President Obama creates new national park

President Obama created a new national park yesterday when he invoked the Antiquities Act for the first time in his presidency. The Commander in Chief used his executive powers to designate Fort Monroe, located in Hampton, Virginia, as a national monument, thereby adding it to America’s National Park System.

The region has a long and storied history, that dates back to the early 1600’s when Dutch sailors first traded slaves the Old Point Comfort Peninsula, the future home of the fort. Later, many famous Americans would spend time inside its walls, including Robert E. Lee, who oversaw construction there during the 1800’s. Edgar Allen Poe was stationed at Fort Monroe for a time, penning his famous poem “Annabel Lee” inside the fortress. Harriet Tubman worked at the fort’s hospital, and Chief Blackhawk, who fought with the British during the War of 1812, was briefly imprisoned there, as was Confederate President Jefferson Davis following the end of the Civil War.

While the fortress may have started as an outpost for the slave trade, during the Civil War it became a symbol of hope for many African Americans. In 1861, the fort was occupied by Union soldiers when three escaped slaves arrived at the gates seeking asylum. The fort’s commander, General Benjamin Butler, took them in and refused to return them to Confederate General Charles Mallory. Soon, thousands more would flock to the place, earning it the name of “Freedom’s Fortress.” Butler’s bold move marked the beginning of the end for slavery in Virgina.

The President’s proclamation not only includes the fort itself, but two miles of beachfront property and inland landscapes as well. Those environments are said to be excellent spaces for bird watching, hiking, camping and other outdoor pursuits. The newest park in the system offers both history and beauty in a single setting.

Naturally, the National Parks Conversation Association was quick to praise this move by the President, calling Fort Monroe “America’s next great urban national park.” The non-profit organization is dedicated to protecting America’s parks for future generations, and sees the inclusion of this park as a historical and economic boon to the surrounding communities.

Fort Monroe is the 396th park in the U.S. system. To find out more about the place click here.

The Obama pen: weirdest African souvenir ever?

Obama is big in Africa. There are Obama shops, Obama hotels, Obama t-shirts, even Obama: The Musical. A craze of naming babies Obama hit the continent when he was elected. Even better, the proud parents could fill out the birth certificate with an Obama ballpoint pen.

I came across these in a shop in Harar, Ethiopia. A friend of mine worked for his campaign, so it seemed the perfect gift. The box proudly proclaims the virtues of “Quality+Econmy”, promises “maximum writing pleasure and comfort”, and offers a one-year money-back guarantee. How CAN´T you buy this amazing item?

So why is Obama so big in Africa? There’s more to the craze than the fact that his father is African. Many Africans told me they see him as an inspiration, that no matter where your family is from you can make it big. Some also see his election as a hopeful sign that the U.S. is getting beyond its racist past. There was some serious Obamamania in Africa when he got elected but, like in the U.S., that initial enthusiasm has cooled off somewhat. Now Africans are questioning his policies, asking why he hasn’t created closer ties with Africa and why he’s helped some Muslim nations in their struggle for democracy and not others.

It looks like no president’s honeymoon lasts forever.

[Note for the easily offended: the crack about the birth certificate was a joke. I am not a birther. You can tell because all the words in this post are spelled correctly]


President Obama outlines plan for America’s Great Outdoors

President Obama took time out from his very busy schedule yesterday to offer details of his America’s Great Outdoors program, a new plan designed to preserve the country’s national parks and other open spaces, while reconnecting Americans to nature.

The plan, which was originally announced last year, has been refined over the past ten months by a series of “listening sessions” during which Administration officials learned what has worked and what hasn’t, on a local, grassroots level, across the country. The result is a road map for the future of America’s outdoor natural resources that includes creating new parks and green spaces for future generations of Americans to enjoy. The initiative also includes options for restoring rivers and opening up the lands around them for recreational purposes and offering support to farmers and other landowners who work to protect their landscapes and make them available for recreation as well.

The America’s Great Outdoors program was immediately hailed as a positive move by environmental organizations and outdoor groups across the country. For instance, Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association, called the President’s announcements “a great first step towards ensuring our national parks, wildlife, and American heritage is better protected for future generations.” But Kiernan went on to stress that the Administration now has a lot of work ahead of it to achieve the goals it has set for the program.

The NPCA is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to protect America’s national parks from threats such as climate change and air pollution in advance of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016. America’s national park system has been called our “best idea” and the NPCA hope to ensure that they’re around for at least another century as well. For more on the NPCA’s position on the AGO, and the role that national parks will play in it, click here. And to find out more about President Obama’s initiatives, check out the America’s Great Outdoors website by clicking here. You can also access the full AGO report by clicking here.

As a big fan of America’s national parks, I’m happy to hear that the Administration has put its full weight behind protecting them for future generations as well as creating new parks for us all to enjoy as well. More outdoor space for the public to explore sounds like a very good thing.

Hawaii tour company offers “find President Obama’s birth certificate” experience

Playing with the notion that President Obama’s long-form birth records may be missing, Hawaii Tours is offering a dubiously-titled “Find President Obama’s Birth Certificate” tour package that includes sightseeing and “a little bit of detective work” for visitors to the Hawaiian Islands.

“‘Find the President’s Birth Certificate’ tour package was conceived to bring a lighthearted, adventurous aspect to touring the Hawaiian Islands,” said George Kaka of Hawaii Tours. “We believe in weaving relevant and recent history into our tours, when possible.”

According to the tour description “guests become part of a search and rescue team for the President’s birth records while island hopping, exploring active volcanoes, visiting the Pearl Harbor Memorial, journeying 120-miles around the Island of Oahu and enjoying a traditional luau at Paradise Cove.”

It depends on your political views, but this publicity stunt sounds moderately disrespectful to us. But, if you’re interested ….

This Hawaii tour begins with a flight from Honolulu to Hilo on the Big Island and includes trip to Volcano National Park, home to the Kilauea Volcano. There, “guests may seek the knowledge of Pele, the Hawaiian Fire Goddess, for news relating to President Obama’s birth certificate.” Visitors are taken to the Jagger Museum, Thurston Lava Tube and the Volcano House before flying back to Oahu.

The Big Island Volcano Tour is followed by the Pearl Harbor & Circle Island Tours. At Pearl Harbor, guests have the opportunity to board an authentic Navy launch and cross the crystal blue harbor to the USS Arizona Memorial. The Circle Island Tour is a 120-mile tour around the Island of Oahu visiting the Dole Plantation, the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout, Makapu’u and upscale Kahala, sometimes referred to as the “Beverly Hills of Hawaii.” The tour concludes with views of a tropical rain forest and the famous North Shore beaches. The trip ends with a Paradise Cove Luau and imu ceremony, where the roasted kalua pig is unearthed and Hula dancers perform to Hawaiian music as the sun sets.

At $399 per person, this tour certainly sounds as if it includes a number of famous sites. We’re just not sure about the presidential tie-in.

First gay museum in the U.S. opens in San Francisco

Less than a month after President Obama repealed the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, the U.S. has gotten its first gay museum. The GLBT History Museum is located in the Castro District of San Francisco. Run by the GLBT Historical Society, it features 1,600 sq. ft. of exhibition and activity space.

Yesterday was its grand opening and visitors got to see two exhibitions: Our Vast Queer Past: Celebrating GLBT History and Great Collections of the GLBT Historical Society Archives.

The GLBT Historical Society has some history of its own. It was founded in 1985 and has one of the largest archives of its kind. Currently there is only one other gay museum in the world. The Schwules Museum in Berlin is the first museum dedicated exclusively to GLBT history. It had its first exhibition in the Berlin Museum in 1984 and moved to its own space in 1985.

[Photo courtesy GLBT Historical Society ]