Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Harry Potter and the Inequity of the Wizarding Educational System

In part one of this (at least) three part series, I discussed Quidditch's several shortcomings as a legitimate sport and offered several tweaks that would make it a truly proud and noble game.  In this installment, I feel it necessary to discuss the atrocities committed each day by the faculty and staff at Hogwarts, the racism inherent in the system, and the apparent lack of attention given to special needs students.
A glaring issue that comes to mind in the Hogwarts educational machine is the House system.  First year students don an old pointed cap called the Sorting Hat, a magical device which reads the children's minds and sorts them into one of four Houses that were each founded by one of the four founders of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  Godric Gryffindor's house supposedly values courage, bravery, nerve and chivalry; Rowena Ravenclaw's house values intelligence, creativity, learning and wit; Helga Hufflepuff's house values hard work, patience, justice and loyalty - though Hufflepuffs are treated as rejects in the novels; and Salazar Slytherin's house values ambition, cunning, leadership and resourcefulness and - oh yeah - blatant Naziism.
You see, the wizarding world is fractured into a hierarchy.  The echelon of this hierarchy in which you are born essentially determines the course of your life forever.  The hierarchy is as follows:

Fig. 1: You can debate all you want where Mudbloods and Squibs belong in this hierarchy, but this is how I see it.  And I calls 'em like I sees 'em.

Purebloods are magical people descended from two parents with magical abilities as well.  Half-bloods are born to one magical and one non-magical (muggle) parent, but happen to have magical abilities.  Mudblood is a largely derogatory term for any person born with magical abilities to two non-magical (muggle) parents.  Some pure bloods, including the followers of Voldemort, look on Mudbloods as thieves: people that have somehow stolen the secrets of magic thought ought to be cast out.  A main character, Hermione Granger, is referred to as a Mudblood by members of the Slytherin house due to her being born to two decidedly unmagical British dentists.  If ONLY British dentists could work magic.
Squibs are a trick of magical genetics and are considerably rare.  They are the non-magical offspring of two wizards.  So rare are they in fact, that I can only recall two squibs mentioned in all the novels: Argus Filch and Arabella Figg.  Squibs apparently have some privileges not granted ordinary muggles.  Argus Filch is the spying, curmudgeonly custodian at Hogwarts.  Arabella Figg recognizes a Dementor attack and is allowed to enter the Ministry of Magic to defend Harry in court when he is on trial for using magic in the vicinity of muggles – an offense carrying a penalty of expulsion from Hogwarts.
Muggles are all non-magic people.  Salazar Slytherin and his adherents believed that muggles were inferior to wizards and ought to be enslaved.  In fact, when the Ministry was infiltrated by the Death Eaters (followers of Voldemort) and a puppet state instituted, a statue called “Magic is Might” was erected.  A direct quote from the text helps us here:

“A gigantic statue of black stone dominated the scene.  It was rather frightening, this vast sculpture of a witch and a wizard sitting on ornately carved thrones…Engraved in foot-high letters at the base of the statue were the words MAGIC IS MIGHT….Harry looked more closely and realized that what he had thought were decoratively carved thrones were actually mounds of carved humans: hundreds and hundreds of naked bodies, men, women, and children, all with rather stupid, ugly faces, twisted and pressed together to support the weight of the handsomely robed wizards.”

Fig. 2: Was the goddamned wizarding world so oblivious to have missed the fact that World War II and the Holocaust happened?

Those “stupid, ugly faces” belonged to muggles.
So let’s review.  Hogwarts School has a house founded by a racist eugenicist that still adheres to a doctrine that renounces entire populations based on their pedigree.
Even Ron Weasley, Harry’s best friend, is quoted as saying: “There’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin.”  And the Sorting Hat’s song in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix goes:
“Said Slytherin, ‘Let’s just teach those
Whose ancestry is purest.’”
For centuries the school has bred wizards that value ethnic purity and racism.  Is it any wonder that the most dangerous threat to the entire wizarding world, including the extended world outside of Britain, was educated and trained by the staff at Hogwarts!  If Hogwarts were to completely sever its ties to Salazar Slytherin and actually preach the values of embracing people of all backgrounds, the tragedy of Tom Riddle’s transformation into Voldemort and the ensuing battle of Hogwarts could’ve been entirely avoided.  Countless lives could have been spared with simple educational reform.
This of course brings up another important flaw in the Hogwarts system.  There is apparently no place or even tolerance for witches and wizards of special needs.  Now here I completely disregard the fact that Hogwarts does not educate Squibs.  This in itself shows a level of elitism.  Several courses offered at Hogwarts have absolutely nothing to do with magic!  It is understandable that Squibs may not be able to complete courses such as Charms or Defense Against the Dark Arts, but what in the world prevents a person incapable of performing magic from learning:

  • Herbology
  • Astronomy
  • Potions
  • Muggle Studies
  • Study of Ancient Runes
  • History of Magic
None of these courses require magic; just a will to study and a love of learning!  And yet, the racism inherent in the wizarding world relegates Squibs to essential second class citizenship.  Filch is made a custodian.  Arabella Figg's credibility is brought into question during judiciary proceedings simply because of her being a Squib!
But what about students with learning disabilities not related to their genetic origins?  A great example of what happens to them exists in the books.  Rubeus Hagrid is the groundskeepers at Hogwarts and spends a few semesters as the Professor of Care and Keeping of Magical Animals.  Hagrid is known for his simple intellect.  And because of his inability to defend himself logically, he is framed and expelled from school because he was falsely accused of unleashing a Basilisk from the Chamber of Secrets in the school.  Hagrid is denied an education.  He is forbidden from practicing magic.  He is given a menial job.  Ultimately Hagrid is forced to hide his wand in an umbrella.  And rather than having the privilege of riding a broomstick, the preferred method of locomotion for wizards, Hagrid must use an enchanted muggle motorcycle to travel.  HE IS TREATED LIKE A MUGGLE.  And as we have already well established, being a muggle is essentially a crime.
And what of disabled wizards?  Arianna Dumbledore, the sister of Hogwarts' headmaster, was traumatized as a child and was incapable of controlling her magic.  On one occasion, she lost control of her magic, causing an explosion that killed her mother.  Rather than treating Arianna and offering her assistance, she essentially made a prisoner in her own home.  Because Hogwarts doesn't offer any sort of special education, Arianna would have been locked away in St. Mungo's hospital for witches and wizards.
Now, please don't get me wrong.  I'm not calling JK Rowling an elitist, a racist or a eugenicist.  I'm simply pointing out how all-pervasive racism is in Harry Potter.  And perhaps it makes the series all the more interesting.  But seriously folks, how could any school in its right mind in the modern era allow Slytherin house to continue existing?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Harry Potter and the Inanity of Quidditch

In 2003, the word muggle was offered a spot in the Oxford English Dictionary.  Now, this is perhaps not the honor it once was, considering that the English language consists of nearly ONE QUARTER MILLION individual words that have been borrowed, invented, conquered and bastardized.  But this word, muggle, was added due to its use in a beloved series of books collectively known as the Harry Potter Septology.  Having worked in the children's section of a library for some 5 years, I inevitably had to read the entire series.  I even had the privilege of reading several books in the series before their official release dates, which is something I probably shouldn't mention given the sensitive nature of highly popular book releases.  At first, I was highly skeptical of the series, perhaps due to my natural aversion to sensationally popular fads - because I'm apparently a dirty fucking hipster.  But some thousands of pages later (in an exceptionally quaint font, I might add) I was completely enamored with the series.  Like all great works of literature, Harry Potter isn't without its flaws, however... and I now see fit to share some of the pitfalls and plot holes that have bothered me since I've read the books and seen the movies.
But... why now?  Why am I suddenly griping about Harry Potter after all these years?  Why am I acting the Johnny-Come-Lately?  Well, I just happen to be watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone right now.  Also, my most popular blog entry of all time combines television shows that began in the 1960s.  So... here we go!
Item 1: Quidditch
The sport of quidditch makes NO FUCKING GODDAMNED SENSE WHATSOEVER.  I can already hear the bellyaching of hardcore Harry Potter fans.  "But BillChas, Rowling explained quidditch later in the series!  Just look at --"
"BULLSHIT!  She explained nothing!  And you are an IDIOT and a REPROBATE if you still cling to the idea that quidditch is anything but page-filling nonsense!"
In the sport of quidditch, two sides compete to score the most points.  If only it were that simple.  Each team consists of seven players who are constantly riding broomsticks.  Three chasers try to catch a ball called a quaffle and throw it into one of three rings on either side of the field for 10 points per goal.  The three rings are guarded by a goaltender called the Keeper.  Now, as if this sport weren't dangerous enough, these wizards who apparently have no regard for human life also release two enchanted balls into the air whose sole intent is to BLUDGEON people off of their brooms.  That's right!  There are two things flying around on the field with the expressed intent of hurting people!  Fret not, for each team is equipped with two players called Beaters, whose job it is to knock away these death-balls, quaintly named Bludgers.
Now if all this seems too much to understand, at this point quidditch is kind of like soccer, hockey or handball, only with flying around on broomsticks and - oh yeah - balls that are trying to kill you flying about as well.  Score the most points and you win the game?  Oh, but did I mention there isn't a game clock?  That's because the way the game ends DOESN'T FUCKING MAKE SENSE.
On each team is yet another player named a Seeker.  It is his or her job to find a small golden ball with wings with the adorable name of Golden Snitch.  Why is this Golden Snitch so important?  Well, that's because the moment that a team's Seeker catches the Snitch, the game ends - AND THE TEAM THAT FOUND THE SNITCH IS AWARDED 150 POINTS.
Did your head explode?  If so, I apologize.
So all that flying around, dodging death balls, scoring points, and basically putting yourself in constant mortal peril is rendered entirely pointless because of a little golden ball words 15 individual goals with a quaffle.
Later in the series, perhaps due to an enormous volume of hatemail, JK Rowling tried to explain away the problems with quidditch, namely:
  1. Catching the Snitch is the only significant event in quidditch and renders all the goal scoring and Bludger-dodging unexciting and pointless.
  2. A Seeker whose team is losing by more than 150 points SHOULD NOT CATCH THE SNITCH.
She explained that world-class Seekers whose teams were getting creamed would often catch the Snitch as a matter of personal glory.  You can imagine how the Seeker who catches a Snitch under such circumstances would be treated in the locker room.
"Yo, dude... why did you catch the Snitch back there?  We scored like 40 points in 3 minutes and were making a comeback."
"Oh... I just wanted the glory.  It's like... a matter of pride."
"You know what?  Fuck you, dude.  Just... fuck you."
Just today, I was discussing these very grave problems with quidditch with my wife.  And in a matter of minutes, we did something that neither JK Rowling or her editor were capable of doing with 7 books worth of ret-conning; we made quidditch almost kind of make sense!  And let's face it - it's a made up sport from a book about a magic teenager.  The sport CAN be slightly ridiculous without turning into the inane FARCE that it inevitably turned out to be in the actual books.  Here are a few suggestions of how to make quidditch make sense.
  1. Have the game end after several Snitch catches - perhaps 3 or 4 - each catch being worth significantly less than 150 points, say 50.
  2. Add a time limit.  Catch the Snitch as many times as you want for 150 points each time.  But at the end of the theoretical time limit, the game ends!  Simple.  Elegant.
  3. ...and my personal favorite... Time limit.  If at the end of regulation time neither side has caught the Snitch, the Quaffle is ruled dead, all Chasers and Keepers become Seekers, two more Bludgers are added, and it's an all out war to catch the Snitch.
That is a decidedly more sensical... and in many ways more AMERICAN form of quidditch.
Stay tuned tomorrow for part 2 of this series on the problems I have with Harry Potter.  Next entry?
Harry Potter and the Inequity of the Wizarding Educational System.
And then part 3...
Harry Potter and Making Everyone Related to Everyone; or Ret-Con Gone Wild

Monday, June 18, 2012

Meet Me in Montauk

There are many things to despise about the glacial backwash that I call my home and native Island.  Jutting 118 miles and boasting a remarkably nautical themed profile, Long Island is home to some of the most awful stereotypes in the United States.  If foreigners don't immediately make fun of the way a native Long Islander correctly pronounces such words as wautuh, cauffee, and even Lawn Guylind, they instead immediately assume you drink Jägerbombs, care more for your car's rims than for the livelihood of your relatives, and always ask Sal, your barber, to coif your hair in a perfectly frosted blowout.

And believe me, having grown up on Long Island, I can say that I've met many people who fit that stereotype.  But there is another Long Island - one that is often lost in a sea of blowout guidos.  In the past month I've experienced something of a Long Island renaissance.  It began when my family took a trip to the North Fork for produce from Lewin's Farm and baked goods from Briermere Farms.  I have fond memories of sunshine soaked weekends in the summer.  We'd go out to these same places for corn and dessert, pick up some reasonably priced lobsters from the Bayport Fish Store, and have just about the most fantastic meal conceivable.  At Briermere's we purchased a strawberry rhubarb pie, some rhubarb squares and a jar of rare local beach plum jam.  Even given how awesomely tasty our new purchases were, my sister insisted that we MAKE THE MOST OF WHERE WE WERE.  For you see, Long Island's east end has a beautiful microclimate.  Its sandy soil, cool crepuscular sea breezes and sunny summer days create a perfect climate for the production of wine grapes.
Under Jessica's dictatorship, we arrived at Martha Clara's vineyard.  What may be said of this place other than it has neatly trimmed lawns, wooden picnic tables, and quaint petting areas featuring pigs and goats?  I mean, you could try and talk about their wine.  But honestly, it isn't very impressive.  It's your SURROUNDINGS that makes the whole thing.  There you are on the North fork, on a perfect day - a sapphire sky dotted with clouds more perfect than anything Monet or VanGogh painted - sipping wine whilst surrounding by the grapes that'll become next year's vintage.  I was struck with my Long Island renaissance.
Our next stop pretty much sealed the deal: Long Island Spirits.  There we sampled their LiV (rhymes with five, but obviously an acronym for Long Island Vodka) and something that was absolutely goddamned magical.  The bartender placed a bottle of Blue Point Brewery's Old Howling Bastard barleywine and pointed to the enormous distilling column housed in glass behind me.
"This," he poured a measure of some delicious smelling amber liquid into a small shot glass etched with a pinecone, "is what happens when you distill this," indicating the Old Howling Bastard.  And how can it be described?  Using a craft beer to create a craft whisky?  Even my sister and wife, both of whom dislike straight whisky admitted that they could TELL there was something special about that whiskey.
I immediately bought a bottle - and not only because it was hand-numbered by batch... no.  Because it was an EXPERIENCE.  Oh, and I bought a bottle of vodka as well - which I enjoyed enormously with Russian caviar on buttered bread.
And this weekend, I had a life experience that involved my very favorite place on Long Island.  Actually, it might be my favorite place on Earth.  At the very terminus of the south fork of Long Island, crowned with a jewel of a lighthouse commissioned by none other than President George Washington, lies Montauk.  And now Montauk carries even more significance for me.
For two years now my sister has been part of an annual bike to Montauk.  Cyclists may choose their starting point at various locations starting in Manhattan all the way up to Water Mill well into Long Island's east end.  She had begun her previous bike rides at Mastic-Shirley, which, given detours for safety and bike laws, amounts to roughly 70 miles from Montauk.  This year, I finally resolved to follow along with her.
This is no small feat for me.  I've always enjoyed bicycling and a few years ago many of my friends knew how I would often forgo car rides in favor of riding my bike places.  That happened to be a year that I mysteriously lost 30 pounds, all of which magically reappeared when I stopped cycling and started drinking soda again.  My steed back then was a painfully stylish 1-speed Schwinn Panther.

 Fig. 1: A bicycle so sexy, that a girl who rides on these handlebars will eventually marry you some 7 years later.

Our ruthless master, Time, eventually destroyed my beloved Panther.  Oh, the times that I rode back and forth from Patchogue trying to clear my head, pondering the death of my beloved French professor.  I had been without a bicycle until this Christmas after the death of the Red Panther, and the very girl who rode on my handlebars 7 years prior purchased me a beautiful new bicycle for Christmas.

Fig. 2: The Schwinn Link: a more sophisticated weapon from a more civilized BillChas.

And this is the bike that I eventually used to ride 70 miles to Montauk just this past Saturday.  Oh, did I say 70 miles?  It turns out that the relentless cycling Gods saw fit to change their minds at the last minute.  You see, normally, the bike tour my sister took would terminate at the Montauk train station, a venue popularized by the mind-bendingly beautiful movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  The new terminus was changed to the Montauk Lighthouse, over 3 extra miles to the east.  This is actually a much more satisfying terminus when all things are considered, and I will demonstrate this in Figure 4 later.   
Now, savvy readers may have noticed that this bicycle, though gorgeous and strong, is not an ideal option for riding long distances on the road.  The tires are thick and the gearshift somewhat less than optimal.  Nonetheless, this marvel of modern design got me there.  It was no easy endeavor.  Several times along the way I thought I wouldn't make it.  Dune Road and the Ponquogue Bridge proved challenging, especially given the 10-mile per hour headwind we suffered.  And the top of the bridge is approximately 25 miles into the journey.  Along the said road, we witnessed a fellow cyclist completely ignore traffic and pull in front of a truck that nearly KILLED HER.  And still we pressed on.
After Dune Road, we found ourselves in the wicked heart of the Hamptons.  We breezed through gorgeous properties spoiled by hideous affronts to architecture at the hands of the nouvelle riche.  A mint condition silver 1958 Porsche driven by some ultra-affluent nobody whizzed by.  All the while we were surrounded by the salubrious scent of ocean air, and the gorgeous flora indigenous to this peculiar eastern Long Island climate.  Eventually we arrived in Water Mill.  Now, one of the perks of this particular bike trail is what awaits you in Water Mill.

Fig. 3: Blueberry pie from none other than Briermere Farms.

At this point, my Rooseveltian sister put things into perspective.
"We've gone like 41 miles now, right?"
"So... there's only like a trip to Patchogue and back left, yeah?"
"Uh-huh," punctuated by me shoving another forkful of pie into my mouth.
"Let's DO this."
I really owe all of my success to my sister.  When the two of us fell from our family trees, Jessica hit EVERY good limb on the way down.  Athletics, brains, enduring blond hair.  She got ALL the good stuff.
I, however, missed ALL those athletic limbs, though my sister assured me that somewhere deep inside I still retained those genes.  It was her reassuring that eventually got me to the end.
Miles away from Water Mill, we turned back onto the long stretch of Montauk highway that runs between the dunes.  I could scarcely believe how close we were to our goal.  The only things that remained between us and total victory were the obnoxious hills beginning at Hither Hills and rolling all the way to the architectural triumph that is the Montauk Lighthouse.
Hill after hill, I kept going into lower gears.  Professionals on their $1500 bicycles whirred past.  Pedestrians clapped and exclaimed I was almost there.  Every road was so familiar, so I knew there were some awful feats of gravity defying hills ahead.  We rolled into the main part of Montauk.  Just a few more miles to go.  Along the way, there is a horse ranch just past a sign for Theodore Roosevelt State Park.  I have rechristened this BITCH San Juan Hill.  Jessica sped ahead.  I shifted to the lowest gear possible, put my head down, prayed, and waited.  And minutes later, I emerged at the top of that hill, my sister waiting for me.  Just another hill away from victory.
Jessica urged me.
"C'mon Will!  We're there!"
Red-faced.  Sweating.  Thighs on fire.  Knees sun-crisped.  I shouted all I could.
"I'm COMING!" voice dripping with spite.
We rolled over the very last hill and, dodging an obnoxious car that seemed oblivious to the multitude of bicycles rounding Montauk Point, approaching the finish line by the Lighthouse's parking lot.
"Don't worry about the cars!" an onlooker shouted.
My mother whooped and hollered.  I raised my hand and shouted, "Ja!"
I had made it.  Just two years ago I was too out of shape to run a mile.  My legs weren't conditioned enough to cycle 20 miles, much less 70.  And there I was, downing a victory brew courtesy of Blue Point Brewery and wondering at that marvelous lighthouse.
I really owe so much of this triumph to my sister.  Her persistence and belief in me helped me cross that finish line.  There were times when I was sure I couldn't have made it, but she bugged and prodded and pushed and demanded until I made it.  After 6:07 of cycling, over 7 hours with rest stops, I accomplished the greatest athletic achievement in my life.  And my beloved Montauk acted as the finish line.

Fig. 4: (as promised) No, as my shirt suggests, Montauk did not mysteriously "end" in 1660.  It still exists, though portions of Camp Hero were lost during time travel experiments in the 1940s.  But that's another blog entry altogether, isn't it?

If I ever leave the general area of Long Island, I can't really express how much I'd miss it.  When you look past the spray tans and Jägermeister and soccer families and entitlement, Long Island proves a really wonderful place.
Now I really want to go clamming again.

All right, now that I've gotten that off my chest, I'll get back in the saddle.  In the next two entries, expect haikus created by my friends with an AMAZING card game and my own redesign of the New York State flag because of my love of the state flag of Hawai'i.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Ten People Who Must be Resurrected by Science or Magick...

Let us turn our hearts of stone away from the pressing matters of the day.  Today I finished watching the fantastic miniseries Cosmos: A Personal Voyage by the incomparably brilliant Carl Sagan.  I truly believe that if everyone on this planet were to watch Cosmos with an open mind, the world would be an infinitely brighter and more peaceful place.  Sagan's main goal through Cosmos was to make people wonder at the universe around them - to inspire us to think about not only ourselves, but for our posterity.  It is essentially a warning that the escalating Cold War would inevitably lead to the Earth's death in nuclear fire.  Though the Cold War has ended, only slightly outdating his message, and though some of the elements of cosmology have been explained more thoroughly thanks to scientific breakthroughs in the subsequent decades since Cosmos's release, the message is still strong.  Still today we worry about North Korea's nuclear proliferation.  And the United States still sits upon a ludicrously large stockpile of thermonuclear weapons.  Sagan's ability to make science and cosmology accessible to the average viewer shows the depths of his genius.  He died at the age of 62 from myelodysplasia.  As far as I'm concerned, he was not on this planet nearly long enough for a man of his intellect with such a fantastic message.  So I got to thinking - who are the people that must be brought back from the dead by either science or magick?  Mind you, when I say that I want these people back from the dead, I want them back in pristine condition; not as a decaying zombie corpse.  Yeesh... that would be awful.  I here present, in no particular order:

The Ten People Who Must Be Resurrected By Science or Magick

Nikola Tesla*

I lied about this list being in no particular order.  Now, there is a very good reason that I decided to bring back Nikola Tesla first.  All evidence suggests that Tesla was actually a time traveler from the future.  How else could you explain how someone invented long range energy transfer, the vacuum tube, the x-ray, fluorescent lighting AND THE GODDAMNED DEATH RAY, all before his death in 1943.  Imagine what Tesla could have done if he were born in the modern era!  There's no reason we wouldn't already have moon bases, flying cars and teleportation if Tesla were around in the 80s.  And I've chosen to resurrect him simply because with his extraterrestrial scientific powers, he could easily invent a machine that help me to corporeally resurrects all the others on this list.

Dr. Carl Sagan

I've already discussed Sagan's genius.  There's tale that modern day crank cum cosmologist Neil DeGrasse Tyson will be piloting a modernized series of Cosmos with updated knowledge of life, the universe, and everything.  I can guarantee that NO ONE will watch this series if Dr. Tyson doesn't wear a burgundy turtleneck and brown corduroy jacket.


Hypatia was the first renowned woman in the field of mathematics, and she happened to be the last Librarian of the Library of Alexandria.  Because she was a woman, she was a natural target in the entirely male-dominated world of antiquity.  As the guardian of all ancient knowledge, she also became a target from the Catholic Church, whose adherents at the time viewed all scientific learning as magic.  Hypatia was no doubt seen as a witch in her time, and the Bishop of Alexandria, Cyril, was her greatest enemy.  On her way to work during Lent in the year 415 AD, she was beset upon by a mob of Cyril's disciples.  They dragged her through the street until she was dead, flayed the flesh from her body either by abalone shells or the tiles from the Caesareum, and was burned.  Hypatia is largely forgotten and Cyril was made a Saint.  There's something awfully revolting about that.  I wonder how the history of women might be different if Hypatia were allowed to live a peaceful, natural life.  

 President Abraham Lincoln

This blog entry would have been finished about three days ago if it weren't for the man ponderously posing for the above portrait.  I knew that I had to resurrect a single President, and I struggled to decide upon a single one.  I thought about Polk, for his ability to create and agenda and fulfill it in just four years.  Then I thought about the fiery Jackson, but deemed him too controversial a figure to return to the mortal realm.  The Roosevelt family produced two fabulous Presidents, and I considered cheating and using science to create a genetic hybrid of Theodore and Franklin that would encapsulate all the incredible things of both the Republican AND Democratic Parties!  But in the end, it was Abraham Lincoln who eventually earned the privilege of a date with the Tesla Concentrated Aether Resurrect-o-Matic Device!  Why?  Is it his gift for parsimonious, elegaic prose?  Is it the steadfastness and resolve (not to mention disregard for the Constitution) he exhibited in effort to keep the United States united?  Yes.  Lincoln  is the one President that I think this Country unanimously admires and wishes back from the dead.  Of course, the moonshine producing, backwood hick counties of the scourged, carpet-bagger ridden South are exempt from this statement.

Mark Twain

I wonder how the country might be different if Mark Twain were to go on a speaking tour through the modern United States.  Perhaps his crankiness and wit would become a widespread epidemic, infecting people all over the nation until everyone develops the propensity for writing brilliant American odysseys, sitting in rocking chairs, smoking cigars, and complaining about Theodore Roosevelt not letting angry women into the White House.  I believe that Mark Twain perfectly encapsulates what America ought to be: angry, sarcastic, intelligent, cranky, self-reflecting, and poorly groomed.

Ludwig van Beethoven

In lieu of writing a lengthy defense of Beethoven's resurrection, I instead offer the following piece of music.  Tell me that this man shouldn't live another thousand years and bring such beauty to the world.

Julia Child

Julia Child continues to inspire the common person to venture into his or her own kitchen and make something for themselves.  Modern "food television" can't even hold a candle to this Valkyrie of the gastronomic world.  Talentless hacks like Rachael Ray, Guy Fieri, Paula Deen, Sandra Lee, get away with teaching Americans how to mindlessly drool in front of a television and occasionally make Neanderthalic grunts.  Julia Child taught you how to ROAST A GODDAMNED CHICKEN.  Julia Child taught you how to BAKE A GODDAMNED SOUFFLÉ!  Julia Child taught you how to HANDLE A GODDAMNED KITCHEN KNIFE!  Julia Child taught me and several generations of home cooks that even the most complicated of techniques are possible with study, patience, and bold curiosity.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Perhaps no other American showed such eloquence and power with the English language as did Dr. King.  With his pen and his tongue and the lessons of other peaceful protesters, Dr. King sought to change this country.  He highlighted the hypocrisy of a country that fought a war against Jewish racism in Europe, but refused to allow black men and women to drink from the same water fountains or attend the same schools as whites.  Who knows how depraved and oppressive the country may still have been if it weren't for what this man did for the nation.  And perhaps no speech given in America is as well remembered and quoted as the one he gave on August 28, 1963.

I can't help but wonder how Dr. King might inspire and change the country today if he were still alive.

Amelia Earhart

A renaissance woman if ever one existed.  Earhart dared the country to think differently about women.  The sad fact is that girl nowadays really don't have people to look up to.  DO NOT GET ME WRONG.  In the modern era, there is a deluge of fantastically brilliant women that girls OUGHT to look up to.  Hillary Clinton, Madeline Albright, Michelle Obama, Angela Merkel populate this list.  But honestly, they lack a certain something that young girls want to aspire to be.  Instead the media forces upon them the likes of Snooki, Bratz dolls, Katy Perry, and Rihanna (young girls really ought to know that it's NOT okay to return to an abusive boyfriend).  Amelia Earhart is someone that today's young girls can really marvel at: smart, nonconformist, brave, daring, badass, fearless and not to mention fashionable!  Hell, not only young girls should look up to and try to emulate her.  If she were alive today, I've no doubt she'd be gunning to be the first woman - hell the first PERSON - to set foot on Mars.  We need more daredevils like her.


Benjamin Franklin

Dr. Franklin was a goddamned wizard.  If you have any arguments to the contrary, you are wrong.  Look at what this man did:
  • Invented the Franklin stove, bifocals, the lightning rod, an improved rocking chair, a glass armonica &c...
  • Created the first free lending library in America
  • Established fire departments in America
  • Founded the University of Pennsylvania
  • Was the first Postmaster General
  • Ambassador to England and Minister to France
  • Printed several newspapers under various pseudonyms
  • Created some of the first public works programs including street lighting and paved roads
  • Wrote treatises on the nature of electricity
The list just goes on and on.  Benjamin Franklin might not be the polymath the world wants, but he's the polymath that the world needs.


So there you have it.  These are the 10 people that I'd bring back to the mortal coil.  Oh!  I forgot to bring up a couple of honorable mentions...

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan

This should go without saying.

*Tho. Edison

Now, I definitely wouldn't bring this awful bastard back from the dead.  Lord knows I'll never forgive him for electrocuting an elephant just to prove how much awesomer his direct current was than Nikola Tesla's alternating current.  I just have a feeling that the resurrected Tesla couldn't help himself BUT to bring Edison back from the dead, if only to engage the Braggart of Menlo Park in a science match to the DEATH.  We all know who would win in that fight.

Discussion: I took great pains in choosing just 10 people that I would resurrect from the dead in order to save this world.  And after all the thought I put into it, I can't help but feel embarrassed by a few remarks about the chosen people that cannot be ignored.  First and foremost, I noticed that the list is overwhelmingly American.  This I attribute to my own American-centric view of the world.  It's been instilled in me since the very beginnings of my education, and I apologize for not being able to look beyond it.  
Second, the list is overwhelmingly male.  This I wrestled with and asked my wife about repeatedly - but she was too busy not caring about my awesome blog to give any insight beyond, "There aren't many women on your list."  Thanks hon.  How do I write off this obvious oversight on my part?  Once again I blame history.  While I did major in history, I did not major in women's history, or as some ridiculous academics like to call it - herstory.  Honestly, women are often given secondary or tertiary roles in historical anecdotes.  Only now in the modern era are we approaching a time when awesome women are getting their due respect.  Perhaps in 20 years when I look back on this blog, I will have a list comprising 7 women and 3 men!  Unfortunately, it's not 20 years from now, and I once again apologize for my own current shortcomings.
Thirdly, the list is overwhelmingly white.  Once again I blame my education and the limited time I've spent on multicultural studies.  I just don't know enough about heroes and legendary eccentrics from Africa, Asia or Latin America.  So once again I blame the culture I was raised in and beg forgiveness.
For anyone so outraged by my list that they see fit to correct my oversights, please provide your own list of resurrection candidates replete with persons of a more mixed variety of sexes and cultures!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

More on Food Stamp Abuse, And Why I Hate My Neighborhood...

I've already made it clear that I'm entirely against the abuse of the food stamp system.  It is an extremely costly pestilence in modern America, at least in the mythical wonder kingdom that is Crown Heights, Brooklyn.  In the entry I linked to earlier, I showed how people buying prepared foods (specifically $6 sandwiches) and are wasting taxpayer money, when they could instead use the money allotted them to buy the ingredients to make SEVERAL sandwiches, thereby saving a conservative estimate of $4.73.  After I wrote the said entry, I spoke with a friend of mine who upon last check currently lives among the pacifist Pennsylvania Quakers.  She brought to my attention that there is indeed something gravely wrong with the food stamp system, when a whole roast chicken ($4.99 this week at Key Food) which can feed 3 people and certainly nutritious cannot be purchased with an EBT card.  One may however go ahead and buy Little Debbie's Oatmeal Creme Pies and Coca Cola, which are the nutritive equivalent of a barren ice world at the edge of a solar system.
Clearly something is wrong there.
One can witness this kind of gross spending of taxpayer money any day, especially in Brooklyn.  And the worst part is that this is entirely legal.  The USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) actually has a website dedicated to items that  are and aren't eligible through their program.  It explicitly states that soft drinks, candy, cookies, snack crackers and ice cream are all eligible in the program.  These are listed at known junk foods.  Steaks and seafood and even bakery cakes are also covered by SNAP, though they are listed at luxury items.  Now, it seems to me that if you're really strapped for money and trying to eke out a living with your family, you'd want to make sure that your family was eating all of their necessary nutrients.  While steaks and seafood may be counted as luxury items, there's no question that they are much better purchases than soda and junk food when it comes to pure nutritional value.  How bakery cakes are considered eligible food items in the SNAP program is BEYOND ME.
The problem is that some stores simply don't adhere to the guidelines of the food benefits programs.  In the example I brought up in my previous entry, I noticed that a woman purchased a deli-prepared sandwich for $6.25.  This was actually "okay" by the manager, even though prepared food items like sandwiches aren't covered by EBT.  But I never really thought at the time about how the store got away with letting the woman purchase the sandwich with her card.  And then I found out exactly how stores get away with it.
The other week I was in the Associated Supermarket on Nostrand Avenue.  We repeatedly have trouble with this store and the food benefits abuse that goes on in it.  It's not uncommon to stand in line while customers fight with the cashiers over what they can and cannot buy with their EBT cards.  The woman in front of me had a large number of items on the conveyor belt.  Several of them were not covered by the EBT program, and the woman was visibly disgruntled by this fact.  After more complaining from the customer, the cashier voided the items from the woman's original transaction and swiped the EBT card.  Transaction complete.  Right after that, she rang up all of the non-EBT eligible groceries as "assorted groceries."  Apparently any item labeled "assorted groceries" may be purchased with the EBT card.  Thus with two transactions, the woman got away with purchasing a whole bunch of items that CANNOT BE PURCHASED WITH EBT.
Now, what brought on this long, uncharacteristic tirade about food stamp abuse in my neighborhood?  Well, it may have something to do with the fact that someone in my neighborhood recently stole my debit card information to make an $1,106.16 purchase from the Microsoft store.  With neighbors like this, who needs enemies?  Expect full coverage of my dealings with identity theft when I hear more from the detectives of Brooklyn's 71st Precinct!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

In Which I Prove That I Chose the Correct Party Affiliation

Like every American, I occasionally wonder whether I chose the correct party when I registered to vote.  In this age of dangerous rifts between parties, it's not uncommon for people to be chastised for being "too Republican" or "too Democratic."  Equally unfortunate is the fact that under the current trends of political thought, any registered Democrat is immediately labelled something like a atheist Massachusetts college-educated liberal.  Contrarily, any registered Republican is considered a NASCAR redneck evangelical Reaganite.  The greatest threat this ideology poses to America is that the classic Moderate in either party is seen as siding with the enemy.  Why is this?  What happened in America that caused such a massive break between the parties?  Why is bipartisan cooperation considered such an evil?  Why can't we all just be a little bit more like, YOU GUESSED IT:


I consider this break in the parties to be one of the greatest faults in American history.  There is something fundamentally wrong with a system that encourages schism and denounces thoughtful cooperation.  Abraham Lincoln said something about a house divided against itself being unable to stand.  I'm relatively certain he wasn't conveying his understanding of architecture when he offered this warning.  History has already proven that when bipartisanship entirely separates the parties, something awful like say a Civil War can break out.
As of right now, I'm a registered Democrat in New York State.  That's almost like saying that I'm a human being that breathes oxygen apparently.  This wasn't always the case however.  A younger, more foolish BillChas did something very silly on February 25th of 2002.  It was the day after I turned 18.  I couldn't technically register to vote on my birthday, as it fell on a Sunday that year.  New York is a funny state, in that you may choose from the following parties upon registration: 
  • Democratic party
  • Republican party
  • Conservative party
  • Working Families party
  • Independence party*
  • Green party
*-Note that this oughtn't be confused with registering independent!  The Independence party is that of failed Presidential candidate H. Ross Perot, which consists mainly of billionaire libertarians.  
Then there is of course the option of registering Independent or filling in your own political party, for those remaining Know-Nothings, Whigs, Bull-Mooses and Jedi among us.  I, a young and stupid idealist, blindly put a check mark next to Green party.  One day I received a literature in the mail from the Green party which illuminated, in shockingly disgusting detail, how the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 were orchestrated and carried out by our own government.  Naturally, I found this so despicable that I went down to the Sayville Post Office at my earliest convenience to change my party affiliation.  Ever since I have been a Democrat.
And why shouldn't I have registered Democratic?  There have been many fine Democrats in our time: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bill Clinton and DANIEL PATRICK MOYNIHAN just to name a few.  But I cannot help but wonder if I did make the right decision.  Several of my favorite politicians have been Republicans.  Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower, the ferocious graduate of West Point and Commander of the Allied Forces come to mind.  And here's where the moronic of our number pipe in and issue some pithy ex cathedra statement about "Ooh... but the Parties have changed throughout the years!  Some Democrats would be considered Republicans nowadays and blah blah blah blah..."  Well, I'll have none of your armchair, barstool political thought!  Try telling Abraham Lincoln that he was a Democrat!  If that were the case, then John Wilkes Booth most likely wouldn't have seen fit to lodge a bullet in Our Beloved President's brilliant skull.  I care NOT for your modern political thought!  These presidents were the HEADS of the parties they ran under.  And I won't listen to your inane ramblings any longer.
So how does one decide if he or she has made the right decision when selecting a political party?  It's a tough call.  But I did come up with a method for seeing if you've made the right choice.  How is it done?  Simple.  By the way, I came up with this method while I was pondering the most forgotten and underrated President in History:

Fig. 2: Mr. James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump
Make a list of every President of the United States of America.  Research each of their Presidencies, including decisions they made, how the country fared during their Presidency, and to what degree you agree with how they saw fit to run the country.  Now, you might run into a few snags.  You'll note that there are four Whigs, at least one Federalist, one awesome God-like war hero that refused to join a political party on the grounds that it might cause a great rife in the nation (and yes, George Washington was a goddamned Prophet) and several Democratic-Republicans in the mix.  YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO CONSIDER THESE PRESIDENCIES.  These parties no longer exist.  We cannot retroactively assign Jefferson to the Democratic Party.  Nor can we lump the Adamses in with the Republicans.  You may as well skip all the way down to Andrew Jackson, THE FIRST AND MOST BLOOD THIRSTY DEMOCRAT, and begin your counting there - of course skipping all Whigs you may come upon.
For each of those Presidencies, use the following scale to assign a positive or negative number:

+2 = One of the most fantastical Presidencies that all Presidents should strive to emulate.
+1 = A fine and model President!  Job well done!
0 = I care nothing about what this President did, and I don't see how the country would be much different without this person's Presidency.
-1 = Oh come on!  You can do better than this!  You're the president for cripes sake!  Do something good, will ya?
-2 = Ran the country into the ground and ought to have the title of Mr President posthumously stripped from them.

I did this.  And I was surprised with the results.  Now one must bear in mind that there have been slightly more Republicans than there have been Democrats.  Honestly though, there is a whole slew of Republican Presidents that even modern-day Republicans wish never existed.  You can omit these Presidents (Hayes, Garfield, Arthur) should you so choose, and suddenly the playing field is once again equal.  Here is how my scores came out:

Gray: Federalist
Green: Democratic-Republican
Yellow: Whig
Blue: Democrat
Red: Republican
PRESIDENT NAME Republican Democrat Neither
George Washington +2
John Adams +1
Thomas Jefferson +2
James Madison +1
James Monroe +1
John Q. Adams -1
Andrew Jackson +2
Martin Van Buren 0
William Henry Harrison 0
John Tyler +1
James K. Polk +2
Zachary Taylor -1
Millard Fillmore -1
Franklin Pierce -2
James Buchanan -2
Abraham Lincoln +2
Andrew Johnson -2
Ulysses S. Grant +2
Rutherford B. Hayes -1
James A. Garfield -2
Chester A. Arthur 0
Grover Cleveland -1
Benjamin Harrison 0
Grover Cleveland 0
William McKinley -1
Theodore Roosevelt +2
William Taft -1
Woodrow Wilson* -2
Warren G. Harding -2
Calvin Coolidge 0
Herbert Hoover -2
Franklin D. Roosevelt +2
Harry S Truman +1
Dwight Eisenhower +2
John F. Kennedy +1
Lyndon B. Johnson +2
Richard Nixon -2
Gerald Ford -2
Jimmy Carter 0
Ronald Reagan +2
George H.W. Bush 0
Bill Clinton +2
George W. Bush -2
Barack Obama 0
Total: -5 Total: +4 Total: +5

All Republicans together resulted in a total of -5 points, meaning that, as a whole, the Republican Party has produced a net of nearly THREE miserable failures of a Presidency.  On the other hand, the Democrats have produced a net of TWO divine leaders that have brought about a Pax Americana in their theoretical times.  Even the hodgepodge of mixed political parties from throughout history far outshine the Republican presidents, even if one is to completely omit the abysmal triumvirate of Hayes, Garfield & Arthur.
I've clearly chosen wisely.  Are my points awarded skewed by my political beliefs?  That is entirely for the Court of the World to decide.  For my money however, I can rest easy knowing that I categorically proved that I chose the correct political party, at least where the Presidency is concerned.  Try it and share your results!

* - Please note that I made an egregious error when I was translating my work from paper to Excel.  I originally posted that Woodrow Wilson received a +1.  My friend Alex pointed out that he found it odd that I gave Wilson a positive number at all, being that Wilson was famous for re-segregating the White House, endorsing the message in D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, needlessly dragging the country into World War I, and failed to garner Republican support for the centerpiece of his Fourteen Points, the League of Nations.  On paper I originally gave Wilson -1, but after some careful consideration and more insight from Alex, I have decided to give President Wilson -2.  This means that Democratic Presidents have earned a net of +4.  I have adjusted my analysis to reflect this.  Isn't that the beauty of this method?  I imagine that if I were to try this exercise 20 years from now, I'd probably get different results.