Friday, June 29, 2007

More on Politics and Art

By Drew

Earlier this spring we engaged in a nifty four-part discussion of politics and art (part one starts here; it continues with two, three and four).

Now one of our favorite sites, 2Blowhards, continues a similar thread. Check it out, particularly the combox where there is a great discussion going. (Including a comment from our own co-leader!)

Are Satirists An Endangered Species?

By Drew

Over at the New Criterion blog, Roger Kimball has this piece on why satire is becoming increasingly perilous: “Reality is just too nimble in outstripping even the most extravagant satire.”

Satire has always, to a certain extent, been topical; even the best satirical books and movies from the past are enhanced by a brief primer on the context and environment which existed at the time the satire was produced. It makes the funniest parts even funnier, and the most obscure at least understandable.

But for the author, satire operates on a tight timeline. If you’re too far ahead of the game, your audience won’t have any idea what you’re talking about. Lag too far behind the timeline, and the joke is stale. You might even run the risk, as Kimball points out, of having your sly social commentary pre-empted by true-life events, thus defeating the whole purpose of satire.

The political field can be (can be? Don’t you mean is?) particularly fertile ground for satire, but it’s also the area in which one runs the greatest risk of having yesterday’s most outlandish ideas become tomorrow’s official policy. I’ve read Mitchell’s very funny (and still unpublished) novel about his life in politics, and discussed with him the challenge involved in coming up with ideas that push the envelope of absurdity, when you might hear those very ideas being voiced in dead earnest by some talking head on CNN the next day. You have to act fast, that’s for sure.

Which brings me to this week’s story on the recently declassified files documenting the CIA’s attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro. And I ask you, does this not read like a plot from a Christopher Buckley novel?

According to a five-page memo in Tuesday’s release, the plotting began in the final months of the Eisenhower administration, under the leadership of Richard Bissell, the agency’s director for plans. The operation used a go-between, Robert Maheu, a former FBI agent who did work as a private investigator for the CIA.

In September 1960, Maheu traveled to New York to meet Johnny Roselli, a high-ranking Mafia official who controlled ice-making machines in Las Vegas. Maheu told Roselli a cover story: that he represented several large international business firms that were suffering catastrophic financial losses in Cuba. And they were willing to pay $150,000 to arrange for Castro’s “removal.”

Roselli didn’t want to get involved, but he introduced Maheu to Sam Giancana, boss of the Chicago mob, and Santos Trafficant, the head of the mob’s Cuban operations, both of them members of the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list.

Concerned about the messiness and unreliability of firearms, Giancana suggested poisoning Castro with a pill in his food. The CIA accordingly provided six pills that it described as “of high lethal content.” They were given to Juan Orta, “a Cuban official who had been receiving kick-back payments from the gambling interests, who still had access to Castro, and was in a financial bind.”


The documents also reveal that at the height of negotiations over his involvement in the Castro plot, Giancana asked Maheu for help in finding out whether his girlfriend, Phyllis McGuire, a member of the singing McGuire Sisters, was having an affair with Dan Rowan, half of the Rowan & Martin comedy team.

The CIA sent a technician to bug Rowan’s Las Vegas hotel room, the CIA memo says. But the technician was arrested by Clark County sheriff’s deputies. He placed a telephone call to Maheu in the presence of sheriff’s officials, potentially endangering the entire Castro plot.

The Justice Department announced its intention to prosecute Maheu and the technician, leading the CIA’s director of security to intervene with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.

The prosecution was dropped.

This is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Who in their right minds would possibly believe something like this? A few years ago, if you’d tried to pass this off as a plot for a serious political thriller, you’d have been laughed out of the publisher’s office. Pitch it as satire, and you might have had a chance. Today? It’s just another, all-too-plausible, example of your tax dollars at work. I don’t think anyone today would doubt for a minute that this is the way history is made. And that the more implausible an episode is, the more likely it is to be true.

I ask you, what’s a working satirist to do? Steve, I don't know how you manage it!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Let's Go Out to the Movies

By Drew

Let’s talk a bit about movies.

Back in the days when I subscribed to both Crisis and The American Spectator, the sections I invariably turned to first were the book and movie reviews. James Bowman, the movie critic for the Spectator, and Terry Teachout, his equal at Crisis, often provided the most interesting reading in the issue. So what could be better than a post that incorporates good stuff from each one of them?

Terry writes about the most recent American Film Institute list of the 100 greatest American movies. Now, I’m not much into a list like this; in the first place, it’s confined to American movies, which leaves out some brilliant foreign films. Furthermore, what exactly is an “American” movie? Is it one set in America, produced by Americans, starring Americans? Is there a material difference between an American movie about World War II set in Britain starring British actors and a British movie of the same type? And what about Lawrence of Arabia (#7 on the list), which had nothing to do with America at all?

Be that as it may, we’ll take this list with its limitations. My point in bringing this up was that I was struck by the number of movies on the list that Terry hadn’t seen but I had: Raging Bull, Lawrence of Arabia, Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, Rocky, The Fellowship of the Ring, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Sparticus, Blade Runner, Toy Story. (For a brief moment I even imagined myself flattered by the difference, until reality intruded to remind me that the man also sees operas, ballet, and Broadway plays and musicals.)

I was also intrigued by the movies that Terry singled out as his ten favorite from the list: Citizen Kane, Singin’ in the Rain, Vertigo, The Searchers, Sunset Blvd., Chinatown, All About Eve, Double Indemnity, North by Northwest, and Sullivan’s Travels. I’ve seen a good number of these as well, but not all – Sunset Blvd. and All About Eve have never made it on to my TV set. I thought Citizen Kane fascinating technically but somewhat overrated, The Searchers (like so many John Ford movies) overwhelmed by its purplish music, and Sullivan’s Travels a terrific movie that faded in the stretch. Vertigo was disturbing, Chinatown a movie that landed on my own 10 best list. Singin’ in the Rain comes from a genre (musicals) that is far from my favorite and stars an actor (Gene Kelly) I’ve never been a fan of, yet it manages to avoid so many of the clichés that plague musicals (the “misunderstanding” between lovers that threatens their relationship, for example) and features a scene-stealing performance by Donald O’Connor.

Conversely, Terry dismisses several of the movies from his “haven’t seen” list that happen to be among my favorites: Lawrence, for instance, or Apocalypse Now (the original, not Redux). Raiders was fun, if not great art, and I probably liked The Deer Hunter more than some (although I recall with fondness the comment from one observer that at the moment the film was named Best Picture at the Oscars, the audience reacted as if “they’d asked a girl to the prom, and to their horror she accepted.”) Sparticus was preachy though, (some fine performances, particularly by Peter Ustinov, but for a more interesting interpretation of the Sparticus story I’d recommend Koestler’s novel The Gladiators), and Blade Runner was, frankly, almost incomprehensible (with or without the narriation).

At any rate, if nothing else it shows that movie criticism is subjective. One man’s trash is another’s treasure. But at the same time, I can’t help feeling that – like music – there are some standards out there that are undeniable, certain qualities that clearly define a movie as being “good” or “bad.” You could argue that a moral fulcrum is one of those qualities (see our previous discussion on truth and morality in art), and one of the things I always admired about James Bowman was that truth was not an irrelevancy for him when it came to reviewing movies. Oftentimes he would acknowledge the artistic merit of a film, while at the same time pointing out the moral, ideological, or historical failures that ultimately brought down the film.

For that reason, it’s always a pleasure to check out Bowman’s site. At present, for example, he’s writing on the changing role of heroes in movies (the transformation from Gary Cooper to John Wayne to Humphrey Bogart, for example). And this is probably worth a post in and of itself.

But what triggered my interest was a comment Bowman made in discussing the role of the movie epic. For that, let's go back and look at one of those movies on the AFI's list, the aforementioned Lawrence of Arabia.

Lawrence was often referred to as the first “intimate” or “literate” epic, by which it was meant that the movie actually attempted to provide some insight into the main characters, rather than being content to simply overwhelm the audience with spectacle (although it certainly did that as well). However (and I say this as one who has this movie on my ten-best list as well), even after having seen the movie four times (as well as owning a biography and an autobiography of T.E. Lawrence), I’m still left wondering if I really understood what David Lean was trying to say about Lawrence’s character. Does Lean (and his scriptwriter, Robert Bolt) mean to suggest by Lawrence’s ambiguities that he was ultimately incapable of being understood, or have I simply failed to understand what Lean was trying to say?

That’s one of the problems with movies that come from what Bowman, in quoting Judith Crist, refers to as “the ‘intellectual’ spectacular”:

The quotation marks around “intellectual” are meant to suggest (I think) a certain falseness about these films’ intellectual pretensions, and the glibness with which they supplied a popular audience, hungry for “culture,” with potted versions of history. Inspired partly by the post-war rage for psycho-therapy, the intellectual spectacular derived a lot of its kick from the illusion that this or that historical figure had been “explained” in terms of what, a few years later, were to be described as his “hang-ups.” Oh, so that’s what the Reformation or the Renaissance — or whatever large historical phenomenon you like — was all about.

While Bowman happens to make this comment in reference to the movie Becket (which Mitchell wrote about earlier here), he includes Lawrence and A Man for All Seasons as examples of this genre, that marks many of the signature movies of the late 60s and beyond. This desire for psychoanalysis in the movies extends, I think, to many of the achingly earnest socially relevant movies of that same period – movies such as In the Heat of the Night, Sparticus, and 12 Angry Men that sought to enter the minds of its protagonists in order to “understand” and, especially, “explain” their actions. (Note that having these characteristics doesn’t mean the movie can’t still be good – many of them, such as the two listed above, are marked by strong acting and well-written, if preachy, scripts.)

Whereas movies used to be content with telling a story, even a heroic story, the emphasis today is on the inscrutable nature of man, and the relativity of all that we naïve folks used to think we knew. It’s not all black-and-white, the filmmakers would have us believe today – according to them, there are so many shades of grey we may never find out the truth, if in fact it even exists. This could be as good an explanation as any as to why the Western, which has generally been understood as a allegorical morality play, has virtually disappeared from movie screens (Clint Eastwood notwithstanding). Exceptions to this rule, and there are some, become more notable for daring to take such a stance. At any rate, one can suggest that this trait has diminished the movies in some way. Escapist fare has yielded to deep analysis, and in the crime story it becomes more and more difficult to tell the good guys from the bad.

Yes, it can be hard to find good movies to see nowadays (Teachout has mentioned how he's practically given up going to movie theaters) - but reading literate criticism from writers like these two, and others such as John Simon, reminds us of the fun movies used to be, and the delight a good one can still produce.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Poetry Wednesday

By Judith

Amy Lowell (February 9 1874 – May 12, 1925) came from the prominent Boston family of Lawrences and Lowells (for whom the cities in Massachusetts are named). A poet of the ‘teens and twenties, she published her first book of poetry in 1912 (as did Robert Frost, who we looked at last week). Her first book was heavily influenced by Keats and was, thus, considered Romantic. After reading Imagist poets such as Hilda Doolittle and Ezra Pound, she too took up the cause of imagism and published three more books in this style. Her later work is considered by some to be more Impressionist that Imagist, but whatever classification is made, her rich, evocative words in poems such as “The Humming-Birds” or “Tomb Valley” are almost cinematic, producing vivid pictures and dance-like motion. Those poems, as well as the one we’re looking at today, come from a volume titled What's O'Clock, for which she posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. For a warm summer day, here’s “Summer Night Piece.”

The garden is steeped in moonlight,
Full to its high edges with brimming silver,
And the fish-ponds brim and darken
And run in little serpent lights soon extinguished.
Lily-pads lie upon the surface, beautiful as the tarnishings on frail old silver,
And the Harvest moon droops heavily out of the sky,
A ripe, white melon, intensely, magnificently, shining.
Your window is orange in the moonlight,
It glows like a lamp behind the branches of the old wistaria,
It burns like a lamp before a shrine,
The small, intimate, familiar shrine
Placed reverently among the bricks
Of a much-loved garden wall.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

This Just In

By Steve

Motivational Speaker “Presidential,” According to Workshop Participants

OMAHA, NE -- As the result of a successful team-building training session, a presidential boomlet has started for workshop facilitator and motivational expert Ted Dough.

The 6’4”, 220 lb. Dough, wearing a charcoal grey pinstriped suit and sporting a freshly-cut head of chestnut hair, made a considerable impression on many of the participants who attended the all-day workshop at the Cypress Room in the local Holiday Inn.

“Oh, definitely,” Kathryn Jamison responded when asked if she could see Dough as President. “When you look at him standing up there behind the podium, it’s like he’s so, presidential. I would definitely trust what he had to say if I saw him on TV or on a billboard."

Those thoughts were echoed by Corrine Huberty, who found the 37-year-old Dough “dynamic and hunky.” A supporter who voted twice for former president Bill Clinton, Huberty said she detects “many” of the same qualities in Dough.

Added Huberty’s friend and co-worker Ellie Ratcliffe, “I mean, I could totally see him as President of the United States, sure. He had a really cool powerpoint presentation where all the words flew in to the screen from different angles. I thought it was very creative and kept our attention very well, even after the buffet lunch."

Dough is apparently being coy about his presidential aspirations. His corporate website makes no mention of policy statements or intentions, and his secretary, displaying a reluctance to go on the record, said she was unaware of any plans he might have at present to travel to New Hampshire, home of the nation’s first presidential primary.

Dough could just be showing caution, if a survey of the presidential race by CNN analyst Bill Schneider proves accurate.

“The presidential field is packed to overflowing right now,” Schneider said in a phone interview. “For any dark horse candidate to enter now would be political suicide. It’s much better, in my opinion, for someone who is relatively unknown to wait until the field has thinned, and from there measure voter discontent.”

However, in what may be a pessimistic note, when asked about Dough’s prospects in such an event Schneider replied, “Who?”

Monday, June 25, 2007

You Call This a Bible Study?

By Bobby

Another silly "Bible study" for "small groups," a popular codeword in the Emergent Church, has this:

"Looking for a relevant cultural lesson for Sunday night? Don't miss our MTV Video Music Awards Questions and Bible study."

In the study, youth are encouraged to view "music videos" from thug rappers who deserve to be sent to the Oval Office such as Calvin "Snoop Dogg" Broadus, no-talent Gwen Stephani, and other talentless smut peddlers.

What good does it do when children go to Bible studies, only to be taught not the Bible, but the latest in pop culture such as smutty "music" so irritant that it makes me angry that I would rather be at the Schermerhorn Center for the symphony for music.

But to replace Bible studies with MTV video studies is out of control!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Dance Immodesty Redux

By Bobby

Whilst eating lunch yesterday, I looked back at comments I received about the "Dance Immodesty" commentary in regards to a May dance concert for a major dance studio in the region where I live.It did not strike to me about the music as much until a commentary on another board discussed the "worst songs ever".

While reflecting on some of the routines from the teens, with the immodest routines, the song used in one of the "bra-and-panties" routines ("Candyman") came from 26-year old Christina Aguilera, and this artist has been around for much of the teens’ lives, as they have listened to her tunes throughtout their formative years, including the raunchiest pop tunes of the late 1990's-early 2000's. Her raunch is nasty -- I've often said, with apologies to Mike Joy, that she has deserved a trip to the Oval Office for consultation. I'll never forget when the MTV Video Music Awards of 2003 appeared, she was involved in the lip-lock that sent me pleading "Britney Spears, Madonna, and Christina Aguilera have been called to the Big Red Truck."

While the song is from that artist's most recent album, what does it say about these teens when they choose songs and costumes based on the popularity of today's smut peddlers?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Now, This Is Funny!

By Drew

Via ScrappleFace:

New Bush Bill Makes Illegals Build Border Fence

Hey, they'd just be doing the jobs Americans won't do, right? That is, if Congress is any indication...

Poetry Wednesday

By Judith

Robert Frost, the quintessential American poet, lived in England for several years, beginning in 1912. It was there that he published his first two volumes of poetry. This poem, “The Tuft of Flowers,” comes from his first collection A Boy’s Will (1913).

The poet, in his own words, describes this poem as being “about fellowship.” But further, it shows us how we might affect another in this world without knowing it, or perhaps we hope we shall, without having assurances. A message in a bottle. A kind act when no one but God in His Heaven is looking. Here, then, is “The Tuft of Flowers.”

I went to turn the grass once after one
Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.

The dew was gone that made his blade so keen
Before I came to view the leveled scene.

I looked for him behind an isle of trees;
I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.

But he had gone his way, the grass all mown,
And I must be, as he had been, - alone,

‘As all must be,’ I said within my heart,
‘Whether they work together or apart.’

But as I said it, swift there passed me by
On noiseless wing a ‘wildered butterfly,

Seeking with memories grown dim o’er night
Some resting flower of yesterday’s delight.

And once I marked his flight go round and round,
As where some flower lay withering on the ground.

And then he flew as far as eye could see,
And then on tremulous wing came back to me.

I thought of questions that have no reply,
And would have turned to toss the grass to dry;

But he turned first, and led my eye to look
At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,

A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.

I left my place to know them by their name,
Finding them butterfly weed when I came.

The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
By leaving them to flourish, not for us,

Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him,
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.

The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,

That made me hear the wakening birds around,
And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,

And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone;

But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;

And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech
With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.

‘Men work together,’ I told him from the heart,
‘Whether they work together or apart.’

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Is That All There Is?

By Drew

Our fearless co-leader Mitchell left a comment last week over at Stella Borealis Catholic Roundtable, a blog he sometimes writes for. In it, he offers his opinion on an article written by Karl Keating, an apologist for Catholic Answers. Since Keating's piece touches on culture, I thought it was only fitting that I take a crack at it myself. (And no, this has nothing to do with trying to earn brownie points with Mitchell.)

Keating's point, I think, is that pop culture, when taken to excess, has the potential to break down man’s ability to reason. A steady diet of Oprah, Dr. Phil, and so much else of what passes for entertainment today has resulted in a populace that feels, rather than thinks. “They aren't given to real thinking,” he says. “They emote. They easily are swayed by appeals to greed and envy. They are interested in bread and circuses. In an earlier post, I referred to “the Oprafied, emotions-on-the-sleeve sentimental mush we seem to crave.” Today we have a president who appears to rely on feelings rather than reason in making policy decisions (the immigration debate, for example). The loss of rational, intellectual thought is one of the defining characteristics of modern society.

Keating talks about the challenges of evangelizing such people – how do you reach unserious people with a serious message? “How do we make them see that their focus on celebrities may amuse them, may entertain them, may occupy their time but undoubtedly has taken them away from really important things?”

There’s no question that trying to engage such people can be frustrating. Keating talks about seeing “people in the checkout line at the supermarket” and wanting to give them a good book to read, rather than the “junk in the racks. Read books that will improve your mind.” It’s hard to argue with him there; look at the magazines in that checkout line he refers to and you’ll read tons of speculation as to which celebrity is a) pregnant, b) engaged, c) separated, d) in rehab, e) dying, f) all of the above. People who are immersed in this kind of lifestyle have virtually lost touch with reality. (I could say the same about the people you see at Star Trek and Star Wars conventions, but that’s another topic.) It’s a superficial lifestyle, and you’d think sooner or later that old line of Peggy Lee’s would come to them: “Is that all there is?”

And so I find myself in the odd position of agreeing with much of what Keating says; yet, like Mitchell, I’m somehow put off by the tone he uses.

Keating says:

It has been more than twenty years now since I gave up television. (Foolishly, I didn't do it as an ongoing Lenten penance and therefore got no spiritual brownie points for it.) But I do remember, years ago, being puzzled when watching a particular game show. I no longer remember which show it was, but I remember one of the regular participants, Orson Bean. I never could figure out who the guy was. So far as I knew, he never had done anything of note. He was on the show because he was a celebrity, and he was a celebrity because he was on the show. It seemed a perfect circle. Perhaps Bean actually had done something interesting in his earlier life, but to me he became the symbol of the vacuity of celebrityism. He was the compleat artificial man.

This seems to be a gratuitous piece of information, one that comes very close to being a boast. (And here, by the way, I want to second what Mitchell implies, that it’s particularly cruel to refer to Orson Bean as the “compleat artificial man.” Orson Bean’s had a very successful career in movies, TV and the stage, as well as writing several books and voicing Bilbo Baggins in the original animated TV version of The Hobbit, and if he primarily became known as a game show personality, there was still much more to him than that. He certainly doesn’t deserve to be lumped in with Paris Hilton.)

Perhaps it’s the way Keating talks about it having been over twenty years that he’s given up television, maybe it’s the willful ignorance he displays about today’s culture. He admits (no, I'd say he almost brags) he had to look up Paris Hilton on Wikipedia to find out who she was. (Perhaps he should have checked out Orson Bean while he was at it.) And while it’s admirable to find someone who isn’t consumed by Paris, I agree with what Mitchell says:

[Here is] my problem with Keating's comments - to withdraw too completely from pop culture is, to a great extent, to lose touch with what is going on in modern society. While I don't watch reality TV, nor most of the most popular series (i.e. The Sopranos), you can bet that I'm aware of them, and it helps me understand more about the people who do watch them.

Don't misunderstand me - I agree that we should spend more time with books and good music than with the mindless boob tube. And yet I don’t think we should be so quick to follow Keating’s trail to his conclusion. As Mitchell says, “while I agree with a good bit of what Keating says, ultimately I think he's setting up a straw man: the idea that it has to be all or nothing?”

There is often a sort of pride among people who say, with great fanfare, that they "don't watch TV." Every time I run into someone like that, I'm reminded of the old cliche, "Ignorance is bliss." Now, I'll be the first one to admit that I'm terribly ignorant when it comes to certain aspects of modern pop culture - music, for instance. I doubt I could successfully identify one group in a hundred on the charts. It's just not a circle I travel in. Yet, you'd have to be travelling in the Arctic Circle to not know who Paris Hilton is. And if you're that out of touch, then how much do you really understand about the society in which you live? There’s a thin line between ignorance (which simply means not knowing something) and stupidity. If you can’t talk the language of the street, so to speak, you’re not going to get very far.

What is called for, IMHO, is not a complete turn-away from pop culture; that kind of elitism can be a dangerous thing. No, what is called for is a discerning character - to find what’s good in the culture and follow it; to discover the bad and reject it; to communicate to people in their own language and, when necessary, elevate it. The educated person will, hopefully, learn that gift of discernment. Granted, it takes strength to be able to do that; but if our learning and intellect and discernment haven’t prepared us for that, then what has it accomplished?

As Captain Kirk memorably said, “Too much of anything…isn’t necessarily a good thing.” That includes ignorance. It is not necessary to condone something to understand it. To isolate yourself from the news will not make it go away - it might, however, make it harder to reach those who happen to live in that world. William F. Buckley, Jr., when asked why he would consent to doing the Playboy interview, replied that he had to go where the sinners were.

Moderation, however, can be a good thing. That, with discernment, can help one manuever the culture without falling prey to it. So let’s be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Pop culture may give us Paris Hilton (and way, way too much of her), but there’s also more to it than that, even if you have to look hard to find it.

Mitchell concludes his remarks as follows:

Can you understand – even enjoy – aspects of pop culture without being consumed by it? I think you can.

I do, too.

Monday, June 18, 2007

What - Opera on TV?

By Drew

Over at NRO, John Derbyshire reminds us that "If you want to know why we're all so nuts about Anna Netrebko, here are several answers, all neatly packaged in one video clip."

(And here I thought it might be a clip of her with her guns. For those of you who think you don't like opera, that wasn't so hard to watch, was it?)

Seriously, there can't be any doubt that, 35 or 40 years ago, Anna Netrebko would have been a regular on Ed Sullivan's show. And it is that loss of opera in the mainstream culture that leaves a great void. Tomorrow, I'll have something more to say about what's left of pop culture.

More Mr. Wizard

By Mitchell

As an addendum to our pieces on Mr. Wizard last week, here is a very nice tribute to him from the indespensible site TVParty. Don't forget to check out the other great features at Billy Ingram's site, including the blog (with some nice links to us!) and this wonderful rundown on the 1972-73 TV season (which, the critics promised us, would be filled with sure-fire hits such as Bridget Loves Bernie and The Julie Andrews Hour. Remember The Paul Lynde Show? Anyone? Anyone?

Friday, June 15, 2007

What's In a Name?

By Mitchell

Every once in a while, one of those Paul Harvey Rest-of-the-Story comes along. and you have little choice but to go with it.

Recently while going through some of our John F. Kennedy assassination archives, we came upon this story from the November 25, 1963 newspapers:


‘Kennedy Stadium’ for Nation’s Capital?

WASHINGTON, D.C. – (UPI) - A Washington sports writer proposed today that the District of Columbia Stadium be renamed the John F. Kennedy Stadium in honor of the slain President.

Shirley Povich of the Washington Post made the proposal in his daily column, noting that a simple act of Congress could make the $23 million stadium a memorial to Kennedy.

The stadium, considered one of the finest in the country, has been in use for two years by the Washington baseball Senators and football Redskins.

Povich wrote, “A shrine in Arlington is proper. The John F. Kennedy Stadium in the nation’s capital would give even fuller sweep to his memory.”

He recalled Kennedy’s intense interest in sports both as President and as a participant in football, sailing, swimming and golf.

Povich also noted that Kennedy – as every president since William Howard Taft – had thrown out the ceremonial first pitch opening the major league baseball seasons over the last two years.

No president, Povich wrote, “ever lighted up a stadium like the youngest elected President of the United States, himself an athlete and the sports-savviest of all our chief executives.”

He pointed out that as President, Kennedy had created the President’s council on Physical Fitness and had called on the services of Gen. Douglas MacArthur to arbitrate a dispute between amateur athletic organizations that threatened U.S. Olympic chances next year.

Povich commented, “What more appropriate tribute, then, to the late President than the nation’s most resplendent sports stadium named in his honor?”


Things have changed in the intervening years. Shirley Povich (yes, he was a male; until Shirley Temple, Shirley was primarily a masculine name), one of the great sportswriters in the country, was eclipsed in fame by his TV-star son, Maury. The Redskins now play their games in suburban Virginia, and the Senators have long-since fled to Texas. The Washington Nationals are the baseball team in town now, and the “most resplendent sports stadium” in the nation, now considered one of the worst in baseball, will be replaced at the end of the season. The stadium that was, indeed, renamed for Kennedy.

Only it wasn’t named after John, but Robert Kennedy.

In the immediate aftermath of JFK’s death, Philadelphia Stadium, one of the largest in the country (and the home of the Army-Navy football game) became Kennedy Stadium, but the ballpark in Washington remained D.C. Stadium until Robert’s assassination in 1968 prompted its renaming as RFK Stadium.

All that was in the future however, a future that was a mere five years away, a future that would have seemed utterly unthinkable to anyone on the afternoon of November 25, 1963.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

This Just In

By Steve

"Live Forever" Experiment of Mr. Wizard Interrupted By Death

LOS ANGELES -- The "Live Forever" experiment being carried out by Don Herbert, known to millions of boomer TV fans as the beloved "Mr. Wizard," was abruptly cut short yesterday afternoon when Herbert passed away in his suburban Los Angeles home. He was 89.

"We're not really sure what happened," said long-time friend and sometimes assistant Larry Marbury. "Don was getting pretty excited about the whole thing. FedEx had just delivered his order of new beakers and a state-of-the-art Bunsen burner, but now I guess he'll never get to try them out. And my word, he had crates of baking powder and gallons of vinegar stored in his garage. Not sure what we'll do with all that."

"Watch Mr. Wizard" was produced from 1951 to 1964 and received a Peabody Award in 1954. Herbert, a Minnesota native, entranced an entire generation of budding young scientists with simple but captivating experiments often using everyday kitchen products and utensils.

"Mr. Wizard sensed the end might be approaching," said Marbury. "That's what really got him going on this ‘live forever’ thing. Well, that and the Ted Williams deal. A couple of more weeks and he might have had it. Now, we'll never now."

When reminded that Mr. Wizard would live forever in the hearts of his fans, Marbury replied, "That’s nice to know. But he probably would have preferred to live forever right where he was."

In Case You Missed It...

By Drew

  • I don't like dogs. Sorry about that folks, but it's true. And statistics tell us that cats are more popular pets than dogs. So why is it that on shows such as HGTV's "House Hunters," almost everyone is trying to fit at least a couple of dogs into their new home? Michael at 2Blowhards doesn't answer that question, but he does prove I'm not the only one who's noticed this dog thing:

Yet many suburban types don't seem to consider all the elements of their life to be in place until a Lab or a Golden is part of it. House with two-car garage? Check. Kids? Check. Huge out-of-control dog? Check ... How did this conviction that the Good Suburban Life includes a free-ranging dog come to be?

  • At Architecture and Morality, the politically conservative Relievedebtor makes a very astute observation on how important it is for leaders to actually lead. And in musing on how George Bush has performed the almost miraculous achievement of alienating both liberals and conservatives, he poses a provocative question:

And as a Christian, I am actually starting to question something I never thought I would, which is the detrimental impact Bush’s faith may have had on his presidency. Again, call me naïve, but I once considered Bush’s faith to be an asset to his leadership, but I have come to see it as more of a liability. His faith seems similarly stubborn and myopic, which comes across as more fundamentalist than faithful. And this isn’t to say he should abandon principles, but perhaps humility could have come more into play. I don’t know that he believes a war against Islamic forces is the will of God per se, but his faith has led him to a misguided optimism that Christianity doesn’t necessarily endorse.

* We're in numerous messy wars with no end in sight.
* We have an odd and incoherent homeland security.
* Our border situation is out of control.
* The President is hugely unpopular.

Obviously, the only conclusion is that these are the ingredients to an effective defense against terrorism

Of course, after reading these varied pieces, you might come to understand why this blog is the way it is...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Poetry Wednesday

By Judith

For today’s Poetry Wednesday, we’re going to look at a song lyric. “Moonlight in Vermont” was written and published in 1943 by John Blackburn and Karl Suessdorf.

Most of the popular songs of this era were of simple form that rhymed either in couplets or the 1st and 3rd, 2nd and 4th lines of a verse. Take a look at this lyric – not a rhyme to be had. In addition, the verses are haiku: each three-line verse is in a 5-7-5 syllable format.

To enjoy this lovely lyric even more, let Frank Sinatra interpret it for you.


Moonlight in Vermont

Pennies in a stream
Falling leaves a sycamore
Moonlight in Vermont

Icy finger waves
Ski trails down a mountain side
Snowlight in Vermont

Telegraph cables, they sing down the highway
And travel each bend in the road
People who meet in this romantic setting
Are so hypnotized by the lovely...

Evening summer breeze
Warbling of a meadowlark
Moonlight in Vermont

Mr. Wizard, R.I.P.

By Mitchell

His name was Don Herbert, but to a generation of kids he was Mr. Wizard, one of the first icons of television, the man who made science fun. You were always hoping you might learn how to make something really cool, like an atomic bomb, something that would win you a lot of satisfaction (if not an A) at school.

“Watch Mr. Wizard” ran from 1951 to 1964 (with an additional run in the 80s), and was probably the prototype of the do-it-yourself show – perhaps even programs like “The New Yankee Workshop.” It came at a time when science was exciting and important – warfare had entered the nuclear age, space travel was on the horizon, the “Science Gap” with the Soviet Union was troubling to everyone – and Herbert, the mild-mannered teacher from Minnesota, was there to demystify the whole thing, to bring the wonders of science right into your living room (or kitchen; he never failed to remind kids that a mayonnaise jar was a perfectly good substitute for a fancy beaker.) It's appropriate that the very technology that came from science makes it possible for us to watch Mr. Wizard today via DVD.

The show left itself open to a lot of ribbing, but it was affectionately done. One of the best was by Ed Williams, who played the police scientist Ted Olson in Police Squad! and was forever demonstrating to Billy things like how static electricity worked (using women’s lingerie as an example). It’s the kind of fun we reserve for our icons, and for anyone of that era no list of icons could fail to include Don Herbert, Mr. Wizard, who died yesterday at 89. Rest in peace, good teacher.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Looking Glass Looks Back

By Mitchell

It seems inconceivable that a blog dedicated in large part to culture can let the end of The Sopranos go by without comment. Indeed, though I’ve never seen an episode of the series, I’m certainly well aware of it, particularly the fireworks surrounding last Sunday’s final episode. (Obligatory warning on spoilers, etc.)

With this, I want to call your attention to today’s fine article by Joshua Treviño at NRO, because I think Treviño illustrates the kind of in-depth analysis of the content of pop culture in a way that I find very appealing.

Treviño follows the course of events in the final episode and traces the connection between The Sopranos, the classic Western, and the iconic meaning of America itself:

Chase titled the final episode “Made in America,” and the easy inference is that the milieu of The Sopranos is just that. This is untrue, of course: Organized crime as such exists in nearly all cultures. On a deeper level, the idea of a society run by kinship ties and otherwise anarchic violence is deeply pre-democratic, and hence fundamentally anti-American. Some, including John Marini, a professor of philosophy at the University of Nevada-Reno, have said that the Western film genre is essentially a retelling of the story of America itself: the bringing of order into the wilderness, and the concurrent decline of the rough code of vengeance and force as law and true justice emerge. From this comes democracy, and America. If the Western genre is the making of America, then the mob genre is its unmaking: the subversion of law and justice, and the replacement of order with the family and tribe. Indeed, in an unconscious bit of irony, the tribe — the mob, this thing of ours — is itself called family.

And what does famly mean? With the following passage, Trevino gets to the heart of the philosophical difference that shows itself so many times in the creations of our pop culture.

What, then, is “Made in America” in Chase’s telling? Tony Soprano’s children give the answer. The classic Jeffersonian concern, beyond the rule of the people, is for the new generation, lest it be chained by the dead to things past. It is a concept born of Rousseau and his “state of nature,” an Enlightenment trope that holds that the young are inherently uncorrupted. This is not, surely, a belief shared by any orthodox Christian who believes in Original Sin; nor is it shared by the conservative who thinks man needs institutions to guide his course. When children are corrupted, the Jeffersonian/Rousseauian view holds that family has done it, and the Christian/conservative view holds that it was intrinsic from the start. Neither is the more American, we being a Whitmanesque container of multitudes, but David Chase’s fictional world comes down on the Jeffersonian side. What is made in America is the unmaking of America: not merely the regression from democracy, but the children of the generation who rule, who themselves are unfit to sustain the existing order.

The young are inherently uncorrupted…when children are corrupted, the Jeffersonian/Rousseauian view holds that the family has done it.” Now, that’s a very provocative argument, because of what it may tell us about ourselves. The desire of parents to provide for their children, to see to it that the children don’t have to suffer as the parents did – this is very much seen in the post-World War II era. Do we then view the “Greatest Generation” as primarily a product of the Enlightenment? And would that in some way not be quintessentially American, the Founders having been men of the Enlightenment as well?

And the constant pampering and protecting of children nowadays, to the point that many exist in a quasi-permanent state of adolescence – is this an outgrowth of the idea that the family causes the corruption of the child? That parents so fear being thought of as the cause of a child’s failure as to render them incapable of denying that child anything?

(Provide for them in all ways, lest something possibly be lacking that could come back to haunt you. It’s almost a paranoid, fear of the unknown that, in many ways, is the anthesis of what America stands for – or used to stand for, at any rate.)

It then could be said that pop culture affects our way of thinking in deep ways – molding some ideas, affirming others, shaping our self image and the ways in which we view such things as family, friends, loyalty, duty. Whereas television might in the past have mirrored who we are, could it be that we now mirror what television says we are?

Trevino doesn’t make this argument, or at least not directly. But he says about all that needs to be said concerning his topic, which means that I have to have something original to offer. But the conclusions are similar, and stark:

Moral ruin comes to the Soprano children, and continued infamy to the Soprano line, because of their father’s chosen course and his other “family”; but the terror beneath it lies in the recognition that countless American youths suffer the same ruin under the tutelage of perfectly ordinary parents with respectable jobs, and without fictionalized mob ties. Here the genius of David Chase shines through, not in cinematic tricks or narrative twists, but in the stark exposition of cause and effect. At first glance, the downfall of Meadow and A.J. is the result of an upbringing tinged with extraordinary violence and theft. But when we turn off the television and look around us, we see that we have their like among us without the mobster parentage. Instead, they grow up in utterly ordinary homes in utterly ordinary neighborhoods. If daughter and son on television can emerge as recognizable inheritors of their father’s worst traits, then what does it say of us when we produce the same without that father? The inescapable conclusion is that the fall is intrinsic to us. If David Chase’s fictional world is Jeffersonian or Rousseauian, then his real world is Christian or conservative. Watching Tony Soprano cut to black is a sobering and tremendous reminder not only of why this show was great — but also of why it is a warning.

I wonder – does Trevino suggest here that television has, in effect, become the father, passing down the values to the children, who – infused by the values of their foster father – become the sons and daughters of television and what it portrays?

At any rate, we ask: does the warning inherent in The Sopranos come too late for us? We’ll have to see. But we’ll return to this idea of the effect of television and its popular culture on us – how we mirror it, how it mirrors us.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Mahler in Minnesota

By Judith

The Minnesota Orchestra performed a rare benefit concert for the lame, the halt and the blind at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis Friday night. For surely those were tuberculosis patients over there on the left side of the auditorium, and arthritics and amputees on the right side. How else to explain the preponderance of coughing and program-dropping that provided a constant undercurrent of distraction to an otherwise bravura performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony?

The Resurrection, is the appellation that has been attached to the work, although Mahler did not name the symphony. But the themes of death, redemption and resurrection make the title a natural. The first movement, marked allegro maestoso, was funereal in nature, and, indeed was originally a stand-alone piece called Todtenfeier (Funeral Rites). Mahler incorporated it into his second symphony to tie it to the end of his first, where the hero, the Titan, dies. The beginning of the second is his funeral.

This first movement is up, down, inside out and all around. Manny Laureano, the orchestra’s principal trumpet, and who gave the pre-concert talk, called Mahler bi-polar. And so it seems at times. But Mahler’s works are epic because life and death are epic and full of happiness and sadness, often following quickly on each other’s heels. From a rumbling, sharp beginning to a finish that is barely heard, Mahler plumbs the heights and depths of the human soul. (And, the quietest part of the last of this first movement is where the most egregious coughing occurred, causing Maestro Vanska to shake his head in disgust while finishing the movement and then to shake his handkerchief at the audience afterwards.)

The second and third movements, andante moderato and in ruhig fliessender Bewegung, respectively, are sweet and innocent (in the second), turning into a mocking expression (in the third). But by the fourth movement, Urlicht (Primal Light), the hero begins the process of his redemption that leads to the fifth, Auferstehung (Resurrection). Mahler takes the text for the fourth movement from a German folk tale collection called Des Knaben Wunderhorn. (He would later set other of these verses to music in a collection of songs of the same name.) The mezzo soprano sings of the great pain and woe that mankind faces and of his struggle to regain his heavenly home. (“Ich bin von Gott und will wieder zu Gott!”)

Jennifer Larmore, with her rich, but ethereal tone, all but had us believing that she actually had a vision of Paradise. Both she and soprano Helena Juntunen made the most of short, but evocative, solos. Miss Juntunen and the always marvelous Minnesota Chorale brought the Titan hero – and us- gently into paradise saying, “Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n wirst du” (Rise again, you will rise again).

Mahler has been accused more than once of being depressing (one friend of mine once sat next to me during a performance of his piano quartet drawing pictures of skulls and gravestones). On the contrary, although he, like most other people, had times of great sorrow, his music transcends and transforms the pain into a sacrifice and makes of the suffering something uplifting. Ultimately, his music contains great hope.

And the audience must have thought so too by the thunderous, sustained applause at the conclusion of the symphony. Curtain call after curtain call proved that there was something here that touched people. And it must have touched the orchestra and chorus as well to propel them to such artistic heights.

The State of the Blog 2007

The Management

Those who have been around Our Word for awhile might note that this is not the blog’s anniversary, which does not fall until November. Why, you might ask, would this be the time for the State of the Blog?

Well, June represents one year since the institution of a fundamental change in the format of Our Word. Therefore, this seems a good time to take stock of the past and future.

You may recall that around this time last year, we introduced you to two new blog partners, Bobby and Steve. We have since welcomed Drew, which makes five of us in all.

Additionally, we made an editorial decision to return to the original roots of Our Word, those being a catholic (small c) view of the world, as seen through a Catholic (big C) perspective. While religious topics, specifically Catholic ones, are still a part of that world, it also includes arts, culture, politics, sports and humor. In fact, it would be disingenuous not to point out that we have consciously taken a step (or several) away from the insular world of the Catholic blogosphere. We feel that this has resulted in a site that is more varied and more entertaining, as well as being more enjoyable for the writers.

The diversification of our subject matter has, in our opinion, made a positive impact on our readership. The month of May represented the fifth consecutive month of readership growth, and the sixth out of the last seven months (the exception being December, traditionally a down month for both readership and posting). At the end of May, total number of page loads was up 124% over the last seven months, number of unique visitors was up 106%, and the number of returning visitors was up 239%.

Looking at a rolling 12-month period, readership is down from June 2006, but it should be noted that the June figures were distorted by speculation regarding the appointment of a coadjudor bishop for the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, our home diocese. Excluding that time period (March-June 2006), the May 2007 figures represent the fourth highest monthly total, as well as being the fifth consecutive month of growth.

So readership is up – that’s the good news. However, it still is not at the level we think it should be at.

To help reach a larger audience, we encourage you to share this site with others you think might enjoy it. In the blogosphere, as well as the world in general, most business comes from referrals. So if, for example, you think “This Just In” is the funniest thing you’ve read all week, forward it to your friends. (Conversely, if you don’t think it’s funny at all, send it to your enemies.)

In addition, if you’ve got something to add to what we’ve written, by all means feel free to share your opinion with us. Don’t worry, if we think you’ve overstepped your bounds, we’ll let you know.

And speaking of writing, there’s no secret that the increased success of the blog is the direct result of adding three strong and insightful writers to the stable. Having five of us now on board proves the old adage, “Many hands make for less work.”

There are many people out there with interesting ideas and opinions to offer, as well as a real gift with words, but they’re intimidated by the prospect of starting their own blog and having to come up with several posts each week. If that’s the case with you, what better way to get involved than to join an established group blog, where you might only want to post once or twice a month. So if you’d like to be a part of the Our Word team, please let us know. If you’ve read the blog often enough to have gotten this far, chances are you know whether or not your opinions would be a good fit. If you’re intrigued, email us and let us know what you think.

So at the conclusion of what might be thought of as the first year of the New and Improved Our Word, the outlook is positive. The numbers are trending toward increased growth, we’re reaching new and better markets, and welcoming new readers into the fold. The quality of the writing is, we think, at the highest level it’s ever been. Although there's still much to accomplish, and despite the intrusions of things such as real life, we look with cautious optimism to the future.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

This Just In

By Steve

Bush Pardons Hilton To "Boost National Morale," Says "We'll Always Have Paris"

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- President Bush unexpectedly issued a full pardon to recently jailed celebrity party-girl Paris Hilton today, explaining that he was doing it "in the interest of national morale."

Citing Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, which states, “The President ... shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment,” Bush said he was simply doing what was best for all concerned.

(Left) All just a misunderstanding? Paris Hilton betrays her anxiety prior to receiving word of her Presidential pardon.

"These are stressful and trying times for our nation," the President said from Heiligendamm, Germany, where he was discussing issues of nuclear annihilation, a return to a Cold War arms race, and the disastrous effects of global warming with foreign leaders at the G-8 Summit. "We need helpful distractions. Ms. Hilton, with her wacky antics, certainly provides those. We can't afford to have her locked up in some dull Los Angeles County Jail for three weeks. We need her out there giving us something else to think about. So, in the interest of national morale, Paris is now free to return to her normal, free-wheeling schedule. Thank God we'll always have Paris."

Ms. Hilton, 26, who until today was serving a 23-day jail sentence for violating a probation order before it became a 40-day house arrest sentence, was delighted with news of the full pardon.

"This is like, awesome," she said, standing outside her Hollywood Hills home, playfully waving the ankle bracelet that she had earlier been sentenced to wear. "I'm not even a Republican, I think, but I'm glad President Washington did that. I'll talk about it more in my Barbara Walters Special next Friday."

There was no confirmation to rumors that Hilton was later seen dancing into the night at a posh Hollywood bistro in the company of Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie, Britney Spears, and Lewis (Scooter) Libby.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Poetry Wednesday

By Mitchell

White Nights
Paul Auster

No one here,
and the body says: whatever is said
is not to be said. But no one
is a body as well, and what the body says
is heard by no one
but you.

Snowfall and night. The repetition
of a murder
among the trees. The pen
moves across the earth: it no longer knows
what will happen, and the hand that holds it
has disappeared.

Nevertheless, it writes.
It writes: in the beginning,
among the trees, a body came walking
from the night. It writes:
the body's whiteness
is the color of earth. It is earth,
and the earth writes: everything
is the color of silence.

I am no longer here. I have never said
what you say
I have said. And yet, the body is a place
where nothing dies. And each night,
from the silence of the trees, you know
that my voice
comes walking toward you.

from Disappearances, Selected Poems, Overlook Press

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Good Advice

By Drew

Here's another good quote:

"I have a talent for silence and brevity. I can keep silent when it seems best to do so, and when I speak I can, and do usually, quit when I am done. This talent, or these two talents, I have cultivated. Silence and concise, brief speaking have got me some laurels, and, I suspect, lost me some. No odds. Do what is natural to you, and you are sure to get all the recognition you are entitled to."

Rutherford B. Hayes, diary entry, Nov. 20, 1872

Would that we (and the rest of the blogosphere) took that advice more often...

Wish I'd Written That

By Mitchell

"Here a year or two back me and Loretta went to a conference in Corpus Christi and I got set next to this woman, she was the wife of somebody or other. And she kept talking about the right wing this and the right wing that. I ain't even sure what she meant by it. The people I know are mostly just common people. Common as dirt, as the sayin goes. I told her that and she looked at me funny. She thought I was sayin somethin bad about em, but of course that's a high compliment in my part of the world. She kept on, kept on. Finally told me, said: I don't like the way this country is headed. I want my granddaughter to be able to have an abortion. And I said well mam I don't think you got any worries about the way the country is headed. The way I see it goin I don't have much doubt but what she'll be able to have an abortion. I'm going to say that not only will she be able to have an abortion, she'll be able to have you put to sleep. Which pretty much ended the conversation."

Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men (H/T to First Things)

Monday, June 4, 2007

Dance Immodesty?

By Bobby

In The Inner Voice, Renée Fleming said she gained enough respect to toughen standards when it regards to what she can and cannot wear on stage. There are certain situations and manners of dress in which she will not appear on stage.

Fleming’s rules are greatly appreciated, and should be a high standard of which today’s children need to see. At a recent dance concert I attended, the standards of dress have deteriorated to the point young girls were wearing costumes similar (or worse) to what their MTV heroines wear on television every day. It came to the point Biblical standards of modesty had been removed in favour of the “whatever comes in Vegas is perfectly legal here”.

In almost every song, the girls – some of whom are as young as six and as old as eighteen – would dare to bare as much as possible. There were some routines where the girls would go with the bikini look on stage, and almost every top worn by even the youngest of girls was cropped that they would show at least their midriff, and with the amount of skin they showed, it had gone out of control, and some of these girls are under ten years old! The entire look was reminiscent of a brothel, only this time the attendees at the brothel were not adults, they were young boys and girls, some as young as six, participating in the brothel act.

The brothel act has become very popular through recent years through the popularity of NBA cheerleaders, of which all 30 NBA teams now feature, and their immodest looks, through music videos on MTV and the showgirls of Las Vegas, complete with the popularity of commercial popular music through many of its female artists, many of whom show as much of their bodies in simulated sex acts.

A few years ago, the state of Texas had a legislator propose a rule banning “sexy cheerleading” to prevent such outrageous acts. The National Federation of High School Associations added “no bare midriff” rules into costuming for cheerleading and dance teams. But private dance studios, college dance teams, and other organizations, urged by choreographers and children who want to mimic what is popular at the clubs, MTV, and in dance halls, have violated the common sense of modesty by permitting the outlandish costuming of children.

One of the absolute worst routines when it comes to decency was one built named “Cookielicious,” complete with half-dressed Brownie (Girl Scouts) lookalikes, with bare midriffs and very short skirts. The routine was grossly offensive with the simulated sex and outrageous music, especially with the ages of these children, Kyle Busch would have sent them to the Oval Office for consultation*. The outrageous act of these young children in adult club costumes, jiggling to hip-hop music that demeans people is something I thought we would never have seen 20 years ago.

When the choreographer attempted to try such outfits with the adult team, the entire team balked, noticing that we were mostly in our 30's or older, and wanted modesty. The ladies’ dresses were longer than the girls, and showed no bare midriffs. Also, there were none of the “booty” looks popular with today’s young girls who mimic everything from the smut peddlers. There were no “Las Vegas Showgirl” identity with the outfits of the adults.

This outrageous weekend reminds me today that today’s parents should be very cautious of what their children are doing in schools or even in their extracurricular activities. Even in churches today, we are seeing a byproduct of this as church music leaders today prefer having children dance to hip-hop music with similar routines as a replacement for having children sing sacred music in church.

Our society has permeated the MTV/Las Vegas look into our children today, and the problems of such have created a monster that parents need to restrain children to prevent them from hiding into the Dark Side of the modesty battle.

* A division of The W. K. Kellogg Company bakes Girl Scout Cookies.

Friday, June 1, 2007

This Just In

By Steve

Terrorists Announce “Re-Victimization” Effort in Baghdad
Plan is to transport people into urban areas in order to blow them up

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Baghdad is running low on many basic necessities, such as water, electricity and public transportation. Add another item to that list: people. And because of that, terrorist groups are facing a major problem.

"We've been very effective in our civilian bombing campaigns, says Ahem el-Kabana, spokesman for the fundamentalist terror cell 'Wrath of God.' "In fact, maybe we've been too effective."

To meet this dilemma, insurgent terrorist groups operating out of Iraq are planning a major offensive over the next several months.

Speaking on the Al Jazeera cable network, el-Kabana announced what he referred to as a “re-victimization” plan designed to increase the potency of terrorist bombings in Baghdad and other urban areas of Iraq by bringing more people back to the places where terrorists can find them.

Military analysts have noted a steady decrease in the number of civilians living in such urban areas. Experts have chalked up the decline to several factors, most prominently death by explosion, followed by assassination and kidnapping. Seeking to regain the strategic advantage and increase the number of terror victims, el-Kabana said drastic action was necessary.

“Our plan is to repopulate the major residential areas of Baghdad and surrounding areas as quickly as possible, in order to resume our highly effective terror attacks,” el-Kabana said. “We will undertake a massive re-victimization effort to bring some 500,000 new residents over the next year into Baghdad alone. Thus repopulated, we can then resume our mission of bringing widespread death and destruction to the forces of the Great Satan.”

He warned, however, not to expect immediate results. “It is true that this cannot be accomplished overnight,” el-Kabana said. “This re-victimization effort will require the construction of a huge infrastructure, which means improvements in roads and rail systems. Massive building projects will be required in order to adequately house future victims prior to their contribution to our glorious cause. Electricity and running water must be regularized, and a more efficient means of transporting victims must be agreed upon by the various factions. We also believe that the construction of good schools, hospitals and parks will create a more pleasant environment that will attract people to move back to these areas.

"Above all, we must ensure that those being brought into Baghdad remain safe from attack until they are properly positioned, at which point one of our courageous martyrs to Allah will blow them into millions of pieces, thus winning the eternal delights of numerous virgins.”

The announcement by el-Kabana indicates the group is become desperate, according to Brig. Gen. Dirk Blastoff.

“I mean, look at this,” said Blastoff, allied head of the counter-anti-insurgency intelligence taskforce. “They’re practically admitting defeat. Their primary weapon in this struggle is terror, which they achieve by killing large numbers of innocent civilians. Now that number is decreasing, and with it is their ability to strike fear into the hearts of the average Iraqi. Minus that ability, what is terrorism? All we have to do is be patient and wait it out until they run out of people to kill. When that happens, the insurgents will have failed and we will have won. We have time and numbers on our side, provided Congress continues to fund the war effort.”

Other analysts, however, were not so sure.

David Reaperasty, head of the Washington-based think tank Center for Territorial Conquest, suggested the United States might have to prevent the reconstruction of Baghdad in order to keep the terrorists from gaining the upper hand. “We’re there for one reason and one reason alone, and that’s regime stability,” Reaperasty said. “How can we possibly rebuild Iraq when we’re faced with continuing attacks from Wrath of God? The only way we’re going to successfully rebuild this country is to prevent them from doing it first. If they succeed there, who knows how much death and destruction they might cause?”

Lucas Wittenspoon, an expert on counter-anti-insurgency intelligence and a consultant for CNN, offered another alternative. “Is it really enough to wait for the insurgency to run out of victims?” Wittenspoon asked. “I would suggest this is a luxury the United States cannot afford. The answer is to strike at the heart of the terrorist organization, and to do it ruthlessly. The only thing the insurgents understand is death, the only thing they respect is the ability to cause it. Any group that can kill more efficiently and with more massive numbers than they can will force them to back down. Therefore, we must show that we can equal, if not exceed, their ability to cause death and destruction on a widespread scale.”

Wittenspoon suggested the allied forces begin their own terrorist bombings to send a message to 'Wrath of God' and its aligned groups. He suggested one major difference, however. “I strongly urge the use of unmanned drones rather than suicide bombers, in order to demonstrate to these terrorists that we in the West value life where they do not.”

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