Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Problem with Wikipedia

Representative Michele Bachmann is wonderfully ignorant - which is fine and dandy.  I'm wonderfully ignorant of so many things.  The big difference?  I'm not pretending to run for President of the United States.

Her gaffes are numerous - and again, this would be tolerable if she weren't masquerading as a contender for the highest job in the land.  We laugh when she alleges John Wayne was born in her hometown - Waterloo, Iowa.  The kind of spirit the Duke had, she said, is the kind of spirit I have!

The only problem, of course, is that it was John Wayne Gacy - notorious serial killer, not thespian - who actually hailed from Waterloo.


If this were the only flub, you could laugh.  But her mistakes are sundry.  The first battles of the Revolutionary War?  Lexington and Concord?  She professed they were fought in New Hampshire.  Citizens of Massachusetts are grabbing maps, trying to figure that out.  And John Quincy Adams?  She swears he was a Founding Father.  Which is impressive, considering that, during the Revolution, he was nine.

Years old. 

The reason these flubs are especially ironic is that Ms. Bachmann cloaks herself in the mantle of the Tea Party.  If there's any bit of US history, then, that she should bone up on before opening her mouth, it's Revolutionary history.

And if she doesn't have time for study, then really - just shut up.

When pressed, Bachmann doesn't back down.  She's stubborn about John Quincy Adams because she mentioned him in support of her claim that the Founders didn't rest until they had eradicated slavery.  Which, you know, wasn't something the Founders tackled (that whole three-fifths clause muddies her assertion just a bit).

Because Bachmann's pronouncement concerning the Founders and their attitudes toward slavery was untrue, she wants to hold onto Quincy Adams because he eventually did become a strong opponent of our curious institution.  So she continues to insist - erroneously - that Adams was a Founding Father.  Because, see, if true, that would make her earlier contention kind of not completely moronic.

Our sixth President, Bachmann protests, was, like, secretary to his daddy in 1776.  You can, um, Wiki it.  So that, you know, makes him, like, a Founding Father.

Are you getting all this?

Here's the deal - if you make a mistake, admit it.  Don't dig in - especially if you're wrong.

Which brings me to Wikipedia.  We don't do research anymore.  Reference Librarians?  Pshaw.  We all Wiki everything.  And the problem with that is, if you Wiki Founding Fathers, you'll get a brief introduction to the Founders.  You'll be told that most historians agree that the Founders were those who signed the Declaration of Independence, or who worked on framing the Constitution of the United States, or who played major roles in fighting the Revolutionary War.

That's it.

In "their" words, in other words, someone who made a "key contribution" to founding our nation - and gosh, that might leave out nine-year-olds.

You're then invited (if you're still reading the Wikipedia article) to check out Richard Morris' 1973 book, Seven Who Shaped Our Destiny: The Founding Fathers as Revolutionaries.  Morris points to seven men as the main Founders, and Wikipedia lists them.  But wait.  Today, the list doesn't stop with seven - it's been expanded.  An eighth name has taken up residence with those others.

Yes - for all to read, for all to recite from, the page now reads:

Ben Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Jay, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Quincy Adams (in embryonic listening mode)

Wikipedia!  That's where Bachmann's been getting her history lessons.

Just a joke, of course.  Someone having a little fun.  But that's the problem.  Because when Bachmann, or Palin, make ridiculously incorrect statements about the founding of this country (I never knew Paul Revere warned the British - what a fun tidbit) "editors" of Wikipedia can change the content of the site to support the stupid claims.

Am I getting my panties in a bunch over a little buffoonery?  Sure.  But lord, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is suddenly a major player and her supporters - hell, all supporters of any politician - get their news from this World Wide Web thing, because, you know, newspapers are so unwieldy and who wants to pay reporters to, you know, report?

I need a drink.

And don't tell me that Wikipedia is a masterwork because someone will quickly correct the listing I just described.  I read it.  Others read it.  And if you're not the kidding type, you just might believe it.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Postcard from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia -- For the second time since we got up, it's getting dark again

Didn't get further than the Port of Sydney on Cape Breton Island.  Thought at first that it wouldn't be enough, thought it was a shame trooping upstairs into the close quarters of a small pavilion - the world's largest fiddle standing right outside notwithstanding - to listen to fiddle music.  Our time was so short on Cape Breton.

Fiddles?  Really?

Have you been to a ceilidh before? the man said, the man holding the door open.  You're in for a treat.

Ceilidh is pronounced kaylee - those Celts, ya know.  It's a party with food and drink - usually lots of both.  On the stage conducting this round were the young Fiona, the old Lawrence, and Aaron, Aaron in a maroon tshirt sporting the word HANDSOME. 

They talked - a little island history.  A little about ceilidhs.  Then?  Then they started to play.  Lawrence fiddling hard, Aaron tickling ivories, Fiona beating a Celtic drum, her bangled wrist a blur.

A fine time began to turn into a great time about the time the lovely lass kicked off her rain-stomping boots and danced in her bare feet.  The way we do it anyway, Fiona MacGillivray said.  And my two girls, and their cousin Laura, were happy to join in, dancing there to the side.

I'd forgotten how irresistible the fiddle is - exultant and ecstatic.  Making the grumpiest among us want to dance.  The music makers wanted to show us landlubbers how to do just that, but they needed four couples.  After much prodding, they finally just needed one more dancer.  A man.

No takers.

Karen indicated that I really should take up the challenge - they just needed the one.  I wanted to remind her that she had politely declined when I suggested that we both go up and dance.  Instead, with Karen mouthing Go on, go on, I kicked off my own rain-stomping boots and joined Laura who had already walked on down the line to the square dance.

My walk was accompanied with much applause - mainly all the other guys who were happy it wasn't them.

Funny thing is, once that fiddle took hold, we eight were grinning and swinging our partners and bumping shoulders - all to that fiddle beat.  Beer would've made it better.  Next time I'll know to bring a flask - because if beer would've made it better, whiskey would've sent it over the edge.

The trio started to go over time, and Fiona asked if we were in a hurry.  She let us know that if the Maasdam left port, we could stay with Lawrence.  I've still got six people from the last boat, he told us with a grin.

Kristine and Judy, Wilmar and Laura - all of us had a grand time listening and dancing to this music from Scotland.  Music that the Scots themselves had forgotten how to play, and so fiddlers from Sydney return to Scotland and teach the music back to those who exported it in the first place.

Before Fiona read the Certificate of Induction for the World's Largest Fiddle Association, Lawrence mentioned that during a Ceilidh long past, one gent told another, Look there!  For the second time since we got up, it's getting dark again!  And the second gent thought, What a perfect title for a song.

There's a piper in the corner.
There's a dancer on the floor
Friends around the table,
There's one who calls for more
And there's Gaelic in the fiddle
Like the Gaelic in the glen
And the songs take on new meaning boys
She's getting dark again

And if your feet weren't moving, check for a pulse.  This was the beauty of the music - making the crowd in a stuffy upstairs pavilion think they were in someone's parlor, the music getting louder, the drinks coming soon, chunks of bread getting torn from a warm loaf.  All of us transported because those three on a stage - Cape Breton's tartan running its length - because those three took us there.

There was tea and tunes this morning
Or was it yesterday
When friends and fiddles gathered
Where friends and fiddles played
There were lots of those were good times
And do you remember when
But that was jigs and reels ago
Now it's getting dark again

That's when Fiona read from her Proclamation - inducting us all into that Fiddle Association, the World's Largest.  It should have been silly, but no - we all raised our hands and took that oath as the music echoed in our heads.

Now if any of you were slighted by the deeds that now are done
By the fellowship of music and the fantasy of fun
Well we'd like to say we're sorry
Shed a tear for you but then
We haven't got the time right now 'cause
It's getting dark again

Later, after Elizabeth - instead of just thanking Fiona for the music, instead of just thanking her for the good time - after Elizabeth threw her arms around Fiona's waist instead of just saying thanks, Fiona and Laura chatted about Phantom of the Opera, about Les Mis.  Laura over the moon - talking to another singer - someone who'd met Colm Wilkinson.  Fiona warning Laura not to get her started about him.  Colm Wilkinson? Fiona said.  He started it all, he's the reason I sing.

I knew then that this had become one of those good times they'd just sung about.  That we'd look back on an overcast, spitting day on Cape Breton Island and remember good friends.  The girls dancing, smiles wide.  Wilmar and Karen clapping loud, keeping time.  Judy and Kristine laughing at the dancing girls, dancing so happy.  The words from the Proclamation insinuating themselves:  I undertake that on the anniversary of today's date, June 14th, I will turn toward Cape Breton Island and listen for the sound of the fiddle music being played there, and kick up my heels in a joyful ceilidh-style dance.  I shall also spread the word of its beauty and unique sounds to all my friends.

So that's what I'm doing.  Spreading the word.  When I see you next, ask me to show you how to dance close to the floor. Bring a fiddle if you play, I'll bring a flask.

Getting dark again
Getting dark again
For the second time since we got up
It's getting dark again

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Postcard from Halifax, Nova Scotia -- Canada is Too Cold!

We're leaving the ms Maasdam, the ship that's ferrying us through the Atlantic, kinda early because we have a date with a horse-drawn carriage.  That would be me, Karen and the kids, and Grandma Judy.  Judy's being a good sport - she's wearing one of those yellow caps that I've seen on the carved figures of seamen at Fisherman's Wharf.  I thought that was something you'd only see in San Francisco, but of course they had one of those carvings in Bar Harbor.

Seamen are everywhere, apparently.

As the glass door is blown open and the wind rushes over us, Judy grabs the yellow rain cap on her head and prevents it blowing away.  I make a joke about nor'easters.  I don't know what a nor'easter is, but I love the sound, and the chance to use it in a sentence?  For real?  I'm jumping on it.

One of the townies corrects me as he sees Judy keeping her cap in place.  Sou'wester, he says.

It's later, much, when I discover that he was referring to the cap.  Those little yellow slickers are sou'westers - the wind?  Definitely nor'easter.  So I was right, but didn't know it.

Stupid Californian.

Before I know it, Allison, one of the nieces, hands her sou'wester to me.  Aren't you going to wear it? I ask.  She looks at me like the dumb uncle I am.  Do you think, she says, that I'm going out in that?  And she gestures to the wind and rain outside.  But, she says, I want the hat back.

The problem with a horse-drawn carriage, in Halifax?  Halifax is in freaking Nova Scotia, which is practically submerged in the Atlantic.  And it's North.  That means weather.

Boy howdy.

The two black beauties, Denver and Bob (and no - I can't believe Bob/Denver is pulling the coach, who knew they were funny in Canada?) are stamping their big black feet and snorting like horses do - the snorts turning into great plumes in the Halifax cold.

There are seventeen of us passengers loading onto the coach - that equals the numbers of family on the cruise, but except for Judy and us, they're all safely ensconced on the ship

Probably sipping Irish Coffees.

Because of the wind and rain - have I mentioned the wind and rain? - the have these flaps things strapped down on the sides of the carriage.  The flaps are clear plastic, but when combined with the rain, streaking them in rope-thick rivulets, you can't actually see outside.

Which of course is the point of a freaking horse-drawn carriage ride through Halifax, but Ed, our guide, is oblivious to that.

The Scots are like that, I've heard.

Ed's telling us that the historical high for this day is 78, Celsius - and the low is 37.  Also Celsius.  With the wind chill, Ed tells us in his Scottish brogue, we're looking at about 37 today.

I'm taking this in just as he hands back the last of the blankets that they have for distribution.  I worry that it won't make it back to me - I'm the biggest on this carriage, and have the last row of seats to myself.  I guess I'm a Greek windblock for everyone else.  So I worry that the blanket will be scooped up by someone else - but then Karen, god bless her, snags it and turns to hand it to me.

Of course, she has to hand it over the two old people in the row separating us, but hey - blood is thicker than water.

Until Karen looks at those two old people, then at me.  I smile and reach my hand out.  Karen smiles and hands the blanket, that beautiful giver of warmth, to the older lady in front of me.  She says something to her, but of course I can't hear it over the freaking gale force winds.

All the while, Ed's continuing in his brogue - there to the left is the oldest church in Halifax.

Except of course you can't see the oldest church through the rainstreaked flap.  Over there, he continues, just on the left again, is the Maritime Museum with artifacts from the Titanic.  Halifax is where most of the bodies from that tragedy--

Except, again, you can't see the Maritime Museum.

Or the statue of Winston Churchill.  Or the statue of a British sailor with his kip.

God bless Judy, Karen and the kids.  They're just laughing up there.  I can't hear a word they're saying.  I did manage to catch the first words that Kristina shouted, just as we were climbing onto the carriage:  Canada is too cold!

Later, I'll go to the Maritime Museum with Mark and Mary Ann and their kids - Laura, Julia, William and Robert.  I'll stop grumbling about the weather when I see the Titanic deck chair they fished out of the drink.  When I see the shoes they think belonged to the Unknown Child, buried with so many others in Halifax.  Cold?  Of course, I don't know what cold is.  The Atlantic, the Atlantic is cold.

When we walk back to the Maasdam, and all the umbrellas are flipped inside-out by the wind, again and again, all I'm thinking is that a hot toddy would be quite nice.

I imagine Judy and Karen and the kids still laughing about the foolishness of heading out in the weather.  Ah well, laughter is warming, too.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Postcard from Bar Harbor, Maine

From the boat, Maine's beautiful - even overcast it's beautiful, what with it being so green, what with the few white, clapboard homes thrusting their peaks out through the trees.  No beach to speak of, just the shore cragging itself down from the waterline to the Atlantic.

We always try to hit bookstores when we're someplace new - and sorry, that doesn't include the two behemoths.  One cookie-cutter behemoth in Oakland is the exact same as the cookie-cutter in Boston.  So no thanks.

In Bar Harbor, conveniently enough, we stumbled upon Sherman's, Maine's oldest bookstore - since 1886. The gold letters of their sign above the red awning assure that it's The Place To Browse.  So we did.

The girls went through the aisles, sporting the new knit caps we purchased across the street from the knitter herself.  Pink and mouse ears on top for Kristina, purple and flowered for Elizabeth.  The girls happy with their new stuffed mooses (meece?)

To support Sherman's - because this is what you should do, support local stores.  Can you do that for me?

To support Sherman's, I bought postcards, Karen picked out a paperback Anne of Green Gables (to prepare the girls for Prince Edward Island), I scored a Moleskine notebook - and an oversized copy of Robert McCloskey's One Morning in Maine.  Yes, he won the Caldecott for Blueberries for Sal, and he's more famous for Make Way for Ducklings, but when in Maine...

I figure I can get everyone to sign the inner cover of the book - their are seventeen of Karen's family on this trip, us included, and the seventeen names will look good, later.  Will remind the girls, later, of everyone who was on the trip.  With luck, will remind the girls of a happy morning in Maine, mooses (meece?) in hand, and mommy and daddy reading them new books on board.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Boston Postcards, #2 -- Check how many roomies are left before slipping out into the dawn

Woke up early my second morning in Boston, and to quote that eloquent New York thug, Hoppy Uniatz - I had a toist.

My toist wasn't for coffee, or anything as pedestrian as water.  My toist was for God's drink - Diet Coke.

We'd shut tight the hotel room curtains the night before - after Kristina had gotten her second wind.  After Kristina had commenced to jumping, in the dark, from bed to sofa to ground, and back again - all whilst yelling Action Girl!


So the drapes were shut to help quell the sound.  Perhaps the dark where the curtains met was a bit less than night.  And me, lying in that dark, next to the Lump that was my daughter, Elizabeth.  Lying there trying to disregard the cravings of thirst.  Attempting to imagine something - anything - all things not Diet Coke.


Everyone else in this blackish room was tired.  Tired from the second day of our vacation.  Tired from the time change - West to East.  Tired from the shenanigans of Action Girl!  My accomplices would surely snooze longer.  Would not miss me if I slipped into the cool wet murk of this Boston dawn.  To search like the Ripper for the only thing that would slake my thirst.

Would Karen forgive me if I left?  For only the five minutes it would take to prowl those cobbles outside for a drink, for a drink, for a drink?

Karen would understand.  Karen must understand.

Scootched from bed, slipped on my Going-Out clothes.  Quiet, quiet.  I was at the door, opening it so gently, when I remembered my wallet, forgotten on the bureau.

My wallet is actually a sterling cigarette case from the '20's - but it does the job.

I crept back through the pitchy room, palmed the cool silver, and turned to creep back for the door - and that's when my eyes slipped across the two Lumps in our two beds.

But there should be three!  Karen, Elizabeth and Kristina.  I squinted hard through the inky not-light:

One Lump + One Lump = Two.  Elizabeth in my bed, Lump One.  Kristina in Karen's, small Lump Two.

Where was Karen?

Horrors!  Not out, no - not out.  But she must be!  Must have awoken before I, with her own toist.  A toist that we call Grande Nonfat Latte.

Had she debated the merits of her rash decision?  Tossed and turned until she could toss no more, then left us lying, by ourselves, in those two beds?  Leaving the One Two and Three without a second thought?

The early bird, satisfied again.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Boston Postcards, #1 - Bell in Hand

So the stewardess knew how to make points when she taped Elizabeth's picture of a Jet flying through the Blue at the front of the plane for all to see.

That Jet took us to Boston, and we hit the Freedom Trail - and lord, we've got nothing on Europe, but wow, does Boston have it all over California when it comes to history.  So the Duck/Bus/Boat thing (don't ask) is headed back to the hotel, with a few more sights to be seen, but c'mon - the USS Constitution is right back there.  I mean, right there.  Do I not now have a Zippo - stamped USS Constitution - freshly stashed in my pocket to add to my collection?  How can I not stop and say hello?

The other merrymakers head on their way and I head mine.  I'm gonna wave to that grand ship, gonna pay my respects to Old Ironsides.  Besides, the hotel is only a mile away - bridge and all, I can walk that lickety-split and meet the family in two shakes.  And besides that, the Bell in Hand was already pointed out to me on our sightseeing jaunt.  The Bell in Hand?  It's only the oldest bar in these here United States.  Founded in 1795.  Really, ya got yet Bunker Hill, ya got yer Old North Church - but I've got the Bell, and I saw it about an hour back.  I'm good.

And when the Bell in Hand miraculously appears on my way back to the hotel?  Practically jumps out at me, off to the left?  That's God talking, telling all sinners and saints to stop on in for a wee nip.  Bourbon, rocks.

It's a younger crowd - everyone's excited because the Bruins are in the Stanley Cup playoffs.  So the kids here are excited and loud - which means it's a good time to be in Boston and a great time to be in a bar in Boston, especially the oldest bar in America.

God bless America.  Really.