Sunday, February 26, 2012

Thoughts on the Oscars 2012

The Oscar crowd were obviously glad to see Billy Crystal back as M/C, warm smiles all round. Back in the comfort zone after Ricky Gervais's stunts at the Globes. Something tells me that Ricky won't get an Oscar nod any time soon unless he cleans up his act. Billy's opening segment was well done but similar to what he has done at previous Oscar ceremonies, skits inserting the comic into the various leading nominated movies. Amusing and went down like ice cream. Acceptable. Just what the Academy ordered.


The stunt pulled by Sacha Baron Cohen appearing on the Red Carpet in his role of the bemedalled, long-bearded Gadaffi-like dictator in shades to promote his upcoming movie was edgier, particularly as the comic contrived to spill the ashes from a golden urn allegedly containing late North Korean Kim Jong-il's ashes on Ryan Seacrest's tuxedo. That will provoke protests from the North Koreans I should think. Ugly. The Oscar organizers were probably wise to have first said no to Cohen's proposal to appear in costume and should not have caved. They only left themselves open to such an incident.

Sacha Baron Cohen Sacha Baron Cohen, promoting his upcoming film, "The Dictator," attended the Academy Awards carrying an urn of what he claimed to be "Kim Jong-il’s ashes."

As expected, "The Artist" and "Hugo" swept many of the awards and Meryl Streep ("The Iron Lady") edged out Viola Davis ("The Help") for Best Actress in something of a shock. It was nice to see Octavia Spencer from "The Help" for Best Supporting Actress, about which she was entirely overcome. A bit of real emotion among the artificial. Jean Dujardin, whom some are calling the French George Clooney, won for Best Actor for "The Artist."

Meryl Streep, with her win as leading actress for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady," has become the third actor to win three Oscars. The others are Jack Nicholson, Ingrid Bergman, and Walter Brennan, who each won three. Katharine Hepburn won four. The win by "The Artist" as best film is the first win by a silent picture since "Wings" in 1929.

It will be interesting to see if Dujardin can go on to have success in English language "talkies." I bet with that million dollar smile, he can do it.

I thought the decision to have chamber musicians in the balcony to add spice to introduce the segments was interesting and different.

I have some more thoughts about the movies in general and this year's crop on my blog over at Eratosphere at "My Left Foot . . . . and Smelly Dog." Check it out.

Monday, February 20, 2012

. . . and nothing but the truth

Tower of London Traitors Gate

The above view, taken from an early twentieth century postcard, shows Traitors' Gate at the Tower of London, through which visitors to the London tourist attraction are told, prisoners were escorted from the waterside of the River Thames and up the steps on their way to imprisonment in the Tower and possible execution.

Among the prisoners that the doughty black and scarlet-clad Tudor uniformed "Beefeaters" or Yeoman Guards at the Tower inform tourists were led through the gate were Henry VII's second wife Anne Boleyn, who would be executed at the block within the grounds of the ancient Royal castle, and, at a later date, her daughter, the future great Elizabeth I of England, the "Virgin Queen." Stirring history indeed!

Unfortunately, though, it isn't true that those pathetic prisoners, traitors, ex- or future queens and courtiers who has lost favor with the monarch, came that way, according to Dr. Geoffrey Parnell, former historian at the fortress. Dr. Parnell also says in an article in the latest issue of Ripperologist that the location of the block where Anne is said to have lost her head is wrong as well. Oh dear.

Not only that but the famous story that countless visitors have been told over the decades that the famous ravens of the Tower of London have been there for centuries is also a manufactured myth maintains Dr. Parnell in his article, "Riddle of the Tower Ravens Almost Resolved," in Ripperologist 124. Any evidence that ravens have lived at the Tower for centuries is either meager or non-existent. Indeed, the likelihood seems to be that the ravens were given to the Tower by a Lord Dunraven in the nineteenth century. Yes, you read that right, Lord Dunraven. Nonetheless, as Dr. Parnell says, "Visitors to the fortress are told that as long as there has been a Tower there has been a contingent of ravens within the walls" -- the supposed hoary legend being that if the ravens ever left the Tower it would fall.

Dr. Parnell, says, "It is clear that even today much of the popular history on offer at the Tower owes more to the nineteenth-century story telling than historical research." But it makes for exciting and exhilerating history to tell it that way, doesn't it?

As for the story about the Traitors' Gate aka "Watergate", that seems also to be a nineteenth century invention as well.

Dr. Parnell writes: "visitors are shown the stairs leading down to Traitors' Gate and told that the future Elizabeth I of England stopped and protested her innocence on the steps as she entered the fortress as a prisoner during Mary’s reign. In fact the stairs were introduced in 1806 when the waterfilled basin was remodelled and partially infilled. In any event it is known from contemporary accounts that Princess Elizabeth landed at the Privy Stairs towards the west end of the Wharf and that she entered the Tower via the bridge at the Byward Barbican."

Dr. Parnell tells us, "I have studied Tower documents of all sorts for over thirty-five years and I have never come across any official reference to the transportation of state prisoners through the 'Watergate' and up the stairs leading out of the back of the water-filled basin beyond. In fact, the extant basin and stairs were only laid out in 1806 while references to the earlier arrangement (now buried beneath Water Lane) dating from the reign of Queen Mary in the sixteenth century refer to women inhabitants of the castle damaging the stairs by battering their washing on the steps while others laid excrement."


Seeing as it is Presidents Day. I cannot finish without addressing the old story of George Washington and the cherry tree. Of course, the story is part and parcel of the whole mythos about the first American president, and it goes as follows: as a boy, George cut down one of a cherry tree on his father's land. When confronted by his dad, he said, "I cannot tell a lie, father, you know I cannot tell a lie!"

George Washington and the Cherry Tree
The tale, as it was intended to when it was invented, makes Washington sound like a very virtuous person. But the story seems to have been totally made up from whole cloth by a Parson Weems in the early nineteenth century. As you can see, the nineteenth century, with its cloying romantic notions, has much to answer for!

Here's the lowdown on Weems and the tale about wee George and the cherry tree from "The Moral Washington: Construction of a Legend (1800-1920s)" by Adriana Rissetto:

"The story of Washington and the Cherry Tree, a tale which still lingers through probably every grammar school in the U.S., was invented by a parson named Mason Locke Weems in a biography of Washington published directly after his death. Saturated with tales of Washington's selflessness and honesty, A History of the Life and Death, Virtues and Exploits, of General George Washington(1800) and The Life of George Washington, with Curious Anecdotes Laudable to Himself and Exemplary to his Countrymen (1806) supplied the American people with flattering (and often rhyming) renditions of the events that shaped their hero. Weems imagined everything from Washington's childhood transgression and repentence to his apotheosis when 'at the sight of him, even those blessed spirits seem[ed] to feel new raptures' (Weems, 60). According to historian Karal Ann Marling, Weems was struggling to 'flesh out a believable and interesting figure. . . to humanize Washington' who had been painted as 'cold and colorless' in an earlier, poorly-selling biography. While it is likely that some readers of the time questioned the authenticity of the tales, Weems' portraits soared in popularity in the early 1800s."

On my blog over at Eratosphere, I blogged last week on "All About Mitt... and What the One Hand Doesn't Know the Other Hand Is Doing." Check it out. Also don't forget my new War of 1812 blog.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine for Whitney

Smithsonian Roses

Whitney Houston had an angel voice, for sure;
abuse, a drug like a brutal man, demands more.
Now with the angels she sleeps
and her fans and friends weep.


Never more hungry
all desires satisfied
oh, what ecstasy!

Having hands to love
we should all be so lucky
feel that loving touch

Their mother aches
while the husband holds
the kittens aloft.*

Is it just a glitch
are we really in the ditch
feel free speak up

Twiddle your thumb
I will eagerly await
your sweet tweet

to give your love:
too much unhappiness
exists in the world right now; be

We share
all our passion
for poetry, kindness:
we long to see both spread throughout
the earth.

That high
won't last, my child
-- not any high that is
artificially induced.
Get straight.

Christopher T. George

The Fab Four

* These poor little babies are orphans.

witters on the My Liverpool forum wrote:

I wonder what these little kittens think, I'm up at all hour's at the moment.
We look after them for a local Rescue centre.
They are called the Fab four yes John Ringo Paul and John even though one's a girl.
They were dumped at the gate.
My husband is holding them in the pic.

Thanks to witters for allowing me to use her photograph, and congratulations to witters and her husband for the outstanding work they do to rescue and care for such cats.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Baltimore in Winter

Purple flamingo in Baltimore snow

Purple flamingo in Baltimore snow last year.

Bird City

The Orioles play
in orange 'n' black,

and tho' Ravens are black,
our team wears purple.

Folk got purple flamingoes
on their lawns and porches.

My Gloves

I am wearing black gloves,
one wool and one leather;

they keep me warm
as snow sifts down.

I may remove one
if I feel the urge

to write a poem.

Christopher T. George

Flattened glove 3
Flattened glove in a Baltimore gutter.


Lord, are we finished with winter?
Daffodils dance near my D.C. office,

herons repair their nests by
the Anacostia River, getting ready

to rear a new crop of youngsters.
All of Mankind longs for Spring.
Will you give it to us, Lord?

Christopher T. George

Filthy Baltimore Snow Feb 20 2009 f
Filthy Baltimore Snow Feb 20 2009 e
Filthy Baltimore snow, in February 2010.
All photographs by Christopher T. George.
As some of you may recall, I broke my left ankle
on February 1, 2011, so February snows are not
a pleasant memory for me! See my blog posting
of March 9, 2011, from which I reprise the

Baltimore snow Jan 2011 B

Baltimore snow Jan 2011 A

Donna's purple flamingoes in the snow

Winter Breaks

I negotiate our brick front
steps on my crutch, notice
the blond ragged stubs
of the white dogwood, snapped

by the weight of January's
heavy snow, clear proof
that I am not the only
victim of winter, here where
I slid and crumpled down

the black-iced steps, splitting
my distal fibula like a twig.
Oh, dogwood, oh, soul-mate,
I'll miss your bridal blossoms
we lost in that thundersnow!

Getting Dopplered

My shin gored by the bull of winter,
left leg still blown up twice its size
where I fractured my distal fibula,
I go for a doppler to rule out DVT.

The gell freezing cold as the day I fell,
she says, "Usually we have it warm."
Great to hear! From my groin to my toes,
she thrusts the doppler probe

close to the family jewels.
"Ee-ooh!" I cry.
"I know!" she says.
"No! You don't!"

Christopher T. George

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Just the Facts, Ma'am

Battle of Long Island

The Delaware Regiment at the Battle of Long Island, 27 August 1776. Domenick D'Andrea for the U.S. National Guard (public domain).

Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, fresh from his triumphs in the GOP primary in Florida and the Nevada caucus, leaving former House speaker Newt Gingrich in the dust on both occasions, said the following yesterday:

"We are the only people on the Earth that put our hand over our heart during the playing of the national anthem. It was FDR who asked us to do that, in honor of the blood that was being shed by our sons and daughters in far-off places."

A short piece in today's Washington Post finds fault with this statement on several bases.

First of all, the writer, Glenn Kessler, expresses amazement that Romney, who ran the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, doesn't remember seeing athletes of other countries besides those of the United States putting their hands over their hearts during the playing of their national anthems. Maybe he has a short memory!

Second, there is no evidence that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt himself said that Americans should put their hands on their hearts during the playing or singing of the national anthem. True, the U.S. Flag Code does call for citizens to place their hand over their hearts both during the Pledge of Allegiance and the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner." But that comes from a directive at the time of World War II in 1942 when the United States was at war with Nazi Germany.  It was felt that the old salute looked too much like the Nazi salute! Get those hands down.

According to Kessler, who had an email communication with Richard J. Ellis, a professor at Williamette College, and author of To the Flag: The Unlikely History of the Pledge of Allegiance, there is no evidence whatsoever that FDR himself asked that Americans put their hands over their hearts during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner or the Pledge of Allegiance. So those are the facts, my friends. For more go to

I was reading yesterday on the Maryland State Archives website about the origin of the term "The Maryland Line" for the Maryland troops of the American Revolution.  Here we come across more myth and misinformation.  Read on. . . .

The legend is that the first U.S. president, General George Washington, conferred the name "The Maryland Line" because of his gratitude for the bravery of the 400 Maryland soldiers who protected the rear of his army at the time of the Battle of Brooklyn (aka Battle of Long Island) in August 1776, when they saved the American army by themselves taking grievous losses while his troops withdrew across the Gowanus Creek ahead of a massive army of Redcoats, saving General Washington's bacon and likely that of the nascent United States as well.

In fact, according to Ryan Polk, Research Archivist at the Maryland State Archives in a 2005 article, "Holding the Line: The Origin of 'the Old Line State'", while it does seem as if the name "Maryland Line" was indeed a name conferred on the Maryland Troops for their bravery and does date first from the time of the Battle of Brooklyn, there is no evidence in anything that Washington wrote to prove that he came up with the name. I had suspected that the name might also have some relationship to the a nickname for Maryland as "The Old Line State" which I had thought had to do with the Mason-Dixon Line, which of course is the dividing line between Maryland and Pennsylvania and also the technical divide between the rebel "South" and the "North" in the Civil War.

However, Mr. Polk writes: "Though the first use of the name remains elusive, the history of the name does not support a relationship to the Mason-Dixon line. Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon finished surveying their boundary line by 1768. No hint of the name appeared before the Maryland Line fought in the Battle of Long Island on 27 August 1776."

So there you have it my friends, Just the Facts, Ma'am!

Your App Doesn't Love You

I stepped out of the cab into a river
of cold storm water this morning;
now at lunchtime, sun, brisk breeze,
the yellow blossoms of daffodils nod.

I walk up the hill toward the hotel,
see cops with dogs, reminder of
the Jihad-fearing times we live in--

over the trees, the white dome
of Thomas Jefferson's memorial;
the Post prints his hand-written
list of slaves he owned; beyond--

the monument to Martin Luther King
lies hidden across the Tidal Basin.

Christopher T. George

* This poem was written at the end of January.
A couple of hours later around 3:15 pm, I
received an email to say that the Secret Service
were closing off 12th Street and that we better
leave. Don't know what it was about... maybe a
visiting dignitary or Biden going to meet someone?

War of 1812 Talk by Christopher T. George

BRITISH REAR ADMIRAL GEORGE COCKBURN ATTACKS HAVRE DE GRACE – MAY 3, 1813 – NEW FINDINGS, Wednesday, February 8, 2012, 7:30 P.M. Historical Society of Harford County Headquarters, 143 North Main Street (at the corner of Main and Gordon Streets), Bel Air, Maryland. Sponsored by the Archeological Society of Northern Chesapeake (ASNC). No Charge.  Note: Archeological Society meeting starts at 6:30 P.M.

Also see a new blog I have started at

And a new entry on my Jack the Ripper blog at -- I am on TV tonight in Canada.  Check the blog out!