Thursday, December 18, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Nero Wolfe on curiosity

I don't thank you for coming," [Wolfe] said. "I'm not disposed to thank you for anything. I have reason to believe that you are withholding information that would be of value. Indeed, I think you have lied. Don't bother to deny it. I tell you that only to establish the temper of the conversation. I'll be trying to find support for my opinion. What will you be doing?"

She would be staring. She was staring. "I know what I ought to be doing," she said. "Leaving. I ought to be on my way out."

"But you're not. You wouldn't, even if I'm wrong, because you want to know why. That's what makes us the unique animal, we want to know why and try to find out. We even try to discover why we want to know why, though of course we never will."

- Rex Stout, Please Pass the Guilt

Originally published January 11, 2012

Monday, December 15, 2014

A case of the demise of "religious" radio

The Terri Schiavo case, ten years later, has back in the news locally in South Carolina as part of an analysis of a recent announcement.  The announcement by a radio conglomerate that they were purchasing the local "religious' radio station and flipping it to their California-based commercial format with programming coming from the Golden State had me looking at the Schiavo case because of how that station's downturn was easily seen in my (soon to be) 18 years with the local Pro-Life Weekend (dinner and March for Life, scheduled for January 9-10).

In the early 2000's, the station had started its changeover, when the station ceased its media participation in the March for Life (the dinner was added in the past four years) as they were missing from media row.  They also eliminated news on the hour, and eliminated Biblical expository teachings from notable ministers such as Tony Evans (editor of the current quarter of the SBC's Explore the Bible and who spoke in our state against the massive expansion of the state government by adding a state-run numbers racket), Adrian Rogers (a legendary Memphis pastor, now deceased;  a Fox News personality recently filmed his Christmas show from his church), and current events programming such as Focus on the Family and educational radio programming Adventures in Odyssey.

The Focus on the Family issue broke out in the mid-1990's, but the controversy began when they began to discuss more current events from a Biblical worldview, and that included having their host leave the show after he confessed to an extramarital affair, and was replaced by legendary sportscaster Gary Bender for a few months.  When the show began discussing Roy Moore, the Alabama Supreme Court chief justice whose Decalogue from Exodus 20 in his office and even one outside the Supreme Court of the state infuriated the Humanist Elites, and Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman whose husband wanted to kill her in order to marry another woman (as we now know, cruelly on March for Life 2006, and was mocked by Seth McFarlane with a raunchy segment on his cartoons), the alleged "Christian" station had enough and purged the shows.  The station manager mentioned the audience for the station was 25-44 women who are mothers and rarely attend church, with Top 40-based music being the basis.  This pattern has arrived in modern churches, where many churches have turned into Life Enhancement Centres where the same emotional Top 40 fluff is played at their services as is heard on such radio stations.  The station's push for a lazy listenership where promoting rock concerts became the only thing that mattered it seemed created this mess.  This even was the subject of a 2003 WND article that was cited as stations began this push towards all entertainment, no preaching, teaching, or information.  Would a religious radio station get away with that now?

And now it has come full circle with the sale of that station to a commercial chain group.  Rush Limbaugh warns of "low information voters".  Modern radio's focus on low information listeners is troubling, and this is the result.  A station's demise started when they did not want to participate in Sanctity of Human Life programming in light of the Schiavo case has led to its demise.


"Focus on the Family Too Political," WND, 18 December 2003.

"Issues, Etc.," Lutheran Public Radio, 20 August 2014.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Throwback Thursday - Does charity begin with the government?

Penn Gillette – the “Penn” half of the comedy/magic team Penn & Teller (the one who talks) – is an endlessly interesting man. Now, this doesn’t mean that I always, or even usually, agree with him. I seldom agree with anyone that often, including myself. It does, however, mean that within the contents of any given comments of his, there are bound to be words of interest, ideas that bear exploration, repetition, even agreement. And so when he wrote about his recent appearance with Piers Morgan on CNN (catch Piers soon, by the way, before the British phone hacking scandal claims him), there was stuff that was good and stuff that wasn’t so good.

His atheism, for example, has never appealed to me. (I recall once reading about how he and his partner Teller were so adamant on this point that they even removed the Gideon Bibles from the hotel rooms in which they stayed.) I think he’s dead wrong about faith – requiring certainty about anything, including religion, is a formula for paralysis, in my opinion – but at least I understand where he’s coming from more than I did before. And just because I disagree – strongly – with it doesn’t mean that I can’t at least comprehend it. (I think he’s an outstanding candidate for prayer, by the way. The appearance of a divine intervention in his life might be difficult for him to explain away, which in turn might force him to acknowledge it as something worthy of further consideration.)

And just because I disagree with him on some things doesn’t mean that I can’t agree with him on others. He says that his thoughts on politics flow from the same insistence on certainty as do his thoughts on religion; but his demand for certainty, which fails him in the sacred, serves him much better with regard to the secular. Take, for example, his thoughts on government programs:

It's amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give
poor people money is compassion. Helping poor and suffering people is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness.

People need to be fed, medicated, educated, clothed, and sheltered, and if we're compassionate we'll help them, but you get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is right. There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint.
Oddly enough, he might find himself in agreement with the great Catholic humanitarian Dorothy Day, who felt that government welfare programs tended to abrogate the individual’s moral responsibility to provide charity themselves. When you can have the government do your charitable work for you, why bother to get your own hands dirty?

Needless to say, there are many liberals, dedicated to taking your tax money from you to do good, who also contribute their own personal time, talent and money. I’m not saying that all they do is steal from the rich and give to the poor from the comfort of their own homes. But Penn’s comment that “There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint” is a profound one. Make no mistake, he says – “When they come to get you for not paying your taxes, try not going to court. Guns will be drawn. Government is force -- literally, not figuratively.” Which leads to this conclusion:

I don't believe the majority always knows what's best for everyone. The fact that the majority thinks they have a way to get something good does not give them the right to use force on the minority that don't want to pay for it. If you have to use a gun, I don't believe you really know jack. Democracy without respect for individual rights sucks. It's just ganging up against the weird kid, and I'm always the weird kid.

There’s a great deal of truth in that statement. It’s classic libertarianism, and while that’s another –ism that I don’t completely agree with, there’s no doubt that it’s a vital and necessary part of contemporary conservative thought.

And proof, once again, that food for thought can come from surprising places.

(By the way, in the midst of this heavy discussion don’t overlook the hilarious story he tells about a Nobel-winning physicist, a community college teacher, and a talk show host. And no, they don’t walk into a bar together.)

Originally published August 18, 2011

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Mockery of faith

The time-honoured tradition of sporting events, especially in the Deep South with its solid Biblical roots, opening with a prayer is regarded as mandatory before the event, a moment to pause to the Creator for what He has blessed the land and to protect the competitors.  Pocono Raceway began offering chapel (Protestant) and mass (Catholic) services for competitors since 1971, when Mario Andretti discussed the issue with Rose Mattioli, the matriarch of Pocono.  Since 1974, the Indianapolis 500 has done such, with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis having the honours annually save a few exceptions (Oral Roberts and Billy Graham).  Since 2001, all regular-time starts (not accelerated because of weather) in NASCAR have started (after the pregame show) with the minister's invocation.

And sometimes, thanks to a few ministers who forget the solemnity of the occasion (as we've seen in Gladeville, TN during an Xfinity race that was the final one for that circuit), and even in popular culture, it has been mocked.  And Joe Saward, of all people, entered the mockery of prayer services at sporting events in a recent discussion. In August, Dorna, which organises MotoGP television broadcasts, yanked the audio from the public address system at Indianapolis when the minister's invocation was happening, much to the ire of Fox Sports 1, which understands the lay of domestic broadcasts is to include the minister's invocation, which has been time honoured at the Brickyard for 41 seasons.  During the Formula One race in Austin, Leigh Diffey made the standardised motorsport protocol of "Let's go trackside for the opening ceremony," and the broadcast went to the National Anthem from a Got Talent winner (either Got Talent or The Voice of Holland winners perform, a request of NBC).  No invocation.

If it isn't clear that the roots of the United States are deeply embedded in a belief in God from the days of the Pilgrims and the Founding Fathers, it was clearly evident in how mocked that faith is to others.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Flashback Friday: Public Radio returns to its roots

Local NPR Radio Station Announces New "All Membership Drive, All the Time" Format

(Pocatello , Idaho) -- KSPD, Idaho 's largest public radio station, announced yesterday that it is moving to a new "all membership drive, all the time" format as of March 1st.

Station Manager Philip T. Lucre announced the new format is in response to recent audience analysis. "Our rating figures show that people love membership drives," says Lucre. "The drives might seem like they're boring, tedious, even numbing, but we're finding that people just keep listening. Better yet, they keep sending in money and membership pledges, and we're very happy with that."

KSPD's most recent membership effort resulted in contributions of more than $20 million to the non-profit station, which is also underwritten by major foundations, local business sponsorships, commercials, tax breaks, the sale of services and merchandise, donations from large corporations, and state and federal tax dollars from the American people. "We're not talking golden goose here," said Lucre, "but it's certainly a winning formula, bottom-line, cash-flow wise. We couldn't do what we do without our listener's support. They know we're a non-profit and that we're counting on them."

Why do people keep listening to people asking them to send in money? Lucre believes it creates a drama that people find compelling.

"Our membership drives are great entertainment," he says. "You've got the tension built up by our self-imposed goal deadlines, people wondering if we're really going to make it. You've got the stories and personal testimonies finely crafted by our public relations department. The ringing phones in the background add a certain electricity. It's really good stuff, a lot better than any music, news or intelligent conversation you used to hear on the radio."

Lucre refused to answer questions about KSPD's recent purchase of four additional radio stations in California and Arizona , or its reported majority ownership of new office buildings and a resort casino being built in Winnemucca, Nevada . "We're a large business entity, and we need to maintain solid economic resources," he did say. "And besides, whatever we do has one main goal in mind: to provide the people of Pocatello, Idaho the kind of radio programs that they love and that meet their local needs."

Originally published February 20, 2007

Monday, December 1, 2014

Gordon Lightfoot sings - er, sinks Christmas

Heard this on one of our local stations the other day, but this is the same recording, from a different station. It's true that nobody does Christmas quite like Gordon Lightfoot, right? Now that Thanksgiving is past, let the Christmas music begin!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Flashback Friday: The "triumph" of Leni Riefenstahl

Finally, Riefenstahl.

It's been so long since I started this thread that's it's difficult to recall what the point of it all was supposed to be. (And I'm glad I haven't been kicked off the blog for being so late in getting this up!)

But this whole discussion started with the death of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf last month. As was mentioned back then, virtually every obit of the great opera star mentioned her past association with the Nazi party in WW2 Germany. And I supposed it's a natural segueway, once you've talked about Schwarzkopf, to look at the lives of two other prominent German artists: Leni Riefenstahl and Richard Wagner. (Günter Grass doesn't really count, since he wasn't part of my original plan and, anyway, I've already talked about him enough.)

And in looking at their lives, we continue to be drawn to the central question of the discussion: what is the relationship between the artist and the art? As Roger Ebert has noted, it raises the “classic question of the contest between art and morality: Is there such a thing as pure art, or does all art make a political statement?"

Leni Riefenstahl was one of the great film documentarians of the 20th century. From Wikipedia: (I'll quote liberally here, since I have no desire to get this blog tied up in a plagerism accusation:

Riefenstahl's techniques, such as moving cameras, the use of telephoto lenses to create a distorted perspective, aerial photography, and revolutionary approach to the use of music and cinematography, have earned Triumph recognition as one of the greatest propaganda films in history. [...] The film was popular in the Third Reich and elsewhere, and has continued to influence movies, documentaries, and commercials to this day, even as it raises the question over the dividing line between "art and morality."

But, as you might have gathered from the above paragraph, there’s that Nazi thing again. Of all Riefenstahl's documentaries, none is perhaps as famous - and infamous - as Triumph of the Will. It is a magnificent, terrible film of a horrible story - the Nazis and their Nuremberg rallies during the '30s. And in telling that horrible story, it also ensured that filmmaking would never be the same again.

Film historians have seen Riefenstahl's influence in movies ever since. Star Wars, Citizen Kane, Gladiator, Lord of the Rings - all bear the marks of Riefenstahl's style. The famous opening scene of Triumph, in which the camera moves through the clouds to capture an aerial shot of the city of Nuremberg (to the music of Wagner, naturally) must have influenced Wim Wenders' opening of Wings of Desire. The sports documentarian Bud Greenspan, one of the finest filmmakers of the 20th century (Ken Burns could take a chapter from him), considers her one of the greats.

It's an assertion few would dispute, in the academic sense. But can’t you detect just the smallest bit of embarrassment whenever one praises the work of Riefenstahl? True, Triumph of the Will is a staple of many “best all-time” lists, but there’s this sense that even when we praise Riefenstahl, we must immediately apologize or explain away the praise, lest we fall under guilt-by-association. The closer we get to her work, the more we edge away from it. It’s not likely you’d hear Seinfeld emerge from the theatre saying, “It’s about Nazis! Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” (Warning: Do not insert any Soup Nazi jokes here.)

No, you’ll never hear anyone say there’s nothing wrong with being a Nazi. In our time the Nazi brand is, as I've said before, the Scarlet Swastika, an accusation so accursed that its use has become widespread, indiscriminate, a self-parody. And yet it is a charge that carries power, a negative sort of prestige, a stigma that taints whatever it touches. And we ask ourselves if we should be ashamed by our admiration and praise of the artist’s work, if we can morally separate the ideology of the artist from the art itself.

Riefenstahl’s work does not allow us that luxury. The subject matter of Triumph of the Will is in your face, and you can't ignore it. As the Wikipedia bio puts it, "it is nearly impossible to separate the subject from the artist behind it." She “claimed that she was naïve about the Nazis when she made it and had no knowledge of Hitler's genocidal policies. She also pointed out that Triumph contains ‘not one single anti-Semitic word’“; but it is difficult (although not impossible) to conceive of her as both ingénue and naïve girl, the brilliant and innovative filmmaker who was still a babe in the woods when it came to world politics. This is what she would have liked you to believe, but her actions often belie that contention. Roger Ebert points out, "the very absence of anti-Semitism in Triumph of the Will looks like a calculation; excluding the central motif of almost all of Hitler's public speeches must have been a deliberate decision to make the film more efficient as propaganda." And so, given all this, we’re tempted to see in her films things that aren’t really there, images that dance before us like the ghosts from black & white TV. Only these are real, the ghosts of Hitler’s victims that only become clearer as the picture is drawn into sharper focus.

Therefore, as viewers do we punish the filmmaker because of the subject of her films? Do we hold Riefenstahl accountable for her Nazi associations? And if so, do we also apply the same standards to Sergei Eisenstein, who exploited Russian nationalistic pride in Potemkin and Alexander Nevsky? (Yes, I know Eisenstein had his quarrels with the authorities, but large families often do that.) Eisenstein is often ranked in the pantheon of filmmaking, Potemkin appearing on most ten-best lists, but I rarely see him carrying around the baggage that accompanies Riefenstahl. And we won't even get into the almost-paranoid, conspiracy-laden propaganda of liberal filmmakers like Oliver Stone?

Now, it's true that Eisenstein wasn't a documentarian as was Riefenstahl. Nonetheless, his movies were fraught with nationalistic fervor, clearly designed to influence and inspire the viewer. (The Communists, in fact, thought Eisenstein worried too much about things like art and budgeting, and wanted even more propaganda in the content.) As for Stone - well, we know most of his films have an agenda.

Some like to pair up Triumph of the Will with Frank Capra’s direct answer to them, the Why We Fight series of films. (And, by the way, given how anti-American Hollywood has become, it would have been interesting to see how Capra's reputation might have suffered had he been young enough when he made this series. Surely in the Hollywood of the late 60s through today, he would have been seen as a toady for the government.)

In fact, however, the true companion to Riefenstahl’s masterwork might be D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation. This truly was a landmark of filmmaking, but most today remember it only as a racist piece of propaganda, glorifying the Ku Klux Klan. True, perhaps, but Griffith's influence, like Riefenstahl's, cannot be denied. True also that Griffith, like Riefenstahl, is held at arms' length by most.

So what's the point here? It's not an apology for Leni Riefenstahl (or D.W. Griffith, for that matter). It's merely an observation on how we allow our politics to color the way we see things. As I've asserted in the past, it is hard to believe that Riefensthal would be held in such contempt had the Triumph in question been Lenin's October Revolution.

As we watch the ridiculous accusations of Nazism that are so commonplace nowadays across the political blogosphere, and perhaps most absurdly from the Muslims who brand the Jews with the contemptuous tag, we are reminded that Nazism is the singular golden sin, the mark from which its bearers cannot recover. It is reminiscent of the "unforgivable sin" that Christ warns us of, though most of those wielding it would fail to recognize that analogy since they don't recognize the source.

National Socialism keeps us in a trance, as perhaps it should. It holds the figures of history hostage, as perhaps it might. But we do not diminish the horror of the truth it represents to assert also that the word "Nazi" is the crown jewel of political correctness, the golden spike to be driven through the heart, the one word that guarantees the discrediting of its intended. Some would wear the title as a badge of honor, an ideology to be embraced, others are shamed with a scarlet letter and their lips burn with Judas' kiss of betrayal, and still others feel the sting of its indiscriminant application.

But while Schwarzkopf shrugged off the label, and Riefenstahl tried to run from it, Richard Wagner might have welcomed it with open arms. But that's for another time.

Originally published September 18, 2006

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Turkey Day!

Yep, it's that time again, isn't it? How time flies the older you get.  But the memories never get old, and today is the start of the best five weeks or so of the year.

So on behalf of Drew, Steve and Bobby, I'd like to wish all of you the happiest and most blessed of Thanksgivings.  Enjoy the parades, the football, the turkey, and the nap afterwards.  See you back here tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving controversies

Whew! Still frustrated over the "Ninth Circuit East" (thanks to the court packing) that overturned our state's Constitution in favour of allowing the DC area to push sin acceptance when 78% of our state didn't allow it.

And to consider there's a Stampeder secondary from Manning, just up the road via US 301 and Interstate 95, crossing Lake Marion, in Clarendon County (DB Fred Bennett), I believe there is rooting interest in my neck of the woods in the Grey Cup for Calgary, though too there is for Hamilton (DE Eric Norwood) in the area.  All the derby match talk over this weekend, then the next day is Grey Cup with interest with a popular defensive lineman!

And this before I can discuss the report on the news that too many stores are open Thanksgiving Day Thursday, with complaints that regular workers at department stores are opening on the day itself, not even a "Carrie hasn't hated herself for loving you," as I said last year, as stores are working to avoid the Krzyzewskiville effects that a close friend understands, to start sales during the day, even when many of us are running on Thanksgiving (I am pondering either a 5km or a 8km road race -- haven't made my decision as of this time, but the longer race is enticing because of a Thanksgiving day class at a fitness studio with friends).

Thanksgiving work days were originally designed for sporting goods stores because of their organising of timing and scoring for the numerous running events -- last year, 870,000 crossed finish lines for running events on Thanksgiving Day, including someone that may be very well known in Tulsa, taking show.    Many events support local charities, and as the Wall Street Journal notes, Thanksgiving has become the day for fitness, and considering I don't have an appetite after a hard run.  Twelve Turkey Trots later, I am pondering returning to a 8km race because the challenge of the short race is too easy at times, and with 16 days before a marathon, it might be better to go longer.

As for working on Thanksgiving, families are becoming busier and have less time to cook.  Many grocery stores have full delicatessens and bakeries, often producing rotisserie chickens for families to pick up after work for dinner or before work for lunch.  That, along with many families coming from long distances and stress, along with the long hours required to make Thanksgiving dinners, has them unable to have time for Thanksgiving dinners, so grocers adopted the home improvement stores' DIFM model (Do It For Me) for home improvement projects (as compared to DIY, Do It Yourself -- the terms DIY and DIFM are listed in a major home improvement chain's shareholder documents I receive annually as a shareholder) for their Thanksgiving menu options.  Grocers' business in the DIFM market has become an increasing source of revenue, and adding Thanksgiving hours for picking up DIFM dinners, department stores located next to grocers decided to open in order to take advantage of DIFM dinners being picked up by families.  Some restaurants (Bojangles' and Maurice's) have added fuel to the fire by adding DIFM meal pickups.  But it was the exploiting of the next-door grocers' DIFM dinners that led to the department stores opening earlier also.

The question I ask after watching commentary of Thanksgiving Day sales:  Has the rise of the DIFM Thanksgiving dinner market resulted in more stores opening for Thanksgiving specials in order to give those who are there to pick up the DIFM dinners at the grocer that is often next door to start shopping now, especially if the DIFM dinner is picked up Thanksgiving morning?

Opera Wednesday - Copland's The Tender Land

There are few composers more American than Aaron Copland, so on the eve of this most American holiday, here's part one of Michigan Opera Theatre's production of Copland's 1954 opera The Tender Land, conducted by the composer.  It's part one of 12, so if you like it keep following the links!