Friday, May 29, 2009

50% Off Sale

By Mitchell

Nick Gillespie has an inspired rant (h/t Mark Hemmingway at NRO) about the Minnesota Senate election (and, frankly, about Washington in general), in which he comes to the unmistakable conclusion that many have thought but few have had the courage to say:

We've gotten by fine these past few months with just one senator from Minnesota. So fine, in fact, that in this century of constant cost-cutting and rising unemployment, the federal government should do its share by immediately downsizing the World's Greatest Deliberative Body by 50 percent.

Can't argue with that. In fact, I believe we were way ahead of the curve...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Opera Thursday

By Mitchell

For your listening (and viewing) pleasure, here's a little musical diversion for a Thursday - Maria Callas singing the famous aria "O Mio Babbino Cara" from Puccini's one-act comedy Gianni Schicci. You might not be familar with the opera, but most likely you're recognize the music from the first note.

As an aside, I once used Gianni Schicci as part of a very funny parody of gangster movies in one of my (as yet) unpublished novels, but that's a story for another day. In the meantime, enjoy.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Obscenities on Television Uncensored?

By Bobby

This came to my attention last night whilst watching the telly.

During the open of BBC America's The Apprentice*, I noticed Alan Sugar's obscenities in the open ("I don't like ($25,000/25 points)" have been unbleeped.

The sad thing is this is the same word that put Tony Stewart out $25,000 and 25 points when he used it in an interview on ESPN after winning Indy two years ago.

Are we allowing such coarse language on-air when other obscenities that aired originally on the BBC are usually bleeped out if they do not meet US regulations? The only thing I can say to the obscenities is . . . after we hear a snippet of Dru Masters' "You're Fired to the End" is . . . "You're Fired!" (That's the Boardroom music on that series.)

I also noted the UK version has better music -- it uses "Montagues and Capulets" (off the ballet inspired by a Shakespearean tragedy) from Sergei Prokofiev as its theme -- it is a better opening than the O'Jays (used in the US version) for The Apprentice.

* NOTE: The Apprentice franchise is owned in the US by Mark Burnett Productions, and international rights are held by RTL Group (Idols, The Price Is Right, Family Feud, and Got Talent). This version is produced by RTL's talkbackTHAMES, and for legal reasons, when the British version airs in the States, it is called "Mark Burnett's The Apprentice UK" in the US.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day: Japan's Double Atomic Bombing, America Surrenders

By Bobby

The great William Faulkner could say it well. Japan reigns supreme, while America is a supreme failure.

And might Grantland Rice say it when saying the captains of the Japanese Armada in Castroneves and Reutimann formed the crest of a Japanese tsunami that flooded the Americans.

Or could he have said it as captains of the Hinomaru that dropped atomic bombs in Indianapolis and Charlotte, leading to a quick surrender of the United States, as the Hinomaru is raised high above this country as an American surrender has been called.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

What Else Is There?

By Mitchell

Admit it - you didn't really have anything else planned for today, did you?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

What in the World Now?

By Bobby

The Demise of Good Music on Media. If there's one thing I've learned here, we have a love of classical music. Obviously, with Spoleto and related events starting off Interstate 26 in Charleston, learning the information on the most popular station in the area is always a good thing. The recession has taken a toll, however, on the quantity of material available. Also, there's a big hockey series in the minors to worry (Stingrays vs Aces).

A recent technical bulletin posted by the cable company noted that MusicChoice has decided make channel changes to their channels. Among the channels staying are the natural list of big pop hits, including a new hip-hop channel ("MC Mix Tape", older hip-hop), music for toddlers, "True Country," but opera and musicals have been removed from the list. I had to wonder what that shows when people would rather listen to hip-hop rather than opera, and when churches are now preferring hip-hop over sacred masterpieces, what it means.

Do They Know What's In That Song? The sexual deviants have taken control in the White House, and now they have grabbed courts and the New England Area in attempting to rewrite "marriage" to appease their own lobby. But while working out recently, a popular tune by Stefani Germanotta was blaring through the class that I thought the lyrics needed Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten to decipher initially. While at a dinner last week, I saw numerous children dancing to that song and I could not believe the lyrics of the song when I went inside the letters. It was using gambling metaphors from roulette, poker, and blackjack being used for X-rated discussion, including explicit use of language that these children should never be hearing. Out of the mouths and ears of these children are these questionable songs, and the worst part is the sexual deviancy being discussed on the songs and other sexually charged explicit lyrics that would send Mark L. Walberg dropping people two metres down to their deaths. Sexually explicit language was in the song where if a common-sense person heard such talk, that would be worth a $25,000 fine, and 25 points.

When the dance teacher wanted to teach the routine to a coeducational group, she warned the men that it was too "girlie". It was not known until I learned about the sexual deviancy of the song the exact reason for that. Sadly, when it was taught to younger people, the males wanted to dance like women in those parts.

It was a downright raunchy song by Miss Germanotta about another type of sexual deviancy. The sad issue is we have too many who do not understand the messages of these songs. Yet, they are huge fans of it because of the beat. Even Miss Germanotta wants a "girlie man" and that's not what I want. I'd rather be a strong serious man who is dancing with a former Duke cheerleader who is a good friend of mine (and we were partners in an adult dance class) than be courted by someone who wants a girlie man. Don't be any type of girlie man!

Proof is in the Pudding. In an article that came to my attention this week regarding the church music controversy I have learned in the past few years since I began taking voice lessons, one source noted at one of the popular "life enhancement centres" that masquerade as a church was taking rock music at a level of 98-108 decibels, and that the people wanted only to feel the music. If this is the type of "music" in churches a generation has been trained in hearing with no theological content, what happens to them when they grow older? It seems many of them have lost the faith, as they walk into a college campus and are not firmly entrenched in the faith, and when they walk into church, they hear only "dead music" that is serious in its content, with live organs and does not have the 98-108 decibel music of feelings such as the latest megahit from the secular publishers.

This Just In. Chris Roseborough of the Extreme Theology site has a great article that would fit with our This Just In segment. Sadly, with the numbers killed each year in baby slaughter that is legalised, it could be true.

Is This Church? Mr. Roseborough also sent this link to a comic about a stupid church. It's supposed to be fiction, but sadly, these things are happening in too many churches. We've gone from suits to business casual, to now anything goes in church dress codes.

Now How's This Bet? GOP 2012 On the Line? Mark Sanford (shrimp and grits from a Charleston restaurant) and Sarah Palin (wild salmon) have a bet on the line in the ECHL Kelly Cup Finals between the Stingrays and Aces. Let's Go Stingrays!

Transnationalism. We are starting to hear of "transnationalism" among the President's judicial nominees to the Department of Justice and the courts. It is the simple idea of using foreign law to overturn local, state, and federal laws (sodomy, abortion, criminals) that led to my comment that our nation's capital was being moved to Brussels. Now they're talking about our Constitution being illegal, replaced by foreign laws. Now how much worse can it be? I said our nation's capital was being moved to the "capital" of the European Union in Belgium because of the attitudes of these justices. I did not vote for any of these pro-transnationalists to any position, yet like a crush car, I am being smashed by the monster truck of the liberal supermajority.

The Real Goal. I warned that the President's plans for automakers was to push for the microcars months ago. That's why he was wanted total control over automakers. This is turning nearly into Hitler. Just imagine the newspapers showing the number of dead caused by a Big One on the way to school. He wants to control two by force because they focused on trucks and not cars, and the other one he already has through concessions to switch to a three-tiered (micro, mini, small) line, and a willing Governess who praises them for switching to small. I don't want to drive a car that uses an engine smaller than a World Superbike motorcycle, and lighter than a P1 car in the 24 Heures du Mans. Yet that's what the President thinks . . . it fits transnationalism too since Europe, not us, dictates our autos the way they dictate our laws.

Our Troops. One of my college friends is in Afghanistan with the Army. I also have other friends in the services. Let us remember those who have been killed in action over these wonderful years. Sadly, what they teach in our schools today is to hate the heroes of battle, and to promote anti-war freaks such as Jeanette Rankin and Barbara Lee. Heroes such as Patton and Eisenhower are now relegated to the scrapheap under revisionists' attitudes against heroes and in favour of goats. We need to remember our battles.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

No Easy Answers-Many Questions: The Hauser Family

By Cathy of Alex

For the last few weeks, in Minnesota, the local news has reported on a Sleepy Eye, Minnesota family, the Hausers, that refuse to consent to their 13-year old son, Daniel, receiving chemotherapy for his lymphoma. 13-year old, Daniel, was most articulate and adamant in a news program that interviewed him that he does not want the chemo either. Daniel stated that the decision to refuse chemo is not being forced upon him by his parents. A court ruled that Daniel, as a minor, must receive the chemo. State statute in Minnesota requires that parents must provide necessary medical care for their child.

We've all seen cases like this before; most notably in Christian Scientists. However, the Hausers are not Christian Scientists, they are, reportedly, Roman Catholics.

However, they also say they are practitioners of Nemenhah which is, reportedly, a Native American spirituality. I'm a Native American, and I've never heard of it. I had to look it up. They have a website here. They call themselves a "band" and an organization of healers. The Nemenhah are NOT a federally recognized tribe and they don't claim to be. They appear to me to be solely a "band" (not in the way I, as a Native American, may define band) meaning a group of like-minded people united thru their natural healing methods. The members are diverse and nationwide. Some appear to be Native Americans from federally recognized tribes, others are not.

Yesterday, Daniel and his mother, Colleen, fled after a court-ordered doctor appointment. The appointment revealed that Daniel's condition is worsening. Reportedly, their father, Anthony, does not know where they are. Currently, a nationwide arrest warrant has been issued because by fleeing the treatment they are in contempt of court because the court mandated the treatment.

In this day and age there is a lot of court ordered meddling into life/death issues going on.

Leaving aside the unwiseness of mixing and matching belief systems into a "New Age" mishmash that this family appears to have lived, the issues raised by this case are many. Yes, he's a minor, but what if the family wanted treatment for him but the only treatment offered was thru a facility that was funded by Planned Parenthood and their Roman Catholic beliefs meant they did not want treatment there? They are willing to travel for care to a facility more palatable to their beliefs but the court refuses to allow them to do so. Then, what? Who's to say whether one form of treatment is better than another? The court will decide for you. We have laws that codify alternative medicine can be used to compliment mainstream medicine. What if he'd rather see a Shaman than a doctor? In some states insurance has to pay for alternative practitioners same as a mainstream doc. What if he wants to smoke pot to alleviate his pain and take his prescribed meds? In some localities you can. What if you are an adult and you make a decision to stop treatment for a condition that will kill you or debilitate you and decide to just leave it "to the Lord"? Is a court going to run in and tell you that you have to keep the treatment going due to issues of expense to society to care for you, or that your belief system is not a good enough justification?

The statute says parents must provide necessary medical care for their child. I'm curious what the ramifications of that are on parents that have no insurance or the insurance they have is not adequate to cover the condition the child may have? Can a family be imprisoned for not hospitalizing a child because they can't afford it? I wonder what is defined as "necessary" medical care. If verbiage like that is in statute than why do so many lack insurance? If the state mandates care, than they should pay for it. (I know, I hear you howling. I don't like the thought of state-run mandated insurance either-but think about it isn't that what it's saying?) Will it be a crime to not have insurance or a means to pay for medical care? Hmmm... seem to recall reading in some insurance law proposals in recent memory that propose to mandate that everyone MUST have insurance.

I wonder why society can't seem to make up it's mind. On one hand, society wants to kill as many babies in the womb under the guise of "rights" but, yet, here is a young man who, while not at any time saying he wants to die, wants the right to treat himself according to his belief system. Yes, he's a minor but we try minors as adults in court. At some point, in those cases, a decision was made that the defendant had the maturity in his actions to be treated as an adult.

It's a scary time to be an embryo, or an elder, or a chronically ill, or disabled person. All of them are targets for death. If you are already here, you better do all you can to be healthy and not be a drag on the system. Elders and the sick and the disabled drag us down so they need to go. The courts have, graciously, allowed euthanasia to help them go. Will there be a point where courts start ordering death? Oh, wait, they've already done that. Terri Schiavo's family wanted to care for her, but a court stepped in and demanded her death. Die slowly and painfully she did as her family was forced to stand by and watch helplessly.

Has anyone noticed that, increasingly, our court system is becoming a Logan's Run tribunal deciding who gets to live and who gets to die? Is that what justice is or should be?

Small World Department

By Steve

Something I noticed in the obituaries for Bob Rosburg, the ABC golf announcer who died last week (and stop me if you’ve heard this) - when he was twelve, Bob Rosberg played in the club championship at the Olympic Club in San Francisco (site of numerous major championships over the years) and defeated a man 39 years his senior. The name of that 51-year-old?

Ty Cobb.

The story said that it was maybe two years before Cobb would show his face at Olympic again, so embarrassed was he by losing to a 12-year-old.

Ty Cobb died in 1961 – but he lived long enough to be around when Bob Rosburg won the PGA Championship in 1959. I wonder if he was watching.

And now you know…the rest of the story.

The Aqueducts of France; or How I was Duped on My Trip to France.

By Kristin

A few weeks ago I was across the Atlantic, waking up in southern France, ready to enjoy a day of sightseeing and touring. I was visiting my sister, Kate, in Montpellier who was studying at the university. She had been there for almost 4 months and knew the town well. While she was taking an exam, my traveling companion, Erik, and I set out, with Kate’s detailed instructions, to explore Montpellier. We had a few maps printed out, and the ever necessary tourist map from the hotel. Our back pack was loaded with water, snacks and umbrellas. We were ready.

One of the major points of interest in Montpellier is the Aqueduct. Before we left for our trip, Erik had researched the area and found this site. Both having history degrees, the aqueducts moved quickly to the top of our list of things to see on our trip. We took time wandering through out the winding streets. One trait of many European towns are the shops. Instead of selling a variety of ‘French’, each store was specific in its product. There were top hat shops, cheese shops, olive oil shops, puffy shirt shops. Wide eyed and eager to see more, we made our way to the aqueduct.

The start of the water way was marked by a beautiful arch. I assume it was beautiful, only because it was covered by scaffolding. We stood in marvel. It was in pristine condition. The arches extended for over a mile down the road, ending beyond eyesight in a tree line. Aside from minor scratches and dents, the aqueduct was entirely intact. I couldn’t believe it! I was seeing a real part of history. Erik and I took turns posing in front of the structure, wanting to capture evidence that we had really been there. We walked along the road following the aqueduct taking pictures of the arches, the shadows in the arches, the shops behind the arches. It was wonderful.

Later that evening, we met up with Kate and her host family for a home cooked meal. It was really nice to see the home where she had been staying for the past few months. The meal was great. Roast, green beans, bread, salad and cheese for desert. With my limited French, I was able to talk about our day and convey our excitement about seeing the Roman Aqueduct. Kate’s host-mom, Marie-Christine, laughed and said, “Well, you know it is from the 1600’s, right?”. No, we did not in fact know it was from the 1600’s. How could we? All the web sights we had seen about it were in French. Erik’s jaw dropped. We had been duped, fooled, tricked! It was old, that was for sure, but not Roman old.

We left the dinner, full of good food, good conversation and good laughs, but still stunned about the age of our beloved aqueduct. After getting over the initial shock we decided that it was still cool to see it. After all, it’s not every day that you get to see an aqueduct, even if it is French.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Tarnished Nation

By Mitchell

We haven't written much about the Obama/Notre Dame scandal here because, quite frankly, there isn't a great deal to add.

Two reasons for that - first, everyone else has written just about anything that could be written, and unless you simply want to hear the sound of your own voice (a malady not uncommon to bloggers, including yours truly), there's not much of a percentage in adding to the din.

Second, and more important, is that absolutely none of this should come as a surprise. The reason why can be found between the covers of two books:

Under The Tarnished Dome: How Notre Dame Betrayd Ideals For Football Glory

Father Elijah

Read. Consider. Ponder.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Revenge of Left-Wing Activists

By Bobby

At the Trump Organisation's Miss USA pageant, sexual deviant Mario Armando Lavandeira intentionally gave Carrie Prejean a score of zero for her support of real marriage, and Miss Prejean's opposition to rewriting marriage in the form of activists such as Tim Gill and the GLAD organisation.

Now it seems the playbook of liberal activists has taken a successful kill as Mr. Lavandeira's revenge is a major push for homosexual activists who now have the bully pulpit of the legislatures through these crazy activists, the power of MTV through its homosexual channel (the President debated on that network, but not Fox News), the increasing power of leftist activists such as Tim Gill and other homosexual activist organisations, the endorsement of the one national political party in the country to disavow what the people support and to push through their wicked agenda of false marriages, and a generation of young people who are now taught that these "marriages" are legitimate and perfectly legal when they are not, and are sinful. (Article from the Eagle Forum.)

We've seen it in Vermont (where the Governor's veto was overridden), Maine (where the people are launching a "people's veto" campaign against the Governor and legislature), Connecticut (court mandate), Massachusetts (court mandate, payoffs by the nation's Prime Minister Pelosi when an attempt was made to overturn it), and New Hampshire (the Governor vows to sign it if changes are made). Rhode Island is the one sane state left and activists want to change the laws there too.

At this rate, what does it say when the sanctity of marriage is removed the way the White House removed the sanctity of human life declarations on 20 January?

Next, they are willing to protect pedophiles and child molesters through "hate crimes" acts and "employment non-discrimination acts" that protect "sexual orientation," which, as I warned years ago, would be used to force child molesters and pedophiles to schools. Initially, I predicted they would attempt the judicial activist route, but federal law would just codify their requests, and they would do so with the no-debate, no-discussion brand of leftist political actions.

At what cost are we now paying for this revenge of Mr. Lavandeira? We lost the sanctity of human life, and now losing marriage, to activists who believe in a feelings-based attitude. What could be next scares me.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cursing the Light

By Mitchell

Apparently, although I was unaware of this until quite recently, there are people out there who think that everything – that’s right, every single thing there is – is somehow related to race. (I know, call me naïve. Or call me a cab.)

Proponents of this viewpoint – for the sake of our discussion let’s call them, oh, race hucksters – will steer you to something such as the following ad which Volkswagen ran a few years ago.

In case you can't make out the captions, the one below the black car reads, "Naughty?" while underneath the white care is the word "Nice?" According to the race hucksters, “what is quickly evident [from the ad] is that the ad at some level willingly plays on racial stereotypes. This is simply one tiny example of how pervasive race is embedded in society.” As support for this position they refer to comments from people who were shown the ad and were asked what conclusions they drew from it. “Black is naughty while White is nice,” said one, “Black is bad and White is good,” offered another, and “Black is evil,” opined a third. The moral of the story, such as it was, was that the ad was either racist or insensitive to those who might perceive a racial subtext to it.

Who knew? Me, I saw two cars: a black one and a white one, and wondered which one would be easier to keep clean. (Hint: black shows spots, white shows dirt.)

In fact, what is quickly evident to me from this whole discussion is that some people simply don’t have enough to do, while others try their hardest to make a living from race-baiting. Think of it – if race weren’t an issue, they’d be out of a job.

We know who these people are. Think Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton – where would they be if they actually succeeded in their agendas? It’s actually to their advantage to fail – it keeps them employed. That's even better than being a TV meterologist. Show me a job like that and I’ll sign up in a heartbeat.

We know these people have an agenda, and what that agenda is. We’re not here today for an in-depth discussion of that agenda; it probably requires a book to even scratch the surface of it. But we are going to look at one small aspect – the infusion of everything with the stain of racism – and why it doesn’t hold water. For the sake of time, let’s focus on this ad, the ad that “at some level willingly plays on racial stereotypes.” So, white and black = good and evil = racial stereotype. True or false?

Far from being an example of racial stereotyping, the use of white and black as symbols of good and evil is one deeply ingrained in the human psyche, going back to the Bible. One need look no further than Psalm 51, in which the psalmist says, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow." What better color against which to demonstrate the stain of sin than white? It may be difficult to tell the cleanliness of a colored background, but there can be no mistaking the dazzling brilliance of a clean white background.

To the extent that white and black are identified with light and dark (and anyone with eyes to see can make that link), the metaphors associated with these colors are unmistakable. For instance, in Matthew 6:22-23, Jesus says, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

Jesus seemed to think a lot of this symbolism; in Luke 11:33-36 He says, “No man when he lights a candle puts it in a secret place; neither under a bushel; but on a candle stick, that they which come in may see the light. The light of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is single or healthy, your whole body also is full of light, but when your eye is evil or diseased, your body is also full of darkness. If your whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle gives you light.”

Look, darkness is not in fact a metaphor for racism, but it refers to the ability to hide from the light of truth. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out, let alone a scriptural scholar. All it really requires is a little common sense.

In one of his early 60s television shows, Bishop Fulton Sheen recalls Christ’s words, “He who follows me shall not walk in the darkness" (John 8:12). Using his famed chalkboard, Bishop Sheen illustrates this point with a practical demonstration of the effects of light and shadow: when one walks away from the sun (or the Son, if you will), the light will be at your back, casting a shadow before you. The darkness from this shadow is twofold; it serves both as a cloak to hide your activities (and why would you hide them unless they shamed you?), and it also acts to block you from the illumination of grace and truth. On the other hand, the one who follows Christ walks toward the light. This means the shadow is now behind you rather than in front; you are casting off the darkness, exposing yourself to the brilliance of truth, living your life in the open rather than in hiding.

Thus endeth the theological lesson for today. (Want more? Go here.)

Could white and black be used in a racial context? Of course they could; nowadays, words can mean just about anything you want them to mean. But in challenging the basic symbolism linking white and black with good and evil, these race hucksters want to make you think there is something wrong with the whole analogy. Common sense will tell you otherwise. It will tell you that there are strong reasons for this symbolism, reasons that go beyond politics. It will tell you that the hucksters who peddle this nonsense have their own agenda, and in fact they’re hoping that the moral authority in which they cloak themselves will cast a shadow large enough and long enough to hide that agenda from you. And why not, for as John 3:19 says, “men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”

In short, people who see this kind of thing in a racial subtext do so only because they want to. Or because it profits them to do so.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Deceptive Journalism: Mislabeling

By Bobby

Was it Rush Limbaugh that reminded us in the Clinton era of "symbolism over substance" frequently when he noted the tactics of President Clinton?

I read articles in the newspaper regarding Saturdays's 500 at Darlington Raceway in the Florentine suburb, and a few articles referenced Jeff Gordon with the possibility of "tying Cale Yarborough's record of five Southern 500 wins" in this week's race, which is the Rebel 500.

Bob Colvin, the president of Darlington Raceway, envisioned the Rebel 300 convertible race in 1957 (because a Grand National race in 1963) as a Confederate Memorial Day event. (Currently, the holiday is May 10 on the state's calendar.) While it has moved around the calendar, in 2005 the Rebel was moved back to the Saturday closest to Confederate Memorial Day, owing to the state's traditional (but now repealed) ban on Sunday motorsport (currently, the start time must be 1:30 PM or later, unless the race is set for a minimum of 250 miles), and the Ferko settlement that cost the track its prestigious Mountain Dew Southern 500, which had been moved from second to last race in the regular season to the second to last race in the playoff. I remember commenting that this could lead to precedent if someone in Los Angeles decided to sue the National Football League and demand the Green Bay Packers be sold to them, and moved to Los Angeles, or even the Minnesota Vikings. (Speaking of which, Daytona 500 champion, Cambridge (WI) native, and longtime Cheesehead Matt Kenseth had something to say about the Farve to Minnesota rumours.)

Reading all of the hype of Darlington and the "return" of the legendary Florentine fall showdown's name is inappropriate, considering this is the Rebel 500, as it has been since 1957.

And I wonder if the FCC Censors will be prevalent, and the Danica Patrick rumours be flying, during Saturday's race because of the sponsorship of the race by, and of the Sprint Cup entry of Brad Keselowski,'s Nationwide Series driver who drives for Dale Earnhardt, Jr, in that series. I hope they are because of the raunchiness of the advertiser's commercials.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Sadly, I'm Not Kidding...

By Drew

Speaking of opera as we were yesterday, our readers will recognize that we aren't all that crazy about opera productions that are updated out of the time period in which they were originally set. It's true that some of these productions work, but most of them are abject failures. Or worse.

Here's one of the worse ones - the Flanders Opera's production of Samson et Dalila, written by Saint-Saëns and originally set, as the title might suggest, in Biblical times. This was clearly much too dry for the directors, Omri Nitzan (an Israeli) and Amir Nizar Zuabi (a Palestinian), who sought to make their production more relevant. I mention the nationalities involved because it has a direct bearing on the following discussion.

I'm going to take a chance here and assume that most of you know the basic Biblical story of Samson, so we're going to cut to the chase. According to the New York Times,

Mr. Nitzan and Mr. Zuabi, however, turn the Hebrews into Palestinians, the Philistines into Israelis, and Samson into a suicide bomber, donning a dynamite-loaded vest when the curtain falls.

That comes after Jews, in fancy dress, dance atop a shiny, black, two-tiered set, oblivious to the swarm of robed Palestinians under their feet. In another scene Dalila’s Jewish handmaidens, in red underpants, sprawl on their backs, legs spread in the air, helping to seduce Samson. Samson and Dalila court by pointing a pistol at each other. Young Israeli soldiers clad in black humiliate blindfolded Palestinians and shoot a Palestinian child, who reappears as a kind of leitmotif during the opera like the holy spear in “Parsifal.” Then, for the appalling bacchanal in the last act, a disaster in most productions, Israeli soldiers dance orgiastically with their phallic rifles.

The author of the article mentions that aside from a scattering of boos that accompanied the bacchanal, the performance "received several rounds of generous applause." (Although, not surprisingly, it has generated a great deal of controversy with the country's Jewish population.) He goes on to say that a similar production "would be nearly unthinkable in New York or Washington."

I'm not so sure about that. Alarmists aside, there's no question that anti-Semitism (or at least pro-Palestinianism) is very fashionable in this country. It's not hard at all for me to imagine such a production in, say, Ann Arbor, Michigan. And if there isn't one now, just wait - there will be.

I don't know what bothers me most about this - the politicization of opera, or the bastardization of it. The Times reporter, Michael Kimmelman, says that "all art is political in the end," and I'm not sure I agree with that either. I suppose you can make anything political if you really insist on it, but do you have to? Jay Nordlinger at NRO, whom I greatly admire both as a stylist and a political thinker, is sick to death of how art is constantly politicized, and I second the thought. Just play the damn music, and let me make up my own mind as to what it's all about. Or, better yet, relieve the stress on your mind - just let Saint-Saëns tell the story himself. It worked for him. And we don't want you getting a headache from all that thinking, do we?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Opera Thursday

By Mitchell

Admittedly, televised opera is a fairly obscure subset of two relatively exclusive area of interest – television and opera. Furthermore, any discussion of televised opera is going to center for the most part on the early years of television – the 50s and 60s, when NBC Opera Theater brought a regular season of opera to TV screens across the country, and other networks chimed in with the occasional production. So if these are topics that don't interest you, feel free to come back tomorrow and see if we've done any better.

For those of you still with us, it is undeniable that since the early 70s, if you wanted to see opera on TV, you looked to PBS; and even there, until the recent advent of the Metropolitan Opera’s HD transmissions, televised operas have faded away to virtual invisibility. True, European television networks such as the BBC do continue to offer operas – but then, they also give us programs (programmes?) like Benny Hill. Go figure.

There are two types of broadcast opera – a telecast of a live production from a theater (as with the Met broadcasts), or a production that originates in a television studio (Amahl and the Night Visitors, for example. As a television aficionado, I have a natural bias toward the second category. Although there’s nothing like the excitement generated by a live audience, studio opera has its plusses as well, such as the ability to construct camera angles that give viewers a perspective unavailable to traditional theater audiences. The results can be fascinating, as in the BBC’s 1969 broadcast of Britten’s Peter Grimes, in which abstract paintings are panned by the camera during the opera’s several orchestral interludes.

Regardless of the type of production, the broadcast of opera on TV is, or at least can be, a real art form. (There was none better at it than the late Kirk Browning, who was at the helm during the historic Amahl broadcast.) To the best of my knowledge, there has only been one comprehensive study of televised opera – Jennifer Barnes’ excellent Television Opera. But whereas Barnes’ book focused specifically on operas written for television, I’m thinking today about standard repertory operas being broadcast on TV.

Witness the following live theater broadcast of Puccini’s Tosca, starring Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi. This is from the late 50s, at the Paris Opera. We’re looking at the conclusion of Act 2, the famous confrontation between Tosca and Scarpia, in which Tosca agrees to “submit” to Scarpia in return for the release of her lover Cavaradossi and safe conduct papers for the two of them to escape. It’s along about this point that Tosca begins to have second thoughts – well, you can see the rest. The clip runs for just under eight minutes.

Now, several things stand out in this excerpt. First is the unmistakable command with which Callas and Gobbi dominate the stage. We sometimes forget that opera is theater every bit as much, if not more than, concert. Callas had her vocal difficulties from time to time, and even at this point in her career one could say that she was not in the best of voice. But the drama, the intensity and fire generated by these two in this scene more than make up for it.

But I want you to look at the action on the stage. Rather than concentrating on close-ups, the director has chosen to give us, for the most part, a long shot showing the entire stage. By doing so, we can see the turmoil that wracks Tosca after killing Scarpia (sorry if I’ve given it away for you there) – the indecision, the panic, even the piety that has caused more than one commentator to suggest some intriguing theories about Tosca’s relationship with Cavaradossi (again, a topic for another day). Callas’ use of the entire stage would be rendered ineffective had the director chosen to focus on a tight shot of Callas.

But for me the finest moment comes at the very end of the act. As Tosca lays the Crucifix on the dead Scarpia’s chest, we cut to a stage-level angle, showing Scarpia’s body flanked by candlesticks on either side. We then return to the long shot, with Tosca looking desperately for the safe conduct papers. Finding them, she turns to go – and we see the shadow of the stage curtain beginning to come down. The music rises, drops, rises again; we cut back to the stage-level view of Scarpia, now alone in the room, candles burning. The director settles on this static shot and holds there, until the fringe of the curtain appears and touches the stage – at the same moment that the last note of Act 2 is played.

Clearly, the timing was choreographed, and the intersection of curtain and music would likely have happened whether or not the opera was being broadcast. But the point is that the television director knew the staging, and framed that last shot to take advantage of Scarpia literally disappearing from the screen, the curtain touching down, the music concluding – all at the same moment. A little thing perhaps, but the first time I saw this it struck me as simply brilliant. It is doubtful that the live audience inside the Opera House felt the same impact from that moment that the TV audience did.

This is, for me, a prime example of what well-done televised opera can do. There’s something sublime about it – rather than beating you over the head, as some directors do (witness the multiple-screen technique used – and way-overused – in last year’s Met broadcast of Tristan und Isolde), or resorting to little visual tricks or gimmicks (such as singers playing to the camera, which can be a good or bad thing), we have a case where the director literally create an artistic moment simply from what is happening on the stage. This is an example not just of good television opera, but good television period.

This isn’t intended to be a jab at the Met; some of the effects and camera angles they’ve employed over the past three years have been extraordinary. But I’m reminded of what a sportswriter once said about referees – the less you notice them, the better the job they’re doing. It’s one thing to sit up and think, “Wow – what a great special effect!” It’s quite another when the power lies in the moment itself – and it isn’t until later, so drawn into the moment are you, that you reflect on the elements that made it so powerful. A pity we don’t see this kind of craftsmanship more often.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Wish I'd Written That

By Mitchell

Mark Steyn, on the recent Royal Opera House ballet adaptation of "The Red Balloon," as usual coming up with the perfect description...

"Any balletomanes at the US embassy might be forgiven for assuming it to be some hastily concocted metaphor to Euro-American harmony in the Age of Obama: a lithe young Continental prancing around the stage enraptured by his dazzling bag of gas."

As usual, read the rest here.

Friday, May 1, 2009

15 Years Ago . . . 2:17 PM (CET)

By Bobby

A friend of mine served on a missions trip to Brazil, and while in college, she noted the hordes of people who mourn on May 1 in that nation.

Fifteen years later, let's remember the circumstances as we remember fifteen years ago the situation that took place at 2:17 PM Central European Time . . .

EDITOR'S UPDATE: Bobby is, of course, referring to the anniversary of the death of the great Formula 1 champion Ayrton Senna, who was killed during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Here is the BBC coverage from that somber day.

A couple of things to note: changes were made to the San Marino circuit, and the Grand Prix continued there through the 2006 season. And from that day until this, praise God, Ayrton Senna remains the last F1 driver to lose his life in a crash.

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