Friday, May 21, 2010

By Larry Favinger
Staff Columnist

There was a lot of information revealed to Berwick Academy students last week by James B. Smith, a retired Air Force general, now the United States Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
One of the most unexpected is the increasing role of women in that oil-rich country and their impact on the country’s daily life and future.
Ambassador Smith, who served as assistant deputy commander for operations of the 4404th Provisional Wing stationed at Dhahran Air Base in Saudi Arabia, flying several combat sorties during Desert Storm during the Gulf War, noted that more than 60 percent of that country’s college enrollment is women, and last year more than 50 percent of the college graduates were women.
In addition there are more than 27,000 Saudis attending colleges in the United States.
“Young women want to contribute to the stability of their country,” he said, noting the growing influence of women. He said King Abdullah is especially influenced by his wife and daughters as he “drags his country kicking and screaming into the 21st century.”
A prime example of this trend is the establishment of a Women’s Empowerment Center in the middle of one of the most conservative towns in the country.
Ambassador Smith, a native of Salem, N.H., whose niece attends Berwick Academy, talked about a wide range of topics including the need for stability in the Middle East.
He told the students to learn about Yemen. That country is, he said, beset by internal unrest while at the same time out of both oil and water. “Your generation will know Yemen,” he said.
Smith, who was appointed to his position by President Obama, said the United States will continue to “stand up for Israel” but added that the Palestinians also “deserve a homeland.”
The basic problem, he said, was that the Palestinians want a homeland and Israel wants security and one will never happen without the other. Agreements in this area must be based on “respect and trust” and in order for that to occur “the people of the region have to recognize the right of the others to live there.”
Settlement is possible, he said, but the window will not last forever.
“I must be the new guy,” Ambassador Smith said, “because I’m still optimistic.”
The nuclear issue in Iran is also a front burner item because if Iran manages to become a nuclear power, five or six other nations in the region will follow that lead. The ambassador noted that President Obama is working for a nuclear free world and that makes the negotiations with Iran so important.
Ambassador Smith said the relationship between the Saudis and the United States began years ago and was based on oil for security, but over the intervening years that relationship has become “infinitely more complicated.”
He and his family have found the Saudis to be “a wonderfully warm people” and he stressed the “need for a close relationship” with them. One of his goals on his current trip is to establish a student exchange program, which would have American students traveling to Saudi Arabia and living there for a specific period of time while the Saudi counterparts are living and learning in the United States.
Despite their vast resources of oil, the Saudis are extremely active in the areas of alternative fuels and have had about the same progress as the United States.
“They are deeply committed to an alternative energy program,” he said, noting the government there wants to reduce the use of oil so it can be conserved and sold to other countries.
“We need an energy dialogue” with the Saudis, he said.
Ambassador Smith concluded by telling the students they “are much better (prepared) to face the world than I was. Involve yourself in something to make a difference.”
Photo caption: U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James B. Smith. (Courtesy photo)

Hollywood Exposed

By Chip Schrader
Book Review Editor
Bestselling author Chuck Palahniuk is best known for his novel “Fight Club,” which was adapted into a cult film fueled by gratuitous violence shot at a dazzling pace. His signature style is disjointed and involves characters living lives of depravity and profanity, so it was only a matter of time he’d be tackling the golden era of Hollywood. “Tell-All” is Palahniuk’s latest release set in a Hollywood when everything is left up to the imagination, including the lives of the stars. Those unfamiliar with his work might have seen his name during his stop at Portsmouth’s River Run Books two weeks ago reading from this book.
The first chapter depicts bizarre imagery that establishes the grotesque tone and characterization that resonates throughout the book, it is a scene from the play that is to reignite the career of the main character. The narrator Hazie Coogan is actress Katherine “Miss Kathie” Kenton’s assistant, who insists her life’s purpose is to preserve the actress’ glamour and glitz, although the reader might find the assistant herself has objectified this woman into a sort of walking and breathing shrine. The Chanel No. 5, cosmetic surgery addictions, and spouse hopping brings the reader to recall Mommy Dearest, Sunset Boulevard, and Elizabeth Taylor.
As with all social criticism, this book uses yesterday to put a mirror to today’s climate. As we see the nauseating use of pills, cosmetics, eating disorders, and promiscuity, we see clearly the reigning Queens of the TMI (or TMZ) generation: Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears, to name a few.
As this book review generously drops names, Hazie and Miss Kathie drop names like a German blitzkrieg. Palahniuk’s name dropping continually jars the reader from catching the torrid storyline revealing that the best weapon in a speaker’s arsenal is distraction. All through, there are little goings on and descriptions that are worthy of shudders and cringes, but the bold referencing of Walter Winchell or Lillian Hellman immediately jerks the mind away from the unsavory imagery.
The second half of the novel focuses on the graphic love affair depicted in Webster Carlton Westward’s own tell all book that Miss Kathie seems to find handily as each revision shows a different grizzly demise for Miss Kathie. As her paranoia ensues, her career seems to get a second wind with the bizarre play of Miss Kathie playing Lillian Hellman fighting in WWII. All the while, Webster goes ragged with the ongoing domestic battles.
The prose is rugged with ideas and side notes interjected with a kaleidoscopic narration that weaves between a personal account and a faux screenplay that plays heavily with symbolism, wordplay and satire. This is not unusual for Palahniuk as he carries on the legacy of Kurt Vonnegut’s brand of shock satire, as his style and influences are best likened to Fusion Jazz. The wrongly attributed quotes and mistranslations are hilarious as the words seem to mock everything, including themselves, but also construct a very serious dialog about the roots of contemporary culture.
Photo caption: Cover of “Tell All” by Chuck Palahniuk. (Courtesy photo)

A Horse is a Horse, Of Course, Of Course. Unless…

By Larry Favinger
Staff Columnist
Since the birth of what may be the smallest horse ever born in Barnstead, N.H., there is increased curiosity about miniature horses.
“They’re actual horses,” Lynn Baker of Little Brook Farm in Arundel said in a telephone interview this week. “The only difference is the size.”
Baker said miniature horses can be divided into two categories, Class A (30 to 34 inches in height) and Class B (34 to 38 inches in height). She noted that miniatures are measured in inches while horses are measured in hands, each hand about four inches.
Einstein, the pinto born at Tiz A Miniature Horse Farm owned by Judy Smith in Barnstead, was six pounds and 14 inches when born a few weeks ago.
“He’s doing great,” Charles Cantrell, one of his owners said in a telephone interview this week. “He’s an extremely healthy young man. We’re giving him everything he needs.”
Cantrell and Dr. Rachel Wagner, the other owner, expect Einstein to be between 17 to 22 inches tall when he’s fully grown in about two years.
The owners have begun the long, arduous process of qualifying Einstein with Guinness as the world’s smallest horse.
Baker said miniatures were bred originally “to work in the mines” because there was a need for a “strong, very sturdy horse to pull the carts out of the mines.”
She said “you can do everything you do with a full size horse, except adults can’t ride them.”
Baker, who has three miniatures and a mare who is expected to foal in the near future, said miniatures “are wonderful for kids” and while they need care, they are not as hard to care for as a full-size horse. They still require the same kinds of care. They make great pets.”
Baker said she has “always been in love with horses” but due to arthritis and joint disease, full-size animals would be hard for her to handle. That’s not the case with miniatures.
One problem with the miniatures, she said, is a tendency to become obese if not properly fed and exercised. Another problem, she said, is dwarfism.
Einstein has received a full examination from specialists, Cantrell said, to assure his safety. He said he and Dr. Wagner are aware of how rare a horse Einstein is and they consider his birth “an act of God” and “a gift.”
“His conformation is absolutely perfect,” Cantrell said. “Everything on him is perfect.”
There are three farms listed by the Miniature Horse Farm Directory on line. These include Little Brook Farm in Arundel, Funny Farm in Lebanon, and Maine Seacoast Miniatures in Cape Neddick.