Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving in Tasmania

Museum of New and Old Art (MONA)
at Moorilla
A cool and wet Thanksgiving in Tasmania, Australia. This year our traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey and pumpkin pie was replaced with fish and chips at the Manning Reef Cafe in Sandy Bay, just outside Hobart. I don't remember a better fish and chips than this. Being in a place where no one pays any attention to Thanksgiving seems almost surreal, but I'm enjoying the break from the intensity associated with this holiday in the USA. For dinner, we had an excellent take-out meal at the Cripps DT & JL Bakehouse in the small village of Bellerive. The food was quite good and the prices were remarkably affordable for Australia.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Skateboarding in East Germany

A skateboarding culture in the former East Germany? This Ain't California is a documentary film celebrating the hidden East German skateboarding culture. Even if you're not a skateboarding enthusiast, this movie is a fascinating look at three young men driven to excel. There are breathtaking displays of nose wheelies and ollies, including entertaining sequences filmed in Berlin's Alexanderplatz during the mid-1980's. It's worth a view just to see how Berlin has changed since reunification.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

How Have People Magazines's Sexiest Men Fared?

People magazine has just named Adam Levine, the Sexiest Man Alive for 2013. I've never heard of the guy, but I'm not People's demographic audience. So my opinion doesn't count for much. Nevertheless, this annual award got me thinking. How have past winners fared over the years? 

Nick Nolte wasn't bad in 1982,
but what happened?

Mel was certainly cute in 1985

Tom Cruise looks the same
23 years later. Who is his plastic surgeon?

Looked good then.  Looks good now.
I would say Graceful Aging 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How Gay is the USA?

Here's an interesting survey conducted by the Gallup polling organization. According to Gallup, the percentage of U.S. adults who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) ranges from 10% in the District of Columbia to 1.7% in North Dakota. The national average is 3.5%. Of the fives states with highest percentage of LGBT adults (D.C., Hawaii, Vermont, Oregon and Maine), only Oregon has yet to legalize same-sex marriage. Oregonians will have an opportunity next year to change that in a voter referendum.

The states with the lowest percentage of LGBT adults (Utah, Tennessee, Mississippi, Montana, and North Dakota) are deeply conservative and unlikely to let their gay and lesbian citizens marry any time soon. 

Most Americans now back same-sex marriage according to recent polls. Personally, I don't like the idea of letting states decide constitutional issues and rights. The U.S. Constitution enshrines certain rights and liberties as so important that they are above the politics of day. Freedom of speech and religion are never put to a vote. Why then the right to marry? The whole point of the U.S. Constitution was to protect the rights of the minority from the bigotries of the majority. Simply put: the right to marry, as protected under Equal Protection clause of the Constitution, should extend to all Americans, gay or straight. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Jimmy Justice: Showing Police Officers Who Behave Badly

Jimmy Justice (not his real name) is a Brooklyn, New York video activist. He posts videos on YouTube showing NYC traffic enforcement officers breaking the law. His videos are not only entertaining, but they document a very real problem: police officers and other public servants who think they are above the law. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Addressing People by Their First Name

Whatever happened to "Mr. De Leon, may I call you Fernando?" That may seem stuffy, but the whole part of needing permission to use a first name was that it implied intimacy. We all use first names more than we used to, but we still have surnames for strangers and first names for friends. It's no wonder I'm always irritated by a grocery store clerk, waiter, or office receptionist presuming to sound like a friend. But do they really think we're touched by their "friendliness?" In fact, it's more likely to be the opposite.

In Germany, addressing a stranger by his or her first name is considered rude; yet, some German's think it's perfectly acceptable to address Americans by their first name and everybody else by their surnames. It's one of those cultural differences that drives me crazy. I know people mean well, but it would be nice for people to understand social boundaries.    

Pussy Riot Calls for Boycott

Jailed Members of Pussy Riot
Here's an update on yesterday's posting. A member of the Russian punk band, Pussy Riot has called for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics as a way to oppose the Putin regime. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Boycott the Sochi Olympics: Is there any difference between targeting Jews in Nazi Germany and targeting gays in Putin's Russia?

The Olympics are and have always been political. They have lent legitimacy to repressive states like China and the former USSR and made a mockery of freedom in Mexico. The Nazis used the 1936 Olympics to present an image of a peaceful and tolerant Germany. Now, 77 years later, there is an ominous parallel with the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

In less than three months, the Winter Olympics will begin, but I won't be watching because of the anti-gay laws passed by the Putin regime. These laws ban "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations." Even among the Russians, it's unclear what this exactly means, but people could be arrested for giving pro-gay speeches, discussing homosexuality or even holding the hand of a same sex friend. (I suspect this posting also breaks the law.) Violators face fines, imprisonment, and deportation. Already Russia's crackdown on gays has seen it ban gay pride parades, arrest hundreds of people protesting the laws, and outlaw adoptions by same-sex couples. 

In effect, Russia has given the green light for hate, bigotry, and aggression of the country's LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community. In recent months, there have been attacks and even violent murders against gays, including 23-year-old Vladislav Tornovoi, whose killers raped him with beer bottles and then killed him by smashing his head.

At a time when most western countries are recognizing the rights of gay people, Russia is taking a giant step backward. A civilized world cannot tolerate Russia's behavior and should condemn it for denying its citizens basic human dignity. Moreover, Olympic sponsors and broadcasting networks share in Russia's culpability. Sitting back idly is tacit acceptance of Russia's actions and can lead to more repression and persecution of gay people in the future. If Russia's laws today were targeted against the Jews, as the Nazis did in Germany, would we support the Olympics?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Urlaub im Kloster (Vacation at a Cloister)

Das Kloster Mariense
Urlaub im Kloster liegt im Trend in Deutschland. Ein Ort ohne TV, ohne Fernsehen, ohne Internet, ohne Handy, und dann noch früh aufstehen. Für einige Menschen schon. Sie tauchen ein in die ruhige Welt der Klöster, um neue Kraft zu schöpfen. Es fällt dort leichter als in anderen Orten, den Lärm und die Hektik des Alltags hinter sich zu lassen.

Das Kloster Mariensee wurde in 1207 gegründet und liegt in nordwestlich von Hannover. Es bietet zahlreiche Möglichkeiten für Menschen, die eine Auszeit nehmen wollen: Tage der Stille, Seminare, und Kurse in alter Schrift. Die Preise dafür sind günstig. Eine Übernachtung mit Verpflegung kostet nur 50 Euro! 

Vacationing in a medieval cloister is the newest trend in Germany. A place without TV, without internet, without cell phones, and an early rising. For some people it's a place to find peace and a place to recharge. 

The Mariensee Cloister was founded in 1207 and is open to the public for overnight stays. It's northwest of Hannover and is an easy drive from Berlin. There's something for everyone including seminars and courses. Of course, you can do nothing at all. The cost is right too: only 50 Euros per night, including meals!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Bruegel's "The Way to Calvary," Movie Style

The Mill and the Cross is a very unusual film about a painting. Specifically, Pieter Bruegel's masterpiece The Way to Calvary, the story of the Crucifixion set in Flanders during the brutal Spanish occupation. There's not much narrative and very little dialogue in the movie; yet, its painstaking attention to detail and mesmerizing images are spellbinding. 

A Portion of
The Way to Calvary (1564)
Pieter Bruegel the Elder
As the movie unfolds, we enter the world of the painting and observe the ordinary lives of 16th-century people: couples engaged in sexual dalliances, children scurrying about, musicians playing instruments, soldiers tormenting the villagers, and farmers tending their fields. The characters move in and out of the painting as landscapes change between filmed and painted images. The film mixes live action, special effects, green screen work, and the actual painting itself. It's a surreal vision of both the Crucifixion and the early Renaissance.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Mystery of the Blue Train: "Journeys End in Lovers Meeting"

Agatha Christie Challenge: Book Number 8

The Mystery on the Blue Train is one of Agatha Christie's lesser known works. Written shortly after Christie's own sensational divorce, the novel uses divorce as an integral part of the narrative. It's an entertaining read with a deftly drawn plot, comical asides, and engaging characters. 

The book had its origins in Christie's 1922 novella, The Plymouth Express, which tells the story of a young heiress who is murdered while on board a train. Christie took that story and expanded it into this full-length Poirot novel. Like many of Christie's travel stories, The Mystery on the Blue Train evokes an age when travel was a luxury. Images of the Riviera, grand hotels, witty conversation, and smartly dressed people punctuate the book giving it an elegant feel.

The book marks the first mention of the village of St. Mary Mead, the setting for many future Miss Marple stories; and introduces us to a minor character, Miss Viner, who is an unassuming yet crafty spinster with an uncanny ability to see through people. Many critics believe that Miss Viner was the prototype for Jane Marple.

Rating B

Monday, November 4, 2013

Two French Movies Worth a View: "Haute Cuisine" and "Populaire"

France has produced some very funny and engaging movies over the years, including 8 Women (2002), Amelie (2001), and The Closet (2001). I recently saw two delightful movies from La Belle France that don't demand much except an open heart. 

Haute Cuisine (2012) (Les Saveurs du Palais, original title) is a charming and mouthwatering movie about the French president's first female chef. Based on a true story, Haute Cuisine is a tasty morsel that leaves you salivating over the scrumptious french dishes that fill the screen. And although Haute Cuisine has subplots involving sexism and politics, it's foremost a movie about food. 

Populaire (2102)
Populaire (2012) evokes the Rock Hudson and Doris Day movies of the early 1960's. It's a predictable romantic comedy with vibrant colors, snazzy pop music, and vintage clothes. Who cares about the implausible plot, the contrived situations, and stereotypical characters. Populaire is just fun.