Art work

I spent the day helping artists set up booths for the Saint James Court Art Show in Louisville. There’s a lot of bureaucracy and hard work involved. People drive in from all over the country. They’re in a city many of them have never been to before.

The show here is huge. I was told by one artist that a Florida magazine named this as one of the top art fairs in the country.

First the artists have to register, having gone through an application process in which they have to find out if they’re good enough to attend. The art show here is like trying to get into college. Then, if they’re accepted, they have to reserve a a 10 foot by 10 foot space. They drive for hours to get here. Once they register, they have to find where they have to set up. That isn’t an easy task, because the show takes up multiple city blocks and involves planning by numerous neighborhood associations. Then, after they secure their little plot of land, they have a half hour to unpack then move their van out of the area to avoid a traffic backup so other artists can get in and set up.

Artists either come as families or as individuals. But however they arrive, each has to assemble what becomes a temporary studio: a canvas, plastic or vinyl tent filled with photographs, sculptures, paintings or whatever other crafts available for purchase. The assembly process takes hours. By the end of the day, they’re exhausted, but the show officially starts in the morning as they display for judges at 9:30 a.m.

In general, the economy isn’t doing that great, and a lot of people are worried about how sales will fare this weekend. But these folks are at least adding some culture to our drab lives, so you can only wish the best for them.

Does the analogy work?

The Washington Post has an article about how friends and families fall apart when someone says they’re a member of the Tea Party.

According to the article: Many activists joke that telling people they are part of the tea party is akin to disclosing that they are gay, exposing themselves to anger and ridicule by taking a step they describe as deeply cathartic.

It’s extremely hard to believe that a teabagger would use the persecution of gays as a comparison. Aren’t Tea Party advocates the people you’d expect to persecute a person who comes out as gay?

As the robot used to say in “Lost in Space”: This does not compute.

Faith matters

This seems discouraging. If an atheist argues with a deeply religious person over a matter of faith, the atheist likely knows more about the issue.

That’s one way to interpret the headlines concerning a U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public life.

But look closer at the actual survey results: What it says is that atheists/agnostics and Jews know more about world religions, while Mormons and Evangelicals know more about Christianity. That means the 32 multiple choice questions were essentially a pop quiz, a simplified Double Jeopardy category where you get a name (Joseph Smith) and you provide the question (Who was a leader of the Mormon faith?).

The survey is saying the truly faithful don’t care to know anything about religions other than their own. That means anyone who argues with the devout won’t get anywhere bringing up what other people believe, since it won’t really factor in the debate.

For example, go to an evangelical rally and say Jesus appears in the Koran. You’d probably start a riot because a lot of the faithful would consider that blasphemous. But Jesus and Mary, and a lot of other major figures in the Bible (including Abraham, Noah and Moses, who are also in the Torah) are in Islam’s holy book. So when a certain group of zealots in Gainesville, Florida, talk about buring Korans to commemorate 9/11, that pretty much falls in line with the Pew survey results. They know their faith, they don’t care about anyone else’s.

The survey says it factored in educational background in analyzing the results, so the overarching premise stands on who knows more about what. But that seems to be a general slap at the U.S. education system. If people believe you can’t teach comparative religion in schools, few are going on their own to learn anything about other religions. Then again, if you tried to teach comparative religion in schools, the faithful would protest that as an effort to indoctrinate children into other religions.

Perhaps that’s why atheists/agnostics scored the highest: They’re the most likely to have looked at alternatives outside the faith they were raised in, and found nothing that satisfied them.

One other thing: The survey had some general, nonreligious questions. This one always amazes me: four in 10 Americans don’t know who the vice president of the U.S. is.

I can hear Joe Biden saying: “Oh, my God!”

How to organize a rally

Workers are planning a huge labor rally at the European Parliament in Brussels tomorrow. It’s estimated 75,000 people are going to show up, and police are on the alert over the possibility of vandalism and violence since several anarchist groups are planning to participate (since anarchists and organized rallies don’t mix).

Why do I know this? Because I’m still on a mailing list with the U.S. embassy in Belgium, and I regularly get “demonstration notices” that tell Americans to stay away from certain areas when the locals organize marches and protests. Rallies are pretty common in Brussels, since that’s the base for the European Union. Folks pour in from all over the continent on a regular basis, with some grievance or another.

Back in June, European truckers took a convoy into town and disrupted traffic. The day before, German, French and Belgian farmers drove their tractors to Place Schuman, the site of the European parliament. Both protest were tied to rising fuel prices.

My favorite protests were when the dairy farmers came to town. They brought their cows and chickens with them. Last October, they sprayed riot police with milk and hay and let their cattle and poultry run loose through town. You have to give them credit for being creative.

Farmers are probably the most subsidized sector in Europe, but when they have a grievance, they immediately rally. Note, though, that as crazy as it all seems, no one is really out of control. There is hardly any property damage, and cleanup usually involves hosing the street down. Chances are if you hosed American riot police with milk, all hell would break loose.

When labor in Europe gets riled up, it will take action immediately. Remember that during soccer’s World Cup this year in South Africa, the French football team when on strike during the planet’s biggest sporting event after the coach sent a player back to Paris in a dispute.

Contrast that with a recent American rally in Washington to “take back America” led by a former coke head and a half-term governor of a state with a hell of a lot more land than people.

European demonstrators want action. American demonstrations turn into Bible studies.

George Blanda died

Football fans my age remember that back in the early 1970s, whenever the Oakland Raiders played, television cameras would focus on an older guy wearing the number 16, sitting on the bench, smoking a cigarette. He’d put the cigarette down, put on his helmet, trot onto the field and kick a winning field goal.

Television commentators loved George Blanda. He played until 1976, retiring at 49, and gave retired jocks in the announcers’ booth the feeling that no matter how out of shape they were, they could still suit up keep up with the younger guys, because George could do it. He was a Hall of Fame kicker and the Raiders backup quarterback. But he had a huge career as a quarterback long before he joined the Raiders and was one of the players responsible for the success of the old American Football League.

He must have driven antismoking forces crazy, because he always was puffing away on the sidelines when he wasn’t playing. Haven’t seen anything like him in football since.

He was 83.

Twin peeks

There was an item in the news last week about the great “Sesame Street” controversy of 2010. It seems Katy Perry has cleavage, and children shouldn’t be exposed to it.

Considering the kids that make up audience for “Sesame Street” are probably a couple of years past breast feeding, chances are they’ve already seen a lot more at home and wouldn’t have been permanently damaged by the decolletage. The song was more likely to give them nightmares. (Why’s she running around Antarctica without a coat?)

What’s this American obsession with cleavage? When Hillary Clinton was running for president, the Washington Post’s fashion writer devoted an entire column to the cut of her blouse. I was in Brussels at the time and wondered, “Why is this important?”

But then, Belgium is a place where you see nude women in ads for diet supplements in drug-store windows and scantily dressed or naked couples in television commercials. And in all that time, I never saw a kid fall to the ground and start foaming at the mouth the way kids must be doing here.  Why else would a parent get so upset?

And yes, I do have a kid. He’s doing quite well, thank you.

Our short attention span (Football edition)

Mike Vick with Philadelphia

Image via Wikipedia

Three years ago, Michael Vick was one of the most hated people on the planet. (Yes, the planet. Every dog lover in Europe knew who he was.) He was on his way to jail for running a dog-fighting ring. He was condemned by sportswriters and mocked on “Saturday Night Live” over a drug bust in Miami. His NFL career was over, his sponsorships gone. He would eventually declare bankruptcy. If there was a bottom, he’d found himself six feet below that.

But this is the world of sports, and you’re forgiven your sins as long as you lead your team to victory. Can the endorsements be that far behind?

They must have taken their stupid pills that day

Reuters reported that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran told the United Nations the U.S. orchestrated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to reverse the declining American economy. The U.S. and European delegations, rightly, walked out during the speech.

Meanwhile, right-wing bloggers, reported that Israel’s delegation boycotted President Obama’s U.N. speech. Media Matters explains there was no boycott. It was a Jewish holiday.

Play it … not you, Sam

The best scene in the 1942 classic “Casablanca” involves a song prefaced by the words “Play it.”

No, not that song. This one.

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman play minor roles here. The star is Paul Henreid, as Victor Laszlo, a leader of the Czech underground, trying to make his way with his wife to America from the refugee haven in North Africa.

The movie was made the year after America’s entry into the war following the attack on Pearl Harbor. The scene encompasses the spirit of the period. The Germans are cocky: They’ve conquered most of Europe and have turned their sights on Russia. The Nazis were convinced world domination was theirs.

Thousands of refugees were trying to escape Hitler’s tyranny, getting out of Europe and finding any possible way to make their way to America.

But there is uncertainty on how committed America is to the battle. U.S. troops are in Europe, things are looking grim and the invasion of Normandy is two years away. And the Americans came into the war not because of Germany, but because of the Japanese, half a world away.

Look at how the scene plays out. The Nazis have taken over the piano at Rick’s American Cafe. (Isn’t that Sam’s piano?) They sing of the glory of the Fatherland. It’s already established that the people in the bar are from all parts of Europe: Bulgarians, French, Russians even persecuted Germans. Everyone is despondent. The Nazis gloat.

Victor is in Rick’s (Bogart’s) office when he hears the Germans. Disgusted by the spectacle, he marches to the house orchestra and demands it play the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise.”

And here’s the importance of the scene: The musicians don’t start immediately, they look to see if Rick will allow it. The world is waiting to see where America stands. Rick nods approval and the music begins. Laszlo leads the singing and everyone joins in immediately, but none of this is possible without Rick’s assent.

What they sing isn’t a simple song of love of country. The message of La Marseillaise is: “We are going to kick your ass!”

Here’s a translation of the refrain:

“To arms citizens!
Form your battalions!
Let’s march, let’s march!
May impure blood
Water our furrows!!”

Henreid isn’t the only one who carries this scene. At one point, the focus is on Madeleine Lebeau, who sings the line: “Ils viennent jusque dans nos bras.” (They are coming into our midst.)

Who is Madeleine Lebeau?

She is the movie’s last surviving credited cast member.

In the movie, she plays Yvonne, a French girl spurned by Rick, who out of spite takes up with a German officer. Early in the movie, she’s ridiculed by a French gendarme for being with a German. At the beginning of this scene, she’s drinking alone at a table, miserable while the Germans celebrate. Then “La Marseillaise” begins, and she is in tears, singing with a fierce passion. At the end of the song, she cries out “Vive la France!”

Lebeau was born in France in 1921. When she was 19, she and her Jewish husband Marcel Dalio (who plays Emil in the film) fled Paris during the German occupation. They went to Lisbon (an important transit point to the western hemisphere) and unwittingly picked up forged visas, ending up in Mexico. Eventually, they made their way to America. Their journey, despite its setbacks, was exactly what the characters in this movie hoped to accomplish.

Knowing this, you realize her tears, and the energy she puts into the anthem, are real.

Vanilla pledge

Looking through the latest Republican pledge to America, you get the feeling you’ve heard all of this before.

Not trying to be cynical (no matter how easy they make it), but when you’re approaching a major election and promise to present new ideas, you don’t go into your storage cabinet, dust off a file folder from eight years ago and pretend it’s something you’ve worked meticulously on for the two years you were sent into exile because your ideas not only didn’t work, but made things pretty bad for everyone in general.

OK, since it’s more of the same, who is this aimed at? Jed Lewison in a Daily Kos entry looked at the GOP “governing document” and came up with this. Let see, probably a couple of hundred people in these photos. Buried in there is one black and maybe one hispanic. Way to reach out, guys.

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