Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Octopus and Squirrel

There were two notable deaths this week that probably went unnoticed. 

First, there was Paul, the Octopus, who gained worldwide fame this year by correctly forecasting the outcome of eight World Cup soccer matches including the final in this year's championship. Paul died peacefully of natural causes a couple of days ago. He was about two years old. 

During the World Cup in South Africa in June and July, TV channels around the world provided live coverage of Paul's forecasts, made by picking a tasty mussel from one of two transparent boxes emblazoned with the national flags of the two opposing teams. 
Paul making a Prediction
There was a one in 256 chance that he would get all eight predictions right. Paul's success rate confounded mathematicians, angered bookmakers and spooked hundreds of millions of football fans around the world. Bon Voyage, Paul.

And then, there was the passing of Alex Anderson, the cartoonist who first drew Rocky the flying squirrel and his buddy, the bumbling moose Bullwinkle. Mr. Anderson died last Friday. He was 90.

As a kid, I loved the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. I remember pretending to be Rocky. I would wear sunglasses (my crude goggles) and then run around the house as if flying like that amazing squirrel. Ah, those were the days. Mr. Anderson´s talent and creativity will be missed. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Picks of the Month


Lost in Austen:
An engaging movie for Jane Austen fans. It's funny and full of surprises. For the longest time, I avoided watching the movie. Then on an impulse, I decided to give it a try. I'm glad I did. If you're not familiar with "Pride and Prejudice," then this movie is not for you.

Let the Right One In:
Great flick from Sweden. It's the perfect choice for Halloween!  It's definitely not for children or the faint at heart. 

Italian for Beginners:
A charming movie from Denmark. It's realistic yet full of life.  A feel good movie!


Three Bags Full:  A Sheep Detective Story, by Leonie Swann, translated from the German by Anthea Bell

A murder mystery solved by sheep. It's completely original. I read it in German this past summer. A must read. I'm in the process of reading the English translation.


Sherlock (Masterpiece Mystery on PBS)

It's not just another Sherlock Holmes. The new three-part series is a contemporary take on the father of forensic crime-solving. This Sherlock Holmes is remarkably true to the spirit of the original, an arrogant, antisocial man fixated on tiny details and deductive reasoning. I saw the first episode last night. I was expecting to be disappointed but happily surprised.  

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wacky Lady, Part II

Here is an opinion piece from Maureen Dowd about Virginia Thomas, who I wrote about a few days ago. It was in was in today's NY Times. We seem to share the same opinion on the subject.  

Supremely Bad Judgment

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Readers' Comments

Readers shared their thoughts on this article.
In the wacky coda to one of the most searing chapters in American history, everyone remained true to form.
Anita Hill reacted with starchy disgust.
Ginni Thomas came across like a spiritually addled nut.
Clarence Thomas was mute, no doubt privately raging about the trouble women have caused him.
And now into the circus comes Lillian McEwen, an old girlfriend of Thomas’s.
Looking to shop a memoir, the 65-year-old McEwen used the occasion of Ginni’s weird phone message to Anita — asking her to “consider an apology” and “pray about this” and “O.K., have a good day!” — to open up to reporters.
If “the real Clarence” had been revealed at the time, he probably wouldn’t have ascended to the court, McEwen told The Times’s Ashley Parker. Especially since the real Clarence denied ever using the “grotesque” argot of the porn movies he regularly rented at a D.C. video store.
In her interviews, McEwen confirmed Thomas’s obsession with women with “huge, huge breasts,” with scouting the women he worked with as possible partners, and with talking about porn at work — while he was head of the federal agency that polices sexual harassment.
Years later, some of the Democrats on that all-male, all-white Senate Judiciary Committee told me they assumed there must have been a consensual romance between the boss and his subordinate. McEwen assumed so, too, because Clarence took Anita with him when he changed agencies. Hill has made it clear she felt no reciprocal attraction.
Joe Biden, the senator who ran those hearings, was leery of the liberal groups eager to use Hill as a pawn to checkmate Thomas. He circumscribed the testimony of women who could have corroborated Hill’s unappetizing portrait of a power-abusing predator.
For the written record, Biden allowed negative accounts only from women who had worked with Thomas. He also ruled out testimony from women who simply had personal relationships with Thomas, and did not respond to a note from McEwen — a former assistant U.S. attorney who had once worked as a counsel for Biden’s committee — reminding him of her long relationship with Thomas.
It’s too late to relitigate the shameful Thomas-Hill hearings. We’re stuck with a justice-for-life who lied his way onto the bench with the help of bullying Republicans and cowed Democrats.
We don’t know why Ginni Thomas, who was once in the thrall of a cultish self-help group called Lifespring, made that odd call to Hill at 7:30 on a Saturday morning. But we do know that the Thomases show supremely bad judgment. Mrs. Thomas, a queen of the Tea Party, is the founder of a new nonprofit group, Liberty Central, which she boasts will be bigger than the Tea Party. She sports and sells those foam Statue of Liberty-style crowns as she makes her case against the “tyranny” of President Obama and Congressional Democrats, who, she charges, are hurting the “core founding principles” of America.
As The Times’s Jackie Calmes wrote, Mrs. Thomas started her nonprofit in late 2009 with two gifts of $500,000 and $50,000, and additional sums this year that we don’t know about yet. She does not have to disclose the donors, whose money makes possible the compensation she brings into the Thomas household.
There is no way to tell if her donors have cases before the Supreme Court or whether her husband knows their identities. And she never would have to disclose them if her husband had his way.
The 5-to-4 Citizens United decision last January gave corporations, foreign contributors, unions, Big Energy, Big Oil and superrich conservatives a green light to surreptitiously funnel in as much money as they want, whenever they want to elect or unelect candidates. As if that weren’t enough to breed corruption, Thomas was the only justice — in a rare case of detaching his hip from Antonin Scalia’s — to write a separate opinion calling for an end to donor disclosures.
In Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court chose the Republican president. In Citizens United, the court may return Republicans to control of Congress. So much for conservatives’ professed disdain of judicial activism. And so much for the public’s long-held trust in the impartiality of the nation’s highest court.
Justice Stephen Breyer recently rejected the image of the high court as “nine junior varsity politicians.” But it’s even worse than that. The court has gone beyond mere politicization. Its liberals are moderate and reasonable, while the conservatives are dug in, guzzling Tea.
Thomas and Scalia have flouted ethics rules by attending seminars sponsored by Koch Industries, an energy and manufacturing conglomerate run by billionaire brothers that has donated more than $100 million to far-right causes.
Christine O’Donnell may not believe in the separation of church and state, but the Supreme Court does not believe in the separation of powers.
O.K., have a good day!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wacky Lady

Virginia Thomas, wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and prominent voice in the Tea Party movement, made a strange telephone call a few weeks ago.  Ms. Thomas is the founder of the nonprofit group, Liberty Central, which is dedicated to opposing what she has termed the "leftist tyranny" of the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats. But what made the headlines yesterday was the voice mail message she left for Anita Hill.

Ms. Hill testified, during Judge Thomas's Senate confirmation hearing in 1991, that Judge Thomas had repeatedly made inappropriate sexual comments to her in the workplace, including descriptions of pornographic films. Mr. Thomas denied the allegations and called them “a high-tech lynchin." 

In the voice mail message, Mrs. Thomas said, "Good Morning Anita Hill, it's Ginni Thomas. I just wanted to reach out across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought. And certainly pray about this and hope that one day you will let us understand why you did what you did. Okay, have a good day."  

In response to Ms. Thomas's bizarre telephone message, Ms. Hill told the press that she had nothing to apologize for. "Ms. Thomas can't ask for an apology without suggesting that I did something wrong."

What's up with Virginia Thomas? She claims that she made the telephone call to extend an olive branch. Really? So telling someone they're a liar is extending an olive branch. Um? That's a new one. 

It's been nearly two decades since the country was shocked and riveted by the allegations leveled against her husband. Hasn't Ms.Thomas put those events in the past? Or is she still troubled by the accusations and have lingering doubts. I can only surmise that Ms.Thomas is still stewing about the Anita Hill incident and the salacious statements made all those years ago. All I can say to Ms. Thomas is get some professional help and give it a rest. It's time to move on! 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why is Multiculturalism Good?

Like the USA, Germany is debating the issue of immigration and its impact on the nation. For years Germany embraced the notion of multiculturalism or "multikulti" as it is known in Germany. This last Sunday, Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that multiculturalism in Germany was a failure and said it was an illusion to think that Germans and foreign workers could "live happily side by side." "We kidded ourselves for a while that they wouldn't stay, but that's not the reality. Of course the tendency had been to say, 'let's adopt the multicultural concept and live happily side by side, and be happy to be living with each other'. But this concept has failed, and failed utterly," she said.

Her comments were hardly surprising. She stated the obvious. Everybody in Germany has known for years, if not decades, that its immigrants have failed to assimilate and that two separate cultures exist. Nevertheless, her statements fanned Germany's already raging debate on immigration. A chorus of politicians has argued that many people from the immigrant community, which includes some four million Muslims and makes up some 18 percent of the population, have failed to integrate into German society. 
Thilo Sarrazin touched off the debate in August with the launch of his polemic book blaming immigration for what he saw as the demise of German society.

Having lived in Germany, I agree that there are two distinct societies: one German and the other Islamic. These two cultures do not mix. If you visit the neighborhoods of Kreuzberg or Neukölln in Berlin, it's like being in an Islamic country. The women are veiled and the language is Turkish. There are even state funded public schools that teach Islamic language, culture and religion.

A number of years ago, a German friend commented that my German was better than most third or fourth generation Turkish Berliners, after only a few months of studying German. I thought it was a kind thing to say, but certainly not true. Unfortunately, the longer I live in Germany, the more I learn how accurate the statement was.

In recent years, Germany has devised a number of programs to assimilate the Turkish population. It provides free language, cultural, and civic instruction to its Turkish residents, and has poured millions of euros into early education. The result: there is little interest in the Turkish community to learn German or German culture, few Turkish children obtain a high school degree and even fewer go on to higher education. The percentage of Turkish people on public assistance is far greater that its population would dictate while the crime rate higher. Germany has discovered, too late, that it has a distinct and separate subculture, a sub-class increasingly independent of German society.

For years these facts were known but never spoken publicly. No one wanted to be labeled a racist. That has all changed. The recent rash of honor killings, the daily accounts of Turkish women being treated as virtual slaves by their husbands, and the waive of gangland style murders in the Turkish community have made people willing to critically examine what was heretofore a taboo subject: the failure of Germany to integrate its Turkish residents.

The USA can learn a lot from the German experience. Our recent waive of illegal immigration from Mexico, Central and South America should cause us to examine how we integrate our new arrivals. Our we doing enough to make these people, and their children, successful Americans citizens, or are we marginalizing them. There is a lot of talk about sending "them" back, but in reality, they are here to stay. Do we want to create a permanent sub-class of people like in Germany.

If history is any indication, we needn't worry. For over two hundred years, the USA has successfully integrated millions of people from around the world. Moreover, most of our recent immigrants are grounded in our same western traditional values, making assimilation easier. Unlike Germany's Turkish community, which is grounded in Islam, most of our immigrants are Christian with similar values regarding gender equality and freedom of expression.

Yet today, the USA stresses multiculturalism. I often hear people say multiculturalism is wonderful. But why? Why is multiculturalism good. Why shouldn't people who come to the USA adopt or at least accept our values of gender equality, religious diversity, freedom of privacy, and freedom of speech.

Why is it alright to criticize Christian values but not okay to criticize Islam? Why is it okay for women to be covered from head to foot (a symbol of modesty or gender subservience), but not okay to draw a cartoon of an Islamic prophet?

Moreover, why should voting ballots be in multiple languages? California has gone so far as to have voter ballots that are printed in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Tagalog, etc. Why? Shouldn't citizens know enough English to cast a ballot in English? There is even a Question on this November's ballot asking Portland voters to grant non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections.  Isn't voting one of the benefits conferred to citizens? If a person can't make the effort to obtain citizenship, why should we give them the right to vote?

I've always believed that "when in Rome do as the Romans." Multiculturalism can be good but only to a point. When multiculturalism conflicts with basic human rights and human dignity, then it has no place in the USA.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Mistress and Wife Story Goes Viral

One of the more interesting stories about the trapped Chilean miners was the dispute between the wife and mistress of one of the miners. Chilean miner Yonni Barrios was greeted by his mistress when he was rescued yesterday. His wife boycotted the event because "the other woman" was going to be at the site. Apparently, Mr. Barrios had requested that both his wife and mistress welcome him when he emerged.

This story caught on in the media. After all, sensationalist human interest stories are more exciting to the press than what is actually unfolding. Sure we talk about the last guy out of the hole and the technology that was used in the rescue, but wouldn't you rather hear about the miner with a mistress and how his wife won't greet him but the girlfriend will. I thought these things only happened in France.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Bison Burger Right Off the Hoof

Melby's Market and Eatery
I found Melby's Market and Eatery in Waterford on my way to Bethel this past weekend. Melby's isn't fancy, but the food is good, and it has authentic Maine charm: no pretense and a certain brusqueness. It also has a great bison burger that is truly fresh. Since the local bison ranch is just a few miles down the road, one could say, the burger was right off the hoof.

On the day I visited, Melby's had its share of leaf peepers (people touring New England's for fall foliage) so the place was crowded. I ate at the counter, and as a result, I was able to talk to some of the locals. I learned a lot about local Waterford culture. Turns out, Waterford is Maine's version of Payton Place. You know, plenty of sex, adultery, and hypocrisy.

Tomorrow's Bison Burgers
Even though I'm an atheist, Melby's was a godsend. I was in one of my low blood sugar moments, grouchy and unpleasant.  I really needed a place to eat!  It was a miracle I found Melby's. 

Finding a good place to eat on a road trip is a challenge. I remember driving across country and searching for restaurants that wouldn't give me indigestion. It was always hit or miss. Fortunately, there were more hits than misses.

Beech Hill Bison Ranch
I particularly remember Del's Restaurant in Tucumcari, New Mexico. Del's was the last place I had good Mexican food. Then there was the Olive Garden (yes, the Olive Garden) in Terre Haute, Indiana, with its exceptional service and charming mid-west friendliness. Finally, how could I forget, there was the Italian Garden in Wichita, Kansas, a cheesy version of the Olive Garden (if that's possible). The Italian Garden had a certain sophistication that made you believe you were in Tuscany or at least in Little Italy.  BTW:  it had inexpensive wine and an authentic iceberg lettuce salad that reminded me of my childhood. The Italian Garden also had a logo that looked surprisingly similar the logo used by the Olive Garden. Um, trademark issue?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Four F's for Bayou Kitchen

Interior View

Street View
Friendly, Fast, Fantastic Food. A touch of Louisiana at this cozy bit of Cajun country in Portland. Tucked quietly off the beaten path on Deering Avenue, Bayou Kitchen is the best breakfast place in Portland. The atmosphere is friendly, the service fast, and the pancakes and scramble fantastic. In my opinion, it has some of the best Cajun food outside Louisiana. I especially recommend the pancakes and the Jambalaya (beware, it's spicy). Bayou Kitchen is small, but don't let its unassuming appearance dissuade you from entering. Come early and with an empty stomach, but not too often. I don't want this place to become another Becky's Dinner, where you need to wait an hour for a seat during tourist season. 
The Picture Speaks for Itself

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pie on the Honor System

Enjoying Fall

It was a beautiful but windy fall day here in Maine. The temps were in the low 50s and high 40s, a perfect day for a trip to the country. In Maine, you soon realize that one day it can be sunny, the next miserable. This is not California. When the weather is good, it's time to make hay. The only thing that is certain, is the uncertainty of the weather. 

I've noticed that fall tends to make people anxious, especially in New England. We know that just around the corner is winter.  As each day inches closer toward winter, the anxiety increases, and Mainers take every opportunity to make use of the last vestiges of summer.   

Today, I decided to visit the town of Bethel in western Maine.  Located at the foot of the White Mountains, Bethel has been described by Downeast Magazine as the "best" Maine mountain town to relax.  I'm always leery of the "best."  What does the "best" restaurant, the "best" movie, or the "best" anything mean?  In any case, I've always thought the journey is more interesting than the destination.  If Bethel turned out to be a bust then at least I could enjoy the countryside.  

Puzzle Mountain Bakery

Bethel was worth the trip, but more about that in a future post. The highlight of the excursion was a visit to the Puzzle Mountain Bakery, near Newry (pop. 344) off of Bear River Road.  I had heard their fruit pies were good; and as my friends know, my sweet tooth never turns down a good pie.  What I found at Puzzle Mountain was something of a surprise, even for this old cynic and curmudgeon.

Puzzle Mountain Bakery isn't so much a traditional bakery, but rather a small wooden stand at the side of the road.  There isn't anything particularly unusual about what they sell: home made fruit pies, preserves, and cookies.  

Put Money in Box
As we drove up, I noticed there was no one manning the stand. Not a person in sight. The goods were on the shelf with the prices clearly labeled. A sign was posted telling people to pay for the goods by putting the money in a lock box. You pay on the honor system.  It's like that in rural Maine. People still trust!  It was refreshing, but I wondered how many people took a pie without paying. Nevertheless, I got and PAID for two pies, which turned out to be delicious.  I would mention, however, that the lock box was securely fastened by a big lock. I guess trust only goes so far.   

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Trader Joe's Blows!

What was going to be a joyous posting has turned sour.  Here is a copy of a message I sent to Trader Joe's today:

Trader Joe's Portland Maine

I am a California transplant to Maine. I was quite excited to find out that a Trader Joe's was coming to Portland. So excited, in fact, that I decided to write a posting in my Blog to tell my local friends about how great Trader Joe's would be. I went to the site to take a picture of the Trader Joe's sign from the parking lot.  A Trader Joe's employee came running out of the store waving his hands and shouting: NO PICTURES! The unexpected hostility has soured my enthusiasm for Trader Joe's. The Blog posting will emphasize this. Why would you greet potential customers in this fashion? What harm is there in taking an innocent picture of something plainly visible from the street? We have a number of shopping options in Portland.


Former Trader Joe's Fan

I'm Back

New York Stock Exchange
I've returned to Maine and just in time for Fall color.  It's been a busy few weeks, and I apologize for my lapse in Blog postings. At last, I am settled in and should be writing regularly again.

Last week I was in New York City and was reminded of what a small world we live in.  As I was leaving the airport security area to get my luggage, I heard someone call out my name.  I looked up, and there was Bill Junker, a former colleague from my days at the Energy Commission.  What are the odds of running into someone 3,000 miles away from where our connection was.  Well, that's New York!