Archive for February 2011

One score and two years ago …   Leave a comment

It’s my birthday today. I’m now 22 years old. And thanks to the Star Trek calendar hanging on my wall, I’ve discovered that today is also LeVar Burton’s birthday. After doing a bit of research, I found several people with whom I share a birthday. They are, in descending order of awesomeness:

LeVar Burton (1957) American actor and director, played Kunta Kinte on Roots, Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and hosted the children’s show Reading Rainbow on PBS

Christopher Eccleston (1964) English actor, played the ninth incarnation of the Doctor on Doctor Who

Sonny Bono (1935 – January 5, 1998) American singer, actor and politician, one half of former married couple and singing group Sonny and Cher, former California representative and the only member of Congress in history to have had a #1 pop single on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart

Jeremy Bulloch (1945) American actor, played Bobba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi

Ice-T (1958) American hip-hop singer and actor, plays Det. Odafin “Fin” Tutuola on Law & Order: SVU

Kim Jong-il (1941) Supreme Leader, “Dear Leader,” communist dictator, deranged despot, mentally unsound tyrant, and leader of the famine-plagued bankrupt rogue state and modern dystopia of North Korea. Also, his birthday is one of the country’s largest annual celebrations and basically the national holiday, so I guess I have the dubious honor of sharing my birthday festivities with those of the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Then again, the date of Feb. 16 is part of the official story of Kim’s birth, which also says that he was born in a log cabin at his father’s guerrilla base on North Korea’s highest mountain, Mt. Paektu, and that his birth was foretold by a swallow and heralded by the appearance of a double rainbow over the mountain and a new star in the heavens, so I wouldn’t count on the accuracy of that date too much.

Posted February 16, 2011 by benjaminsapiens in cool, personal

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Graduation   1 comment

I started at UMaine in the fall of 2007, which means that I’m a member of the class of 2011. This means that I should be graduating in May. My plans have changed a little, however. As I was signing up for this semesters classes this past fall, I realized that I wasn’t going to have enough credits to graduate this spring as planned. I’ve been working on my BFA (Bachelor’s of Fine Arts) degree in Studio Art, which is the professional version of the regular bachelor’s degree in Studio Art. The only difference is that you have to take a bunch more upper level studio courses for the BFA. Both the BA and BFA are meant to be earned in four years; however, I’ve been taking French classes, which displaced the art classes I would have been taking otherwise. I could have graduated this spring with a BA, but I decided to keep going and get the full BFA. To get that, I’ll need to take six art classes after this semester is over. I’ll be taking classes part-time, two art classes each semester, for three semesters, and I’ll be graduating in December 2012.

I’m actually looking forward to doing this. There are still a lot more art class I want to take before I leave, and I’ll be able to take six of them without any other classes to worry about. The only downside is that my Top Scholar Award that I received as a senior in high school (which pays all my tuition, leaving me to only pay for fees, supplies and room & board) runs out after four years, so I’ll have to start paying for the classes I take. I’ll be living at home, so that will cut down on some of the cost, and it looks like I’ll be able to keep my job at the USDA lab as long as I’m enrolled at the University. Unfortunately, most of my friends will have graduated and will be gone after this semester. Matt just got accepted to UMaine in the fall for Engineering (with the Top Scholar free ride, too – well done!), so I’ll be going to the same school as my brother for the first time since fifth grade.

I’ve been in the Honors program for the past four years, and I’m currently working on my Honors thesis, so hopefully I’ll be graduating with Honors under my belt as well. My thesis project is going to be a series of large illustrations of sci-fi literature. I’m taking an independent study art class with Michael Lewis where I’ll work on creating the illustrations. I did a few of these in high school, and I’d like to go back and revisit this theme now that I’m (hopefully) quite a bit more artistically mature. I’ll be defending my thesis at the end of the semester.

In addition to my BFA in Studio Art and my Honors degree, I plan on getting minors in Art History and French. I’ve taken enough of these classes already that I only need to take one more of each to get a minor, so I thought, “Why not?”

The one thing I’m not sure of is what class am I now a member of? I started out in the class of ’11, and I’ll have done a full four semesters with them, and I was even in the Class of 2011 Senior Capstone Exhibition last semester, but I’ll be graduating in December 2012. Does that mean I’ll be in the class of ’12 now? Will I be, say, an über-senior next semester?

Or "Maine 2012," maybe?

Posted February 10, 2011 by benjaminsapiens in art, personal, school

Reagan at 100: Remembering America’s most overrated president   1 comment

Today would have been the 100th birthday of Ronald Reagan. Of course it’s being marked by all sorts of celebrations of his life, his presidency and his legacy, nearly all of which profess great admiration for his vision and courage, even if they don’t agree with his policies. And among conservative American circles, the Gripper commands nearly as much veneration and respect as Jesus Christ himself. Just take a look at this GOP Presidential Debate at the Ronald Reagan Memorial Library in 2007.

Obviously, they love Reagan for a reason. For one thing, he could speak beautifully, and was able to articulate his ideas in a way that everyone could understand and with a certain amount of dignity. Unlike our last Republican president, for example, he never got on stage and started floundering like a brain-damaged chimpanzee with attention deficit disorder. He positively oozed charm and like-ability, both of which are immensely helpful characteristics to have as the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth. But Reagan had something that is severely lacking among modern conservatives, and that’s his willingness to be a pragmatic leader rather than an ideologue. Right-wingers celebrate Reagan for being a “true conservative” – apparently as opposed to the phony Neocon conservatives who fill the GOP today – but what really made him a successful president was in fact his willingness to compromise when he needed to. In fact, if Reagan were to run on his record today, he would be considered so liberal that he’d be unelectable. He’d be crucified by the Tea Party, denounced as a RINO and would probably be defeated in a landslide in any GOP primary he entered. You thought conservatives dismissed McCain’s ’08 campaign for not being conservative enough? His stand on the issues made Reagan look like Barney Frank. Heck, half of the things Reagan supported as president are rejected by the modern Democratic Party.

So, to sum up: Ronald Reagan’s conservatism: a heckuva lot better than the bulls**t that conservatives are calling for these days. So does that mean that Reagan was actually a great leader? It’s true that many liberals who once disdained everything he stood for have come to reconsider his legacy and even, in some cases even sing his praises. I think this is for a few reasons: 1) it’s much easier to give your enemies credit where credit is due when they no longer pose a direct threat; 2) compared to the deranged, power-hungry wingnuts who populate the Right today, Reagan really was a pretty decent leader; and 3) amnesia. The fact of the matter is that hindsight is just as often seen through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia as it is 20/20. As the years pass, the outrages and atrocities of the Reagan Administration seem less terrible, since they happened so long ago, and happy things stand out ever more strongly. People think back fondly on his unwavering optimism, his love for all things American, his warm personality and his courageous stand against the menace of Communism. They forget about his pandering to racism, jingoism and xenophobia; his unwillingness to stand for human rights in non-Communist countries; his dismantling of the welfare system and his utter lack of concern for America’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens; his deregulation of the economy which increased the obscene gap between the wealthy and the poor, devastated the middle class and helped lead in part to the financial meltdown of two years ago; and above all his eager support for any fascist, thug or dictator who took an anti-Soviet stand.

I never said that Reagan was the worst president in American history, or even the worst in recent memory (those dishonors would have to be given to James Buchanan and to either George W. Bush or perhaps Richard Nixon, respectively). What I am saying is that of all the presidents in American history, he is the one whose presidency has received the greatest amount of undeserved praise. You could do worse than to have a presidency as good as his – but you could also do a hell of a lot better. The very real role he played in the downfall of the Soviet Union – his ability to imagine that such an incredible dream could actually come true – is certainly his greatest accomplishment, and something for which he, along with his counterpart Gorbechev, deserve credit and admiration. Unfortunately, this doesn’t change the fact that as often as not, he brought out some of the worst in America, rather than the best.

Christopher Hitchens, who is possibly the smartest and keen-eyed social critic active today, had this to say about the 40th president of the United States:

Even now I can easily remember the things that outraged me: his easy manner when lying and his sometimes breathtakingly reactionary views. These extended from the whitewashing of the SS graves at Bitburg to his opinion that Americans fighting for the Spanish Republic had been on the “wrong” side, to his discovery that apartheid South Africa had always been an ally of the United States. Then there was the abject scuttle from Lebanon and the underhanded way in which Reagan tried to blame it on the Democrats. Perhaps worst of all was an apparent fusion of two things: his indulgence of fundamentalist and millennial priestly crooks like Jerry Falwell and his seeming flippancy about nuclear war. He once maintained that intercontinental missiles could be recalled after being launched, made on-air jokes about blasting the Soviet Union, and fatuously intoned “May the Force be with you” after announcing his plan for a Strategic Defense Initiative, or “Star Wars.” The coincidence between his superstitious interest in “End Times” theology and his insouciance about nuclear matters seemed dire in the extreme. And then there was Alexander Haig as secretary of state, and Oliver North as confidant, and the wife with the astrologer …

I don’t blame conservatives for admiring Ronald Reagan; it certainly beats holding up Nixon or W. as the model for the ideal conservative politician. But at the same time it’s outrageous to pretend that Reagan could do no wrong. In fact, he did plenty of things that were not just wrong, but which were downright evil. And while he may have indeed been a “Great Communicator,” the reality is that much of what he said was inaccurate, deceitful or in some cases an outright lie. He was often ignorant, stupid, cynical, heartless and cruel in both his personal and political behavior, and he always had a smartass quip at hand to deflect any criticism which happened to make it his way. And the deplorable things he did in the name of strengthening and protecting the United States are enough to make any American with any sense of decency utterly ashamed to have had this man as their leader. If we’re really going to remember Ronald Reagan’s legacy today, let’s remember it in its sometimes ugly entirety, not just the parts his faithful worshipers want us to.

Rock the Casbah   Leave a comment

This is for the protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

This would probably have been more appropriate to post in honor of the Iranian protesters rather than the Egyptians, because the Sharif in this song is a religious theocrat like the Ayatollah Kahmenei rather than a secular autocrat like Mubarak, but it’s still about a country of Arabs rising up against oppression, so I think it’s a fitting tribute. Also, the video has an Muslim in a keffiyeh and a Hasidic Jew dancing together, which we could always use more of in the world. Also it’s an awesome song.

Posted February 4, 2011 by benjaminsapiens in politics