Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Opera Wednesday

Borrowing a page from Mitchell's TV shows, we'll go to The Bell Telephone Hour for this week's Opera Wednesday: it's the incomparable Birgit Nilsson singing "In questa reggia" from Puccini's Turandot in a broadcast from April 11, 1963, with Donald Voorhees conducts the Bell Telephone Hour Opera Orchestra.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The new fascists and the end of America

As I've said many times in the past , I draw my inspiration from unusual places. Today, it comes from one of the classic TV blogs I frequent. At Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, Ivan Shreve describes a time that was perhaps a bit too thrilling, a what-if scenario that supposes the British were defeated at Dunkirk, that the Germans invaded in July of 1940, and that World War II took a very different turn. It's all explored in the 1966 movie It Happened Here, and the title of Ivan's article is the thought for the day - really, the thought that everyone ought to keep in mind: "The appalling thing about fascism is that you've got to use fascist methods to get rid of it."

This, of course, would come as no surprise to the new fascists, the campus fanatics trying to destroy any kind of speech that doesn't align with their own belief system. To them, coining a phrase, "error has no rights"; in other words, some thoughts are so egregious, so clearly wrong, that there can be no protection for them, no allowance for letting people consider them and make up their own minds. To the new fascists (and, really, there's nothing new about them), these thoughts are by their very nature dangerous, so dangerous that they cannot even be allowed to see the light of day, and so must be squashed, often in the name of freedom or some such nonsense. In order to prevent people from being hurt, one must hurt; in order to allow people to be free, others must be made less free; in order for all to be equal, some must be superior. Truly, it would make the Fool Killer shake his head and walk away, overwhelmed by the magnitude of his opportunity.

And it proves the point of Ivan's quote: fascism, which is what these people purport to fight (although I doubt they really know what fascism is, because they're ignorant people and they refuse to acknowledge their own behavior), can only be defeated in two ways, and one of them is by resorting to the very same weapon. The other is by education, which is antithetical to the ways and means of the new fascists, for what they call "education" is what a civilized man knows as "brainwashing," or perhaps even torture.

All this is important because of what we see happening down south. As Dreher points out, when the Civil War statues are pulled down and the police do nothing to stop it, a line is crossed, and this is when it ceases to matter which ideological side one is on. It is then that we come to the true meaning behind the founding of the United States, and the importance of the Rule of Law. It is often said that we are a government of laws, not of men, but since the rise of Oprah and the dominance of feelings over logic, this time has been coming, and is now here. When we reach the point where the law can be nullified based on how we feel, then the law loses its moral authority; when the white supremacists begin to pull down the statues of Martin Luther King Jr. and desecrate the monuments to the heroes of the civil rights movements, the same fascists who destroyed defenestrated the names of Lee and Jackson will wail and gnash their teeth, begging the authorities to intervene on their behalf. And what will their rationale be? That Truth demands it? But, in the words of Pilate's eternal question, what is truth? When gender is what you say it to be, when marriage is what you say it to be, when there is no percentage to logic and words mean whatever the situation demands, then is not truth whatever you say it to be? I'll tell you, the police are going to find it pretty damn hard to enforce laws based on that kind of truth.

That, my friends, is why we live in a government of laws and not of men. It's because the law has to apply equally to all in all situations, and it's why the new fascists have just forfeited that protection with their actions this week. Over the decades we've gotten used to the idea that things will turn out all right in the end because they always have, and besides how else can they turn out? Dreher says there won't be a separation, because geography no longer is the determinant of the fissure lines. Maybe that's the case, but Dreher is always a great one for saying what isn't going to happen; he's not very good at saying what is going to happen. And my feeling is that if you can't say what is going to happen, then why should we believe you when you tell us what isn't going to happen?

Logic, and gut feeling, suggest that this madness can't continue much longer without something happening. Not every civil war is fought along geographical lines, but almost every one is bloody. While Google practices intellectual genocide, while the new fascists eviscerate any trace of law, the pressure inside the cooker builds, and builds. When it blows, as it must, it will not be a pretty site. And if the best we can do is keep pressing down on the bubble when it pops up, we know it will simply pop up again somewhere else.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Isn't this what we knew?

We have noted this for years, but the Parents Television Council released a report last week that proved the point I've made regarding the content of streaming services are on level with X-rated material that is "too hot for movies" or "too hot for television," since if those films were shown in the silver screen, they would be NC-17, and the Kyle Busch Rule would be in effect to prohibit anyone under 17 from attending any film being shown at the time or even working the concession stands.

The hardest point of the report, according to the statement, was that the clear majority, with one service clocking at a near two out of three original or exclusive programming being rated TV-MA, the equivalent of an NC-17 rating in the movies.  With no worries about censors or sponsors, they continue to send inappropriate programming and get critics to promote these shows over network television shows with regulations.  Once again, this idea of premium television is the only way to go is showing how they are promoting X-rated programming.  Here is the summary.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Kaepernick

This whole Colin Kaepernick thing is fascinating for many reasons, not the least of which being that there are so many sides to it all. Dreher points out a lot of them, and I'd actually been thinking along those lines myself. I mean, it's hard enough for me to have pride in a country that sanctions the murder of unborn children, encourages (in some cases) the murder of the elderly and infirm, demands that Christians kowtow to prevailing opinion on things like homosexual marriage, and the like. And that doesn't even begin to get into questions like sending young men and women into combat for reasons that don't clearly present themselves.

So make no mistake about it, I understand where someone could be coming from with this stand. And I do think Kaepernick has the right to do what he's doing; whether or not the First Amendment applies to private industry, there's still such a thing as freedom of political expression in this country - at least for now. Provided that one recognizes the possibility of blowback for their actions, there should be no question about having the right to take a political stand. For years blacks had what they thought of as their own national anthem, so this itself is nothing new.

I also don't go for the idea that his actions somehow "disrespect" the military. While the military may well be credited for winning American independence in the Revolution, the truth of the matter is that this army was led by a politician - George Washington - and was spurred to action by an entire Congress of politicians, the Founding Fathers. It is no lack of respect of America's armed forces to say that the National Anthem stands for more than just them. To say so might actually disrespect the rest of America. The Anthem belongs to all of us, after all. It does seem that in the last few years we've turned almost every major holiday in this country, with the exception of Christmas, Easter, and Valentine's Day, into some type of tribute to our soldiers. Let's honor them by all means, but leave us not turn everything into a cause célèbre. 

Things get murkier when it comes down to the case of Kaepernick specifically. This may blow my cover when it comes to how much I pay attention to the NFL, but until this I didn't even know that Kaepernick was partly black. I just saw a scruffy guy with a beard and a lot of tats, and when you put him in a football uniform there isn't much else showing. That's why I was confused when this first came to light, because I wondered what was in it for him. Now I understand that a little better, but it hardly answers my questions. Most of these questions have been raised by others, but that very fact means they're good questions:

  1. How much has Kaepernick himself done for the black community? Does he pledge money? Does he have a foundation or charity? Has he personally become involved with the families of any of the people he claims are laying dead in the streets?

  2. Does Kaepernick really believe we should be taking him seriously when he's making as much money as he is? Being a celebrity doesn't mean you sacrifice your right to have an opinion, of course, but when you've been as much of a success in America as Colin Kaepernick has, any complaints about inequality and lack of freedom tend to ring hollow. Has he done anything to overcome this?

  3. Speaking of which, how much discrimination has Kaepernick himself faced? To the extent he hasn't been singled out, could it be because he's lighter-skinned than many blacks? And from there, does this open up a larger discussion about attitudes toward light-skinned blacks in the greater black community? Do they have a hierarchy themselves?

  4. I have a hard time believing Kaepernick's sincerity considering he's become a borderline quarterback who stands a good chance of being cut by the 49ers before the start of the season. Why is it that I'm cynical enough to believe he's either (a) trying to deflect attention from his failures on the playing field by trying to curry favor with blacks and liberals; (b) trying to prevent the 49ers from releasing them by setting them up to appear racists and reactionaries if they do; (c) hoping another team will see positive PR coming from picking him up; or (d) a combination of the above? Note that I'm not accusing him of any of this - I'm merely saying that a cynic might think so. Not that there's any room for cynicism in professional sports. Not at all.

  5. Finally, how much does this reflect on Kaepernick's leadership? As the quarterback he is, as one wag put it, the CEO of the team (at least on the field). Does he show leadership by refusing to stand with his teammates as one on the sideline? Does he show leadership by calling attention to himself and his individual actions, rather than the team as a whole? Does he show leadership by creating such a distraction? You tell me.
Truth be told, I find the discussion about Kaepernick far more interesting than Kaepernick himself, which might be the cruelest cut of all if he is in fact just trolling for publicity. Dreher asks a couple of pertinent questions, and where I break severely with him is in the way I react to them:

We may see no contradiction between being a good Christian and a good American, but what happens when Americans as a whole look at dissenting Christians and call us un-American for the things we believe and do? Will we stand for the National Anthem then? If so, will we stand for the America we think is real, versus this politicized, debased America that the mainstream holds to? Or will it be more important for us not to stand, and to accept whatever consequences come with that?


What will it cost us if we lose the ability to stand together for the National Anthem? Is it worth what we stand to gain

Dreher typically reacts with horror to this thought, of America breaking up, but I don't; I've a hard time thinking of this as a unified country for some time. Dreher craves order, and freaks out when there's even a whiff of anarchy (and I don't mean the French Revolution kind); were it not for that, I wonder if he wouldn't be able to see that this ship sailed a long, long time ago. We're split, not just on ideological disagreements, but increasingly on fundamental questions of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When I ask the questions I did in my opening paragraph, I'm not just wondering about a hypothetical situation - it already exists. Dreher, for as pessimistic as he is, only intellectualizes that we might have passed the point of no return, when the only question is whether the split is peaceful or not. For many of us, thought, the upside of such a split continues to seem far greater than the downside of remaining one nation, even though it may not be under God (or so we think, anyway) and doesn't offer either liberty or justice for all. 

I think the time is coming, and in fact is already here. We just haven't felt the shockwaves yet.

Originally published August 30, 2016

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Opera Wednesday

Besides being perhaps the first great British composer of opera since Purcell, Benjamin Britten was a superb composer of orchestral music. Here we see an example of both traits, in the four Sea Interludes from the opera Peter Grimes. They're often performed, as here, in an orchestral suite, and while they're very impressive, they're even more powerful when taken in the context of the opera.

This is Sakari Oramo, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Proms in 2013.

Monday, August 7, 2017

What's in a word?

While I was working out tonight, I noticed one of the gym television was tuned in to CNN (you don't think I'd have my own TV tuned to that, do you?), and their political shout show had the headline "Trump Can't Stop Tweeting."

Now, since I wasn't listening to the show or reading the captioning, I don't know if they meant he can't stop tweeting, or won't stop tweeting. One implies a psychological condition which, I'm sure, the network's political correspondents are eminently qualified to diagnose; the other, a determination (or at least stubbortnness) on the part of Trump to do whatever he wants to do, regardless of the consequences. I lean toward the second interpretation myself, but the phrasing certainly implies the first one. But CNN wouldn't intentionally want to imply that now, would they?

That would be kind of like - oh, I don't know - saying that CNN was obsessed with Donald Trump. Does it mean they have a clinical fixation on him, or that they're merely operating with a political agenda against him?

They report, we decide.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Classic TV Friday

There is a city about 20km from home in my county, off a short drive through United States Highway 178 and a quirky city name. Over a quarter century ago, it was the subject of a famous zing by Bill Cosby in his short-lived revival of Groucho Marx's You Bet Your Life that still is too funny, especially since I drive through that area if I want to head to Atlanta. I've even stopped there for strawberries during the peak season. Enjoy this whimsical look back at the time Bill Cosby zinged about a city in our county just 20km from home!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Ara Parseghian, R.I.P.

It was called "The Era of Ara," those eleven seasons when Ara Parseghian was the head coach at Notre Dame, and the Fighting Irish have really been spending the better part of a half-century trying to recapture that era. Lou Holtz won the games, but the was also a snake-oil salesman, and Ara Parseghian was never that. Dan Devine succeeded Parseghian and won a national title of his own, but even though he was Devine, he was never a God like Ara was (at least according to the students, who even Ara could make it stop snowing). Charlie Weiss was a big mouth, and Brian Kelly a hothead, and in-between there have been any number of poseurs and fakirs and the university itself has tarnished the image that once made every Catholic boy in the United States want to play football on its fields of green with the sun reflecting its golden rays on crisp autumn afternoons. The lesson to be learned is that legends can't be replicated, even at Notre Dame; there was only on Rockne, one Lehey, one Ara Parseghian.

I think Parseghian was one of those coaches who transcended sports; my wife, who's anything but a sports fan, remembers hearing about him growing up. He was probably the first college football coach I ever remembered. I was only six years old when he coached Notre Dame in one of the most famous college football games ever played, the controversial 10-10 "Game of the Century" with Michigan State in 1966, and I do have a vague recollection of that game, though not as clear as the 1973 Sugar Bowl, when the Fighting Irish beat Alabama 24-23 to finish the season as undefeated national champions. (As I've mentioned before, I got so worked up watching that game I was sick the next day, which means I've had the privilege of knowing what it feels like to have a hangover on New Year's Day without ever having had a drink.) He was already seen as a savior* when he arrived at Notre Dame from Northwestern following the 1963 season. The Irish had fallen on hard times, having all but ceased to be a player on the national scene, and Ara's Wildcats had made a regular practice of throttling Notre Dame in their annual games. Upon arriving in South Bend, Parseghian was given one task, and one only: return the school to football glory.

*It is, in fact, almost impossible to talk about Notre Dame without lapsing into religious imagery, no matter how hard one might try.

Now, whether or not anyone thought it would happen as quickly as it did, I'm not sure. Parseghian took a last-string quarterback, John Huarte, a player who'd never really been given any kind of chance by anyone else, and coached him to a Heisman Trophy in 1964. The team, which had finished 2-7 the year before, entered the final game of the 1964 season undefeated and ranked #1 in the country; they led USC 17-0 at halftime in Los Angeles before seeing the Trojans come back in heartbreaking fashion with a last-minute touchdown to win 20-17. The team returned to South Bend in the middle of the night, disconsolate - inconsolable, really; nothwithstanding how bad they'd been the previous year, they could only think of how close they'd come to winning it all - and then they found out on the bus trip back to campus from the airport that the people of South Bend had left their porch lights on, welcoming them back, back home.

It's important to know that backstory to appreciate the 10-10 tie in 1966, and why Parseghian played the end the way he did. I've written about the game here, what a hellacious buildup it had and how nobody'd really ever seen anything like it. Once again the team came to the end of the season (the next-to-last-game) with a shot at the title; with no bowl game to look forward to - Notre Dame did not play in bowls back then - the Fighting Irish had to get it done in the regular season. Their starting quarterback, Terry Hanratty, was knocked out in the first quarter, his backup, Coley O'Brien, was young, inexperienced, and diabetic. Hanratty wasn't the only starter to be injured, Michigan State (undefeated and ranked #2 themselves) had a large home crowd cheering them on, and the Spartans jumped out to a 10-0 lead before Notre Dame tied it 10-10 in the second half.

As the game wore on, with neither team able to take the lead, Parseghian kept his mind focused on one goal: the national championship. A loss by Notre Dame would end any chance of winning it. However, a tie would keep their hopes alive - this was the end of the season for Michigan State (with the Big 10's no-repeat rule, they weren't going bowling either), so they had no opportunity to improve their lot. The Irish, however, had one game remaining, the following week with USC, a chance to revenge 1964 and clinch 1966 all in one. He didn't exactly play for a tie, he insisted later, but he refused to take any chances that could result in a loss. His decision was scorned by many in the press, but it proved prescient; State sat home the following week as Notre Dame obliterated USC 51-0; the following week the AP voted the Irish national champions. After all the years of losing, after the anguish of 1964, Notre Dame was back.

As I said, they'd win again in 1973, and then after defeating Alabama in a rematch the following season in the Orange Bowl, ruining the Crimson Tide's undefeated season and a chance at the championship, Ara retired; the stress of big-time competition was, he said, getting to be too much for his health. He went into broadcasting, which we see all the time nowadays by coaches waiting for the next plum job opportunity to open up, but Parseghian was true to his word; he never coached again.
He was a television analyst until 1988, then worked for a medical foundation he'd created to fund research for a cure for Niemann-Pick disease, from which his family had suffered.

Jim Dent's wonderful book Resurrection (there's that religious imagery again) gives a vivid picture of life at Notre Dame prior to Parseghian's arrival, and Mike Celizik's The Biggest Game of Them All takes readers through that game against Michigan State, and the 1966 season in general. Both books present an impressive portrait of Parseghian as a man of integrity, committed to winning, yes - but also to his players, as well as to Notre Dame. You can agree or disagree with his decision in that 1966 game, the decision that really defined his career as a head coach, but Celizik makes a compelling case that even Michigan State players, over the years, came to acknowledge that if winning the championship is the end game, the goal of the season, then unquestionably Parseghian made the right choice.

Ara Parseghian died yesterday at the age of 94; I'd had a feeling about this, having read a week or two back that he'd been in the hospital or was going there, something like that. I don't know if Parseghian was a complex man or not, because I think in the end he was very straightforward. His reasoning was simple; the name of the game was winning. He was, though, a very compelling figure - charismatic, impressive, larger than life, a powerhouse. It was the Era of Ara, and now that era has come to a close.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Opera Wednesday

Over the years I think all of us here at In Other Words have at one time or another talked about how we should look to underperformed operas of the past before we start commissioning new operas (and, by the way, using precious dollars to do so). Obviously, that doesn't mean we should never commision new works, and in fact some of those new works can be pretty good. Unfortunately, too many of them go through a grand opening series, get performed in a few cities, and then disappear forever.

One of the operas that hasn't met that fate is Silent Night, the 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning opera by composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell, which tells the story of the 1914 World War I Christmas cease-fire. It's early, but Silent Night does show every indication of becoming a regular part of the contemporary opera repetoirie, with performances at least more frequently than many other newly commissioned works.

This clip, the conclusion to Act I, is from a 2013 performance at the Minnesota Opera, where Silent Night had its world premiere. The soloist is Karin Wolverton.

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