Thursday, December 28, 2006

This Just In

By Hadleyblogger Steve

Will U of Phoenix Byte the Bullet Against Capella?
Cycon Systems Cyber Bowl, 7pm EST Saturday, G4 Network

(Silicon Valley , CA) When the nation’s two top-rated on-line college football teams face off Saturday in the first-ever Cycon Systems Cyber Bowl, they'll be facing some unique challenges.

"Well, for starters, none of us have ever actually met each other in person," says Biff (“Byte”) Barwell, head coach of the top-rated University of Phoenix E-Falcons. "I mean we email a lot and share our plays in our weekly chat rooms, but it's going to be a little different actually doing them on a field. We frankly don't know how that will come off."

Their opponents in the e-contest from number-two ranked Capella University CyberRaiders agree. "It's going to be a crap shoot all right," says Capella coach Hubie (“Hard Drive”) Douglass. "Most of our guys are great gamers, they love playing the on-line stuff. We've even got one sophomore who’s done programming for Madden 2007. But I'm not sure he knows what a real football looks like."

Douglass was frank regarding some of the difficulties he faces in assembling his cyber-team for the first time. “Our middle linebacker, Otis ("Firewall") McCloskey, says on his MySpace profile that he’s 6’7” and weighs 350, and it turns out he’s really 5’8” and maybe 140 dripping wet. When I was [coaching] at Middle Valley Polytechnical I used to send my assistants out to scout the other team – this time I had to install spywear just to find out what my own players looked like.”

ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso discounted speculation that other schools, such as the DeVry University ROMs, were more deserving than Capella of the title shot against the E-Falcons. “This matchup might look one-sided on your monitor,” said Corso, sporting a large paper-mache-head replica of the CyberRaiders’ mascot, “Hacker,” but let me tell you this, my friend – everyone knows the real game is played down there on the field, not out somewhere in cyberspace. And on that field, where you replace chips and RAM with real flesh and blood, anything can happen.”

Although visits to the game’s website have been brisk, those hits have so far failed to translate to ticket sales, with fewer than 800 tickets having been sold for the game, to be played in 36,000-seat Spartan Stadium at San Jose State University. Game organizers admit that if demand doesn’t pick up soon, this year’s game may be the last. “Start-up bowl games always take some time to find their niche in the college sports landscape,” Cyber Bowl chairman Vic Miles said. “But we think we have a unique product to offer the viewing public. Maybe next year we’ll take a look at using virtual reality technology. That would give people a show!”

Preparation for the big game was disrupted for both teams yesterday when a main server went down in the middle of key strategy meetings. "My computer froze up for nearly an hour," said Coach Barwell, "By the time it came back up most of the guys had lost interest and were off surfing porn sites. Their attention spans are pretty short, actually."

Gerald Ford, R.I.P.

By Mitchell

I used to joke that when Gerald Ford died, it would probably appear in the obituary section of the paper under "Briefly Noted," with the headline, "Gerald Ford, was former President of the United States." And in truth, having heard the news before leaving for work yesterday, I admit that by the time I had gotten to the office I'd already forgotten it had happened - it was only seeing the bold headlines in the paper that reminded me. But he was president, after all, no matter how unusual the circumstances of his having gotten there, and he deserves all the trappings that go with the title, even in death.

For me, Gerald Ford exists primarily as the man who made us wait four more years for Ronald Reagan. It is telling that 1976 was the last year in which the identity of the presidential nominee was still unknown when the convention started. The idea that a challenger might deny the nomination to an incumbent - even an accidental incumbent such as Ford - was almost absurd, and yet Ronald Reagan almost pulled it off. In the end Ford may have won the delegates' votes, but as became apparent on the final night of the convention it was Reagan who won their hearts. The rap against Reagan was that he was too extremist, too conservative, too unelectable. Not only was Ford the safe choice, he also represented what was then the mainstream of the Republican Party (pro-choice, pro-Equal Rights Amendment) - the party whose grass roots still resembled the putting green at the country club.

And perhaps they were right - maybe it took four years of the most incompetent presidency in the 20th Century for Americans to understand that they were ready for Ronald Reagan. It is possible that Jimmy Carter would still have won that election, delegating Reagan to the historical dustbin along with so many other losing candidates of the past and future. Possible, perhaps, and I guess we'll have to leave it at that.

But we must remember that Carter barely won against an incumbent who hadn't been elected either president or vice president, representing a party that had just gone through the biggest political scandal in history, and having pardoned the man most Americans held responsible for the whole thing. Under those circumstances, is it really too much to believe that Ronald Reagan would have somehow won?

And what would have been the result of that? Would the Shah of Iran have fallen, would Khomeini have risen to power? Would the Iran-Iraq war have happened, would Saddam have remained in charge? Would the Soviets have invaded Afghanistan, would the Taliban have received American weapons? It's tempting to say that some of it, or none of it, would have happened - that the Shah would have remained in power, that the Wall would have fallen sooner, that things somehow would have changed for the better. Unprovable, but tempting.

The right thing would have been for Ford to step aside, to recognize that he was too closely tied to the problems the Republicans faced, that it was time for someone from outside the Beltway to lead the party in a new direction. Ronald Reagan was that man, and four years later the rest of the nation realized it as well.

I suppored Ford, staunchly if unenthusiastically, in his race against Jimmy Carter. Even though I wasn't yet old enough to vote - that would have to wait another four years, when my first presidential vote went to the Gipper - I was already in the thick of my political life. I sat next to Rudy Boschwitz (who in two years would be elected to the U.S. Senate) at a Republican meeting the night of the first Ford-Carter debate, and we watched the power outage that knocked out the audio feed of the debate. (Never again would presidential debates be quite as appealing to us as they were for those few minutes when nobody could hear the candidates.) I defended Ford, even in the aftermath of his seemingly absurd misstatement in which he declared emphatically that Eastern Europe was not under the domination of the Soviet Union. I displayed the proper amount of regret the morning after the election when I found that Carter had pulled it out. And four years later, when rumors swept the convention hall in Detroit that Reagan was going to choose Ford as his running mate, creating a sort of co-presidency, I gnashed my teeth and nearly rent my garment, wondering if this man was never going to go away.

Eventually he did fade from the public spotlight, appearing mostly at celebrity pro-am golf tournaments and in his ceremonial role at the funerals of former presidents. He became the nation's oldest former president, and lived for almost thirty years after leaving office - time enough to become, if not a legend, a sort of elder statesman. If we look at Ford and find him lacking in comparison to Reagan, we also have to compare him to Carter and Clinton, and admit that those comparisons are to his credit.

Gerald Ford didn't really make history, but in a way he made it possible for history to happen. He was, probably, the right man for the nation in the wake of the Watergate scandal. I always agreed with his pardon of Nixon - aside from the humanitarian gesture, it was time for the nation to get on with it. And although he'd never be aware of it, he played a role in my history as well, for in politics everyone needs someone not only to campaign for, but to campaign against. I campaigned for Reagan against Ford, and for Ford against Carter. By the time that election year of 1976 was over, I was hooked.

Perhaps most important, he was a good and decent man serving his country as best he could. And while it's true that goodness and decency do not excuse incompetency, they do count for something. This week the nation will recognize that, in a fitting and appropriate way. And so we bury our disagreements, we honor the office, and in doing so we recognize the man who held it, however briefly, but with dignity.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

On behalf of Mitchell & Judie, Steve, Bobby and Drew, thank you for your support and readership over the past year, and our wishes to you and yours for the happiest and merriest of Christmases, and a Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Listening to Christmas

By Hadleyblogger Drew

Almost every area I know has at least one or two radio stations that have been playing nonstop Christmas music since Thanksgiving (if not before). On most of these stations it's the only time you'll ever hear them play Bing Crosby, Andy Williams or Ray Coniff. You could be forgiven for thinking these guys never did anything but Christmas music (although they did). And yet if you listen to any of these stations for any length of time you'll be amazed at all the dreck they play. I used to think it was impossible to ruin a Christmas carol; now I know better.

Terry Teachout has a wonderful list of his favorite Christmas records. I've heard most of them, agree with many of them (although I still prefer Bing's version of White Christmas), need to check out some of them (especially Laud to the Nativity by Respighi), and am glad to see some of my underrated favorites recognized by others (particularly the stunning O magnum mysterium by Morten Lauridsen). You could do a whole lot worse than making this one of your Christmas playlists.

Over at First Things, Michael Linton has a nice piece on the many versions of that Christmas favorite, Handel's Messiah (minus the distractions Steve mentioned). (Of course, we all know that Handel actually wrote this piece for Easter, but in this case the popular will rules.) Hard to argue with any of Linton's picks (I'm always partial toward Robert Shaw, even though the copy in this house is by Sir Georg Solti, no piker he), but I really am curious to hear Thomas Beecham’s 1959 recording of Eugene Goossens’ orchestration. Listen to the description:

It’s a pure nightmare. Goossens adds trombones, tubas, harp, expanded winds, and full percussion. Beecham quickens and stretches tempi in ways that give musicologists hives. Many people hate it (and hate folks who like it!), but it’s somehow splendidly Handelian, and to hear Jon Vickers sing the tenor arias is a revelation.

Sounds like a glorious mess, doesn't it? As he says, buy the others, but buy this one too.

So wherever you are tonight or tomorrow, I hope the choir sings like angels, Der Bingle lives on your stereo, and the music of this beautiful season never stops ringing in your ears. And on this Christmas Eve let's all say a prayer for peace on earth, peace in our own hearts, and blessings to all.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

This Just In

By Hadleyblogger Steve

“Frank Barone: Really Home for the Holidays” to Air Sunday Night

HOLLYWOOD, CA – In what’s expected to be a ratings blockbuster, CBS-TV announced yesterday that a three-hour special on the life of the late Frank Barone, patriarch of the hit sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, will air this Sunday evening, which is Christmas Eve.

Barone, in the person of actor Peter Boyle, passed away last week from cancer and heart disease at the age of 71.

(Left) Frank Barone, star of the hit sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond," seen here in the guise of actor "Peter Boyle".

“Frank Barone: Really Home for the Holidays” will focus on the life and family relationships of Frank Barone. “He was an irascible character that everybody really did love, even though he could be a little cranky and rough-edged,” said show producer Harvey Peterman. “He epitomized what a lot of us wanted our fathers to be.”

Cast members of the show, speaking at a hastily arranged news conference in the lobby of the building where the Boyles lived in New York City , said they are pleased the project is being rushed into production and expect it to do well.

“Peter, I mean Frank, I mean Dad would be really happy with this,” said series star and co-producer Ray Romano. “Besides, adding this to our current syndication package is a no-brainer. We’re talking mega-millions.”

Doris Roberts, who played Frank’s wife on the show, struggled through tears to express her support. “My husband was a wonderful man. Losing him so suddenly like this has left a huge hole in my life, and made for a difficult week. This show – on Sunday night at 9 p.m., 8 p.m. Central, check your local listings – will help all of us handle our grief a little easier. It will provide the closure that all final episodes should have.”

Meanwhile, lawyers for the Boyle family, including the wife and children of the late actor, have filed a lawsuit for civil damages in the wake of the family being barred from attending the Barone funeral, which was held earlier this week in a small chapel on Larry King’s estate in west Hollywood.

“We’re sensitive to that,” said CBS executive Marvin Goldblast. “We know that the ‘Peter Boyle’ aspect of Frank Barone’s life meant a great deal to them. There will be a time and place for them to grieve. But it isn’t now. We felt their presence would have been confusing to the American public that has invited the Barones into their living room every Monday night for the last nine years – never mind the syndication schedule, which is pretty much set up for eternity.”

The announcement that the show will be re-broadcast later Sunday night directly opposite the live telecast of Pope Benedict’s Midnight Mass from St. Peter’s Basilica on Christmas Eve, has drawn some criticism. “Sure the Pope is the Pope and a lot of people and shut-ins look forward to that telecast,” said Goldblast. “But, frankly, we expect the Barone special to blow it out of the water.”

Jacoby: Atheists' bleak alternative

By Hadleyblogger Bobby

A longtime personal policy requires religious messages/imagery on any Christmas cards I purchase. I have been taking advantage of the Southern Baptist Convention's LifeWay store sale (buy one, get one free) on either Hallmark or Lawson Falle cards (I chose Lawson Falle's Sandi Patty collection this year), which I purchase after the buy one, get one free deal, for an average of 47 cents a card.

After participating in a Messiah singalong Monday night, and after being aguest choral member at another church for the production a week earlier (I couldn't sing it at my home church, since our music "leader" is too obsessed with the choir singing karaoke pop and having teen dancers, not singers, as the centre of the church music department), and last month attending the South Carolina Philharmonic's production of the full piece, with the soprano soloist being none other than my voice teacher, you can understand where I can get not enough of the masterpiece!"

This article from the Boston Globe, however, was one which had me pondering what was next.

Atheists' bleak alternative

By Jeff Jacoby, Globe Columnist December 13, 2006

FROM THE land that produced "A Christmas Carol" and Handel's "Messiah," more evidence that Christianity is fading in Western Europe: Nearly 99 percent of Christmas cards sold in Great Britain contain no religious message or imagery."

Traditional pictures such as angels blowing trumpets over a stable, Jesus in his manger, the shepherds and three wise men following the star to Bethlehem are dying out," the Daily Mail reports. A review of some 5,500 Christmas cards turns up fewer than 70 that make any reference to the birth of Jesus. "Hundreds . . . avoided any image linked to Christmas at all" -- even those with no spiritual significance, such as Christmas trees or Santa Claus.

Presumably the greeting-card industry is only supplying what the market demands; if Christian belief and practice weren't vanishing from the British scene, Christian-themed cards wouldn't be, either. But some Britons, not all of them devout, are resisting the tide. Writing in the Telegraph, editor-at-large Jeff Randall -- who describes himself as "somewhere between an agnostic and a mild believer" -- announces that any Christmas card he receives that doesn't at least mention the word "Christmas" goes straight into the trash. "Jettisoning Christmas-less cards is my tiny, almost certainly futile, gesture against the dark forces of political correctness," he writes. "It's a swipe at those who would prefer to abolish Christmas altogether, in case it offends 'minorities.' Someone should tell them that, with only one in 15 Britons going to church on Sundays, Christians are a minority."

Meanwhile, the employment law firm Peninsula says that 75 percent of British companies have banned Christmas decorations for fear of being sued by someone who finds the holiday offensive. And it isn't only in December that this anti-Christian animus rears its head. British Airways triggered a furor when it ordered an employee to hide the tiny cross she wears around her neck. At the BBC, senior executives agreed that they would not air a program showing a Koran being thrown in the garbage -- but that the trashing of a Bible would be acceptable.

"It's extraordinary," remarks Randall. "In an increasingly godless age, there is a rising tide of hatred against those who adhere to biblical values." A "tyrannical minority" of intolerant secularists is openly contemptuous of traditional moral norms. "The teachings and guidance of old-fashioned Christianity offend them, so they seek to remove all traces of it from public life."

You don't have to be especially pious to find this atheist zealotry alarming. Nor do you have to live in Europe. Though religion remains important in American life, antireligious passion is surging here, too.

Examples abound: In two recent best sellers , Sam Harris heaps scorn on religious believers, whose faith he derides as "a few products of ancient ignorance and derangement." A study in the Journal of Religion and Society claims that belief in God correlates with higher rates of homicide, sexual promiscuity, and other social ills, and that when compared with relatively secular democracies, the churchgoing United States "is almost always the most dysfunctional." Secular absolutists demand that schools and government venues be cleansed of any hint of religious expression -- be it a cross on the Los Angeles county seal, a courthouse display of the Ten Commandments, or the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

What is at stake in all this isn't just angels on Christmas cards. What society loses when it discards Judeo-Christian faith and belief in God is something far more difficult to replace: the value system most likely to promote ethical behavior and sustain a decent society. That is because without God, the difference between good and evil becomes purely subjective. What makes murder inherently wrong is not that it feels wrong,but that a transcendent Creator to whom we are answerable commands: "Thou shalt not murder." What makes kindness to others inherently right is not that human reason says so, but that God does: "Love thy neighbor as thyself; I am the Lord."

Obviously this doesn't mean that religious people are always good, or that religion itself cannot lead to cruelty. Nor does it mean that atheists cannot be beautiful, ethical human beings. Belief in God alone does not guarantee goodness. But belief tethered to clear ethical values -- Judeo-Christian monotheism -- is society's best bet for restraining our worst moral impulses and encouraging our best ones.

The atheist alternative is a world in which right and wrong are ultimately matters of opinion, and in which we are finally accountable to no one but ourselves. That is anything but a tiding of comfort and joy.

Jeff Jacoby's e-mail address is

P. S. The South Carolina Philharmonic's production of Handel's Messiah, complete with my voice teacher as the soprano soloist, airs Christmas night at 8 PM EST on SC Education Radio.

Monday, December 18, 2006

More on Alagna at La Scala

Appropos of Mitchell's post the other day, here's the video of Alagna storming off the stage last week at La Scala.

I have no idea what the commentators are saying, but the footage itself is worth it.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Secret Life of Frosty the Snowman

Classic Our Word

Last night we had our friends Badda Blogger, the D&B, and The Boy over for dinner. It was a pleasant evening of good food, good conversation and fellowship. In the course of the night the talk turned to esoteric things like Christmas television (Badda had never seen the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol, nor the Mr. Magoo rendition), and it reminded me of this piece from a couple of years ago, when my friend Hadleyblogger Peter analyzed the true meaning of the Rankin-Bass classic Frosty the Snowman. It was one of my favorite posts then, and remains so today.

An added note: the same writer who penned Frosty, Romeo Muller, also wrote Rankin-Bass' Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, and if Frosty parallels the New Testament Resurrection, Santa Claus suggests the Old Testament story of Moses, with the young Claus child of the cartoon left in a basket at the door of the despotic Burgermeister Meisterburger, the baby (renamed Kris) being raised in the home of Tanta Kringle and the toy-making elves, and the eventual exodus of Kris, his wife, and the elves out of the Burgermeister's influence to the safety of the North Pole. I don't know if anyone has ever seriously analyzed the religious undertones of these cartoons, but I think it might make for an interesting venture.


My friend Peter DePalma is a pretty bright guy, so when he told me about the allegorical implications of Frosty the Snowman, I had to sit up and take notice.

I’d always enjoyed the cartoon in something of a nostalgic way, as part of the memories of Christmases past. At that, I thought the plot was kind of thin. I mean, a kid thinking they can take a train to the North Pole on Christmas Eve? Without bringing any money? And then there’s the phony magician, the talking rabbit, and – well, you get the picture. You didn’t watch Frosty for the drama, you simply basked in its warm sepia glow.

But then Peter asked me if I’d ever noticed how the story of Frosty was an allegory for the life of Christ.

“What?” I think I said.

“Sure,” he replied, and proceeded to document the ways:

  • His birth occurs in the dead of winter, much as Christ's birth is symbolized with the evergreen in winter (and obviously suggests miraculous life from a dead or virginal womb).
  • Frosty always says, "Happy Birthday!" when he comes to life...strongly suggesting a birth... and the tradition of birthdays probably comes from the celebration of Christ's birth.
  • Frosty’s self-sacrifice, going into the greenhouse to save Karen’s life even though he risks melting in the heat, much as Christ the Savior suffers and dies on the Cross.
  • The resurrection – Santa opens the door to the greenhouse and the winter winds sweep into the room, bringing Frosty to life, in the same way that the Holy Spirit (often portrayed in the Bible as a wind) enters the Tomb.
  • Frosty goes to the North Pole with Santa in his sleigh, as Christ Ascends into Heaven.
  • Frosty returns every year with Santa (“I’ll be back again some day,” he sings in the song.) Christ, having been seated at the right hand of the Father, will come again in glory.

Interesting, hm? Of course, Peter added, “some folks will read that and think I'm making too much out of a tenuous connection. Those people may be right, but I only say that to be polite. It would be too much of a coincidence, otherwise. It's obviously magicked-up (or kid-story-ified) to make into a neat little story for children, but the inspiration is obvious. The producers might not have wanted to make a Christian story, and that's certainly possible... however, they clearly used the Christ story as inspiration."

All of a sudden, the story starts to make sense, and what until then had been a fairly one-dimensional cartoon (literally, given that the rest of the Rankin-Bass cartoons were done in that three-dimensional animation) has become, in fact, a much deeper and more complex parable. Now, maybe this is like Pink Floyd and the Wizard of Oz in that everyone in the world already knew about this and I’m just finding out. I’d be interested to hear if anyone out there has noticed a similar religious vein to the story. And I’d love to be able to ask Arthur Rankin, Jr., the producer, if either he or Romeo Muller, the writer of the story, had any intentions of this.If not, of course, it’s just another example of how the Lord works through even the most common and ordinary means.

P.S. Here's a pretty neat website!

Friday, December 15, 2006

This Just In

By Steve

“Ode to Joy” Spells Doom for Woman Murdered at “Messiah”
Cell Phone Chime Causes “Oratorio Rage” in Fellow Concertgoer

FORT LAUDERDALE , FL – A woman strangled at Thursday night’s performance of Handel’s “Messiah” was the victim of a rare but increasing phenomenon known as “Oratorio Rage,” according to a classical music scholar.

Jocelyn Beaumont, 47, of Lauderhill , died shortly after being choked by fellow concertgoer Stanley Decanter. According to witnesses, Decanter apparently flew into an uncontrollable rage when Beaumont’s cell phone rang during a particularly affecting moment of the famed Christmas oratorio. At least one bystander reported that the ringtone was playing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” at the time of the attack.

(Left) Composer Georg Frederich Handel, whose
Messiah was the source of consternation Thursday night when a concertgoer couldn't keep a handel [sic] on his emotions.

Decanter, 53, of Sunrise, was free on $10,000 bail following his arrest Thursday.

Florida Atlantic University professor and classical musicologist Dr. Leopold Batonne said such events could be expected to increase in the future.

“A number of circumstances combined to produce Mr. Decanter’s ‘Oratorio Rage,’ Batonne said. “If initial accounts are accurate, the cell phone rang during the ‘Pastoral Symphony’ portion of ‘Messiah.’ This is one of the most peaceful, spiritual moments of the entire oratorio, and would be an unconscionable interruption for the classical aficionado.

“Then, there was Ms. Beaumont’s unfortunate ringtone selection. In the first place, the Classical dynamism of Beethoven clashes badly with the Baroque sensibilities of Handel. Add to that Beethoven’s reputation as a composer who speaks to, let us say, the more ‘casual’ classical music fan. It takes real discernment to appreciate, say, Palestrina or Berlioz, but any fool off the street can identify ‘Ode to Joy.’ For a man of Mr. Decanter’s taste – I’m told he’s a season ticket subscriber to the Fort Lauderdale Philharmonic – that ringtone was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. Or the woman’s neck, in this case.”

Batonne’s final statement sounded an ominous warning. “The true classical music lover looks at the cannon as a sacred trust, to be protected from desecration at any cost. As the sense of ownership grows and ferments, we can expect more and more incidents of this kind to occur - clashes with people who think Andre Rieu or Andrea Bocelli epitomize 'classical' music. Frankly, if my enjoyment of Mendelssohn’s ‘Elijah’ was interrupted by someone’s cell phone blurting out the ‘William Tell Overture,’ I don’t know what I’d do myself.”

Beaumont has so far refused all comment, other than to shout, “No jury in the world will convict me!” as he was led away in handcuffs.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Boos Have It

By Mitchell

Phil Taylor of had an interesting column last week on "Boo-Bird Nation" - the increasing amount of booing going on at sporting events. No longer the specialty of Philadelphia, "[b]ooing has become almost a hobby for the American sports fan, no longer just a way of expressing displeasure, but a form of pleasure in and of itself."

People used to boo because they were mad -- at their team, at the opponent, at the refs. Now you get the feeling that many of them boo just because they like it.

Perhaps that's what opera star Roberto Alagna had in mind when he stormed off the stage at La Scala Sunday night after being booed by a portion of the audience. His stunned co-star was left to sing alone; the understudy, dressed in jeans and a black shirt, was hastily thrust onto the stage to fill the role. The managers at La Scala say Alagna's finished there; he says he'll sue to be allowed to return. I'm not sure whether this act - many of us might consider it unprofessional - will hurt Alagna in the long run; in the opera world, such are the makings of legends.

It does conjure up some wonderful images, though. Imagine Allan Iverson stomping off the court the next time he gets booed by the hometown fans (wherever his new hometown may be), or Rex Grossman throwing his hands up and leaving the stadium when the Bears fans get on him after he throws his next pick. Try to picture Barry Bonds saying, "Screw you! I don't need to take this," the first time people start yelling at him about steroids next season. (Actually, that's something I would like to see.) If Alagna's gesture catches on in the sporting world, we could be treated to entertaining clips on SportsCenter for years to come.

At least Placido Domingo didn't walk out when he was booed at the Met earlier this month. Of course, in this case it was for his conducting, rather than his singing. And I suppose there are some musicians out there who would have welcomed the opportunity to show the audience that the conductor's role has always been overrated, anyway. Still, Domingo, the consummate pro, kept his cool and his baton, and the show went on. And if I had to guess, I'd say that Alagna's probably a better role model for the modern professional athlete, anyway.

On second thought, perhaps it's the pro athlete who should be the role model for opera. After all, the arrest last week of the Cincinnati Bengals' Deltha O'Neal (for DUI) marked the eighth time a Bengals player had been busted this season, and it doesn't seem to have hurt the NFL's popularity one bit. Opera, like all of classical music, continues to struggle to increase its audience. Maybe Alagna's on to something at that.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Office "Holiday" Party

Classic Our Word

During this exciting time of year, who has time to blog? So over the next couple of weeks, we'll be augmenting our new material with some of our Christmas posts of the past.

Many of you are probably getting ready for your office "holiday" parties about now, so it seems like a good time to revisit this piece of Mitchell's from 2004. Try not to read it on a full stomach.


Hang on, here comes another rant against Corporate America!

This time it’s the corporate “Holiday Luncheon.” Of course, we ought to be used to that kind of terminology by now, but here’s what makes this one interesting, and perhaps even more irritating – the subtitle, “A Celebration of Diversity.” The events being commemorated are Ramadan (Islam), Diwali (Hinduism), Christmas (Christian), Hanukkah (Jewish), and Kwanzaa (African American). A short description of each is included in the flyer handed out to employees announcing the luncheon. Not surprisingly, the description of Christmas is accorded less space than any of the others.

What are we to make of this? Let’s start with Hanukkah. For many years, it has been celebrated alongside Christmas as if it were the Jewish equivalent, despite the fact that it is a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar. Last year, John Derbyshire at National Review Online shared these insightful comments (page down to December 22) from a correspondent: “[O]ne of the main reasons Christmas has been marginalized and even the word 'Christmas' is disappearing from public discourse is because Hanukkah has been elevated to a position out of all proportion to its traditionally minor significance. And the success Hanukkah has enjoyed in gaining public recognition has inspired the more recent success of Kwanzaa, Ramadan, and other winter festivals in gaining prominence in America, all at the expense of Christmas.”

While it’s customary to include Hanukkah in “Happy Holidays,” what about Ramadan? That was October 15, which seems to be really stretching it to include it in a December celebration. Diwali commemorates the “triumph of righteousness, knowledge and enlightenment over ignorance, sorrow and spiritual darkness.” One can’t help but think that for Hindus, belief in any of the other faiths included in the celebration is a sure sign of “ignorance, sorrow and spiritual darkness.” Then, of course, there’s a prime competitor to Christmas - Kwanzaa, an event celebrating not diversity but divisiveness, which as Derbyshire describes, "was invented out of whole cloth by a violent 1960s criminal-radical thug, employs a language spoken by the ancestors of practically no black Americans at all (and a language which owed its own prominence to its use as a lingua france for Arab slave traders), celebrates the fruits of harvest at a time of year when nobody in the world is harvesting anything, [and] promotes communistic values." Read this devistating review by Richard Rosendall for more details.

Well, it certainly is a diverse group, but it’s hard to see how honoring these five dates amounts to a celebration of diversity. In fact, most of these events commemorate a lack of diversity – Kwanzaa is an exclusionary event, limited to African Americans, and Diwali and Ramadan celebrate revelations that would seem to put believers at spiritual odds with non-believers. What we have here is a mini-United Nations of faith celebrations. It’s also like the UN in that it attempts to force these five into some kind of common ground. It’s like trying to mix oil and water.

There is one exception, of course. One event that is diverse, inclusive, meant for everyone, both inside and outside its given group.

The event, of course, is Christmas.

In the words of the “Holiday Luncheon,” Christmas “[c]elebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.” As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Savior was born for all, not just for a select group. While Christians understand that acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is essential for salvation, we don’t believe this message is only for Christians. It’s for the whole world, for anyone who wants to hear and believe. While the Jews were originally to be the initial beneficiaries, the ultimate plan was to extent the benefits to all, regardless of race, creed, sex, or national origin, and it becomes the duty of every Christian to spread the word, to make sure as many people as possible can hear it. The sacrifice to which this birth inevitably led was all-encompassing, the Blood “shed for you and for all (pro multis, for the multitudes) for the forgiveness of sins.”

A truly diverse group, in other words, and if this event alone doesn’t qualify as “A Celebration of Diversity,” I’m not sure what does.

And yet, the sole rationale for a “holiday” event, the only reason for its existence, is to deny the very mention of the word Christmas and to minimize, if not completely eliminate, its meaning. Ironic, isn’t it?

Some will point out that Muslims, for example, also believe in one God. But they see that God as Allah – Master. Jesus referred to God as Abba – Father. And there’s a fundamental difference right there, between compelling belief and inviting it. Ah, but we could spend days discussing the implications of this. I’ll try to stick to the point.

I guess what really gets me is this continuing attempt to lump these events together and give them some kind of moral equivalence. They take such obvious pains to minimize Christmas to the point where it’s only considered an equal with the others (if that), as if they have the same meaning and significance, not only within each individual group but for all groups.

If individuals belonging to other groups or faiths want to celebrate particular events, well and good. There should be no attempt to prevent them – this country does believe in religious freedom (at least for non-Christians). But can we really, in good conscience, look at the numbers of adherents and their contributions to American culture and say that these days deserve equal billing with Christmas? As Derbyshire’s correspondent put it, “Neither Hanukkah nor the other winter festivals have anything to match even this very tiny portion of all the great art inspired by or associated with Christmas. However, once we admit that Hanukkah should be treated as the equal of Christmas, despite the fact that its significance in Western culture is close to zero and its significance in traditional Judaism is minor, we really cannot complain about Kwanzaa or Ramadan.”

I know what you're thinking. “It's only religious tolerance,” some will respond. No it isn’t. Tolerance doesn’t mean the same thing as equality. This is political correctness.

Compare this to a political convention, where the party has to make sure every faction has their say at the podium. The party may say they’re all “important.” But there’s no misunderstanding the pecking order – smaller, less significant groups get stuck on C-SPAN and go up against Regis Philbin, while the big names – Clinton, Ahnold, Kerry and Bush – they get the prime-time network coverage.

But imagine the Republicans had Bush speak at 3 a.m., while giving the prime-time network coverage to some obscure county commissioner running for re-election. See what I mean? When push comes to shove, political parties don’t try to pretend all groups have the same importance, carry the same weight and significance. And neither should we.

I know these rants of mine against Corporate America might strike some as odd, coming as they do from a conservative. Believe me, I’ve never forgotten that, as a friend of mine put it, “corporate America does produce jobs, after all.” And I still prefer capitalism to the other kinds of –isms out there.

But you notice that I always capitalize the word Corporate. I’m talking about an ideology unto itself, a way of group thought and group speak that I believe is extremely damaging to this country. It’s companies that don’t care about using pornography to advertise their products as along as people buy them, and television networks that don’t care what they show as long as people watch. It’s calling deviant behavior normal in order to court favor from special interest groups and make a buck off them, using corporate funds to support the abortion industry, and providing benefits to “domestic partners.” It’s all this and a hundred things more that call to mind the words from the Book of Wisdom, “But he considered our existence an idle game, and life a festival held for profit, for he says one must get money however one can, even by base means. For this man, more than all others, knows that he sins when he makes from earthy matter fragile vessels and graven images.” (Wisdom 15:12-13) And recall also the words of our Lord Himself, Who said, “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes!” (Matthew 18:7)

There are a lot of them out there, and they are the worst enemies that capitalism has, because they turn people against them, and the people start to wonder if there’s a better way. They force governments to regulate them because they can’t or won’t regulate themselves. And for all of us who do believe in a Christian form of capitalism, who think it’s better than the alternative, it’s up to us to do something. That’s why we speak up, we boycott, we call attention to the fact that something is not right. We run the risk of being mocked – called old-fashioned, fundamentalist, intolerant, mean-spirited. We may not be able to do much, but we do what we can – do it with love and charity in our hearts and words – and leave the rest in God’s hands.

It’s also why sometimes we don’t go to “free” lunches. We know the price of a free lunch can be too high a price to pay.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Saturday Matinees

By Hadleyblogger Drew

Tomorrow marks the start of the Metropolitan Opera's 76th radio broadcast season with Mozart's Idomeneo. (Not, I trust, the production offered by the Berlin Opera.) As it does, one might wonder whether it is the last season for the Met on broadcast radio.

The Saturday matinee broadcasts of the Met have been an institution for generations. Many, including yours truly, got their first taste of big-time opera listening to the Met on Saturday afternoons. For years Texaco was the title sponsor of the broadcasts, until (after their merger with Chevron) their bottom-line mentality, in the best tradition of modern Corporate America, got the better of them and they dropped their sponsorship. Things looked bleak then, but the Met was able to find new funding, and the broadcasts continued.

Where, then, is the threat coming from this time? Oddly enough, from the Met itself. This year the Met introduced two revolutionary additions to their broadcast schedule: the introduction on Sirius of Met Opera radio (four live broadcasts a week plus historic performances), and, later this month, the debut of live HD broadcasts in movie theaters nationwide.

So on one hand this is good news indeed, as Met broadcasts are now more available than ever before. (Whether the Met itself merits the title of America's opera company is a question for another day.) The downside, then, would appear to be the potential loss of free, over-the-air, broadcasts - the Sirius channel requires a monthly subscription, and tickets for the theater simulcasts will run about $15 a pop.

But let's not kid ourselves - classical music itself has been marginalized in our crass modern culture, and opera is perhaps the most marginalized within that genre. It's getting harder and harder to find classical music on the radio (even on public radio, which always falls back on the "you can only get it here" mantra whenever it tries to extort more taxpayer money). The free market, the law of supply-and-demand, suggests that the entrepreneur will always find ways to meet the need, and from that standpoint the Met seems to have done pretty well. One could argue that by going the pay-access route, the Met is giving its fans what they want - more (and better) live broadcasts, not to mention access to its vast archives. Terry Teachout, in a piece I can't put my hands on at the moment, forecast such a possibility years ago. So in that sense, we could be about to enter the golden era of Met broadcasting.

(And, speaking of public radio and the law of unintended consequences, one wonders if the loss of the Met on broadcast radio would have an impact on NPR's fundraising, since public radio accounts for most of the stations carrying the broadcasts. Will the opera listeners who used to pony up during the pledge breaks now save their money for a Sirius subscription? The thought almost makes it all worthwhile.)

But if that's the case, I'll still mourn the loss of the Saturday matinees. Not for myself, because I'll probably wind up doing whatever I have to do in order to the the level of access I want. But I do wonder how many people receive a fleeting, casual introduction to opera by surfing the radio dial and happening upon one of the broadcasts? It might not stick with them right then and there, that first time - maybe it's the second or third time, when they leave the station on just a little bit longer, enough to hear Domingo nail that final note, to thrill to the cheers of a live audience, to catch the sense of drama that even a radio broadcast of an opera can provide. There is, after all, a big difference between fulfillment and education. The Met on satellite and HD may cater to the opera fan, but will it still ensnare the accidental listener? As is so often the case, I suppose time will tell.

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