28 February 2007

Re-defining "Man"

In the early 1960s Jane Goodall began researching chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park, Africa. It was there she discovered that the animals used small branches to fish termites from their mounds for food.

This use of tools by an animal other than a human was revolutionary, leading anthropologist Louis Leakey to write his famous quote "Now we must redefine tool, redefine Man, or accept chimpanzees as humans."

Now, two more advances in animal research are pushing the definition even further:

First, the recent discovery that chimpanzees create and then hunt with spears (pictured).

And then there is this: an even more revolutionary skill, possessed by a cat. [This link is a video file.]

I think we must now echo Leakey's words and either redefine music, redefine Man, or accept cats as humans.

27 February 2007

Hola, Amigos!

At work I am taking a Spanish class -- just basic, conversational Spanish. I don't need it for my job; it's a "personal growth" kind of thing.

At class today, our teacher was telling us that she also teaches English to Mexicans who have recently immigrated to America (legally, she quickly added). Her current class is made up of employees from a landscaping company.

She said that several of the employees left professional jobs in Mexico -- one was a pediatrician; another a veterinarian. She added that they are working as landscapers because they can make more money.

We are allowing trained and (I would assume) licensed doctors to languish as landscapers? How is that possible?

26 February 2007

Blogging While It's Happening

I think real-time blogging should be banned. Seriously. All writing needs editing -- ALL writing. Blogging while it's happening does not allow for editing. This is bad. Very bad.

23 February 2007

Who Cares About the Actors?

Although I totally love film, what I love even more is film making -- even more specifically, the behind the scenes of film making. I can watch hours of behind-the-scenes shows without ever seeing the actual movie. (Case in point: "Gone With the Wind." Hate the movie; love all the behind-the-scenes documentaries.)

I think the technical awards of the Oscars and BAFTAs, and Golden Globes should get their own show. Just think of it: A whole two hours devoted JUST to the technical aspects of filmmaking. Whole segments featuring the costumes and designs, reproductions of the sets and designs, demonstrations of the lighting effects. Wow! How fantastic would that be? (The same for the Tony Awards, plays and musicals.)

The creative elements are given short shrift during the awards shows. Remember a couple years back when the BAFTAs actually had long segments featuring the designs in the technical category? Sketches of sets transforming into the sets; swatches of fabrics morphing into the actual costumes. Wow!

What gets me about this whole subject is the vast importance of these disciplines. No matter how good the script, you will never have a movie without some kind of costumes, sets, make up, etc. Imagine a film like "Dreamgirls" with no costuming, or "United 93" without sets.

I was really thrilled at the closing credits of "Dreamgirls." No, I don't mean the cast, I mean the credits for the production elements. How cool to see sketches of the sets transforming into the actual sets accompanying the set-designer credit. They did the same for the lighting, the costumes, casting, choreography, even editing! That alone made the film a hit with me.

You can see these closing credits on the
website of the company that did them.

[Thanks to Matt for this tip.]

18 February 2007

The Curious Case of Wallis Simpson

Readers of this blog know I am a huge fan of the period of American history I refer to as "between the wars" -- roughly 1918 to 1946. So much that occurred in that time reverberates down the years and still affects our daily lives.

Apropos to nothing else, I want to offer a few thoughts on Wallis Simpson (pictured, in 1937) -- the American whose relationship with a prince (who later became king) changed the course of England.

I have read many many biographies and histories of this period -- some focusing on Simpson; others about the world of that time.

Recently, I watched the rather flaccid 2005 BBC adaptation
"Wallis and Edward" which pales mightily in comparison to the far superior 1978 Thames Television production "Edward and Mrs. Simpson." (It is not only a better telling of the story, but a fantastic movie to boot, winning an Emmy and BAFTA as best mini series.) All this on the heels of finishing the massive 1979 history "The Windsor Story" written by two people who knew the Duke and Duchess well.

Synthesizing all of this information I have noticed my thoughts changing.

When I first encountered the story of the king who gave up his throne for the woman he loved, I thought "Those bastards, not letting him marry her." Now, all these years later, I think I have a better understanding of the people, the times, and the motivations behind the events.

Wallis Simpson: Roughly speaking, I think Simpson is far from the innocent victim she wanted people to believe her to be. She was a calculating woman who very much wanted everything one could get from being married to a king -- perhaps even so far as being queen (which she steadfastly denied). She turned a chance encounter with the prince into a parlay that failed -- or succeeded (depending on how you look at it).

Prince Edward, later king: Edward, for all his brilliance, was certainly led astray by love. I don't question love and its manifest powers; rather, there are times when love can blur one's consideration of fact. He genuinely wanted to marry Wallis. He genuinely thought she should be accorded all the respect of the other royal women. Did he threaten to abdicate to force the government to give him his way? Many think so; I think not. He knew what he wanted and thought it unfairly denied him. So he abdicated, married the woman he loved and suffered the remainder of his life unable to return to his home to live, unable to contribute to society, unable to be more than the bank that paid for all of Wallis' whims.

The British government: While I can understand their not wanting Wallis as queen, I think their stated reasons specious: she was twice divorced. Religious reasoning aside, I cannot quite see what difference that made. However, my thoughts are that they really did not want an American to be queen. Let's face it, it was 150 years later, but the English were still pissed at America for breaking away. They undoubtedly thought of us as a wayward backwater lumped in the same basket as the other "colonies" (India, parts of Africa, Australia, Canada, Portugal, etc.). I cannot imagine them wanting Wallis as queen any more than someone from India.

Wallis and Edward together: Their marriage lasted 35 years, besting the naysayers by quite a long time. One certainly hopes their love kept them warm because -- aside from a pretty sizeable fortune (his) -- they had nothing but each other. Wallis spent a great deal of money of jewelry, furnishings for the many houses, and fashions (not for nothing was she named one of the best dressed women in the world many times). When asked why, she said she wanted her husband to live the life denied him (of being royalty). Considering how badly she treated him in the later years, I wonder how true that really was.

Did Wallis plan this adventure from the start? Not likely. It was a whirlwind of activity that not even she could have expected; but she took the ball and ran with it -- all the way to immortality.

I find it most interesting that she has gone from villain (at the time) to poor innocent (the new BBC movie) in just 70 years.

16 February 2007

New Citizenship Test

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service is trying out a new citizenship test -- this one, with questions that are supposed to be more meaningful and thoughtful.

The candidates are given all 142 questions and answers, and must be able to answer a small random amount (I think six) when they take the test.

While I don't think being able to memorize 142 answers makes someone a good citizen, I thought it would be interesting to see whether I could pass the test. I tried to answer all 142 -- and was surprised that I missed 19. I thought I would do better than that; but some of the questions are a little tricky. (Of course, had I been given the answers and studied, I am sure I would have aced it; and why I put "1774" for the date of the signing of the Declaration is certainly a mystery for the ages.)

Do you think you could pass the test? Try it yourself.

The questions are
here. The answers will be found here.

07 February 2007

Living in a Breeder-centric World

Oh, this is rich:

Archaeologists find two bodies buried in the same grave from thousands of years ago. They do not know the ages or sex of the bodies, yet the world announces this.

I just wonder what the papers will say when it turns out to be two men, or two women. Will it be love then? Of course not.

They will amend their stories to talk about how it was just a mass grave, and the bones got intertwined; but, with two men or two women, it could not possibly be love.

Cats: History Repeats Itself -- Again

A rather scary article in the New York Times about the possibility that cats could spread the H5N1 avian flu. Not good news.

However, officials are saying that cats which "reside mainly inside a residence'' are not likely to cause a problem. Yeh, let's all remember that when the crazed maniacs are killing all the cats out of fear of avian flu.

Does any of this sound eerily familiar? Oh yes, the Black Death -- made even worse by the killing of the cats and dogs that would have eaten the rats that harbored the fleas that were the real carriers.

05 February 2007

When No One Notices

Sunday, Matt and I were fast forwarding through the Super Bowl (is that some kind of sports event?) to watch the commercials -- which, let's face it, were rather lacking in creativity for the most part. (I got a real laugh out of the gorilla spot, and the pet store spot for that movie rental company that is not Netflix.)

I was confused by the one spot for the soft drink that featured different bottle designs at the time of significant events in black history -- February being Black History Month, after all.

At the end of this particular spot, it said this product was proud to have been around for all the significant events in black history -- especially today.

Hmmm? I didn't understand that reference, so I asked Matt what was the big deal about today. He told me that both coaches in the Super Bowl were black -- which I already knew. I said, "Why does that make today special? Don't they think blacks can coach football?"

Of course, I understood what made that day special. I guess such recognition about the accomplishment of a black man or woman (or just a woman, for that matter) seems weird to me -- like, they were saying, "Wow! A woman! Who woulda thought?" That seems so demeaning, as if people are so surprised a woman could do something.

Perhaps I will be more impressed, one day, when a woman does something big, or a black person, or an Asian, and no one notices their sex or ethnicity -- because, of course, everyone would feel "Well, why couldn't they do it?"