Sunday, September 30, 2012

Nazis Hunt for Otherworldly Ancient Statue

Nazis travel half the globe away in order to hunt for an ancient statue made from a meteorite that fell from space and landed on Earth approximately 10,000 to 20,000 years ago.

Yes, it sounds perhaps like a proposed Indiana Jones movie plot from the 1980's, but sometimes real life is stranger than fiction, because this story, evidently, is real.

Evidently, German researchers, led by Dr. Elmar Buchner of the University of Stuttgart, have confirmed that this statue that the Nazis obtained on an expedition to Tibet just prior to the outbreak of the war did, indeed, come from a meteorite that fell from space. They conducted some tests and found that it was made of axatite, a metal from a scarce kind of meteorite, and contains high concentrations of iron and nickel.

The expedition took place between 1938-1939, and was backed by Nazis, particularly by Heinrich Himmler, at least in part to trace the origins of the Aryans, in an effort to lend historical credibility to the Nazi theory of the roots of alleged racial superiority of what they viewed as the Aryan race. This theory was crucial to Nazi ideology, and the justification of their worldview, and their particular understanding and interpretation of history.

They may have been attracted to this statue in large part, because it has a swastika on it. The swastika, of course, did not originate from the Nazis. in fact, the Nazis got it from it's original eastern origins, and utilized it to their purpose. It was a sign of good luck, until the Nazis used it so relentlessly and militantly in their propaganda, that it was likely forever tainted (at least in the west) and would henceforth be associated with a very specific time and place in history - the Nazi rule over Germany in the 1930's and 1940's.

The research team wrote in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Sciences:

"One can speculate whether the swastika symbol on the statue was a potential motivation to displace the "iron man" meteorite artifact to Germany."

The expedition was headed by one Ernst Shafer, a zoologist and ethnologist, who brought it back to Germany, where it came to be possessed by a private owner in Munich.

It has come to be known as the "iron man" statue, because of the high concentration of iron.

The statue itself is small, yet quite heavy for it's size - an indication that it was made from a stone that was actually a part of a meteorite. It is 24cm (a bit under 10 inches) tall, and weighs 10.6 kilograms (23.3 pounds).  It is a carving of the Buddhist god Vaisravana, also known as Jamhala Vaisravana, who is the god of wealth or war.

The existence of the statue really only became known in 2007, when the owner died, and the statue came up for auction, and the team of German and Austrian scientists, led by Buchner, received permission to conduct chemical tests.

"The statue was chiseled from a fragment of the Chinga meteorite which crashed into the border areas between Mongolia and Siberia about 15,000 years ago, " Dr. Buchner said.

The findings are being published by the researchers in the journal "Metoritics & Planetary Science" this month, which appears to be available from the Wiley Online Library.

Scientists outside of the research team have verified the credibility of the possibility that this statue was carved from the rare meteorite. An Associate Professor from The University of New Mexico, Rhian Jones, suggested that the findings by the team appear conclusive. She specializes in meteorites.

Quing-Zhu Yin, a geology specialist from the University of California, said:

"Looks like a solid piece of geochemical 'forensic' work. No terrestrial artifact would generally contain that much nickel content. Chemical elements don't lie."

Yin, however, did express doubt about the statue's alleged Buddhist roots, explaining, "I am not a historian. But the 'iron man' does not look like a Buddha to me from my cultural background. It looks more like a warrior with a sword...(a) resemblance of Genghis Khan...I have never seen a Buddha with a sword or knife."

Still, whether or not it is, in  fact, a Buddhist statue or not, the carving is truly unique. Buchner said in a statement regarding the potential value of the statue:

"The iron man statue is the only known illustration of a human figure to be carved into a meteorite, which means we have nothing to compare it to when assessing value. Its origins alone may value it at $20,000; however, if our estimation of its age is correct and it is nearly a thousand years old it could be invaluable."

The story itself seems priceless. Perhaps it's too bad that this story did not break out in the eighties, during the days of the peak popularity for the fictional archaeologist, Indiana Jones, who constantly had adventures competing for rare artifacts against his rivals and hated enemies, the Nazis. I'm sure Spielberg and Lucas could have made a rich movie out of this. Only, apparently, Indiana Jones would not have won and gotten the prize, for once, as this came to the hands of the Germans. No word on if it possesses some special powers, although it certainly did not help the Nazis win the war.

Below are some links to articles on this fascinating subject, and which I greatly utilized in writing this piece. The article that I borrowed from the most was "Stolen Buddhist Statue Carved From Meteorite" by SkyNews, from which I got some of this history behind the statue, as well as the quote on the history of the piece by Dr. Buchner. It also offers some great close-up pictures of the statue:

http://news.sky.com/story/990085/stolen-buddhist-statue-carved-from-meteorite

I got the history of the Buddhist god that the statue portrays, as well as the quote from Buchner regarding the potentially pricelessness of the piece, from Stephanie Pappas's article from Fox News,  "Nazi-Acquired  Statue Came From Space":

http://www.foxnews.com/science/2012/09/26/nazi-acquired-buddha-statue-came-from-space/

I got some of the history of the statue, supporting statements from other scientists confirming the plausibilty of this statue having been carved from the meteorite, as well as the specific news of the publication of these findings from the article on Washington Post article, "Researchers, Buddhist statue found by Nazis made from meteorite" Associated Press, September 27th:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/researchers-nazi-expedition-found-ancient-buddhist-statue-made-from-meteorite/2012/09/27/57918fe4-08d9-11e2-9eea-333857f6a7bd_story.html

I got the quote about the potential main motivation for the Nazi acquisition of the statue being the presence of the swastika from the article: "Nazi Iron Man Statue Came From Space, Really" by Dan Evans, September 26, 2012 :

http://www.inquisitr.com/344376/nazi-iron-man-statue-came-from-space-really/

The LiveScience article "Nazi-Acquired Buddha Statue Came From Space" by Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience senior writer, differs than that of the Fox article which credits here, and goes into further details about meteorites, and greater specifics about precisely how the testing was conducted:

http://www.livescience.com/23483-nazi-buddha-carved-meteorite.html

Some of the history of the Buddhist god tha tthis statue could potentially be a representation of came from:

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-205_162-57520778/nazi-acquired-buddha-statue-came-from-space/

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Remembering Pearl Jam at Randall's Island, September 29, 1996



So, I went off on yesterday's blog in a torrent of criticism for what passes for the standard bearer of patriotism here in the United States far too often, which is a prejudices and narrow minded assumption of superiority over the rest of the world. I wanted to tone it down a bit today, and talk about another "greatest" label that perhaps actually can apply: concerts.

You see, the term "greatest" perhaps can be fairly applied to certain things. I'm thinking of sports, for example, because there, the goal is clearly defined: to win. Generally speaking, in sports, you are remembered (or not) based upon the measurable standard of whether you actually won or not. The more you win, the greater you tend to be, especially when it comes to championships. The more championships, or the more dominant you are in campaigns for individual championships, and the more applicable the term "greatest" becomes. To my mind's eye, for example, the 1985 Chicago Bears were the greatest and most dominant sports franchise that I have ever seen, from beginning to end, because they basically started out dominating the season, and ended up possibly even more dominant than ever, blowing out and shutting out consecutive playoff opponents to get to the Super Bowl, where they beat the New England Patriots, 46-10. They accomplished more memorable things in that season than any other sports franchise that I have seen, and so they stand out as "the greatest" team, as such.

Now, it can also apply to other things as well, although again, these become more subjective. When I was growing up as a child of the eighties, it seemed to me that the two preceding generations had been through a lot. I heard a lot from my grandparents generation about World War II and those times, perhaps including the Great Depression that happened just before that war. The events were so monumental, so enormous and had such an huge impact on the world that these events changed, that it seemed almost unfathomable. They seemed almost on a mythological level.

As for my parents generation, they lived in different times, but still quite fascinating. They were young adults during that epic and divisive time, and much like World War II, the huge events that defined those times also seemed to almost inherit a mythical kind of quality to them. There was the Kennedy assassination, which was seen as essentially ending an era (I have heard the often rather cliche sounding "end of innocence" label applied to that fateful day). The Civil Rights movement was gaining steam, and would soon see the dismantling of the legal segregation system then dominant in the South, known as Jim Crow. Soon afterwards, there came the Vietnam War, and then the protests, the music, and all of that experimentation that challenged the traditional conformity that the nation had known and largely abided by up to that point. Things were different than they had ever been. There were monumental events in the late sixties, which saw the so-called "summer of love", the Tet Offensive in Vietnam and the swelling unpopularity and active disapproval of the war there, man walking on the moon, and then, finally, the legendary concert on a New York state farm field.

I was a bit envious of the "greatness" of the times for both of those generations, and just how memorable those things seemed to me. Admittedly, that was mixed with not a small degree of skepticism about just how memorable events in my own times, my own life, would be.

Now, I know that last weekend, there was a concert out in Las Vegas that people have been calling "the greatest" concert ever. A few years back, I entertained the notion of spending a small fortune to attend a couple of concerts at Madison Square Garden that some other people have called "the greatest" concerts of all times, those being the celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. Those concerts all had incredible lineups, but frankly, they likely will not carry with them the same mythology of what seems to me to actually have some legitimacy when we discuss "the greatest" concert of all time: Woodstock.  Woodstock just took it to another level. The creativity, not just restricted to the music on stage, was just unparalleled. Say what you want about the drug culture, but there really was some genius present on those three days of peace, love and music in the summer of '69. So much is this the case, in fact, that it is still remembered today. Not surprisingly, it also has taken on almost legendary, mythological status. I myself was thrilled to have attended a concert some years ago (Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band) that was played at the Bethwoods venue, right next to the field where that legendary concert took place. There is a museum, which I did not actually visit, but just seeing the field that you see in the background of documentaries and pictures on the albums and such was a thrill. That, to me, far transcends some concert in superficially sparkling and showy Las Vegas, where each group was allocated about half an hour or so, to my understanding. That concert last weekend might have been really cool, but let's be honest:  it was no Woodstock.

I have seen a lot of concerts in my own time, of course. It's approaching two hundred since 1992, when my brother and I went to see Metallica and Guns 'n Roses, with Faith No More as the opening act, at Giants Stadium in the summer of 1992. That concert was intense, particularly Metallica's set. It was so loud, so long, so energetic, and it left a lasting impression. It was quite memorable. More recently, there have been other concerts that were quite memorable, as well. Seeing Pink Floyd at Yankees Stadium in 1994. Seeing the Vote for Change Finale in 2004, with incredible acts like Pearl Jam, REM, the Dave Matthews Band, John Fogerty, John Mellencamp, Jackson Brown, James Taylor, the Dixie Chicks, and with Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band as the closers. That was incredible. I have seen Paul McCartney give a free concert in Quebec on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of that city. Sir Paul was also involved in another incredible concert memory: joining Ringo Starr on stage a couple of years ago on Ringo's 70th Birthday and playing "Birthday". It was as close to a Beatles reunion, or a Beatles show, that I'll have ever seen, most likely, and as a big Beatles fan (could you guess?), that was very memorable!

I started going to see a lot of concerts particularly starting in1992, and especially gaining momentum in 1994. But at that point, there was one major act that I really wanted to see, probably more than all others, but which it sometimes felt I would never see: Pearl Jam. The thing about Pearl Jam was that, at the time, they were phenomenally popular, probably at the height of their power, if you will. Granted, much of that was the cult of personality surrounding lead vocalist Eddie Vedder. He was the iconic leader of the group, if you will. The type of guy that, as cliche as this sounds, women wanted to be with, and me wanted to be. They had an incredible, raw energy to them in those days. They have retained some of that over the years, but at that time, it was their defining trait. Their music was intense, and charged with powerful and meaningful lyrics, with more than a touch of poetry to them. They really were a band that seemed almost to offer at least a little something to everyone. I desperately wanted to see them, and felt, on many levels, that no matter how many concerts and acts I saw, it would not be or feel complete or impressive until I saw Pearl Jam.

But they rarely ever toured, and never seemed to come to my area, the New York greater metropolitan area, at the time. True, they came around for several shows in their earliest days in the early nineties, playing some very memorable, even legendary shows, at places like the Limelight, but I really started getting into Pearl jam early in 1993, and by then, they were becoming a rare act to see in New York. They had actually come in the area and done a show at the Paramount, in Madison Square Garden (but not outright MSG), and I had desperately tried to get tickets, but was unsuccessful. I waited outside on the side of a road in New York City with a group of equally determined friends to try and get stand by tickets to Saturday Night Live, and actually managed to get one of these tickets. But there was literally not one opening that night, and so all stand by tickets were sent home. I even tried to see them at the Boston Gardens, and came somewhat close, but no cigar. I collected bootlegs of their shows by then, and that 1994 tour still looms large in my memory, although the pleasure of actually going to one of those shows was not mine.

Eventually, however, the opportunity did come. I was friends with someone who had a penchant for obtaining rare tickets, and he managed to get tickets to one of the two Randall's Island shows that the band scheduled for September of 1996, to support their latest album, No Code. This came around a month after the release of that album, which I remember having gotten while on a trip to Chicago, in late August. So, knowing that I would finally get to see them, I was incredibly excited. I just couldn't wait to finally see this group in concert.

There were three of us who went to the concert together. We got there early, and I remember kind of just taking in the atmosphere. The Fastbacks finally came out to open the show, and then it was Ben Harper, who I was not familiar with at the time, but was tremendously impressed with. Still, the group that I wanted to see was in the waits, and the excitement grew. It seemed to take forever for them to take the stage, and it was so hot that night, I remember. Maybe it was just because we were all so tightly packed in. There were a lot of people there.

Finally, the lights went out, and I saw candles on the stage that Pearl Jam was about to take. I don't remember having seen candles at a concert before like that, so it seemed like a new touch. The band came on stage, and it was a thrill to see the curls of Vedder's hair, and knowing that they were finally there, that the concert had finally begun.

But the music waited, as Eddie Vedder spoke first. He assured us that while the previous night (they had played Randall's Island the night before, as I understand it, in heavy rain) had been highly charged, tonight, they were going to take it a bit easier. But he had the feeling, he told us, that the music would be better sharper, than it had ever been, and that the concert would be longer, maybe, than any other that they had ever performed.

He was right. It wound up being, at that time, the longest show that the band had ever played (it had since been overtaken, and the longest concert that they have played to date now, to my knowledge, was the third Mansfield show in 2004, when they tried to play mostly all different songs in the three shows combined, and opened that third and final show in the Boston area with an acoustic set prior to their main set).

They opened up with "Sometimes", which is also the opening song of their then new album, No Code. It was a strange choice, I thought. It was followed by an intense version of "Go", and the intensity was on. The crowd was really fired up, and seemed as excited as I was in just seeing the band, finally. The next few songs were also highly charged, despite Vedder's previous prediction. During "Animal", Vedder stopped the song and warned the crowd that people were acting crazy, and given the overly crowded circumstances, he did not want something to happen. He even mentioned that they did not think they could keep playing music if someone was to lose their life at one of their shows, something that a friend of mine mentioned some years later, following the tragic incident at Roskilde during the Pearl Jam set.

In any case, that show indeed was legendary, and just as Vedder had forecast, they did in fact play more sings, and played a longer show, than they had ever done before. Everyone went home satisfied, and that certainly included me. I was flying high for maybe a week or so after, feeling so privileged to have felt like that. Since then, only the shows that I mentioned earlier have really allowed me to feel that way, as far as concerts are concerned. Most recently, it was Ringo's 70th birthday show that made me feel that concert magic. It's a nice feeling, and I remember just feeling so content following that legendary 1996 show. Even the massive traffic jam following the show's end did not bother me. Nothing bothered me after that for a while.

That show was on this date, September 29th, exactly sixteen years ago. I was sure that it would forever be the greatest Pearl Jam show that I would ever see, but I have seen them over twenty times since then. One of the other very memorable shows that I saw of theirs also occurred on this date, back in 2004. It was also part of the Vote for Change tour, about two weeks before that Washington DC finale that I mentioned earlier in this blog. That also had an incredible setlist, and was one of the most intense shows of Pearl Jam's that I had ever seen. Even that was now eight years ago. They were both a long time ago, but, ah, what memories!











Here's a link to Pearl Jam's website with the setlist of this 1996 show (as well as an illustration of the poster from the show, now a real colector's item):

http://pearljam.com/setlists/1011/1996/20122/downing_stadium_randalls_island

And here's a link to the other September 29th show, eight years later in 2004, and eight years ago on this date:

http://pearljam.com/setlists/1019/2004/20384/fleet_center

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Greatest Ever....

So, I have to say, first off, that I am very tired of the talk about "the greatest (fill in the blank) ever". People slap such labels mindlessly. I live in the United States, and here, there is no shortage of people who simply take it for granted that they live in the "greatest country in the world", and there are plenty of sentiments of "USA #1!". This is entrenched by the President of the United States (no matter who that President is, no matter the political party in power at the White House at the moment) end every address to the American people with "God Bless America". So, most people simply don't give it much thought, it's just a given that they live in the "greatest country in the world". Even very early in our history, so early that "The United States of America" did not yet exist, there was a belief that we were the "shining city on a hill". This was first expressed by  John Winthrop (who, by the way, it should be noted, was vehemently opposed to democracy) way back in the early days of colonialism, back in 1630, and was echoed more recently by late President Ronald Reagan, who greatly helped usher in a new wave of nationalism and an American superiority complex that has not yielded anything, despite some dark times and days and deeds in recent years, and a paralyzing political polarization that has seen Americans more divided than they have been in a very long time.

The most annoying thing about this sentiment, other than the extent of how often and relentlessly it is repeated and continuously echoed by various people (for various reasons), it is most often expressed by people who have either (a) never left the country's borders, or (b) gone on a trip to either Canada or Mexico for a few days, America's immediate neighbors, or perhaps went cruising in the Caribbean. In other words, it is expressed by people who have very limited experience of the rest of the world, and who usually say such things loudly, all the while assuming that they are in positions of authority on such matters. They just "know". More often than not, they also tend to believe the worst stereotypes about those "others" who have the misfortune of living somewhere other than these American borders. In other words, the rest of the 96% of the planet's population.

Yet, it is not restricted to nations. I live in New Jersey, in the suburbs of the greater New York, metropolitan area, and I hear how New York City is the "greatest city in the world" all of the time. I have heard it from several sources, but particularly on radio, and I think that it seems to be expressed on FM104.3 more than anywhere else. Not sure why that is, but it appears to be the case.

I am not sure what it is about patting oneself in the back that has moved from being dismissed kind of tacky, in bad taste, and more more than a little self-serving (obviously), to almost a de facto policy. At times, it seems that your measure of patriotism in America hinges on whether or not you think America is better than everyone else, and if it deserves the supremacy which it apparently strives for. Funny, but a lot of Americans who not only wholeheartedly believe themselves to be a part of the greatest country on God's green earth, but loudly proclaim this in the face of the rest of the world, cannot understand why so much of the rest of the world seems to resent, if not outright hate, Americans. But this brand of nationalism turns incredibly ugly when you feel entitled to invade a sovereign nation on a whim and against the wishes of the world, to mock the rest of the world and claim that we don't need their permission to do whatever the hell we want, and to mock a world organization that we ourselves created, and now undermined, for apparently little more than to reap a few short term profits in hording oil so that we can continue to neglect alternative energy that the rest of the world already understands is in our collective future, to "shock and awe" them to smithereens under a premise that was proven false, and then, when the rest of the world is appalled, and the war begins to turn out badly, to simply shrug and look the other way and, for all intents and purposes, conveniently forget all about the war. How can Americans not understand how they are viewed by everyone else? It starts by being so self-absorbed as a nation that you close yourself off from anything outside of your borders, and then repeating the myth of your own superiority ad nauseam.

As I have mentioned before, my personal belief is that this national prejudice, far more than anything else, is our greatest obstacle. Literally, every other problem that we face, even those that have ballooned beyond all reason, nonetheless were exacerbated by this desire to be "Number #1!"We want to dominate the world, and for the world to acknowledge our superiority. Because we are the most powerful nation (for now), we tend to think that they should follow our example, and that, on the flip side, we really have nothing to learn from them. Nothing could be further from the truth, and we get in our own way and halt progress by wrapping our patriotic red, white and blue banners around our eyes to blind ourselves to anything and everything else. It is to our detriment that we do so, and we are paying a steep price for that already. Let's see if we have the courage to improve beyond this national self-obsession and narcissism sometime in the future.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Gary Bettman: The Worst Commissioner In Sports

There is an article out that caught my attention. It is by Ken Campbell of The Hockey News, and the title is more of a question: "Why Does Gary Bettman Get All The Blame?". It got me to write this rather passionate blog about what I, personally, feel has gone wrong with hockey since Bettman first became commissioner in 1993, almost twenty years now. It's a long laundry list of things, frankly, and I will try to show that Bettman, while maybe not responsible for this particular lockout, still has to bear the brunt of responsibility for why hockey has slipped and regressed, why it's popularity and credibility have taken a hit, and why he has played a very active, and frankly, detrimental, role in all of this. I did not recently jump on the "Blame it on Bettman" bandwagon, as Campbell calls it (he mentions, quite amusingly, that this bandwagon is so full that it is nearly bursting at the seams). I have not liked him, and frankly blamed him, since 1995, with the first of now three work stoppages under his watch, and following the departure of the Nordiques from Quebec, and the near departure of the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Devils from New Jersey (the Stanley Cup was what saved them from moving).

Right now, NHL hockey is supposed to be starting play. Sure, it's the time of the preseason, but still, nevertheless, it's usually the time that we fans get the chance to see the teams skate around the ice. Perhaps we can get cheap tickets, maybe even better seats than we normally might get.

But not this year. For the third time since 1994, the NHL has seen a stoppage in play. In 1994, it halted much of the early part of the season due to an owners lockout, although play did resume in the latter part of the season, all of which fell in 1995. It was a shortened season, but they did play, and the playoffs were deemed a success.

Then came the lockout of 2004-2005 that remained unresolved. An entire season was cancelled as a result, and so the NHL became the first sport in North American history to cancel the entirety of a season, from beginning to end, including playoffs (although it should be noted that baseball had experienced a stoppage of play after playing the equivalent of a half of a season back in 1994, and there was no World Series that year, but they had played the first half).

It is perhaps ironic that there was a major debacle with the replacement officiating on Monday Night Football before a national television audience just a few days ago (which I wrote a blog entry about on Tuesday, just two days ago), because it needs to be noted that the failure (and it was undeniably a failure) that marked the termination of the 2004-05 season came on the heels of one of the most controversial officiating calls the NHL has ever seen, surely (and one of the most controversial in sports, because it may have robbed a team of a championship).

The Calgary Flames entered game 6, a home game for them, having just come off an impressive Game 5 road victory. In a best of seven series, they were now up 3 games to 2, and had a chance to clinch the series at home. It was a tight game, tied 2-2 in the final minutes of the third period, when Calgary scored what appeared to be the winning goal, as there was very little time left. But the play was never reviewed, and the goal was discounted. It let the air out of the Flames, and the Lightning quickly capitalized seconds into overtime, sending the series to the deciding Game 7, in Tampa. The Lightning won their first ever Stanley Cup.

But to understand the full extent of the controversy, one needs to understand the plan that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman not only had in mind, but actually put into place. He had the idea that hockey was not growing fast enough, so he decided that what it needed was a makeover of sorts. What did he have in mind? Expansion. Particularly, expansion southwards, in a market that traditionally had not existed before, and that coming at the expense of traditionally loyal hockey markets in Canada and the northern United States (cold weather areas where frozen lakes and such are standard during the winter, on other words).

Of course, it was not the best idea to create too many teams, because then, there would be watered down talent. Expansion teams alone was not going to be the answer. So, some northern cities were going to lose their teams, in order to populate this Southern expansion. Thus, the Minnesota North Stars left town in 1993 to become the Dallas Stars. Bettman may or may not have been at all responsible for this, as it happened very early on during his tenure. Still, it did happen on his watch, and we should note the trend of a northern city losing it's team to a southern city. There were plenty of others to come: the Quebec Nordiques moving to become the Colorado Avalanche in 1995 (and in a particularly stinging slap in the face to Canada and specifically Quebec, winning the Cup the very first year of their move), the Winnipeg Jets moving to become the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996, the Hartford Whalers moving to become the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997. Given this trend there have been, and continue to be, real concerns in northern cities that their professional NHL team is about to relocate. At various times, fans in Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, New Jersey, and Buffalo have feared the possibility of losing their beloved NHL franchises - usually to a city much farther South.

In Campbell's article, "Why Does Gary Bettman Get All The Blame?", he argues that Bettman is not nearly as responsible for the southern expansion program, although he gets blamed for it. Specifically, he says:

"But it remains vogue to slag Bettman for simply doing his job. For example, people often point to Bettman's failed Sunbelt expansion. But guess how many southern cities have received expansion teams under Bettman's watch? Two, Nashville and Atlanta. Tampa Bay and San Jose were already in the league, and Minnesota North Stars had relocated to Dallas before he was hired. The Florida Panthers and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim had already been accepted into the league in a move that was orchestrated by soon-to-be-convicted felon Bruce McNall. It's true Bettman did little to stop the move of teams to Raleigh, Phoenix and Denver, but we're going to go on a limb and speculate that those moves had more to do with the previous owners than the NHL head office."

Campbell makes some very valid points. Yet, it remains to be said that it is hardly a minor point that Bettman did not stand in the way of those moves. A better commissioner would have recognized the detrimental nature of removing teams from northern cities in order to populate a barren sunbelt market. Let it be clear that the market there is barren for a reason: it's just not hockey country, and wishing it will not make it so. The reason should be obvious: these are not cold weather cities. Lakes do not freeze over, and skating rinks specifically have to be constructed for people to play the sport. It's just not a natural fit, and if it seems obvious in hindsight, after what can already be seen as largely a failed experiment, it can also be said that this fact was equally as obvious during the experiment. at least it was by hockey fans, and perhaps by outside observers, as well. In fact, perhaps the only people that did not see it were those narrow minded owners, and the NHL head office.

Campbell also ignores the threats that franchises from other cities seemed to constantly feel. In Edmonton and Calgary, in Buffalo and Ottawa. And here in New Jersey, where it seemed that the only thing that kept the Devils from moving further south was the enormously good fortune of the team having put it all together in time to win the Stanley Cup in 1995. I remember some people saying that it would be too embarrassing for the league's defending Stanley Cup champions to skip town. Not the kind of publicity that the league would want, I guess, and so the Devils stayed. The Quebec Nordiques were not so lucky, and so the loyal fans of Quebec, who had voted not to have their taxes increased to build a new arena that the franchise demanded in order to keep the team in town, had to watch their former team win it the very next year after the Devils did, only now incarnated as the Colorado Avalanche. Yet, although I don't personally particularly care for them, the Colorado Avalanche have actually been a success story, as far as the southern expansion policy was concerned. They have become a storied franchise, and competed at the highest levels for years.  They were phenomenally popular, and gained a strong following. It should be noted, of course, that Colorado also gets cold weather, gets ice, and I would be willing to venture that this had not a small amount to do with the team's success. I would also like to point out that this particular team's success in Colorado came at the expense of a loyal NHL city in Canada, who paid the price of the greed that brought the team far south of the border, far away. Call me naive, but I don't think that's fair, and it really did not have to come to that. there should have been more effort to keep the team in Quebec, and work out a deal. But greed won out, and kept winning out throughout Bettman's days as head of the league. It kept winning out, and is still winning out, and yet, irony of ironies, the league itself has been worse off for it, hasn't it? Maybe Bettman isn't the only one to blame, for sure. But someone is to blame, and Bettman was not exactly a lonely voice in the wilderness, crying for some sanity. he seemed entirely in favor of the greed that drove the southern expansion and, as such, he deserves to pay the price and get his share of the blame now.

The NHL, and Commissioner Bettman, have continually had to allay these fears and reassure the fans that they were not about to lose their teams, although there does not seem to be a great deal of trust or good will towards the league, or especially towards Bettman. Whenever he goes to an arena (at least in the north, in traditional markets that have a strong background with their hockey) he is soundly booed. Even when a team's home crowd is celebrating wildly (such as after a championship), the fans take a moment to pull themselves away from the joyous celebration in order to make sure they express their dislike of Bettman, and voice their disapproval of the job that he has done. That's pretty strong determination, I would say.

It should be noted, because this does not seem a minor point, that there presently exists the longest Stanley Cup drought for the in what had traditionally had strongest market and support for hockey traditionally, Canada. Canada is where hockey is not only the national sport, but to some, it seems almost like a religion. Yet, the popularity of the NHL in Canada had long been on the decline, probably in large part due to the seemingly strong possibility (sometimes it felt more like an inevitability) that the teams there were under constant threat of moving, save for perhaps the major two, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. Plus, their once proud teams have fallen by the wayside, unable to compete with watered down competition. There were periods of downright dominance by franchises like the Montreal Canadiens, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Edmonton Oilers. But starting with the 1994 Vancouver Canucks, who lost in the Finals in the deciding seventh game to the Rangers, Canadian teams have failed to win the Cup. Only five Canadian teams have qualified in the almost two decades since the last Candaian Stanley Cup Champion (note the year, 1993, when the Canadiens won the Cup in the same year that Bettman took over as Commissioner, and not a single Canadian team had hoisted the Cup since), and they have all lost. The Vancouver Canucks at least lost twice to two of the six original franchises. But the other three times, Canadian teams lost to southern expansion teams (Calgary lost to Tampa Bay in 2004, Edmonton lost to Carolina in 2006, and Ottawa lost to Anaheim in 2007).

Are Canadian fans pissed off? You bet they are. Look at the overall trend, and you can understand why.

Now, it should be noted that Minnesota got a hockey team back, and the city of Winnipeg managed, seemingly against all odds, to get their Jets back. Still, something does not feel right. The Canadian teams seem weak and watered down somehow. Only two of them made it to the playoffs last season, and they were both knocked out in the first round. Not exactly mirroring a proud and strong tradition.

The question is why is this happening now, when everything else about rthe NHL seems to be dumping on Canada? Has the watered down talent been specifically geared towards allowing Southern expansion teams to succeed, to make the plan look like a huge success? In other words, are these new teams succeeding at the expense of the older, more established hockey markets, so that Bettman's mad experimentation looks like a rousing success. Every time a Southern expansion team has a run well into the playoffs, we hear about the wild enthusiasm in their home towns. We see excited fans and hear about sold out seats, we see the banners and jerseys everywhere in the city and region. Hockeymania has taken over. Of course, these reports are not so forthcoming two seasons before or later (take your pick), when the team is struggling, about to miss the playoffs, and playing before a mostly empty arena.

Eventually, the inevitable happened. Fans turned away from the NHL. Hockey fans in Canada increasingly turned to more local hockey teams and leagues, where ticket prices also happen to not be nearly as steep. Much like the baseball farm leagues here in the United States, these smaller leagues offered a more accessible package, and people began to flock there more and more over the years. What are the chances that there will not be an additional gain in popularity as this lockout continues, and NHL hockey doesn't? Whatever the issues, and whether or not Bettman is responsible for this particular problem, a trend has been set, and Bettman has been at the center of that issue: namely, the crumbling quality of NHL hockey under his watch.

Ken Campbell makes clear that, in this particular case, Bettman, does not deserve all of the blame. Okay, fair enough point. and I will not argue it. Yet Campbell hardly seems to be a fan of Bettman, and in fact, seems to have been a part of the overcrowded anti-Bettman bandwagon that he mentions in the article. There is a reason for this, too, as Campbell makes clear:

"And let's face it, Bettman often makes it easy to dislike him. He frequently comes across as condescending and arrogant and after 20 years on the job, still can't shake the fact that he never took a stick in the chin. There are times when he makes taking potshots at him as east as shooting fish in a barrel."

The article says not to (only) blame Bettman. Maybe he does not deserve all of the blame for the recent predicament that the NHL is in. But let's be clear about this: he and his supporters and enablers, deserve the mountain's share of blame for why the NHL has lost much of it's appeal in traditional markets. Whether or not the NHL wants to admit it or not, this man as commissioner has been a failure, and a monumental one at that. He is the reason that hockey is viewed, at worst, as almost as a joke these days, and at best, as an afterthought, usually mentioned in sports news after the other major sports have been covered.

If nothing else, it has been an interesting approach by Bettman. He has taken a strictly business approach to a sport that gets it's support almost purely through emotion, and he has delivered his itinerary in that emotionless, businesslike manner. He was absolutely determined to expand the popularity of hockey into new markets, and did so, at least in part, at the expense of (rather than in addition to) the popularity of hockey in traditional markets. Almost as if he thought that in order for hockey to gain acceptance and credibility in newer markets, he would have to belittle and anger older ones. Not the approach that might seem to make sense to most people (and apparently, that includes the mass majority of NHL fans), but one that Bettman has taken and, apparently, stuck with, often with a smug, "I know best" attitude to boot. How this guy lasted as long as he has is a mystery to many, including me. Yet, there he sits on his throne, and still, NHL hockey is suffering for it. The man is nothing if not persistent.

Whether he deserves all of the blame or not seems perhaps a bit contrived. Someone deserves the blame for all of the things that have gone wrong, and they all seemed to come to a head during his tenure at the top office. These things all came to a head, for that matter, in large part because Bettman certainly did not help matters. In fact, he seems to have taken an active role in exacerbating matters. To repeat: no, he does not deserve all of the blame. Yet, the fact of the matter is that, as head of the league during it's least successful period in modern history, Bettman has unwittingly become the face of that failure. Now, maybe it could have been different. he could have been the voice of reason. He could have pointed out that scrapping old and loyal markets in favor of experimenting with new ones was a huge gamble, one that many predicted the league would lose out on, and were proven correct. But that is not what Bettman did. What he did was act like a detached businessman. Campbell made the point that Bettman was haunted by never having actually been a player, but I think it runs deeper than that. Bettman does not even seem like a real fan of the game. Seriously, it's hard to imagine him kicking back and enjoying a game, getting excited or emotional about the outcome. To be able to relate to fans who do get emotional or excited should have been more of a priority, because maybe then the league would have have acted in a cold and callus business manner, as it continues to do presently with this lockout. The fans just want to see their favorite game, to go to games or watch them on television, to check up the standings in newspapers or on the internet. But that is not happening, because the league's focus is elsewhere. Apparently, so it Bettman's, or he would have used his head position to step up and give everyone a better perspective. That he has consistently failed to do, and that is why he gets so much of the blame. No, he does not deserve all of the blame. Point well taken. Frankly, however, he certainly deserves his fair share of the blame for not doing more - much more - to protect the integrity of the sport that he allegedly represents and defends the best interests of. He is a businessman, and took a more pragmatic approach. The thing is, hockey is not so much a business, as it is a sport, and particularly from the fans perspective, it is something more like a feeling in your heart, and an escape from the everyday, than anything else. When it becomes a reminder of the problems of the world, it becomes a source of stress, and people turn away, as they have, and may continue to do. Someone taking a less businesslike approach might have gotten the fans to warm to him or her, and used that popularity to their advantage to find some better balance. Hockey is a sport played on ice, but Bettman's only relation to the sport seems to be the iciness in his demeanor, which has hardly warmed the hearts of disheartened fans of the sport, and that is where he has failed. And yes, he deserves blame accordingly for that failure.

Here is the article that got me to write about this particular issue, namely, Gary Bettman as probably the worst commissioner in the history of sports:

http://sports.yahoo.com/news/why-does-gary-bettman-blame-190500547--nhl.html

Here is an article by Yahoo's Dan Wetzel, venting his frustration at the ineptitude of Gary Bettman and his philosophy of mindless expansion at whatever cost:

http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/news?slug=dw-nhlexpansion060807

Here is an article from earlier this year by Teresa Walker of Salon, suggesting that the expansion to the South has actually been a success:

http://www.guelphmercury.com/sports/article/662124--booming-hockey-numbers-proof-nhl-s-southern-expansion-paying-dividends

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Movie Rental Review: King Kong (2005)

So, anybody who's even remotely familiar with the history of movies knows all about King Kong. It is a movie that has been made and remade numerous times and with varying levels of success, in terms of revenues and reviews.

Since there seems to be a dearth of original ideas lately in Hollywood, and a whole bunch of remakes that, quite frankly, often do not even come close to touching the originals, I will admit that my initial reaction towards this movie was one of skepticism. How good could it really be, after all? What could they possibly add to this obviously classic tale?

But I gave it a shot, because it was $3 at the local Big Lots. What was the harm in that? It would cost me as much to rent (I don't have Netflix, although have been advised to go ahead and get it, and just might, at this point).

To be honest, it seemed quite different than the original, in many respects. Apart from being obviously much more modern, it also added some strong measure of tension, almost bordering on a horror/adventure, similar on many levels to the Jurassic Park movies of the nineties. There is far more drama than I remember in the older movies (admittedly, it's been a while), and it just seems more solidly constructed.

But it does not really start out that way. In fact, initially, this movie seems almost....well, goofy.

The movie starts off during the dark days of the Great Depression, and there are some wonderful shots of this era - I'm going to go ahead and assume that these are pictures take from real life, and no replications or outright forgeries.

As far as remakes are concerned, this movie still goes some distance to retain the feel of an older movie. In fact, perhaps the most impressive thing about this movie is the mixture of modern technology and how it is often implemented in movies, but also the extent to which it does all this while retaining an older feel to it. It is, on many levels, like a mixture of an older movie, mixed with more modern sensibilities, if you will.

King Kong himself is much more modern. Instead of just some roaring, mindless and enormously oversized beast, we see King Kong, despite his huge size, as very much an ape in look and behavior. Sure, he beats on his chest, but not as violently or mindlessly as the old movies tended to do. Here, Kong is an actual ape, and his soft spot for the girl, for beauty, illustrates this perfectly. He seems a more sensitive and sensible King Kong, more scared than pointlessly angry and aggressive. After all, he has been transported from his home, and brought to a very foreign city, which was not of his own doing. He attacks the planes towards the end, while he is on top of the Empire State Building, but he does so strictly in defense after being fired upon. Sure, he senses the threat, and puts the girl to the side, protecting her, before attacking the planes.

Modern day human beings, in the meantime, are seen as the aggressors. The planes are relentless, even after the beautiful woman has stepped forward and cried, vainly trying to ward them off. We see what is supposed to pass for a motivational speech by a man speaking to his troops, telling them that they should be fired up to hunt down the beast, in order to protect the city hat humans built. All that they saw was, indeed, the old movie version of the mindless brute beast, King Kong. They certainly did not see a living, breathing, yet trapped fellow creature.

Without going too far with this, King Kong actually reminded me a bit of another fictional ape that has been hugely influential - Ishmael! If we stop and, in effect, listen to what the gorilla has to say, we just might learn something about him, and perhaps even, about ourselves. Again, in this movie, Kong actually is an ape. We see him eating bamboo, we see him laughing and enjoying small aspects of life, such as the girl continually falling, or  towards the end of the movie, we see him playing on ice, slipping with the girl, and laughing at his own efforts. We see him playing in the snow as well.

Towards the end, when Kong famously climbs up the Empire State Building and does battle with planes intent on shooting him down, he still has that identifiable lifeness, if you will. He is scared, he is hurt, and we are meant to sympathize with him. When he is, eventually, shot down and falls to his death, we see people down below, acting like the animals, the mindless beasts, that they dismiss King Kong for being. It instantly becomes an instant photo op, people are taking credit, and fascinated by it. Soldier and police congregate by it, and it seems already they are trying to control the scene.

He is a more sophisticated King Kong than we have seen before. Also, and this is an important element to this whole movie, and what truly separates it from the others that have come before - it is a more human King Kong. Almost like a giant version of Man before the Fall. He is innocence, and as such, we feel sympathetic to his plight, even if we are powerless to change the ending. Ironically, the "beast" seems more human, and humane, than many of the human characters in the movie. As he is slowly beginning to realize that he is not likely to get out of the fight with the planes on top of the Empire State Building alive, the viewer begins to feel real sympathy towards him.

All in all, this was a very decent movie. It is long, so be warned, you will be watching it for some time. On my DVD version, apparently, there is an extended version available, so it could even be longer. But the overall effect of this movie was positive for me. It felt like I was watching a classic, even though this movie dates only from 2005, and has a modern day cast, and even feel. It is a good movie, all in all, one that is a bit more realistic and thought-provoking in it's approach than some of the other mindless, oversized creature attacks a big city movie of the past, such as Godzilla, Cloverfield, or even other versions of King Kong itself. This one is definitely worth watching, and I recommend it!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Worst Call That I Have Ever Seen


Did anyone catch that Monday Night Football game between the visiting Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks? It ended on a very controversial play, and that is putting it mildly. The hometown Seattle Seahawks, who had benefited from a few bad calls that went in their favor, were down, 12-7. It was 4th down, with mere seconds left on the clock, so this was going to be the last play of the game, one way or the other. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson heaved the ball towards the corner of the end zone, generally in the direction of wide receiver Golden Tate, more or less a prayer pass. And the prayer was answered. Only not by divine intervention, but by poor officiating. Very poor. 

Packers defender M. D. Jennings, one of several Packers defenders in the area, caught the call, and came down with it, landing on receiver Golden Tate, who had his arms wrapped around Jennings in what normally would have been a tackle (it would have been had it been midfield, for example). But Tate, to his credit, immediately attempted to wrestle the ball away, and was successful enough to confuse the refs, who came running in. Two of them, to be specific. They both made their call, but they conflicted with one another.

The play was reviewed by tape, and the outcome seemed clear. Yet, once they completed the review, they confirmed the on the field call, which had ruled the play a touchdown. Seahawks win.

I have been a fan of American football since the 1981 NFL season, and this was perhaps the weirdest game, and certainly the weirdest call, that I have ever seen. But that is perhaps too mild, because "weird" just does not cut it. This was exactly what the NFL was hoping wouldn't happen.

That was the worst call to end a football game that I've ever seen. The Packers won that game, a tough game to be sure, but instead were robbed. The officials literally cost them the game there. A couple of bad calls against them, to be sure, but that final play was nothing short of robbery. Maybe it's time that the regulars come back. Truly abysmal, and pathetic.

I will say this, though: Jennings should have just slapped it down to the ground, so there would be absolutely no chance of anything funny going down. That said, he did get the interception, and what transpired from that point on was ridiculous. One of the most blatantly horrible calls I've ever seen in sports, period.

Once the call had been made, and the outcome of the game decided (for worse, surely not for better), the Green Bay Packers ran off the field, followed by the Seattle Seahawks. There was not even an extra point attempt at that point, and so the players from both teams were called back. If I had been Packers Coach McCarthy, I would have simply refused to have my team go back out on the field, after being robbed.like that.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Color of Blood Is All Too Familiar For The Rainbow Nation

There seems to be some debate about the date of the end of apartheid, the legal edifice of racial segregation and white minority dominance in South Africa. I have seen quite a few sources suggest that it ended in 1990, and others who suggest it ended in 1994. There was even one time where I saw the year 1992 as the year that it ended, although there was no explanation as to how that year could have been it.

Now, I can understand how some people would suggest 1990, although I do not personally subscribe to this belief. It was in 1990 that new President FW DeKlerk admitted that apartheid had been a failure, and then announced that the government was lifting the ban on political organizations that opposed the government and it's policies of apartheid. Also, Nelson Mandela was released. It was clear that change was at hand, and that attempts were being made to initiate something different, a new era. Indeed, 1990 could be said to have marked the end of the white minority government's pursuit of the hard line apartheid policies, which it had been responsible for, up to that point.

Most people view 1994 as the real year that marked the end of apartheid. Yes, it is true that DeKlerk, who was compared with Gorbachev at some points when he was initiating the reform process, did essentially begin to dismantle apartheid in 1990, and many of the discriminatory laws began to get scrapped quickly thereafter. Yet, it was a process that took years, and the negotiations between the ANC and other parties, and the government, were often turbulent, and the ANC leaders often accused the government of stalling tactics, as well as pitting certain groups and tribes against others. Also, there was plenty of opposition, and some places doggedly tried to stick to the harder form of apartheid that had existed (the town of Ventersdorp, for example, reintroduced "petty apartheid" laws that saw the return of segregated entrance ways and bathrooms that had been outlawed in  the country in 1986). There were beaches that still segregated well after 1990, by some reports as late as 1992 and 1993. Activists and anti-apartheid leaders urged the West not to lift sanctions, in order to keep applying pressure on the government. And finally, and most tellingly, the white minority government, which had been elected by an exclusively by whites, peaceably gave up the reins of power in favor of Nelson Mandela and the ANC, which had been swept into power by a black majority in an election that finally did away with racial discrimination. That, to me, suggests the true end to apartheid, at least officially.

Of course, inequalities still existed, and progress has certainly not been as quick or thorough as some had hoped. Some critics suggested that what existed in South Africa was "apartheid with a clean conscience", as Indian author and activist Arundati Roy called it.

Yet, most people understood that change takes time, but that undeniable improvements had been made. The old oppression of hard line apartheid was done, and the "new" South Africa was hailed worldwide as a triumph, as a success story.

The shootings last month at Marikana, however, were a little too reminiscent of the past, echoing the infamous shootings that captured the world's attention half a century ago at Sharpeville, which really elevated the tensions and put the racial equality struggle in South Africa in the news on an everyday basis. Back then, the numbers were shocking, and seemed to illustrate the extent of the failure of the policies of strict segregation along racial lines, dictated by a minority white government that promoted white superiority and domination.

The fatalities were not quite as numerous this time in (34 dead, 78 wounded), but they are staggering nonetheless, and much like the shootings at Sharpeville of 1960 (69 dead, 180 injured), they generated worldwide attention and condemnation. But what is shocking this time to many, particularly black South Africans, is that this incident came under a black majority government that is supposed to represent the "Rainbow" nation as a whole, rather than repress one group in favor of another.

Many in the country feel betrayed, and seem to feel that the black governing rulers and business elites, mostly  but no longer exclusively whites, are living in the lap of luxury and enjoying a very high standard of living, driving luxurious cars, while the rest of the nation struggles. Many South African homes (particularly in former "Bantu", which is to say black, areas), still do not have basic functions, such as running water, heat, or electricity. While the government has helped millions of homes to get these basic utilities, there is still no shortage of homes that have not received these yet. Progress has been painfully slow.

Add to that, the government's rather lackadaisical response to the whopping numbers of AIDS/HIV victims, which ranks among the highest in Africa, which itself ranks very high in relation to the rest of the world) was very much criticized, often vehemently.

Finally, South Africa has received some negative press regarding it's handling, or perhaps rather it's mishandling (some might suggest manhandling) of illegal immigrants trying to cross into South Africa's borders. There have been images of ruthless police beatings that were compared to captured images of police beatings and brutality during the days of apartheid. Some of the attitudes towards immigrants have been viewed as rather xenophobic, and this time, it's not just whites who hold such viewpoints.

Now, this.

Yes, it's now approaching two decades since the end of apartheid, which perhaps is all the more chocking to so many who had hoped that South Africa was fully beyond many of the excesses of the fairly recent apartheid past.

Evidently not. Some are suggesting that perhaps the country is encountering many of the same problems these days because, as they claim, the lives of poor black workers still means little to those in power. It is clear, nevertheless, that tensions certainly still exist within the nation, and that the government still seems willing to use the police in order to crack down on popular uprisings by the people.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, perhaps? 

Here are links to some articles related to what's going on in South Africa recently, including one that serves as another reminder of the apartheid era, as potential foreign investors are scratching their heads at the response to the violent reactions to the strikes, as well as the general air of seeming instability, before getting too involved with the unflattering  history of South Africa:

http://articles.cnn.com/2012-08-17/africa/world_africa_south-africa-mine-violence_1_impala-platinum-platinum-mine-mineworkers-and-construction-union

http://news.yahoo.com/south-africa-probes-police-killings-marikana-103910192--finance.html

http://news.yahoo.com/south-africas-dithering-strike-response-spooks-investors-071837343--sector.html


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Concert Review: Farm Aid 2012 - Hershey, Pennsylvania

I wanted to get here early, but was not feeling too well these last few days. Not sure if it was allergies, stress, sickness, or perhaps some combination, but I ended up accidentally napping for hours, and felt worse for the wear after so doing. There was one point, I swear, I looked at the clock and it said it was right around noon. It felt like I blinked a couple of times, then I looked at the clock again, and it said 1:00. It was just one of those days.

Funny thing was, the morning got off to a good start. I wrote and added two entries to this blog, then went hiking in the cool morning hours. Those are two things that have a bit of a streak going and, heading back to the apartment, I felt good. Strong, even.

So, it seemed like I had a good hour or two of downtime to relax a bit before departing for the concert, right? Wrong. I lay next to my girlfriend on the couch, and promptly fell asleep. Again, upon waking, I felt worse then I had before. It felt as though i could easily have slept another two or three hours, at least, and this after a night off that saw me sleep for maybe seven or eight hours. Also frightening: my arms and legs felt so tired, they were shaky. I get those feelings sometimes, but they are never joyous, and all the more so when about to start the day. If such fatigue was going to happen, why would it not happen right after the physical toil of hiking, anyway?

But anyway, I digress...

We got to Hershey rather late, unfortunately, and had already missed a sizable chunk of the show. Still, what we saw certainly did not disappoint!

Among the artists that were yet to perform once we got there were the high energy band from Vermont, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, followed by Jack Johnson, the phenomenally popular Kenney Chesney, and the main four acts, which included Dave Matthews and the three founding members of Farm Aid - John Mellencamp, Neil Young, and Willie Nelson.

Grace Potter was incredibly energetic, and my girlfriend & I were very impressed with her. She was bouncing around the stage and got the crowd pumped.

Jack Johnson has an impressive number of hits, and he performed quite a few of them during his set (although he forgot to do my personal favorite of his, You and Your Heart, but that's okay). He seemed so laid back about the whole thing, which was perhaps befitting a man from Hawaii.

The crowd was downright raucous when Kenney Chseney took the stage. This is a phenomenally popular act, although I am, admittedly, not all that familiar with his work. He was there the only other time I had ever attended a Farm Aid, and he received a similar reaction then. In the introduction, it was stated that he had enjoyed the hottest tour of any artist during the past summer, although I did not hear anything to either confirm or refute this, one way or the other. He lent his high octane presence and a very clear and powerful voice to the concert, as well as apparently melting the hearts of all the women in attendance, judging from the reaction.

Chesney and Jack Johnson served as the bridge from the lesser known acts to the well-established acts that have a stake in Farm Aid and, thus, are the annual performers. The first among these was Dave Matthews, who came out with his fellow band mate Tim Reynolds, and did an incredible set! my personal favorite is "Don't Drink the Water", which they usually seem to perform to open a show. They did not open with it this time, although they performed it nonetheless. it sounded unbelievable in the stripped down acoustic. Obviously, Matthews is wildly popular as well, and the crowd reacted very well to his appearance and appreciated his set list, as well as the wit that he generously showed in between songs.

Finally, there were the three founding members of Farm Aid. Mellencamp came out with his entourage and did his thing. Some people around me expressed their shock at how old he was getting, and his voice was rather rough, perhaps recording some of the excesses of his self-described "sins" during his life. But he can still rock the house, as he did this time. So did Neil Young, this time performing with his band Crazy Horse (he had done a solo act on electric guitar back in 2010 in Milwaukee), and finally, the elder statesman of the popular music industry, if you will, Willie Nelson.

The idea behind Farm Aid was to promote awareness for the troubling trend of family farms being lost and unable to compete against huge corporate farms. Farm Aid encourages a grass roots approach, allowing small farmers a bit more of a forum to express their ideas and inventions at the show, in the "Farm Aid Village", which includes all sorts of educational tables and expositions. There were even courses available, if you were so inclined. And while I personally did not take any of the courses, some of them really were intriguing enough to catch my attention, such as Composting 101, and how to cook home grown food on a budget, among others.

Of course, there was fresh food available, particularly Home Grown (you can log into Farm Aid's own community, HOMEGROWN.org, for more information), and the type of fresh food that you can see at the local farmer's market. One thing that caught my attention (although I missed the name of the speaker), was a bill that was being promoted that would allow food stamps to count double in value at the local farmer's market, in order to promote local farmers and their produce, as well as better health for the disadvantaged).

I personally love Farm Aid, both the idea of it, as well as the actual concert and events surrounding it! It is always such a pleasure, and even, yes, an education. It tends to travel around quite a bit, and this was the first time in a few years that it had been to the east coast. If it travels anywhere near you one of these days, I would recommend giving it a shot, at least for a day. If nothing else, you are guaranteed a full day and evening of great music and, if you want it, some great food. Plus, if you're willing to open yourself up to it, you just might learn something, as well! That's always a plus in my book.

Here are some early printed reviews of the show that it seemed would be good to share:

http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2012/09/diversity_of_styles_music_clot.html

http://news.yahoo.com/farm-aid-2012-people-want-good-food-family-160000912.html

Here's a link to an article that further details the good works that Farm Aid does in helping farmers:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20120920/us-farm-aid/

Here's the link to Farm Aid itself:

http://www.farmaid.org

Also, being the modern, hip, technologically advanced young lad that I am, here are some pictures from the show:













Saturday, September 22, 2012

Farm Aid 2012 Preview

So, I got tickets to see this year's Farm Aid. My only other time going to one of these came two years ago in Milwaukee, right on my birthday. But I long wanted to see these shows, and have another opporunity today to do so, and feel very grateful for it!

The standard acts, by which I mean the ones that, at least right now, you know you will see whenever you go to one of these concerts, are the Big Four - Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, and the original guy that started this whole thing (and who I saw in concert earlier this year, and also wrote a review of on this blog), Willie Nelson. They will all be there today, as well.

Back then, two years ago, Jason Mraz, Nora Jones, Kenny Chesney and Jack Johnson were all there, and there was even a special guest appearance by Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. Chesney and Johnson will be there this year as well, to my understanding.

It was an awesome show two years ago. It was really great to see Steven Tyler there, because it had been many a year since I had actually seen him on stage (although he was probably already doing the America's Got Talent thing back then, right?). He always brings another dimension to music, and it was a pleasant surprise to see him there.

Jason Mraz was much more peppy and upbeat than I expected him to be, but I had not been extremely familiar with him prior to that show. He was good, as was Jack Johnson and Chesney. Nora Jones added a bit of class to the thing, as I remember it. And of course, the main four were exceptional. Everyone came out on stage at some point during Neil Young's set, which was really cool. His set had been just him and his electric guitar, but he pulled it off. Tyler came out during Willie Nelson's closing set. I have only fond memories from that show, and those times.

So, I am looking forward to this show here tonight, and to writing a review of it here on this blog.

Below is the link of the lineup to this year's show:

http://www.farmaid.org/site/c.qlI5IhNVJsE/b.2723647/k.2B7B/The_Lineup.htm

A Concert review of the 2010 show:

http://www.concertlivewire.com/farmaid10.htm

Saturday Mornings....

It is Saturday morning, just after 6:30 in the morning. By all rights, I should be asleep and in bed. My girlfriend already asked if I was crazy, and I couldn't give her a better answer than "Yup."

But I couldn't sleep anymore. How many times can you roll over on a sore back, hoping to get back to sleep magically, somehow, when you just kind of know that it's over for that- at least for now. Oh, I could try and go back to bed, something that I was pretty tempted to do, actually. But sleep is likely over, unless there is a cat nap or so in no sooner than an hour or two. Funny how that works once you get older, isn't it?

This is an exciting day for us, as I took a day off from my weekend job, giving us the whole day, afternoon, and well into the evening (I work two jobs on the weekends, my full-time job, and my part-time job, and so planning anything like a trip or some kind of event requires a bit of effort sometimes). The request for a day off was made in advance so that we could go to FarmAid, out in Hershey, Pennsylvania. I have been to one of those concerts before - a couple of years ago, actually. It was on my birthday, with another girlfriend at the time, and out in Milwaukee.

I will give a small concert preview for Farm Aid 2012, coupled with a brief concert review of the 2010 show, in another post, later today, on another post. But for now, let me return to this morning.

It is a bit chilly right now, and there is a bit of a chill coming from the open window in the bedroom. I love this time of the year for precisely that reason. It is nice and warm, sometimes even still hot, during the days. But the nights bring with them a chill, a definite reminder that the cooler autumn temperatures are well on their way, if not already here (they feel like they are already here now, this year, based on some cool temperatures over the last few weeks). Soon, the days will be mild to cool, and the nights will be cold. Those are still enjoyable, as well. Mornings when you can see frost on the ground, but afternoons when you can take your jacket or sweater off. Love that!

I mentioned earlier that it takes a bit of doing in order to be free to do something fun on these weekends of mine. Last weekend, my son and I went to the Giants-Bucs football game on Sunday afternoon, and that meant not so much a day off from my job, as a couple of hours off instead. This weekend, my girlfriend and I are going to see an all-day concert, so I obviously had to take the entire day off. It just seemed like it would definitely be worth it.

My weekends are quite busy, and even exhausting. I mentioned some time ago that the last couple of months, or so, have been a particularly stressful time in my life, and I never feel it as much as just after such a marathon weekend. Once Monday morning comes, the exhaustion can be overwhelming, and often times, as I drive homeward bound from work on Monday mornings, I am so exhausted, that I need to pull over and catch a bit of shuteye. This is especially true when traffic tends to be particularly heavy and annoying. Sometimes, it's all I can do to keep myself from falling asleep at the wheel, which would be horrible!

So that means that, while most other people look forward to their weekends, I sometimes approach them with a sense of dread (but not always). That has been true of the last few weekends, particularly since the trip that I took with my son in late August, until last weekend, which was a bit more relaxing, but was perhaps even more exhausting for the effort it took to get to the game, and the sleep that I lost on account of that. You see, usually, other people will ask each other if they have anything special or cool lined up for the weekend, and they sometimes go into detail about it. But when I'm asked, usually the answer is "work". It sounds, and feels, pretty lame. Yet, I do feel blessed to work my weekend job, which I have been on now for almost a decade (can't believe I can actually say that!). It is a relaxing job, for the most part, for which I feel blessed. Not sure I could do it if it wasn't.

As busy as my weekends tend to be, they were worse - far worse - until only recently. I work a lot of hours now, but there have been changes to my schedule recently, in the last year or so. Last November, they essentially cut our hours from twelve hour shifts to eight hour shifts. It was a significant difference in pay, and took some adjusting (still does, truth be told). However, whatever adjustments I had to make in terms of pay, I also made in terms of schedule. More sleep, and more free time, which  took advantage of to go hiking, to just relax and chill, sometimes, like last weekend), to go out with a friend or family member and do something with. I can enjoy mornings in with my girlfriend, and we often have a bit of time to do something in the day with, as well. That's a marked improvement, admittedly. I used to work from Friday, midnights, until Mondays at 8am, with all of 8 total hours off in between. That was a brutal, even near murderous, schedule. Sometimes, it surprises me that I lasted years doing it.

But as stated earlier, that all started to change last November, when some major problems at my weekend job led to them making draconian changes. The weekend crew (all of us) lost many hours, but for me, maybe it was more advantageous than for others. First of all, a few people lost their jobs outright, and I was blessed to hang on there. Also, the lesser hours meant more hours to try and catch up on sleep, or otherwise, make use of the time as I saw fit. So, that was one change that came out of it, and I took advantage of it.

Then, around the spring of this year came another change, right around the time met my girlfriend and I met. My full-time job asked us to choose our days, if you will, for a more permanent schedule. Our schedules used to shift, to change weekly. It was annoying, and no one liked it. But we got to pick the days (or in my case, nights) off that we wanted. I picked Tuesday nights/Wednesday mornings, and Friday nights/Saturday mornings.

Some people looked at me weird, and asked why I had not taken off for consecutive days. But I wanted something to break up the monotony of five consecutive nights, and could not do it by taking consecutive nights off. So, I split them. Tuesday nights just seemed right, because Tuesdays tend to be my afternoons off, to begin with. You see, I have a son I need to watch on afternoons and evenings, but on tuesdays, traditionally, that has not been the case for some years. So, I got to looking forward to Tuesdays.

Friday night was a natural pick. It's one of the "fun" nights, along with Saturday nights. I can go out and do things, do stuff. Pretend like I have a weekend, and all of that. Plus, it allows me to enjoy my Saturday mornings.

Of course, I remember when Saturday mornings used to be filled with a lot more fun when a kid. It used to mean freedom from school, and Saturday morning cartoons. Saturdays were like miniature summer vacations, and thank goodness for that!

Man, Saturday mornings were fun, and used to feel like such a blessing! Improvements have been made in terms of my schedule, and I will certainly admit that they were improvements, making a tough weekend schedule infinitely more manageable and pleasant. But no matter what happens on my weekends, it is doubtful that they will ever top those childhood Saturday mornings filled with energy and cartoons and so much free time, that you never knew what to do with them. They were best when my father would make us pancakes, which were really out of this world!

Where have the good times gone? I prefer the Saturday mornings when my girlfriend and I have off and can enjoy them together much more than those weekends that I just had to get through, which stopped really only recently, after years. But what I would do to relive those magical days of childhood Saturday mornings! The best I can do, perhaps, is to do all that I can to make sure my son now gets to enjoy them, right? It's his turn to experience the magical Saturday mornings...

Friday, September 21, 2012

One Last Summer Afternoon...

Yes, summer has been over, in a very real sense, for a while now. Unofficially, it ends on Labor Day weekend (at least in the United States). Officially, it will end this coming weekend, although it has been chilly enough in terms of temperatures to suggest that it has been over now for a while.

Before getting to the beach, we had found a little place that sold fresh seafood, and decided to go ahead and pay the place a visit. I got fresh red snappers, and a side order of Buffalo-style bites- kind of bite sized servings of fish cooked as if they were Buffalo wings). It was a very good meal, and made us both thankful that we had not settled for the typical fast food type of place. 

Now, I was ready for the beach, and wondered if I would in fact swim. It seemed to be sunny, and the temperatures had not exactly felt accommodating the previous week, although I was not sure about this day.

Still, all that said, I got a day in at the beach last week with my girlfriend, and got one last one in this week, yesterday, the 20th.

Last week, I actually went into the water for my final swim of this warm season, as it turns out.

Today, I had intended to go one more time. Only thing is, it was pretty damn cold. The waves were rough. I was feeling sick. All of those factors, and perhaps one or two others, secured that this afternoon would not see me swimming.

That's right. I had been looking forward to this one last beach trip of the year since last week's trip to the beach specifically for swimming, and after all of that, there was not going to be any swimming.

Did I wuss out?

Perhaps a little bit, although all that I stated before is actually true! I swear!!

Still, it was very cool time. It was surprisingly chilly, and being the big dope that I was, I had gone woefully unprepared, wearing swimming trunks and a t-shirt. Instead of just cool or a bit chilly, I began to feel cold, to the point of even shivering.

My brother noticed, and lent me his hooded sweatshirt, thankfully. That helped quite a bit, and I was even able to dip my feet in water relatively comfortably (the first time had triggered my shivering).

There were dead jellyfish, and what I presume to have been pieces of jellyfish, scattered throughout the beach. Was this normal? Is September the beginning of the season when jellyfish begin to die, at least locally? It was interesting. There was one jellyfish that was particularly large, and full. You could actually see it's shape entire. Yes, it was actually fascinating.

It also reminded me of a book that I read last year: Bill Bryson's "In a Sunburned Country", where he talks about all of the hideous and scary wildlife that Australia has been blessed with. On top of one of the hottest habitable (but mostly uninhabited) regions known to humanity, they have the extra added "benefit" of some of the deadliest creatures known to humankind. If memory serves correctly, the saltwater crocodile that he writes about has been considered the deadliest creature of all, and they are incredibly fast. Also, they can pop out at you out of nowhere. You could be looking into a seemingly still pool of water, when all of a sudden, this thing will jump out at you and have you for lunch. Literally. But Australia also has both the world's most poisonous snakes and spiders.

Yet, according to Bryson, none of those actually are the deadliest creature in Australia. Nope, the deadliest one, according to him, is the box jellyfish. It is incredibly dangerous, enough so that it can kill a human being with the amount of poison that it possesses. It should be noted that it does not necessarily automatically kill a human being, because if treated properly, then you can indeed survive such an attack. But it could, and not only could it merely kill a human being, but it's sting is one of the most excruciating forms of pain that we know of. Each tentacles (and there are evidently thousands and thousands of these tiny tentacles on each one) has something like a small amount of poison that can inject you with a needle like tentacle. The best description that he gives, at one point, is by someone who worked with a dead box jellyfish, who accidentally touched one by accident. He said that each tiny tentacle felt like a cigarette burning. When these things grab onto you, they leave a kind of tiger stripe of sorts (although, I presume, the stripes are red). These are horrifying, horrifying creatures.

Not that these dead jellyfish were those noted horrors. Not even close. But still, jellyfish are not creatures that you want to get into contact with, even if dead, to my knowledge. But they were dead, and all that remained is to avoid them. However, they were very fascinating to look at. Again, those were my first real live jellyfish, dead or alive, and even if this might sound stupid, I felt glad to have seen them in person.

So, back to the beach trip. After spending a few minutes examining these jelly corpses that littered the beach, I went back up to higher ground, intent on reading. So, I lay down, looking out on the horizon stretching out before me, watching the ebb and flow of the waves crashing, watching the breathing of the earth, seemingly. Suddenly, fatigue was over me, and the realization that I had gotten maybe all of two to three hours of sleep tops dawned on me. So, I set up my backpack as a makeshift pillow and, evidently, promptly fell asleep. Not just a nap, mind you. But out cold.

This may sound stupid, admittedly, but this, too, was something that I had always wanted to do: simply fall asleep to the sound of the waves of the ocean, and then wake up to the site of the ocean, breathing in that ocean air. I did, and it really was nice and unique - although my back was aching, and my fatigue was still strong. Also, most importantly, it was getting chillier, if not outright colder. My feet were really cold, and there seemed nothing to be done to warm them up. Finally, I was shivering again.

I got up, and dipped my feet in the water again. This time, the water actually felt warm - warmer than it did outside. There was a temptation one last time to just go for that swim, but it seemed unwise, and I mentally struck down the idea rather quickly. There had been a couple of people swimming earlier, and now there was a guy kind of laying there on his surfboard, pretty well out there, although he was also in full body suit. But the temptation was gone. It was late (when I awoke, it was around 6:15 or 6:30), and darkness would soon descent. With it, temperatures would plummet, and officially summer or not, it already felt plenty cold for me.

So, I got my books out, instead, and started reading a bit, while my brother walked along the beach a bit.

It grew dark, and we began to wrap things up. We walked back and sat for a while on the boardwalk, talking. There were high school kids, locals, who were bs'ing. They were a bit annoying, but in a predictable way.

Across the street, there was a 7-11, and my  brother treated me to a cup of coffee. We sat on a bench on the boardwalk, facing the ocean as the sky continued to darken, now almost to full night. Yet the waves were so strong, that we could see the white from the crashing waves quite clearly and distinctly. Plus, we could definitely hear it. But the sun had already set on the day, and on the summer, evidently. At least for another year, it had.

The coffee did me good, warmed me up. Not my feet - that was a lost cause, evidently. It would take hours before they truly warmed up.

Strange. I had come here to enjoy one last summer day on the beach, and it feels more like I spent my first real fall day there instead. Still, it was a good time, and I look forward to returning next year, during a new warm cycle, on the other side of the approaching fall and winter....

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Movie Rental Review: The Road

I remember the first time that I saw this movie, it had seemed very strange. Weird, and not necessarily in a good way.

If memory serves correctly, then the commercials made it look almost as if it were a horror movie. It isn't. Not really, anyway.

What it is, however, is a strange movie. Also, it is one of the grimmest and most depressing movies that I have seen.

Now, I have heard others suggest other things about the movie. One guy, who loves action/adventure, felt that this movie was boring, that nothing happens. I certainly don't agree with that although, strangely enough, I understand why he said it. That might sound contradictory, so perhaps an explanation is in order.

This is not a movie with high drama and the intense music that accompanies it. In fact, it tends to focus on more subtle things by way of illustrating examples. Viggo Mortensen's character is preoccupied not only with survival and finding the means to get through the day to day, but also with a fear bordering on paranoia about just how dangerous and untrustworthy other people are. He is trying to be a good father who prepares his son (played by Kodi Smit-McPhee) as well as he can under difficult circumstances, yet eventually, the viewer gets the sense that he systematically goes too far. That maybe, he even is a bit unstable.

The circumstances of the movie remain mysterious throughout. We easily understand that it is a colder world than the one that we live in, as the urgency with which the man tries to travel further south in order to avoid "another winter" like the last one that they experienced is evidence of. In fact, we see one of his memories, when his wife (or partner, and mother of the son), essentially gives up on life and decides to in effect kill herself by stepping outside and walking off into the night without adequate clothing. It is implied that this is, in  fact, a death sentence, and that she has just taken her own life.

Yet, trees sometimes seemingly spontaneously burst into flames, and there is no explanation or clarifying point as to why this is the case. It is a mysterious, and very uninviting, world that we are witness to. We can understand why the mom wants to commit suicide.

The man is haunted by many memories from his past. He obviously is old enough to remember better times, yet he seems almost to focus exclusively on the grimmer aspects, of the times after the world changed for the worse. His attitude perhaps matches the ugliness and grimness of the world, thus.

**Spoiler Alert***

We watch as the man leads his son towards the beach, the ocean. He feels that this is a huge task, and that somehow, the ocean should prove easier and safer. The man is obsessed with the notion that someone is following him, but it seems like something strictly in his imagination.

Yet, it is when they finally reach the ocean that they actually fall under attack. The man is struck by a bow, and although he manages through a mixture of better ammo and apparently smarter instincts, to get the better of his surprise opponents, the wound limits him too much. he grows sicker and sicker, until, ultimately, it proves fatal.

The boy seems all alone in the world -  at least until we see a man approach him on the beach. They talk, the boy keeping his gun initially pointed squarely at this new seeming intruder. But as it turns out, the man is with a woman and a couple of other kids, and they essentially offer the boy the chance to live a better life. Ironically, it took the death of the boy's father for them to finally get their opportunity to approach, and offer something better, presumably.

This movie is grim, grim grim! If you are in the mood to be, or to get, depressed (and really, who isn't?), then this is the movie for you. If, by some chance, you are in the mood for lighthearted stuff, then you probably want to skip this one for another time. But it is a fascinating movie, and it is hard not to find yourself watching with rapt attention.

I recommend this movie but, again, if you get depressed, don't say I didn't warn you!