeton, NJ, and Molly's Restaurant in Hanover, NH. Feel free to take a guess so you can win an 8-track tape of the Oak Ridge Boys' greatest hits.

Is the answer:

A) 4 hours even

B) 5 hours even

C) 6 hours even

D) 7 hours even

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Quote of the Day/Week- Dr. Jack Kevorkian

This month, on Thursdays (days may vary depending on schedule), we will posting quips from famous people who died in 2011. Don't worry: Osama bin Laden will not be one of them.

But, there will be some controversial figures, including today's subject, Dr. Jack Kevorkian (1928-2011) who died at age 83 on June 3, 2011, in Michigan.

Kevorkian served eight years of a 10-to-15 year jail sentence in Michigan for second degree murder. He was tried for assisting suicides four times. The assisted suicides happened between May 1994 and June 1997. These trials made Kevorkian an international celebrity.

Assisted suicide has also been highly debated in Switzerland, where it is allowed. But, this has lead to the 'suicide tourism' trend in which people with terminal illnesses come to Switzerland for assisted suicides or euthanasia. In 2008, 725 citizens from the United Kingdom came to Switzerland for this purposes.

Kevorkian was also an Armenian-American, and he was portrayed by Al Pacino in the HBO film biography "You Don't Know Jack." He lived and worked his whole adult life in his native Michigan.

Here is his quote: "Among doctors in general, I think more than half support what I am doing."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Quote of the Day/Week- M.C. Escher

Today's quote from a famous artist is from the famous Dutch abstract master M.C. Escher (1898-1972) who became known for his mathematically inspired paintings, such as "Drawing Hands" (1948, pictured).

The painting shows a sheet of paper with two flat wrists and two hands facing each others.

Here is Escher's quote:

"I don't use drugs, my dreams are frightening enough."

Quote of the Day/Week- Albert Einstein

This month, we are quoting famous scientists and artists. We begin with the German-born American Albert Einstein (1879-1955) who was known for his theory of relativity: e=mc2; we have no doubt that if he were alive today, he'd been an Angry Birds video game addict.

I saw an Albert Einstein, just like the one pictured here, for a mere five dollars as it was being sold by a Washington D.C. vendor, but I opted to get another tie instead though a part of regrets passing it up.

Einstein, who was Jewish and first came to the United States in 1921, formally left Germany as Adolf Hitler was emerging as a powerful, dangerous political force in 1933. He took up an academic position at Princeton University in Princeton, NJ, where he remained until his death.

I first heard this quote at a Unitarian Universalists service several weeks ago; it is regarding miracles:

"There are two ways to live: as if nothing is a miracle or as if everything is a miracle."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

From the Record Collection- (4 of 8) "More Songs..." by Talking Heads

It is a busy night for sports and politics here in the United States, as Virginia Tech and the University of Michigan, my late father's two alma maters are playing in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Meanwhile, Republicans are holding the Iowa Causes. NPR and "USA Today" have both projected that Mitt Romney has the leading going into tonight.

But, even at busy times like these, it feels like there are few things better than listening to old, vintage vinyl records. And, amongst the ones I have, few of them are played as often as "More Songs About Buildings and Food," the second studio album by Talking Heads which was released in 1978.

The album, which runs 41:32, includes the single "Take Me to the River," which is a cover of a version that rhythm and blues singer Al Green released in the early '70s. Other great songs on "More Songs..." include "Thank You for Sending Me an Angel" and the catchy tune "The Girls Just Want to be With the Girls."

"More Songs..." marked the first of three collaborations between Talking Heads and legendary producer Brian Eno, who has also worked with David Bowie and U2. The album got critical praise, but it didn't sell well upon initial release.

But, "Take Me to the River" made it to number 26 on the charts, and strangely enough it lead to Talking Heads appearing on "American Bandstand." Given that the band is an artsy New Wave punk band, one might sooner expect to see Toby Keith on "Austin City Limits" today.

The band consisted of lead singer David Byrne, who also designed the amazing art work on the album's cover which consists of many tiny Polaroid photos, drummer Chris Frantz, his wife and bass player Tina Weymouth and keyboardist/guitar player Jerry Harrison, who has since become a successful music producer since the band's split in 1991.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Worst Person of the Year for 2011_ Rick Perry

Like most bloggers, I have probably committed over 2,000 copyright infringements, if one wants to be extreme and petty about such matters, but I do kind of wish I had enough loot to copyright the term: Execution Happy Evangelists.

The term not only applies to Rick Perry, the current governor of Texas and Republican presidential candidate, but also Gov. Bob McDonnell, the GOP governor of Virginia. Both have risen to prominence in state politics by exploiting their perceived righteous view of the world by proclaiming themselves to be good Christians. Yet, neither sees the contradiction, not only with their theological views, but also with their limited government ideals as executions are, in addition to being a human rights violation, quite expensive (estimates range, but it is widely believed that each execution costs $2 million).

So far Perry has overseen the executions of 234 Texas inmates. There are several that have been cited as wrongful executions, meaning the person sentenced to death may not have killed the person they were found guilty of murdering. The one that clearly stands out the most is the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham in 2004. Willingham was executed for killing three of his daughters by arson, but many fire experts both within the Lonestar State and from the outside found the initial investigations to be faulty.

The Willingham case was the subject of a "New Yorker" article by David Grann entitled "Trial by Fire," which was also the title of a PBS/Frontline documentary of the same name about the execution.

Perry has also been scrutinized for his shady political wranglings and dubious business deals from several magazines, including "The Atlantic," "The New Republic" and "Rolling Stone."

Though Matt Taibbi, one of America's most liberal and outspoken journalists, is not known for objectivity in his pieces for "Rolling Stone," he made a valid point when he said that Perry's highly controversial deal with Merck to have sixth grade girls in Texas get STD vaccines was a definitive breech with the Texans who elected and re-elected him (amazingly enough, Perry is now in his third term).

In a more sanguine piece by Alec MacGillis in "The New Republic," the author cited just how contradictory Perry is in his anti-government crusade and his own record in Austin. Among Perry's shady dealings was one in which he signed a deal for a nuclear landfill, and allowed damaging deregulation for col-fire power plants. In addition, Perry worked with UBS Bank to raise revenues from the deaths of retired Texas teachers.

Perry has also allied himself with radical evangelists in The New Apolistic Reformers who think abortion is murder and that the Democratic Party is possessed by Satan. He has also called social security an illegal Ponzi scheme.

And, at a Republican debate at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., Perry made a bold declaration that the death penalty was effectively the only way to reduce homicides in America.

So, for the second year in a row, we are choosing an Execution Happy Evangelist as our Worst Person of the Year.

Last year, our choice was current Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, who is an advocate for allowing guns on campus even though Virginia Tech has seen two horrific school shootings in recent years.

With the Iowa Caucuses happening tomorrow, we certainly hope Perry performs dismally so that we don't have to fear the possibility of another inept, immoral Texas politician in the White House.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year from Asterix the Gaul

Since my late father's country Turkey and one of my favorite countries in the world France are in a diplomatic brewhaha, I thought I'd start of the New Year with an entry dedicated to the French comic book heroes Asterix and Obelix here. Conversely, there will be a page dedicated to the Turkish shadow puppet characters Karagoz and Hacivat on our sister blog.

With the popularity of Steven Spielberg's animated film "The Adventures of Tintin," based on the beloved books by Belgian cartoonist Herge is bringing Tintin, who is perhaps still the world's most famous fictitious reporter_ well along with Clark Kent/Superman, to American shores, one can only hope that Asterix, who celebrated his 50th anniversary in 2011, will get his own well-deserved recognition in les etats unis soon.

As for the row between Paris and Ankara, it is perhaps the result of two right-leaning political figures in French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, both of whom also have strong personalities, making matters even more dire than they may have been otherwise. Turkey faced a similar exchange of heated words with another unyielding right-wing leader in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the Blue Marmara Flotilla Fiasco (as we refer to that incident which alas killed many innocent people) in 2009.

French parliamentarian Valerie Boyes, a political ally of Sarkozy's, has received death threats from Turkish nationalists according to various sources. Boyes was a key proponent of the bill, which has popularity amongst France's 500,000 people of Armenian heritage, including singer/actor Charles Aznavour, 87.

But, many including France's own foreign minister Alain Juppe fear the bill, which would involve a stiff $59,000 fine and one-year jail sentence for any person who does not classify the disputed tragic events between Turks and ethnic Armenians in rural Anatolia, especially in what is now eastern Turkey, in 1915 as a genocide.

Turkey has itself been criticized abroad for laws which do not allow individuals the freedom to classify those events as genocide and many prominent Turkish intellectuals including the controversial Turkish novelist Elif Shafak have faced court hearings as a result.

The Armenian bill was approved by the French Parliament on Dec. 21, and is awaiting Boyer's expected signature. Erdogan, for his part, has called the bill one that is based on 'racism, discrimination and xenophobia.' Erdogan later accused France of genocide in colonial Algeria.

Turkey's ambassador to France, Tahsin Burcuoglu, was also summoned back to Ankara. Turkey has also been angry at Sarkozy for being vocally opposed to Turkey's membership into the European Union though the seismic economic collapse in neighboring Greece, an EU member, has made domestic Turks less inclined to join the EU. The legislation also runs the likely risk of of economic exchanges between Turkey and France; Turkey is France's fifth largest trading partner.

Ironically, the late Turkish Armenian activist Hrant Dink, who was tragically assassinated by a far right Turkish nationalist in Istanbul in 2007, said he was equally opposed to suppression of free speech on both sides of the heated issue whether it be in Turkey or in Europe.

As for Asterix, which I read a child in Turkey, where the character remains very popular, in the late 1970s, he was created by writer Rene Goscinny (1926-1977) who was also responsible for the genesis of the French comic book cowboy Lucky Luke who was drawn by the late Belgian cartoonist Morris. Lucky Luke, who was called Red Kit in Turkey, was also a childhood favorite of mine, and in recent years, Lucky Luke has also been published in the United States.

Asterix was drawn by the illustrator Albert Uderzo, who is still alive at age 84. Asterix has been popular everywhere in the world, even in Canada, except for the United States and Japan. So far, 345 million copies of the 34 Asterix books have been sold worldwide.

The first book in the series was "Asterix the Gaul," published in 1961. Since Asterix was a small figure, a strong-looking sidekick was needed and in came Obelix, the very large, round man who carried a big rock. Asterix is also frequently followed by his pet Dogmatix.

My personal favorite Asterix book is "Asterix at the Banquet" (1965). Other great books in the series include "Asterix and the Big Fight" (1966), "Asterix at the Olympic Games" (1968) and "Asterix and the Laurel Wreath" (1972).

If it seems perhaps slightly inappropriate that I mix Asterix with an ugly matter which has become what I see as a "Rashomon nightmare" (in reference to Akira Kurosawa's film "Rashomon" where Japanese villagers each depict differing accounts of a rape crime), then it should be pointed that in France there has been a beef over the legacy of Asterix as the character has apparently been sold to a large media conglomerate in France.

With that said, Happy New Year to everyone, and thanks to those of you who have looked at this blog from countries as far apart as Slovenia and Indonesia.

SIDEBAR: The answer to our Bonus Road Trip question from last week is C) 12 hours, that is the distance between Clemson, SC, and Miami, Fla. And, the answer to our "Rabbit Ears Quiz" is A) Sept. 25, 1970. The other dates used as choices were when "The Partridge Family" first aired in various European countries, including Germany.