Saturday, April 30, 2005

Diversity right now, Dammit!

I was reading this story: Microsoft gay workers call for action

In it, gay and lesbian workers are apparently incensed by Microsoft's neutral stance concerning Washington State Legislature's HB1515, a workplace anti discrimination bill.

The ruckus started when Microsoft declined to actively endorse the bill. At first it was reported in The Stranger that MS had done so in a peer pressure defeat from a local Evangelical Church run by Ken Hutcherson, a nationally known opponent of gay rights.

What made it kind of tricky was that two MS employees had testified in Olympia about the bill:

"....Two gay Microsoft employees, Jean McCarthy, a business development manager, and Gregory S. McCurdy, a senior attorney, testified in the house State Government Operations and Accountability committee in favor of the bill. Asked if they were making their statements as official representatives of the company, McCurdy informed the committee that they were appearing in a personal capacity, but added that "the company has taken a position in support of the bill."
They apparently overstepped their understanding slightly.

Microsoft's gay and lesbian employee group (GLEAM) is now demanding Microsoft support the anti-discrimination legislation. GLEAM called on Ballmer to act before the next year's legislative session, and laid out a series of steps for the company "to achieve the goals that you have outlined in the past".

They said:

"Our company values are clearly documented and our internal policies against discrimination are unquestioned. Because of our long-standing support for anti-discrimination legislation, the withdrawal of support from HB1515 was a shock."

"We are deeply concerned about the way the decision was made, the failure to anticipate its impact, and our inability to quickly repair the damage once it had become evident. This shook our trust in executive management, and has left us feeling abandoned, depressed, and embarrassed for Microsoft."
The article also said:

"Ballmer was asked to affirm Microsoft's support for the legislation, acknowledge this year's neutral stance was a mistake and reaffirm the company's commitment to diversity. The group also asked him to communicate this position to employees, hold a diversity-awareness event for employees and hold mandatory awareness workshops for management on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues."
So they decided that Ballmer must recant, admit the company was in error, support the bill and then institute additional programs within the company.

I don't see why, when the company already offers then equal treatment. Why should they suddenly get the star treatment over all other minority groups simply because Microsoft does not support their pet legislation.

The company already offers protection for "gender identity and expression", what programs are needed? Why target the managers when that was not even an issue?

Microsoft already assaults its employees with a year round calendar of diversity awareness and celebration events. Not a day goes by you don't see a poster celebrating something.

Ballmer replied to the contraversy in an email to all employees:
(note that I found it on the web, I didn't leak it....)

There have been several news stories that imply that Microsoft changed its position on an anti-discrimination bill, HB 1515, because of pressure from a conservative religious group. I want to make it clear that that is not the case.

When our government affairs team put together its list of its legislative priorities in Olympia before the Legislative Session began in January, we decided to focus on a limited number of issues that are more directly related to our business such as computer privacy, education, and competitiveness. The anti-discrimination bill was not on this list and as a result Microsoft was not actively supporting the bill in the Legislature this year, although last year we did provide a letter of support for similar legislation.

On February 1, two Microsoft employees testified before a House Committee in support of the bill. These employees were speaking as private citizens, not as representatives of the corporate position, but there was considerable confusion about whether they were speaking on behalf of Microsoft.

Following this hearing, a local religious leader named Rev. Ken Hutcherson, who has a number of Microsoft employees in his congregation, approached the company, seeking clarification of whether the two employees were representing Microsoft's official position. He also sought a variety of other things, such as firing of the two employees and a public statement by Microsoft
that the bill was not necessary.

After careful review, Brad Smith informed Rev. Hutcherson that there was no basis for firing the two employees over the misunderstanding over their testimony, but did agree that we should clarify the ambiguity over the employee testimony. Brad also made it clear that while the company was not taking a position on HB 1515, the company remains strongly committed to its internal policies supporting anti-discrimination and industry-leading benefits for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees.
I can tell you from experience that Microsoft has always maintained a hard stance on discrimination, and they were one of the first Corporations to extend benefits to same sex domestic partners.

I think Microsoft has proven its support for diversity with its actions already.

GLEAM is just, in my opinion, being greedy and latching on to the controversy to try and forward their cause. They are employing the typical squeaky wheel tactic to win.

For their information, the two people who testified could have been sacked. They violated company policy by making a public and official representation of Microsoft's policy and support without authorization. Had it been any other issue, likely they would have been tossed out the door.

That Microsoft chose not to was a gift. I hope they at least got warned.

Microsoft has the right to determine its own agenda regarding political support, and frankly in my opinion, they less they do, the better I like it. People should influence Government, not Corporations.

GLEAM should be grateful that Microsoft supports diversity so aggressively in its own walls, not demand they take the fight elsewhere for them.

Let them call their representatives, like everyone else.

Friday, April 29, 2005

The shots heard round the world.

Anyone listening to Air America Radio a few days ago was treated to a pretty tacky commercial.

Here is a transcript:

"A spoiled child is telling us our Social Security isn't safe anymore, so he's gonna fix it for us. Well, here's your answer, you ungrateful whelp: [sound of three shotgun blasts].

"The AAARP, the American Association of Armed Retired People [sound of rifle being cocked]. Just try it, you little bastard."

Pretty nice huh? It was done sounding like a cantankerous old redneck, giving it a nice bit of stereotyping and helping it be even more tacky.

The Story broke, where else but on the Drudge Report when Matt Drudge reported that the Secret Service was looking into it, due to the implied threat to the president (here).

Now, first of all, I don't personally think it qualified as being a threat to the president as defined under US Code Title 18, Part I, Chapter 41, § 871--Threats against President and successors to the Presidency


(a) Whoever knowingly and willfully deposits for conveyance in the mail or for a delivery from any post office or by any letter carrier any letter, paper, writing, print, missive, or document containing any threat to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States, the President-elect, the Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President of the United States, or the Vice President-elect, or knowingly and willfully otherwise makes any such threat against the President, President-elect, Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President, or Vice President-elect, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.


I don't think the commercial references him by name or by office. So it was a vague threat at best.

Honestly the bit was more of a satirical commentary then a threat anyway, and last I looked there is free speech here. I think the over reaction to it in many places is making it a bigger deal then necessary.

Was it tacky and stupid? Yea.

That said, while some reactions were understandable and predictable, some were unexpected.

Naturally, The Whitehouse spokesman said they considered it over the top, as did most Conservatives who mentioned it this week. Big shock there.

The surprises came from the Liberal camp.

Air America itself apologized, which was slightly surprising. I suppose I expected the station to defend the free speech angle, but I was wrong. They considered it going too far.

Lynn Samuel, who was once investigated for making inflammatory comments about Dan Quayle, also denounced the ad on her Sirius Satellite show.

But the surprise was that Randi Rhodes immediately and profusely apologized. She didn't plan, request or produce the clip, it was done by an independent group and she claims they just missed it and plugged it in. But as it was on her show, she feels responsible for the content, so she immediately accepted responsibility and apologized, with a call to not have any more of that.

Astounding. I was honestly expecting her to decry the first amendment violation and all that, but here she did the mature adult thing. She gained a lot of my respect.

On the down side, she spent way to much time demanding Matt Drudge qualify his report by telling who had reported the Secret Service's interest. Turns out he was correct as this story was in the NY Post confirming it. But I can understand that to a degree.

I guess my final word on it is that I applaud Randi for taking the stance she did. I am too used to seeing Democrats and Liberals defend things like this and accuse the Republicans of going overboard on the accusations.

Its nice to see that some liberals do know where to draw the line.

And even if they and I don't agree *where* to draw that line, (Move-on.org's Bush and Hitler comparison comes to mind) it is somewhat gratifying see it drawn somewhere.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

As seen in the WSJ- Hypocrisy and the Fillibuster

The article below totally illustrates the Hypocrisy of politicians. While it focuses on the Democrats, I think its a common trend on both sides of the Aisle.

That said, the whining of the Democrats in Congress is revolting considering their conduct when they held the Majority.

******
Sen. Strangelove, or: How Democrats stopped winning and learned to love the filibuster.
BY PETE DU PONT Wednesday, April 27, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT

Sen. Barbara Boxer is a longtime opponent of judicial nomination filibusters. Or she was. Suddenly the light has dawned, and she realizes how wrong she was to oppose them: "I thought I knew everything. I didn't get it. . . . I am here to say I was totally wrong."

Other Democratic senators have had similar changes in belief: Joe Biden and Robert Byrd, Tom Harkin, Ted Kennedy, Joe Lieberman, Pat Leahy, Chuck Schumer and their erstwhile colleagues Lloyd Bentsen, and Tom Daschle have all vigorously opposed the use of the filibuster against judicial nominations. Mr. Schumer was for voting judicial nominations "up or down" without delay. Mr. Leahy flatly opposed a filibuster against Clarence Thomas's Supreme Court nomination: "The president and the nominee and all Americans deserve an up-or-down vote." Mr. Harkin believed "the filibuster rules are unconstitutional," Mr. Daschle declared that "democracy means majority rule, not minority gridlock," and Mr. Kennedy that "senators who believe in fairness will not let the minority of the Senate deny [the nominee] his vote by the entire Senate."

But that was then, when Democrats controlled the Senate. Now, they are a frustrated minority and it is different. Mr. Leahy has voted against cloture to end filibusters 21 out of 26 times; Mr. Kennedy, 18 out of 23. Now all these Senators practice and defend the use of filibusters against judicial nominees.

This fundamental change in deeply held liberal beliefs has made a difference. Sen. Orrin Hatch notes that in the 108th Congress (2003-04) the Senate "voted on motions to end debate on judicial nominations 20 times. Each vote failed." Of the 51 judicial nominees President Bush has put forward for the circuit courts of appeals, 35 have been confirmed, 10 have been "debated" without conclusion--filibustered--and six were threatened with a filibuster so no action has been taken on their nomination.

Mr. Bush nominated Justice Priscilla Owen of the Texas Supreme Court for the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals almost four years ago. She has the highest possible rating from the American Bar Association but has been filibustered four times by a Senate minority that once devoutly believed filibustering was morally wrong and clearly unconstitutional.
So what of this supermajority rule requiring a three-fifths vote to end judicial confirmation "debate" in the Senate and force a vote? Why is it here, where did it come from, and should it be part of the Senate rules?

This rule is not a constitutional requirement. The Constitution requires a two-thirds vote to override a presidential veto, pass a constitutional amendment, approve treaties or expel a member of Congress. But all it says about judges is that they are appointed by the president with "the Advice and Consent of the Senate." Absent a constitutional requirement for a supermajority, a majority vote is sufficient. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that principle in 1892.

When the Senate first established its rules in 1789, there was no such thing as a filibuster. A simple majority could move the previous question and vote on the matter before it. That was reversed in 1806 and the rules required unanimous consent to end debate; one senator could filibuster anything. In 1917 President Wilson, frustrated by a dozen Senators filibustering a wartime defense bill, observed that "the Senate of the United States is the only legislative body in the world which cannot act when its majority is ready for action." He successfully pressed the Senate to adopt Rule XXII, requiring only two-thirds instead of all senators to end debate on a pending statute. In 1975 that rule was amended to reduce the number to three-fifths, or 60 Senators.

The filibuster has historically been used to block the passage of substantive measures--such as the antilynching bills of the 1930s, and the direct election of the president in the 1970s. And they will be used in the future--Sen. Schumer said on Monday that he would filibuster the energy bill because it is too kind to Big Oil. A filibuster is also likely to stop personally owned Social Security accounts if such legislation reaches the Senate floor.

Current Senate rules prevent filibusters of some substantive matters--among them budget resolutions, trade agreements and the use of military force to protect America. But they do not limit the filibustering of judicial nominees.
Some argue for abolishing the filibuster altogether, so that every legislative proposal reaching the Senate floor should be voted up or down and an angry minority would never be able to stop votes from occurring. The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg says that the filibuster should not be elevated "into a moral principle"--that if the Republicans get rid if it for judicial nominations the Democrats should "get rid of it for everything else too."
But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's proposal is not about that question. It is about eliminating the filibuster only for considering judicial nominations.

Should the 60 votes required to end a judicial nominee's filibuster be done away with by adopting a nonfilibuster rule for judicial confirmations? It was branded a "nuclear option" by Sen. Trent Lott, a phrase media critics and Democratics have embraced, but it is in fact a sensible choice. In America's representative democracy there is a constitutional intention that majority congressional votes be determinative on all but a very few enumerated matters. Confirming presidential judicial nominations is not one of them.

So when Mr. Frist offers his rule change in the next week or so, the Senate should pass it. Ms. Boxer may not vote for it, but five will get you 10 that if the Democrats one day regain control of the Senate, it will take her less than 20 seconds to decide that she had been totally wrong a second time--that judicial filibusters now should never be allowed.

Mr. du Pont, a former governor of Delaware, is chairman of the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis. His column appears once a month.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

What's wrong with showing ID?

OK, I just don't get it.

As you may know here in Washington we had an election around the same time everyone else did last November. Trouble is, that our Governor's race was too close and was decided by a hand recount under fairly suspicious circumstances, and was finally decided by a very narrow margin. An election contest lawsuit for mistakes and negligence is being raised now, and will actually go to trial next month.

So one of the issues raised by commentators and politicians was the way we here in Washington register to vote and cast our ballots.

Here, you are not required to show proof of citizenship to register to vote, you just need ID. You would think this is sufficient, but we also allow our resident non citizens to get Drivers Licenses. What is really neat, is the motor-voter program. This is a handy way to discourage and combat voter apathy by having people register to vote when they go to the DMV and renew their licenses or register cars. So naturally, the non citizens are asked to register to vote also. But please don't worry, we have a safe guard in place to prevent non citizens from registering: A nifty little check box that each person must check Asking if you are a citizen of the US and the stern warning that if you say no, you cannot register.

All that is fine I suppose, but what I don't get is how I can arrive at the polling station and vote without showing my ID. I mean what is to stop me from voting several times under different names? What stops me from going to a different polling station and reading off a friends name? When these issues were raised, our legislature took immediate action...on a whole load of crap that won't fix anything, and they studiously avoided an ID requirement.

Apparently asking for an ID is intrusive. How does that work? Since when is requiring me to prove I am me intrusive? I have to show ID to get my license, to get my Library card, to get a drink at a bar (ok...so what if I haven't been carded in 10 years...I don't tell you that you look old do I?), to get a job and even to rent a friggin DVD at Blockbuster. So why would you not want to eliminate one aspect of voter fraud by verifying that I am who I say I am?

Which leads us to the national news. The State and Homeland Security Departments proposed requiring passports to go to and from Canada and Mexico. Now lets consider this for a moment. Our borders offer no security whatsoever, and the administration has taken constant heat for that. So one minor measure to lock down a portion of it and people go bananas. But even the president, whom I normally support, has questioned this.


When I first read that in the newspaper about the need to have passports, particularly today's crossings that take place, about a million for instance in the state of Texas, I said, 'What's going on here?"' Bush said when asked about the rules at a meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. "I thought there was a better way to expedite the legal flow of traffic and people," he said.


Maybe that is a valid consideration, but on the other hand other countries require this. Is it such a bad thing if we did? I am extremely disappointed in Bush on this issue in general. After 911 I expected our borders to be tighter. They aren't, and I don't feel our country is really all that safer.

All in all, I just don't understand the fuss. I have a social security card and a drivers license. My fingerprints are already on file with the FBI courtesy of the US Air Force. I don't feel any kind of dread or shadow slinking over me because Uncle Sam knows who I am. I traveled to Canada on a business trip a few years ago. I got and carried my passport. I didn't feel violated.

The whole issue is dramatically overplayed.

So as we wait here in Washington for the court to decide our election because there was so much error in the voting, in part because peoples identities can not be verified, I wonder when people will recognize that maybe there is a valid reason to want to know who someone is, whether they are a citizen or not and whether they are here legally or not. It might have prevented 911.

It sure would help in preventing accusations of election fraud like we have going on here. Look how well it keeps the library patrons in line.

So ask me for my ID, I'll show ya. I'm proud of who I am and happy to show anyone, even that insensitive bartender who thinks I look old.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Soul Mates

Romantic stories come in all flavors these days. The ordinary guy/girl who wins the heart of the extraordinary woman/man (Notting Hill or Pretty in Pink), the quirky couple who meet, can't stand each other until they finally find they love each other (When Harry met Sally or You've got Mail), the best friends who can't see their love for each other until moments before the credits run (Some Kind of Wonderful or Pursuit of Happiness), the boy wins the girl after fighting for her (Karate Kid II or Tuff Turf) and even the the world is determined to keep us apart, but we will be together no matter what anyone says story (Say Anything).

Even going farther back in Hollywood's history these themes are played out ad naseum, and apparently that's a good thing, because the popularity of the overall genre never seems to fade.

But in a special category is the soul mate/destined to be together movie.

Being a rather cynical person, I am not normally mystic or romantic by nature, so I personally don't quite know what to do with the concept of the soulmate, that incredibly perfect person that Eharmony.com swears they can find for you. It is not to demean my marriage in any way that I say this, it is just if I am to believe Hollywood, there should have been some magical explosion, a flash of color, a moment of stunned amazement or something more tangible then a sense of attraction.

I recently discovered my local library has an ever growing DVD collection, and I have been bringing home many odd movies just to see what they are all about, movies I wouldn't have wanted to spend money on. Yes...I am that cheap.

I have watched several movies lately with destiny and soulmates as the main theme, it makes me pause to consider. Is there such a thing as that person, who with the first view or the merest touch of their hand brings a tangible shock of recognition?

So I went back and looked at a couple of off the wall varieties of this theme, as well as a couple of faithful standards.

Sleepless in Seattle: You might not consider this one a viable candidate, but when Sam is describing his meeting his recently deceased wife, he openly describes it as 'magic' and a sense of perfect completeness, a feeling he echoes when he first sees Annie in the airport...He is instantly and inexplicably compelled by her, even as he was the first time. It offers an interesting twist, that being that maybe there can be more the one soulmate.

Serendipity: One of the better entries. Jonathon and Sarah meet, and feel the connection to each despite both having other attachments. Coincidence is the central character here, as first coincidence brings them together at the department store, and then when they reluctantly part, it again reconnects them almost immediately. But Chance is fickle, as it then separates them for 7 years when they both have imminent marriages and find themselves battling the lingering sense of incompleteness, forcing them to begin a frantic 11th hour search for each other. After they independently try, then fail they each give up on finding the other and resolve to live their lives alone. Destiny again rears its head, and through more coincidence it leads them directly to each other. One interesting facet to this tale is the implication is that destiny makes its own timetable, and that they were always destined for each other-the timing was just wrong. The who was never in question, just the when.

Made in Heaven: One of the odder variations, in this one the couple meet in the afterlife, where he has died and she awaits her incarnation, a *new* soul. They fall in love in heaven, but she is born to her life on earth. Rather then await her return, he begs to follow her, and finds himself reborn as an unwanted pregnancy, an interesting twist. Both are separated, and miserable in love, literally incomplete, until the final moment when they find each other. This one not only brings into play a sense of predestination, but of also the incompleteness of soulmates separated.

Dream for an Insomniac: A girl, who is a chronic insomniac since the death of her parents in her childhood, desperately seeks the perfect man so she can finally sleep, believing that only when she finds love will her curse be lifted. She finds him, and its clear they are perfect for each other, but of course she is leaving the state in 3 days and he has a live in girlfriend. This was very much a predictable formula romantic movie, with one big twist. The beginning is filmed in black and white until our couples eyes meet for the first time, when she becomes lost in his blue eyes and the color from his eyes expands to colorize the world. I found that to be an interesting twist and presentation of that 'moment' when the souls collide. The end is a predictable conclusion, as they finally are together, and she sleeps in his arms.

What Dreams may Come: Another after life entry, on earth they meet, marry and have a family. Then tragedy strikes, killing their children leading her to a breakdown. He helps her recover but is then killed also, leaving her devastatingly alone to eventually commit suicide. The emotional depth here is heart wrenching as he literal goes to hell to save her from her self imposed exile of guilt, and when he fails, he chooses to remain with her there rather then leave her alone. In his sacrifice she is saved, and in turn she saves him. The DVD has an alternate ending, but in both endings they not only remain together through eternity, but return to earth to do it again. Despite the ending, the main theme of everlasting love and passion is immense.

Tossing all theological implications aside, these movies all share the basic premise that one person belongs to another, that only together will they find completion. That echoes a part of the biblical premise of marriage, that a man shall leave his mother and cleave only unto her, and two shall be as one. Truly a lofty aspiration, but is it real? Is it really that simple? And what if you in your despair determine your spouse is not your soulmate? Are you then justified in leaving that person to follow the dream of true love?

To me it seems too easy, and far too convenient. I have known people who claim to have met their soulmate.....Several times in one year in some cases. In that case which was false?

My cynical mind has to conclude that people create their own mystical predestined unity in their search for the perfect one. I think that sometimes as they are rushing to fall in love, they overlook the flaws that are there in front of them. Then later the flaws become more apparent, leading to unhappiness until a slightly more perfect person presents themself, and they instinctively seek the slightly better choice until the cycle repeats. The lesson I take from that is that there is often more attention paid to the perception of the person then to the actual person. Illusion fueled by desire overwhelms reality.

Granted I know people who are apparently perfect for each other, who compliment each other in ways that are hard to describe, so there is obviously some deeper element of compatibility at work in the world, maybe even an actual form of predestination, God having made some people to be compatible and complementary.

I think the real problem is that people want to find that "perfect" person, already pre-molded and comfortable, to magically appear. They want love to be easy, immediate and effortless.

Sadly it seldom is. Love takes time, and takes work. It takes effort and it takes commitment. And it takes compromise and understanding.

As Harris Telemacher (Steve Martin in LA Story) says: "There's someone out there for everyone - even if you need a pickaxe, a compass, and night goggles to find them"

So, are there soulmates? In the sense that sense that some people fit each other well, yes. In the sense that some people naturally complement each other, sure. In some magical "souls seeking other other over space in time' sense? My impulse is to say no.

But then again, I am a cynic.

"We are all a little weird and life's a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love." ~Author Unknown

Friday, April 22, 2005

Why no art classes at Hogwarts?

This is an essay I wrote last year, that I decided to update and repost. And spell correct, but that's another story

***

I am a Harry Potter fan. While I won't take the time to fully articulate why I like them so much, it is a basic fact that I, who missed the first 3 books completely, have become a complete fan. I have read all 5 books, repeatedly. This may not seem a tough feat, until you account for my children, with whom I have to compete for the novels. I have seen the movies and participated in many discussions, some polite and some heated, about the issues, events and concepts in the Harry Potter books. And of course I have been treated to the endless stream of articles proclaiming this or that truth about the books.

And through all of that, I have always had the nagging feeling that something is missing.

Some before me have pointed out a theological void in the books. There is no mention of churches, deities or religion, that is true. JK Rowling has very carefully kept modern theology out of her world. The only real inclusion is Christmas, but that is kept fairly secular. But honestly, in a way, the fact that Rowling prefers to keep her world somewhat secular does not bother me. There is certainly no doubt she has a clear perception of good and evil. If anything, the absence of religion at least helps us avoid the arguments of whether Harry is Protestant or Catholic.

No, I felt something else was missing, particularly in the School of Wizardry itself.

Art.

The school has little in relation to a traditional education of course . . . as one would expect. There is certainly no conventional language arts. In fact how the children all have such fairly well developed reading skills is never fully explained. That Harry, Hermione and any other muggle born children went to normal schools is certainly implied, but we never do hear about the magical primary schools. Is this a silent nod to home schoolers perhaps, as these children may have received their primary educations at home? They have history galore, as it relates to the wizarding world of course. The droning recitations are not unlike my own memories of American history. No math, though we could mention arithmancy in its place I suppose. Science is the only normal education field well represented, in Herbology (Agriculture and Horticulture in one), Potions (Chemistry of course) and even Care of Magical Creatures. It seems that most of the Liberal Arts have a firm place in this world, as one would certainly expect.

But is there no place in her world for the Fine Arts?

We have paintings on the walls that move, but do we ever see classes in painting? These are more like living photos actually, even embodying the personality of the person, as demonstrated in Dumbledore's office, and in Sirius' hallway. So where are the amazing artists who create these works?

No theater or acting. Now, since most wizards don't have TVs, at least we can dispense with that drivel, and the absence of movies spares them the latest action flick a la Arnold, but where is the Shakespeare? Can the bard himself be so divorced from this world as to be unmentioned?

And music . . . we have the Wierd Sisters, but no Mozart? No choral music, no instruments? Is no one forced to endure piano lessons? We do have dancing, mentioned in book 4. But this is more like a highschool dance then a formal occasion.

What poetry we see is geared to spells, and perhaps that is as it must be, in a magic society. But it still seems a drear and sterile place which has no Longfellow or Browning.

We do have writing and journalism, but the journalism is limited to two examples: the Daily Prophet, which starts as a newspaper, but in book 5 it degenerates into a state propaganda mill, a la Pravda during the Cold War; and a tabloid, which ironically provides the lone voice of truth amidst its wacky headlines.

The reality is that all of these wonderful, moving and timeless disciplines have been completely tossed aside for modern pop culture.

The books are strictly functional and education based, with the possible exception of the entire works of Gilderoy Lockhart, which are brilliant works of plagiarized fiction. Harry, it seems, may not draw from the adventures of Mark Twain, though his and Ron's adventures in book 2 might rival those of the lads on the mighty Mississippi. Harry will have a looking glass adventure with the Mirror of Erised, but will never share Alice's adventures in her looking glass. And despite their deductive reasoning in all the adventures, the trio will never see Sherlock Holmes and his incredible skill in his adventures. Indeed, it seems that Harry and company will be forced to experience their adventures first hand, without the benefit of their own heroes and role models.

There is a trend building here, which is seldom discussed. What art there is seems to exist only in the commercial aspects. The music is only there because modern kids have musical groups they love, so we have the Wizarding "Spice Girls". Sports would have been absent were it not for the need to provide a parallel to the British love of Rugby and Soccer, so we have Quidditch. Even the fantastic art in the paintings, the living history of the magic world, makes its way to the back of trading cards, and in the end is just another trick to sell chocolate frogs. And did anyone miss the obvious parallel between the Berry Bots Beans and their popular American counterpart, the Jelly Belly?

Is Rowling's magic world merely a reflection of the muggle world around it? Assuming it is, which I find no inherent fault in, how could it mirror only the cheesy superficial aspects of society and completely miss the deeper elements of our society? Can Christmas truly be mirrored without Handel's Messiah?

I guess what this boils down to is that it bothers me that she has created such a wonderful setting for her tales, filled with magical wonders such as living paintings, rooms that appear at need and magical adventures in amazing settings, and then diminished them to just another pop culture, void of the beauty and the true magic of Art. Real magic is in the creation of a painting or a song that conveys the emotions and passions of the artist to the non artist.

But in another ironic reflection, I suppose one should expect it to be this way. After all the growing commercialism in all aspects of the modern art world is surely and accurately reflected in her world of magic and wizards.

So maybe this is nothing to worry about at all. I guess we should be thankful that McDonald's has not moved in on the house elves to feed Hogwarts.

But I still can't help but feel that, while living in Rowling's world and being a wizard would certainly be a great adventure, without Bach and Shakespeare, it would soon pale to just another story.

Unlike the Mirror of Erised, this refection is certainly not the desire of our hearts.


Note: I wrote this essay prior to the release of the theatrical version of Prisoner of Azkaban in 2004. I was surprised to see that the director, Alfonso Cuarón apparently noticed the same thing, because after 5 books and 3 movies, we finally saw some genuine art at Hogwarts. The first was slipped by in passing. As the main charactors walked through a courtyard, another student was playing a tune on some manner of pipe, a mournful tune called "A window to the past". And during the opening sequence we are treated to a Choir singing "Double Trouble", complete with toad accompaniment. This song was actually a double whammy, as it were, as it embodied two art forms for the price of one: A vocal choir, and an homage to Shakespeare, as the lyrics of the song were taken from the MacBeth, Act IV Scene I.

Maybe there is hope after all. We have 2 more books and at least one more movie to find out.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Dare to be stupid

Two conversations recently juxtaposed to make me recall something from long ago.

The first involved a question raised about angels. See, a friend of mine knows someone who claims to see and talk to them on a regular basis. He was wondering what we thought of that idea.

The second was when my 18 year old son told me he was four wheeling earlier this week with some drunk friends and they rolled a truck. Fortunately he wasn't hurt, he landed on his head.

So while considering the stupidity of my son, it occurred to me that many people would say "oh he must have had a guardian angel watching over him". I think maybe he did, but I am reasonably sure that the angel is also calling him a dumb ass, like I did.

But in fairness, I have been just as stupid in my life, and the accident reminded me of one I was in when I was 17...

There I was....

My best friend Steve and I went for a drive one day. We had borrowed a van from Bob Binford, our Young Life leader. It was as I recall a Ford 1/2 or 3/4 ton van, configured for construction use, with a large rack on top for hauling lumber. We were on a mission to procure some gravel from a large mound of it that we had noticed up a windy road in Los Gatos. So we drove up the road, parked and loaded more then a few buckets into the back of the van.

We jumped in to head home and discovered a dead battery. We flagged down a passing motorist, but their cables would not work. It was then I discovered that side post terminals are a real pain in the rear. We walked a few miles to a friend (a teacher actually) of Steve's and they drove us back to the van where they too failed to jump start it.

It was now dusk and we were unsure what to do. I was in favor if coming back the next day, but Steve's teacher had the bright idea to roll start the van. I protested...."Its an Automatic" I pointed out. He insisted that if we could get it up to 25 or 30 mph it work. (once upon a time, it actually was possible, but that was only on older cars....but I digress) Steve voted to go along with the roll start plan.

So now the stage is set. We have:

A large van with inoperative power steering and power brakes
A young driver
Its night time
The battery is dead so the headlights are ineffective
Its a downhill grade on a somewhat windy road
The van has a cargo of several hundred pounds of gravel

Scared yet? I was.

So we piled in, they pushed us off, and away we went on Mr Toad's wild ride.

Our goal was a long straightaway near the bottom of the hill where we would build enough speed to try the roll start but there were several sharp turns between it and us.

The first couple turns as we gained speed were ok, but each progressive turn we were moving faster and it was getting harder to slow us down and turn. We had one final turn remaining until we reached the straightaway, a fairly sharp right turn. As we turned it, Steve lost control, and we crossed over the center line, sliding to the far edge. We couldn't see anything beyond that, it was too dark

There was a loud BANG and we were back on the straightaway heading downhill very fast. Steve tried the roll start. It didn't work.

Big shock there. Somehow I think I resisted the urge to say I told you so.

We parked at the bottom in a dirt lot and took stock of the damage. We were unhurt, but the van was not. The lumber rack on the roof was bent, as was the bumper, and there was a dent to the rear quarter panel. We didn't find out from what until the next day.

Steve's friends arrived and drove us home. The next morning Steven got his jumper cables (heavy duty side post compatible), and I drove us back up to the van. Of course it started up immediately.

I think we scared it.

I drove us up the hill to see what had happened. We found that the road where we lost control bordered a pasture/orchard, which slopped a long way down hill. Had we left the road, we would have rolled at least a dozen times easy, if not more.

So why didn't we? Here is how we reconstructed it.

Along the road's edge was a large tree. As we approached the edge, the weight of the gravel forced the van to fishtail. The rear end of the van impacted dead on to the tree, and the impact bounced us back on to the road. The roof rack took most of the impact as we were leaning from the turn, so the damage to the van was minimal.

The tree was not too good looking, the impact cracked a 10 inch thick branch.

So had the van left the road a little sooner or later, we would have been toast. As it was, we were just stupid....and very lucky

So when people accuse kids of being stupid, I say "yup!"

And when people ask if Guardian Angels exist, I also say "yup!"

Mine apparently is a tree.

Karl

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Terri and the Pope...a sign?

The death of John Paul II and Terri Schiavo has a lot of people buzzing.

Bill O'Reilly said "Schiavo then the Pope, back to back, there is a message here. It's no accident!"

And my favorite local radio show put the question to the listeners: Is this a sign? A message? And the answer was overwhelmingly yes.

So of course, I got to thinking. Yes, dangerous and all that. But seriously, is there a connection? A divine message?

So I looked at the similarities and the overall situation and I admit it is kind of interesting.

The Pope was a champion of the right to life movement. He (the Vatican) openly condemned the Terri Schiavo decision, calling it a "death sentence executed through a cruel method". They further noted "The circumstances of the death of Ms. Terri Schiavo have rightly disturbed consciences," Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said in the first statement from the Holy See on the case. "An existence was interrupted. A death was arbitrarily hastened because nourishing a person can never be considered employing exceptional means." Concerning the Pope, the Vatican said " Pope John Paul II was informed of Schiavo's death, Martino said. The cardinal likened the pope's frail health, including resorting to a feeding tube, to Schiavo's case. The "comparison is easy," Martino said. "Everybody will do all the best to keep him alive, to feed him the way it can be done.""

So even the Vatican has noted the comparison. Terri's feeding tube was removed, and near the same time, the Pope had one installed. Michael Schiavo (Claiming Terri's wish) fought to allow death, the Pope's caretakes fought to save his life. Yes, he was lucid while she was presumed vegetative, but he was also suffering Parkinsons and other ailments, and others in similar situations might have chosen not to take on tubes and resuscitation, so even his fighting for life was as apparent as the people fighting for him.

But really the details aside, the biggest pause for me is the focal point of both of their lives.

The Pope fought for the right to life. Terri was the focal point and is considered a victory of the right to die.

That for me is the important similarity, or at least the sign that I see in this. In the passing of these two people, the culture of death has both gained a victory and a precedent; and it has lost a very serious opponent.

So, does this then signal an impending defeat to the right to life? Does it signal a broadening foothold in the culture of death?

I don't think so, at least I don't think its a conclusive prophecy.

I think the message or sign is that the battle is here, it is real and it depends on everyone to be involved.

John Paul II left us lessons in the value of all life, in fighting for life, in living itself, and in dying with dignity and serenity. He lived his life as a constant example of the unwavering fight of these principles. That humbles me.

The Terry Schiavo case taught us lessons about doubt, hatred and love depending on the side you took, but mostly it taught me about secondary motivations that cause the principle to become more important the focal point. The principle of allowing her to die was more important then the possibility she could continue living and even show some chance of recovery. Her actual existence was less important then insuring her rights....And that scares me.

Take what you will from their deaths, or take nothing, as you wish.

The message for me is clear though. There is a war being fought around us daily. And as Paul says...."...Though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world....."

Maybe its time to get serious and get involved.