Thursday, February 24, 2011

Run, Don't Talk

Forget the filibuster. We now have the fleeabuster. When you're outnumbered on a vote for a bill you don't like, why waste your breath speechifying when you can run away with your party buddies to create a quorum issue?

You probably know about the Wisconsin Democrats who skipped the state to thwart a budget bill that would end collective bargaining rights for state employees and force concessions on health care and pensions. Democrats fled Indiana and Ohio to gum up a vote. They all take some inspiration from a similar stunt in Texas a little less than a decade ago. The strategy is to force compromise on the objectionable bill. In Indiana, it may be working. In Wisconsin, not so much.

Moreover, the business of government is slowing down or stopping. Without a quorum, other bills don't come up for a vote, controversial or not. We all know the "gub-mint" moves slowly enough as it is -- except in Arizona, where the Republican-dominated legislature just rammed through a huge business tax cut in less than a week. But Arizona Democrats don't dare leave the state. They know the GOP would help them pack.

Those of us who grew up with decent parenting learned we can't run away from our problems. That's called being a coward. John Baldoni at Fast Company explains it further:
Embracing the run and hide strategy is a tactic that middle schoolers would understand--if you don't like something, go home. But since the legislators are adults the abandonment strategy comes across as self-serving and frankly un-democratic. The beauty of a democracy is that you work within the system to effect change; sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but the operative word is "work."
The Wisconsin Democrats know they can't win unless Governor Scott Walker makes a huge concession, which would then alienate the majority of voters who put him in office.

Majority rule isn't easy. It isn't pretty. You may not think it's fair. Fine -- go get your own majority in the next election. Holding the majority doesn't give you permission to whallop the minority with tyranny, but we're not at that stage. Wisconsin's runaway lawmakers have throngs of angry public employees on their side who have set up an ongoing protest in Madison. Cairo it ain't, but they'd love you to see the comparison to Hosni Mubarak or Mommar Gaddafi-Quadaffi-Kadafy-Whatever. One problem: Walker's no dictator and Wisconsin's no kingdom. And lawmaking is not some child's game where you get to march off and sulk if you don't win.

Friday, February 18, 2011

George And Michael

To cap off our weeklong pre-tribute to the George Washington Ball, your humble dancing servant presents one number you will definitely not be seeing tomorrow night, as performed by the mascots of George Washington University... and Michael Jackson.

Dance on, my friends!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

It's A Little Early For That, You Think?

I must admit to you, Dearest Dancing Friends, that many of the capers I have been showing you this week would not be danced in George Washington's time, or at the George Washington Ball. Some of them date to the early 1700's, decades before the Father of Our Country would take command, much less his first ballroom steps.

So why do I show them? Because usually a few fancy dances would start the evening before things progressed into the numbers people were more familiar with. I have also run into a lack of available YouTube material from the Revolutionary period -- many things are from the Regency era or the Baroque to mid-1700's.

And all right, I'll admit it -- I love the outfits.

Enough explaining. Let's get to another of the fancy dances. Here are three from Compagnie Fantaisies Baroques:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Put Some Spring In Your Step

Dearest Dancing Friends, colonial capering was not always slow and stately or complicated and geometric. Sometimes it could be quite anxious and athletic, as this couple demonstrates...

Careful now, or you may flip your wig...

I have to think this gentleman is a judge with a do like that.

Afterward, one would need some liquid sustenance -- but nothing alcoholic. Otherwise, this is what might happen:

And now the scores: 5.7, 5.8, 5.9, 5.9, 5.8, 5.7. That slip on the double axle did seem to be the one mistake, but he's definitely in medal contention.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer's Day?

I hear your criticisms: this English dancing --it's so repetitive.

But Dearest Dancing Friends, that's also what makes it so enjoyable! If you louse up a step, there is always the next iteration. And when you are all dressed up in your breeches and buttons and powdered wigs, dancing at George Washington's Ball, who cares about your mistakes as long as you look beautiful making them?

You won't catch Altenglischer Countrydance making mistakes, however, as they perform this beautiful rendition of "Upon A Summer's Day."

I adore how the gentlemen are not afraid to prance about, especially in this short quadrille:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Step By Step

My Dearest Dancing friends, it is well known that your colonial Virginian ancestors loved to dance. As such, they knew many dances by heart, and they walked through many intricate moves in their sleep.

So I ask the question: would a group of 21st Century Americans be able to handle an 18th Century cotillion, with choruses and verses of figures?

See for yourself in this vacation video from Colonial Williamsburg:

Oh let us be merciful. Let us give them one more chance.

I assure you, things will not be this complicated at the George Washington Ball!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

My Lady, You Look Fabulous!

Dearest Dancing Friends, it's nearly time for another of my favourite balls of the year: The George Washington Ball is this coming Saturday!

As your humble servant kicks off a weeklong tribute, let's start in the wardrobe. A fancy ball deserves your fanciest attire, especially if you're nobility. Let's watch as the Colonial Williamsburg seamstresses fit Her Ladyship into a new gown for a ball held in her honour:

Now, listen as Lady Dunmore -- or the lady who interprets Her Ladyship -- tells us more about what that ball was like:

I have danced in 18th Century attire inside the Old Capitol in Williamsburg -- for five minutes. My dream one day is to dance for much longer there. Until then, I'll just have to settle for this -- a look at the annual George Washington Ball in Williamsburg:

Friday, February 11, 2011

Talking To Myself

A friend recently asked: "If you could say anything to the 20-year-old version of YOU... what would you say to yourself?"

This is my reply:

"You will not believe this, but trust me. You are a repressed 18th Century gentleman. Put down that can of pepper spray; I'm serious here.

"I know your freshman history class was a major drag, but you're not learning it the right way. I want you to check out Williamsburg. Just go. You didn't really get it when you went there with Mom and Dad and your brother in 1986, but I think you will now. You have this quiet idealism about you, something inside that makes you want to believe things are really better than everybody else says that they are. You need to be in a place were people celebrate what's good about life and living in a free country, regardless of what people are grousing about around MU right now. Two words: living history. I want you to find people who enjoy doing that and ask how they got into it.

"Remember how you told your girlfriend Jessica that you would like to go to a costume ball one of these days? I want you to find one and go for it. Dress up in the finest Colonial outfit you can rent: long coat, knee socks, tricorn, the whole smack. You know you want to do it, but you don't because you're afraid what happened to you in middle school will happen again. You think a lady -- especially one your age -- will never love you because you're too out of touch with everyone else. I am telling you're wrong, and it's because you haven't found the right circle of friends who are focused on the right things.

"Remember when you were just beginning your sophomore year, and some folks from one of the campus ministries invited you to a moonlight game of Capture the Flag? You went and you liked it. Then they invited you to church. You shoulda gone. Well, it's not too late. I want you to know this: GOD loves you. HE always does. Even if you don't notice it. HE'S trying to get through to you through a back channel.

"I want you to go back to church, not just any church, but the right church. Those Presbyterians are good people, but they're not addressing the questions you have. They're a PC and you're a Mac. Well, yeah, you're more like an Commodore Amiga, but you get it. Find a youth church with people your age who are seeking and need answers to the way GOD really works. When you were 13, you took a confirmation class and wrote a credo to become an official Presbyterian, but it didn't help you a lick spiritually. All it did was give you a lesson on how to flatter the right people. But more than that, I'm telling you there's a difference between going to church and having a right relationship with GOD. If you stay on your present course, you're going to be in your 30's before somebody explains that to you. Then they're going to pray with you outside a fast-food joint in Phoenix. Don't ask questions, man, just hear me out.

"Keep pursuing that journalism degree, but I want you to think hard about the TV business and what it could do to you. You're still in college. You've got options. Broaden your career menu and see what else is out there besides something network-affiliated. I'm not saying you're about to make a bad career choice; I'm just saying there will come a time when you wonder whether you chose a career that really fit you or not. I think if you start whetting your appetite for history and getting back to GOD, you're going to see things in a whole new way, and that's going to have you rethinking your day job. Have no fear: you can still be successful and make good money, but you'll have more satisfaction.

"Back to your girlfriend. Don't let other people dictate your love life. I know they don't now, so don't change your mind. If you start going back to church and hanging out with people who really know what's going on in your heart, that proverbial "right girl" will find you. Even if she doesn't, don't worry. I am telling you will derive much pleasure from being GOD's unmarried servant, and in doing so, you will realize that what the world defines as love is sorely lacking.

"I've got to warn you about some quirks that are going to happen when you follow all of this advice. You are going to start wearing three-cornered hats in public. You're going to start bowing to people. Don't let other people make you think it's weird. They're the ones into the grunge scene and the angst of youth. Where do these people get off defining normal? You seem to enjoy being this nonconformist. So be nonconformist in a positive direction. That tricorn is a symbol of revolution, right? So have your own revolution. Be the change you'd like to see in other people.

"There's a lot I could reveal to you about what will happen, good and bad, but it's pointless to tell you about it now because your decisions from this point forward will alter the timelines and create this alternate reality that I pray will be better than the one you're currently traveling on. Remember that scene in Back To The Future Part II where Doc is explaining the rift in the time-space continuum and how things got all messed up. For Marty it was a bad thing, but for you it's a better thing because I'm telling you how to avoid doing some of the things you wish people would've warned you about at this time in your life.

"I'm not going to save you from your mistakes because that's impossible. You don't have to be afraid about anything. You just have to realize it's time to be the person GOD designed you to be."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

You Can't Buy Indulgences Any More, Either

A lot of people have been misunderstanding the intentions of an iPad/iPod "Confession App" developed by a group of Catholics in South Bend, Indiana. The Vatican says it is no substitute for confessing your sins to a priest, but that was never the intention. The app is a checklist for remembering what you need to confess, something to be taken into that dark, curtained room when you go through the process.

I can imagine, though, that this would make for some awkward moments.

"Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been 2 weeks since my last confession. I confess I have taken the LORD's name in vain twice and--"


"My son, what is that?"

"I'm sorry, Father, I have to take this..."

And can you imagine an iPad with you in the booth?

"My son, you have an interesting glow about you..."

"Oh that, Father, it's the LCD."

"The what?"

"My iPad. I'm trying out this confession app."

"Sweet Mother of Necessity, must you bring that in here?"

"It's to jog my my mind about what I need to confess to you."

"My son, I want you to say three Hail Marys, three Our Fathers, and take a memory-enhancement course!"

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Not Fair

The New York Times reports while President Obama talks about a "Sputnik Moment," school science fairs are waning. The problem -- too much else to do:
One obvious reason for flagging interest in science fairs is competing demands for high school students' extracurricular attention. But many educators said they wished the projects were deemed important enough to devote class time to them, which is difficult for schools whose federal funding hinges on improving math and reading test scores. Under the main federal education law, schools must achieve proficiency in math and reading by 2014, or risk sanctions.

The Obama administration has urged broadening the subjects tested under the law -- possibly including science. But some teachers say they are already burdened by state requirements to teach a wide range of facts -- say, the parts of a cell -- which prevents them from devoting class time to research projects.
Maybe it's time we rethink the whole "fair" concept. Instead of showing off knowledge for a panel of judges, why not find a real-world application for a team of students and let them go for it?

A bunch of kids interested in electronics can help design and build a phone system or an office computer network for a non-profit group. The students interested in human can shadow and work with nurse practitioners at health screenings. Earth science and meteorology junkies could team up and form their own school forecast lab, using the same freely available data the National Weather Service looks at every day. More internships would help.

At the end of a science fair, a student is left with a prize -- or maybe not -- and hopefully a sense of fulfillment from exploring a curiosity. With some flexibility and imagination, many more of us could reap benefits from that.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

In Pursuit Of "Happiness"

People in the land of Carnival are apparently afraid they could wake up one morning and find their "happiness" gone. Thus, some legislators in Brazil want to write it into their Constitution:
"In Brazil, we've had economic growth without the social growth hoped for," said Mauro Motoryn, the director of the Happier Movement, a non-governmental organization backing the legislation. "With the constitutional amendment, we want to provoke discussion, to seek approval for the creation of conditions in which social rights are upheld."

Similar explorations of officially finding happiness have been pushed by other governments. Both Japan and South Korea include the right to happiness in their constitutions, and earlier this month, the British government detailed plans to begin a $3 million project to measure citizens' well being.
Context, of course, is everything. The U.S. concept of "the pursuit of happiness" isn't found in our Constitution, but in our Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Our patriotic ancestors in the three-cornered hats and wigs were telling us government exists to protect our GOD-given rights, and when a government tries to take those rights away, it's the government that's got to go... not those rights.

You won't hear the "pursuit of happiness" mentioned in the Constitution. However, you'll see it alluded to in the preamble:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Insuring "domestic Tranquility," promoting the "general Welfare," and securing the "Blessings of Liberty" are defining the "pursuit of happiness."

One can say, "We want happy citizens," but how does a government do that? Thankfully, our Constitution is an excellent framework of boundaries.
"Happiness isn't a game, people confuse it with something that is superfluous and it isn't," [Motoryn] said. "We need quality health care, which we don't have. We need quality education, which we don't have.

"It's about creating conditions for people to pursue happiness, but with training, with knowledge, preparing us to be a more advanced society in the future."
Well said.