A blog dedicated to art, entertainment, language, and culture.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Flashing Neon Moon for Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich wants to go to the moon, and I'm sure that will only influence Republican voters to love him all-the-more, despite the absurdity of his plans to build a moon base.  The idea of constructing an American settlement on the moon is not one I'm staunchly opposed to, but I do hold reservations.  I love the idea of traveling to the moon and seeing our beautiful planet from space.  But if we really look at Republican demands and practical solutions to economic troubles, the moon is not one of them.

Gingrich, like most Republicans politicians, wants to lower taxes and cut spending.  That's a core platform for the party and presumably what gets one votes  from their base.  Where does the moon fit into that?  Nowhere, that's where!  Space travel is expensive, and it seems ridiculous to think we could cut spending on health programs, cut taxes, and then pump money into the pricey moon base idea Newt dreamt up.

Of course, Newt thinks the money should come from private companies, which means the moon base wouldn't really be an American one, but a cooperate one.  Maybe a nice theme park on the moon.  That'd spice things up a bit.  I'm sure it would add a lot of class to the beautifully, shining sphere we see every night.  Maybe they could run ads on it to make their money back.  Imagine sitting in an open field in the middle of the night and staring at the stars, wondering to yourself what's out there in that great, black ocean.  Then you see a neon glow coming off the moon, "Subway.  Eat fresh."

This romantic notion of Gingrich's isn't really about money.  It's about jingoism...
"By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American."
"We clearly have the capacity that Chinese and the Russians will never come anywhere close to us."
See, Newt Gingrich doesn't care about the growing divide between rich and poor.  He cares about Cold War-era competition between countries.  The moon sits outside the reach of mortal man.  It is an intangible part of our world, but one that is always with us.  If you are away from your family, your friends, and loved ones, if you are in foreign lands or unsure of the future, you can look up into the night sky and see one giant looming constant: the moon, the light in the darkness, the waves of the ocean, perfect and serene, you could be forgiven for thinking such a natural wonder belongs to everyone.  It unifies us across an entire planet.

Fuck no!  America owns that rocks, because we're the superior race to those Chinese and Russians.  We're rich and technologically advanced.  We are better than them, so we deserve to own the moon.  Whenever a Chinese farmer finishes working in the fields at dusk, and looks over the beautiful country-side then up to that gorgeous, orange sky, he needs to be reminded of America's flashing neon grandeur telling him, "Subway.  Eat fresh."

What I love most about Newt Gingrich is his lack of humility.  I truly believe he longs to be Overlord of the Earth (and now: Overlord of the Moon). As he put it, "Does that mean I'm visionary? You betcha."  Call me crazy, but I don't think you're supposed to call yourself a visionary.  That's usually (but not always) a posthumous honor heaped upon a particularly beloved and creative mind.  The "You betcha" doesn't add much class to his statement either.  It makes the whole thing slightly more ridiculous.  It pairs high-minded idealism with low-brow language.  I think its fair to assume Gingrich is guilty of hubris.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Three Little Treasures

My parents are in the process of moving out of their house, as am I.  In a bizarre twist of fate we are all moving to East Asia, though different countries and for different reasons.  So things will have to be packed, things will have to be given away, and things will have to be tossed.  A couple days ago my mother cleared out a book shelf, and gave me three little treasures of indescribable worth that had belonged to my grandmother at one point in time.

The first of the books is a novel called "Wetzel the Scout and Indian Fighter" by R.C.V. Meyers (publication date unknown).  Obviously, I have not had the opportunity to read through each of them (though I've already read one), and this might be the first if I ever get to it.  I have a passion for Jack London and the adventure novel that grows by the day, and this tale of Lewis Wetzel seems in that vein.  He is a minor historical character reminiscent of Daniel Boone, and the book's preface tells readers that Meyers has a distinct advantage over other writers by having large amounts of sources to draw from to provide the most accurate depiction of Wetzel.  

That's not really what makes this book interesting.  Like the other two, "Wetzel the Scout" is a worn, hard cover book with a person's name written on the flyleaf inside.  This is not an author's autograph, which would increase its monetary value some, it's a name unfamiliar.  Some soul I will never know, but at one time in the past owned the book and felt it important to sign it as theirs.  Wetzel actually has two names inside.  One in the front belongs to "Mr John Burke."  The signature on the back is hard to figure out.  It seems to be "Mr Ihas Paples," but I could be mistaken.

The second book is a copy of "Mothers' Counsel to their Sons" by Jennie C. Rutty.  This one also lacks an apparent publication date.  It's a book of morals and poems, a delightfully "old-time" combination that people like myself, living in the 21st century, can titter at while reading chapters on social purity and "the tobacco habit."  I am helpless to control the urge to share the following.  This is the opening of the chapter on social purity (p194, read along):
"In the previous chapters we have seen some of the evils arising from unrestrained sexual desire, and as they are so much greater than many of us have imagined, some may think the picture overdrawn or think it needless to dwell longer upon it." 
Well buckle up!  We're going to talk about it for the rest of the book.  It's genuinely interesting to read these kinds of works.  Old works of the past which discuss the morals and sins of youth often say similar things to what we might hear daily.  When people reflect upon the "good old days" they are quick to assume people in the past weren't doing to same thing.  I'll share one more snippet.  This time from the poetry (from one just inside the cover):

"God wants the boys, the merry, merry boys
The noisy boys, the funny boys,
The thoughtless boys-
God wants the boys, with all their joys.
That he as gold may make them pure,
And teach them trials to endure:
His heroes brave
He'll have them be
Fighting for truth
And purity.
God wants the boys."
- To the Boys.

One such boy, Willie Merritt, took the time to write his name down in the back of the book thinking it was the front.  I know this because his name is scrolled upside-down at the bottom.  He also took time to practice his cursive L repeatedly on the flyleaf.  I choose to believe Willie was one of those wide-eyed youths who read very little of this book, but embodied its morals regardless.

The most fascinating of the three I saved for last: William Shakespeare's "Macbeth" (copyright 1911 by Houghton Mifflin Co.).  On the inside cover we find the name Neele Reed and an erased name belonging to LEON L "something" that was written in capitals and print and pressed into the book so hard it's still mostly legible.  Neele tracks his adventure through Macbeth with constant notes about the characters and events.  I can imagine him reading this play for school.

Marginalia is a beautiful thing.  It lets one see the something few of us even think about: the reading process. If I flip through this copy of Macbeth I am able to see the scribbles of another person figuring out the story, finding the themes, and underlining what he feels to be the important passages.  I can see where he sat in class, bored, and traced certain words with his pencil, tried to rewrite words as close to the typewriter font as possible, and wrote notes about topics he would have to explain from the book.

Right above Act III: Scene IV Neele writes, "Is third murderer Macbeth?" (referring to Scene III) and in big letters he writes "Climax."  In Act V: Scene V he makes brackets beside the following lines...
"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.  Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."
...and beside that bracket he writes, "learn."

On the back flyleaf Neele jots down the feet of poetic meter, definitions he will likely need to know for class, draws some sketches, notes a page number, and writes "The Tempest," concluding the work.

How is this not a treasure?  What Neele has done is create a priceless work of art!  He added something to Shakespeare that Shakespeare could not do himself.  He provided a reader's voice.  A growing, exploring commentary giving testament to the value of Shakespeare and literature as a whole.  Neele gave me something I would have never read in a new copy of Shakespeare, or a digital Kindle version.  I can see Shakespeare anew as I witness him through another's eyes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Andy and the Newt

Newt Gingrich has begun an ambitious push to become the Republican nominee for President of the United States.  He is heralding all is lost if he doesn't win in South Carolina, and if he wins in South Carolina he will be the nominee.  Many of us can only hope he will return to the obscurity from whence he came after losing South Carolina, so we won't have to hear his name mentioned ever again.

In the meantime, it can be interesting listening to his speeches.  Gingrich doesn't back down from making controversial, if not ridiculous, statements.  After Michelle Bacchman dropped from the race I thought there was no more fun to be had, but Gingrich has filled that void for me (as a lover of absurdity).  There is no stranger feeling in the world than being filled with a mixture of amusement and horror, like watching Dogtooth or Newt's recent big, crowd-pleasing speech involving President Andrew Jackson.

This video shows what is fascinating about Gingrich.  He actually makes a sound argument at the beginning of the speech, one which many reasonable Americans could agree with.  He's not being radical or hyperbolic, and the crowd is on his side.  They eat it up.  Then...he starts talking about South Carolina-born president Andrew Jackson.  It might sound like pursuing terrorists and Andrew Jackson are completely unconnected, and there is this disjointed pause between the crowd's wild cheer at his last statement and everyone trying to figure out where he's going with this new topic.

Where he went: "Andrew Jackson had a pretty clear cut idea about what to do with America's enemies: Kill them."  And the crowd goes wild!  Yay, killing!  Yippie!  My jaw dropped.  Listening to an auditorium filled with people hoot and holler for blood (like a crowd did for executions not too long ago) terrifies me.  But through my horror, I wondered if anyone there actually knew about Andrew Jackson, and if Newt was truly comfortable juxtaposing himself with this controversial figure.

Maybe he is.

Andrew Jackson was indeed a man known for killing his enemies.  Most notably in duels.  There is also an impossible to ignore parallel to be made between the two men over marriage.  Gingrich is often criticized over is inability to maintain a monogamous marriage and cheating on his wife before divorcing her for the other woman.  That's problematic for the more liberal Democratic party.  Within a group of persistent moral rectitude, like the Republicans, it is essentially political suicide.

Andrew Jackson's wife received some likely unfair criticism for being a woman of poor character.  She had previously been in an abusive marriage and her marriage to Jackson was done without proper divorce papers being filed to completion.  Her marriage was accidentally a bigamous one.  They got it worked out, of course, but later the press had a field day with his relationship as he became a more potent political figure.  Jackson said he would forgive those who insulted him, but never the one's that attacked his wife.  We could argue this to be a very chivalrous and loving statement, as all of us would feel the same sort of pangs seeing others chastise our innocent loved ones.

Jackson eventually challenged one such critic to a duel.  There he proceeded to be shot in the chest before carefully aiming a fatal blow to the other man.  This person was not a Chinese dissident nor a global terrorist.  He was nothing more dangerous than a jerk.  Jackson was notorious for fighting and killing his enemies, even those who were personal and not national enemies.

President Jackson's reign was over one of the most unfortunate periods in American history: the relocation of Native Americans.  Before becoming president, Jackson worked to negotiate relocating native tribes, as well as leading troops against hostile native groups.  But during his administration a small body of natives sold land they had no legitimate claim to and the US government began a forceful removal of the people (simplified version).  The removal resulted in thousands of deaths.

I doubt Jackson thought of native populations as enemies.  He did take a patronizing stance with them, and didn't think they were competent or knew what was best for themselves.  But let's look at what Newt Gingrich thinks about "native populations."

Newt Gingrich said in an interview, "I think that we've had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs and who were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places, and for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s, and it's tragic."

Native Americans/Indians would undoubtedly be an invented people in the eyes of Gingrich.  The unifying titles were certainly given to them by other groups despite them being separate nations from one another.  Prolonged wars against them existed in spite of their obvious abilities to go "many places."  We even promised them new land.  What we see in Israel today should be a grim reminder of how problematic it is to enter and claim territory held by an indigenous people.  With Gingrich's opinion on "invented people" it is no surprise he admires a man known for removing indigenous ones.

These two examples are not meant to be particularly critical of Andrew Jackson as he was a person locked in a time period and his actions were largely the result of that.  They are meant to be critical of Newt, and the parallels I made were not ones he bridged himself.  I want to make one more though.  Newt Gingrich has been trying his dearest to find non-Romney groups able to support him, one of these is the religious right.  He has done this with little luck, and while his statement about Jackson is unlikely to be reason for that, it certainly is not something right-wing Christians should embrace.

While Andrew Jackson might have killed his enemies, Jesus in the Christian Testament said, "...love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).  The messages couldn't be farther apart. Crowds may cheer with blood lust when Gingrich glorifies killing, but Andrew Jackson is not a role model or a hero, and will not win him an election.  Thankfully.  From any angle, I find it disturbing to praise the violence and injustice done by men.

Further reading:
Human rights for invented peoples: Tamimi vs. Gingrich

Friday, January 13, 2012

George Washington is God!

Back in "ye olde" ancient times of pharaohs and kings it was pretty common for the station of god to be heaped upon these most powerful people.  Even when the concept of an Egyptian ruler being a god became passe Cleopatra was identifying herself with Isis.  Roman emperors, particularly Julius Caesar, were given divine titles posthumously, as were many other historical rulers including...George Washington!

Don't doubt the hyperbole, but Washington has been worshiped as a kami in Hawaiian Shinto Shrines, which does mean someone out there is considering him divine.  Alternatively if one were to be perusing our Capitol Building in Washington D.C. and casually looked up, they might see the greatest art piece in human history: The Apotheosis of Washington.

Americans, if nothing else, have had a soft spot for Greco-Roman ideologies and identifying themselves with the high points of those ancient civilizations.  This work was done by Constantino Brumidi, an Italian painter and American immigrant, who spent spent several years working in the Vatican.  But one should be able to figure that out from the picture above.  Every inch of the painting is an effort to deify the American identity.  We have George Washington, nobly seated, as if on a throne, ascending to the heavens.  On each side of him are the goddesses Liberty and Victoria, and thirteen other maidens representing the first thirteen states.

Beneath this inner circle is a ring of deities including Neptune, Venus, Mercury, Minerva, Ceres, and Vulcan.  The one wielding the sword and Captain America shield is Freedom, patron deity of America, who also stands atop the Capitol Building (Temple of America!).  Visually, the juxtaposition of Roman gods surrounding Washington, whether at his arms or in the lower circle suggests his status as central character and superiority or reign over the rest.  He is the Jupiter of the painting's universe.  If this is not enough to glorify him as an American "God-President" then we should examine the word "Apotheosis," which means "the raising of a person to the rank of a god."

The website I got most of this information from was pretty quick to point out it can also mean "the glorification of a person as an ideal," and Washington is being used predominantly as an ideal or abstract concept of "what makes America so great."  I see the argument.  But the site is a .gov, so it's probably just trying to cover up the obvious lack of separation between church and state while cloaked congressmen gather beneath the rotunda to worship their founder-god at midnight blood rituals!

...It could happen...

Anyway, it's a pretty neat fresco with a really bizarre theme.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Look as Fat as You Feel

I've been spending some time at the library looking through microfilm of the Springfield Daily News, and since there's no quick filtering process for that kind of research I've basically been skimming every page (months worth of a daily newspaper mind you) for information on something I've been wanting to write about recently.  I'm still working on that.

In the meantime, sitting in front of an irritating glow, scrolling through articles, one can't help but find even the most mundane distraction fascinating.  Occasionally, I'd stop to read front page stories from 1914 about a woman marrying for love in the dangerous world of Mexico, or one's titled Ludwig's Daughters wait for suitors in vain; they are aging fast, but king thinks them children still.  Oh, that German royalty!  When will they learn...

For fun! I found an article I feel would be nice to share with the world.  You can find it in the July 28, 1914 issue of the Springfield Daily News, but if you didn't pick up a copy that day I'll type it out for you below:
"Thousands of people suffer from excessive thinness, weak nerves and feeble stomachs who, having tried advertised flesh-makers, food-fads, physical culture stunts and rub-on-creams, resign themselves to life-long skinniness and think nothing will make them fat.
"Yet their case is not hopeless.  A recently discovered regenerative force makes fat grow after years of thinness, and is also unequalled for repairing the waste of sickness or faulty digestion and for strengthening the nerves.  This remarkable discovery is called Sargol.  Six strength-giving fat-producing elements of acknowledged merit have been combined in this peerless preparation, which is endorsed by eminent physicians and used by prominent people everywhere.  It is absolutely harmless, inexpensive and efficient.
"A month's systematic use of Sargol should produce flesh and strength by correcting faults of digestion and by supplying highly concentrated fats to the blood.  Increased nourishment is obtained from the food eaten, and the additional fats that thin people need are provided.  C. F. Buchholtz, Arcade Drug Store, and other leading druggists supply Sargol and say there is a large demand for it.
"While this new preparation has given splendid results as a nerve-tonic and vitalizer, it should not be used by nervous people unless they wish gain at least ten pounds of flesh."
 - What Thin Folks Should Do to Gain Weight: Physician's Advice For Thin, Undeveloped Men and Women
If you haven't seen vintage weight gain ads like this (and I should note that this was not presented as an ad, but an article) I want to educate you.  There was time when it was considered unattractive to be "thin" and "fat" was the desired look.  This contradicts our current culture's perceptions of beauty, while still displaying how eager advertising has been to tell consumers they are inadequate and need to change themselves to improve.

When I looked online for weight gain ads the ones found were from the 1930s to 50s (according to Huffington Post), though they could be as late as the 1960s.  The one from the Springfield paper predates these a good while, and it was not the lone self-improvement ad to be found in our local news.  It shouldn't surprise anyone that low body image has been a central marketing theme for so long.  Vanity sells.

Looking at these ads reminds us we will never be perfect.  We will never be the ideal.  It changes with the times, and that's no coincidence.  Trends are created to keep us wanting more, and wanting to be better than we are.  I would say you should just be happy, embrace the hideously deformed you.  But if that worked out we might see advertisements reading, "What Pretty Folks Should Do to Get Ugly."  For a while that would be a refreshing change of pace.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

'Round Springfield: A Statuesque City

Springfield, Ohio!

Living in Springfield there is a constant reaction you'll find in the locals.  If you move to Springfield they'll wonder why and if you so much as mention its name you'll notice an eye-rolling, instant exasperation from every member of the community, sometimes evoking a lovably sarcastic motto "Keep it classy, Springfield."  The people here are well aware Springfield is not the nicest place in the world.  In fact, a recent Gallup poll found that Springfield, Ohio is the "saddest" city in the country with the most unhappy people around.

There isn't a lot of pride to go about Springfield.  The population is majority middle aged to elderly, a group that remembers better days for the community and observes the decline with critical woe.  The younger people are eager to move out and escape the depressing and dull atmosphere.  But plenty of people grow up in Springfield, and there are happy moments for all of us.  The question is "what does Springfield have to offer?"  A culture without culture is what allows us to lose our faith in the community.  Today, I wanted to look at some of the nice things Springfield has to offer.  Specifically, I want to talk about statues.

Statues might not sound like a reason to live in a run-down, dump of a town like ours.  We don't really have a lot of them either.  Yet like murals and other types of public art, statues allow us to see beauty and creativity in the open air, trudging to work or waltzing through the park.  Statues tend to serve two purposes.  They represent people of historical importance, displaying the great minds that created the community, and they symbolize the abstract values of a people embodied in human form.  I love to see statues, and there's not a city in the world that can't benefit from having a few more.

Let's begin with one of the world's most legendary figures:

More than a hundred years ago two brothers ran a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio, and they had a dream.  That dream was to explore the heavens and fly like the birds.  In 1906, these courageous young inventors came to Springfield, Ohio.  There they met with a man who would help make their dreams a reality, patent lawyer Harry Toulmin.

That's right, Springfield built a statue of the Wright Brother's patent lawyer.  I would argue that this the greatest statue in the history of the world based upon the mundanity of the figure alone.  To be fair, while the Wright Brothers were the incredibly talented inventors, both local and national heroes, they were not legal experts and faced many counterclaims by competitors.  Toulmin worked to protect their patent, ensuring they would receive the credit they earned.  He might not have been the person living the dream, but he was one of those people behind the scenes making that dream a reality.

If Harry Toulmin is not sexy enough for you then you might want to take a gander at our statue to George Rogers Clark.  This bulging, sculpted adonis is the namesake of Clark County (home to Springfield) and snappy dresser.  Clark commanded a Kentucky militia against British led Shawnee forces in this area, which was the largest battle fought west of the Allegheny Mountains in the Revolutionary War.  Clark is a more traditional statue than Toulmin.  He shows off that fighting spirit we Americans love so much.  It's a common theme in our artwork.  He's a relatively obscure historical figure, so he fits nicely just a few yards away from Toulmin.

Clark might not appeal to everyone, what with leading troops against Native Americans, the rightful inhabitants of the territory we so loved to claim.  You could always hop on over to the Springfield Museum of Art and check out the statue built in honor of Native American leader, Tecumseh, who was twelve-years-old at the Battle of Peckuwe where Clark defeated the British-Shawnee troops.  Tecumseh is probably best know for trying to establish a Pan-Indian Federation in an effort to stop American expansion.  He was killed leading native forces at the Battle of Thames on October 5, 1813.

Finally, we come to Springfield's most noteworthy statue, Madonna of the Trail.  In 1928, Springfield's Madonna was the first of twelve to be constructed across the States to honor pioneer women.  The statue doesn't represent a single person, but rather an abstract concept, and unlike the others, this one was built as a national monument.  It celebrates the strength and courage of women on the American frontier.  In some countries it might be strange to portray a woman in a dress and sturdy boots, walking with small children and a rifle.  Not here.  American women are tough.

The statue has been moved twice in its lifetime, most recently in 2011 to the downtown area, close to Toulmin and Clark's statues, which is a pretty nice place for it (not as out-of-the-way as it used to be).

What little spirit and pride there is to be found should be celebrated.  These statues symbolize the important things we have done and can do, which is exactly what they should.  Springfield doesn't have to be the saddest town in the country, and these landmarks are just the beginning of our rich, cultural heritage.  Keep it classy, Springfield.

Special thanks today to Plaques!