Young Gator Deserves the Good Life

A 3 foot alligator was found living in a Providence lake according to the Providence Journal blog,  City Planner David Everett spotted and photographed a young alligator on the banks of the Woonasquatucket River.  Probably an exotic pet gone bad, the tiny reptile is not thought to pose a safety risk.  Environmental officials have no plans to rescue and relocate the gator.  Steven Hall, Chief of Environmental Police, predicts it won’t survive the winter.  In my opinion, there’s something cruel about this pledge of non-action.

Why not transport the gator to the swamps of Louisiana where it can be with its own kind, and who knows, maybe grow to earn a nickname by the Swamp People?   There’d be plenty in the murky water to eat, nice mud on the banks for belly sliding and the ideal weather for cold-blooded creatures, who rather enjoy basking in the sun, motionless, with mouth wide open.

Vinyl Record Exhibit at the ICA, Boston

I’m almost embarrassed to say that in all the years I’ve lived in Boston, I’ve never once been to the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA), until now that is.  When I heard about the Contemporary Art and Vinyl Exhibition, I had to go, and so my daughter and I headed out there late in the afternoon on a Sunday.  And it truly was a sun day – close to 100 degrees.  We arrived by 4:00, only to find out the museum closes at 5:00.  I was worried that we wouldn’t have enough time to see the exhibit, but as it turned out, we had plenty.

The record exhibit featured album sculptures, black and white photographs of folks from the 50’s grooving to records, sound exhibits and short films of people doing really strange things with turntables and records.  One of the most interesting exhibits was a listening installation of samples from Jack Goldstein’s Suite of Sound Effects, which included a tornado, a lost ocean liner, two wrestling cats and three felled trees.  The nine multi-colored original vinyl records were displayed alongside the listening station.

The museum is a boxy modern building which juts out into the Boston Harbor.  It reminds me very much of the Clinton Presidential Museum and Library in Little Rock, Arkansas. Upon entering, there is a large glass elevator with views of the harbor.   The exhibits are mostly on the 4th floor, with several lounging areas overlooking the harbor.  Upon approach, one sloped room equipped with computers and pillows gives the effect of walking into the harbor.

One of the most peculiar aspects of the ICA is the similarity of its logo to that of the IGA supermarket chain.


We the People

There’s a terrific new solo LP out by Pat Metheny called What’s It All About. Even though the music is not political, it got me thinking about the purpose of government and the latest bickering between Congress and the President. Here’s what the preamble to the U.S. Constitution has to say:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense,promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

We the people. Who are the people, anyway?  Voters?  If that’s the case, given historical voting patterns, congress represents only about 100,000 people.  That’s a small USA.  So when Congress ignores the will of the people as expressed in polls, they must be thinking that people who respond to polls don’t vote, or don’t live in their congressional district.  And that may be true, but it is a risky strategy that may backfire.

Are all Republicans against raising the debt ceiling and raising taxes on the wealthiest?  Do all Republicans believe that big business should pay no taxes at all and even receive subsidies to ensure maximum untaxed profits?  Do all Republicans believe that billionaires are the only job creators?  I believe the answer is no.  I believe Americans regardless of party affiliation are far more moderate than the Republican leadership would have us believe.  And I think the 2012 election will be proof of that.

Promote the general welfare. This does not mean corporate welfare. It means the well-being of its people. Human rights: health care, education, housing, nutrition, clean air, consumer protection, police, fire, the arts and employment.  Without these basic elements in place and protected, there can be no perfect union, no justice or domestic tranquility.

In order to preserve these basic government functions, it is the responsibility of Congress to levy taxes.  Congress must bear the blame for turning a government surplus when Clinton left office into a massive debt crisis when Obama took office. It was the Bush tax cuts combined with two senseless wars and the systematic refusal to regulate financial markets or anything for that matter that got us into this mess.  That and an unpaid for prescription medicare plan for seniors.  For those who say Obama is making the mess worse, consider that the Republican leadership to date has refused to negotiate on the question of revenue enhancements because so many have taken a silly ideological pledge not to raise taxes.  They have been highjacked by the extreme right who would like nothing better than to see the country go into more of a downward spiral so that they can blame the President and try to grow their numbers.  I think the voters won’t fall for this and will put the blame where it rightly belongs.

If Congress can’t reach a compromise on the debt ceiling, their salaries should be frozen until they come up with a plan to ensure the country does not default on its financial obligations.  Notwithstanding the outcome of the negotiations, we should do the following:  Raise taxes.  Close corporate tax loopholes.  For example, tax American the overseas profits of American based companies.   Reform and simplify the tax code; it’s way too complicated and nuanced.   Pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Cut defense spending significantly.  For troops who can’t find civilian employment, create a Build For America program where troops and civilians work on  domestic infrastructure projects.  And do we still need the U.S. Postal Service?  I know it employees a half a million Americans, but it runs a big deficit and this may continue as gas prices stay just below $3 a gallon.  With e-mail, on-line shopping and social media, fewer people send bills, letters and packages by USPS anymore.  And those postal trucks are not the most fuel efficient vehicles on the road.  I would imagine that USPS workers could find employment with Federal Express or UPS, or else be redeployed on local infrastructure projects.

Stop the bickering and put the We back in People.


Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows Part 2 not 2 Good

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is the last of the flicks depicting the life and times of the fantasy world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and unfortunately one of the least appealing and weakest of the lot. Yes, it was true to the book. And yes, many of our favorite characters are back, but something just didn’t feel right. It may be the inherent weakness of the last book, a certain letdown that the thing must come to an end, and of course, how it ends. I won’t give away the plot, but if you are reading this review, I trust you’ve already read the book.

This is not to say I disliked the movie. It was pleasantly entertaining. It had a Disney-like feel good tone throughout. The audience even clapped at certain moments, for instance when Ron and Hermione kissed and when Bellatrix Lestrange is out dueled and finally killed. Come to think of it, there was  a lot of nerdyesque audience participation in the form of laughter, at very weak jokes, delivered awkwardly by the characters. I felt the humor to be out of place, and distracting, as were a few of the audience members. At one of the key moments when Harry is “killed”, somebody behind me was shaking a bag of popcorn.  I almost laughed. Another moviegoer dropped what sounded like a dumbbell, perhaps trying to add the special effects that were somewhat lackluster by the standards set in previous Harry Potter movies.

The major problem with the final HP installment was that it just wasn’t very interesting. It was really just about Harry, Ron and Hermione going around looking for and trying to destroy horcruxes. There was not much going on at Hogwarts, like it had been closed for the summer or for renovations.  There were no House competitions, no quidditch matches, and really not much mischief making either.  Harry and company even had to save a frightened and inept trio of dark arts idiots, Draco, Crabbe and Goyle.  The flick just didn’t feature enough dark elements to produce the suspense one associates with Harry Potter stories. Even Voldemort, and his pet snake nagini appeared tame and Snape, feeble and just plain lame. With all the feel good moments and the sappy happy ever after ending,  the thing should have been rated G.

Maybe the next generation of Harry Potter stories and movies will make the “final” installment a distant memory.

The British Invasion Makes a Comeback

I love the Brits, let me just say that up front, so don’t take what I’m about to write as a knock on our allies from across the pond, but I believe the British Empire is alive and well in the US of A. Yes, the U.S. suffers from colonial oppression, only Americans can’t see it, or maybe we can and are in a state of denial. We are an independent British colony. What’s the proof you ask?

Exhibit A:  Harry Potter.  JK Rowling has succeeded in creating a generation of literate Americans, who might otherwise have fallen prey to the video game industry.  Hogwarts is a household name.  I wouldn’t be surprised if some American kids aspire to go there believing it to be a real place.  Nor would I be surprised to learn that Brown University students believe Emma Watson is actually Hermione Granger.  Harry Potter has penetrated American culture so deeply that JK Rowling has replaced Dr. Seuss as the go to bedtime story author.

Exhibit B: Americans seem more interested in the agenda of the Royals than the agenda of the U.S. Congress.  I have to admit the debt ceiling debate is not very entertaining; important of course, but wholly unappealing.

Exhibit C:  Many have been tuning into British owned Fox to watch Major League Baseball, America’s favorite pastime, and the All-Star Game. And speaking of Fox, let’s not forget Rupert Murdoch who has had a profound impact on the U.S. news media, and not for the good unless you happen to be a Republican Tea Partying Fox “news” fan with a taste for the tabloids and scandals. He even has control over one of America’s once most respected rags, the Wall Street Journal.

Exhibit D:  And speaking of Murdoch and Fox, how about all the British network stars who are uncovering American talent left and right as if European explorers. Simon Cowell is like a modern day Francis Drake “discovering” American vocal talent and making a fortune for the producers of American Idol, Fox and himself which he has parlayed into his own show featuring more American talent on the X-Factor. ABC is even in on the act with two Brits, Piers Morgan and Sharon Osborne, judging America’s talent on America’s Got Talent.  And Piers Morgan somehow managed to land Larry King’s job on CNN.  John Oliver, another Brit, has made a big comedic splash on The Daily Show with John Stewart.

Exhibit E:  The Brits have also discovered America’s “best” amateur culinary talents with the invasion of the mighty Scottish explorer Sir Gordon Ramsey, and his popular shows, Master Chef, Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares. Thanks to Gordon, America will no longer be known as the land of hotdogs, hamburgers and pizza.

Exhibit F: And the Brits have brought dance to the American public too. So You Think You Can Dance America? The answer is yes and I had no idea. Had it not been for Nigel Lythgoe and company, Americans may never have known that it’s own people danced.  If fact, if memory serves, dancing is illegal in Paris, Texas.

Exhibit G: And of course where would America be without the medical mystery solving House doctor posing as an American. I knew his accent sounded suspicious! And one mustn’t forget the crazed bug eating adventurist Bear Grylls who shows the world and America on Man vs. Wild how to survive alligator infested swamps, the South Dakota Badlands and the deep woods of Maine with nothing more than a sharp knife and a flint.

The British Empire is making a comeback here in the US of A.  And Europeans complain about American cultural imperialism.

What’s It All About – Pat Metheny’s Latest

When I heard about this one, I didn’t know what to think.  Pat playing tunes from the 60’s and 70’s, and not his own?  What?  And just Pat, sans group, trio and bots.

Wow.  Pat playing the Carpenters Rainy Days and Mondays?  I would have never admitted it until now that I used to love that song as a kid.  It’s locked into my memory for instant recall, sometimes irritatingly so.  And I would never in a million years have guessed it was one of Pat’s favorites.  I guess I thought Pat only ever listened to jazz and classical for inspiration.  Pat once admitted in an interview that he missed the whole rock-in-roll scene completely when he started playing guitar as a teenager.  However, he must have been listening to the radio a lot as a kid before he began playing guitar.  And this is evident in some of his selections on the record.  Pat’s spin on Rainy Days is nothing short of brilliant on the baritone guitar.  Pat likes to include snipits of his own work sometimes on new tunes, but on this song, he includes a phrase from Midnight Cowboy – listen for it near the end of the song.  There are some other songs along these lines that I would love to hear Pat interpret including Alone Again, Naturally and Starry Starry Night.

Chrerish.  I’m old enough to remember this song too and it’s one of my favorite tunes from the record.  Pat’s interpretation is beautiful, as you might expect – very true to the original melody playing it with the utmost respect adding only a few touches that make it his own as only Pat can do.  I cherish the song even more after hearing Pat’s version.

Garota de Ipanema.  If I had to name a favorite, it’d be this one.  I think partly because it is my favorite original tune of the lot.  Pat significantly reinvents this one as to be nearly unrecognizable from the original if you’re not paying close attention.  He uses pauses throughout which gives it a distinctly dramatic and melancholic feel. His flourish of harmonics at the end provide the song a beautifully haunting coda; there’s a longing there, as if a couple were slowing releasing a hand holding grip as they parted, knowing it would be the last time they’d ever be together.

On the Beatles tune, And I Love Her,  Pat gives an upbeat take on the original which to me had a much more nostalgic tone.  I like both versions very much.  I’d like to hear Pat’s take on Blackbird for a future recording or at least a future sound check if he hasn’t already.

There are a number of other songs on the album all equally compelling including the jazz standard ’round Midnight, that will no doubt put a smile on John McLaughlin’s face when he hears it; Alfie, the mesmerizing take on a brilliant composition by Burt Bacharach; Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence played on a 42-string Pikasso guitar and Carly Simon’s classic, That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be.  Each song is beautifully interpreted and masterfully performed.

Another must buy CD from one of the great American artists of the 20th and 21st century.  Thanks Pat!

How to Select a College: Advice for Parents and Students

College tuition costs are soaring. At state schools across the country, tuition rates have increased in some cases by 20% to make up for state budget cuts to higher education. Is a college education still worth the expense? Might one be better off going to a cheaper community college for two years and transfer, or look for some job training certificate program? In the U.S., college may not be for everyone anymore, but the fact remains that a person with a college degree will more than likely earn over a lifetime significantly more than a person without one.  And even if it were possible to get a steady job right out of high school at say Dunkin Donuts, Wal-Mart or Best-Buy, the likelihood of a promotion to a management position would be slim, not impossible, but slim and not overnight. Other employment opportunities might be available to a high school graduate, but the competition is fierce even for entry level jobs in this lackluster economy.

However, an expensive college degree does not guarantee one a job. There are many unemployed recent college graduates who are desperate for work and willing to do almost anything to get marketable experience. Some have resorted to unpaid internships and volunteer positions which are a good way to make contacts and gain valuable job skills, but not helpful in paying the student loan bills.

If you are a soon to be high school junior or senior or a parent of a soon to be high school junior or senior, now is the time to begin planning and looking at post-secondary options. Below are some things to think about as you begin the planning phase.

Highschoolers – get your grades and activities in order. Your college application is kind of like a job resume and you have to give the colleges and universities you apply to some reason to like you and possibly invest in you. Colleges like good grades, but if you have mediocre grades now and can show improvement, they like that too. No backsliding though, especially if you have your heart set on a highly selective college. You don’t have to participate in every activity your school offers, but you should be involved in some club or extracurricular, and beyond just going to a few meetings. Choose something that is of real interest to you. As to classes, try to take the more challenging courses including AP classes if you can.  If your school offers an IB program, consider applying.  You don’t have to take all hard classes, though. Choose an elective that is less challenging but related to your interests.

The SAT or ACT.  You’ll need to take these, one or the other depending on the schools your are applying to, but don’t stress out too much.  Increasingly, some forward thinking institutions no longer require them.  And many that do, don’t place as much weight on them as they once did.  Focus more on crafting a good essay, an essay that you should write – don’t let your parents get a hold of it.  And the other thing, when you apply to the school, you have to convince them that you love the school and know it very well.  If they don’t feel like you’ve done your homework, they are going to think that you are not serious about attending and put your application in the reject pile.

Parents, junior and senior years of high school will be enormously stressful for your teenagers or as some high school counseling offices say, your student, so you should get involved in selecting some universities and colleges to visit; places that will be a good fit for your kid, not you.  Ask your teen what kind of place they might like to attend.  Does the size of the school matter?  Would he prefer a small liberal arts school close to home?  Might she feel more comfortable in a big state university where some of her friends could be destined to attend?  If finances are an issue, rather than saying “we can’t afford college”, look into community colleges – there are some terrific ones out there and after two years, the credits can transfer to a four year institution. What are your child’s interests?  Music, writing, the arts, science, sports? Any thoughts to a possible major?   Now, before you try to steer your kid to the cheapest school out there, consider that cheapest is not always best, and that cheapest may actually not be cheapest as the more expensive schools tend to have more financial resources and can give better financial aid assistance.

Parents, visit as many schools as possible with your child.  You will need to take the lead on this.  Let them get a feel for the place.  College admissions offices will take notice too when you visit, because you nearly always have to sign in for a tour or information session.  The worst mistake you and your child could make would be to commit to a school you have never seen.  And students, don’t make the mistake of applying to a school because your best friend, boyfriend or girlfriend is applying there.  Now, the college guidebooks are useful, but no substitute for the visit.  They can give you a sense of a place, but not the essence, which everyone will experience differently.  What may matter to one, may be of no concern to another or to you.  When my daughter and I visited a certain school in the Northeast, she had heard that the food there was terrible, but actually liked the food and variety offered.   But what she did not like was the eating space with it’s dirty and messy tables with scattered newspapers, salt spills, stray trays with half-eaten and abandoned food about.  That wasn’t in any  guidebook.  It wasn’t a deal killer, but it made an impression, and not a very good one.  And several featured classrooms on the tour were nice, but many had long oak tables shaped in a U which would have impacted interaction patterns and seemed more suitable for a White House Cabinet meeting.  That wasn’t in the guidebook either. At another campus, the common grounds were so overwhelming beautiful that it became an instant favorite.  The guidebook describes its beauty, but could not capture how one might feel in the environment, which is of course a very personal and subjective experience in the end.

Hey highschoolers, one last thing, after you apply to a school, do everything possible to get an interview, if the school offers them.  They are almost always optional, but encouraged. I know it doesn’t sound like the most exciting thing in the world and even stressful, but it is your opportunity to influence the admissions process.  Be yourself. If they don’t like you, you wouldn’t want to go there anyway.  Some schools will send representatives to your area, often students or alumni, so don’t pass up the opportunity.  A few schools even do interviews via Skype.  It can make a huge difference in whether you are accepted or not, and could tilt the scale in your favor if you are borderline.

Diversification is the best approach to selecting schools. These days kids apply to as many as 10 schools.  If your kid is staying close to home or in-state, 5 might be the right number.  Here’s an example of a diversification strategy based on types of schools.

  1. a community college
  2. a state school
  3. an in-state public university
  4. an out-of- state public university
  5. a not so selective in-state private school
  6. a not so selective out-of-state private school
  7. a selective in-state private school
  8. a selective out-of-state private school
  9. a  highly selective in-state private school
  10. a  highly selective out-of state private school

Within this sort, you can add customized criteria, so that if your daughter prefers small liberal arts schools, you can narrow the search.  There may be some small liberal arts state schools in your state.  For example, Massachusetts has the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Massachusetts College of Art and Design, both public institutions. If your son wants to be closer to home, you can narrow the search to schools within a 200 mile radius of home.  If your daughter hopes to be an engineer, check out schools with excellent engineering departments and top notch science facilities. If your son is an artist, look for schools strong in studio arts.  If your daughter wants to study abroad, look for schools that have a wide range of possibilities and offer subsidies to pay for it. If your son or daughter has multiple interests and skills, look for schools with balanced strengths.

And by the way, the Ivy League has prestige, but does not always deliver the best classroom experience and may be a horrible fit for your sons and daughters.  And just because you went to a particular school doesn’t mean it would be the best choice for your kid.   – ribbie

And students, no throw away applications.  Apply only to schools that you would attend.  If you don’t want to attend the school after having visited it, do not apply to it – don’t let your folks force you to either.  But before you say no to a school you swear you could not attend, if it has some of what you’re looking for in a school, don’t completely rule it out.  And don’t rely on what your friend said about it, or what you’ve read in a guidebook.

My daughter applied to 11 schools and got accepted to 9 including her top choice, wait listed at 1 and rejected at another. And the school that rejected her was a school she applied to at the last minute on a lark.  The key to her success was all the research we did together.  All the schools, save the rejection, we visited beforehand and determined to be good matches.  They met her criteria: close to home, small liberal arts college with fewer than 2,000 students, good study abroad opportunities and a beautiful campus.

Students, you too can have a successful college search experience if you put in the time, visit the schools that interest you and apply 0nly to the ones that fit YOU best.  Good luck!

Not Guilty Verdict No Surprise in Casey Anthony Case

The American media and public seemed outraged at the jury verdict in the Casey Anthony case. But was the verdict really that much of a surprise? I watched some of the closing arguments, not having followed the case much and thought that the prosecution team had not proven their case, and certainly not a first degree murder potentially punishable by death in Florida. I was not shocked at all by the jury’s verdict and I think it patently unfair for the public to blame the jurors. They should be angry at the prosecutors who made a mess of the case.  Below are 5 reasons I believe the jurors returned a not guilty verdict:

1. The charges were too severe. Without an eye-witness and any DNA linked to Casey, and without a plausible theory for why she would kill her daughter, and if she did, how she did it, though there were theories about what might have happened – the jury could not convict her of murder.  On the other hand, had the case been tried on a lesser charge like manslaughter, the result might have been different. The defense asserted Caylee’s death was an accidental drowning.  The prosecution team could have pursued manslaughter, instead of murder one, holding Casey, as the mother,  responsible for the safety and well-being of her child.
2. The Anthony family did not seem credible after all its dirty laundry was aired. The picture left after all the testimony was that the family had serious issues which raised all kinds of doubts. The mother even testified to having searched on the Internet for the word chloroform as it might have related to the family dogs, who apparently are fond of eating palm leaves.  This seemed to remove the premeditated suspicion from Casey.
3. Personality of the lawyers. I didn’t watch the whole trial, but the defense team seemed more likable and therefore more believable than the state’s team of attorneys. I saw the scene where Jeff Ashton,  the lead prosecutor laughed during a closing defense argument like an immature kid, which Jose Baez, the defense lawyer, pointed out. Both were nearly thrown out of court for contempt. Jurors don’t like that kind of nonsense and are sensitive to displays of arrogance.
4. Not putting Casey Anthony on the stand was a good move. She might have broken down or come across as a sociopath. She might have contradicted her earlier statements or lashed out at her family and prosecutors…or even confessed, if in fact she was guilty of murdering her daughter.
5. Media backlash. I know the jurors were not supposed to be following the media accounts of the case, but they were surely aware of the media’s presence and bias and did not want to be bullied into convicting when in their judgment there was not enough evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to convict.

This case is an American tragedy. A little girl is dead and no one knows exactly what happened to her and we may never know. It may have been an accident covered up by the family or a murder, but the prosecution did not present the evidence convincingly enough and the jurors did the only thing they could do – not guilty.