This here feller plays the Star Wars on this here banjo
July 2006

 
Why that headline? I saw it on Fark and thought it was hilarious; the headline went to YouTube. Really, isn't a guy playing The Star Wars on a banjo why the Internet is such a good thing?

Also on Fark recently: "What movie did you see as a kid that scared the piss out of you, but now you would only find mildy amusing?" No question: "The Monster of Boggy Creek." I saw it when I was in single digits (Mom, WHAT were you thinking?!) and was scared out of my wits. Now... a positive laugh riot.

Also on YouTube that made me cry with laughter: a very special part of the AFI tribute to George Lucas. Classic.

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After traveling I-don't-know-how-many-hours by plane, I finally bought an inflatable neck pillow. WHY did I wait so long?!? There is no better way to sleep on a plane... outside of first class where the seats go all the way back... I love this thing even more than my iPod when it comes to traveling. Cover my eyes, put in my ear plugs, and zzzzzzzzzzz.

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Suma, a 45-year-old elephant and long-time resident of the Zagreb Zoo, was bereaved and inconsolable after her pachyderm partner of tens years died of cancer. She refused to eat, became uncommunicative, and showed all the signs of a serious depression. Then, in June, the zoo organized a concert of classical music just opposite Suma's dwelling. At the sight of five musicians preparing themselves to start the concert, Suma became very nervous and aggressive, peppering the intruders with little stones that she blew out of her trunk. But as soon as the concert started, Suma leaned against the fence, closed her eyes and listened without moving for the entire concert, which featured music by Mozart, Vivaldi and Schubert. Zoo authorities realized that classical music seemed to help Suma cope with her grief, so they bought a stereo and installed it so she could get a daily dose of music therapy. The elephant is also partial to the strains of Vivaldi and Bach.

I love elephants.

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So, Zinedine Zidane was handed a three-match ban and a $6,000 fine for his World Cup final head-butt on an Italian player, an act that wiped away all of the images of good sportsmanship and fans partying together across country loyalties that had dominated game coverage up to that point. I had been pulling for France in the final, just because they had won only once, but after that absolutely shameful act, I wanted Italy to beat them by 10 goals. With Zidane having quit soccer after the World Cup final, the ban is meaningless.

The original announcement about the Zidane "penalities" didn't say he would perform community service for FIFA but, rather, that he would instead spend three days working with world governing body FIFA. So I wanted FIFA to put Zidane in the copy room, to spend three days making copies, collating, and stuffing envelopes.

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The Baltimore train station is beee-yooooou-teeee-full. I hope it stays that way.

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Deciding to read famous books that no one really reads anymore was one of the best ideas I've ever had... I'm a few years into this quest, and the payoffs have been tremendous.

Just before the 4th of July, I finished Elmer Gantry. It turned out to be one of the greatest novels I have ever read. It may be THE American novel for me, second only to The Grapes of Wrath. Elmer Gantry, published in 1927, was so much more complex, so much more biting and chilling in its description of the worst parts of the American psyche, so much more timeless, than I ever imagined it would be. I expected a comic-book story and dated prose -- I got, instead, vivid characters and lines of text I found myself re-reading per their beautiful structure and perfect descriptions. This book isn't just as it's usually, simply described: adventures of a golden-tongued evangelist who lives a live of hypocrisy and self-indulgence. This also isn't a novel whose primary, sole purpose is to attack the clergy. Elmer Gantry is a searingly-accurate profile of the USA, one that still stands oh-so-many years later. I finished the book and sat staring out the window for 10 minutes. I didn't know whether to laugh or weep.

What's so disheartening about this book, for me, is, as noted in the afterword by Mark Schorer, "The forces of social good and enlightenment as presented in Elmer Gantry are not strong enough to offer any real resistance to the forces of social evil and banality." Frank Shallard is defeated. So is Jim Lefferts. All the good people go down.

Maybe you have to have been raised in the South or Midwest of the USA, and to have been brought up Baptist or Methodist, to really, truly get all the layers of Elmer Gantry, all the hidden humor, all the razor-sharp and, at times, incredibly subtle, criticism and commentary. If you've never been to a church supper where a person claims to have traced their lineage all the way back to Adam and Eve, if you have never had your school board or local city council hear arguments about why certain books should be banned from school or local libraries, if a significant number of your family wouldn't boycott your wedding if you chose to serve alcohol, if you have never heard Catholics called "Papists" from a pulpit, if school friends haven't told you, in all sincerity, that they are going to pray for you because of your questions and intellect, if you haven't heard "Christians" rationalize about their actions that are in direct conflict to what the Bible says, I'm not sure you can really, truly get this book. But I could be wrong (I frequently am)

Ofcourse, all you have to have done is lived in the USA and paid attention to the actions of Jerry Fallwell, Pat Robertson and the Christian Coalition in order to be chilled by the last line of the novel -- and don't go reading it before you've read the entire book. Part of me is ashamed to have only finally read Sinclair Lewis when I'm already 40 -- and part of me wonders if I could ever have understood this book on the level I feel that I do had I not been this age.

And don't go looking for these characters, nor this story, in the movie version. The events of the movie are less than 100 pages of the book, and are so incredibly sanitized in comparison -- the novel's Sharon Falconer is NOTHING like the Celluloid version. I love the movie, but it's a completely different story.

Sinclair Lewis is quoted as saying "I love America, but I don't like it" and "when fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross." My sentiments exactly.

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I also read Tarzan of the Apes this month, as it was on my list, and having found an unread paperback published in 1990 in a ramshackle, completely unorganized used book store in Washington, DC (the books were so unorganized that I had this sudden urge to spend the rest of the afternoon putting the fiction in alphabetical order).

The book turned out to be a treat. It's no Elmer Gantry , but it is quite a lot of fun. The foreword by Gore Vidal really put the book into perspective, helping me to enjoy it even more. I knew that one of its messages, delivered through the continual killing of animals, would be "Man is the true king of beasts." But what I wasn't expecting was some rather insightful social commentary -- like that one of the African tribes engaging in particular cruelties learned such from their Belgian "colonizers." And that, in hunting, you use all that you kill, and you respect what you kill. Tarzan is a fascinating character. I particularly liked his thoughts to a group of learned men, centering around "There is as much individuality among the lower orders, gentlemen, as there is among ourselves."

And, no, none of the filmed versions have been even remotely faithful to the book -- I know 'cause I've seen them all. And that's a huge shame, because the exchanges between Professor Archimedes Q. Porter, Jane's father, and Samuel T. Philander, are hilarious.

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Also on my list, and also read since I last wrote, was The Wizard of Oz . It's still a good children's book, written very simply, and for the most part, the 1939 movie is a faithful adaptation -- the changes are quite minor. Actually, I guess by today's watered-down standards, it would be considered too intense as a kid's book -- the origin of the Tin Man is rather grotesque, but not worse than anything kids might see on TV. I will probably read the second book, but unless it really knocks my socks off, I'm going to stop there.

What will I do once I read everything on my list of books so famous that no one reads them any more? I'll probably switch to books that have won the Pulitzer.

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It's now official: People who talk on cell phones while driving, even using "hands-free" devices, are as impaired as drunk drivers. Given how many of my friends have been rear-ended by someone talking on a cell phone, I really didn't need yet another study to tell me this, but, indeed, yet another study has confirmed it. As a bike commuter and someone who travels by motorcycle occasionally, cell phone drivers are of particular concern to me. In Germany, it's illegal for people to drive while talking on the phone. It's time for the USA to follow suit. "If legislators really want to address driver distraction, then they should consider outlawing cell phone use while driving," said Frank Drews, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Utah who worked on the study.

And do not even THINK about using your cell phone when you are driving me -- I WILL bawl you out, and you do NOT want to be on the other end of my wrath.

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A friend passed on to me her extra copy of a magazine called BUST, and I've fallen in love with it. The writing and the variety of articles are fantastic. For instance, the July issue featured articles on

I even love the ads (especially the ones for shoes). So, I've just sent in my subscription for 12 issues.
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I was in Washington, DC recently for a conference, and while there, got treated by my friend Beth, as a belated 40th birthday present, to a performance of Love's Labour's Lost at the Shakespeare Theatre. It's one of the hardest Shakespeare comedies to pull off (Measure for Measure is even harder), and the previous times I've seen it, I've never felt satisfied. Not this time! We were in the fourth row, and I would look over at this little girl, probably 10, sitting in the box seats next to the stage, and her face was a mirror of mine the first time I saw a classic staged so perfectly once upon a time at the University of Evansville (it was Moliere's The Would-Be Gentleman: full of absolute wonder, delight and laughter. I got as big a kick out of watching her as I did the play. The idea to stage Love's Labour's Lost in the 1970s, with a band going into retreat with an Indian guru (sound familiar?) and four babes showing up riding Vespas and wearing high boots and mini skirts, was BRILLIANT. It reminded me of those magical performances at Hartford Stage once upon a time...

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DOPA is dopey

On July 26, the US House of Representatives passed the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA). Just 15 members voted against it.

So much for shrinking the federal government's control of our lives.

Social networking sites like MySpace and LinkedIN, as well as online discussion groups and chat rooms, have NOT "allowed sexual predators to sneak into homes and solicit kids," as Representative Ted Poe, a Texas Republican, has said. Parents allow sexual predators to "sneak" into homes and solicit kids, by not talking to their kids about their online activities, by not using the computer together regularly, by not searching for their child's name on social networking sites and elsewhere to make sure their child isn't posting inappropriate information, by not staying involved in their children's lives (an online predator who connects with your child will know who your kid's favorite teacher is, what his or her least favorite subject is, what he or she hopes to be someday, etc. -- what do YOU know about such>), by expecting computers to babysit their kids, and by putting computers in the kids' bedrooms instead of the family room where the screen can be viewed by anyone sitting or walking nearby.

DOPA is a un-American, shameless, heavy-handed, over-the-bounds measure that reeks of too much government control of our lives. How about we tell parents that it's time for them to step up to the plate and supervise their children? The Internet is filled with information to help parents do a better job of protecting their kids online (and offline, for that matter). How about legislation that funds education and awareness campaigns, instead of "Big Brother"?

Bravo to brave American Representative John Dingell, who said, "So now we are on the floor with a piece of legislation poorly thought out, with an abundance of surprises, which carries with it that curious smell of partisanship and panic, but which is not going to address the problems... This is a piece of legislation which is going to be notorious for its ineffectiveness and, of course, for its political benefits to some of the members hereabout." I've registered on MySpace (feel free to invite me to be your friend if you are on), because I want to see for myself why the chippies of today like it so much. If you are a parent and you are concerned about online safety -- have YOU even bothered to check it out for yourself?

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I hate the London Underground. I used to love it. It was the first mass transit I ever relied on in my life, way back in December 1987, and navigating it was a breeze. It proved a perfect training ground for later using undergrounds and light rails in New York, Berlin, Paris and Prague.

But times have changed. You cannot rely on the London Underground to get you where you need to go in a set amount of time. It might get you where you need to go, or it might not. If you are, say, taking the Underground to make a connection to an "express" train to get you to the airport, begin an hour before you think you really need to, and map out at least two alternative line plans.

I tell you this because I wish someone had told me...

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Let's have a quote from a love story from KJV 1, shall we?:

I Samuel, Chapter 18:
[1] And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.
[3] Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.
[4] And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle.

I Samuel, Chapter 20:
[17] And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul.
[18] Then Jonathan said to David, To morrow is the new moon: and thou shalt be missed, because thy seat will be empty.

II Samuel, Chapter 1:
[26] I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.

Taken out of context? Maybe... but no more than, say, a "sermon" by Pat Robertson.
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One thing I haven't talked about here in the more-than-five-years I've lived in Europe is how people treat me based on my being from the USA.

First, I should have to note that I don't broadcast that I'm from the USA while walking down the street, outside of a couple of Kentucky t-shirts and a "Dean for America" t-shirt, either of which people in Europe understand. Most people assume I'm from England if they hear me speak (not because of my accent, but simply because I'm speaking English). I'm not ashamed of being from the USA, but given the acts of our present administration, I know that it's best to keep a low-profile. I don't hide nor deny where I'm from -- but, again, I just don't broadcast it.

Strangers, friends of friends, and family members of friends have, indeed, made some disparaging, even insulting comments about the USA to me. It doesn't happen every day, not even every week, but it does happen. Their frustration or anger centers around the present federal administration, but they also focus on other things: American's profound ignorance of other countries and the ridiculous questions they themselves have been asked by Americans when visiting the USA; how Americans so rarely travel outside their own state, let alone their own country; how Americans, by and large, know just one language; how Americans are so incredibly clueless when it comes to the world's most popular game, football (soccer); and how the USA, supposedly the greatest country in the world, handled -- and continues to handle -- the post Katrina situation in the Gulf Coast region so very, very poorly. I usually join in on those arguments, on their side. But Europeans, Africans, Middle Easterners and others also have many, many misconceptions about the USA that they use in their disparaging comments: they think everyone is suing everyone else in the USA (they aren't), that everyone in the USA supports George Bush (millions and millions and millions do not), that everyone owns a gun and wants everyone else to (we don't), and that everyone in the USA has two cars and lives like the people on "Friends" (we don't); they have no idea that different regions of the USA are so very different in terms of culture, traditions, history, food, landscape and values than the cities most European tourists visit (Miami, New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco) as well as what's portrayed in movies and on television; and they think George Bush is a cowboy (he's not only afraid of horses and lacks the honor and poetry of cowboys, he's not even from Texas).

The disparaging or insulting comments can hurt, particularly when they come from people you thought were becoming friends. Many Europeans, particularly Germans, and particularly after a few drinks, want to give me a list of all the things they think is wrong with the USA and Americans (yes, just like on that episode of "The Simpsons" when they turn their house into a youth hostel), even if they've never been to the USA and have few American friends. I had one total young snob of a German woman ask me, with a sneer, "Why do people in the USA obsess so much about being politically correct? Why do they say 'Happy Holidays" instead of 'Merry Christmas'?" I answered, "We don't try to be 'politically correct'. We try to be polite. You see, we have Jewish people in our country, as well as Muslims, Hindus, and lots of other religions -- and people who are atheists and have no religion. Not everyone is a Christian in the USA, and so many people say 'Happy Holidays,' which means, 'Happy HOLY Days', so as to include everyone." She frowned and didn't speak for the rest of the conversation. I know that Americans can also ask people from other countries some really off-the-wall questions, but my impression is that this usually comes from ignorance and naivete, rather than maliciousness -- and I can't say that of many of the pointed questions I've been asked outside of the USA.

Only twice have total strangers singled me out for abuse because of my country: in Geneva, where a woman spit at my feet in the street as I walked and talked with another person from the USA, and after the World Cup, at the train station in Bad Godesberg, when three teenaged boys harassed me -- it was the only time I had ever dared to wear something even remotely nationalistic (a painted USA flag and the words "USA" on my face).

Most Americans abroad don't contribute to bad images of the USA, that I've seen. I did yell at some USA teenagers biking on the Rhine for blocking the bike lane and smarting off to passersby, I've cringed at the boisterous, anything-but-subtle behavior of American cruise ship passengers making day trips to shore in Norway and Italy, and I've been embarrassed by even worse behavior by a group of rich American college students in Bruges, but outside of three or four incidents, the Americans abroad I've encountered -- in Western Europe, in Nordic countries, in Arab countries -- have been exceedingly polite and respectful of wherever they are, nondescript, friendly with everyone, intensely interested in learning about the people and environment they encounter, and quite delighted in whatever they get to experience. Most just smile when comments turn rude about the USA, acknowledging the speaker's frustrations, maybe trying to clarify some misconceptions, and then trying to play diplomat and change the subject. Most Americans abroad, at least that I've encountered, delight in differences and new experiences -- I saw so many Americans asking to have their pictures taken with fans from other countries at the World Cup in Germany, and at the bar where I went to watch the USA-Ghana match (it wasn't shown on TV here, in favor of the Italy-Czech game), quite a few Americans came over to the Ghana side to have their pictures taken, and to tell the fans that, if Ghana won, they'd be pulling for them for the rest of the tournament, out of a desire to see an African team finally win it all. It was just another example that the vast majority of Americans abroad make me very, very proud, and are indicative of the true American character, the one I get very, very homesick for.

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If you haven't yet, I'd really appreciate it if you would check out my official blog. It's short entries about things of interest to me professionally or about activities I'm undertaking -- you might even get some advice to help you in your own work. The blog provides a way for readers to post comments as well. The RSS feed address for the Jayne Blog:
http://blogs.forumer.com/rss.php?u=jcravens

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Hurrah! On July 19, the US Senate voted to put new controls on water projects of the Army Corps of Engineers, with proponents of the legislation repeatedly citing the experience of New Orleans, where corps-designed levees and waterways failed to protect the city from Hurricane Katrina. The legislation calls for the creation of independent panels of scientific and economic experts with authority to weigh in on projects under consideration by the corps. A decision to ignore the panelšs advice could be used against the corps in legal proceedings. Senator Russel D. Feingold sponsored this bill. Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!

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You can't call something a wild conspiracy that has audio, video, photographs, paper and even public records to support its claim. And, therefore, it's time for the media to stop ignoring the FACT that major vendors of electronic voting machines are engaging in fraud.

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A few additional things to check out:

 
Keep the wild in your heard, not in your home; make no wild or exotic creature a pet

 

If you have read this blog, PLEASE let me know.
Comments are welcomed, and motivate me to keep writing --
without comments, I start to think I'm talking to cyberair.


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