Thursday, December 28, 2006

This Just In

By Hadleyblogger Steve

Will U of Phoenix Byte the Bullet Against Capella?
Cycon Systems Cyber Bowl, 7pm EST Saturday, G4 Network

(Silicon Valley , CA) When the nation’s two top-rated on-line college football teams face off Saturday in the first-ever Cycon Systems Cyber Bowl, they'll be facing some unique challenges.

"Well, for starters, none of us have ever actually met each other in person," says Biff (“Byte”) Barwell, head coach of the top-rated University of Phoenix E-Falcons. "I mean we email a lot and share our plays in our weekly chat rooms, but it's going to be a little different actually doing them on a field. We frankly don't know how that will come off."

Their opponents in the e-contest from number-two ranked Capella University CyberRaiders agree. "It's going to be a crap shoot all right," says Capella coach Hubie (“Hard Drive”) Douglass. "Most of our guys are great gamers, they love playing the on-line stuff. We've even got one sophomore who’s done programming for Madden 2007. But I'm not sure he knows what a real football looks like."

Douglass was frank regarding some of the difficulties he faces in assembling his cyber-team for the first time. “Our middle linebacker, Otis ("Firewall") McCloskey, says on his MySpace profile that he’s 6’7” and weighs 350, and it turns out he’s really 5’8” and maybe 140 dripping wet. When I was [coaching] at Middle Valley Polytechnical I used to send my assistants out to scout the other team – this time I had to install spywear just to find out what my own players looked like.”

ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso discounted speculation that other schools, such as the DeVry University ROMs, were more deserving than Capella of the title shot against the E-Falcons. “This matchup might look one-sided on your monitor,” said Corso, sporting a large paper-mache-head replica of the CyberRaiders’ mascot, “Hacker,” but let me tell you this, my friend – everyone knows the real game is played down there on the field, not out somewhere in cyberspace. And on that field, where you replace chips and RAM with real flesh and blood, anything can happen.”

Although visits to the game’s website have been brisk, those hits have so far failed to translate to ticket sales, with fewer than 800 tickets having been sold for the game, to be played in 36,000-seat Spartan Stadium at San Jose State University. Game organizers admit that if demand doesn’t pick up soon, this year’s game may be the last. “Start-up bowl games always take some time to find their niche in the college sports landscape,” Cyber Bowl chairman Vic Miles said. “But we think we have a unique product to offer the viewing public. Maybe next year we’ll take a look at using virtual reality technology. That would give people a show!”

Preparation for the big game was disrupted for both teams yesterday when a main server went down in the middle of key strategy meetings. "My computer froze up for nearly an hour," said Coach Barwell, "By the time it came back up most of the guys had lost interest and were off surfing porn sites. Their attention spans are pretty short, actually."

Gerald Ford, R.I.P.

By Mitchell

I used to joke that when Gerald Ford died, it would probably appear in the obituary section of the paper under "Briefly Noted," with the headline, "Gerald Ford, was former President of the United States." And in truth, having heard the news before leaving for work yesterday, I admit that by the time I had gotten to the office I'd already forgotten it had happened - it was only seeing the bold headlines in the paper that reminded me. But he was president, after all, no matter how unusual the circumstances of his having gotten there, and he deserves all the trappings that go with the title, even in death.

For me, Gerald Ford exists primarily as the man who made us wait four more years for Ronald Reagan. It is telling that 1976 was the last year in which the identity of the presidential nominee was still unknown when the convention started. The idea that a challenger might deny the nomination to an incumbent - even an accidental incumbent such as Ford - was almost absurd, and yet Ronald Reagan almost pulled it off. In the end Ford may have won the delegates' votes, but as became apparent on the final night of the convention it was Reagan who won their hearts. The rap against Reagan was that he was too extremist, too conservative, too unelectable. Not only was Ford the safe choice, he also represented what was then the mainstream of the Republican Party (pro-choice, pro-Equal Rights Amendment) - the party whose grass roots still resembled the putting green at the country club.

And perhaps they were right - maybe it took four years of the most incompetent presidency in the 20th Century for Americans to understand that they were ready for Ronald Reagan. It is possible that Jimmy Carter would still have won that election, delegating Reagan to the historical dustbin along with so many other losing candidates of the past and future. Possible, perhaps, and I guess we'll have to leave it at that.

But we must remember that Carter barely won against an incumbent who hadn't been elected either president or vice president, representing a party that had just gone through the biggest political scandal in history, and having pardoned the man most Americans held responsible for the whole thing. Under those circumstances, is it really too much to believe that Ronald Reagan would have somehow won?

And what would have been the result of that? Would the Shah of Iran have fallen, would Khomeini have risen to power? Would the Iran-Iraq war have happened, would Saddam have remained in charge? Would the Soviets have invaded Afghanistan, would the Taliban have received American weapons? It's tempting to say that some of it, or none of it, would have happened - that the Shah would have remained in power, that the Wall would have fallen sooner, that things somehow would have changed for the better. Unprovable, but tempting.

The right thing would have been for Ford to step aside, to recognize that he was too closely tied to the problems the Republicans faced, that it was time for someone from outside the Beltway to lead the party in a new direction. Ronald Reagan was that man, and four years later the rest of the nation realized it as well.

I suppored Ford, staunchly if unenthusiastically, in his race against Jimmy Carter. Even though I wasn't yet old enough to vote - that would have to wait another four years, when my first presidential vote went to the Gipper - I was already in the thick of my political life. I sat next to Rudy Boschwitz (who in two years would be elected to the U.S. Senate) at a Republican meeting the night of the first Ford-Carter debate, and we watched the power outage that knocked out the audio feed of the debate. (Never again would presidential debates be quite as appealing to us as they were for those few minutes when nobody could hear the candidates.) I defended Ford, even in the aftermath of his seemingly absurd misstatement in which he declared emphatically that Eastern Europe was not under the domination of the Soviet Union. I displayed the proper amount of regret the morning after the election when I found that Carter had pulled it out. And four years later, when rumors swept the convention hall in Detroit that Reagan was going to choose Ford as his running mate, creating a sort of co-presidency, I gnashed my teeth and nearly rent my garment, wondering if this man was never going to go away.

Eventually he did fade from the public spotlight, appearing mostly at celebrity pro-am golf tournaments and in his ceremonial role at the funerals of former presidents. He became the nation's oldest former president, and lived for almost thirty years after leaving office - time enough to become, if not a legend, a sort of elder statesman. If we look at Ford and find him lacking in comparison to Reagan, we also have to compare him to Carter and Clinton, and admit that those comparisons are to his credit.

Gerald Ford didn't really make history, but in a way he made it possible for history to happen. He was, probably, the right man for the nation in the wake of the Watergate scandal. I always agreed with his pardon of Nixon - aside from the humanitarian gesture, it was time for the nation to get on with it. And although he'd never be aware of it, he played a role in my history as well, for in politics everyone needs someone not only to campaign for, but to campaign against. I campaigned for Reagan against Ford, and for Ford against Carter. By the time that election year of 1976 was over, I was hooked.

Perhaps most important, he was a good and decent man serving his country as best he could. And while it's true that goodness and decency do not excuse incompetency, they do count for something. This week the nation will recognize that, in a fitting and appropriate way. And so we bury our disagreements, we honor the office, and in doing so we recognize the man who held it, however briefly, but with dignity.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

On behalf of Mitchell & Judie, Steve, Bobby and Drew, thank you for your support and readership over the past year, and our wishes to you and yours for the happiest and merriest of Christmases, and a Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Listening to Christmas

By Hadleyblogger Drew

Almost every area I know has at least one or two radio stations that have been playing nonstop Christmas music since Thanksgiving (if not before). On most of these stations it's the only time you'll ever hear them play Bing Crosby, Andy Williams or Ray Coniff. You could be forgiven for thinking these guys never did anything but Christmas music (although they did). And yet if you listen to any of these stations for any length of time you'll be amazed at all the dreck they play. I used to think it was impossible to ruin a Christmas carol; now I know better.

Terry Teachout has a wonderful list of his favorite Christmas records. I've heard most of them, agree with many of them (although I still prefer Bing's version of White Christmas), need to check out some of them (especially Laud to the Nativity by Respighi), and am glad to see some of my underrated favorites recognized by others (particularly the stunning O magnum mysterium by Morten Lauridsen). You could do a whole lot worse than making this one of your Christmas playlists.

Over at First Things, Michael Linton has a nice piece on the many versions of that Christmas favorite, Handel's Messiah (minus the distractions Steve mentioned). (Of course, we all know that Handel actually wrote this piece for Easter, but in this case the popular will rules.) Hard to argue with any of Linton's picks (I'm always partial toward Robert Shaw, even though the copy in this house is by Sir Georg Solti, no piker he), but I really am curious to hear Thomas Beecham’s 1959 recording of Eugene Goossens’ orchestration. Listen to the description:

It’s a pure nightmare. Goossens adds trombones, tubas, harp, expanded winds, and full percussion. Beecham quickens and stretches tempi in ways that give musicologists hives. Many people hate it (and hate folks who like it!), but it’s somehow splendidly Handelian, and to hear Jon Vickers sing the tenor arias is a revelation.

Sounds like a glorious mess, doesn't it? As he says, buy the others, but buy this one too.

So wherever you are tonight or tomorrow, I hope the choir sings like angels, Der Bingle lives on your stereo, and the music of this beautiful season never stops ringing in your ears. And on this Christmas Eve let's all say a prayer for peace on earth, peace in our own hearts, and blessings to all.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

This Just In

By Hadleyblogger Steve

“Frank Barone: Really Home for the Holidays” to Air Sunday Night

HOLLYWOOD, CA – In what’s expected to be a ratings blockbuster, CBS-TV announced yesterday that a three-hour special on the life of the late Frank Barone, patriarch of the hit sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, will air this Sunday evening, which is Christmas Eve.

Barone, in the person of actor Peter Boyle, passed away last week from cancer and heart disease at the age of 71.

(Left) Frank Barone, star of the hit sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond," seen here in the guise of actor "Peter Boyle".

“Frank Barone: Really Home for the Holidays” will focus on the life and family relationships of Frank Barone. “He was an irascible character that everybody really did love, even though he could be a little cranky and rough-edged,” said show producer Harvey Peterman. “He epitomized what a lot of us wanted our fathers to be.”

Cast members of the show, speaking at a hastily arranged news conference in the lobby of the building where the Boyles lived in New York City , said they are pleased the project is being rushed into production and expect it to do well.

“Peter, I mean Frank, I mean Dad would be really happy with this,” said series star and co-producer Ray Romano. “Besides, adding this to our current syndication package is a no-brainer. We’re talking mega-millions.”

Doris Roberts, who played Frank’s wife on the show, struggled through tears to express her support. “My husband was a wonderful man. Losing him so suddenly like this has left a huge hole in my life, and made for a difficult week. This show – on Sunday night at 9 p.m., 8 p.m. Central, check your local listings – will help all of us handle our grief a little easier. It will provide the closure that all final episodes should have.”

Meanwhile, lawyers for the Boyle family, including the wife and children of the late actor, have filed a lawsuit for civil damages in the wake of the family being barred from attending the Barone funeral, which was held earlier this week in a small chapel on Larry King’s estate in west Hollywood.

“We’re sensitive to that,” said CBS executive Marvin Goldblast. “We know that the ‘Peter Boyle’ aspect of Frank Barone’s life meant a great deal to them. There will be a time and place for them to grieve. But it isn’t now. We felt their presence would have been confusing to the American public that has invited the Barones into their living room every Monday night for the last nine years – never mind the syndication schedule, which is pretty much set up for eternity.”

The announcement that the show will be re-broadcast later Sunday night directly opposite the live telecast of Pope Benedict’s Midnight Mass from St. Peter’s Basilica on Christmas Eve, has drawn some criticism. “Sure the Pope is the Pope and a lot of people and shut-ins look forward to that telecast,” said Goldblast. “But, frankly, we expect the Barone special to blow it out of the water.”

Jacoby: Atheists' bleak alternative

By Hadleyblogger Bobby

A longtime personal policy requires religious messages/imagery on any Christmas cards I purchase. I have been taking advantage of the Southern Baptist Convention's LifeWay store sale (buy one, get one free) on either Hallmark or Lawson Falle cards (I chose Lawson Falle's Sandi Patty collection this year), which I purchase after the buy one, get one free deal, for an average of 47 cents a card.

After participating in a Messiah singalong Monday night, and after being aguest choral member at another church for the production a week earlier (I couldn't sing it at my home church, since our music "leader" is too obsessed with the choir singing karaoke pop and having teen dancers, not singers, as the centre of the church music department), and last month attending the South Carolina Philharmonic's production of the full piece, with the soprano soloist being none other than my voice teacher, you can understand where I can get not enough of the masterpiece!"

This article from the Boston Globe, however, was one which had me pondering what was next.

Atheists' bleak alternative

By Jeff Jacoby, Globe Columnist December 13, 2006

FROM THE land that produced "A Christmas Carol" and Handel's "Messiah," more evidence that Christianity is fading in Western Europe: Nearly 99 percent of Christmas cards sold in Great Britain contain no religious message or imagery."

Traditional pictures such as angels blowing trumpets over a stable, Jesus in his manger, the shepherds and three wise men following the star to Bethlehem are dying out," the Daily Mail reports. A review of some 5,500 Christmas cards turns up fewer than 70 that make any reference to the birth of Jesus. "Hundreds . . . avoided any image linked to Christmas at all" -- even those with no spiritual significance, such as Christmas trees or Santa Claus.

Presumably the greeting-card industry is only supplying what the market demands; if Christian belief and practice weren't vanishing from the British scene, Christian-themed cards wouldn't be, either. But some Britons, not all of them devout, are resisting the tide. Writing in the Telegraph, editor-at-large Jeff Randall -- who describes himself as "somewhere between an agnostic and a mild believer" -- announces that any Christmas card he receives that doesn't at least mention the word "Christmas" goes straight into the trash. "Jettisoning Christmas-less cards is my tiny, almost certainly futile, gesture against the dark forces of political correctness," he writes. "It's a swipe at those who would prefer to abolish Christmas altogether, in case it offends 'minorities.' Someone should tell them that, with only one in 15 Britons going to church on Sundays, Christians are a minority."

Meanwhile, the employment law firm Peninsula says that 75 percent of British companies have banned Christmas decorations for fear of being sued by someone who finds the holiday offensive. And it isn't only in December that this anti-Christian animus rears its head. British Airways triggered a furor when it ordered an employee to hide the tiny cross she wears around her neck. At the BBC, senior executives agreed that they would not air a program showing a Koran being thrown in the garbage -- but that the trashing of a Bible would be acceptable.

"It's extraordinary," remarks Randall. "In an increasingly godless age, there is a rising tide of hatred against those who adhere to biblical values." A "tyrannical minority" of intolerant secularists is openly contemptuous of traditional moral norms. "The teachings and guidance of old-fashioned Christianity offend them, so they seek to remove all traces of it from public life."

You don't have to be especially pious to find this atheist zealotry alarming. Nor do you have to live in Europe. Though religion remains important in American life, antireligious passion is surging here, too.

Examples abound: In two recent best sellers , Sam Harris heaps scorn on religious believers, whose faith he derides as "a few products of ancient ignorance and derangement." A study in the Journal of Religion and Society claims that belief in God correlates with higher rates of homicide, sexual promiscuity, and other social ills, and that when compared with relatively secular democracies, the churchgoing United States "is almost always the most dysfunctional." Secular absolutists demand that schools and government venues be cleansed of any hint of religious expression -- be it a cross on the Los Angeles county seal, a courthouse display of the Ten Commandments, or the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

What is at stake in all this isn't just angels on Christmas cards. What society loses when it discards Judeo-Christian faith and belief in God is something far more difficult to replace: the value system most likely to promote ethical behavior and sustain a decent society. That is because without God, the difference between good and evil becomes purely subjective. What makes murder inherently wrong is not that it feels wrong,but that a transcendent Creator to whom we are answerable commands: "Thou shalt not murder." What makes kindness to others inherently right is not that human reason says so, but that God does: "Love thy neighbor as thyself; I am the Lord."

Obviously this doesn't mean that religious people are always good, or that religion itself cannot lead to cruelty. Nor does it mean that atheists cannot be beautiful, ethical human beings. Belief in God alone does not guarantee goodness. But belief tethered to clear ethical values -- Judeo-Christian monotheism -- is society's best bet for restraining our worst moral impulses and encouraging our best ones.

The atheist alternative is a world in which right and wrong are ultimately matters of opinion, and in which we are finally accountable to no one but ourselves. That is anything but a tiding of comfort and joy.

Jeff Jacoby's e-mail address is

P. S. The South Carolina Philharmonic's production of Handel's Messiah, complete with my voice teacher as the soprano soloist, airs Christmas night at 8 PM EST on SC Education Radio.

Monday, December 18, 2006

More on Alagna at La Scala

Appropos of Mitchell's post the other day, here's the video of Alagna storming off the stage last week at La Scala.

I have no idea what the commentators are saying, but the footage itself is worth it.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Secret Life of Frosty the Snowman

Classic Our Word

Last night we had our friends Badda Blogger, the D&B, and The Boy over for dinner. It was a pleasant evening of good food, good conversation and fellowship. In the course of the night the talk turned to esoteric things like Christmas television (Badda had never seen the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol, nor the Mr. Magoo rendition), and it reminded me of this piece from a couple of years ago, when my friend Hadleyblogger Peter analyzed the true meaning of the Rankin-Bass classic Frosty the Snowman. It was one of my favorite posts then, and remains so today.

An added note: the same writer who penned Frosty, Romeo Muller, also wrote Rankin-Bass' Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, and if Frosty parallels the New Testament Resurrection, Santa Claus suggests the Old Testament story of Moses, with the young Claus child of the cartoon left in a basket at the door of the despotic Burgermeister Meisterburger, the baby (renamed Kris) being raised in the home of Tanta Kringle and the toy-making elves, and the eventual exodus of Kris, his wife, and the elves out of the Burgermeister's influence to the safety of the North Pole. I don't know if anyone has ever seriously analyzed the religious undertones of these cartoons, but I think it might make for an interesting venture.


My friend Peter DePalma is a pretty bright guy, so when he told me about the allegorical implications of Frosty the Snowman, I had to sit up and take notice.

I’d always enjoyed the cartoon in something of a nostalgic way, as part of the memories of Christmases past. At that, I thought the plot was kind of thin. I mean, a kid thinking they can take a train to the North Pole on Christmas Eve? Without bringing any money? And then there’s the phony magician, the talking rabbit, and – well, you get the picture. You didn’t watch Frosty for the drama, you simply basked in its warm sepia glow.

But then Peter asked me if I’d ever noticed how the story of Frosty was an allegory for the life of Christ.

“What?” I think I said.

“Sure,” he replied, and proceeded to document the ways:

  • His birth occurs in the dead of winter, much as Christ's birth is symbolized with the evergreen in winter (and obviously suggests miraculous life from a dead or virginal womb).
  • Frosty always says, "Happy Birthday!" when he comes to life...strongly suggesting a birth... and the tradition of birthdays probably comes from the celebration of Christ's birth.
  • Frosty’s self-sacrifice, going into the greenhouse to save Karen’s life even though he risks melting in the heat, much as Christ the Savior suffers and dies on the Cross.
  • The resurrection – Santa opens the door to the greenhouse and the winter winds sweep into the room, bringing Frosty to life, in the same way that the Holy Spirit (often portrayed in the Bible as a wind) enters the Tomb.
  • Frosty goes to the North Pole with Santa in his sleigh, as Christ Ascends into Heaven.
  • Frosty returns every year with Santa (“I’ll be back again some day,” he sings in the song.) Christ, having been seated at the right hand of the Father, will come again in glory.

Interesting, hm? Of course, Peter added, “some folks will read that and think I'm making too much out of a tenuous connection. Those people may be right, but I only say that to be polite. It would be too much of a coincidence, otherwise. It's obviously magicked-up (or kid-story-ified) to make into a neat little story for children, but the inspiration is obvious. The producers might not have wanted to make a Christian story, and that's certainly possible... however, they clearly used the Christ story as inspiration."

All of a sudden, the story starts to make sense, and what until then had been a fairly one-dimensional cartoon (literally, given that the rest of the Rankin-Bass cartoons were done in that three-dimensional animation) has become, in fact, a much deeper and more complex parable. Now, maybe this is like Pink Floyd and the Wizard of Oz in that everyone in the world already knew about this and I’m just finding out. I’d be interested to hear if anyone out there has noticed a similar religious vein to the story. And I’d love to be able to ask Arthur Rankin, Jr., the producer, if either he or Romeo Muller, the writer of the story, had any intentions of this.If not, of course, it’s just another example of how the Lord works through even the most common and ordinary means.

P.S. Here's a pretty neat website!

Friday, December 15, 2006

This Just In

By Steve

“Ode to Joy” Spells Doom for Woman Murdered at “Messiah”
Cell Phone Chime Causes “Oratorio Rage” in Fellow Concertgoer

FORT LAUDERDALE , FL – A woman strangled at Thursday night’s performance of Handel’s “Messiah” was the victim of a rare but increasing phenomenon known as “Oratorio Rage,” according to a classical music scholar.

Jocelyn Beaumont, 47, of Lauderhill , died shortly after being choked by fellow concertgoer Stanley Decanter. According to witnesses, Decanter apparently flew into an uncontrollable rage when Beaumont’s cell phone rang during a particularly affecting moment of the famed Christmas oratorio. At least one bystander reported that the ringtone was playing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” at the time of the attack.

(Left) Composer Georg Frederich Handel, whose
Messiah was the source of consternation Thursday night when a concertgoer couldn't keep a handel [sic] on his emotions.

Decanter, 53, of Sunrise, was free on $10,000 bail following his arrest Thursday.

Florida Atlantic University professor and classical musicologist Dr. Leopold Batonne said such events could be expected to increase in the future.

“A number of circumstances combined to produce Mr. Decanter’s ‘Oratorio Rage,’ Batonne said. “If initial accounts are accurate, the cell phone rang during the ‘Pastoral Symphony’ portion of ‘Messiah.’ This is one of the most peaceful, spiritual moments of the entire oratorio, and would be an unconscionable interruption for the classical aficionado.

“Then, there was Ms. Beaumont’s unfortunate ringtone selection. In the first place, the Classical dynamism of Beethoven clashes badly with the Baroque sensibilities of Handel. Add to that Beethoven’s reputation as a composer who speaks to, let us say, the more ‘casual’ classical music fan. It takes real discernment to appreciate, say, Palestrina or Berlioz, but any fool off the street can identify ‘Ode to Joy.’ For a man of Mr. Decanter’s taste – I’m told he’s a season ticket subscriber to the Fort Lauderdale Philharmonic – that ringtone was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. Or the woman’s neck, in this case.”

Batonne’s final statement sounded an ominous warning. “The true classical music lover looks at the cannon as a sacred trust, to be protected from desecration at any cost. As the sense of ownership grows and ferments, we can expect more and more incidents of this kind to occur - clashes with people who think Andre Rieu or Andrea Bocelli epitomize 'classical' music. Frankly, if my enjoyment of Mendelssohn’s ‘Elijah’ was interrupted by someone’s cell phone blurting out the ‘William Tell Overture,’ I don’t know what I’d do myself.”

Beaumont has so far refused all comment, other than to shout, “No jury in the world will convict me!” as he was led away in handcuffs.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Boos Have It

By Mitchell

Phil Taylor of had an interesting column last week on "Boo-Bird Nation" - the increasing amount of booing going on at sporting events. No longer the specialty of Philadelphia, "[b]ooing has become almost a hobby for the American sports fan, no longer just a way of expressing displeasure, but a form of pleasure in and of itself."

People used to boo because they were mad -- at their team, at the opponent, at the refs. Now you get the feeling that many of them boo just because they like it.

Perhaps that's what opera star Roberto Alagna had in mind when he stormed off the stage at La Scala Sunday night after being booed by a portion of the audience. His stunned co-star was left to sing alone; the understudy, dressed in jeans and a black shirt, was hastily thrust onto the stage to fill the role. The managers at La Scala say Alagna's finished there; he says he'll sue to be allowed to return. I'm not sure whether this act - many of us might consider it unprofessional - will hurt Alagna in the long run; in the opera world, such are the makings of legends.

It does conjure up some wonderful images, though. Imagine Allan Iverson stomping off the court the next time he gets booed by the hometown fans (wherever his new hometown may be), or Rex Grossman throwing his hands up and leaving the stadium when the Bears fans get on him after he throws his next pick. Try to picture Barry Bonds saying, "Screw you! I don't need to take this," the first time people start yelling at him about steroids next season. (Actually, that's something I would like to see.) If Alagna's gesture catches on in the sporting world, we could be treated to entertaining clips on SportsCenter for years to come.

At least Placido Domingo didn't walk out when he was booed at the Met earlier this month. Of course, in this case it was for his conducting, rather than his singing. And I suppose there are some musicians out there who would have welcomed the opportunity to show the audience that the conductor's role has always been overrated, anyway. Still, Domingo, the consummate pro, kept his cool and his baton, and the show went on. And if I had to guess, I'd say that Alagna's probably a better role model for the modern professional athlete, anyway.

On second thought, perhaps it's the pro athlete who should be the role model for opera. After all, the arrest last week of the Cincinnati Bengals' Deltha O'Neal (for DUI) marked the eighth time a Bengals player had been busted this season, and it doesn't seem to have hurt the NFL's popularity one bit. Opera, like all of classical music, continues to struggle to increase its audience. Maybe Alagna's on to something at that.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Office "Holiday" Party

Classic Our Word

During this exciting time of year, who has time to blog? So over the next couple of weeks, we'll be augmenting our new material with some of our Christmas posts of the past.

Many of you are probably getting ready for your office "holiday" parties about now, so it seems like a good time to revisit this piece of Mitchell's from 2004. Try not to read it on a full stomach.


Hang on, here comes another rant against Corporate America!

This time it’s the corporate “Holiday Luncheon.” Of course, we ought to be used to that kind of terminology by now, but here’s what makes this one interesting, and perhaps even more irritating – the subtitle, “A Celebration of Diversity.” The events being commemorated are Ramadan (Islam), Diwali (Hinduism), Christmas (Christian), Hanukkah (Jewish), and Kwanzaa (African American). A short description of each is included in the flyer handed out to employees announcing the luncheon. Not surprisingly, the description of Christmas is accorded less space than any of the others.

What are we to make of this? Let’s start with Hanukkah. For many years, it has been celebrated alongside Christmas as if it were the Jewish equivalent, despite the fact that it is a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar. Last year, John Derbyshire at National Review Online shared these insightful comments (page down to December 22) from a correspondent: “[O]ne of the main reasons Christmas has been marginalized and even the word 'Christmas' is disappearing from public discourse is because Hanukkah has been elevated to a position out of all proportion to its traditionally minor significance. And the success Hanukkah has enjoyed in gaining public recognition has inspired the more recent success of Kwanzaa, Ramadan, and other winter festivals in gaining prominence in America, all at the expense of Christmas.”

While it’s customary to include Hanukkah in “Happy Holidays,” what about Ramadan? That was October 15, which seems to be really stretching it to include it in a December celebration. Diwali commemorates the “triumph of righteousness, knowledge and enlightenment over ignorance, sorrow and spiritual darkness.” One can’t help but think that for Hindus, belief in any of the other faiths included in the celebration is a sure sign of “ignorance, sorrow and spiritual darkness.” Then, of course, there’s a prime competitor to Christmas - Kwanzaa, an event celebrating not diversity but divisiveness, which as Derbyshire describes, "was invented out of whole cloth by a violent 1960s criminal-radical thug, employs a language spoken by the ancestors of practically no black Americans at all (and a language which owed its own prominence to its use as a lingua france for Arab slave traders), celebrates the fruits of harvest at a time of year when nobody in the world is harvesting anything, [and] promotes communistic values." Read this devistating review by Richard Rosendall for more details.

Well, it certainly is a diverse group, but it’s hard to see how honoring these five dates amounts to a celebration of diversity. In fact, most of these events commemorate a lack of diversity – Kwanzaa is an exclusionary event, limited to African Americans, and Diwali and Ramadan celebrate revelations that would seem to put believers at spiritual odds with non-believers. What we have here is a mini-United Nations of faith celebrations. It’s also like the UN in that it attempts to force these five into some kind of common ground. It’s like trying to mix oil and water.

There is one exception, of course. One event that is diverse, inclusive, meant for everyone, both inside and outside its given group.

The event, of course, is Christmas.

In the words of the “Holiday Luncheon,” Christmas “[c]elebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.” As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Savior was born for all, not just for a select group. While Christians understand that acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is essential for salvation, we don’t believe this message is only for Christians. It’s for the whole world, for anyone who wants to hear and believe. While the Jews were originally to be the initial beneficiaries, the ultimate plan was to extent the benefits to all, regardless of race, creed, sex, or national origin, and it becomes the duty of every Christian to spread the word, to make sure as many people as possible can hear it. The sacrifice to which this birth inevitably led was all-encompassing, the Blood “shed for you and for all (pro multis, for the multitudes) for the forgiveness of sins.”

A truly diverse group, in other words, and if this event alone doesn’t qualify as “A Celebration of Diversity,” I’m not sure what does.

And yet, the sole rationale for a “holiday” event, the only reason for its existence, is to deny the very mention of the word Christmas and to minimize, if not completely eliminate, its meaning. Ironic, isn’t it?

Some will point out that Muslims, for example, also believe in one God. But they see that God as Allah – Master. Jesus referred to God as Abba – Father. And there’s a fundamental difference right there, between compelling belief and inviting it. Ah, but we could spend days discussing the implications of this. I’ll try to stick to the point.

I guess what really gets me is this continuing attempt to lump these events together and give them some kind of moral equivalence. They take such obvious pains to minimize Christmas to the point where it’s only considered an equal with the others (if that), as if they have the same meaning and significance, not only within each individual group but for all groups.

If individuals belonging to other groups or faiths want to celebrate particular events, well and good. There should be no attempt to prevent them – this country does believe in religious freedom (at least for non-Christians). But can we really, in good conscience, look at the numbers of adherents and their contributions to American culture and say that these days deserve equal billing with Christmas? As Derbyshire’s correspondent put it, “Neither Hanukkah nor the other winter festivals have anything to match even this very tiny portion of all the great art inspired by or associated with Christmas. However, once we admit that Hanukkah should be treated as the equal of Christmas, despite the fact that its significance in Western culture is close to zero and its significance in traditional Judaism is minor, we really cannot complain about Kwanzaa or Ramadan.”

I know what you're thinking. “It's only religious tolerance,” some will respond. No it isn’t. Tolerance doesn’t mean the same thing as equality. This is political correctness.

Compare this to a political convention, where the party has to make sure every faction has their say at the podium. The party may say they’re all “important.” But there’s no misunderstanding the pecking order – smaller, less significant groups get stuck on C-SPAN and go up against Regis Philbin, while the big names – Clinton, Ahnold, Kerry and Bush – they get the prime-time network coverage.

But imagine the Republicans had Bush speak at 3 a.m., while giving the prime-time network coverage to some obscure county commissioner running for re-election. See what I mean? When push comes to shove, political parties don’t try to pretend all groups have the same importance, carry the same weight and significance. And neither should we.

I know these rants of mine against Corporate America might strike some as odd, coming as they do from a conservative. Believe me, I’ve never forgotten that, as a friend of mine put it, “corporate America does produce jobs, after all.” And I still prefer capitalism to the other kinds of –isms out there.

But you notice that I always capitalize the word Corporate. I’m talking about an ideology unto itself, a way of group thought and group speak that I believe is extremely damaging to this country. It’s companies that don’t care about using pornography to advertise their products as along as people buy them, and television networks that don’t care what they show as long as people watch. It’s calling deviant behavior normal in order to court favor from special interest groups and make a buck off them, using corporate funds to support the abortion industry, and providing benefits to “domestic partners.” It’s all this and a hundred things more that call to mind the words from the Book of Wisdom, “But he considered our existence an idle game, and life a festival held for profit, for he says one must get money however one can, even by base means. For this man, more than all others, knows that he sins when he makes from earthy matter fragile vessels and graven images.” (Wisdom 15:12-13) And recall also the words of our Lord Himself, Who said, “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes!” (Matthew 18:7)

There are a lot of them out there, and they are the worst enemies that capitalism has, because they turn people against them, and the people start to wonder if there’s a better way. They force governments to regulate them because they can’t or won’t regulate themselves. And for all of us who do believe in a Christian form of capitalism, who think it’s better than the alternative, it’s up to us to do something. That’s why we speak up, we boycott, we call attention to the fact that something is not right. We run the risk of being mocked – called old-fashioned, fundamentalist, intolerant, mean-spirited. We may not be able to do much, but we do what we can – do it with love and charity in our hearts and words – and leave the rest in God’s hands.

It’s also why sometimes we don’t go to “free” lunches. We know the price of a free lunch can be too high a price to pay.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Saturday Matinees

By Hadleyblogger Drew

Tomorrow marks the start of the Metropolitan Opera's 76th radio broadcast season with Mozart's Idomeneo. (Not, I trust, the production offered by the Berlin Opera.) As it does, one might wonder whether it is the last season for the Met on broadcast radio.

The Saturday matinee broadcasts of the Met have been an institution for generations. Many, including yours truly, got their first taste of big-time opera listening to the Met on Saturday afternoons. For years Texaco was the title sponsor of the broadcasts, until (after their merger with Chevron) their bottom-line mentality, in the best tradition of modern Corporate America, got the better of them and they dropped their sponsorship. Things looked bleak then, but the Met was able to find new funding, and the broadcasts continued.

Where, then, is the threat coming from this time? Oddly enough, from the Met itself. This year the Met introduced two revolutionary additions to their broadcast schedule: the introduction on Sirius of Met Opera radio (four live broadcasts a week plus historic performances), and, later this month, the debut of live HD broadcasts in movie theaters nationwide.

So on one hand this is good news indeed, as Met broadcasts are now more available than ever before. (Whether the Met itself merits the title of America's opera company is a question for another day.) The downside, then, would appear to be the potential loss of free, over-the-air, broadcasts - the Sirius channel requires a monthly subscription, and tickets for the theater simulcasts will run about $15 a pop.

But let's not kid ourselves - classical music itself has been marginalized in our crass modern culture, and opera is perhaps the most marginalized within that genre. It's getting harder and harder to find classical music on the radio (even on public radio, which always falls back on the "you can only get it here" mantra whenever it tries to extort more taxpayer money). The free market, the law of supply-and-demand, suggests that the entrepreneur will always find ways to meet the need, and from that standpoint the Met seems to have done pretty well. One could argue that by going the pay-access route, the Met is giving its fans what they want - more (and better) live broadcasts, not to mention access to its vast archives. Terry Teachout, in a piece I can't put my hands on at the moment, forecast such a possibility years ago. So in that sense, we could be about to enter the golden era of Met broadcasting.

(And, speaking of public radio and the law of unintended consequences, one wonders if the loss of the Met on broadcast radio would have an impact on NPR's fundraising, since public radio accounts for most of the stations carrying the broadcasts. Will the opera listeners who used to pony up during the pledge breaks now save their money for a Sirius subscription? The thought almost makes it all worthwhile.)

But if that's the case, I'll still mourn the loss of the Saturday matinees. Not for myself, because I'll probably wind up doing whatever I have to do in order to the the level of access I want. But I do wonder how many people receive a fleeting, casual introduction to opera by surfing the radio dial and happening upon one of the broadcasts? It might not stick with them right then and there, that first time - maybe it's the second or third time, when they leave the station on just a little bit longer, enough to hear Domingo nail that final note, to thrill to the cheers of a live audience, to catch the sense of drama that even a radio broadcast of an opera can provide. There is, after all, a big difference between fulfillment and education. The Met on satellite and HD may cater to the opera fan, but will it still ensnare the accidental listener? As is so often the case, I suppose time will tell.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

This Just In

By Steve

Wife Sues Frist For "Wasted Time" Damages After He Pulls Out of POTUS Race
Says “dumb book” only written to “get his name out there”

NASHVILLE, TN -- Karyn McLaughlin Frist, wife of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), announced today that she is has filed a lawsuit against her husband for pressuring her to write a book in preparation for his assumed run for the presidency, only to see him drop out of the race nearly two years before election day.

(Left) Senator Bill Frist, unable to hide his concern after learning of his wife's "wasted time" lawsuit.

Her announcement came just hours after Frist announced he would not be seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2008.

"Everyone knows why I wrote that dumb book," said McLaughlin, who authored and has recently been doing press tours for "Love You, Daddy Boy": Daughters Honor the Fathers They Love." I only wrote it because Bill wanted to get his Frist name out there in plenty of time for Iowa and New Hampshire and all that primary B.S. So like a good little wife I did what he wanted - I wasted a lot of time on things like research and ghostwriters - and then he pulls he pulls this crap on me. Well, I'm not going to let him get away with it. I may not be a big-shot politician or famous heart surgeon like he is, but my time is worth something, too."

Senator Frist refused to comment on his wife’s lawsuit, referring all questions to his office manager, who was on vacation until after the first of the year.

The amount of damages being sought by McLaughlin on the basis of her wasted time has not been made public. But indications are that it may become a class-action suit, with other literary wives such as Elizabeth (Mrs. John) Edwards, another recent first-time author, becoming involved should their political husbands also fail to pursue their well-known presidential ambitions.

“It’s really uncharted territory,” said D.C. lawyer and literary agent Benjamin “Briefcase” Torte, who has collaborated on several hastily-written candidate “books” over the years. “Given that large corporations have been leveraging their brand names for years, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised to see in happening with political families as well. But if she’s claiming breach of promise, this kind of suit could have far-reaching implications. It could cause young people thinking about entering the political field to include agreements about situations like this in their prenups.”

"I understand how people may think this looks ridiculous, going to court and all," said McLaughlin at a hastily arranged press conference. "But if it gets me out of having to spend a full hour with Larry King, that in itself will be worth it."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Recent Thought About Church Music

By Hadleyblogger Bobby

While my voice teacher was between students and visited friends, the student who precedes me (who is 21 or more years older than I am) and I discussed the trends in church music, and she grew concerned after the new music leader in her church is pushing the pop. She thought it was the denomination, but as I learned in a visit to a church to the south of my home in the Midlands of South Carolina, that is not the problem.

"It's not the (major denominations) behind the push towards pop-rock music. Rather, it is the influence of younger music leaders, their attachment to pop-rock music, and the payoffs of the major church music publishers, especially since most of the major (to Protestant) publishers are secular giants (Britain's EMI Group plc, Germany's Bertelsmann AG -- whose music publishing arm is slated to be sold to France's Vivendi, and Warner Music Group, led by Edgar Bronfman, Jr, the heirs to the family which ran Seagram's liquor). For Catholics, the major offenders are GIA Publications (Chicago) and Oregon Catholic Press. In most cases, however, it is the idea of younger music leaders who have never heard Bach, Handel, or Haydn, pushing their congregations into dumbing down the music.

Today's church music leaders who are in favour of the pop-rock are well-supported with the powerful marketing forces of EMI, Bertelsmann, WMG, GIA, or OCP, which are well financed, and with the more Protestant-based publishers, the huge marketing machine of the three which are supported by cash and support to encourage playing their songs, since church will have to pay the publishers to play their songs, and add their influence everywhere.

EMI, the largest publisher, pushes church leaders to play the latest Chris Tomlin rock piece, which is backed by their huge departments, including sales of Tomlin's latest album at major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target, Sears Holding (Sears Gold and Kmart), Best Buy, Sam Goody, and also the same of downloads of Mr. Tomlin's music at sites endorsed by EMI. The major pop-rock supporters release "Worship Together" albums and magazines to tell church leaders how to play the latest rock song via chords (no sheet music) and give no respect to those by the sheet singers.

The leaders then push for choirs to sing karaoke to modern rock soundtracks.

On the night as I walked back from our Precept study, I watched as kids practiced their Christmas musical. It was downright disgusting and my teacher would have blown the whistle for poor vocal quality on the students. The voices were amplified and they used karaoke accompaniment.

The issue is further detailed in an article from seven years ago, "The Triumph of the Praise Songs," written by college professor Michael Hamilton.

But in all of the research, it is clear that the push for more "contemporary" rock songs in church is not by a denomination; rather, it is the worship leaders, who have been influenced by the rock songs from attending conferences provided by the major record labels, behind the betrayal of the hymnal, the oratorio, and aria. One year, my voice teacher (not my present voice teacher) and I were awaiting the start of a lesson (it was at an Episcopal church's choir room, as she was a member of the church), and one of the rock artists was practicing the "modern worship" tunes for a future service for teens.

The kids are influenced by the modern work; in churches, modern rock services outdraw organs, two to one. I ask if the MTV generation, fresh off winning an election with MTV influence (through The Daily Show and the Colbert Report), also is winning the worship music war with MTV-style pop/rock in churches, pushed by the major publishers because the more they play the pop-rock songs, the better it puts the bottom line of the publishers, especially the bottom line of the companies which produce such publications.

Leadership trained by MTV has created the vacuum which is hurting those in church who wish to sing the majestic works of the great composers.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The War on the "Investor Class"

By Hadleyblogger Bobby

In the runup to the election, I wrote Charleston radio talk show host Charlie Thompson an interesting perspective, and what I believe is the next big battle in the New Left Congress -- The War on the Investor Class.

From a standpoint of time, today's stock market is like the Biblical parable of talents. Help support good companies, and you will see your money grow. Lazy people with money will not work or see that talent grow.

On the Web site OPENSECRETS.ORG, I found a report on investments, and my belief is when liberals talk about "two Americas" (as John Edwards says) orbring up their "class warfare" redistribution tactics, their fight isn'tabout Upper vs Middle vs Lower Class, but instead Investor Class vs the Non-Investors.

One example of a tax the New Left wants to impose is to tax capital gains not as a lower rate (15% -- Bush wants it even lower!) but instead tax them as income, which in their dream world, is 40%. (There are plans established by liberals to raise the income tax rate to 40% for certain people.) Liberals imposed a "sunset" on Bush tax cuts so that the Bush Tax Cuts will be killed immediately so their tax hikes will go back into power.

The Left hates investors because investors would rather put a dollar after leisure (golf, theatre, opera, the SC Philharmonic, hockey games -- yes, AA-level hockey is very popular in South Carolina, with two current ECHL teams (the Charleston team draws 10,000 for the Interstate 26 War between teams in Charleston (Washington affiliate) and Columbia (Toronto affiliate)game) and a third (Conway) starting in 2007-08, and the works; the Wild's AA affiliate is in Beaumont, TX.) into the market instead of putting the same dollar into Powerball. The state LOOTtery collects over one billion dollars a year in revenue -- if it was a publicly traded company, it would make more in revenue than all but the state's top five publicly traded companies, two of which (SON and SCG) I hold shares. Liberals believe money in their pocket is better than money in my pocket. A look at the report on Congressional investors will show where conservatives are more likely to go into the market than liberals based on the top fifty companies (and ties).

The report on Congressional Investors (Firm - Total Investors - Dems - Reps)

1. General Electric - 103 - 37 - 66
2. Pfizer - 80 - 32 - 47
3. Cisco Systems - 75 - 30 - 45
4. Microsoft Corp - 73 - 24 - 49
5. Intel - 67 - 26 - 41
6. Exxon Mobil* - 64 - 18 - 46
7. Johnson & Johnson - 54 - 22 - 32
8. Home Depot - 53 - 21 - 32
8. Procter & Gamble - 53 - 21 - 32
10. JPMorgan Chase - 50 - 17 - 33
11. IBM - 49 - 17 - 32
12. Citigroup - 46 - 15 - 31
13. Wal-Mart - 43 - 12 - 31
14. Verizon - 42 - 10 - 32
14. Coca-Cola Company* - 42 - 11 - 31
16. AT&T Inc (1) - 41 - 12 - 29
16. Merck - 41 - 14 - 27
18. Amgen Inc - 40 - 10 - 30
19. PepsiCo - 39 - 14 - 25
20. Hewlett-Packard - 38 - 15 - 23
20. Dell - 38 - 14 - 24
22. Time Warner - 37 - 17 - 20
23. Lucent Technologies (2) - 34 - 12 - 22
24. Chevron - 32 - 10 - 22
24. Walt Disney Co - 32 - 11 - 21
26. Wells Fargo - 31 - 12 - 19
26. Nokia* - 31 - 13 - 18
26. Medtronic - 31 - 10 - 21
26. Motorola - 31 - 9 - 22
26. Comcast - 31 - 10 - 21
26. British Petroleum - 31 - 8 - 23
26. Bristol-Myers Squibb - 31 - 11 - 20
33. Wachovia** - 30 - 9 - 21
34. Texas Instruments - 27 - 14 - 13
34. American International Group - 27 - 12 - 15
36. Fannie Mae - 26 - 9 - 17
36. Oracle - 26 - 8 - 18
38. Altria Group (3) - 25 - 5 - 20
39. American Express - 24 - 6 - 18
39. EMC - 24 - 9 - 15
41. Bank of America - 23 - 7 - 16
41. Washington Mutual - 23 - 11 - 12
43. Vodafone (4) - 22 - 12 - 10
43. Sun Microsystems - 22 - 12 - 10
43. Tyco International - 22 - 6 - 15 - 1 Independent
43. ConocoPhillips - 22 - 7 - 15
47. Berkshire Hathaway - 21 - 7 - 14
47. Ford Motor Co - 21 - 7 - 14
47. Walgreens - 21 - 11 - 10
47. MedCo Health Solutions - 21 - 10 - 11

* Bobby holds shares in these companies.

** Bobby has his brokerage account in Wachovia Securities. Bobby also has an IRA with Sharebuilder, a joint venture of various financial firms, and in some firms has a DRIP account, administered by the Bank of New York, Citigroup, or Computershare.

(1) The former SBC Communications. Includes investments in the former American Telephone & Telegraph, which was purchased by SBC. SBC changed its name to AT&T after the takeover.

(2) To be acquired by France's Alcatel.

(3) The former Philip Morris. MO is also a minority interest holder in South African Breweries (Miller beer) and Kraft Foods.

(4) Vodafone is the world's largest wireless telephone company, based in the United Kingdom. Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon andVodafone, and is their only way to penetrate the US market.

This report should show where the Right puts their money where their mouth is - in the investment bank, and to prove they are the Party of the Investor Class.

I noticed how the Democrats are huge into Vodafone, the big European phonegiant. Why aren't we seeing many liberals investing into American phonegiants? I also saw how the Left dislikes (gasp!) investment brokerages.

One attack on the investor class I am hearing from the liberals: They are planning to remove tax breaks currently in place to encourage drilling in the United States, as part of an attempt to force us to buy our oil from their cronies in Venezuela (Hugo Chávez) or in Iran.

The Investor Class was built by changes which created discount brokerages, the Dividend Reinvestment Programs (DRIP), the influence of CNN's Moneyline (from 1980-2001, CNN's financial news show) and CNBC (including "MadMoney," the show designed for the 18-34 crowd), and the Bull Market. The Left's attack on the Investor Class is a want to return to the era where government money was better than the free market, and that's why they do not want Social Security invested in the market, when clearly the market has created a Bull Run that has given us President Bush, an investor himself.

This Just In

By Steve

“Palance Virus” Seen as Possible Biological Weapons Breakthrough

ATLANTA, GA – Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control are attempting to isolate the virus that recently claimed the life of veteran film tough guy Jack Palance, who passed away earlier this month at age 87. Unnamed sources confirm that the effort has been initiated by the CIA for possible use in a secret biomedical weapons program.

(Left) Movie tough guy Jack Palance: Is it possible he's even tougher in death than he was in life?

“Anything that could bring Palance down has got to be one nasty bug,” said the source. “I mean this guy defined craggy. Not only did he play probably the meanest sonofabitch in movie history, he was also out there doing one-arm pushups at the Oscars on national TV in his 70s. He was like a like a walking piece of beef jerky.”

If the so-called “Palance Virus” can be isolated, military analysts are speculating about its possible use in combat situations.

“This is no little scratchy throat, low-grade fever, stuffy head, 24-hour infection,” said retired General Remington S. Gatling, former director of the Army’s secret Biological Weapons Division. “We’re talking weapons-grade. It has to be.”

Once identified, the virus will be subjected to rigorous testing to determine its viability as a biological weapons agent. General Gatling described the process the virus would likely undergo. “First, benchmark standards will be created, by which the relative strength of the virus can be measured. Our scientists will then construct computer models based on DNA samples of certain well-known individuals and, by introducing the virus, simulate the effect it would have on these individuals, telling us about its potency as a biological weapon."

Referring to a copy of an intricate, brightly-colored PowerPoint bar chart, Gatling elaborated. “For example, at the lowest end of the scale we have C-list comedian Andy Dick. This would be the absolute minimum strength required for the virus to be effective – at this level you might as well be talking about the common cold.” Moving further up the scale, Gatling noted that the standards become more demanding. “Arnold Schwarzenegger, who's aging but still pretty buff. Then there's legendary fitness guru Jack LaLanne - you could simulate the effect of it being introduced into one of his juice drink concoctions. If he went down, that would be a good sign. Right after him, Art Linkletter, who first appeared on television three years before it was invented. Some suggested Tony Bennett would be a great test case, but others recommended former President Gerald Ford. They'll probably run it through all those models and sit back and see what happens. You’d need a pretty damn potent bug to bring down any one of them.”

The top of the scale represented the Army’s biggest obstacle, Gatling conceded. “Without a doubt, our biggest challenge is Keith Richards.” The famed Rolling Stone rocker “has probably pumped more chemicals into his body than any human can imagine, to no discernible effect. We’re not sure, but it’s possible he may have built up immunity to any conceivable biological attack. If the Palance Virus could bring him down, we'd know we really had something.

Meanwhile, funeral services are pending for Palance awaiting complete confirmation of his death.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

If He Said It

By Mitchell

So Fox has pulled the plug on the O.J. interview. But thanks to the miracles of modern technology, let's find out what O.J. was really up to...

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Why Bush Should Resign

By Mitchell

Bet that headline got your attention, right? (Either that, or the shock of me posting twice in two weeks.) Of course it’s an attention-grabber as well as being something utterly unlikely to happen, but as an academic exercise it provides a little fun. And while I’m deliberately being provocative, I want to make some serious points as well.

First of all, in the interests of full disclosure I should mention that I've never considered myself a Bush supporter. I didn't vote for him in 2000 (don't worry, I didn't vote for Gore either), and only voted for him in 2004 with reservations. And I do consider myself a former Republican, as well as a former politico. I’m one of those conservatives who feels deserted by the Republicans over the last few years, and I’ve also come to see the folly of depending on politics to answer life’s burning questions (at least politics unsupported by faith). But having said that…

Throughout the Bush administration, but most especially in the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, we have seen the party hierarchy acting as an adjunct of the administration itself. When the RNC campaigned in behalf of Miers (or, more precisely, Bush’s nomination of Miers) it was saying, in effect, that what was good for Bush was good for the party. Not just good, but essential. Taken in conjunction with the typical party line – Republican policies are better for the country than those of the Democrats – one can assume the logical continuation of this thought, which is that Bush’s agenda is good for the country.

Looking at Bush not only as president but as leader of his party it is (to me) an inescapable fact that he is no longer capable of providing leadership on the issues most important to the party’s national agenda. In state after state we saw many incumbents losing because of their relationship to Bush, i.e. being in the same party with him. Not withstanding the loss of the abortion law in South Dakota and the ESCR amendment in Missouri , many of the referenda up for votes last night – same-sex marriage in several states, the MCRI in Michigan , the popular vote on the death penalty in Wisconsin – provide confirmation of Republican core issues. Issues that many Republican candidates failed to connect with, at least until it was too late.

This is not to mention the several cases where the national party organization viciously opposed conservative Republicans involved in primary contests with liberal Republican incumbents (Rhode Island this year, Pennsylvania two years ago). Nor can we neglect the abuse that conservative Republicans have taken from the party organization when they opposed Bush’s policies – on immigration, for example. (Rumors swirled last night and this morning that he would try to work out a deal with House Democrats for a more liberal policy on immigration.)

One wonders where the party goes from here. Are Bush’s policies still the gold standard for the Republicans, or is it every man for himself? If Bush can no longer function as leader of the Republican party, the party that is now committed to providing the loyal opposition, what happens to the Republican agenda?

If we equate the president in his role as party leader with that of national leader, and if we conclude that Bush can no longer credibly lead the party (remember, this is only an academic discussion – a man with nothing to lose may yet surprise us in his final two years), it then follows that Bush can no longer adequately function as president. He cannot manage his party’s agenda, whether through Congress or to the American people, and if that’s a significant part of his role as president then he is failing the test.

Logically then, he should resign.

There are a number of reasons why this won’t happen. We’re not a parliamentary government after all, where the leaders are periodically subject to votes of no confidence. (You have to wonder how many presidents we would have gone through in the last fifteen years or so if that option had been available). Furthermore, on a more purely practical political level, if Bush resigns we get Cheney. In addressing Bush’s shortcomings, would we really be any better off? Cheney is at least as closely identified with the Iraq fiasco as is Bush; to the extent that Iraq cripples the administration, Cheney is at best a push. And while Cheney may well lean more to the right on other issues than Bush, it’s doubtful that he’d have the popular support to get a more conservative agenda through. Besides, he’s not a candidate for president in 2008; allowing him to run as an incumbent through resignation (as Clinton should have done with Gore during Bill’s impeachment) isn’t a factor.

So what then? Bush and Cheney ran as a team; do they step down as one? Leaving the president pro-tempore as the new chief executive? And who is it, anyway? What’s that? Ted Stevens? Uh, never mind. Don’t even suggest the next in line, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. And as a reasonable Democratic friend mentioned to me, there’s no telling what kind of havoc this kind of turmoil would wreak on the economy.

Given the circumstances, this is a scenario that just ain’t gonna happen, except in political potboilers. And yet, my suggestion is only slightly on the facetious side. The president has been a disaster – his foreign policy, while well-intentioned, has lacked vision and failed to correctly anticipate what would come next. One can hardly doubt that Bush recognizes the importance of the war on terror – he knows this perhaps as well as anyone and certainly better than most in the Democratic party. But he no longer has the credibility to carry this fight to our enemies. Domestically, Bush has betrayed the fundamental principles of the conservative, i.e. Reagan, revolution. Certainly in this he has had company, for much of the Republican Congressional leadership has joined him in jumping over the edge. But were they simply playing follow the leader? Was the makeup of Republican leadership inevitable given the disposition of the man at the top of the ticket?

The bottom line is this: the president should either lead, follow, or get out of the way. Bush has demonstrated that he cannot lead, and as president he certainly should not follow the lead of the Democrats. That leaves only one option.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

What the Left Means in "New Directions"

By Bobby

Liberals are losing the momentum despite their "new directions" strategy. With the big conservative momentum and slingshot, is this slingshot of the Saddam conviction, good economic numbers, and huge push enough to put us over the top and keep Dennis Hastert & Company in control of the tax policies, and us in control of the judiciary?

Think of the Left's "New Direction" which will kill investors and the market:

  • New Direction: More judges who will overthrow the US Constitution and replace it with unratified treaties from the United Nations and adopt European law to overturn our Constitution.
  • New Direction: Same-sex "marriage" legalised.
  • New Direction: Secular humanism as the Official State Religion. There will be some alternative religions allowed, but anything based on Christianity will be banned.
  • New Direction: Banning of conservative talk radio from airwaves by speech codes. ("Fairness Doctrine") The codes would also ban religious speech on airwaves.
  • New Direction: Homosexual Special Protections to protect child molesters, banning of laws to protect children.
  • New Direction: Higher taxes and the elimination of the Investor Class by punishing investors with higher taxes, including the elimination of the Extended Term Capital Gains Tax Rate.
  • New Direction: Books revised to promote a Communist angle.
  • New Direction: Congress is meaningless because of the judicial activists in court who will write our laws.
  • New Direction: Terrorists to win control of Iraq, and Iran takes over.
  • New Direction: We lose all wars and we retreat everywhere. Military will be weakened to a "peace" making Peace Corps or AmeriCorps.
  • New Direction: Taiwan to be pigeonholed.
  • New Direction: Ban on research, except for those which will kill people. The research ban will include elimination of tax breaks for major firms to perform huge research on new sources of energy, oil, and a way to turn ANWR into a "monument" so that terrorists and dictators will control oil fields, and we can't be reliant on our own energy.
  • New Direction: The opportunity of new inventions will be gone thanks to liberals' attack on the American Corporation.
  • New Direction: Foreign takeovers in business, research, and our laws.

Monday, November 6, 2006

This Just In

By Steve

Fortune Cookie Writer Fired, Claims Bias

KING OF PRUSSIA, PA -- Local resident Harold Ludman says he can’t understand why he was recently fired from his job writing fortunes for the homemade fortune cookies served at Leonard Wang’s Chow Palace.

“My fortunes speak to the human condition,” Jones said, holding a sheet of paper with his most recent saying, "When misery knocks at the door, you don’t ask if it’s made a reservation." I know it’s not cheery, but it’s real life. People need to face up to that once in awhile.”

Other fortunes which Jones said he was proud of included “If at first you don’t succeed, try again, but know that the possibility is great that you might fail again,” and “Every glorious sunset means you’re one day closer to the cold eternal darkness of the grave.”

Jones said he had always hoped to find a profitable use for his Master’s degree in the works of French existentialists such as Camus and Sarte, and considered writing fortune-cookie fortunes to be the ideal job.

Wang, however, begged to differ.

“People look for escapism when they crack open a fortune cookie,” he said. “They want to read things like, ‘You will meet a tall, dark stranger,’ not the depressing crap he was coming up with. I was afraid I was going to have to start offering Prozac instead of after-dinner mints.”

Ludman, who himself had recently undergone electro-convulsive therapy at nearby Pleasant Valley Mental Health Clinic and Sanitarium, was disappointed with Wang’s decision, but sought to put a positive spin on the dismissal. “I was thinking about getting out of the fortune-cookie business anyway,” he said. “To be honest, there isn’t a lot of growth potential in it. I didn’t want to be caught in the bathroom when the last lifeboat leaves the Titanic, if you know what I mean. Hell, I’m not sure I know what that means.”

As for his future plans, Ludman said, “I’ve already sent my resume to Hallmark. There’s always a market for a good greeting card.”

Friday, November 3, 2006

This Hoffmann a Tale Worth Telling

By Mitchell

Jacques Offenbach died before completing Les contes d’Hoffman (The Tales of Hoffman), which makes it something of a challenge, to say the least, in figuring out exactly how the opera should be done. As is usually the case when dealing with unfinished compositions, a raft of composers, producers, directors, and musicologists have since had a go at what they thought Offenbach would have wanted, and the results (in whatever version) have been good enough to earn Hoffman a much-loved place in the opera repertoire.

But the multiple versions (one critic called it a perpetual work-in-progress) also give producers and directors a great amount of leeway in deciding how they’re going to stage the work. And given the direction the Minnesota Opera has taken during its history, one had good reason to be apprehensive when approaching this year’s production. Ultimately, these apprehensions were mostly groundless in the season’s fourth performance of Hoffman Thursday night at the Ordway.

There was much to like about this Hoffman; the sets, for one thing. Having gotten used (resigned) to the MO’s minimalist staging of recent years, the comparatively lavish sets (which came from the Seattle Opera’s 2005 production) were a delightful surprise. The appearance of the Venetian canals at the start of Act Three produced an audible gasp in the audience, and there were other expressions of pleasure throughout the performance.

The singers were pretty good, too. Richard Troxell, in the title role of the drunken poet, displayed a certain degenerate charm that makes Hoffman an appealing anti-hero. Even though much of his misery is self-inflicted, you can’t help rooting for him even while you’re castigating his decisions. Troxell combined a pleasing vocal style with a physicality that made the role, well, sing. Since Hoffman is in virtually every scene (with the exception, oddly enough, of Act Two, which often is the most affecting) the role requires someone up to the task. Troxell fit the bill.

As Hoffman’s Muse, who masquerades as his friend Nicklausse throughout most of the opera, Adriana Zabala provides a most adequate sidekick. The Muse is a jealous lover who wants Hoffman for herself (the artist dedicated to his art), yet her desire to protect him from the situations into which he constantly gets himself seems born of a genuine concern and love at least as much as jealousy. Zabala’s Nicklausse displays a good-humored exasperation with Hoffman, but it is always discreet, never overbearing. She won the lion’s share of the applause at the curtain, for good reason.

Dean Peterson was poised to steal the whole thing in the showy role of the four villains – Lindorf, Dr. Miracle, Coppelius and Dapertutto – who torment Hoffman throughout the opera. These roles are generally played by the same bass in the same way that Hoffman’s loves are often played by the same soprano, but more on that later. With shaved head and dark glasses, Peterson evoked a sinister, Lex Luthor-like aura that was extremely effective. Why didn’t he get more applause at the end? I don’t know – perhaps, because of his costume changes, not everyone realized it was the same actor throughout?

And there were other good things, too – the dancing wine bottles of the prologue, the use of marionettes in Act Three to demonstrate Peterson’s Dapertutto as the puppet-master manipulating poor Hoffman, and the singers in many of the supporting roles, just to name a few. But of course, being the Minnesota Opera, there were going to be some things that didn’t work quite as well. And while they weren’t fatal to the production, they couldn’t be ignored either.

First of all, there’s the casting of Hoffman’s leading ladies. In his pre-concert talk, Artistic Director Dale Johnson noted that this production (unlike the MO’s previous production of Hoffman ten years ago) had opted not to follow the occasional practice of casting a single soprano in the roles of Hoffman’s three lost loves – Olympia, Antonia, and Giulietta – as well as his current love, Stella. And I’m not sure this was the right decision. As Wikipedia notes, “[i]t is important that the four soprano roles be played by the same singer, for Olympia, Giulietta and Antonia, are three facets of Stella, Hoffmann's unreachable love.”

Johnson’s rationale for the casting was to emphasis the “distinct personalities” of each of the women. I suppose this could be a defensible decision, but it’s just as likely that the MO, continuing to pour money into needless commissions for unnecessary operas such as the upcoming Grapes of Wrath, probably couldn’t afford the big bucks needed to get a soprano who could handle such a wide-ranging role.

This isn’t necessarily a knock on the singers portraying the women in the current production. True, Alison Bates’ Giulietta was the weakest of the lot – her voice had difficulty projecting to the upper reaches of the Ordway, and her acting never seemed to really convey the courtesan’s personality – but then, Giulietta is the least fleshed-out of Hoffman’s loves in the first place, being almost entirely created after Offenbach’s death. And the MO’s abruptly brief version of the already-short Act Three didn’t give us much of a chance to get to know her anyway.

As for the others, Nili Riemer was exceedingly charming as Olympia, the robot with whom Hoffman falls in love in the first act, and Karin Wolverton affectingly winsome as the doomed Antonia, Hoffman’s second act love. We don’t get to see much of Lisa Butcher’s Stella, the current object of Hoffman’s affections, who appears only in the prologue and epilogue.

But let’s return for a moment to the question of one soprano playing all four roles, which has been done in the past to great effect, notably by Joan Sutherland and Beverly Sills. Now, it’s true that this type of casting can result in the soprano role overshadowing that of Hoffman himself. I’m not sure if Offenbach himself intended for the casting to be thus, but in an opera that can struggle at times with narrative cohesion, having such a dominant presence can’t hurt.

Which leads me to my second misgiving about Hoffman, that sense of a certain something that was missing. And it is this: a sense of warmth, of pathos. The tale of Hoffman is, at heart, a bittersweet one. For all the uproarious comedy of Act One, for all of Hoffman’s drunken charm, there’s no denying that losing your three great loves in life – no matter how real or imaginary the love might have been – is a heck of a bad thing to have happen to you. And despite the Muse’s promise that Hoffman’s true fulfillment in life will come not from love but from art (and we all know how vital suffering is to the production of great art), the opera still seems to demand a certain level of melancholy. The prologue and epilogue bookend an epic type of story, a man’s journey through a life of love and loss. John Paul II often spoke of the “drama” of ordinary life, and Hoffman’s life provides that kind of drama in spades. Only it didn’t quite come through in this production.

Perhaps the editorial decisions made in assembling this version had something to do with it. Johnson explained that based on amount of material available, the opera could have run five hours; as it was, it ran three-and-a-quarter. And although Act Three has always been the most problematic, it still seemed to end rather suddenly, leaving Hoffman’s third lost love as little more than a footnote. (And a live one at that, unlike many of the versions that provide her with an accidental death.)

Maybe it had something to do with the broad farce of Act One, the absurdity of falling in love with a doll (unless you’re talking about Julie Newmar) obscuring the sense of loss which Hoffman nonetheless felt upon learning the truth. Act One’s comedy combined with Act Three’s brevity serve to isolate the tragedy of Act Two, the only one in which Hoffman’s loss has a truly emotional impact on the audience (which might be one reason why this act has frequently been staged as Act Three, with its dramatic musical climax providing the perfect lead to the epilogue.)

Or it could be the lack of a sense of time passing, of an older Hoffman looking back on a life lived long, if not always well, ala Cyrano.

Whatever the reason, it was clear that something was lacking, somewhere. After sitting through a three-hour-plus drama, the listener’s pleasure should be combined with a sense of coming to the end of a long journey, a shared experience that leaves everyone emotionally drained. And despite the enthusiastic response of the audience as the final curtain fell, I didn’t sense that feeling in the applause which greeted the singers at the curtain call. It was appreciative, but not overwhelming.

Jacques Lacombe, making his Minnesota Opera debut in the pit, did a nice job with Offenbach’s beautiful melodies, although there were times when the orchestra threatened to overwhelm some of the singer’s quieter moments, as in the Barcarolle at the start of the third act. The Barcarolle should be noted as a singular disappointment; it’s probably the most famous piece of music from Hoffman, the one with which the public at large is most familiar. It features a duet between Giulietta and Nicklausse, cast against the backdrop of the gondoliers piloting their boats through the canals of Venice, with the chorus joining in. It was a beautiful scene as staged on Thursday, except you couldn’t really hear any of the singers. And while it should be added that it’s always difficult to tell whether this is the fault of the orchestra or the Ordway’s miserable acoustics (maybe we need to rethink our opposition to mics on the singers after all), it remains true that anyone attending Hoffman looking forward to the express purpose of reveling in the Barcarolle would have been let down. And the feature piece of any opera shouldn’t make you feel that way.

In the long run, while these shortcomings do qualify as more than just quibbles, they ultimately failed to overshadow a production that might have been better in parts but seldom failed to charm or excite. It was far from the worst the Minnesota Opera has to offer. And, given the MO’s track record over the last few years, that’s reason enough for at least two-and-a-half cheers.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Anyone for Tennyson?

By Judith

The title of this piece was the title of a show on PBS many years ago in which four actors would recite poetry. I can see you all jumping up and down now. However, if any of you remember being read to as a child, you might recall the excitement and thrill of the words on the page leaping out and nestling into your ears. The story was alive in a way that went beyond the imagination you use when you read silently.

At about the same time there was a radio show called "Reading Aloud." At a point in my life when nothing much else would pique my interest, listening to the books - entire books over the course of a few weeks - being read gave me something to look forward to. It brought a familiar comfort, like when my mother would read to my brother and me every night before we went to sleep. (Being naughty brought a punishment of no reading. Yikes!)

Poetry and prose were recited as a form of entertainment and communication back in the days before radio and television. It was not uncommon for children to memorize poems or Psalms and perform them for family gatherings. Books-on-tape aside, we've all but forgotten that our language was meant to be heard as well as seen. (Txt msg any 1?)

The trick, of course, is to say it in a way that is pleasing. That's why the program "Anyone for Tennyson?" was so good. People who made their livings interpreting writers' words out loud were the ones reciting the poetry. In Poems for Enjoyment, editor Elias Lieberman writes an introduction for each of the sections of poems he has selected. The section "The Music of Poetry: Rhythm" starts off like this: "Not all people recognize rhythm in poetry. Some are rhythm-deaf, just as other are tone-deaf. If you have ever heard a song rendered by a person who cannot carry a tune you have some idea of what any poem, no matter how good, must mean to one whose sense of rhythm is tragically paralyzed. Such persons should not attempt to read poetry aloud." (Somebody ought to tell that to Garrison Keilior.)

Two poems in this section of the book, "The Santa Fe Trail" by Vachel Lindsay and "The Conjurer" by Lew Sarett even have director's notes in the margins next to the stanzas, with comments like, "To be read or sung well-nigh in a whisper" or "To be chanted." Clearly, the poets expected their poems to be read out loud.

But today if you attend a poetry reading, you're just as likely to hear prose... broken up... in lines... that may look... like a poem. But isn't... Rhyming isn't an absolute necessity, but there is a musicality and rhythm about poetry that separates it from prose. (Although good prose can be poetic.)

My point, and I do have one, is that good poetry shouldn't be left languishing on a dusty library shelf. Wouldn't it be something if actors, or anyone with the talent for rhythm and expression, were to recite good poems in public. Wouldn't it be something to hear a Shakespeare or Browning sonnet or a lyric by Wordsworth, Tennyson, Frost or Poe come to life on the stage or the radio or the television. Wish I had that talent. I'd take it on tour.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Bobby's Reflections

By Bobby

I looked at an old column of Mitchell's last week and reflected on the following comments about the state of opera in America, or at least up there in Minnesota :

"Or take Menotti's The Consul, the story of a woman trying to get a passport to escape a totalitarian country. This would seem right up the alley for a company that likes 'message' operas. (And, in fact, the MO [Minnesota Opera] did do The Consul - back in 1979.) You might ask yourself why the MO doesn't revive it? Maybe they can't figure out a way to suggest to the audience that George W. Bush is the leader of Menotti's totalitarian state, I don't know. My point here is that to bring Menotti back (and several opera commentators have mentioned that the time is ripe for a revival of Menotti) It would show something that the MO doesn't often exhibit - creativity. They like to think they do, what with their new, provocative productions - but new doesn't equal creative."

Being someone who was very new into opera at the time (only my third opera attended, and I was 27!), I have always associated The Consul with the Facists or Nazis of World War II. It seemed that was how I saw it because of the time it was written, having a history degree from college.

Unfortunately, in a strange way, what happened has been drilled deep in my brain. A few months later, after my alma mater was trashed in a football game against its rival, I said I was seriously considering suicide, and the next morning at church, I collapsed in the same way as Magda did in the end of Act II, in the room while awaiting everyone else to come from their early rock service. All of it was a joke, and today, if I'm angry, I'll say I am this mad that I'm taking my own life, and then say like Magda Sorel, explaining the humourous line because of the nature of Magda.

Of course, the "punch line" is the lady who played Magda in the performance in question has always known the joke when I say it. (My voice teacher!)

As someone whose parents and grandparents escaped from China to Taiwan in the late 1940's, I can associate it with people escaping from a Communist nation. But after studying facism and the National Socialist Workers' Party of Germany in World War II, I can also associate with those nations.

(As an aside: My voice teacher called me the Monday before The Consul, saying, "Bobby, I need to postpone our (final) voice lesson (of the session). I have to do this scene." After watching Magda's suicide scene, I could understand. Just 21 months previously, she lost her mother to suicide. This was intended to be my last voice lesson with her, as she took a position after graduation in a college in Winter Park, Florida. After signing a deal with her friend for a year, I didn't know what my future vocally would be. Somehow, the homesickness for the palmetto trees erupted during appearances at an opera contest and when her graduate school professor retired, she told her closest confidants -- including myself -- that she was returning to her beloved Palmetto home. Of course, when that was announced, I inked a new deal.)

Friday, October 20, 2006

October Surprise

By Judith

This has been a November kind of October. Gray skies, blustery winds, snow showers and temps a good 12 - 15 degrees below normal. Whenever the sun does pop out, it tires quickly and soon fades away. I'm ready to start stuffing the turkey now.

We are entering that limbo-time of year between peak color and Christmas lights. The trees have few, if any leaves; the prairie grasses are tossed in the breeze, shushing everyone who passes; and the vestiges of summer blooms are dried and brown. The mums are huddled together, still putting on a bright front, knowing that they'll never make it past the next hard frost.

And then, to add insult to injury, just before Halloween, we pull the plug on daylight. Suddenly, we get up in the dark, spend most of the day indoors, and go home in the dark. Our souls cry out for light. It’s as though we experience a physical kind of Advent before we come to the spiritual one.

And what do I do? Leave a wake-up call for May.

Callas Part II

By Hadleyblogger Drew

Here's the second half of that video I promised of Callas' Covent Garden performance of Tosca. (And by the way, thanks to Terry Teachout for leading us to these clips.) This picks up where the previous clip ended. Tosca has just sung her famed aria, Vissi d'arte. Now, acquiescing to the demands of Scarpia (the great Tito Gobbi), she agrees to a night of passion in return for the relesase of her lover, Cavaradossi. However, somewhere along the line Tosca changes her mind. She picks up a letter opener and plunges it into Scarpia, killing him, before stealing the pardon for Cavaradossi and escaping into the night. Only to return to the cheers and adulation of the crowd.

Tosca was, as I recall, Callas' debut at Covent Garden, and no doubt the great anticipation has something to do with the tumultuous response of the audience. However, as I suggested earlier, there can be no doubt that this scene sizzles with drama. Callas and Gobbi are old hands at this thing, and it shows.

There is some question, at least recently, as to what was going through Tosca's mind during the early part of this scene. When the Minnesota Opera staged Tosca last year, the director cleverly [sic] had Tosca pick up the murder weapon much earlier, concealing it until the ooportunity arose. This clearly suggests a premeditation I don't think the text warrarnts. Look at the horror in Callas' reaction to what she's done - the confusion (only somewhat caused by Callas' own nearsightedness), the revulsion (my God, what have I done?), the realization that nothing's going to be the same again (you know this opera isn't going to have a happy ending). And the calculation as well - she may be horrified, but she remembers to grab the pardon from Scarpia's dead body before she leaves.

No, I don't really buy the idea of premeditation; it's just one more gimmick to try and put a unique stamp on an operal that doesn't really need anyone fiddling with it. What you see in this scene is drama from two great actors, and that's what makes it one of the great scenes in opera.

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