Friday, June 23, 2017

I don't think "pride" means what you think it means

You've probably heard it said before that "pride goeth before a fall." Pride is a tricky thing; it's one of the Seven Deadly Sins, and yet one hears and uses it constantly. We're proud of our children, our nation, our accomplishments. Most of all, we're proud of ourselves.

There's a pride festival going on this weekend in the city in which I live, and quite frankly, I'm not really sure what there is to be proud about. We all know what it is that one is supposed to be "proud" about, so I'm sure I don't need to provide any further explanation there. There are many things about it that puzzle me, though. For example, if it is true that homosexuality is genetic, as many seem to believe, then what is there to be "proud" about? It's not as if you've done anything yourself; you might as well hold a festival to celebrate your pride in being tall, or having five fingers, or being born with blond hair. You can't do anything about being tall - it's all in the genes - and unless you're willing to do some messy work with a table saw, you're stuck with five fingers as well. And while it's true that you can change the color of your hair, you can't change what its natural color is.

Ah, there's a point. If you can change your hair color, then it doesn't matter that you were born with blond hair; it all becomes a matter of personal choice. You can choose to identify as a redhead or brunette, to use the vernacular of the day. You can be whatever you want to be - it's a simple case of free choice. But if that's the situation, then it goes without saying that you can also be taught not to make that choice, and once you go down that road you're sure to get caught up in more ideological brawling, as is the case in California. And if homosexuality is something that is freely decided, then it opens one up to the unwelcome possibility of having to suffer the moral consequences for one's actions. I suppose you can have it both ways - that does seem to tie in to our desire to have freedom without having to pay the piper.

At any rate, pride. C.S. Lewis called pride "the anti-God," Jonathan Edwards linked pride to the Fall in the Garden of Eden. The ancient Greeks called it "hubris," and rated it as one of, if not the greatest, crimes. Alexander Pope once wrote that "What the weak head with strongest bias rules, Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools." As you might have gathered from the syllogism above, this whole "pride' thing seems to me to rest on emotions rather than logic, which is what makes it so hard to discuss, let alone debate. Dante saw pride as "love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one's neighbor," which certainly seems to describe the reaction that these proud citizens have to anyone who disagrees with them, so maybe the phrase fits after all.

Regardless of how one feels about the subject, it seems to me as if pride is entirely the wrong attitude to have. If pride is as bad as the philosophers and the theologians say, then we ought to avoid it at all costs. Pride invariably leads to boasting, and this continued hammering away about being proud of the homosexual lifestyle; an old Jewish proverb says that "pride is the mask of one's own faults." After all, nothing undercuts a proud crusade more quickly than self-doubt. (Although self-doubt can lead to self-reflection, which can turn you toward the truth - and if that isn't the direction you want to go in, you're sure not going to engage in that.) It's all easier said than done; Benjamin Franklin wrote that "even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome [pride], I should probably be proud of my humility."*

*Humility being one of the Seven Virtues, along with Chastity.

Even if one agreed with the aims of the pride movement, the use of the word "pride" (which has now been corrupted in the same sense as the word "gay") would seem to be the wrong way of going about it, and I've gotten sick to death of seeing it spring up around the city over the last couple of weeks. One can say that in truth there is nothing in which one should take pride, for fear that such pride will wind up reflecting back on you (directly or indirectly) rather than the focus of your attention. The Book of Sirach speaks of honor rather than pride, and contemplates who is worthy of honor, so that would seem a more appropriate feeling than pride. (Of course, in this case, is the homosexual lifestyle really honorable?) The author of Sirach goes on to say that "The beginning of pride is sin. Whoever perseveres in sinning opens the floodgates to everything that is evil." One might note, in this case, that the end result of pride is also sin.

Lust is another of the Seven Deadly Sins, and this would seem to go rather well with the type of pride we're talking about at the moment. Again, just a personal observation, but it's bad enough to be mixed up with one Deadly Sin; to be involved with two seems to be a bit too much tempting fate. After all, things are bad enough as is; do we really need to compound it by celebrating one sin with another?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Throwback Thursday: The death of opera

THE ENGLISH NATIONAL OPERA'S PRODUCTION OF THE DEATH OF KLINGHOFFER, 2012
We have discussed here the Adams opera The Death of Klinghoffer, built around the 1985 seajacking of the Achille Lauro that lead to the death of 69-year old Leon Klinghoffer by Arafat-aligned Palestine Liberation Front terrorists. Paul Greenberg has made serious comments about the pro-terrorist angle of the opera.

It would be right in line with our morally neutral era, with its aversion to the judgmental, its fear of taking a stand between right and wrong, good and evil.

(T)hose of us who are disgusted by its taste in this instance, and its willingness to lend itself to the most dehumanizing propaganda, have a right to speak up, too. As crowds of New Yorkers have done outside the Met. We have more than a right to speak up when evil is cosmeticized, even romanticized. We have a duty.

Mr. Greenberg's column also compared the opera to the works of pro-Fuehrer filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, and had serious words at the end that had me thinking seriously about our nation's future.

Those of us disgusted by this libretto can only echo the accusation that the opera's Marilyn Klinghoffer hurls at the captain of the Achille Lauro, who's been respectfully and even sympathetically negotiating with the murderers aboard his ship. When the ever-neutral captain must tell her that that her husband has been murdered, and his wheelchair-bound body thrown into the sea, she shrieks at him: "You embraced them!" Which is what the Metropolitan Opera now has done, too.

Art seemingly has become a propaganda piece to advance certain causes embraced by a tiny minority that few support, but they are using their platform of the stage to advance the propaganda.  It is working well in various leftist issues, whether it is cannabinoids or criminalising Christianity, or other social causes.  The Bohemians are sadly in control.  That is the a thought considering what the creator of three popular ABC dramas that air on Thursday night is promoting.  It's everywhere on HBO, Showtime, and Netflix.  They need the propaganda to advance what most oppose.

Originally published November 11, 2014

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Opera Wednesday

Sorry for the more-or-less consistent absence from the blog lately; it's a case of not having enough time, what with It's About TV! and the parallel work I'm doing on a TV book. I feel as if I've been behind for so long, I'm just starting to catch up. I hope you'll see me back here more often, but if you go to It's About TV!, you'll see me all the time!

At any rate, I was inspired to look at today's choice because it was on the Met Opera channel on Sirius. It's Igor Stravinsky's opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex, which at the Met was presented as part of a Stravinsky triple-bill, the other two pieces being the ballet Le Sacre du Printemps (better known as "The Rite of Spring"), and the short opera, Le Rossignol (The Nightingale).

Oedipus Rex, based on the familiar Greek tragedy, is unusual in that it is sung in Latin, and has a non-singing narrator, who presents commentary in the vernacular of the audience. I admit to being a big admirer of Stravinsky's work, and Oedipus Rex is no exception - it's modern, but with a classical touch (or classical with a modern touch, if you prefer). Here is the entire performance, running a little under an hour, with tenor Philip Langridge, soprano Jessye Norman, and baritone Bryn Terfel. The conductor is Seiji Ozawa. There are no subtitles, but if you're at all familiar with the legend, I don't think you'll need them.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The next one in isn’t always the best call

A recent discussion locally about the resignation of a baseball coach who happened to succeed directly a legend reminded me this was a problem in college basketball numerous times with successors to Dean Smith, John Thompson, John Wooden, and other notable leaders.

Television has had that issue directly also, most notably, with the recent announcement that Sony and Turner Broadcasting are planning to do a revival of a 1972-75 (network) and 1977-86 (syndicated) game show (with another variant slightly different in 1990-91). Calvin Broadus will host what they say will be a reimagined show, but will turn away from what the Barry Family (which did the 1990 "definitions" format that later adopted parts of the classic format) had done in all three versions. However, it was the 1977-86 version where this problem that is prominent with coaches took flight.

As The Joker's Wild was continuing its successful run as a Barry-Enright Production, Jack Barry had turned 63 in an era when 65 was a retirement age. In preparation for that, he groomed Wisconsin's Jim Peck for the future transition with an occasional week of hosting during the next three seasons, with the plan being Barry would host one more full season after turning 65. That ensuing season, which he intended to be his final, would include a plan that many stations in the syndication world would see that Barry would start the episode by formally turning over the show to Peck in September 1984. Unfortunately, Barry, who was 66, died in May 1984, after his last show was taped and preparing for his formal departure on the next taping, with the successor he and his producer, Ron Greenberg, had planned to take over. Dan Enright, in one of the worst moves in television, decided to deviate away from Barry's plan and hire Bill Cullen to host what would be the final two seasons, effectively spelling the end of Barry-Enright.

Wink Martindale, who was the other host in the syndication double of Joker's Wild and Tic-Tac-Dough, remembered Barry a few years ago. Ironically, he left Tic-Tac-Dough after Enright's actions, where the show lasted just one season with Jim Caldwell.

Jim Peck later returned to Milwaukee in public affairs, and recently retired from radio. For the sesquicentennial of the Gettysburg Address, he recorded this piece as part of its observance.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Does terrorism have to be the “New Normal”?

Editor's Note: Today, for the first time in a long time, I have the chance to introduce to you a new member of the “In Other Words” family! If you read It’s About TV, you’ll recognize David Hofstede as the author of the Comfort TV blog one of the best classic TV sites around. As you will discover, however, David has insights and opinions that run far beyond the world of TV, and he will make for a valuable addition to the team. It’s my pleasure to welcome him to the site, and to present him to you for your consideration.

Over the past few years there have been several prominent news stories about police officers shooting African-American citizens – many of whom were unarmed at the time.

Varied opinions have emerged as a response: some see this as an epidemic of irresponsible authority, and a reminder of the racism they see inherent in our culture. Others find an attempt to conflate isolated incidents into a national trend, and point to federal and state crime statistics that suggest no such pattern exists.

But here’s one reaction you won’t hear from either camp: “This is just something to which we all have to adjust. This is the price we must pay for having a police force.”

Can you imagine the outraged response if some sheriff or politician advanced that outlook? Unacceptable, their communities would say. This cannot stand. We have to do something, so these horrific acts don’t keep happening.

Okay. So why don’t we have the same attitude about Islamic terrorism?

Why have the deaths of a dozen or two African-Americans galvanized public demonstrations and the formation of an advocacy group purportedly designed to remind people that black lives matter, while the deaths of tens of thousands of people since 9/11 evoke only sadness, followed by a resigned shrug over how the world has changed?

Of course, efforts to curb terrorism are ongoing. Plots have been stopped. Precautions have been taken. But when the next Manchester or London Bridge happens, it will produce more heartbreak than anger, and more calls for calm than decisive action.

As David French opined in the National Review, we have become comfortable with terrorism, and those of us that are not are being told by our leaders that we should.

This is the “new normal,” we are told. But it doesn’t have to be.

We monitor terrorist cells and recruitment networks when we could be dissembling them. We put known meeting places under surveillance instead of under a wrecking ball. We “contain” (to use the previous president’s word) the threat of ISIS when we could be destroying the caliphate once and for all. We make relativistic arguments (hey, some Presbyterians are bad apples too!) to avoid being labeled a bigot, instead of clearly identifying the one and only specific credo that perpetuates and inspires mass carnage.

Yes, we now have a president who has clearly identified the threat, sometimes inelegantly to be sure. But even if he expressed himself with the eloquence of Daniel Webster on this topic, the response would likely be just as hostile.

Why is that? I don’t think it’s just anti-Trump sentiment, because for all of the tough talk Republicans muster in election years, the reluctance to mount a more aggressive response is largely bi-partisan: No boots on the ground in the Middle East. No travel restrictions from countries where extremism flourishes. No profiling.

If we do these things – if we even think about them, we are told, the terrorists win. They have won because we have compromised something in ourselves that makes us “better” than they are. But what is this aspiration that is so important it is worth preserving in the face of such barbarism? At some point, it must be weighed against the ever-increasing scores of innocent people around the world whose lives are violently ended by terrorism. Is there a number beyond the thousands already lost when, once reached, that scale no longer balances?

The alternative is to accept the world as it is now, with this prevailing threat that could strike anywhere at any time. Acceptance acknowledges that there will be more attacks. More airports and concert halls and parade routes turned into crime scenes. More dead children.

Don’t the terrorists win then too? If they win either way, what is the rationale against more definitive action?

Yes, there will be consequences. Some will be unexpected and some will be ugly. But it’s long past time we started asking whether those consequences are worse than 8 year-old girls dying at an Ariana Grande concert.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The irony of CNN firing Kathy Griffin

The inappropriate picture of actress Kathy Griffin holding the headed of a "beheaded" caricature of President Trump bloodied led to CNN, a division of Time Warner (NYSE : TWX), which could be acquired by American Telephone and Telegraph (NYSE : T), removing her from New Year's Eve programming. Now that was the correct behaviour since it was inappropriate. But what people forget is this very same Time Warner, through its NetherRealm Studios, is responsible for producing Mortal Kombat, a 25-year old video game franchise where one of the glorified moves is the character "Sub-Zero" pulling the head and spine off losers in the game's signature "fatality" move. Further games in the franchise include beheading (Kitana's fan), cannibalism (Mileena's eat and spit the bones, Liu Kang's dragon), and other copious amounts of violence that led to video game ratings that has furthered the advancement of even more violent video games for "adults only" ratings.

Has anyone noted how TWX will fire Kathy Griffin for doing to Donald Trump what Sub-Zero does to losers in their own video game?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Opera Wednesday

I haven't been here for awhile, so I'm filling in for Drew this week with this clip from the bittersweet conclusion to Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier. My two favorite Strauss operas are the dark sinister pieces - Salome and Elektra, and his Four Last Songs - but even in his lighter moments, such as the comedy Rosenkavalier, there's always something a little unsettling in the music, something that touches you in just that way. And music ought to be like that.

This vintage clip is from the 1960 movie, with Sena Jurinac, Anneliese Rothernberger, and the magnificent Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. Herbert von Karajan conducts the Vienna Philharmonic.

Monday, May 29, 2017

CrossFit Hero WOD's: tribute to the fallen heroes

While preparing for the week's CrossFit workout at the box (as they are called), we were informed of participation in Monday's special Memorial Day class that is designated as a "Hero" workout that honour those soldiers and public safety officers who died in the line of duty.  Their names pay homage to the bravest of the brave who have sacrificed their lives in battle.  Yet that intensity will make you think less of yourself and more of those whose names are attached to them.  While we shall not mention the workouts (that is not the reason for this post), what we shall do is remember these people who are memorialised by their names as workouts.
Murph.  Memorial Day is CrossFit's annual workout named for Lt. Michael P. Murphy, a Navy SEAL who was part of SEAL Team 10 in Operation Red Wings in June 2005, an attack best known from the book and movie Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell, the only member of the team that survived the attack on Team 10 by terrorists.

The Seven.  In Afghanistan, seven CIA officers killed in a December 2009 attack by a man who claimed to be an informant reporting on Al Qaeda.  When he said the magic words, we learned he was a homicide bomber, killing seven CIA officers and a Jordanian working with the seven CIA officials.

Luce.  Captain Ronald G. Luce of the U.S. Army, died during an August 2009 attack when an IED struck his vehicle in Afghanistan.

JT.  A well-seen photo of Petty Officer Jon Tomlinson, a Navy SEAL, who was one of 30 who died in 2011 after a rocket-propelled grenade struck a helicopter, features his dog by the side of his casket during the funeral.  But Tomlinson's nickname is immortalised shortly afterwards when CrossFit named a "Hero" workout in his memory.

We remember our heroes on Memorial Day.  CrossFit's names of Hero Workouts pay homage to those who have fallen for our freedom.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Musings in May

Poitical Panderings.  If it was not clear that Big Entertainment is aligned with the far left, Disney's repeated excuses in canning Tim Allen's Last Man Standing over his conservative character being the lead dog over liberals while protecting The View is a perfect example.  Most viewers do not remember ABC News developed The View in 1996 as a way to take advantage of the 1990's television realignment, and to this day, the show's strongest viewership is in Atlanta, Detroit, and Milwaukee, three markets that ABC took advantage of in that CBS's perennial winner The Price Is Right was not available in parts of those markets (and more) due to weak affiliates.  In a post-Citizens United era, the Left has decided all opposition speech must be shot down in any way, whether it is by court mandates or by control of the media.  Welcome to 1984, everyone.

The Crew Chief.  Fox News is on a decline since the scandals that took down its core: first Roger Ailes and later Bill Shine, then Bill O'Reilly.  Much of the attacks have come from leftist activists such as Mr. Brock, Mr. Soros, and other such leaders who have pushed their way through.  The ratings among the 25-54 crowd, including the Millennials that have tilted solid left from teachings, is proving that point now when a pair of sexual deviants are first (CNN) and second (MSNBC), while nuclear family men at Fox are now in trouble.  Does it say much about the entertainment mentality working to take down Fox?  Have the Murdoch Boys decided they want to remake the channel away from what made it an ace?  Note how many channels remade for management have become disasters. The list includes Spike (was associated with Tennessee), Freeform (was associated with Mr. Robertson), Esquire (was a techie channel), FXX (was a football channel), and others.

So many deaths of men that mattered.

Roger Ailes.  Roger Ailes, 77, whose work in redeeming Richard Nixon later gave way to helping conservative political causes, then pushing Rush Limbaugh to a 1990's late-night television gig before he started Fox News. The fact the Murdoch Boys want to demolish what Mr. Ailes built is sadly allowing us to see how intelligent Mr. Ailes was in the television medium. Despite the controversy over what he knew would work in a visual medium, if it was not for Mr. Ailes, an entire challenger to the one-sided media would never have happened. As the history books noted about the Clinton Administration, the media created "crises" to put their man in power, and Mr. Ailes challenged them.

Nicky Hayden.  Nicholas Patrick Hayden, 35, was the last American to win an international motorcycle racing championship (MotoGP in 2006). His Southeastern humility was shown and ability to win at the highest levels put him on a level of few others during the era where dirt-track sliding techniques mattered more than electronics (traction control included) that has given us the modern Spanish resurgence now that motorcycle road racing now airs exclusively in the United States on Al Jazeera (please see "A Kick in the Ball" from It's About TV! for an explanation). A pity that riding his bicycle during a training run that passed through the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli vicinity, and a motorist was not aware, led to his death.  Share the road, folks!

Sir Roger Moore.  Roger George Moore, 89, was a television and film star on both sides of the Atlantic (Maverick, The Last Time I Saw Paris, Ivanhoe, The Saint, and of course, from 1973 until 1985, the EON James Bond franchise).  After George Lazenby made a mistake (the Australian admits it) to not renewing his Bond gig after On Her Majesty's Secret Service (and letting Sean Connery return for one more film), Moore took the Bond character to a semi-comedic at times Bond for the 1970's into the 1980's.  The era of Bond in the 1970's was a different era than that of the original 1960's, and he has been regarded as one of the better Bonds of the five.

All three of those men will be missed.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Flashback Friday: A decade - more than just dates on the calendar

I've remarked before, perhaps even on this blog, that I frequently get ideas from unusual sources, and it's even better when, as is the case today, I get an idea that has virtually nothing to do with the source itself.

Over at Uniwatch ("The Obsessive Study of Athletics Aesthetics"), an interesting discussion broke out in the comments section as to how one defines a decade.  I know, doesn't seem to have anything to do with sports uniforms, right?  Long story short, the question arose as to whether the 1970 World Series falls within the '70s or the '60s.  Not as stupid a question as you might think; since there's no Year 0, most people know that the Ist Century ran from 1 to 100, and so on.  The 20th Century, therefore, began on January 1, 1901 and ended on December 31, 2000.  The question is, do decades operate the same as centuries?  Do the 1970s begin on January 1, 1971 or January 1, 1970?

From there, a commentator named Wiggle Man speculated that culturally, it is events rather than dates that determine a decade.  He suggested the following:

1930’s – Began with the stock market crash on October 29, 1929 (“Black Thursday”)
1940’s – Began on December 7, 1941 (“A date which will live in infamy”)
1950’s – Began on January 20, 1953 (Eisenhower’s Inauguration)
1960’s – Began on November 22, 1963 (Kennedy’s assassination)
1970’s – Began on May 4, 1970 – (Kent State) (I would also accept June 17, 1972, Watergate break-in)
1980’s – Began on January 20, 1981 – Reagan’s Inauguration / Hostages released).

Other commentators had different ideas; one suggested that the '60s actually started with Kennedy's inauguration, rather than his death, and that Kent State (as well as Altamont) are more indicative of the '60s than the '70s.  Others chipped in that '90s actually began in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the "aughts" (2000s) probably started on September 11, 2001.

I find this kind of discussion exceptionally interesting.  (It's also proof that you should have an eclectic reading list; you never know what you're going to run into.)  I've maintained over at the TV blog that the early years of the 1960s actually are more properly understood as a continuation of the 1950s, and that the last years of the '60s more properly line up with the 1970s - in fact, I'd contend that 1965 might be the prime example of what the '60s would have been like had they not dealt with the JFK assassination (at the beginning) and the Vietnam War (at the end).  Many, if not most, of the mores and visuals of the early '60s (not to mention television programming, which was the point of my musing in the first place) would have been perfectly acceptable in the late '50s, and the late '60s are almost indistinguishable from the first few years of the '70s.

The point is, I suppose, every decade has its own tenor, it's own "look."  I think Wiggle Man is correct in suggesting that decades, properly understood, represent events as much as they do actual dates.   We can quibble with the specific events that signal the end of one decade and the beginning of another, but I think the calendar is perhaps the least important part of the equation.  Anyone out there have other suggestions?

Originally published October 21, 2014

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Opera Wednesday

Robert Merrill and Roberta Peters had some serious star power. Peters, who made her Metropolitan Opera debut at the age of 20, was vivacious, cute, perky - and enormously talented. Merrill could do it all, from high opera to "Autumn Leaves" with Victor Borge, to singing the national anthem for his beloved New York Yankees. Together, they made for a dynamic duo both on- and off-stage (they were briefly married in the early 50s), and were fixtures on popular television, appearing often with stars such as Sullivan and Carson. Ah, those were the days.

Here they are singing the conclusion of the aria "Dunque Io Son" from Act I of Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia in a 1962 broadcast of NBC's Bell Telephone Hour - a wonderful program that brought the best in classical music to the television audience through first-rate productions. (Little-known fact: every episode of the Bell Telephone Hour, from 1959 to 1968, was taped in color - a very forward-thinking move.)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Flashback Friday: On the decline of orchestras (and classical music) today

I began taking voice lessons after being inspired by a few friends, and in February 2002 took my first official foray into vocal lessons. I never thought I would see the day that classical music became "the" music for me, yet for Serena LaRoche, Leah Hungerford, along with choral directors Jennifer Adam, Peppie Calvar, Susan Kelly, Keith Walker, Lillian Quackenbush, Alicia Walker, and numerous other choral singers (Rebecca Cunningham), soloists (Ashley Briggs, Sarah Rich, Jaeyoon Kim, Jacob Will, Kelsey Harrison), my musical attitude took a turn for the better, and as we learned three and a half years later, perfect for Our Word.

Having sung in four Summer Choruses, two one-offs at various churches, and a Governor's Carolighting in the hastily organised choir, the dearth of choral opportunities at home with pop drivel and karaoke replacing serious material and orchestras concerns me. While listening to a talk radio show, the hostess noted, "We need to pray for the survival of classical music not only because of its beauty, but also because it reminds us of the centuries when our society was so infused by the Christian gospel."

Patrick Kavanaugh in World magazine commented on such musical problems. While he noted it may be economic, market, the bullying of bad rock music in our culture, it was easily noticed that Biblical text and Christian theology dominates classical music, noting Brahms’ Requiem, Händel’s Messiah, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, and Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Compare the difference between the Mass in C Major and that of a modern rock tune certain Life Enhancement Centres play in their buildings. Nolo contendere est. Keep in mind in our society today, humanism is the official state religion, and to advance the cause they have to prohibit classical works from performance in order to force us to carry humanism's dark agenda found through the modern pop tunes of society today.

Here is Mr. Kavanaugh's thought about the trouble with music today.

Originally published October 22, 2012

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Opera Wednesday

Last month we took a look at Benjamin Britten's intense Peter Grimes. This week it's Britten's equally intense Billy Budd, based on the novella by Herman Melville with a libretto by E.M. Forster and Eric Crozier. Like Grimes, there is a homosexual subtext to Billy Budd, but I don't think it's gratuitous; rather, it becomes an integral part of the plot.

Here we see a clip from the Metropolitan Opera in their 1997 production, featuring the great James Morris as John Claggart, Britten's personification of evil. This is Claggart's famous aria; interestingly, when I was talking with Mitchell about this, he mentioned that this aria was cut from NBC Opera's 1952 production. Why? Well, it's true that cuts had to be made in order to squeeze the opera into NBC's limited timespace (there were so many cuts, in fact, that NBC wound up calling it Scenes from Billy Budd), but the real reason was that NBC Opera mastermind Samuel Chotzinoff felt television could (and eventually would) streamline opera.

Claggart's aria, as is the case with many arias, was designed primarily to give us a glimpse into the character's thoughts and motivation. Chotzinoff reasoned that television, with its ability to offer close-ups and other special effects, would be able to convey emotions and thoughts more quickly and effetively - a kind of opera shorthand - rendering such long scenes unnecessary. I don't think he was right then (and neither did Britten; he was furious at the cuts NBC made, leading to a profound distrust of TV's ability to broadcast opera), and I don't think he's right now. This aria, which Chotzinoff thought unnecessary, has come to be seen as one of the opera's greatest moments. You be the judge.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Flashback Friday: Searching for justice

Ihave never stuck up for any criminal. I have merely asked for the orderly administration of an impartial justice...Due legal process is my own safeguard against being convicted unjustly. To my mind, that's government. That's law and order."

 — Erle Stanley Gardner, The Case of the Drowsy Mosquito

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Opera Wednesday

This week we look at Verdi's massive opera Macbeth, originally written in 1847 and revised in 1865. Verdi was a master at Shakespearian adaptations (what a pity he was not able to pull together the King Lear he had so wanted to do), and with Macbeth he found a ghost story perfectly suited to opera.

In this performance from 1978, we hear the great Shirley Verrett as the murderous Lady Macbeth in the famous scene where she is unable to wash the blood from her hands, haunted by the memories of her past crime. Una macchia è qui tuttora! - "Yet Here's a Spot." The conductor is Claudio Abbado, recorded at the famed Teatro alla Scala .

Friday, May 5, 2017

Flashback Friday: War as a metaphor for war

This extraordinary photo, of gas-mask-wearing soccer players (likely soldiers playing the game during some training or down time) accompanies Brian Phillips' equally-extraordinary account of soccer during World War I, "Soccer in Oblivion,"  at Grantland. For me, World War I has always held more fascination than any war other than our own Revolution, because the cultural implications are so distinct.

While it's important to acknowledge, as Spengler does in this Asia Times piece, that World War I wasn't necessarily any more horrific than other wars of the past, at least in pro-rated manpower, it's also true that the Great War inflicted a kind of cynical somberness that the world likely will never recover from.  The thought of God looking down on His creation, all of it, doing its damnedest to tear itself apart, is a sad one, perhaps one of the saddest that a religious person can imagine.

The money quote from Phillips' story, which should tell us everything we want to know about the war, and about ourselves, then and now:

Never such innocence again. But we still make the same mistakes, because we still understand war through analogy and our analogies still fail. Now we see it as a video game, or we see it as a component of the NFL’s set of minor paraphernalia, jet flyovers part of the same combo pack that includes beer commercials and classic-rock riffs. We’re still trying to make the metaphor work, only now we’re doing it in reverse, endlessly describing games in terms of who conquered/eviscerated/bombed/slaughtered whom. It’s the same old trick, though. It’s a way to hide the horror under one layer of spectacle and another layer of moral virtue — a way to pretend that war is like a game, that there are rules, that there is safety. A way not to look into oblivion. We missed the cruel irony in all those soccer balls that show up in World War I photos. Nothing is a metaphor for war. War is a metaphor for nothing.

Make no mistake - war, no matter how horrible, is sometimes necessary.  That should happen sparingly, and without celebration, though.  As the soldier (attributed to Robert E. Lee, perhaps apocryphally) once said, “It is well that war is so terrible, or we would grow too fond of it.”

Originally published August 11, 2014

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Opera Wednesday

What's in a name? Let's find out.

Our first piece goes by the name "Moscow Nights." Singing is the great baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, performing at the last night of the BBC Proms from a few years ago. Not every classically trained singer can pull off singing popular songs (witness the Three Tenors singing "You'll Never Walk Alone," which I refuse to link to as a public service to all of you out there), but Hvorostovsky more than pulls it off, which is one reason why in his prime he was considered one of the most exciting singers in opera. (Catch him sometime in Evgeny Onegin if you get the chance.)


"Moscow Nights" is also known as "Midnight in Moscow," and it was under this name that Kenny Ball had this huge hit. No singing, and quite a different sound, but undeniably the same piece of music.


So which do you prefer? There is no right or wrong answer. The only answer is that good music is good no matter how you play it.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The perversion lobby is out of control (social media attacks)

Writing this column days after being slapped with a social media suspension for saying the truth of the Kardashian-poisoned Bruce Jenner's appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight refusing to answer Mr. Carlson's question has allowed me to see the true form of “Bay Area Values” being imposed by elites on anyone who opposes their feelings.

During the episode of the Fox News program, Mr. Jenner (I refuse to use his Daytime Serial Drama for Men* gimmick) said he could not find any advantage of having men who claim to be women participating in women's sporting events, despite the contrary to incidents in New Zealand with weightlifting (man claiming to be a woman won national title), a mixed martial arts incident (man seriously injured woman in a woman's mixed martial arts event), and the previously mentioned incident we posted here regarding a lawsuit against CrossFit where the organisation's counsel sent a letter .

*In college, a few friends would get together and watch The Monday Night Wars every Monday night at the student union;  I had no idea of its popularity, but I learned they had called it a “soap for men”. A few times there was a pay-per-view  As we have referenced here in the past, the last “soap” went off the air in 2010, when the last daytime drama produced by a soap company ended.  These shows are daytime serial dramas, and “professional wrestling” would be called a male daytime serial drama, a derivative of these afternoon serial dramas being aimed at a feminine crowd.

The first I had heard of such stupidity was a 2002 movie filmed in Metrolina*, “Juwanna Mann,” where a man in a professional basketball league tries out in a women's league. Now we have seen the elimination of gender verification tests, and what standards are there next to be removed?

*Metrolina denotes a sixteen-county area around Charlotte.

In contrast to Mr. Jenner's spin doctors on Mr. Carlson's show, we must remember this:  Mr. Jenner was born with an X and Y chromosome, and the anatomy of a male of the human race. Notwithstanding hormone therapy or even surgery, he still has an X and a Y chromosome.  Sir, as the CrossFit letter to the competitor who sued to be in a women's division states evidently, he still has a genetic makeup that confers both physical and physiological advantage over women. No “sex reassignment surgery” will change any discussion. That's the genetic advantage CrossFit's attorney notes, Mr. Jenner and many supporting the perversion movement refuse to understand in order to advance an agenda.

Of course, the perversion movement takes advantage of elite cities and judges out of touch with an entire country to force their way when it was rejected, sticking their tongues out in front of everyone, and working to demolish any organisation (especially churches, Fox News, anyone with a Biblical worldview) that refuses to submit to their agenda. It is why Ted Cruz called out the Stonewall Values (which he referenced that drew the ire of New York City newspapers) being pushed at everyone else's expense. And after I answered Mr. Jenner by saying he is a male, and referenced that men should not be in women's events, I was reported probably by a perversion lobbyist and banned from social media for saying the truth.

Is there any truth left when the sexual perversion and humanist lobbies can dictate what can be said in society today?  Why is referencing CrossFit's letter to a male who claims to be a female wrong?  Why is saying the truth of Mr. Jenner wrong?  Why can a tiny group of crybabies impose their way as a CCCP Dictatorship?  I do not submit to these perversion lobbyists.  Why do we have to make their kayfabe be mandated as a “gospel” when the anatomical truth is banned?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Opera Wednesday

The title role of Benjamin Britten's 1945 opera Peter Grimes was created by (and likely for) Peter Pears, but from the late 60s on it was the province of the great Canadian tenor Jon Vickers. It was said that Britten himself was not particularly happy with Vickers' rough, almost brutish portrayal of Grimes (in contrast to Pears' more vulnerable interpretation), but for an entire generation of operagoers Vickers was Grimes.

Britten was quoted as describing Grimes as "a subject very close to my heart—the struggle of the individual against the masses. The more vicious the society, the more vicious the individual." It was and continues to be a story dramatically open to interpretation: was Grimes responsible for the deaths of his apprentices? Was he sexually molesting them? Or was he an innocent, persecuted by closed-minded villagers? Is Grimes victim or villain? Whether one prefers Pears or Vickers, the opera remains relentlessly intense - from the first bars through the famous, haunting "sea interludes," one knows that this will not end well.

From 1981, here is Jon Vickers in his final dramatic scene. Note the crisp enunciation of the English lyrics - a trademark of Britten's operas.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Flashback Friday: The automated world

At dinner [Wolfe] started on automation. He has always been anti-machine, and on automation his position was that it would soon make life an absurdity. It was already bad enough; on a cold and windy March day he was eating his evening meal in comfortable warmth, and he had no personal connection whatever with the production of the warmth. The check that paid the oil bill was connected, but he wasn't. Soon, with automation, no one would have any connection with the processes and phenomena that make it possible to stay alive. We would all be parasites, living not on some other living organisms but on machines, arrived at the ultimate ignominy."

- Rex Stout, A Right to Die

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Opera Wednesday

Nothing too complicated this week. I'm not a big fan of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute); I've seen it once, and that's enough for me. But it has some delightful music, none moreso than the famous Overture, heard here in this 2006 performance with Ricardo Muti and the Vienna Philharmonic.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The losing of our historical reference points

The Uniform Monday Holiday Act passed in the 1960's put an end to observing proper holidays on their days that they are to be observed, giving three-day holidays, instead of observing why these days were observed.

Monday's Boston Marathon is one event affected by this law.  Most people today do not remember that prior to the 1969 change, this event was originally held only on April 19, unless it was a Sunday, when it was held April 20.  Can anyone identify why the Boston Marathon prior to 1968 was always held on April 19 (or if it was a Sunday, then April 20)?

Sunday, April 16, 2017

He is Risen

Matthew 28:1-7:

1 In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.

2 And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.

3 His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:

4 and for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.

5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.

6 He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

7 And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.

8 And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.

-------------------------
Christ is Risen!  And on the 275th anniversary of its debut, as an Easter piece, we celebrate with Händel's Messiah, and the ending of the Easter Motet of this sacred selection, that I participated in 2009 as a one-off at the church where my Sunday morning Bible study teacher's son and daughter-in-law (who died a few years ago of cancer) attend.  One of the choir members also shared a voice teacher with me for a year (Leah Hungerford, 2003-04).  (How can you attend church and be stuck with bad Top 40 hits when you can have the real material?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Holy Week: He Was Despised

Part II of Händel's Messiah, as we've known, was released for Easter, and in 2017, is the 275th anniversary of the release of the Eastertide piece (which sadly, most do not see it in the liturgical calendar).

These selections from the grandeur of Georg Frederich Händel represent the Passion of the Christ. Yet they are rarely heard in most areas as the second (Easter) and third (Pentecost) are rarely heard in performances.  As churches are being sold to the river by Big Entertainment's push to influence the music ministries of churches to sing whatever they are pushing, and churches led by loud rock bands are starting to control communities (those self-help Life Enhancement Centres skipped church on Christmas Day when it falls on a Sunday and are sometimes "Universal Music Only" congregations, a reference to the "one translation only" churches), and other well-known churches are now singing the latest hits from Sacramento's KLVR-FM on screens, with no musical notation listed, generations are sadly losing the appreciation of the masterpieces as they are only fed Top 40 hits.  The consequences show when they are older, as they only associate church with parties and self-help, and not of studying God's Word.

But let's listen to a set of pieces today from Messiah that fit our Holy Week:


Friday, April 7, 2017

Baseball Week: Farewell, Mr. Cub, and thanks

If ever there was a player who exemplified the joy of baseball, the delight in playing what is essentially a kids' game, it was Ernie Banks. No celebration of baseball could be complete without a tip of the cap to the man whose entire career was a celebration. Would that he would have been able to see the Cubs win the Series last year.

E rnie Banks, the Chicago Cubs baseball star, was buried today in Chicago. His performance on the field was spectacular—19 seasons, an 11-time All-Star, the first National Leaguer to win back-to-back Most Valuable Player trophies, a total of 512 home runs, Hall of Fame first ballot in 1977. His character off the field was even more exemplary—a spirit of joy, optimism and enthusiasm that was contagious way beyond the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.

Yes, Ernie Banks certainly was, for all the right reasons, Mr. Cub.

There were times, many probably, when that spirit was tested. Banks was the first African-American player on the Cubs when he joined them in 1953. Even as tributes flowed at the news of his passing last week at age 83 from a heart attack, references were also made to early ‘50s encounters that hadn’t been so welcoming. “People said terrible, racist things to him,” one long-time Cub fan recalled. “But Ernie just smiled right through it.”

And then there was the losing. The Cubs have become the longest-running “lovable losers” in major league baseball, if not in all of pro sports. They haven’t been in a World Series since 1945. They haven’t won one since 1908. In Ernie’s first 14 years as a Cub, they only had one winning season. Ernie played 2,528 major league games. None were in the post-season. (That futility is summed up in a riddle. “What did Jesus say to the Chicago Cubs?” Answer: “Don’t do anything until I get back.”)

Losing didn’t dampen Ernie’s spirit, though. “Let’s play two!” became his well-quoted catchphrase. He loved playing the game, it was all about the game, win, lose, whatever. It was the friendly, positive spirit of competition that he most enjoyed. That spirit infused Cub fans, it seems. It lingers at Wrigley, and perhaps in a few other, sadly vanishing, ball fields today.

I wasn’t a natural Ernie Banks fan. Growing up near San Francisco, I was a Willie Mays guy. I resented anyone crowding Willie’s spotlight. (With some justification. In 1958, when Banks became the first player on a losing team to win an MVP, he hit .313. Willie hit .347 that year. Just saying). But I always respected Ernie Banks and enjoyed watching Cubs games on TV, amazed at this slim shortstop who could pretty much do it all.

I realized in a new way this week how much I admired, and will miss, Ernie Banks. It took a Super Bowl to do it.

First it was the sports media machine pumping out endless, rancorous stories about possible cheating in the NFL, in what’s being called “DeflateGate.” Then it was the Super Bowl media day circus where one player in particular—Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch—became the poster-child for today’s arrogant, self-obsessed, pampered, obscenely overpaid, and repugnant professional athletes by ignoring reporters’ questions by smugly repeating  just one phrase (“I’m just here so I won’t get fined”) for nearly five minutes.

Apparently for Mr. Lynch, and many other pro athletes today, the joy has gone out of the game. They put up with it, grab their paychecks, and fly off to the Bahamas or Vegas or wherever they go to spend that money. They certainly don’t want to play two.

So, thank you, Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub, for doing what you did. And more important, for being who you were. Thank you for leaving a legacy that hopefully will not diminish with your passing. We need people like you today. More than we know.

[Mitchell here - Steve had this very funny article about Ernie Banks a few years ago - would that it were true!]

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Baseball Week: We miss you, Harmon

It's often said that baseball is the most lyrical of sports, and few writers can capture that lyricism better than our own Steve Harris, who, writing about the death of Minnesota Twins legend Harmon Killebrew, reminds us all of the emotions that the game can bring, and why baseball - unlike football - will always be the National Pastime, if not the National Obsession. 

It is Tuesday afternoon, October 7th. I am sitting here in an office at 9th and LaSalle in Downtown Minneapolis, on an absolutely gorgeous autumn day. From my window I see blue skies, puffy white clouds, and I hear that the temp is in the mid-70s. Fall weather in Minnesota just does not get better than this. What a day for a walk around Lake Harriet, coffee with a friend at an outside cafe on the Nicollet Mall, and finally, once again we can say this...a baseball game.

Or can we? The Minnesota Twins are in the playoffs. (Hats off to them for a fine season). The Yankees are in town. A beautiful, many say spectacular, new stadium, an open-air baseball field, (taxpayer funded, by the way) is sitting there ready for action. So, let's play ball. Except...it is the Yankees. It is the Era of Bud. It is National TV time. So the game today (as was last night's) will be played at...night.

Ugh. What a waste of a day so rare. How sad that the joys of baseball, a spring sport, more a summer sport, a fall sport, yes, but NOT a cold-weather sport, will not be on display on a day like this in Minneapolis. I hope it doesn't get too chilly. I hope we don't have the sights of players with knit-caps, heavy jackets and mittens like we've seen in those interminable Red Sox-Yankee playoffs.

Then again, I kind of hope that the Twins can win some games and the playoffs get extended, and we play into later October, and on a much colder night we get a blast of snow. I would like to see how Bud would handle that. Maybe he would lead a parade of players and fans and hot dog vendors back to the Dome. Might as well.

We have lost a treasure, fall baseball on a day of sunshine and blue skies, and I'm not sure we even know it.

Yes, Harmon, we miss you.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Baseball Week: Yes, yes, no, no


As we continue our salute to baseball's opening week, I'm reminded of the end goal for each team: the playoffs and, hopefully, the World Series. Back in 2010 the Phillies' Roy Halliday slew baseball's great white whale, the post-season no-hitter. It was only the second such time it had happened in baseball's long history, and as I wrote at the time, it becomes even more impressive the closer one looks at it.

There was, not surprisingly, only one topic of conversation around the sports water cooler this morning, that being Roy Halladay's no-hitter in Philadelphia’s opening game against Cincinnati yesterday. As just about everyone knows by now, Halladay’s was only the second no-hitter ever thrown in postseason play, joining Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

Oddly enough, this was the very thing I had been planning to write about tomorrow. Not Halladay's no-hitter, of course, since he hadn’t thrown it yet, but Larsen’s. October 8 is the 54th anniversary of Larsen’s perfecto, and for the hard-core baseball fan that date triggers a Pavlovian response in much the same way that July 4 or November 22 or December 7 do to the historian.*

* I don’t mean in any way to equate Larsen’s no-hitter with these other dates, some famous and some infamous. It’s just that if you say “October 8” to the aficionado, many of them would immediately respond “Larsen.” It just does.

I’ve long thought that Larsen’s performance was perhaps the most remarkable in the history of sports, or at least baseball. This piece by Cliff Corcoran lays it out very well – we’ve had postseason baseball since 1903, when the first World Series was played. From then to 1956, a span of 53 Series (there was none in 1904), you had a maximum of 371 games that could have been played. In all that time, there was only one no-hitter.

Since then, we’ve added a Championship Series in each league (starting in 1969), expanded it from five to seven games (in 1985), and added a Wild Card round (in 1995), meaning that in the 53+ years since Larsen, you’ve had a maximum of 1,245 games that could have been played, or almost four times the potential number since Larsen.* And in all that time, with all the opportunities we’ve given them, no pitcher was able to match Larsen until last night. If that doesn’t meet the definition of remarkable, I don’t know what does.

* I know, many if not most of these series went less that the maximum, but you get the point.  And anyway, I didn't have the time to count all the games.

And why should this be?

Well, one obvious reason is that pitchers aren't conditioned to go nine innings anymore.  Their charge is to get six or seven good innings, then turn it over to the bullpen.  Which means today's pitchers may not have the physical or psychological fitness to go the distance, even if they're being fueled by the adrenelin of a no-hitter.  Halladay led the league in complete games this season, and I don't think that's a coincidence.

Then there's the pressure of the post-season.  This seems to me to be the explanation that makes the most sense.  Just because we're told by the television people that the postseason is "a whole new ballgame" doesn't mean it isn't true.  The pressure of a short series, combined with the national spotlight, was bad enough before 24/7 sports channels came along - now, it's probably been magnified three or four times.

(There is a flip side to this, however, namely that the pressure can work both ways, producing performances that might be beyond the normal expectations from a given pitcher.  That was certainly the case with Larsen, who was little more than a journeyman either before or after his perfecto in the pivotal fifth game*, and it might have played to Halladay's advantage in the crucial opening game yesterday.**)

* With a series tied at two games apiece, as it was in '56, the fifth game is always pivotal.  You could trademark it.

** See above.

This morning I heard someone saying that, statistically, there have been too many no-hitters in the postseason, or at least more than the odds would suggest.  I know, that doesn't sound right at all.  But, according to the stats, .1% of all regular season games result in no-hitters, whereas the figure is .2% in the postseason.  Whatever.  I'd guess, if I had to, that it might have something to do with the number of bad teams playing bad games in the regular season.  One could argue, as I do, that if the best hitters make the postseason, that makes it harder to throw a no-no.  But you could also argue, I suppose, that having the best pitchers in the postseason makes a no-hitter more likely.

In the end, I think this is something where you have to selectively ignore stats.  Fact of the matter is that we've had more than one hundred years of postseason baseball, and until last night there had only been one no-hitter.  If we have two or three more in the next decade, maybe we'll have to revisit the whole thing.  But until and unless that happens, I'm sticking by my original thesis that Larsen's perfect game was the most remarkable, the greatest, pitching performance of all time.  A no-hitter in the World Series would have been incredible enough; Larsen's perfect game, the first in 34 years, defies description.

And that makes Halladay's perhaps the second greatest.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Baseball Week: The Cubs don't win the pennant!


As Baseball Week continues, a look back at a "This Just In" feature from a few weeks ago that's outdated now, but it does point out how remarkable last year's World Series was.

Cubs Take Field for Season Opener, Are Officially Eliminated From Pennant Race

(CHICAGO, April 1) – The Chicago Cubs were officially eliminated from the National League pennant race today, just moments after taking the field for their season opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“Naturally it’s a disappointment,” Cubs skipper Mike Quade said in a subdued Cubs dugout just before the first pitch was thrown. “After all the hard work in the offseason, to see it end like that before it’s even begun is tough to take, you know?

“But I’m proud of them anyway,” he continued. “To go out there like that and give it their all, even knowing this is not their year, and they’ve still got six months to go, well, I tip my hat to them. It would be easy for them to just show up and go through the motions, pretend there’s nothing at stake, but they’re going to play like it was the first game of the season. Which is the same thing, I guess.”

“We’re professional ballplayers,” Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena said. “We take pride in wearing the Cubs uniform. Even though we’re going to miss the World Series for the 66th consecutive year, and fail to win it all for the 103rd straight season, you won’t see this team give up.”

Beat writer Paul Sullivan, who covers the Cubs for the Chicago Tribune, said that fans still had much to look forward to for the remainder of the season. “First of all, there’s the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, the most beautiful ballpark in America. The ivy covered walls, the hand operated scoreboard, the ghosts of all the hall of famers who’ve beaten the Cubs over the years. Every baseball fan should come to Wrigley at least once, even if the Cubs are out of town.

“But there’s so much more to seeing the Cubs play. Did I mention Wrigley Field?”

Quade said he’d use the remaining 161 games to give younger players a chance. “We’ll bring some of our youngsters up from Triple A and see what they have to offer. Sure, they’re probably playing on a better team with Des Moines, but once they’ve had a taste of major league baseball, or at least Cubs baseball, they won’t want to go back. We h

In a related development, the Cubs lost their season opener to Pittsburgh, 6-3.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Baseball Week: A team and its cat

In honor of baseball's Opening Week, I thought we'd take a look at some of the best of this blog's posts on America's Pastime. Today it's the story of a baseball team and its new owner, who just happens to be an ill-tempered cat.

Based on the novel by H. Allen Smith (one of the finest humorists of his time), Rhubarb tells the story of a yellow feral cat with a nasty disposition who's "adopted" by a wealthy businessman, T.J. Banner (Gene Lockhart, whom you might remember as the judge in Miracle on 34th Street). Banner, who's constantly surrounded by "yes" men, admires how the cat treats everyone with distain, rich and poor alike. This cat, he says, has spirit. He's a fighter, and if there's one thing T.J. Banner has always admired, it's a fighter. T.J.'s greedy daughter Myra thinks he's crazy, but his public relations man, Eric Yeager (Oscar-winner Ray Milland), affectionately tolerates the old man. It was Eric who was assigned to capture the cat from the golf course where he lived (stealing golf balls off the greens), and when Eric finally succeeds, he has the scratches to prove it.

Although Banner owns many successful businesses, his pride and joy is his baseball team, a bunch of losers named the Brooklyn Loons (read: Dodgers), managed by Len Sickles (William Frawley, Lockhart's political boss in Miracle on 34th Street). If only, Banner thinks, his team had the same fight his cat had, they might win for a change. After watching the cat trash his study, Banner decides to name him Rhubarb, after the term for a baseball imbroglio. (In one scene, trying to explain what the cat's name means, Eric explains: "Lady, you know what happens at a sale, when two women get hold of the same dress? THAT's a Rhubarb!")

After many years Banner dies and, to the amazement of his business associates and Myra (who has been fairly counting down the days to the old man's death), he leaves the balance of his estate, including the baseball team, to the only living thing that ever showed him trust and loyalty - Rhubarb. Realizing the limitations inherent in a cat running an empire, the will provides that Eric will act as Rhubarb's guardian. He's not sure at first, but when Myra attempts to murder Rhubarb, Eric remembers T.J.'s words that "if you're right, fight for it." Rhubarb's always been a fighter, which is what the old man loved about him, and Eric is determined to fight as well.

His biggest fight concerns the baseball team - the players, perhaps understandably, are reluctant to pay for a cat, even if he does own the team. Fans around the league meow at them, and an umpire even left a bowl of milk at home plate before the start of the game. The players are threatening to sit out the season and Eric, along with his fiancee Polly (Jan Sterling), manager Sickles' daughter, realize something has to be done. Eric convinces them that the miracle Boston Braves of 1914 - a team that rallied from last place on the 4th of July to win the World Series (true, by the way) - owed their success to a lucky yellow cat that served as their mascot, they start to have second thoughts. When the Loons' hitters come through in the clutch after having petted Rhubarb, the superstitious players become convinced: with Rhubarb on their side, they can do no wrong.

The Brooklyn team - now dubbed the "Rhubarbs" by the tabloids, with Rhubarb and Eric accompanying them to every game home and away - catches fire and wins the pennant. Now, they're prepared to face their archrivals, the New York club (read: Yankees) in the World Series. The entire city is electrified, and in the days leading up to the Series seemingly everyone in Brooklyn is placing bets on the Rhubarbs to win. The alarmed bookies calculate that if Brooklyn wins, there's no way they'll be able to cover their losses. Then one of them, Pencil Louie, strikes upon an idea - if something were to "happen" to the cat, it would almost certainly mean defeat for Brooklyn, and the bookies would save their skins.

Pencil Louie's first thought is simply to kill Rhubarb, but then he realizes there's money to be made - surely Myra would pay them to get rid of the cat. With Rhubarb thus out of the way, Myra gets her father's fortune, Brooklyn (and the people betting on them) loses, and the bookies get their necks out of the noose. In short order Rhubarb is catnapped, New York evens the series, and all of Brooklyn is in a panic. Eric and Polly launch a desperate search for the missing cat, even resorting to seeding the clouds with dry ice to cause a rainout that postpones Game 7 for another day.

In the end the good guys win, of course. Rhubarb is found, the bad guys are captured, and Brooklyn rallies to win the series. Eric and Polly marry, and Rhubarb is last seen with the female cat who's been sitting in the box behind Rhubarb with her lady owner throughout the season, trailing a litter of little kittens.

Rhubarb is a charming fantasy, featuring a top-notch performance by Milland (including a hilarious send-up of his drunk scene in The Lost Weekend), wild slapstick comedy, and Smith's satiric jabs at television and commercial sponsors (a pivotal moment in one game is interrupted for a "much more important" message from the ever-present Friendly Financial Company, whose commercials are a running joke during coverage of the games).

It tells of a time when baseball was an ingrained part of the American culture, when teams were part of the very fabric of the cities they played in (as the Dodgers were when they played in Brooklyn), and when the idea of a cat owner/mascot wasn't perhaps all that outrageous. And of course it's perfectly believable that baseball players, a superstitious lot since the game began, would become convinced that petting a cat before going to bat would bring them good luck.

Best of all is Rhubarb himself - one source says fourteen cats were used to portray him, with the prime cat being a tiger named Orangey. His transformation from feral loner to tycoon to good-luck charm is the stuff dreams are made of.

Smith's original book spawned two sequels, neither matching the charm and outrageousness of Rhubarb. As both novel and movie, it is the essential baseball story - the tale of a team and its lucky cat.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Opera Wednesday

Fidelio, Beethoven's only opera, is generally considered a testiment to freedom. It tells the story of Leonore, a woman who disguises herself as a prison guard named "Fidelio" in order to rescue her husband from death in a political prison.

Beethoven struggled with this opera, including writing four different overtures to it before settling into a final version. It's a challenging opera, but seldom fails to stir. And since Leonore successfully frees her husband, it stands as an opera rareity: a drama with a happy ending!

In this clip, the great Christa Ludwig sings of the need to always retain hope - although she is close to despair, thoughts of her husband Florestan keep her going. Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin? ... Komm, Hoffnung, lass den letzten Stern ["Scum! Where are you going? ... Come, hope, let the last star"]).

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Remembering Ted Kennedy

Honor Guard Accidentally Drops Ted Kennedy’s Casket in Chappaquiddick Water

(BOSTON, MA – August 30) What started out as a solemn day turned tragic Saturday when the honor guard escorting Senator Edward M. Kennedy to his final resting place took a wrong turn and accidentally dropped the Senator’s casket off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island.

The incident occurred as the hearse was transporting Kennedy to Logan Airport in Boston for the flight to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington. While en route, the hearse’s driver inexplicably took a wrong turn and detoured some 100 miles, including a ferryboat ride, before winding up on the bridge, which spans the island's Poucha Pond.

At that point, the back door of the hearse suddenly and without warning flew open, allowing the casket to fall out, skidding off the side of the bridge before flipping over and landing upside down in the water, where it remained visible for only a moment before tipping downward and sinking slowly to the bottom. Several members of the honor guard repeatedly dove into the water in a desperate but ultimately futile attempt to free Kennedy’s trapped body from its watery grave.

Undertaker Richard Bruce, who supervised the arrangements for the late Senator’s funeral, remained cautiously optimistic. “Of course, this is a most unfortunate situation, most unfortunate” Bruce said. “We can only hope that the Senator’s mortal remains were able to find the air pocket that the Poseidon 3000 [casket] creates as a result of its patented hermetically sealed lid. It is, naturally, our finest model, and we are confident that its lacquered walnut and polished bronze exterior should be able to keep the water out of the plush velvet interior for several hours. Fortunately, we understand that the suit in which [Kennedy] was buried was made of wash-and-wear material.”

Sheriff Arch Brahmin, reporting from the scene of the accident, said a team of trained divers was preparing a search-and-rescue mission. He acknowledged, however, that the task would be made more difficult by the fact that the honor guard apparently waited sixteen hours before reporting the accident, passing several homes and a fire station without stopping to phone authorities and advise them of what had happened.

“It’s frustrating, sure, but you can’t prepare for everything,” Brahmin said. “After all, how many times does something like this happen?”
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