Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Poetry Wednesday

By Judith

I was going to choose a different Halloween poem by Rowena Bennett, but found this charming ditty while looking for information on Miss Bennett. Information about the author is difficult to find, although her poems are all over the place and her books are available on Amazon. This poem was written in 1949 and it appears that most of her material is for children. The original poem I was going to choose is called "The Witch of Willowby Wood," and she also wrote a poem about the Easter Bunny. She also wrote a play called "Puss In Boots: A Three Act Dramatization of the Old Fairy Tale." Now you know everything I do.

Have a safe and fun Halloween and enjoy this little poem.


WITCH CAT

I want a little witch cat
With eyes all yellow-green,
Who rides upon a broomstick
Every Halloween,
Who purrs when she is taking off,
Just like a purring plane,
And doesn't mind a tailspin
Even in the rain.
I want a cat who dares to light
The candle of the moon
And set it's jack-o-lantern face
A-laughing like a loon.
I want a cat who laps the milk
Along the Milky Way,
A cat of spunk and character
As daring as the day;
But gentle-looking kittens
Are in the stores to sell
And which cat is a witch cat,
I really cannot tell.

'Tis the Season

By Mitchell


Pumpkin Bells
(to the tune of Jingle Bells)


Dashing through the streets
In our costumes bright and gay
To each house we go
Laughing all the way

Halloween is here,
Making spirits bright
What fun it is to trick-or-treat
And sing pumpkin carols tonight!

Oh, Pumpkin bells, Pumpkin bells
Ringing loud and clear
Oh what fun Great Pumpkin brings
When Halloween is here.

- Charles Schulz (Attr.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Cool Kids

By Mitchell

There’s been a revival of interest of late in Charles Schulz and his creation, Peanuts, with a documentary on PBS this week, a new biography in the bookstores, and the holiday trifecta – the Great Pumpkin, Thanksgiving, and Christmas – on the way.

And so it’s not surprising that there’s an article on Peanuts in the Strib Monday morning. The question it asks: has Snoopy lost his cool? It’s a question worth discussing, for many reasons.

The question of whether or not Peanuts is still cool isn’t a new one. Last year, when the Mall of America announced a deal with Nickelodeon for its characters to grace the mall’s indoor amusement park that had been formerly known as Camp Snoopy (after the mall had failed to reach terms to continue the Peanuts tie-in) , the reaction from retail experts was fairly positive. SpongeBob and Dora the Explorer were, it was argued, far more “in” with kids than Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Peanuts had become, the experts agreed, more of a nostalgia kick, something that parents could look back on with affection, reliving their own childhood. Peanuts might still be beloved, but clearly the demographics were skewing in the wrong direction. Today’s article reiterates much the same thing.

This kind of questioning was inevitable given that there are no new Peanuts strips being written, no opportunity for Schulz to offer commentary on the events of today. It is, literally, a nostalgia item, a throwback to another era. And so perhaps it's a good thing to remind ourselves that the question is something of a moot point. Why should kids consider Peanuts cool, after all? The fact is that Peanuts was for adults, written with an adult sensibility, with humor that could have been right out of the pages of The New Yorker, the kind of thing that people cut out and put up at work. Although kids would always find a humorous side to it, it was never really intended to appeal to children as primary readers. In an entry in the St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture, we find this paragraph that sums it up:

The Peanuts characters, however, are not typical children. They do torment each other (making them some of the first realistic children in comics) and play games, much as other children do, but the Peanuts characters are somewhat more serious and intelligent than the average child. Lucy says she would like real estate for Christmas, Linus can philosophize about life's problems while sucking his thumb, and Schroeder's hero is Beethoven. They quote the Bible and have incredible vocabularies. Not only are these children intelligent, they are independent. Adults only appear "off stage," and rarely at that. The Peanuts characters seem to go through most of their activities with little adult supervision or interference, and they manage just fine. The characters tend to be a bit less fun-loving than the children we know. They are all somewhat depressed, and when they laugh, they tend to be laughing at each other rather than something innocent that simply strikes them as funny. As Schulz says in Charlie Brown, Snoopy and Me, "Strangely enough, pleasant things are not really funny. You can't create humor out of happiness." Charlie Brown himself is the apex of this philosophy. The Peanuts characters have enough childlike qualities to keep children interested, but much of this is adult humor.

So, one might wonder, how did we get to the point where we started to see Peanuts primarily as children's entertainment? As Schulz biographer David Michaelis, author of Schulz and Peanuts, points out, much of this transition comes with the advent of "A Charlie Brown Christmas." In the wake of the phenomenal success of the TV special, the Peanuts kids became some of the most heavily merchandised characters around. Invariably, the books, stuffed animals, and other tie-ins were marketed to, and found their largest audience with, children. More TV specials followed, often tied in to holidays such as Halloween and Thanksgiving, and the cartoons came to define the seasonal aspects of those holidays - merchandising seasons, for one thing.

At the same time, Schulz began to draw the primary focus of the strip somewhat away from Charlie Brown and his existential difficulties, and more toward the fantasy life of Snoopy. Snoopy became something of a Walter Mitty; traveling to the moon, playing golf at the Masters, competing for the Stanley Cup on the icy pond of a birdbath. They were, in fact, the same kinds of fantasies that many children had - whereas Charlie Brown, in his Sisyphusian parallel, had always struggled to kick that football before Lucy could pull it away, Snoopy's athletic endeavors were thes kind of fantasies played out on playgrounds, where kids imagined themselves with a chance to win the Super Bowl or the World Series by making that winning shot or catching the ball for the final out.

In the past Charlie Brown had always been Snoopy's foil, as if the dog were some type of Sybil dispensing the cruel realities of Fate, but now Snoopy acquired his own sidekick, the bird Woodstock, and together the two became something of a comedy team, further taking away the focus from the children, sometimes for days at a time.

Finally, as Michaelis points out, Schulz used Peanuts as a virtual diary. In looking back at the events of Schulz's life, from his childhood to his failed marriage and his romances, to his eternal struggles against the dual tormenters of self-doubt and ego, we see these all emerging from the words and thought bubbles of his child characters. With this knowledge the strip often assumes a dual meaning, and in one way it makes it difficult to read the old jokes in quite the same way as you did in the past.

Schulz was by these accounts a difficult man, gifted but doubting, modest yet arrogant, and oftentimes not particularly likeable. I can remember, even as a kid when Peanuts was my favorite strip, thinking that there often was something not quite right about it. How could anyone be as much of a failure as Charlie Brown? How could others inflict such cruelty as casually as so many of the kids did? Why, in fact, did he not just buck up and, as Lucy would say, deal with it?

Like many adults, my affection for Peanuts has remained, but the ardor hasn't. Today it comes across as humorous, still better than 90% of the dreck that litters the funny pages, but hardly the must-read that it once was. The relevance of its eternal truths continues, but the topical humor that was always one of Schulz's hallmarks can be hard to identify. In my mind, Calvin and Hobbes had long since surpassed Peanuts as both insightful and cutting-edge, the kind of thing at which Schulz used to excel. And yet there is no question that Schulz, flaws and all, remains a giant of cartooning - indeed, of pop culture, if not of literature itself. We can't afford to lose sight of that.

And so perhaps we shouldn't be so surprised at the conversation about whether or not kids still find Peanuts cool, for it is difficult to remember that once upon a time Peanuts wasn't really about kids at all.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Back to NASCAR

By Bobby

An interesting note came from ESPN about Monday's "Car of Tomorrow" test plans, and how they reflected a reference to Dale Earnhardt Jr and his grandfather:

Although Casey Mears and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will test with their 2008 teams at Atlanta, they will not drive cars branded with their 2008 numbers. Mears, who will drive the #5 (Kellogg's / CarQuest) Chevy next season, will run his customary #25 National Guard/GMAC paint scheme during the two-day session. Earnhardt, who is slated for the #88 Chevy in 2008 (which is the new number of the current #25 team -- they will have the 2007 #25 points for purposes of the All Exempt Tour policies, similar to golf's tour policy), will test a #5 car at Atlanta. To commemorate his first laps with Hendrick Motorsports, Earnhardt will sport a "throwback" #5 All-Star Racing Chevy during next week's Atlanta test. Earnhardt's Impala SS will feature a red and white paint scheme identical to the first car campaigned by teamowner Rick Hendrick in Cup-level competition. Then known as "All-StarRacing," Hendrick Motorsports fielded the car with driver Geoffrey Bodine in 1984. The #24 and #48 teams of Hendrick Motorsports will not attend next week's Atlanta test. (Hendrick PR) (10-27-2007)


That means Earnhardt will be testing a car painted to resemble Hendrick's first Cup car, prepared jointly by Hendrick and Earnhardt's grandfather Robert Gee. Hendrick and Gee had prepared a Late Model Sportsman (Nationwide) car the previous year for Earnhardt's father, who had divorced Gee's daughter a few years previously, to run in a 1983 race at Charlotte, which Senior won.

Ironically, Gee, who died in 1994, has his children at JR Motorsports preparing the #5 Lowe's and #88 US Navy Nationwide Series cars. Brothers Jimmy and Robert Jr, and sister Brenda Jackson (Dale Jr's mother) work for JR Motorsports. Because of sponsor conflicts with Hendrick (National Guard) and JR (Navy), Earnhardt cannot drive the #88, which has a full-time driver with an interesting story. Brad Keselowski toiled in underfunded family equipment and later in underfunded teams, the last of which folded because of the owner's health. He received a call from the 2006 Craftsman Truck Series championship team to drive the team's second truck after its driver was suspended one race for unsportsmanlike conduct. After nearly winning the NCTS race at Millington, TN, his stock rose, and Earnhardt gave Keselowski a shot in his US Navy car, and it seems he will race a full season next year for the operation which is now a "satellite" Hendrick operation, with five different drivers alternating as his teammate --Earnhardt, Casey Mears, Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, Landon Cassill -- in the Lowe's #5 next season.

Now that's a bit of nostalgia for sports fans, but is just the next step in the popular trend of wearing older-era jerseys, giving today's fans a piece of yesterday's jerseys. The Cleveland Cavaliers have a "third" jersey where the team wears the Ron Harper, Mark Price, Brad Daugherty-era jerseys.

Friday, October 26, 2007

This Just In

By Kristin

Search Continues for Missing Obama Pin

(October 26, 2007—Chicago, IL) A massive search is still underway, say federal authorities, for the missing American flag pin of presidential candidate Barack Obama. While no new leads have been reported in the case in the past few days, search efforts continue for the lapel pin that has become an object of media controversy.



(left) The search for the missing Pin becomes more pointed as authorities spare no expense.




Friends of the American Pin noted strange behavior changes prior to the Pin’s disappearance in early October.

“American Flag Pin just wasn’t his normal self,” remembered 70’s inspired Smiley Face Pin. “It’s back would just slip off at the most inopportune moments.” Others in the pin community were too emotional to comment.

Other pins remember a lack of shine and pep in the lost pin days before its disappearance. Between tiny sobs, the Commemorative 100 Mile Ride for Lupus Pin stated that he wished he’d acted on the signs earlier. "It's up to us pins to stick together," he said.

There have been sightings the past few weeks around the Fox Broadcasting center. Other American Flag pins have been confused with the Obama Pin but insist that they do not belong to the Democratic Senator.

Anyone with any information is encouraged to contact federal authorities immediately.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

F1 and Government Subsidies

By Bobby

In regards to my comments on F1 and government subsidies, I found interesting information:

The government of Australia spends A$30 million to subidise the ING Australian Grand Prix. From Credit Suisse: "The underlying problem is that organisers are now finding it virtually impossible to refinance their races. As they don't get a share of the receipts from advertising and TV rights during the Formula One weekend, they need to cover their costs from ticket sales alone."

F1 leader Bernie Ecclestone holds all television revenues, circuit advertising revenues (demands tracks remove all advertising banners from the track, and he puts up all banners), and hospitality suite revenues.

The track owners receive nothing from the Formula One Management because Mr. Ecclestone has taken away the entire source of revenue that tracks usually receive for races. He also hires scantily-clad models (they are better covered in Muslim countries owing to standards) to hang boards for all races.

The sanctioning fee for F1 is now at 25 million euros ($30 million US) with a 10% increase annually with Bernie having all advertising revenues. Sir Jackie Stewart noted most new F1 races depend on government subsidies,and warned that the manufacturers are already angry that Bernie's government subsidy requests hurt F1 and their manufacturers, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Ferrari, Toyota, and Honda. He also warned three years ago, before Michelin's engineering fiasco at the Brickyard, that the USGP was also targeted because "a reluctance to give or accept government subsidy is not balanced by income potential for the promoter."

Tony George doesn't accept Indiana state government subsidies. Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a division of the Hulman & Company empire in Terre Haute, Indiana. As Bernie demands F1 controls all advertising on the track, local advertising panels are illegal. Tony would love to have on the track advertising panels featuring Coca-Cola, Sprint, Clarian Healthcare (Methodist Hospital), Holmatro, Bombardier, and other track sponsors.

MotoGP's policies are not as bad as Bernie Ecclestone when it comes to requiring government subsidies, and so Tony chose to run a MotoGP event at the Brickyard with a new Snake Pit complex. Also he can regulate a ban on BWIN.com advertising from his track (Laguna Seca also prohibits BWIN advertising). BWIN is an internet gambling site, and such advertising is prohibited in the United States.

So the real reason the US cannot get F1 is Bernie Ecclestone's ego and demands for all money hurts promoters. If Bernie puts up advertising of firms that compete against Nationwide, Lowe's, Coca-Cola, or other SMI sponsors whose names are plastered across the signs of his tracks, Bruton wouldn't build a great road course that would utilise The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for F1.

Bahrain, Shanghai, Malaysia, Australia, Singapore, and the Valencia races are all government-subsidised with taxpayer money going to support the races.

Bernie is a socialist! He doesn't want individuals to build their own tracks and give them races. Track owners can't even collect for advertising revenues. He DEMANDS taxpayers pay for his races. A similar rule in World Superbike motorcycle racing has forced Miller Motorsports Park in Toele, Utah to run two different tracks for the WSBK weekend next June; the US Superbike and other series will run the full 4.5 mile track because the American Motorcyclist Association can put their ads and Miller Motorsports Park ads on the infield; the perimeter 3.06 mile track is for World Superbike only because they want all advertising revenues. Larry Miller (of the Utah Jazz) collects all revenues for the US races, but not the WSBK races. No government subsidy for this race.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Poetry Wednesday

By Judith

perhaps no one springs to mind so easily when talking about modern poets
as e e cummings (1894 - 1962)-
after all his lack of structured form, his non-use
of capital letters and creative use of punctuation:;

Well, but that doesn't explain Emily Dickinson in the mid 1800s -

So there must be more to modern poetry than it's shape. Cummings didn't do away with convention; he saw it in a different way. He was influenced by Chaucer and Shakespeare and Dante. He read Rossetti and Swinburne. He wrote sonnets and was considered "one of the greatest lyric poets of all time" (Horace Gregory in his introduction to a selection of poems from 1965). Like other poets we've talked about (Hartley, for example), Cummings expressed himself in more than one medium. He painted and drew while his wife Marion was a photographer. So, he captured in words what a swipe of a brush or a shadowy black-and-white picture revealed.

I think, too, that for poets of the early 20th century what they heard was as influential as what they saw and felt. Ragtime and jazz were in their infancy in these years before the War (the first one). The sounds and rhythms were syncopated, fragmented, based in studied musicianship, but thrown free to the wind. The world was bursting into an entirely different form and so was its art forms.

So here is one of Cummings' later poems (1958), a seemingly tame thing, yet free as the soaring bird.

in time of daffodils(who know
the goal of living is to grow)
forgetting why,remember how

in time of lilacs who proclaim
the aim of waking is to dream,
remember so(forgetting seem)

in time of roses(who amaze
our now and here with paradise)
forgetting if,remember yes

in time of all sweet things beyond
whatever mind may comprehend,
remember seek(forgetting find)

and in a mystery to be
(when time from time shall set us free)
forgetting me,remember me

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Get the Lead Out

By Judith

Much has been discussed in recent months about the amount of lead in different items - especially children's toys - made in China. I don't have any answers, just questions. For example:

Is there more lead in toys now than there used to be?

How much lead was in those now-antique, quaint, metal toys from Victorian times?

How much lead was in the toys that kids of my generation used to play with 40 or 50 years ago?

Were the window sills we all teethed on as toddlers painted with lead?

If there was more lead then than now, why aren't we all driveling idiots, or dead?

Is there more lead allowed in items used in other countries, and, if so, why aren't they all driveling idiots, or dead?

Does more research need to be done on the amount of lead that is risky and just how it affects us?

Is lead the alar (remember Meryl Streep wailing about "the children"?) of our day?

Is the lead scare politically motivated because all these things are made in China?

See, I don't have answers, but maybe the questions are enough for now.

Bedlam in Brazil

By Mitchell

Despite the well-known predilection in some blog circles for NASCAR, we're going to look today at the true world motor sport - Formula One - and the breathtaking conclusion of this year's season last Sunday at the Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo.

Granted, Formula One is a kind of acquired taste. The courses are far-flung, stretching from Australia to China to Hungary to Britain. (The United States Grand Prix was run for the past several years at Indianapolis, but will not be on the schedule in coming years.) Drivers often have unpronounceable names and challenging accents (there are no American drivers at present in F1), the cars are incredibly sophisticated, and, truth be told, there isn’t always that much action on the track. (Passing is difficult and rare; barring mechanical problems, the pole winner is the overwhelming favorite to win the race, and attrition – particularly the first-lap crash that is often a feature of F1 races – is often the surest way to move closer to the top) But the circuits on which the races are run are frequently breathtaking, from the cosmopolitan drama of Monoco, where the street course hosts probably the world’s most famous race, to Monza, the hilly, tree-lined home of the Italian Grand Prix and the fastest, most exciting circuit in F1. So, as I say, Formula One racing is an acquired taste. I acquired it at an early age, but it was the 2007 season that truly rekindled my interest.

2007 had been the most dramatic F1 season in years: it was the first without the legendary seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher, who had retired at the end of the 2006 season. There was an espionage scandal, in which McLaren Mercedes was found guilty of accepting stolen information regarding their archrival Ferrari, which resulted in McLaren losing all their team championship points (their two drivers were not punished) as well as being fined the unheard-of amount of $100 million. And, for the first time in over twenty years, the season came down to a three-way battle for the title, and the lines couldn't have been more clearly drawn.

There was the charismatic young Brit Lewis Hamilton, known at the start of the season (if at all) as F1's first black driver, who had grabbed the season lead early on and was now trying to become the youngest World Champion ever, as well as the first rookie champ. There was Fernando Alonso, the two-time defending champion and Hamilton's teammate at McLaren Mercedes, who had spent most of the year overshadowed by his young teammate and resented it plenty. And there was Kimi Räikkönen, the F1 runner-up in 2003 and 2005, who had moved this year to Ferrari in order to give himself a better chance at the title.

Entering the final weekend, the title appeared to be Hamilton's to lose. At the Chinese Grand Prix two weeks before, he had appeared to have it all but wrapped up. Sporting a 12-point lead over Alonso, his nearest competitor, all he needed was to finish ahead of the Spaniard and the crown would be his. Racing in rainy conditions similar to those in Japan the week before, where Hamilton had dominated in a brilliant win, the Brit seemed well in control when he was plagued by a blistering tire. Coming into the pits, Hamilton briefly lost control of his McLaren, which slid into a gravel trap and became stuck. Suddenly, Hamilton was out of the running. Räikkönen raced to the victory to keep his slim hopes alive, and Alonso's second-place finish meant he was a mere four points behind Hamilton heading for Brazil. Räikkönen, seven points behind in third, remained "mathematically alive" at seven points behind, but could only hope for an improbably combination of events to put him on top: he needed to win, first of all (not unlikely; he’d already won five races, leading all drivers in that category), but then he had to hope that Hamilton finished no better than fifth, Alonso no better than third. A possible, but remote, scenario.

Sunday was sunny and hot, with temperatures hovering near 100. The enormous crowd was almost beside itself with excitement, befitting a country where auto racing is almost as big as soccer. The signs seemed to auger well for Hamilton; in a style of racing where one's qualifying position meant everything, his second-place spot on the grid appeared to put him in the catbird's seat (the Brazilian Felipe Massa had won the pole in a Ferrari; Massa himself ran fourth in the standings, having won three races, but was too far behind to catch Hamilton): a second place finish, no matter where Alonso or Räikkönen finished, would win him the championship.

However, there's a reason why races aren't run on paper, and Hamilton's race started to unravel almost immediately. As soon as the green flag fell he was passed by Räikkönen, then by Alonso. Had the race ended with the drivers holding these positions - Massa, Räikkönen, Alonso and Hamilton - Hamilton still would have won the title. But, in what was perhaps a rookie mistake, Hamilton aggressively tried to pass Alonso and went off the track. He recovered, fought his way back near the top, and then suffered a mechanical breakdown that brought his car to a virtual stop. He was able to keep it rolling and it eventually fired back to speed, but Hamilton's day was essentially done. He was unable to climb back above seventh, and as the laps dwindled down, so did his chances at the championship.

Massa and Räikkönen, in the blood-red Ferraris, literally raced away from the field, opening up a half-minute lead over Alonso. This alone wouldn't have been enough for Räikkönen - he needed to win to have any chance at the title himself, and it looked as if his teammate Massa, racing in his home grand prix, was nearly unbeatable. But here is where the supremacy of the team comes to the fore in F1 racing - once Massa himself had been eliminated from the championship, the orders came down from Ferrari that he was to put himself in a secondary role, that of doing whatever was necessary to help his teammate Räikkönen capture the championship. So it was an open secret that, should the race continue in this fashion, Massa would yield the lead to Räikkönen. He couldn't just drop out, though: were Alonso to finish in second place, he would garner the eight points that would put him ahead of Hamilton and keep him ahead of Räikkönen, giving the Spanard his third consecutive championship. In addition, racing rules dictated that Massa couldn't simply pull over and let Räikkönen pass him; to do so would violate F1's dictates and lead to punishment for both drivers. So despite the fact that there didn't appear to be much going on down there on the boiling track (where temps on the asphalt were in excess of 140 degrees), the mind boggled at the possibilities.

The decisive moment of the race occurred following the last round of pit stops; since each team shares a pit crew for its two drivers, coordination is imperative. Massa was first into the Ferrari pits, and was out almost as quickly in a brilliant stop. Räikkönen pulled in a few laps later and was even faster; merging back onto the track just ahead of Massa for the lead. And that would be it for the race winner. Unless something catastrophic happened, Massa would settle into a protective mode, making sure Räikkönen stayed out front. (This isn’t to suggest he simply handed Räikkönen the win; the Finnish driver had been masterful all day, turning some of the fastest laps in the race, and once in the lead it was apparent nobody was going to catch him, no matter how well they drove.)

All was not secure for Räikkönen, however. There was still Alonso to worry about – even though he was now nearly a minute behind the two Ferraris, should anything happen to Massa he would slip into second, giving him enough points for the title. And you couldn’t discount Hamilton either; although he was too far behind to get up into fifth place himself, a crash on the twisting circuit could easily take out enough cars to propel Hamilton high enough to hang on to his points lead.

Neither of these things happened though, and as the checkered flag fell, the most unlikely outcome had been the one to occur. Räikkönen had won his second straight race and sixth of the season, and edged out Hamilton by one point for the championship. Alonso, finishing third in the race, would tie Hamilton on points, but lose the tiebreaker and finish third in the overall standings as well.

The stoic Finn allowed himself a couple of smiles in the post-race press conference, but otherwise maintained the calm demeanor that had allowed him to come through in the final two races to claim the World Championship. For Hamilton, the disappointment at losing his lead so late in the season was mitigated by what everyone was saying was the start of an undoubtedly brilliant career. Alonso, disgruntled with his team and his teammate, was though to be preparing a move to another team (McLaren already having indicated they’d be only too glad to give him his release if he so requested).

As I said, a magnificent ending to one of the most eventful, exciting F1 seasons in years. True, it will be a tough act to follow. The sport has to overcome the McLaren espionage scandal, and it truly is a shame that there is no American race in the foreseeable future (thanks in large part to a raceday fiasco several years ago that soured a lot of people on F1), However, thanks to the brilliant work of Speed, the network that covers F1 here (and, for my money, the team of Bob Varsha, David Hobbs, Peter Windsor and Steve Matchett, is hands-down the most enthusiastic and best in motor sports), and some of the world’s best drivers, Formula One is a sport with which more Americans should become acquainted – starting five months from now, with the 2008 season opener in Australia.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Joey Bishop, R.I.P.

By Mitchell

Well, they're all gone now, the Rat Pack. Frank, Deano, Sammy, Peter (we hardly knew ye) and now Joey. And there isn't really anybody to replace them, is there?

Peter Lawford was probably the least well-known of the five, but one could argue that he also had the least visibility within the Pack. Most people, when they think of the Rat Pack, think of the Vegas shows - Dean doing his drunk act, Sammy jumping into Dean's arms when he wasn't tearing up the stage with his singing, dancing and impressions, and Frank being, well, Frank.

With a trio of larger-than-life personalities like that, it was easy for a laid back performer like Joey Bishop to fade into the background. And yet Sinatra knew better. He called Bishop "The Hub of the Big Wheel," and he was right. Joey Bishop was the professional, the sane one in a portrait of joyful insanity, the glue that held the whole thing together. Watch his marvelous comic timing when you get a chance, his deadpan expressions, his easy way with one-liners. Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that Joey Bishop was the last of the Rat Pack, the one who outlived them all. As long as Joey was alive, it was somehow possible to believe that the Rat Pack still lived, that we were all young and hip, finger-snapping and swinging our way through life.

There was more to Joey Bishop than the Rat Pack, of course. He was a successful nightclub comedian, a not-so-successful sitcom star, and a longtime talk show host. For a generation, in fact, he was probably best known as Johnny Carson's perennial substitute, pinch-hitting for him over 200 times. And, in fact, from 1967 through 1969 he went head-to-head five nights a week as Carson's competition, hosting his own talkfest on ABC. (Fact number one: Joey's sidekick was the young Regis Philben. Fact number two: the first guest on Joey's show was none other than California Governor Ronald Reagan, who due to a scheduling snafu was 14 minutes late to the live telecast.)

The February 24, 1968 issue of TV Guide offers a profile of Bishop that provides us with a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the talk show. However, it also gives us a portrait that is at odds with the conventional wisdom surrounding Bishop's show. For the conventional wisdom is that Carson was insurmountable, that Bishop's show was merely one in a long line of failed attempts to challeng the King of Late Night (preceded by Crane, soon to be followed by Cavett, Griffin, Thicke, Sajak, Rivers, Hall, et al). Brooks and Marsh, in their indespensible Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, state that "Joey limped along for more than two years, never posting much of a threat" to Carson. According to CNN's obit, "despite an impressive guest list and outrageous stunts, Bishop couldn't dent Carson's ratings." And that, as I said, has become the established school of thought.

Except, according to Richard Warren Lewis' TV Guide story, it wasn't necessarily so. It was true that Bishop premiered on April 17, 1967, and that it wasn't met by a great deal of enthusiasm. (One-third of ABC's affiliates chose not to air the show at its premiere.) The critics of the time pronounced it a "turkey."

But, slowly, it started to turn around. As Lewis notes, "Six months after that shaky start, Bishop was seriously challenging Carson both in the battle for ratings and late-night advertisers' dollars." (Emphasis added.) According to the industry experts, Bishop had found a unique niche, a "totally different audience" that the urbane Carson (who, ironically, was thought to face the same challenge when he replaced Jack Paar, who at the time was seen as far more urbane than Carson). While Carson appealed to the sophisticated viewer, Bishop's audience resided in the outlying areas, the Bible Belt, flyover country.

Big names of the time such as Gregory Peck and Omar Sharif appeared on Bishop's show. Paar himself came out of semiretirement to trade jokes for an hour. When David Janssen, on the night of The Fugitive's final episode, appeared live with Joey, the ratings topped Carson's in New York for the first time. The picture painted by Lewis' article is an optimistic one, of a show on the rise, a show to be taken seriously as a threat to Carson's five-year run of supremacy.

Granted, it must not have lasted. By the end of the next year Bishop was gone, replaced for 1970 by Dick Cavett. I wonder why. Was it only ratings - had Bishop's numbers reached a plateau in 1968, only to fall back? Could it be that ABC, taking a page from CBS's strategy of the late 60s, had decided to cast aside the less demographically appealing (not to mention lucrative) rural and Midwest audiences and challenge Carson's hold on that urbane market? (In fact, ABC was to dump the still-successful but demographically-challenged Lawrence Welk show in 1971.) Did Bishop himself tire of the talk show grind cutting into his successful nightclub bookings? I'm sure the answer lies somewhere within a wealth of printed material that's probably buried on microfilm in some dusty library.

Lewis' story itself is not without its flaws; he makes a point of referring to Bishop's custom of wearing a black tie for every show since a priest had presented it to him on opening night, yet on the cover of the issue, Bishop is pictured behind the host's desk, interviewing a guest, wearing a red tie. So I suspect that, as is so often the case, the truth lies somewhere in between.

One thing is sure, however. Bishop's show was not the unmitigated disaster, the eternally ratings-challenged program that many make it out to be. And so perhaps we should be a bit kinder to the memory of Joey Bishop's talk show, and smile as indeed we do whenever we remember his presence with the Rat Pack, and remember what it feels like to be young again.

UPDATE: My good friend Badda-Blogger has a nice tribute piece to Joey as well - well worth reading, as he usually is.

*****

While we're at it, we should note that Deborah Kerr also died. She was nominated six times for Best Actress, yet only won an honorary award from the Academy. You probably remember her dancing with Yul Brynner in The King and I, or groping with Burt Lancaster on the beach in From Here to Eternity. As CNN put it, she "played virtually every part imaginable from murderer to princess to a Roman Christian slave to a nun." She was married to the novelist Peter Viertel, author of White Hunter, Black Heart (based on the making of the movie The African Queen; later made into one of Clint Eastwood's best non-Dirty Harry movies).

Deborah Kerr had a great career in some of the biggest movies of the time, and she did it with class.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Wish I'd Written That

By Mitchell

"To be absolutely sure of the truth of matters concerning which there are many opinions, Kleinias, is an attribute of the gods not given to man. But I shall be very happy to explain what I think and to enter into discussion about it."

Plato, The Laws

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Poetry Wednesday

By Judith

After looking at Belloc last week, we come to the other twin tower of Catholic thought in literature at the turn of the last century: G. K. Chesterton (that's Gilbert Keith for those of you unfamiliar with him). Born in 1874, he died in 1936, and there was a lot of living - and writing - in between. There's a gentleman who's still trying to catalog everything that Chesterton wrote. He was a youngish man the last I saw him; he'll be long gray by the time he finishes.

Famous for his Father Brown mysteries and his myriad books on theology, sociology, politics and modern culture, Chesterton was also a journalist/columnist and, of course, a poet. Among his most well-known works were the long narative Lepanto and the epic The Ballad of the White Horse.

W. H. Auden said, "By natural gift, Chesteron was, I think, essentially a comic poet." Perhaps. He certainly had a marvelous sense of humor. But his serious poetry had a natural gift of being wide-eyed as a child and as wise as a wizened sage. Today's poem comes from the volume The Wild Knight and Other Poems, first published in 1900. It has that quietness that comes from experience. Enjoy.

Gold Leaves

Lo! I am come to autumn,
When all the leaves are gold;
Grey hairs and golden leaves cry out
The year and I are old.

In youth I sought the prince of men,
Captain in cosmic wars.
Our Titan, even the weeds would show
Defiant, to the stars.

But now a great thing in the street
Seems any human nod,
Where shift in strange democracy
The million masks of God.

In youth I sought the golden flower
Hidden in wood or wold.
But I am come to autumn,
When all the leaves are gold.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Humorous History, Introduction

By Kristin

[Ed: With this post we introduce the newest Hadleyblogger, Kristin Barbieri. A longtime reader and behind-the-scenes contributor, Kristin has now stepped out front and center to join the rest of us with her unique take on life, the universe and everything. We're sure you'll enjoy her words as much as you have the rest of ours.]

We take our history seriously. Why not? Many events in our past are very serious: The Cuban Missile Crisis, Hiroshima, Dred Scott. As history is studied and scrutinized, the events that shape our world are identified, categorized and debated with gravity. With any great biography, however, it is in the details, namely the funny ones, which make a good story great. These humorous happenings provide a connection to our past that reminds that history is not a boring bunch of facts, yet it is alive and interesting, as our present is. As we take a trip down memory lane and read the biography of our history, let’s take a moment to study our humorous history, because as we all know, if you can’t laugh at our history, whose can we laugh at?

First, we must find those events which we find funny. One that pops into mind is a curious fact written by Larry Gonnick in The Cartoon History of the United States. * Gonnick provides a brief note about Abraham Lincoln that put a smile on my face: Abraham Lincoln was an accomplished wrestler. After letting this idea marinate for a few moments, the thought of a tall, skinny, well spoken man engaging in an activity we now associate with makeup and bad acting, became funny. I giggled. The thought developed. What if the Civil War had been decided between Lincoln and Jefferson Davis with a brawl, Greco-Roman style.** What if our modern leaders settled disputes in the ring?

Here is our first, very brief, study on our Humorous History. The Civil War, serious. Lincoln wrestling, humorous. Over the next few weeks we will take silly events scattered in the footnotes of history and show that we need these to truly understand the complexity of characters and events that have shaped modern world.

* Although this is a “cartoon” history, this book is filled with seriously, unfunny facts, presented in a rather comical format.
* In the mythic Greco-Roman tradition, armies would send their best fighters/generals to fight a solo battle to determine the outcome of the engagement, thus, limiting the loss of life and transforming men into gods.

The Cartoon History of the United States. Gonnick, Larry. Collins; Rev Sub edition (August 14, 1991

This Just In

By Steve

Woman's Death Marks Extinction of "Cub" Species
Last person alive when Chicago won series, she's end of an era

(Chicago, IL, July 18, 2026) -- Ludmilla Sverovla never saw the Chicago Cubs win a World Series. In fact, she never saw a baseball game of any kind. But when the lifelong resident of Sumy in Northeastern Ukraine died Friday at the age of 117, a baseball milestone came to an end. Not only was she the world's oldest living human, but by virtue of having been born on September 28, 1908, she was also the last person on the planet who was alive when the Cubs last won the World Series in 1908.

The next oldest living human, Roger Sklyver of Switzerland, was born on October 21, 1908, just one week after the Cubs defeated the Detroit Tigers 2-0 to win their second - and, to this date, last - World Series championship.

To fully appreciate the magnitude of this event, one would have to go back to October 11 1907 - the day before the Cubs defeated the Tigers 2-1 to win their first of back-to-back World Series - to find a date in which not one person on planet Earth could be said to have lived to see the Cubs triumphant.

"This is truly staggering," said Trevor Sagacious of the Sagan Institute in California. "What we're witnessing here is the human equivalent of an extinct species. The idea that a professional sports team could be so inept that every single person on the planet would have died between championships is almost unfathomable."

Experts have scrambled to find some biological event to compare to the failure of the Cubs, but have so far come up short. "There are turtles still alive that were born shortly after the signing of the Declaration of Independence," said historian Bruce Brauer of the History Channel. "Even when we look at the Passenger Pigeon, probably the most famous extinct species, we fall short on comparisons to the extinct Cubs World Series survivor."

Brauer continued, shaking his head several times in apparent disbelief. "You'd expect that at some point in history the last Civil War veteran, the last World War I veteran, the last signer of the Declaration of Independence, would die. That makes sense. These were once-in-a-lifetime events, not to be repeated. The World Series is different. There a team has a chance to win each year. Granted, with the number of teams in baseball today, even if a different team won each year, you'd have a team that had gone at least 29 years without a title, then 28 and so forth. But to go 117 years without winning? To do so for so long, in fact, that there's not one person alive on the entire planet who was around the last time you won? To have an entire race of people die out without seeing the team take the Series? What are the odds?"

At least 15 to the eighth power against it happening, according to mathematician Skip Loover of the University of Chicago. "We had a hard time developing a program to calculate the odds, frankly," Loover said. "Every time we tried to do it the computer would come back with a statement that we were asking for a mathematical absurdity. It was like trying to calculate the final number of pi. Finally we had to develop a program that disabled the logic inhibitor, and that's how we arrived at the number. Even then, the computer included a comment at the end that said, 'Why Bother?' I guess that's how a lot of Cubs fans feel."

Sagacious said that government intervention was the only possibility of regenerating the rare species, and even that was a long shot. "Entire generations had come and gone without witnessing a Cubs victory, but this is ridiculous," Sagacious said. "Imagine, if you can, that babies could be born with the gift of speech and intellect. What you're really saying is that for the last hundred or so years, a baby who, emerging from the womb, said, 'Before I die, I just want one thing - to see a Cubs victory' - at the moment of birth, with that baby's entire life ahead of him or her, in essence you're telling that child, 'You're out of luck, kid.'

"A whole race of people have become extinct - those who were alive when the Cubs won. It's nothing short of a tragedy. The government has to do something - but, to be honest, I'm not sure what. Even if you tried to federally mandate a Cubs victory, they'd probably find some way to screw it up."

Those Cubs fans who hoped this 2026 season would be the year seem to be coming up short once again. This year's edition of the Cubs started the year with a ten-game losing streak, and already find themselves 17.5 games behind the three-time defending champion Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League's Central Division. But, as one Cubs fan told us on Rush Street today, there's always hope.

"Wait 'til next year," 87 year old Max Driver of Arlington Heights said. "There's still my unborn great-great grandson to think about. I just hope I live long enough to pass this great love of losing baseball down to him, to continue this time-honored tradition. Go Cubbies!"

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Caution That Is Humility

By Drew

At NRO, Peter Robinson offers this excerpt from Norman Podhoretz's new book, World War IV, pp. 191-192:

I repeatedly blasted [Reagan] for one betrayal after another: for reacting tepidly to the suppression (yes, by the evil empire) of the anti-Communist Solidarity movement in Poland; for permitting his ambassadors behind the Iron Curtain to distance themselves from the genuinely democratic dissidents in those countries while cultivating the "reformist" proponents of "Communism with a human face"..; for cutting and running when Hezbollah...blew up a barracks in Lebanon, killing 241 American servicemen; for trading arms for hostages with Iran; for entering into arms control agreements with the Soviet Union....

Rereading those pieces, I was amazed to discover that they were right in almost every detail even though they were dead wrong about the ultimate effect. For what these acts of Reagan's turned out to be was a series of prudential tactics within an overall strategy that in the end succeeded in attaining its great objective.

Now, there's a lot of meat in this, and you don't even have to be interested in politics (or the history of the Cold War) to appreciate it. Robinson calls Podhoretz's words those of "an honest man," for admitting that he was "dead wrong," and that's a large part of it, but there's more to it than that as well. Podhoretz' words are humbling words for us all, and provide a cautionary message, a reminder of the principle that we might not, in fact, know it all.

Too often nowadays we're so eagar to jump the gun, pull the trigger, leap to conclusions. If A, therefore, B. I'm sure I would have been one of those young conservatives who found fault with Reagan, who criticized his betrayal of conservative principles, or who at least exorciated his advisers to "let Reagan be Reagan." And yet, as Podhoretz points out, things turned out pretty well.

Nowhere is this trait of leaping more apparent than with those who have a gift for communication and (sometimes) a felicity for thought. And, of course, this speaks most strongly to the blogosphere. Someone makes a statement, and within an hour a thousand bloggers have leaped down his throat. Over the next few days the number increases exponentially. Pretty soon everyone has a different bleak scenario to describe the disaster that awaits as a result of this grave misstep. Call it what you want - instant analysis used to be a favorite way of putting it. But it often comes from people who don't have all the facts, who aren't in a position to make decisions, who don't have access to "the big picture." This applies all the way down the line, from popes and presidents to football coaches.

One of the problems with micro-managing arguments like this is that often you lose track of this larger picture. You're fired with your passion, with a righteous belief in what you're saying, and a fearlessness in saying it. How many times do we state an opinion with a total disregard for those who may disagree with us? We might even preface the statement with one of those "In my opinion" comments that is often code for "this is the way it is."

And that's why, I suppose, we try to take the high road here at Our Word, to try to keep the discussions civil, to avoid the kind of personal attacks that often seem to walk hand-in-hand with opinion nowadays.

That doesn't mean that we should stop commenting - far from it. A healthy discussion (emphasis on the word healthy, and you could add civil to it) is a great, not to say necessary, thing. And often this type of discussion will force those in charge to defend their positions, to provide the rationale that can infuse their supporters with confidence and give their critics something to chew on. That's the kind of thing great leaders do.

We probably can all think back to a time when we leapt to a conclusion that, in retrospect, appears foolish. And at the time we were probably as dogmatic and confident (not to say arrogant) as we could be in expressing that opinion. Sometimes it turns out we were right. But the rest of the time... There are a couple of writers out there - a blogger and a political commentator - who stand pretty much on the opposite sides of the Giuliani candidacy. Every time I read the commentator, who supports Guiliani, I come away more determined than ever to oppose him. When I read the blogger, who despises what Guiliani stands for, I start to think that Rudy might not be such a bad choice after all. I hope I never have that effect on people who read me.

So ultimately what do we learn from Podhoretz' words? The values of temperance, prudence, patience, humility. The need to avoid a rush to judgement, to parse our words carefully, to admit that we might not know it all and to avoid acting as if we do, to offer our criticisms in a constructive rather than destructive way. Those are wise lessons indeed, and those who heed them are made all the wiser.

Here We Go Again

By Drew

Couldn't resist this headline from Scrappleface:

"Gore Wins Nobel Prize, High Court Gives It to Bush" Heh.

Back in February, Steve noted Gore's similar reason for concern here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Poetry Wednesday

By Judith

Although known more for his prose, especially his non-fiction, Hilaire Belloc (1870 - 1953) took great pride and joy in the poetry he produced. He may have been of the same era as the other poets we've looked at, but in his style and philosophy, he was ages away. He felt no need to experiment with form - or no form - as the case may be, instead, excelling in the discipline of creating within a prescribed form, such as sonnet or ballade. Anyone can write free verse; some can make it flow and sing. Fewer still can do the same with a form that demands a certain rhyme or structure.

Belloc had a sharp wit and wrote many satirical verses. Politicians and professors alike would feel the sting of his barbs. Try this one:

Epitaph on the Politician Himself

Here richly, with ridiculous display,
The Politician's corpse was laid away.
While all of his acquaintance sneered and slanged
I wept: for I had longed to see him hanged.

And he looked wryly at himself:

On His Books

When I am dead, I hope it may be said:
"His sins were scarlet, but his books were read."

For the poem of the day, here's a more somber selection from Sonnets of the Twelve Months.

October

Look, how those steep woods on the mountain's face
Burn, burn against the sunset; now the cold
Invades our very noon; the year's grown old,
Mornings are dark, and evenings come apace.
The vines below have lost their purple grace,
And in Forreze the white wrack backward rolled
Hangs to the hills tempestuous, fold on fold,
And moaning gusts make desolate all the place.

Mine host the month, at thy good hostelry,
Tired limbs I'll stretch and steaming beast I'll tether;
Pile on great logs with Gascon hand and free,
And pour the Gascon stuff that laughs at weather;
Swell your tough lungs, north wind, no whit care we,
Singing old songs and drinking wine together.

Quiz Answers

By Mitchell

As you may recall, on Monday we offered a quiz that had been given on a 1964 episode of I've Got a Secret - questions that were from a fifth grade test given to New York's public school students. As promised, here are the answers:

Questions 1 and 2: I warned you that this question was tricky, and most of the panelists on I've Got a Secret fell into the trap, naming Harry Truman as one of the five Presidents who had not been elected. But the key word here was "ever," as in becoming President without ever being elected to the office. Truman, of course, succeeded Franklin Roosevelt in 1945, but was elected to a term in his own right in 1948. Only Bill Cullen avoided the trap, naming John Tyler and Lyndon Johnson as two of the five. The other three were Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson and Chester Arthur. LBJ, of course, was elected to his own term later in 1964, but his place in the answer has since been taken by Gerald Ford, who became President after Richard Nixon's resignation but failed in his bid for reelection.

Question 3: In the mathematical equation 17-9=8, the number 17 is called the minuend.

Question 4: Iron Oxide is also known as rust.

Question 5: Many of the panelists named Peter Stuyvesant as the man who brokered the sale of Manhattan by the Indians to the Dutch, but the correct answer was another Peter, Minuit. I didn't realize the name Peter was so popular among the Dutch.

Question 6: The first capital of the United States was New York City, where George Washington took the oath of office as the nation's first President.

Well, how did you do? Were you smarter than a 1960s fifth grader? Do you think fifth graders would know these answers today?

Congratuations to everyone who played, and as a lovely parting gift we have the home version of the Our Word and Welcome to It game for all our contestants.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Monday, October 8, 2007

Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?

By Mitchell

Last night on the GSN black-and-white overnight block, right after What's My Line?, was an eposide of I've Got a Secret dating back to 1964. For those of you too young to remember the premise, I've Got a Secret featured a celebrity panel who tried to guess the secret of a contestant based on simple questions and answers. In addition to contestants from everyday walks of life, each episode also included a celebrity guest who would try to stump the panel.

On this particular episode, the celebrity was Sam Levenson, a former teacher who had become a successful humorist, author and television personality in the 1950s and 60s. His secret was not really a secret as much as it was a test: in particular, a test similar to that taken by the average fifth grader in New York's public school system of the 1960s. There was time for only six questions; the panel did - well, actually, let's see how you do on this fifth grade quiz from the 60s. If you behave, we'll have the answers for you tomorrow:

Questions 1 and 2: Five men have become President of the United States without ever being elected to the office. Name two of them. (Read this question very carefully.)

Question 3: In the mathematical equation 17-9=8, 9 is referred to as the subtrahend and 8 as the difference. What is the number 17 called?

Question 4: Iron Oxide is the chemical term for what common substance?

Question 5: We were all taught (at least back then we were) about how the Dutch bought Manhattan Island from the Indians for $24. Name the man who negotiated the sale (or swindle, as Levenson fairly accurately puts it). This may seem like an extremely archaic question, but in fact the answer was well-known in history books of the time.

Question 6: Name the city that served as the first capital of the United States.

No looking in Wikipedia. We'll be back tomorrow with the answers. See if you can do better than a fifth grader of the 60s - or for that matter, if a fifth grader of today could do as well as fifth graders back then.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

All In the Mind

By Mitchell

We don't often resort to inter-office messaging, as it were, between us contributors to the blog. However, earlier today the subject of humor came up in conversation between Steve, Kristin (our fan and soon-to-be contributor) and yours truly. Any rational, mature discussion of humor eventually gets around to Monty Python, and this was no exception. Kristin, being by far the youngest of those of us around the table, was a big Python fan but admitted to a lack of familiarity with what we would suggest is one of their most surrealistic bits - the Déjà vu episode:

Boniface (Michael Palin): Good evening. Tonight on 'It's the Mind', we examine the phenomenon of déjà vu. That strange feeling we sometimes get that we've lived through something before, that what is happening now has already happened. Tonight on 'It's the Mind' we examine the phenomenon of déjà vu, that strange feeling we sometimes get that we've ... (looks puzzled for a moment) Anyway, tonight on 'It's the Mind' we examine the phenomenon of déjà vu, that strange...

Cut to opening title sequence with montage of psychiatric photos and the two captions and music over. Cut back to Mr Boniface at desk, shaken.

Boniface: Good evening. Tonight on 'It's the Mind' we examine the phenomenon of déjà vu, that strange feeling we someti... mes get ... that ... we've lived through something...

Cut to opening titles again. Back then to Boniface, now very shaken.


And so on. You get the idea.

Well, come to find that this very bit must have been on our friend Badda-Blogger's mind as well, for he brings it up in this post. (Proving, one would suppose, that great minds truly think alike).

Anyway, Kristin, follow this link and you'll read one of the essential Monty Python bits. (Perhaps it will bring back memories - the feeling that perhaps you've seen it sometime be ... oh, never mind.) I'll expect your report on it by the weekend.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Poetry Wednesday

By Judith

We could ask, I suppose, why it seems that so many creative people have, shall we say, unconventional lifestyles. But perhaps it's just easier to look at their work and decide whether it stands on its own merit. I think we can say "yes" in the case of Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 - 1950).

A writer from an early age - she wrote and edited her school newspaper and her poem "Renascence" was published when she was twenty - Millay was acclaimed popularly and critically. She won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1923 for her book The Harp-Weaver and Other Poems. She also wrote a play, Aria di Capo and a libretto for The King's Henchman, music by Deems Taylor, which was produced by the Metropolitan Opera in 1927. She was also known as a great interpreter of poetry and her readings were eagerly anticipated. Interestingly, her greatest criticism came with her support of the war effort in World War II, perhaps because it wasn't chic for a modern to embrace the cause of democracy. In any event, she is remembered for the lyric nature of her verse.

Today's poem is, indeed, lyrical. Reading this poem is like taking a bite from a big, juicy apple, crunching its flesh in your teeth and letting the sweet juice run down your chin. Say this one out loud to yourself.

Winter Night

Pile high the hickory and the light
Log of chestnut struck by the blight.
Welcome-in the winter night.

The day has gone in hewing and felling,
Sawing and drawing wood to the dwelling
For the night of talk and story-telling.

These are the hours that give the edge
To the blunted axe and the bent wedge,
Straighten the saw and lighten the sledge.

Here are question and reply,
And the fire reflected in the thinking eye.
So peace, and let the bob-cat cry.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

If It's on the Web, It Must Be True

By Mitchell

The big news in sports today is not that Isiah Thomas was found guilty of sexual harrassment. No, the big news is that, according to CNN, there's apparently a new NBA team we weren't aware of, and in the Big Apple, to boot.

It's a team called the New York Nicks (short, one presumes, for Nickerbockers). Is this team owned by Nickelodeon, perhaps? Or maybe, because the team isn't very good, it's their way of saying they aren't worth a plugged nickel.

This obvious typo in the headline has been changed since the initial posting, but thanks to the miracles of technology, we were able to capture the original screenshot:



It probably didn't long for the editors to find this, although I'm somewhat at a loss as to why they didn't catch it in the first place. But, harking back to what Steve wrote about a couple of weeks ago (the "debarked" dog), it really gives you confidence in our media, doesn't it?

Lois Maxwell, R.I.P.

By Mitchell

Or Miss Moneypenny, if you prefer. That’s how most of us would know her, as M’s extremely efficient secretary, forever flirting with 007, in that lighthearted way that so many use to mask the seriousness inside. Bond probably looked at her as a younger sister (or older sister perhaps; the Bonds kept getting younger as she stayed the same); a friend, a trifle, but nothing to be taken seriously.

Or did he? After all, the only woman who every really captured Bond’s heart was Diana Rigg. (By the way, if you get the chance be sure to catch the episode of The Avengers that features Lois Maxwell in a non-Bond role, playing opposite Diana Rigg’s predecessor, Honor Blackman – who played Pussy Galore in the Bond movie Goldfinger. Got all that?) Now, where was I? Oh yes, my point was that Moneypenny was smart, sensible, mature, and far more attractive than many women, including some of the cheap starlets with whom Bond invariably found himself involved. Not unlike Diana Rigg, in a sense. So perhaps there would have been time for Bond and Moneypenny after all; at least until the producers deemed Lois Maxwell to be too old for the ever-younger Bonds, and hired another of those starlets.

And was I the only one to be shocked to find that Lois Maxwell last played Moneypenny 22 years ago? She was 58 that last time she appeared in a Bond movie, and for a moment I thought the numbers didn’t add up; surely it couldn’t have been that long ago. But it was.

Thanks to the timelessness of film however, it was never “that long ago;” it will always be today. (After all, to recall a Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies,) And if it is true, as another Bond film insisted, that You Only Live Twice, then we should all be so lucky to be remembered doubly, as both Lois Maxwell and her portrayal of Miss Moneypenny will attest.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Telling It Like It Is

By Drew

Mitchell mentioned NRO's David Frum on Friday, saying he didn't agree with him all the time but he always found his writing informative (or something like that). Well, I probably disagree with John Derbyshire at NRO even more than I agree with him, but Derb is a wordsmith, who comes by his convictions honestly (which is more than I can say for many), and so I'm inclined to cut him some slack in cases where I might not afford the same opportunity to others. (So sue me.) Anyhow, Derb relates this conversation with a Wall Street friend, in which the friend tells him what he really thinks of W. And I imagine there must be thousands, if not millions, of conservatives and/or Republicans who feel the same way:

Suddenly, with uncharacteristic anger, my drinking buddy said something like this: “The federal government’s main functions are to maintain a stable currency, keep us out of unnecessary foreign entanglements and wars, and patrol the coasts and borders. That’s three strikes on George Bush, [blasphemous expletive]! The man’s been a total [sexual expletive] disaster. What the [blasphemous expletive] [sexual expletive] hell was I thinking of, voting for this [cognitive-function expletive]?”

It's almost as entertaining trying to guess how to fill in the blanks (I think I figured them all out - try it, it's fun) as it is depressing to realize how true his words are. When asked who he was supporting, the friend said "Rudy" but, as Derb observed, without much enthusiasm. And that about says it on the state of politics right now, doesn't it?

The Business of Sports

By Steve

My co-worker (and Our Word fan) Kristin sent me the following list from Free Republic - the 15 most influential people in sports.

1. Roger Goodell, Commissioner, NFL

2. Tiger Woods, Golfer

3. David Stern, Commissioner, NBA

4. George Bodenheimer, President, ESPN, ABC Sports; co-chairman, Disney Media Networks

5. Bud Selig, Commissioner, MLB

6. Brian France, Chairman, CEO NASCAR

7. Dick Ebersol, Chairman, NBC Universal Sports & Olympics

8. Phil Knight, Chairman, Nike

9. Sean McManus, President, CBS News and Sports

10. Rupert Murdoch, Chairman, CEO, News Corp.

11. Michael Jordan, Managing Member of Basketball Operations, Charlotte Bobcats

12. Scott Boras, President, Boras Corp.

13. Peyton Manning, Quarterback, Indianapolis Colts

14. David Hill, Chairman, CEO, Fox Sports

15. Donald Fehr, Union boss, MLB

An interesting list. And as Kristin points out, only three of them are actual athletes. What does that mean? What that have been true fifty years ago as well? Would the same be true if you pulled a list like this together for writers, painters, musicians, etc?

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