Thursday, August 31, 2017


NBC Sports Network is running the annual retro promo for the 61st Annual Rebel 500 (see previous articles for the reason I refer to the race as such) in Florence, and they have made a huge error in their promotions for the mid-1980's theme of this year's NASCAR Throwback Round.  Look at the Peacock logo used by NBC for the weekend and the 2017, not 1976, NASCAR logo being used.  Historically NASCAR has used 1950's logos for this weekend, but why is NBC using the 1960's Peacock instead of the 1980's era logos that was a mix of the 1970's "N" with a Peacock logo that's different from the logo currently used since 1986 when the era being promoted is different?

Is it a bit too peculiar to catch those retro mistakes in what is an annual retro round?  It just caught my attention that NBC was making mistakes in pushing the era this year compared to using period-correct NBC logos.  Are we coming to an era soon where retro will be caught for being correct or not?  Note this year that retro is even being pushed by some NASCAR teams in using vintage logos (Chip Ganassi Racing's unveil of Jamie McMurray's McDonald's Commodore features some retro looks, and the video used a vintage logo and vintage looks!).

And speaking of such, Sybarite5, which I've had the chance to see, posted this week something that fits with the retro round.  Rather listen to them than bad rock music!  An interesting take on Europop of that era from a group I've seen live!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Opera Wednesday

From Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), one of the most famous arias: "Der Hölle Rache," performed by the Queen of the Night herself, in this case on of the best, Diana Damrau.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

NYC's shakedown of Whole Foods worked: leftists get anti-ObamaCare frocer in coup

Amazon's takeover of Whole Foods Market, which I noticed was made after the Texas grocer was shaken down by New York authorities in a clear political attack for CEO John Mackey's opposition to socialised medicine that started in a 2009 Wall Street Journal article and later interviews on Fox News, is nearly complete.

Their strategy to cut prices will likely attack the long-standing policies of buying from farms within a 150 mile (240 km) radius and pushing food from that area in order to buy more from the larger farms, meaning sadly one of their virtues in buying from farmers we love in our area could be coming to an end.  I enjoy buying produce, meat and eggs from many local farms in our area (Wil-Moore, Doko, and others at the farmers' markets) and have built relationships with such farmers over the years. Whole Foods' relationship with many farmers will be under attack thanks to Amazon's likely game plan to cut costs at the expense of local farmers.

The Seattle retailer's new plans will discard loyalty programmes we see at other grocers but require for the major discounts Amazon Prime, which is over $100 annually that is best known for offering X-rated programming that pushes the Left's propaganda, which as we've noticed recently, a report from Parents Television Council notes the domination of TV-MA, the television equivalent of the NC-17 rating at movies, in premium streaming services;  Amazon's original content features liberal propaganda that Americans have rejected, but critics love at the awards shows.  Amazon pushed sexual perversion in one such award-winning show as they are one of television's New Big Four.

Also beware that they will become part of The Washington BLEEP's empire to push Starbucks' values and be the complete opposite of what made them a top notch grocer, which is the free market. Will this be the end of local farms' work with them as Seattle Values replaces the ideals of John Mackey?  I fear the local farmers that will lose their top distributor under Seattle Values.

This was the full article as posted by Mr. Mackey.  It is evident the shakedown of them began for his opposition to socialism, and the result is one of the Left's power brokers shook them down.  Because of the possibility of actions by The Washington BLEEP, I've decided to post it in its entirety before it could be removed by the said organisation after its takeover.  His analysis on the "Standard American Diet," as is called by the Keatleys of the Base 10 Method gymnasium and Health-Bent cooking site, and something I've known through my long term association with dancer Caroline Lewis Jones for many years in both taking dance and studying food, this analysis is absolutely correct.


 Health Care Reform

"The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money" —Margaret Thatcher.

With a projected $1.8 trillion deficit for 2009, several trillions more in deficits projected over the next decade, and with both Medicare and Social Security entitlement spending about to ratchet up several notches over the next 15 years as Baby Boomers become eligible for both, we are rapidly running out of other people's money. These deficits are simply not sustainable and they are either going to result in unprecedented new taxes and inflation or they will bankrupt us.

While we clearly need health care reform, the last thing our country needs is a massive new health care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits and moves us much closer to a complete governmental takeover of our health care system. Instead, we should be trying to achieve reforms by moving in the exact opposite direction-toward less governmental control and more individual empowerment. Here are eight reforms that would greatly lower the cost of health care for everyone:

1. Remove the legal obstacles which slow the creation of high deductible health insurance plans and Health Savings Accounts. The combination of high deductible health insurance and Health Savings Accounts is one solution that could solve many of our health care problems. For example, Whole Foods Market pays 100% of the premiums for all our team members who work 30 hours or more per week (about 89% of all team members) for our high deductible health insurance plan, and provides up to $1,800 per year in additional health care dollars through deposits into their own Personal Wellness Accounts to spend as they choose on their own health and wellness. Money not spent in one year rolls over to the next and grows over time. Our team members therefore spend their own health care dollars until the annual deductible is covered (about $2,500) and the insurance plan kicks in. This creates incentives to spend the first $2,500 more carefully. Our plan's costs are much lower than typical health insurance, while providing a very high degree of team member satisfaction.

2. Change the tax laws so that that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have exactly the same tax benefits. Right now employer health insurance benefits are fully tax deductible for employers but private health insurance is not. This is unfair.

3. Repeal all state laws which prevent insurance companies from competing across state lines. We should all have the legal right to purchase health insurance from any insurance company in any state and we should be able use that health insurance wherever we live. Health insurance should be portable everywhere.

4. Repeal all government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover. These mandates have increased the cost of health insurance many billions of dollars. What is insured and what is not insured should be determined by individual health insurance customer preferences and not through special interest lobbying.

5. Enact tort reform to end the ruinous lawsuits that force doctors into paying insurance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. These costs are ultimately being passed back to us through much higher prices for health care.

6. Make health care costs transparent so that consumers will understand what health care treatments cost. How many people know what their last doctor's visit cost? What other goods or services do we as consumers buy without knowing how much they will cost us? We need a system where people can compare and contrast costs and services.

7. Enact Medicare reform: we need to face up to the actuarial fact that Medicare is heading towards bankruptcy and move towards greater patient empowerment and responsibility.

8. Permit individuals to make voluntary tax deductible donations on their IRS tax forms to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren't covered by Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP or any other government program.

Many promoters of health care reform believe that people have an intrinsic ethical right to health care-to universal and equal access to doctors, medicines, and hospitals. While all of us can empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have any more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have an intrinsic right to food, clothing, owning their own homes, a car or a personal computer? Health care is a service which we all need at some point in our lives, but just like food, clothing, and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually-beneficial market exchanges rather than through government mandates. A careful reading of both The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter, because there isn't any. This "right" has never existed in America.

Even in countries such as Canada and the U.K., there is no intrinsic right to health care. Rather, citizens in these countries are told by governmental bureaucrats what health care treatments and medicines they are eligible to receive and when they can receive them. All countries with socialized medicine ration health care by forcing their citizens to wait in lines to receive scarce and expensive treatments. Although Canada has a population smaller than California, 830,000 Canadians are waiting to be admitted to a hospital or to get treatment. In England, the waiting list is 1.8 million citizens. At Whole Foods we allow our team members to vote on what benefits they most want the company to fund on their behalf. Our Canadian and British team members express their benefit preferences very clearly-they want supplemental health care more than additional paid time off, larger donations to their retirement plans, or greater food discounts; they want health care dollars that they can control and spend themselves without permission from their governments. Why would they want such additional health care benefit dollars to spend if they already have an "intrinsic right to health care"? The answer is clear: no such right truly exists in either Canada or the U.K. or in any other country.

Rather than increase governmental spending and control, what we need to do is address the root causes of disease and poor health. This begins with the realization that every American adult is responsible for their own health. Unfortunately many of our health care problems are self-inflicted with over 2/3 of Americans now overweight and 1/3 obese. Most of the diseases which are both killing us and making health care so expensive-heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and obesity, which account for about 70% of all health care spending, are mostly preventable through proper diet, exercise, not smoking, minimal or no alcohol consumption, and other healthy lifestyle choices.

Over the past two decades, breakthrough scientific research by Colin Campbell, as documented in his book The China Study, and clinical medical experiences by many doctors including Dean Ornish, Caldwell Esselstyn, John McDougall, Joel Fuhrman, and Neal Barnard have shown that a diet consisting of whole foods which are plant-based, nutrient dense, and low-fat will help prevent and often reverse most of the degenerative diseases that are killing us, and becoming more and more expensive to treat through drugs and surgery. We should be able to live healthy and largely disease free lives until we are well into our 90's and even past 100 years of age.

Health care reform in America is very important. Whatever reforms are enacted it is essential that they be financially responsible and that we have the freedom to choose our own doctors and the health care services that best suit our own unique set of lifestyle choices. We are responsible for our own lives and our own health. We should take that responsibility very seriously and use our freedom to make wise lifestyle choices that will protect our health. Doing so will enrich our personal lives and will help create a vibrant and sustainable American society.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Ray Marshall, R.I.P.

It was back in the early days of this blog: thirteen years ago, days so far back in the mists of time that I never visit them anymore. It wasn't quite back when dragons roamed the world, but it might as well have been, to judge by how long ago it feels. In those days, the blog was called "Our Word and Welcome to It," and the word usually had to do with Catholicism and its place in the world. We had a lively readership in those days, probably a larger one than we have now, part of the reason being that the Catholic blogosphere was a contentious place to be. Once you were able to get your own little hook in place, find a patch of controversy you could call your own, you were guaranteed a readership that would turn up to hear the latest news in whatever chapter of whatever war it was that you were covering. We had our share of those, back then, until it become obvious to me that these flame wars were a waste not only of time but of good writing - as well as a definite threat to one's sanity and spiritual well-being.

It was then that I first met Ray Marshall. I don't quite remember how I actually met him, whether he'd commented on one of my articles, or he'd contacted me by email.In any event, we struck up an acquaintanceship, and soon he had his own website as well, Stella Borealis Catholic Roundtable, in which he tried to keep people in the Twin Cities up-to-date on things going on in the Archdiocese, whether events or things happening behind the scenes. It wasn't like some of those other blogs I mentioned; he didn't generally pick fights with other bloggers, although he wouldn't back down if the integrity of the faith was in question. He tried to keep things from getting personal, and for the most part he succeeded, because it was really difficult to imagine anyone not liking Ray. There was an honesty and integrity about him, and although I don't pretend that I knew him as well as most people who called him a friend, I can't think that they would have seen him much differently.

Occasionally, when I was battling with a deadline working on one of my book projects (especially the ones that have yet to see the light of day), he would pitch in and write a guest blog or two, and in the days before Blogger allowed you to post-date an article, I gave him access to the site so he could post some of my pieces when I was out of town and unable to do them myself. In turn, I was one of the few people who was able to post to Stella Borealis, which I considered a privilege. When we would have one of our local blog get-togethers, it was Ray who would up taking the responsibility to get people together, because he was a persuasive kind of guy.

Over the years, this blog evolved. I'd joked to Ray once, after a particularly frustrating time, that I was going to change it to an all-opera format. He laughed, and then was startled when the next two articles were, indeed, about opera. While I didn't wind up going in that direction, I formed what began as a companion site, dedicated to classic television, which became more successful and more fulfilling than I ever could have hoped. This blog veered away from religion into a far more diverse subject matter; while we never entirely abandoned Catholicism (witness my recurring commentary on the pope), we also discussed politics, literature, sports, and just about anything else anyone wanted to write about. We changed the name of the blog, partly because I was tired of the old name. And as I drifted out of the Catholic blogosphere, and then moved out of the state, I didn't come in contact with Ray that often, although we remained Facebook friends, and I kind of remained in contact with him through mutual friends. When we moved back to Minnesota earlier this year, he was one of the people we'd hoped to see again.

Late Friday night, I got an IM from our friend Janice that Ray had died. What? Now, his health had always teetered back and forth; still, it was a shock. She'd been closer to him than we had, so it was especially rough on her, which made it doubly shocking on us. In the thirteen years that this blog has existed, under its multiple names and with its revolving casts of writers, I suppose I've been fortunate that I haven't had to write something like this until now. No editor ever likes to do so, particularly when it's a friend about whom he writes.

It is very much a cliché that words are meaningless at times like these, which is only partially true, because words of supplication - prayers - are of great meaning, and I'll get to them in a minute. But it should be known that Ray Marshall was a good soldier, a man who tried to do the right thing as he saw it. When he started his blog it was to inform people with what he thought was important for them to know, even though he'd never done anything like it before. He sang in a local Catholic schola because he enjoyed it, and he felt it important to enrich the beauty of worship, even though when he started he'd had no experience. In other words, he didn't just sit back and wait for someone else to do it. He lived his faith.

In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.

May the angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs receive you at your arrival and lead you to the holy city Jerusalem. May choirs of angels receive you and with Lazarus, once poor, may you have eternal rest.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The odds are against them

A few years ago I wrote a piece called "Is Art a Masculine Thing?", which you can read here. I thought it was a timely piece then, and I think it still is today, so it's no surprise I'd be drawn to Dreher's article from a couple of days ago on why young men of faith are seemingly drawn to the alt-Right. The short answer, and in light of today's culture it shouldn't be surprising, is that these groups offer them the chance for something they aren't getting anywhere else.

It isn't often that I tell you simply to go somewhere and read an article without elaborating on it myself, but that's pretty much what I'm going to do here. It's partly because I don't have enough time to do it justice, but mostly because it's hard to pick and choose when the whole thing makes a unified argument. I'll give you one part of it to go on, then the rest's up to you:

They are boys searching for meaning and purpose. They wish to be warriors, but they see no dragons to slay. They want to be heroes, but they can find no one to save. Instead, they are told that they are the monsters, it is they from whom others must be saved. If they want to do their part, they can kindly walk to a dark corner, sit down, be quiet, and wait to die. If they want a few bonus points, a few nods of approvals from their masters (who are overwhelmingly all women, K-12), they can turn traitor against their sex, and ritually abase themselves and beg penance for the sins of all men. They can read stories and write essays about weak men and strong women. They can write poems about evil men and victimized, and therefore virtuous, women. They can be “allies”, second-class citizens in the righteous war against patriarchy, and seek whatever scraps of meaning they can find from slandering their own fathers and grandfathers


By contrast, girls are actively encouraged at every opportunity. Girls are constantly told to be more confident, to speak more often and more loudly, to be a leader, to be rebellious. There are camps, scholarships, guest speakers, and STEM workshops, all for girls only. It’s a 24/7 pep rally. Obedient women don’t make history, et cetera. The boys grow more sullen, and the girls grow more contemptuous of boys.

Surely that's provocative enough for you to read more, isn't it?

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Throwback Thursday: You do not have a right to ransack

Social Justice is the Left's phrase for the type of extremist changes they demand, whether it is racial, social, or sexual justice that they demand.

The "social justice" over a habitual offender's defiance of police, leading to his death, was endorsed by the mayor of Baltimore, who called it freedom of speech to loot and demolish.  A CVS store in Baltimore was ransacked and burned by thugs rioting over the habitual offender's death, and when police tried to fight the fire, protesters slashed fire hoses to let the store burn, all in the name of "social justice," the Left's magic words awarding specific groups rights to ransack others based on their feelings, whether it is an Oregon bakery ($135,000 fine for not advancing the cause of erotic liberty), a Maryland pharmacy, a Missouri fuel station, or even colleges attempting to show a popular movie about an American soldier, it does not matter.

In their mind, certain groups they claim to be "oppressed" have the right to demolish others' rights, and in some cases, property, in order to create social justice for these groups.  If you offend these groups, you will be punished.  But if you offend groups they hate, it is fair game and they cannot be defended.  These groups demanding justice have popular culture in their control.  Whether it is Occupy Wall Street's class warfare (see a grocer being looted in Oakland), or it is sexual justice activists targeting Christians who own businesses because they believe in a Biblical worldview instead of the one of the state in the eyes of these social justice activists, or police because they dared to defend themselves against thugs willing to ransack their cities, we have a problem with today's brand of social "justice".

How many times, especially in California, have we seen PIT maneuvers and "rattling the cage" used by police in an attempt to send a motorist on the run into armco in order to end a dangerous pursuit?  In the "social justice" world, the thug has more rights than the law abiding citizens.  Those who just happen to believe in the same worldview as these protesters now have control.

What a sad state of affairs in this country when the wants of a few to have "social justice" means everyone else has no rights.  It's clear with this Administration who is a protected class, and who must be punished.  And yet these thugs are the ones in total charge now.

Enough is enough.  Whether it is Christians or policemen, time to stop these attacks based on social justice.  Be responsible.  You do not have a right to ransack who you want because your little protected group was not given the rights you demanded.

IN THE INTEREST OF FULL DISCLOSURE:  Mr. Chang is a shareholder in CVS Health.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Opera Wednesday

You'll understand when I say I don't want you to take this the wrong way. I'm grateful to live in a city that has live opera; when we lived in the Metroplex, we had two, and here in the Twin Cities, we're fortunate to have one that has frequently staged good productions, some very good.

That's why I wondered what we were to make earlier this month of a press release that announced a new mission, vision, and visual identity for said opera company, the Minnesota Opera. First things first, the new visual identity - or, as we used to call it, the logo. It's a flexible logo, we're told:

According to the press release, "The rotation of key letters within the logo shows the Minnesota Opera is always looking to present opera in unexpected ways." Now, I don't know about you, but when I see this, my first thought is, "Hey - it looks like someone kicked over the R!" Granted, that would be unexpected - I know of no reason why anyone would want to do such a thing, but there's no accounting for behavior anymore." Anyway, if the R was really flexible, it would have bounced back instead of laying on its back like a turtle, wouldn't it?

Then, there's the vision. I would have thought that the new logo - er, visual identity - was the vision, but apparently not. The vision, which tells you what the Minnesota Opera envisions, is - and I'm taking this verbatim, in it's entirety - "Minnesota Opera will sing every story." Which is a good thing, because if I'm not mistaken, an opera that doesn't sing its story is called a play. (An opera that only sings part of its story is called a musical, because it's usually rather lighthearted, unless it's sung in German, in which case it's called Singspiel, and it's probably written by Mozart. That would also be peformed at the Minnesota Opera, but it's probably best not to ask them to explain it.

Finally, we come to the mission. Again, I might have thought that the mission was to sing the story, while the vision was the new logo, but be that as it may, the vision of the Minnesota Opera is as follows: "Minnesota Opera changes lives by bringing together artists, audiences and community, advancing the art of opera for today and for future generations." Actually, as mission statements go, that's not a bad one, although you can tell it was probably crafted by a committee; I might have suggested something a little simpler, such as "Minnesota Opera makes lives better by introducing to them the pleasure that only opera can bring, performed to the very best of our ability."

So that's our hometown opera. If I sound a bit harsh, I really don't mean to. Regular readers know I've hammered away at them for years, and now that we're back I expect I'll probably pick up where I left out, but it's only done because I care. I'm underwhelmed by the new season, but again that's nothing new; it seeems as if every year I'm left pleading for the MN Opera (I'll have to get used to the new nomenclature, I guess) to go back into its heritage and produce some of the underperformed works of the past, and not simply to keep commissioning new works. I'll grant you Silent Night, and there have probably been noble efforts here and there, but certainly, in these volatile political times, someone could spare a thought for The Consul or The Crucible, both Pulitzer winners, couldn't they?

Anyway, a fella can dream, can't he? If the MN Opera wer to put one of those on, I'd get so excited I might just flip a letter myself.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Why baseball has lost its appeal

I went to a baseball game today as part of a corporate outing. It was acutally a very pleasant day - I work with one of the best groups of people possible, we were in a private box courtesy of team mangement (their president is on our organization's board), and we were treated wonderfully.

Yes, it was a wonderful day - if you discount the game itself. The reason why - well, that seemed like the perfect excuse for this throwback to 2014.


It occurs to me that although I never liked baseball as much as I did football, back in the days when I liked them both*, there was something about the drama and romance of baseball that I did like.  Call it the concept of baseball, if you like.  One of the reasons I'm still drawn to vintage broadcasts of old games is that it captures for me the essence of what I liked about baseball: the increasing excitement and tension as a pitcher worked his way in to the late innings of a possible no-hitter, the announcers following the time-honored tradition of dancing verbally around what was happening; the creeping shadows of the light towers and flagpoles as they inched their way across the infield during a day game; the whispered conversations at the mound in the late innings of a tight World Series game, with bunting hanging from the railings and the rising rows of faces of fans captured in the background; the very nature of the World Series itself as the early October showdown between the two best teams in baseball, in the days before interleague play and endless playoffs.  It's not quite the "Green Cathedrals" schlock you here, but it will do.

*Now, I have little time for either of them, at least at the professional level.

As I read back through that paragraph, what strikes me the most is that most of the charm of baseball had to do with the evolution of things - the late innings of a no-hitter, the creeping shadows, the seventh game of a World Series that was the culmination of an entire season of baseball. For some, the attraction of the game was Opening Day, when the umpires cried, "Play Ball!", when every team shared first place, and the hopes of remaining there at the end of the season; for me it was the time after the Seventh Inning Stretch, crunch time, money time, the clock about ready to strike midnight.  I don't quite know what that means, but I like the thought of it.

However, as my interest in the game has faded beyond indifference, it's been much harder to find the words to describe why.  There's the pace of the game, which makes a glacier look like an F1 racer; the endless situational substitutions, which end any momentum a game might have had and thrust most post-season games far beyond even my bedtime, the emphasis on sabermetrics, which makes a simple game much harder to comprehend; the endless commercials, which makes a fidgety fellow like me want to change the channel even in the middle of a no-hitter (which I actually did once; predictably, I missed no action.)  There's the drug scandal, the diffidence of players who are clearly in it for the money, the lack of roster cohesiveness from one season to the next.  When one looks at the deteriorating national TV ratings for baseball, I'm right there with them.

I finally found something that begins to describe why I've stopped being interested in baseball; this column by Grantland's Charles F. Pierce, on the tenure of Commissioner Bud Selig, sums up quite nicely the near-revulsion I have toward the game, the kind of disdain that only a former fan can have.  As Pierce points out, the game is now run by corporations disguised as businessmen, with an eye mostly for the bottom line, and governed by a commissioner who's nothing more than a lackey for the owners.  Pierce writes that "with Bud Selig, the office of the commissioner of baseball finally, completely, and probably perpetually became a management position." In other words, the suits run the game, and in this case I'm not talking about umpires, who don't wear suits anymore anyway, and whose out-of-control egos are just another part of the problem.

I want you to read Pierce's article, so I'm not going to say much more about it other than that it's clear to me that anyone who doesn't have a lifelong love of baseball, who doesn't have a team that they live and die with (even marginally), who doesn't have a memory of how the game used to be when, in the words of the HBO series, "it was a game," is probably going to read this and see everything that's wrong with the sport, and very little of what's right.  I still get great pleasure watching old World Series games from the '50s and '60s, even though I already know who's going to win, even if it's not the team I was rooting for, even though I may have seen the game two or three times already.  The fact that I find that more exciting than a "live" game, with the outcome hanging in the balance, is a sad commentary - and I use the word "sad" deliberately.

Here are Pierce's closing words, but again check out the article in full:
That will be Selig’s legacy — success and labor peace and nothing that ever would disturb the horses to discomfit the folks in the luxury boxes. Those people were his primary constituencies anyway. The rest of the game’s fans will be told to cheer Bud Selig into retirement for all he’s done for The Game. He has been a successful steward of the game’s economy. Why anyone outside of a boardroom would raise their voices for that is beyond me, but, as I said, I don’t get baseball at all.
It used to be said that rooting for the New York Yankees, back when they were in the Series every year and won most of them, was like "rooting for U.S. Steel."  We don't have U.S. Steel to root against anymore, so maybe we should just say that rooting for Major League Baseball in the era of Bud Selig is like rooting for the U.S Government.  Not a very appealing thought.

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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