The Man, The Mission, And The Message

Kish and I listened to President Obama’s speech tonight about the United States’ participation in the international coalition efforts in Libya.  I am glad that he decided to speak to the American people about the nature and scope of the United States’ mission in Libya, because I think Presidents have a responsibility give the American people an explanation whenever they determine that military force is necessary.

I say this not because I think people should second-guess the President’s reasons for action — in my view, performing the kind of complex foreign policy balancing that tonight’s speech described is one of the reasons why we elect a President in the first place — but because I agree with the President that the decision to use military force is one of the most momentous decisions any President can make.  The sons and daughters of Americans are put at risk whenever the United States military is summoned to duty, and it is not unfair to require a President to explain why that risk is necessary.  Indeed, if a President were unable to bring himself to address the nation to provide such an explanation, that probably would indicate that the decision was not a well-reasoned one.

I do not understand why President Obama delayed in providing his explanation about Libya.  Perhaps he wanted to wait until he could announce a date certain for the hand-off of responsibility to NATO forces, or until the military situation was clarified.  In any case, I am relieved that he has now spoken to the nation and described the basis for his decision.  Having that explanation, all Americans now can decide whether we agree with the President’s reasoning and can draw our own conclusions.  That is how democracy should work.

 

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Hall Pass

Kish and I decided to go to a movie yesterday.  The film pickings are pretty slim right now, so we chose what we knew would be a sophomoric comedy — the Farrelly Brothers’ Hall Pass.

The basic premise of Hall Pass is that men are pathetic.  Two sex-obsessed suburban husbands, played by Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis, behave so crassly that their fed-up wives decide to give them a “hall pass” — a week off from marriage where they can sow their wild oats while their wives go to some vacation community.  High jinks ensue.  The two men talk a good game but don’t have the slightest idea how to meet or talk to women.  After being goaded into action by their male friends their bumbling hook-up efforts result in wretched failure and humiliation.  Eventually they link up with an old guy who is a combination Yoda and Sherlock Holmes of the pick-up bar scene; he schools them in the necessary techniques, and they start to make some progress.  In the meantime, their wives, played by Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate, are themselves enjoying the hall pass week with some dalliances of their own.

This movie had some funny lines and scenes, and everything ends well, but after it was over we were struck by how truly coarse low-brow humor films have become.  Hall Pass shows a fat guy taking a dump in a sand trap and includes another gross bowel-related scene.  It features a double full Monty and male genitalia humor.  There are a number of sex scenes that don’t leave much to the imagination.  And seemingly everyone in the movie — the husbands, the wives, their friends, babysitters and their aunts, baseball players and coaches — has sex constantly on the brain.  Maybe the ultimate premise of Hall Pass is that everyone is pathetic.

Eurotrip 2011: Santorini and Athens

A view of Piraeus (Athens' port) from my ferry to Santorini.

I spent a lot of my time in Santorini thinking about the weather, or more precisely, trying to reconcile myself with it. I decided that the best way to describe the weather there was “rude.” The low temperatures and lack of sunshine were tolerable, but I found the constant wind offensive. Whenever I left my room, it felt like someone was pushing against me.

I stayed at Santorini Breeze Studios in Perissa, a small town on the island. Frankly, Perissa isn’t very charming. Most of its buildings are stand-alone stucco hostels haphazardly built along winding, often unpaved roads. Many of the buildings are not finished, showing exposed concrete and steel wires. There’s a small main street with a few bakeries and supermarkets and ATV rental stores.

I arrived in Santorini near the end of the off season, so there was almost no one around. Perissa seemed like a ghost town, especially with the wind, which created a constant background noise of rustling leaves and banging doors. For most of my stay, I was one of only three guests at my hostel, and I was the only guest on the last night. However, I would rather be in Santorini during this time than during the on season, when, from what I’ve heard, the island is packed with American tourists taking excursions from their cruise ships.

I still enjoyed my time in Santorini, thanks to another positive hostel experience. The hostel was run by Mike, an American who moved from Detroit to Santorini to run it right before the 2004 Olympics. I’d say he made a smart move. Mike was your typical easygoing island guy, like Jimmy Buffett. His hostel usually isn’t open this time of year, but he forgot to mark it as closed on hostelworld.com, so when he started getting reservations he figured he might as well keep it open.

My first two nights on the island, I shared a room with two Australian guys named Daniel and Nick. They were supposed to leave for Crete the day I arrived, but the winds were so strong that no ferries could leave the island. They spent the rest of their stay watching BBC News, and one day they bought a steak and cooked it. On their last night, we got really excited because one of them saw an advertisement for Braveheart on the local channel. The ad was in Greek, but he thought it said that Braveheart was showing at 9 that night. The idea of watching an entertaining movie in English while laying in our beds seemed a magnificent luxury to us, but when 9 came around Braveheart did not air. Instead, the channel showed a city council meaning. We were horribly disappointed.

Ancient Thera

On my first day, I hiked up a mountain to see the ruins of the ancient city of Thera, struggling against winds that sometimes seemed about to topple me over. I was impressed by the ruins; other than those of Pompeii, they were the most intact ruins of an ancient town I’ve seen. They were especially impressive because of their high altitude. With the wind stinging my face, I kept thinking, “how could people live up here?” But if I visited the ruins in better weather I would probably have been thinking “what a beautiful place for a town.”

The next day, Mike drove me to Fira, a pretty town that sits on the edge of a cliff. According to Mike, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie bought a house there after it served as the location for a scene in one of the Tomb Raider movies. The sun courteously decided to shine that afternoon, complementing the town’s blue and white color scheme. I hiked to a rock outcropping to take some pictures, and a few stray dogs followed me.

Fira

I flew back to Athens the next evening, but before I left I made sure to drink a few Mythos beers on the black volcanic beaches in Perissa while listening to the new Kanye West album.

It felt great returning to the Pagration Youth Hostel in Athens and seeing familiar faces there. Although I managed to have a decent time in Santorini, I wished I had stayed with the gang at the hostel. I spent one more full day there, which I mostly spent figuring out a way to get to Patras in time for my ferry to Italy. I found the time to visit the National Archeological Museum, however, which displays lots of prehistoric artifacts and Mycenean pottery and art, as well as a large collection of ancient Greek sculpture. Their collection includes the famous Mask of Agamemnon.

To my surprise, the museum had an entire room devoted to art and pottery from ancient Thera, which was founded as part of the Minoan civilization that originated on Crete. Entire wall paintings remain intact from an ancient palace there. The paintings, usually of nature scenes, are colorful and abstract, reminding me of the paintings of Henri Rousseau.

A Theran wall painting.

I also found time to have a few final Mythoses and conversations with my friends at the hostel. When I left on Saturday morning, I felt depressed. I had spent so much time in Athens that I sort of had a life there. I tried to alleviate my sadness by turning it into a hope that I would have similarly happy experiences in the cities to come.

Eurotrip 2011:  Athens

Eurotrip 2011:  Istanbul

The Penny Chronicles

My name is Penny.

Sometimes new members join the pack for a few days.  Last week it was Effie, the White-Haired Woman, and the Pretty Lady. I could tell they were coming because the Leader put the spare bowl down.  When I see the spare bowl, I know that it will soon be filled with food.  That makes excited, and I try to be alert for extra eating opportunities.

I liked having the new members of the pack around.  The White-Haired Woman gave me food from the table.  That was good!  And when the White-Haired Woman filled the spare bowl with food for Effie, I beat Effie to the spot and ate some of the food.  That was good, too.   Effie is old, and I’m just faster than she is.  Better luck next time, Effie!  After that happened, I decided that from time to time I should check the spare bowl to see if any new food was there.  Usually there wasn’t any, but you never know.

Then they left, and things went back to normal.

Russell And The Masters On Main Street (Cont.)

One of Russell's pieces at the exhibition, called "Resume"

The Masters on Main Street exhibition in Catskill, New York has been up and running for about a month now, and it appears to be doing pretty well.  I know that Russell has been spending a fair amount of time there at the Vassar College storefront gallery space.  artdaily.org has a review of sorts of the show and its various participants, and a local article on the effort includes a brief video interview with the principal organizer.

Let’s hope that, as spring arrives and the weather warms up, more and more people stop by Catskill to take a look at the artwork. Kish and I are looking forward to touring all of the Masters on Main spaces when we visit in May.

Acronyms In The OED

Every so often the authoritative Oxford English Dictionary decides that new words, phrases, and slang have become sufficiently accepted to be included in the next publication.  For those interested in our language, it is a momentous occasion.

The most recent announcement features many new words, like “tinfoil hat” and “couch surfer” and (horrors!) “wassup,” as well as new usages, like recognizing “heart” as a verb (as in “I [heart shape] NY”).  A number of the newly recognized words are in fact acronyms — or, to use the word used by the OED, “initialisms.”  These new selections would delight Valley Girls, emailophiles, and hard-core texters.  They include “OMG,” “LOL,” “IMHO,” “TMI,” and “BFF.”  For those of you who, like me, wonders whether “TMI” refers to Three Mile Island, it doesn’t — it means “too much information.”

The continued generation of new words and usages shows that English remains a vibrant, growing language — so much so that an English speaker from the year 2350 reading Catcher in the Rye would find its English as distant from their usage as Shakespeare is from the modern tongue.  But if “OMG” and “LOL” are now regarded as proper uses of the King’s English, can “CYA” and “WTF” be far behind?

The Agony Of Defeat

I don’t feel much like writing about Ohio State’s nail-biter loss to Kentucky last night, and I doubt anyone feels much like reading about it, either.  It must have been a thrilling, wonderful game to watch if you were a disinterested fan who just liked college basketball.  The two squads were evenly matched and the game was back-and-forth and closely contested, with the teams within a few points of each other throughout the second half.

For an Ohio State fan — and even more so, I am sure, for Ohio State coaches and players — this one was a very tough one to take.  Ohio State had its opportunities but could not capitalize on them; after shooting lights out for a series of games the Buckeyes struggled to put even open shots and free throws into the basket.  That happens, at times, in sports.  Credit must be given to Kentucky, of course.  Their coaches came up with a good game plan and their players executed it.

So, for the second year in a row Ohio State bows out in the Sweet Sixteen after a tough, hard-fought loss to a talented SEC team.  The loss will sting, because this group of Ohio State players was a pleasure to watch and clearly had the ability to win it all.  The fact that they didn’t, however, doesn’t detract from what was really an exceptional season.  I will very much miss watching these guys play.