Friday, August 24, 2012

Gene Kelly, Monkeys. Republicans, and Ignorance

Yesterday would have been Gene Kelly’s 100th birthday.

I’m the first to admit that I have never seen either of Kelly’s 2 most famous films: Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris, although I have seen clips of the former, mostly of his performance of the movie’s titular activity. I’m sure everyone has.

But he appeared in another movie that he is probably far less well-known for: The 1960 movie Inherit the Wind. The movie also starred Spencer Tracy and Frederic March, both of whom were Oscar-winning actors and who were both in the twilight of their movie careers. The movie also starred a pre-M*A*S*H Harry Morgan and a pre-Bewitched Dick York, as well as a pre-“Sheriff Lobo” Claude Akins.

The movie is based on the play co-written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee (no relation to the Confederate General). It centers around the trial of a schoolteacher (York) who was arrested for breaking a state law banning the teaching of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, and who is prosecuted by a renowned state attorney (Matthew Harrison Brady, played by March) and defended by an equally renowned defense attorney (Henry Drummond, played by Tracy.) Kelly played the part of journalist E.K. Hornbeck, a caustic, cynical, far-from-neutral observer of the trial.

The play and subsequent movie versions were inspired by the events surrounding the famous “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925. Brady and Drummond were based on real-life lawyers William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, respectively, and the character of Hornbeck was based on journalist H.L. Mencken who covered the real-life trial. The original play, however, makes no mention of the state of Tennessee or its then on-the-books law against the teaching of evolution. The production notes for the play simply state that it takes place in “A small town” and at a time “not too long ago”.

The 1960 movie version has become one of my favorite films. I first became interested in the film and the events it was based on after seeing a made-for-TV version starring Kirk Douglas and Jason Robards. This version was somewhat mediocre, despite the talents of both men. But it’s really the play that interests me. I’ve seen a few versions, and even managed to wrangle a bit part for myself in a performance given by a local amateur troupe (2 appearances, 4 short lines.)

The trial and even the law itself became a public joke to most of the rest of the country, aided in no small part by the reporting of Mencken, who took every opportunity to belittle the state, the town, the local populace, and the prosecution team in print. There is even some speculation that the town of Dayton, Tennessee staged the whole thing as a publicity stunt, albeit one that grew wildly out of control, to drum up revenue for the local businesses.

Although both Tracy and March gave fine performances (Tracy received an Oscar nomination), it was, in my opinion, Kelly’s caustic performance as the cynical Hornbeck that drove home – to me, at least – just how silly the entire thing was. Perhaps it was simply jarring to see the usually genial Kelly portraying someone so abrasive and unlikable, and that made his part all the more noticeable. More likely, however, it was the way the character laughed at the nonsensical nature of the trial itself, and at how ridiculous the cause of the Prosecution team, the state government, and even the citizens themselves, was.

The refusal of someone to listen to anything they don’t want to hear was and is nothing new. An astonishing number of these incidents involve religion. Galileo was punished by the Catholic church for daring to suggest that the Earth revolved around the sun. Thousands were put to death by the Inquisition because they refused to acknowledge there was only one “acceptable” religion. Darwin himself was threatened with death for his research.

And next week, an entire Political Party will assemble under a platform that denies the existence of global warming, denies that women have any rights, and encourages the teaching of “intelligent design”, which is Creationism in a fancy suit. The scary part? These people have a better than average chance of ending up running the country for at least the next four years.

Somewhere, H.L. Mencken is laughing his ass off at us.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Adventures on the City Bus

I don’t ride the Toledo city bus any more. Allow me to explain.

Years ago, when I first started in my job, I began riding the bus to work. It seemed ideal to me at the time. After all, there’s a bus stop half a block away from my house, and the route drops me off literally across the street from where I work. It’s also cheaper than daily parking ($2 round trip, as opposed to $4, $5, or even as much as $6 per day to park downtown). And I saved the gas money, as well as car wear and tear.

Also, with someone else driving, I was free to read or listen to morning news on the radio. And the bus ran on time, more or less.

Eventually, however, I found a lot only 3 blocks away from my workplace where I could park daily for only $30 per month (the cost of a parking space in downtown T-Town is inversely proportional to its distance from the center of downtown). It made more economic sense: Monthly bus fees: $56. Monthly parking fees: $30. Even buying tokens, which cost 10 cents less per trip, saved me only $2.80 per month. And, for those inevitable times when I needed to drive to work, I would be stuck with the higher daily parking fee.

So I quit riding the bus. My car was simply more convenient. Ta heck with the environment, ah needs mah car!

At any rate, TARTA (Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority), the Toledo area’s bus system, is hopelessly inadequate. You see, Toledo is a small town trapped in a big city. It is not large enough to require a major mass transit system, and far too spread out to operate one efficiently (or profitably).

Also, there are 3 large cities in Ohio, and Toledo isn’t one of them. Those 3 cities, (Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland, often referred to as simply “the three C’s”), while they may be politically and ideologically different, are inextricably connected by a vast money belt that has 3 buckles that land in those 3 cities, from the southwest to the northeast corner. These 3 cities receive the bulk of state money, while the cities and towns outside the reach of that money belt scrabble among themselves for the scraps left behind.

Toledo often gets the fuzzy end of that lollipop, being a reliably Democratic-leaning city in a State controlled for years by a mostly Republican legislature and far too often a Republican Governor. What money we do receive from the state often goes to the far wealthier (and Republican) suburbs. So Toledo is usually on its own as far as money goes. And in bad economic times, Toledo suffers.

Which brings me, in my usual roundabout way, to my point: There is no money to improve on the city’s mass transit system (or anything else for that matter).

And it needs improvement! Most bus routes haven’t changed in decades. Every bus route still leads to the downtown area, despite the fact that nearly every business once located in downtown Toledo either went out of business or moved out to the suburban areas decades ago. The only people who still work downtown every day are the poor government schlubs (like me) or the people who provide them with food, drinks, or other services. Walk down any downtown street after 6 p.m. (when there’s no baseball or hockey game on) and you may not meet another person during your entire walk.

So being forced to take a bus downtown is silly. And if you want to travel from one part of the Toledo area to another, you must first take one bus downtown, transfer to another bus, and then repeat the process on the way back. A trip that you could drive in 20 minutes can easily take up to two hours by bus. And forget about taking a bus anywhere on a weekend. If you’re going to try, take a book. I might suggest War and Peace.

So TARTA needs a serious revamp. It’s gotten so bad that some suburbs are threatening to pull out of the system completely. One already has.

The problem is the money to overhaul the system does not exist. It’s barely making ends meet right now. And it survives at its current level by a continuous series of tax levies, which must be approved by voters every few years. And fewer and fewer voters are seeing the value of the current system.

A couple of years ago, a medical issue forced me to stop driving for 3 months on doctor’s orders (I was actually lucky – most states would’ve kept me from behind the wheel for a year. Or more.) So I got stuck riding TARTA to work again. It served to remind me of why I didn’t miss riding it.

I’ve ridden buses in cities with mass transit systems that worked well. I know it can be done. But the money and the will to do it have to be there. TARTA lacks both.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

They Said it Better Than I Ever Could, Cont. (TSIBTIEC)

A recurring feature of this blog is something that I refer to in the title of this post. It doesn't happen often, but I sometimes come across people on the internet who say what I am thinking far better than I ever could.

Here is another example, presented without further comment.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Why I Keep Doing it.

Why do I do it?

For over 8 years now, I’ve been writing ceaselessly on this blog, sometimes as frequently as twice a day (or more), sometimes as infrequently as once a month (or more – see date of entry below). But I am always. Writing. Something.

And I have to ask myself: Why?

I make frequent humorous references to the 3 people who read this blog, but I know that I am fooling myself. There are literally MILLIONS of blogs out there, in every possible language. A Yahoo! search for “voice in the crowd” doesn’t locate this humble blog anywhere on the first ten results pages (I didn’t look any further than that), nor does searching for “voice in the crowd blog” find me. Even the name I chose is far from unique, as dozens of blogs have the same name, or some variation of the same name. And this blog really isn't advertised. Anywhere.

So why continue to slog on?

It is really not a secret: I like it.

I simply like the fact that, at any time the mood may strike me, if I have something to say, I can write it. And, as soon as I do, what I have said will instantly be committed to the memory of that great thing known as the internet, where once something is there, it will always be there, despite the best efforts of whomever may seek to obliterate it as some point in the future. The internet is forever, my friends. Just ask Paris Hilton.

It’s also a good place to vent. And since I am highly unlikely to ever seek fame or political office, I can say what I want with impunity. And, if someone somewhere down the line does take offense at something I say, I have two words for them: Tough. Shit. If you don’t like what I have to say, don’t read it.

And of course, the best part is that I don’t have to be particularly eloquent. While I may go back and revise and edit a few parts of each entry here and there, it’s mostly what you see is what you get.

So I will continue. For however long this completely free service remains available to me. Feel free to read it. Or not.