First is important; “can’t count” is better

Nine is enough

Margaret Chase Smith 1950I’ve long had this rule of thumb about progress for groups who have been traditionally underrepresented in an area. The person who is first is important, of course, indeed vital. But real equality takes place when one can’t count the number without looking it up.

So it’s excellent that Sarah Thomas is the first woman to referee a Super Bowl game. And there are plenty of other firsts in sports in recent years.

But “‘What is really going to excite me is when this is no longer aberrational or when this is no longer something that’s noteworthy,’ said Amy Trask, who in 1997 became the Oakland Raiders’ chief executive and the first woman of that rank in the N.F.L. Few have followed in similar roles.”

Once I knew all of the female spacefarers. Now that there have been more than five dozen, I look at the list and not recognize some of the names. And THAT is a GOOD thing. Too many to keep track of is the point of the exercise.

US Govt

There are currently 24 women in the US Senate and 58 all-time. That’s not nearly enough. Still, I can no longer name all of the current female Senators, which I could do as recently as the early 1990s. (Margaret Chase Smith, R-ME, was the ONLY woman in the Senate the year I was born.)

I’m looking forward to the point when I can’t name all of the women who have been on the US Supreme Court. (Hint: there have been five of them, and three are on the court presently.)

The late, great Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a great quote about this. “When I’m sometimes asked ‘When will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court]?’ and I say ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” Amen.

Of course, I needed to get my calculator to count all of the women who have been elected President or Vice-President of the United States. I can’t count that high. Lessee, there’s one…

United Nations

UN Women announces the theme for International Women’s Day, 8 March 2021, as “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” It calls for “women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls…

“The majority of the countries that have been more successful in stemming the tide of the COVID-19 pandemic and responding to its health and broader socio-economic impacts, are headed by women.

“For instance, Heads of Government in Denmark, Ethiopia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand, and Slovakia have been widely recognized for the rapidity, decisiveness, and effectiveness of their national response to COVID-19, as well as the compassionate communication of fact-based public health information.

“Yet, women are Heads of State and Government in only 20 countries worldwide.”

Refugees, a poem by Brian Bilston

The world can be looked at another way

For United Nations Day, I decided to post a poem entitled Refugees by Brian Bilston. I came across it on Facebook in 2018, though the author first posted in March 2016. It was buried in my email until now.

It is used with permission of the author. As he says, “Please bear with it.”

They have no need of our help
So do not tell me
These haggard faces could belong to you or me
Should life have dealt a different hand
We need to see them for who they really are
Chancers and scroungers
Layabouts and loungers
With bombs up their sleeves
Cut-throats and thieves
They are not
Welcome here
We should make them
Go back to where they came from
They cannot
Share our food
Share our homes
Share our countries
Instead let us
Build a wall to keep them out
It is not okay to say
These are people just like us
A place should only belong to those who are born there
Do not be so stupid to think that
The world can be looked at another way

(now read from bottom to top)

UN Day

Here’s the Secretary-General’s Message from 2018;
refugees
United Nations Day marks the birthday of our founding Charter – the landmark document that embodies the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of “we the peoples”.

Every day, the women and men of the United Nations work to give practical meaning to that Charter.

Despite the odds and the obstacles, we never give up.

Extreme poverty is being reduced but we see inequality growing.

Yet we don’t give up because we know by reducing inequality we increase hope and opportunity and peace around the world.

Climate change is moving faster than we are, but we don’t give up because we know that climate action is the only path.

Human rights are being violated in so many places. But we don’t give up because we know respect for human rights and human dignity is a basic condition for peace.

Conflicts are multiplying – people are suffering. But we don’t give up because we know every man, woman, and child deserves a life of peace.

On United Nations Day, let us reaffirm our commitment.

To repair broken trust.

To heal our planet.

To leave no one behind.

To uphold dignity for one and all, as united nations.

  • António Guterres

See also the Refugee Rights section from the Human Rights Watch page.

Neil Simon, Marie Severin, Russ Heath, Kofi Annan

Marie Severin was one of the most delightful, funny and talented people who ever worked in comics

Marie-SeverinNeil Simon was a writer whose work I appreciated in several media: He penned the screenplays of movies such as The Sunshine Boys, The Goodbye Girl, and California Suite I saw in the 1970s. His plays such as Brighton Beach Memoirs and Biloxi Blues in the 1980s I watched on local stages.

But it was the TV adaptation of the play Odd Couple (1970-1975), starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, that was my introduction to Simon. I only caught the 1968 movie considerably later. I even watched the short-lived 1982 TV remake with Ron Glass as Felix Unger and Demond Wilson as Oscar Madison.

Of course, the career of Neil Simon goes back to the early days of television. Simon’s hits on stage and screen made him the most commercially successfully playwright of the 20th century — and perhaps of all time.
***
Marie Severin was a name I first knew as the main colorist at Marvel Comics in the 1960s while also doing the occasional penciling job. But she started as a colorist back in the late 1940s “when her older brother, comic book artist John Severin (1922-2012), asked her to color one of his stories for EC Comics.”

As a penciler, she also worked on Marvel’s parody comic book series, Not Brand Echh. And she co-created Spider-Woman in 1976, designing her iconic costume. Plus, everyone agreed that Marie Severin was one of the most delightful, funny and talented people who ever worked in comics.
***
Russ Heath was one of the great comic book illustrators of the field. “Because he veered away from super-heroes and more ‘commercial’ genres, he often did not get the respect he deserved.”

Most people – my wife, for instance – know who Roy Lichtenstein was. Most folks who aren’t comic book fans don’t know Russ Heath. This This piece explains part of my loathing for Lichtenstein:

“One day in 1962, Lichtenstein walked down to the corner newsstand near his studio and bought a copy of DC Comics’ All-American Men at War #89, took it back to the studio, threw it on the overhead projector, and cranked out about a half-dozen paintings based on (swiped from) panels in that comic book, which he then sold for millions of dollars each.” Heath got nada.
***
Gary Friedrich, best known as the co-creator of the motorcycle-riding Ghost Rider character for Marvel, died at the age of 75. He had been suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. He had a legal tussle with Marvel that was only partially satisfactory.
***
Kofi Annan is dead at 80. He came to embody the United Nations’ deepest aspirations and most ingrained flaws.

For some reason, keeping track of UN Secretaries-General – there aren’t that many – has long fascinated me. And I wanted the first one from sub-Saharan Africa (Ghana) to do well, a subject of much debate, despite his Nobel Peace Prize.
***
Every time I see that an older person of note dies, I read comments such as “Was he still alive?” They always seem astonished. For me, it’s totally the opposite. If I discover that a noteworthy person, in the realm of my interests, passed away in 2010, and I somehow missed it, THAT would surprise me.

W is for Water worries

The calculus is whether the short-term economic gain is worth the long-term ecological loss.

“In December 2010, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2013 as the United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation (Resolution A/RES/65/154). In reflection of this declaration, the 2013 World Water Day, which will take place on 22 March 2013, also will be dedicated to water cooperation. Therefore, UN-Water has called upon UNESCO to lead the 2013 United Nations International Year on Water Cooperation…”

For years, I’ve been hearing that the wars of the 21st Century will be fought, not over oil or precious metals, but over H2O. I was distressed to hear from the Nestle CEO that water is not a human right and should be privatized, which is already happening in Canada. This has energized the forces calling for a boycott of Nestle products.

As the UN reports note, climate change and other human activities are messing up the planet’s “hydrological cycle,” leading to more droughts in some parts of the earth, and devastating flooding in others. The only year in the last five that the Red River did NOT flood near Fargo, ND was when there was a drought in the region; talk about all or nothing.

My concern over a process called hydrofracking, which, according to many opponents, “uses significantly more water than conventional drilling, as well as a ‘slick water’ mixture that is pumped into the shale to fracture the rock and release the [natural] gas,” is largely based on the use and potential abuse of precious water supplies. “There is an increased potential for toxicity and its long-term impacts, [as well as] the environmental impacts of the drilling: surface and subterranean damage including forestland loss… [and] groundwater and surface water contamination…” Where will the toxic fluids go is a large and seemingly unresolved question.

Fracking is a highly charged issue in New York State because the financially depressed Southern Tier region (Jamestown to Elmira to my hometown of Binghamton) is sitting on top of part of the Marcellus basin deposit which could be a boon to the area. The calculus is whether the short-term economic gain is worth the long-term ecological loss.

On a planet of about seven billion people, more than one billion are suffering from lack of ANY clean, potable water, and twice that cannot get to “any type of improved sanitation facility. About 2 million people die every year due to diarrhoeal diseases, most of them are children less than 5 years of age.”

Read more about water policy HERE.

One does NOT want to be quoting Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

ABC Wednesday – Round 12

Paul Simon’s Graceland, plus 25

When the Graceland album comes out in the fall of 1986, there are a lot of positive reviews, though there is some discussion of cultural imperialism, talk Simon occasionally faced directly,

On June 5, the 25th-anniversary edition of the landmark Paul Simon album Graceland will be released. It has a few demo or alternate tracks, plus something described as “The Story of ‘Graceland’ as told by Paul Simon,” which could be interesting. But what is really intriguing is the DVD that comes with it, Under African Skies, directed by Joe Berlinger, which I saw on A&E a few days ago. It not only discusses the making of the album, and shows the reunion of many of the artists; it also addresses the huge controversy over the album and the subsequent tour.

There was a United Nations cultural (and other) boycott of South Africa at the time of the recording of Graceland, because of the oppressive apartheid policies of the government. Paul Simon’s record label guy Lenny Waronker said that the African music Simon had been listening to could have been produced by studio musicians; Warnoker says that Simon looked at him as though he were crazy.

From HERE:
“I was very aware of what was going on politically,” Mr. Simon says in the film, though later he admits he really wasn’t. Harry Belafonte had urged him to get the blessing of the African National Congress before going, which he didn’t do. Mr. Simon bristled at such constraints and decided that the welcome and cooperation he got from black musicians was all the approval he needed.

The album gets made, but the release date is pushed back. Simon is already scheduled to appear on Saturday Night Live, and does so, with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, performing “Diamonds on the Soles of Their Shoes”, to thunderous applause.

When the record comes out in the fall of 1986, there are a lot of positive reviews, though there is some discussion of cultural imperialism, talk Simon occasionally faced directly, as shown in the film. Then he decided to go on tour:

From HERE (And check out the videos):

Nearly 25 years ago Paul Simon staged one of the most controversial pop shows in history. When he performed in April 1987 his Graceland concert was seen by some as an affront to a United Nations and African National Congress (ANC) cultural boycott on the apartheid-era in South Africa.

Others saw it as a celebration of the country’s rich musical diversity. At the time Simon was joined by South African musicians Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. But outside leading musicians joined protestors which included Billy Bragg, Paul Weller, and Jerry Dammers, famous for writing the anti-apartheid anthem, Nelson Mandela. Together they demanded an apology from Simon.

Graceland ends up winning the Grammy for best album. Moreover, Simon eventually gets invited by the Mandela government to perform in South Africa after the boycott was over.

From HERE:

At the end of the film, Simon reflects on the controversy with Dali Tambo, founder of Artists Against Apartheid and son of the late African National Congress (ANC) president Oliver Tambo. He is still convinced Simon was wrong to break the cultural boycott, and Simon remains firm in his belief that art and music are a force for good that should never be repressed.

They end their debate with a hug, but you can see that this debate may never be resolved.

Lots of good insights in this film from Belafonte, Masakela, Paul McCartney, and Oprah Winfrey, who initially supportive of the boycott of the album until she heard the music, which transformed her life. I also had a bit of ambivalence over the album at the time, and I was really happy to see Simon’s rationale at the time.

I’m always loath to get an album that I’ve gotten before, in this case, on both LP and CD. But if you haven’t gotten the CD, or your LP is starting to skip, the documentary Under African Shies makes the purchase worthwhile. the film is also available separately, on Blu-Ray, for a price twice that of the CD/DVD combo.

The Boy in the Bubble – Paul Simon