Tuesday, July 31, 2007

This Just In

By Steve

Bonds Wins Tour de France, Considering Run for the Roses

(July 26, 2019 – Paris, France) Astonishing sports history was made today when Barry Bonds, major league baseball’s controversial all-time home run king, broke through at the finish to win the 106th running of the Tour de France. Bonds, who celebrated his 56th birthday last week, was a last-minute and unexpected entry in the world’s most famous bicycle race, but easily outdistanced the competition to come away with the prized yellow jersey.

“I always liked bike riding,” said bonds after the 2,200 mile (3,540 km) race, while sipping on champagne at the Arc de Triomphe. “I’d been riding with my grandkids in the park recently, and I felt good, felt strong. Then I got a chance to meet some of the guys who ride in this race every year, and right away I knew they were my kind of people. So I gave it a shot.”

Bonds, who faced a deluge of questions – and a federal grand jury – about possible steroid use during his pursuit of Hank Aaron’s home run record in 2007, once again refused to address rumors of steroid use in this year’s Tour.

“You guys are stuck on the same old [stuff],” he said, his voice rising. “You’re like a broken record. Get off it, you’re old news, find a new story, man.”

Bonds, who finished his major league career in 2008 with a total of 775 home runs, had been living in seclusion at his Maui home until recently, but hinted that sports fans may not have heard the last of him. “There may be more to come, depending on how my knees are feeling after this. In fact, I’m giving serious consideration to running in the Kentucky Derby next spring.”

Saving Opera From Itself

By Drew

Thought it was time to write about something other than the morbid subject matter we've been getting from Mitchell lately, so here's a link to a provocative Heather MacDonald piece on the cultural debasement of opera, or as she puts the question, "Can the Met stand firm against the trashy productions of trendy nihilists?"

The "Met" in question is the Metropolitan Opera, of course. And like it or not, that is the gold standard for opera in this country, and in much of the world. With such an exaulted position comes responsibilities, and expectations. And the question MacDonald asks, indeed the one all music lovers should be asking, is whether the Met, under second-year general manager Peter Gelb, will withstand the invasion of Regietheater, or "Director's Theater," that is becoming ever more prevalent in opera today.

This is not a new topic for us at this blog; we've discussed many times the seemingly insatiable urge some producers and directors have to put their own unique stamp on an established piece of art. Many (if not most) times this takes the form of political ideology that is being superimposed over the composer's original vision. Take these examples MacDonald cites:

The Spoleto Festival USA, for example, has presented the usual masturbating Don Giovanni; a recent Rossini Cenerentola (Cinderella) in Philadelphia featured a motorcycle and large TV screens projecting the characters’ supposed thoughts; City Opera mounted a Traviata in the 1990s that ended in an AIDS ward.

There's more, of course, as MacDonald details. What they all have in common though is this desire to send a message, to impose something on the audience whether they like it or not. Most times in a free market, the audience can send a message by coming disguised as empty seats. But, as MacDonald notes, "even when audiences stay away in droves—and 'sometimes in those productions you could shoot ducks in the auditorium and not hit anyone,' says [American baritone Sherrill] Milnes—the managerial commitment to Regietheater usually remains firm.'

This is not to say that all artists, or even most of them, go along with this rubbish. MacDonald cites comments from German soprano Diana Damrau on her performance in the Bavarian State Opera's Rigoletto, set (I kid you not) on the Planet of the Apes:

“I fulfilled my contract,” she says scornfully. “This was superficial rubbish. You try to prepare yourself for a production, you read secondary literature and mythology. Here, we had to watch Star Wars movies and different versions of The Planet of the Apes. . . . This was just . . . noise.”

There are others who fight against this trend, but as Pinchas Steinberg, chief conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony and former principal guest conductor of the Vienna State Opera, says, "You need courage to oppose it. . .People start to say: ‘You can’t work with this guy, he creates problems.’?” (Which, I wonder, may have something to do with those formers in Steinberg's titles.)

MacDonald's article goes into great detail to explain the forces and dynamics at work in this takeover of classic art, but I feel the need to provide one more long excerpt that says much not only about opera and art, but our own culture in general:

The defining characteristic of the sixties generation and its cultural progeny is solipsism. Convinced of their superior moral understanding, and commanding wealth never before available to average teenagers and young adults, the baby boomers decided that the world revolved around them. They forged an adolescent aesthetic—one that held that the wisdom of the past could not possibly live up to their own insights—and have never outgrown it. In an opera house, that outlook requires that works of the past be twisted to mirror our far more interesting selves back to ourselves. Michael Gielen, the most influential proponent of Regietheater and head of the Frankfurt Opera in the late seventies and eighties, declared that “what Handel wanted” in his operas was irrelevant; more important was “what interests us . . . what we want.”

And so here we are. By all means, check out MacDonald's article in full. In addition, check on our roundtable discussion of art and politics, which begins here. MacDonald has some scornful words for Peter Sellars, a favorite of the Minnesota Opera (which explains a lot), and by clicking here you can see some of what we've had to say on that subject. And Judith talked about the another production from the Berlin Opera which raised a few hackles , Mozart's Idemeneo, here.

Lest we end on such a pessimistic note however, MacDonald does point out encouraging signs at the end of her article. Gelb's groundbreaking innovations, such as broadcasting Madam Butterfly in Times Square, have brought energy to opera. The Met's opera moviecasts have proven a smash. By the end of the past season, the Met's remaining productions were all sold out. And as for the audience, as MacDonald notes, "young and middle-aged adults already appear to make up a surprisingly high percentage of patrons. They are coming to see not a twisted rewriting of the great works, but the thing itself, drawn to what opera promises: sublime musical beauty and human drama." The question she asks, and we ask, is what the future holds for the Met. To paraphrase a long-ago campaign motto of a forgotten presidential candidate, it takes courage - does the Met have it?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Tom Snyder, R.I.P.

By Mitchell

Before there was Charlie Rose, there was Tom Snyder.

Tom Synder, like Dick Cavett, provided an adult alternative to Johnny Carson. Whereas Carson was content to entertain and amuse his audience (a job at which he was brilliant), Tom Snyder often tried to provide something more. Snyder was host of "The Tomorrow Show," the program which followed Carson in the 70s. At the outset it ran for one hour, from 1:00 – 2:00 a.m. in the East. Seated against a primarily black backdrop, without a studio audience, Snyder would go one-on-one with a single guest in interviews which would often run for the entire hour. They could be penetrating or frivolous, but there was always something intimate about these interviews, as if Snyder and his guest were having their conversation in your living room, with you as

Unencumbered by an audience in the studio, Snyder would often break down the barrier between himself and the viewers at home, speaking directly to them, sharing his infectious laugh with them, not afraid to try something absurd (here I recall “Sink the Titanic” night) or different (his six-hour mini-marathon on July 3-4, 1975, to commemorate the start of the year-long bicentennial celebration). Synder was, by turns, egocentric, engaging, frustrating, fascinating, pompous and self-effacing, but he was seldom boring. (Dan Aykroyd’s parody of him on the early SNL was always a favorite.) He was a frequent target of critics, and wasn’t afraid to fire back.

Besides being a talk-show host, Snyder was also a newsman, anchoring the local news in LA before moving to NBC, where he often filled in on the nightly news and inaugurated the prime-time “newsbrief” that provided, in the pre-CNN days, an update on the headlines since the evening news.

Snyder’s downfall began in 1980, when Carson cut back to an hour from 90 minutes. NBC sought to fill the gap by adding 30 minutes to Snyder’s show and, more disastrously, adding Rona Barrett as co-host of what was now known as “Tomorrow Coast-to-Coast.” The move was an utter failure – there was absolutely no positive chemistry between Snyder and Barrett – and the show never recovered, eventually being replaced by David Letterman.

That appeared to be the end of Tom Snyder, and many were glad of it, having sickened of his grating personality. But Snyder was not quite done yet, returning to host an overnight radio show before coming back to television with a Tomorrow-like show on CNBC. Eventually, he made a triumphant comeback on CBS in 1995 as Letterman’s hand-picked choice to host the "Late Late Show" that followed Letterman. Snyder held down the slot for three years before leaving, this time having the last laugh on his critics.

In those pre-PC 70s, Synder was invariably surrounded by a cloud of cigarette smoke during his interviews, and one would not have been surprised to hear that it was lung cancer that had finally done what the networks couldn’t quite accomplish. However, it was instead chronic lymphocytic leukemia which claimed him on Sunday, at the age of 71, a true television original.

Ingmar Bergman, R.I.P.

By Mitchell

It seems somewhat pretentious to write an obit on someone as great as Ingmar Bergman, who died today at 89. Writing a piece like that is travelling on a slippery slope - you start discussing the man and his films, and the next thing you know you're offering deep, meaningful interpretations, discussing autobiographical and existential overtones, and sounding like every pompous college graduate you've ever known, dressed in a black turtleneck and tweed jacket and offering incredibly erudite opinions on film theory, all the while burying the knowledge that in reality your opinion is no better, no worse than anyone else's.

That he was great isn't something that really should be in dispute, although the word pretentious was often used with regard to his films as well. And they were often dark, challenging stories that operated on multiple layers, using symbolism and language to convey the innermost aspects of the human condition. (There, see how easy it is to slip into that mode?) Bergman was not to everyone's taste, but then neither is Jack Black.

So we're not going to attempt to explain Bergman here. Bergman himself did it about as well as anyone could, in a 1971 interview with Dick Cavett, in which he talks about his youth and gives candid appraisals of his films (and, at one point abruptly shifts gears and starts interviewing Cavett).

Rather, take this as an opportunity to go out and watch a Bergman film and find out what all the shouting was about. The Seventh Seal is a personal favorite, and you're likely to find it either incredibly brilliant or amazingly self-indulgent (or, perhaps, both). A warning, though: if you're contemplating suicide anytime soon, best to stay away from The Silence or Cries and Whispers; better, instead, to go with The Magic Flute or Smiles of a Summer Night, which showed that Bergman did have a lighter side. (Even he admitted many of his dark movies were too much for him to take.) Rent them on Netflix, or check Turner Classic Movies for the inevitable film tribute that should be coming shortly.

Love him or hate him, there's no doubting that Bergman was a giant, a master of what one piece referred to as "serious filmmaking." It's a quality that's in short supply today, as movies pander to adolescents real or imagined, always looking for the next smash 'em up, blow 'em up blockbuster. While Bergman was making films, we could always be assured that there would be something out there that offered us a chance to think, to reflect, to discuss in the coffeehouse after the theatre had gone dark.

And when the giants like Bergman go, it gives us an opportunity to reflect, to realize once again that while the screens and the theatres may be larger, the movies are much, much smaller.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Wish I'd Written That

By Mitchell

Hopkins: Ben, I want y'to see some cards I"ve gon 'n' had printed up that ought t'save everybody here a whole lot of time 'n' effort, considering the epidemic of bad disposition that's been going around lately. "Dear sir: You are without any doubt a rogue, a rascal, a villain, a thief, a scoundral, and a mean, dirty, stinking, sniveling, sneaking, pimping, pocket-picking, thrice double-damned, no good son-of-a-bitch" - and y'sign y'r name. What do y'think?

Franklin: I'll take a dozen right now!

Stephen Hopkins to Benjamin Franklin in 1776, by Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards

[You know, if bloggers just adopted this idea, it could save everyone a lot of time and effort...]

Friday, July 27, 2007

Broken Families: How Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Sided With Hendrick Motorsports

By Bobby

I wrote this to Cathy of Alex recently, and after thinking about it, I have written something that matters about broken families.

In the recent deal by race car driver Dale Earnhardt Jr to join Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, one of the more important stories of this issue has not been discussed as it should have been discussed.

Since the free-love society of the 1960's, we have seen an unfortunate scene of broken marriages, and family conflicts caused by such broken marriages. The Earnhardt family has been the scene of broken
marriages, on two different generations of Earnhardts, affecting three different generations of the family. Three of the four Earnhardt children were byproducts of such corruption by Dale Earnhardt, Sr, and one of those has has developed a broken family himself.

Dale Earnhardt's first marriage was to Latane Brown when he was just 17, and it only lasted from 1968 until 1970. This marriage produced Dale's first child at 18, Kerry (born 1969). This marriage ended just one year after Kerry's birth. Brown married another man, who adopted the young Kerry, who rarely saw his biological father until he was 16. Kerry himself married young and with his first wife, had two children, Jeffrey and Bobby. Jeffrey Earnhardt is now racing in the NASCAR Grand National East Series, recently racing in Elko (MN) for the Grand National East-West Shootout, for Andy Santerre. Kerry divorced too early and married another woman, and the blended Earnhardts are Kerry (with Bobby and Jeffrey), wife Rene (who has a daughter, Blade), and also their daugher Kayla.

Dale Earnhardt's second marriage was to Brenda Gee, from 1971 until 1977. This marriage lasted longer, but too ended in divorce, after two children, Kelley (now the Mrs. Jimmy Elledge) in 1972, and the eponymous Dale Jr. in 1974. Gee, the daughter of famed race car constructor Robert Gee, has a sister, Sandra, who married racing mechanic Tony Eury, in another marriage that failed.

In 1983, Charlotte-area automobile dealer Joseph Riddick Hendrick III joined forces with Robert Gee to form All Star Racing to field a Pontiac Ventura for the Mello Yello 300 Late Model Sportsman (now Busch Series) race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Dale Earnhardt drove the car to victory, the first of over 200 wins for what is now Hendrick Motorsports.

By that time, Dale Earnhardt had dated, and found another woman in his life, Teresa Houston, the daughter of local racer Hal Houston (Hal's brother Tommy was another driver -- started the first 360 Busch Series
races in the series, 1982-94). This marriage lasted over 18 years until Dale's death in 2001. They had one daughter, Taylor Nicole.

When considering the troubles of a blended family, and custody issues that permeated the Earnhardt family because of the excessive number of marriages and divorces, and the children from the Earnhardt family coming from different women, it should be known that Dale Earnhardt Jr and Kelley Earnhardt Elledge both have the same mother, the current Brenda Gee Jackson.

Obviously, when Dale Earnhardt Jr was less than three years old when his parents divorced, there will always be the conflict between father and mother. With custody issues always being there, Earnhardt probably shared more time with Gee than Earnhardt in the early days. Gee's father Robert (who died in 1994) was a noted chassis fabricator, and her brothers Robert Jr. and Jimmy (now at JR Motorsports) also were involved as they grew into the Gee chassis shop, where many NASCAR teams in the had their chassis

Children were more likely to side with their mother, especially when their father was absent-minded and because of divorce, was unable to see him often.

When Gee fell ill with terminal cancer, Hendrick didn't forget his first employee, and supported Gee's grandchildren, which include Dale J and Kelley, and even Tony Eury Jr. (mother Sandra is Brenda's sister).

So it seemed Dale Earnhardt Jr and Hendrick Motorsports is not an issue of just one person, but the legacy of how one man helped his grandfather, and a grandson repaying the man who helped his late grandfather. It seemed he had gravitated towards his mother's side of the family – JR Motorsports has the three Gees (Brenda, Jimmy, Robert Jr) working for the team, and Rick Hendrick admitted that in Junior, he saw the same thing as he could see in his uncles, and his late grandfather.

So it seems Dale Earnhardt Jr, after all of these years, has seen how his mother has been a bigger influence than his father. His grandfather's friend gave him a shot to join a team that started with his grandfather and a Charlotte car dealer's dream, and led into six Daytona 500 wins and ten NASCAR championships.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Bill Flemming, R.I.P.

By Mitchell

Perhaps he wasn’t one of the most famous voices in sports, but we should take a moment to say a word about Bill Flemming, who died last week at 80. You probably would have recognized Bill Flemming if you saw him on TV; He was most familiar as one of the original announcers on Wide World of Sports, where he did everything from golf to auto racing to cliff diving. For many years he hosted ABC’s Sunday wrapup of the week in college football. He called a few big games himself, most notably (I believe) Michigan’s 1969 victory over Ohio State in one of the great upsets in college football. Many probably remember him as part of the team with Chris Schenkel and Bud Wilkinson, when he would introduce the starting lineups and report from the sidelines during the game. Here in the Midwest, he was familiar as the voice of the Big Ten Basketball Game of the Week on Saturday afternoons.

As Hadleyblogger Steve mentioned at the watercooler yesterday, Bill Flemming was a familiar, comforting presence, a recognizable voice whether he was covering surfing in Hawaii or cycloball in Germany. He was a thorough professional on the air, a refreshing contrast to the standup wannabees that populate ESPN nowadays. He will be missed.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Poetry Wednesday

By Judith

If you're a history buff, especially if you're interested in the Revolutionary War period, Boston is an amazing place to be. Not only can you see where the Boston Tea Party took place, the homes of Paul Revere and John Adams, and the tombstone of Samuel Adams, you can stand on the spot where the Boston Masacre happened and climb the stairs of Fanueil Hall to the room where the Revolution was discussed, debated and fomented. John Adams was one of the most tireless supporters of the cause of liberty and independence, but today is almost an afterthought, hidden in the shadows of Washington, Jefferson and Franklin.

To commemorate our recent trip to Boston and a visit to the home of John Adams, I offer today another song lyric. This is from the musical play 1776. At this point in the story, Adams has doggedly been trying to convince the Congress of the need to declare independence and now begins to wonder if he's the only one who can see what needs to be done. Some of the words come from Adams himself, adapted nicely by Sherman Edwards. Here's "Is Anybody There?"

"Is anybody there?
Does anybody care?"
Does anybody see what I see?

They want me to quit,
They say, "John, give up the fight!"
Still to England I say:
"Good night forever, good night!"

For I have crossed the Rubicon,
Let the bridge be burn'd behind me!
Come what may, come what may...

The croakers all say
We'll rue the day,
There'll be hell to pay in
Fiery Purgatory!

Through all the gloom,
Through all the gloom, I can
See the rays of ravishing light and

Is anybody there?!
Does anybody care?!
Does anybody see
What I see?!

I see
I see the Pageant and Pomp and Parade!
I hear the bells ringing out!
I hear the cannons' roar!
I see Americans, all Americans,
Free! For evermore!

How quiet...
How quiet the Chamber is...
How silent...
How silent the Chamber is...

Is anybody there-?

Does anybody care-?

Does anybody see - what I see?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Death and Life

By Drew

I didn't note the passing last week of opera tenor Jerry Hadley, mostly because he was someone who was never completely on my radar. (Other than the fact that he shared the last name of our distinguisted managing editors, and I have been assured that he is no relation to the Hadleybloggers.) Sure, I noticed the story that he was suffering from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, that his odds of survival were remote, and that his life had been on a downward slide for some time.

Even at this point I'm not really writing about his career; rather, what caught my attention was the recent pair of posts by Terry Teachout on Hadley's life, career and death. In particular is this piece from today in which Teachout defends his frank appraisal on Hadley, which apparently upset quite a few people. (Teachout quotes one of Hadley's fans who "went so far as to call me 'disgusting' twice in the same e-mail, which I believe is a personal record.) Teachout's sin, sofar as one can call it that, is that he was honest in his appraisal of Hadley's career and decline:

". . . the reason for much of the anger can be summed up by a Latin tag: De mortuis nil nisi bonum. The wise man is slow to quarrel with proverbs, but I'm afraid I must trump that one with a snippet of Shakespeare. He that dies pays all debts--including the debt of discretion that is owed to him, insofar as it's ever owed to a public figure who voluntarily chooses his status. My own view of the matter is to be found in the published sayings of Nero Wolfe:

'Marko was himself headstrong, gullible, oversanguine, and naïve. He had--'

'For shame! He's dead, and you insult--'

'That will do!" he roared. It stopped her. He went down a few decibels. "You share the common fallacy, but I don't. I do not insult Marko. I pay him the tribute of speaking of him and feeling about him precisely as I did when he lived; the insult would be to smear his corpse with the honey excreted by my fear of death.' "

Ah, this is an interesting question. I've never believed in the practice of sanctifying the dead, of overlooking their faults and suddenly finding virtues where previously none had existed. We see it happen too many times, even with the walking dead such as Muhammad Ali - we forget that Ali was a lightning rod for controversy in his prime; and somehow that does him a disservice, for it removes any true meaning from his acts. Anyone can stand up for a fancy or a whim, but if you're going to take a controversial tack on something you'd better be prepared to suffer the consequences, which can add to their stature. (Ali was also a jerk at times, with his cruel taunting of opponents; and it's probably a good idea to recall that emotional episode from a few years back in which he was given a replacement for his lost 1956 Olympic gold medal, and recall that the reason it was lost was that he supposedly threw it in the Ohio River to express his disgust with America.)

But I digress. We were not talking about Muhammad Ali, not really; nor were we really speaking of Jerry Hadley, even though that's how I started things. No, we were talking about the dead, and our obligation to them. Having read both of Teachout's pieces (the other one is here), I can't fault him. He was, I thought, fair and honest, and related what could be cruel facts about Hadley's life without showing needless cruelty of his own.

But what gives me pause - not with Teachout, but with the subject he raises - is our own obligation to speak of the dead. It reminds us periously of detraction, that is, the act of revealing previously unknown faults or sins of another person to a third person. We find an even better definition in the Catholic Encyclopedia, which describes detraction as "the unjust damaging of another's good name by the revelation of some fault or crime of which that other is really guilty or at any rate is seriously believed to be guilty by the defamer."

Note that there is no distinction here made as to whether or not the charge is true - in fact, detraction specifically proceeds from the assumption that it is. (As opposed to calumny, which presupposes the charge is false.) So, even if the charge is true, one is under specific restrictions to be careful about it. (There are exceptions, of course; if you want to read more about it, go here.)

So anyway, the point of this is that we have to be careful of one's reputation in death, as we do in life. Remember the hubbub about CBS' Ronald Reagan movie of a few years ago, when so many people felt it an unwarranted attack on a man (still living at that time) incapable of defending himself? In our respect for the dead, we accord them the same dignity that they had in life. And perhaps, the eagarness with which a society that often degrades the living seeks to disparage the dead is doing just that.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Heroism and Nobility

By Drew

A couple of weeks ago I linked to James Bowman's site, in which he was providing introductions to a movie series called The American Movie Hero he was hosting at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington. To this point, he's offered four movie classics that in some way all deal with heroism - Sergeant York, Sands of Iwo Jima, High Noon, and this week's entry, The Searchers.

You might notice that these four movies are dominated by two stars: Gary Cooper and John Wayne. Unquestionably heroic figures, and yet as Bowman points out, the heroes they play are as different as the stories in which they appear.

Relevant to our times, I find the most interesting discussion to come from Bowman's commentary for the Cooper western classic High Noon. I'm trusting you're all familiar with this story; if not, go here for the synopsis. But here Bowman brings into the discussion an element that resounds to the uncertainty and moral struggle we face - the question of violence, and when (indeed, if) good men are allowed to resort to it in defense of a greater good:

Amy [Marshal Kane's wife, played by Grace Kelly] replies: "I’ve heard guns. My father and my brother were killed by guns. They were on the right side but that didn''t help them any when the shooting started. My brother was nineteen. I watched him die. That’s when I became a Quaker. I don’t care who’s right or who’s wrong. There's got to be some better way for people to live." There’s the eternal plaint of the intellectual: fighting and killing is so horrible that there must be some way around it, if only we were smart enough to find it. "There’s got to be some better way for people to live." For there not to be is almost literally a thought unthinkable for the intellectual, as much a denial of who he is and what he believes as running from a fight is for Marshal Kane [played by Cooper].

It is a form of utopianism and one which a lot of people, then as now, would base on Christian principles. Dr. Mahin, the Minister played by Morgan Farley seems to want to do this, but he hasn’t quite got the face to do it in front of the Marshal, whose need is so desperate: "The commandments say ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ but we hire men to go out and do it for us. The right and the wrong seem pretty clear here. But if you're asking me to tell my people to go out and kill and maybe get themselves killed, I''m sorry. I don''t know what to say. I'm sorry." In other words, it’s your job — and it’s your job precisely because we don’t want it to be ours. That’s a great line in the mouth of a clergyman: "The right and the wrong seem pretty clear here," though somehow what to do about it doesn’t seem clear at all. It’s just like Grace Kelly saying "there’s got to be some better way." Even the most unmistakable and obvious moral realities can be ignored if you can make yourself believe in an alternative world where they don’t exist.

It's one thing for us to discuss morality in the lab, Bowman is saying, but it's another thing altogether when you're out of the controlled experiment and into the real world. This has always been one of the purposes of art, to bring us out of our elements and allow us to view reality from a different perspective. And while the answers sometimes are easier when presented this way, just as often they cause us to look at our own world with a level of discomfort.

However, as Bowman continues, there's something else unsettling about High Noon, and that's the idea of one man standing alone against evil. "But it’s also a big temptation, especially for a civilization like ours which has been infected with the virus of utopianism. For the utopians are also trying to live in that world elsewhere."

[Spoiler alert ahead]

There is something, Bowman writes, about the ending to High Noon that's not quite right. Having successfully won the showdown with the bad guys, Kane - disgusted with the cowardice of the townsfolk, fed up with the whole thing - throws his badge in the dirt and leaves the town. Someone once wrote that High Noon was the most requested movie of Presidents, and with that ending it's not hard to understand. All leaders must feel that way at times, as if the ingratitude of the public both compels them to risk their own lives in defense of an ideal that only they seem to appreciate, and then repels them from the very people whom they've saved.

But, as Bowman says, one must keep in mind that High Noon, written by the blacklisted writer Carl Foreman, is often seen as an allegory of the McCarthy era, which means that the townspeople represent the American public, remaining silent during the so-called "witchhunt" of the 50s, while the brave writers courageously stood alone against the big bad McCarthy. Bowman wonders if this is what John Wayne sought to combat in Rio Bravo, his supposed answer to High Noon (this I did not know), which insisted the fight against evil was a "collaborative and not a solo effort."

So where are we at the end? Certain that heroism exists, and that sometimes it entails nobility as well. Equally certain that the right decisions are seldom easy, that idealists often lack a sense of realism, and that the real world is a harsh one. But ultimately, I think, Bowman reminds us that life is not and was not meant to be solitary. "No man is an island," Donne writes, and this is an important lesson to remember. What starts out as heroism can often morph into isolation, egomania, paranoia, tyranny. An essential part of the human experience is that we not deny humanity. Christ may have died scorned by the masses and deserted by the apostles (save one), but the women still wept at the foot of the Cross. He was not alone and, no matter how it may sometimes seem, neither are we. There will always be good men who fight evil, and we should neither be despairing nor egotistical enough to imagine that we are the only ones.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

This Just In

By Steve

Mid-Level Accountant Bemoans Office Card "Sameness"

HAMMOND, IN -- Frank Smelman, an accountant at Lardlakes Industrial Supplies, has complained to his fellow employees for what he calls "the lackluster and half-hearted" efforts they put in to his recent birthday card that circulated around the office for their signatures.

"I swear they put exactly the same stuff in there they did last year, almost like they just xeroxed it," said Smelman, who has been at Lardy's for a little over 14 years. "At first, I was really touched by their sentiments: 'Best wishes for a good year...nice working with you...happy birthday and many more to a nice guy.' I thought, 'what a great place to work, with people who really care about you.' But then I started comparing it to what they'd written last year, and there was practically no difference. C'mon, you think there'd be something else to say, something original, after all these years of working with these people. It's all so impersonal, like they hardly know me.

"There's such a sameness to the whole thing, you almost wonder if it's worth the effort," continued Smelman, who is considering going to his firm's Human Resources Department to report his complaint. "Why do they even go to the trouble of buying a card?"

Smelman sees it as a part of a bigger trend. "You see it in the other cards people sign, too," he says. "The funeral cards, the congratulations for promotions, things like that. People just seem to be going through the motions when they sign these things, and it gets very depressing. Almost makes you want to go work in another office somewhere."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Poetry Wednesday

By Judith

Zbigniew Herbert (1924 -1998) was considered one of the great poets of modern Poland. He fought against the Nazis in World War II and was an outspoken anti-Communist following the war (which could have cost him a Nobel Prize).

His education in the Humanities, as well as his scorn for political liberalism, can be seen in many of his poems, such as The Return of the Proconsul. In this we can see allusions to Rome in the time of the Caesears (as we would also with many of his poems, such as The Divine Claudius and Transformations of Livy), but I think it would be foolish if we didn't read this poem also as a reflection of Herbert's opposition to the totalitarianism of Polish Communism for, as he once said, "The word is a window onto reality."

The Return of the Proconsul

I've decided to return to the emperor's court
once more I shall see if it's possible to live there
I could stay here in this remote province
under the full sweet leaves of the sycamore
and the gentle rule of sickly nepotists

when I return I don't intend to commend myself
I shall applaud in measured portions
smile in ounces frown discreetly
for that they will not give me a golden chain
this iron one will suffice

I've decided to return tomorrow or the day after
I cannot live among vineyards nothing here is mine
trees have no roots houses no foundations the rain is glassy flowers smell of wax
a dry cloud rattles against the empty sky
so I shall return tomorrow or the day after in any case I shall return

I must come to terms with my face again
with my lower lip so it knows how to curb scorn
with my eyes so they remain ideally empty
and with that miserable chin the hare of my face
which trembles when the chief of guards walks in

of one thing I am sure I will not drink wine with him
when he brings his goblet nearer I will lower my eyes
and pretend I'm picking bits of food from between my teeth
besides the emperor likes courage of convictions
to a certain extent to a certain reasonable extent
he is after all a man like everyone else
and already tired by all those tricks with poison
he cannot drink his fill incessant chess
this left cup is for Drusus from the right one pretend to sip
then drink only water never lose sight of Tacitus
take a walk in the garden and return when the corpse hasbeen removed

I've decided to return to the emperor's court yes I hope that things will work out somehow

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Well, When You Put It That Way...

By Drew

Looking back at the somewhat less than scintillating Live Earth concert from last week, I was struck by a couple of things I read that served to put things in a slightly different perspective. From Don Surber's blog:

Andy Williams didn’t play at Woodstock. He was 41 that summer.

Ray Charles, then 38, wasn’t invited either.

And at age 52, Dean Martin certainly wasn’t.

So what were and Jon Bon Jovi at 45, Madonna at 48, and ex-Pink Floyd Roger Waters, 63, doing headlining a rock concert? None of their top hits were within a decade of the “Live Earth” concert. Williams, Charles and Martin each had released his signature recording within a few years of Woodstock.

In fact, Pink Floyd’s hit — “The Wall” — is as contemporary today as “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” was in 1969.

As Glenn Reynolds put it, "this will make some people feel old." Well, it did me. Having a fondness for things that are less than new (although I don't live in the past like Mitchell - I can say this since he isn't around), nonetheless I grasped immediately Surber's point: "One reason “Live Earth” was dead last in the TV ratings is the music was irrelevant to the target audience." (Another reason just might have been the constant political proselytizing.)

This touches on something I wrote last week, about balancing the need to speak to new generations in their own language, and retaining the dignity and morality of your own. But again, one has to look back at the music of the 70s and 80s, and realize it came from another cultural era, one before the fragmentation we've spoken of before, and concede that this music is probably some of the last that had the ability to speak to a wide demographic range that understood shared experiences. And then, as one of the astute commentators on Surber's blog put it, "Artists like Martin, [Ray] Charles, B.B. King play to a multigenerational audience because their music was meant to convey a feeling, not a message."

On the other hand, perhaps we analyze this through a sociological lens because it takes our minds off of the fact we are old...

Monday, July 16, 2007

Greetings From Boston!

By Mitchell

Yes, we're on the road again, this time back in Boston for the first time in nearly twenty years, and since I'll be in workshops and seminars through the week, we'll be looking to our Hadleyblogging partners to carry the load, which I'm sure they will do nobly.

Before turning out though, I'll leave you with some cultural archaeology to while away the hours. The great TVParty site has another of those features that catches my eye, this time a rundown of the 1964-65 TV season. For those of you of an age, it's fascinating to go back and look at all the familiar names, the shows that we remember as classics. (While, as Billy points out, also recalling that this was the era of Newton Minow's famous "vast wasteland.")

I think TV of this era serves as something of a transition between the 50s "Golden Age" of television and the more contemporary 70s. For example, the classic TV series The Fugitive enters its second season. It may be hard to realize, but there was more than a little controversy to this series when it first started. Creator Roy Huggins points out that some network executives were appalled at the idea of a series that started from the premise that the police were wrong, that a jury had convicted and sentenced to death an innocent man, and that the viewing public was going to be asked, week after week, to root for a hero whose success (and thereby the satisfaction of the audience) depended on him escaping from the police - many of whom were decent law enforcement officials just doing their jobs - and occasionally breaking the law to do so. Now, in this age of The Sopranos and the TV antihero, this might seem like a pretty tame idea - after all, from the very first appearance of the opening credits to The Fugitive, it's established beyond any doubt that Dr. Richard Kimball is innocent. We're even shown the man who actually committed the murder for which Kimball was convicted, that of his wife. So it's not as if we're actually cheering for a bad guy, after all.

Nonetheless, for the early 60s, this was apparently a pretty radical idea. By the end of the 60s, when respect for authority was a shambles, I doubt anyone would have noticed if Kimball had not only killed his wife but one or two others as well.

But enough of this analysis. While I enjoy the week in Boston (at least that part of it outside the classroom), take a gander at the list of classic shows that made the scene in 1964. and have fun!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Wish I'd Written That

By Mitchell

"A poet, qua poet, has only one political duty, namely, in his own writing to set an example of the correct use of his mother tongue which is always being corrupted. When words lose their meaning, physical force takes over. By all means, let a poet, if he wants to, write what is now called an “engagé” poem, so long as he realizes that it is mainly himself who will benefit from it. It will enhance his literary reputation among those who feel the same as he does."

- W.H. Auden

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Hey - We Hire Real Writers Here!

Tip of the hat to our own Hadleyblogger Steve, whose op-ed piece appears in today's Star Tribune:

Two guys are standing in line at a local hardware store to buy some nails. A pretty simple task, really, but as we've seen in the last couple of weeks, their motives may be very different. Frighteningly different.

We needed nails a couple of weeks ago to build a playground at the Northwest YMCA on 42nd Avenue in New Hope. It was an amazing project, sponsored by the Home Depot in Brooklyn Park and a national nonprofit organization called Ka-Boom that has a vision "to build a great place to play within walking distance of every child in America."


So who's the other guy buying nails? We don't know his name; maybe we never will. He was at some hardware store in London, buying lots of nails to put into a car bomb designed to explode near a busy intersection. The nails would be added to make the bomb as sickening and deadly as it could be.

Read the rest. But remember, we saw him first...

Poetry Wednesday

By Judith

We continue our look at modern masters with a poem by Wallace Stevens (1879 - 1955). Stevens was a poet by temperament and an insurance executive by profession. At home in both worlds (he was part of the Salons of the era and worked far past retirement age), he was still an outsider in both and knew that never the twain shall meet.

Influenced by a wide variety of sources such as the pre-Raphaelites, Keats, 19th century French poets and symbolists, he was, like many modernists enamored of things Oriental. Today's poem has a Zen-like quality to it in the choice of subject matter and it's treatment. Although it is not in the form of haiku, it's sound and feel, and it's short nature-laden scenes are reminiscent of the ancient form. However, written in 1917, the poem is definitely modern and is one of my favorite Stevens poems. Here's "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird."

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Failure to Communicate

By Drew

Friend of the Hadleybloggers Terry links to this article by Dr. Alice von Hildebrand entitled “The Moral Weight of Words.” Terry uses this as the basis for a discussion of Dawn Eden and her youth-oriented (i.e. talk to them in their own language) approach to chastity. And from this, I propose to talk about the future of classical music. Well, we’re nothing here if not eclectic.

But there is a method to this madness, and that method lies with the topic of communications. How do we communicate – across generations, across cultures, across racial and ethnic divides? In an age where we as a society have become increasingly fragmented and isolated, how do people of different tastes communicate?

Exhibit #1 is this fine piece by Terry Teachout, commenting on the recent death of Beverly Sills. Teachout underscores, in so many words, a point I made last week in my own notice of Sills’ passing: that Sills came from an era in which classical music was an established, accepted part of popular culture. That doesn’t mean it was the most popular type of music out there (even if Leonard Bernstein lived the life of a rock star), but it does mean that, through exposure on radio and TV, it was part of the mainstream. By this I mean that even people who didn’t consider themselves classical music fans were still expected to be familiar with particular singers and pieces of music. And so, as Teachout says, Sills’ (and others, such as Robert Merrill and Roberta Peters) appearances did not create as much as they did reflect reflect the popularity, or at least acceptance, of opera. By bringing it to the people, in the medium the people enjoyed, these stars kept opera in front of the people in a way that (with the end of variety shows and other forms of “middlebrow” programming) would be impossible today.

The mention of “middlebrow” culture leads me to this post by Donald Pittenger at 2Blowhards, in which he laments the disappearance of that middlebrow area in which classical music was so firmly established. Donald voices a guarded optimism over the return of high culture, in the cyclical ways such things happen. Donald points to what passes for pop culture today, and suspects that such “crudeness in the form of Rap, Concept Art, mindless action movies and the rest of current popular culture will become boring because it will have been around too long.” I can only hope he’s right.

However, perhaps voicing a note of caution is Greg Sandow, who argues that classical music is at a crossroads unless it faces up to the fact that its audience is daily growing grayer, older, and smaller. Unless classical music engages the modern culture, it will fade away. Far easier said than done for, as Sandow points out, “it's fairly hard to address some huge problem like the aging of the audience, because the most direct solution -- start doing things younger people might like -- seems to conflict with the untouchable core mission, and therefore can't be contemplated.” A more casual atmosphere, shorter pieces, not being so prudish about applause, more direct interaction between the orchestra and the audience – these are merely some of the ideas that Sandow proposes as a way for classical music to regain a foothold in popular culture.

Now, note that none of these are diametrically opposed. Terry has, in the past, shared Sandow’s concern about the future of the classics (as he points out, recordings can often be a more satisfying experience than live attendance in the orchestra hall). And Donald’s optimism in the return of high culture doesn’t necessarily preclude the implementation of Greg’s suggestions.

But at some point in this discussion we have to confront the question of the future identity of highbrow culture – what does it mean? Do we want our high culture to be a little more special, a little elevated, from the rest of pop culture? Should we be looking to elevate people to this height, rather than bringing it down to their eye level? In other words, should we really be trying to make it accessible, or should we be expecting and demanding more from the public, asking them to make an effort to better themselves?

This question isn’t a new one to me, insofar as I’ve been reading these writers discussing the topic for some time. But I wrestle with it, because there is something – I’d call it purifying – about dressing up in suit and tie to go to a concert hall, about sitting in dignified silence and listening to music, about behaving – perish the thought! – like ladies and gentlemen instead of punks. We’d have called that “civilized” or “cultivated” behavior once upon a time, although I suspect both of those words are on the outs nowadays. And yet Sandow is right – without some way of engaging today’s culture, it’s going to be an uphill battle to continue to grow the classics. And the way this culture is laid out makes that task even more difficult.

So with that we return to Terry’s original post on von Hildebrand and the morality of words. (See, I told you we’d get back there eventually.) And this, for me, crystallizes this whole issue: how far do you go to evangelize – whether we’re talking about religion, art, politics, or anything else that might require persuasion? There’s always a fear of “going native,” of losing your way amidst the dangers of modern culture. Equally, there’s the threat that in speaking the language of those you seek to convert, you water down the message to the extent that it loses its true meaning and power. And there’s the question that anyone faces – that of preserving your own dignity and integrity.

Von Hildebrand speaks powerfully of the dangers of using the popular language to express divine concepts:

The choice of words in such work is crucial. When referring to her previous life — before she was converted to the beauty of chastity — a young woman appearing on television and addressing millions of viewers, kept saying, “when I was sexually active….” The question that I raise is: Will not her choice of very graphic words inevitably bring to the minds of the viewers images that the phrase “sexually active” triggers?

Perhaps this is overstating the case somewhat in terms of classical music (my first thought was to entitle this piece “Alice von Hildebrand Explains Classical Music to You,” but I thought that might be a little obscure even for me), but I’m not entirely convinced of that. As Rush Limbaugh often says, "words mean things." And the central question remains the same: how to you communicate your message to a generation that, in some cases, is barely literate – unable to write in cursive, using the shorthand of text-messaging, increasingly isolated in that fragmented society, with common cross-boundary frames of reference becoming less and less. In this relativist age, how does one get the message across?

My first instinct is to say that one has to speak the language, that in a pop culture society you'd better know something about that pop culture in order to communicate. Certainly this entails risk, with faith and education being your prime defenses. But it'd be foolish to do business in France and not know how to speak French, right? Being familiar with is not the same thing as being a part of, after all.

And, as everyone in business (and entertainment) can tell you, the first secret of success is to know your audience. A friend of mine works at a non-profit that also provides services to the public. Try as they might, the public isn’t interested in hearing about the group’s mission – all they understand is the service provided. And so this organization, despite a mostly heroic mission, is reduced to hawking the service – they have to speak the language of the public. You can tell the public about the wonders of classical music until you're blue in the face, but if they don't speak the language - if they don't share the values that you know are enhanced by classical music - then you might as well be speaking to a brick wall.

But there has to be more to it than that. There's always this stiffing of the spine when it comes to compromising your ideals. You can go only so far, no farther. Where do you draw the line? Maybe, as von Hildebrand suggests, you don't speak the exact same language, you parse your words carefully. While it doesn't mean the same thing as denying the culture altogether, it does imbue your words with a certain dignity, something that others will definitely notice, one way or another. (Incidentally, this also makes the case for elevating the liturgical language above that of the normal vernacular, but that's another argument for another day.)

I’m always reminded of the story about Mrs. Robert Taft, whose husband ran against Eisenhower for the Republican nomination for the presidency in 1952 When asked if her husband was “an ordinary man,” she replied, “I should hope not!” Ordinary men need not apply for the presidency – it takes an extraordinary man to lead.

And I confess that this is my feeling regarding classical music as well. I cringe every time I go to the orchestra and see people dressed in untucked shirts, jeans and tennis shoes. Don’t dumb it down to the public – educate them, elevate them instead. Make it special, something transcendental, out of the ordinary. How, of course, is the question. And I’ll be damned if I have the answer.

Monday, July 9, 2007

The Shot Heard 'Round the World

By Mitchell

It’s a popular contention that the assassination of John F. Kennedy changed everything. Everything. It’s as if time in this country could be divided between BKA (Before Kennedy Assassination) and AKA (After Kennedy Assassination). It’s particularly popular to point out two areas – foreign policy (Vietnam specifically and respect for America in general) and the national mood (a feeling of optimism, of respect for politics, of that good old can-do attitude) – in which Kennedy’s death could be seen as a dividing point.

It’s probably true that JFK’s death was one of (if not the) most significant cultural events of the second half of the 20th Century. And it does seem as if things were different afterward. Television news certainly came into its own, at least in terms of live coverage of breaking news (although we’d think of that coverage as mighty primitive today; something I’ll write about at another time). What we think of as "the 60s" didn’t really hit full-force until after Kennedy’s death; the Beatles hadn’t arrived in America yet, Vatican II hadn’t concluded yet, the fashions and cultural icons were still more or less the same as they had been in the 50s (men’s hats were definitely on the way out, though), even comedians such as George Carlin wore short hair, And in fact there does seem to be a gloom settling over the country beginning at the end of 1963, a gloom that kind of merges with Vietman, Watergate, Carter; a gloom that doesn’t begin to lift until after the election of Ronald Reagan. In the aftermath of Dallas, one could see the storm clouds gathering on the horizon, preparing for the deluge that came to fruition in 1968.

This feeling of a seismic cultural shift one that I’ve long subscribed to myself, and I’ll be the first one to admit that my own cultural archaeology tends toward the BKA and AKA timeline. So it was most interesting to see this same subject approached from a slightly different angle, as is done by James Pierson in his new book, Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism. Whereas I’ve tended to come at this from the fairly traditional viewpoint I outlined above Pierson contends that “Kennedy’s assassination, happening the way it did, compromised the central assumptions of American liberalism that had been the governing philosophy of the nation since the time of the New Deal.” This happened in two ways: “first, by compromising the faith of liberals in the future; second, by undermining their confidence in the nation.”

As Pierson points out, many liberals were (and remain) unable to come to terms with the fact that Kennedy was assassinated by a Communist. (This can particularly be seen in the television coverage of the assassination, when the first man-in-the-street interviews reflected the general assumption that Kennedy had been the victim of a “climate of hate” created by right-wing extremists.) Pierson states that “The inability to come to grips with the facts of Kennedy’s death pointed to a deeper fault in American liberalism which was connected to its decline.”

That decline can be seen in many ways: the conspiracy theories that popped up during and after the Warren Report, theories that continue and grow more elaborate to this day; the desire to assign collective guilt to the nation for JFK’s death when “in fact an anti-American Communist killed President Kennedy and a Palestinian nationalist killed Robert Kennedy, both in retaliation for American policies abroad”, the loss of faith by liberals in the future and the nation, which manifests itself in an increasing pessimism in both. (And, one might speculate, an even greater dependence on government to take care of a people incapable of taking care of themselves.) Pierson’s discussion of how liberalism may or may not have evolved had Kennedy not died is not only fascinating, one of those “what-if” projects that so many of us enjoy, but tells us a great deal about our modern political ideologies.

As this interview with Pierson suggests, we who concentrate primarily on the cultural impact of Kennedy’s assassination would do well to factor the political equation into the mix, for in the end the political impact of the assassination may be just as great an instigator of cultural change as the assassination itself. It is another example, as if you needed any, of how the early 60s remains one of the most interesting times to study; and how essential it is to understand that time in order to understand our own.

Friday, July 6, 2007

The World That Was and Never Will Be

By Mitchell

There's a striking passage in The Power Broker, Robert Caro's epic biography of New York City's master planner Robert Moses. Actually, there are a lot of striking passages, as you might expect from a 1,200 page book that won the Pulitzer Prize. But this excerpt struck me in a particular, a "here's another fine mess you've gotten us into" kind of way.

You might think this book is nothing more than the remarkable story of Moses, but it's also tantamount to a biography of the modern New York City, for you can't really tell the story of one without also telling the story of the other, and you can't really tell the story of the United States in the post-war era without understanding both of those stories. The excerpts are lengthy, but if you'll bear with me I think you'll find it's worth it.

Therefore, unlike a public work on Long Island, a public work in the city had to be planned not only in terms of itself but in terms of its environment, the neighborhood in which it was located. It had to be judged not only in physical terms – highway as highway, park as park – but also in social terms: in terms of its effect on the human beings who had to live around it. If in creating public works on Long Island, one could paint on a clean and empty canvas, in creating public works in New York City one had to paint over an already existing mural, a mural whose brush strokes were tiny and intricate and often, when one looked closely, quite wonderful, lending to the vast urban panorama subtle shadings and delicate tints and an endless variety, so that if it was crowded and confused and ugly it was also full of life and very human, so much so, in fact, that while the painting as a whole might lack beauty, order, balance, perspective, a unifying principle and an over-all effect commensurate with its size, it nonetheless possessed many charming little touches and an over-all vitality, a brio, that made it unique and should not be lost. If Moses attempted to employ on the canvas of New York City the same broad brush strokes that he had used on the canvas of Long Island, he would be obliterating the city’s intricacies indiscriminately instead of working around those that were worth keeping and preserving them – and while this method might result in the creation of something beautiful and good, adding to the mural new values, it would also almost certainly destroy many existing values. A public work in the city might in terms of itself – Moses’ terms – be an excellent public work while in broader terms being a poor public work: a highway, for example, that, however magnificently designed, was damaging either to the adjacent neighborhood – shattering its essential unity, cutting its homes off from its playground or from its churches and shopping areas, filling its quiet residential areas with noise and gasoline fumes that made them no longer nice places to live and to bring up children – or to the city as a whole: a highway, for example, through a hitherto sparsely inhabited area that initiated a sudden influx of subdivisions and apartment houses, loading it with people, before the city had provided the sewers and subways and schools those people needed, and that by boosting land costs made it immensely difficult for a financially hard-pressed city to provide such services – services which could, if installed before the highway was built, have been installed at a price within the city’s means. (Emphasis added.)

And the only way of knowing and understanding it was to study and learn about it, to find out how many children lived in it and how old they were, what games they liked to play, what games their parents liked to play with them on weekends, what games their parents liked to play among themselves, to find out whether the parents liked to play games at all or simply to sit quietly and talk, whether the neighborhood’s teen-age boys wanted a place to walk after dinner and watch the neighborhood’s teen-age girls walk or whether they wanted to spend their time after dinner playing basketball, to find out which streets the neighborhood’s mothers considered safe enough so that their children could cross them alone and thus use a playground on the far side whenever they wanted and which streets the mothers considered too dangerous, to find out exactly how far the children were willing to walk to get to a playground in the first place. And there was only one way to learn about a neighborhood: listen to its people, discuss their problems with them. Unless Moses did that – not Moses himself necessarily; his lieutenants or the architect designing the specific playground in question – he simply wouldn’t, couldn’t, know enough about the neighborhood to satisfy its needs.

This might speak to you about the abuse of power, of the bureaucrat run amok, the arrogance of the ruling class, the growing loss of power by the ordinary citizen. All this is true, but what struck me in this excerpt is the story of the neighborhood. What is truly radical to modern sensibilities is the concept of a neighborhood as being self-sustaining, with its own playgrounds, its own churches, its own shopping areas. There's so much to this one concept, it's almost too much to go into in this small space. It's true that in many major cities you can still find vital neighborhoods where people think of themselves as residents more of the neighborhood than the larger city. But as the size of cities as increased, the distance between them has decreased, thanks to the evolution of the car as a virtual appendage, for example - we think nothing of driving miles and miles to jobs, to church, to shopping. The very idea of neighborhood schools is one that disappeared long ago.

Perhaps more striking, but hardly unrelated, is the concept of a neighborhood as a living, breathing entity. A place where people knew their neighbors and socialized with them, where children were known to all and watched by all. No doubt the idea of "all for one and one for all" can be romanticized to absurd extremes, but it remains true that in our mobile and rootless society, in a culture where we barely speak the same language let alone share the same values, we have suffered greatly from this tear in the social fabric.

For it's harder and harder to say that we belong to anything, other than to ourselves. This too is hardly a new concept, as Robert Putnam pointed out in Bowling Alone. We go wherever we have to in order to get what we want, because we can. We live wherever we want, because we can. Builders construct new neighborhoods out of undeveloped land, miles and miles away from any central business district, and people move there and put up with the commute because it's the only way they can afford the lifestyle they want. We live in our own little sanctuaries within our ever-increasing homes; we use Tivo to create our own television schedule; we walk down the street plugged in to our iPods, blissfully unaware of our surroundings.

I was most struck personally by the idea of the neighborhood church. Nowadays, we're so used to going to extremes to find a church that satisfies our needs that we think nothing of a 30 minute commute to church, often driving by two or three others on the way. We have to watch movies like Going My Way to recall a time when the parish was truly seen as a guardian of the neighborhood. And this is far from unrelated to the topic, for the divisons that wrack so many denominations today can trace their roots back to social upheaval - perhaps not the upheaval that resulted from Moses' unique brand of social engineering, but it came from that same bolt of cloth - the challenging of accepted norms and ideas, the tearing out of the very roots that had keep us in place for so long, leaving everyone just a little uncertain about everything, past, present and future.

Caro concludes this section with the tragic story of Sunset Park, a Brooklyn neighborhood that was devistated by Moses' construction of the Gowanus Parkway. Had Moses been willing to listen, to work with local residents, to put value into the opinions of anyone but himself, he might have built the Parkway one block over, where it would have run through a part of Sunset Park that was truly in need of renovation. Instead, incorporating it as part of Third Avenue, the neighborhood's main street, he created a monster, a street too wide and too busy for families to cross. Half of the retail disappeared due to the widening of Third Avenue; the rest suffered from lack of business as more and more shoppers turned to stores that were more easily accessible. As Third Avenue started to fail, the blight that the neighborhood had sought for so long to hold off made deeper and deeper incursions, and the residents who had for so many years provided stability to the neighborhood began to move out.

Drugs, homelessness, crime, people searching for identity and looking in the wrong places. You can create a grocery list of the problems plaguing society today, problems that increasingly aren't limited to the inner cities. You can make all the lists you want, including lists of possible solutions, solutions that too often fail for lack of funding, lack of dedication, lack of thinking. This isn't the place to debate those solutions, not really. (Although it seems folly to suggest that values wouldn't play a part in it, or a sense of belonging, or a recreation of our neighborhoods and urban areas through sensible planning - and perhaps a reining in of our more materialistic, more individualistic tendencies.)

But what is clear is that without understanding the past, without appreciating the many elements that conspired to change the world that was (this barely scratches the surface, I'm afraid), we can hardly lay claim to understanding the world that is, let alone the world that is to come. It's true that we can't turn back the clock, not completely. When the genie is out of the bottle, it's no use trying to get the cork back in. But if we don't at least try to understand what it was about the past that seems so appealing today, what it was that we had and lost, then how much hope can there be for tomorrow?

Thursday, July 5, 2007

This Just In

By Steve

With the start of the Tour de France this weekend, it seems like a good time to revisit this story from last year. Was it just a case of being ahead of our time, or will we find out that truth really is stranger than fiction?


Rider Stripped of Title After Having Failed to Fail Drug Test

PARIS, France - Norwegian rider Pers Häavsrud was stripped of his Tour de France title today after having failed to fail a routine test for performance-enhancing drugs, Tour officials announced.

“Häavsrud has brought shame and disgrace to professional cycling through his actions,” Tour director Jean-Marie Frommage said in an emotional press conference announcing the decision. “By refusing to join other elite cyclists who have used blood doping, testosterone, and other performance-enhancing drugs to great advantage, he has not only cast confusion and suspicion on the rest of the Tour, he has shown how selfish he really is.”

Häavsrud's GlaxcoSmithKline team expressed disappointment in the test results. “If true, Pers will be dismissed from the team immediately,” team manager Raoul Dunleavy said. “Rampant individualism and self-centeredness are threatening to destroy professional sports at all levels. He has let not only his teammates but his sponsor down as well. When athletes put themselves ahead of their sport everyone loses. They must remember there is no ‘I’ in ‘team.’ Or in testosterone, for that matter."

Häavsrud was not immediately available for comment, but said through a spokesman that he planned to bring in Barry Bonds’ former personal trainer to assist him in fighting the charges. “I will not take this lying down,” Haavsrud was quoted as saying. “My involvement in blood doping has been well known amongst my teammates. I am tired of always having to be the, how you say, needle of suspicion.”

Whatever. Piss on him.
- Tour de France cyclist Hans Hans

Häavsrud also expressed surprise at the negative testing result.

"My body must process these illegal substances differently," he said with a shrug. "What am I to do?"

Thirteen riders were banned from the start of this year's tour for failing to fail their tests, but this was the first time a winner had actually been accused of testing clean since the introduction of stringent new drug confirmation tests. Austrian Hans Hans spoke for many riders in his blistering criticism of Häavsrud. “It’s not easy timing our injections just right to make sure they match up with the unscheduled tests. We have to work hard at it. And now this Swede comes along and passes his test. What’s he accomplished, besides besmirching the hard-earned reputations of so many who dedicate their lives to the Tour?” When reminded that Häavsrud was actually Norwegian, he replied, “Whatever. Piss on him.”

Other cyclists were quick to join the discussion. Elco Advarian, who was suspended from the Tour two years ago for a similar violation but has since completed a Tour-sponsored counseling session and subsequently failed seven consecutive tests, was more sympathetic and suggested that Häavsrud might have been naïve. “When you get into something as big as the Tour, sometimes you’re overwhelmed. You don’t know what you’re doing, you listen to the wrong people, you make mistakes. Failing to fail that test was a mistake I’ll never make again,” the Team BALCO rider added. “Hopefully Pers will learn from his as well.”

Former two-time Tour champion Renaldo Maria Jiminez attempted to explain why the charges against Haavsrud were so damaging. “Sports is about winning, true, but it’s about much more. The world of professional cycling is more like a fellowship. You know, the camaraderie that is built up when riders travel through the circuit together, all of us struggling against the elements, carrying out our secret steroid use, working together to reach the finish line. A great element of trust is required in this sport, and it’s threatened when a rider thinks only of himself.”

Frommage was more blunt in his comments. “We’re trying to run an honest sport here, but when athletes persist in trying to play by the rules they only succeed in making others look bad,” he said. “We’re trying to do something here to rehabilitate the image of this sport, and Häavsrud won’t cooperate. There is no room on the Tour for his ilk."

Norwegian fan and cycling enthusiast Lars Bersvich spoke for many in the tiny country when he asked for his opinion. “I’m not angry,” he insisted. “Just disappointed. But we must look to the future, to the next generation of young Norwegian cyclists who will enthusiastically join in the use of illegal, even toxic substances, and will put the sport of cycling back on its normal course."

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Poetry Wednesday

By Judith

"The Spirit of '76" by Archibald M. Willard

On this Fourth of July we look at two poems that portray America prior to the initial Independence Day and one of the celebrations after it. First, Carl Sandburg, with striking imagery, looks at fireworks. John Adams said prophetically, "I believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other..." And so it is.

Ralph Waldo Emerson writes about the courage and stamina of those who fought and those who died in the battles of Concord and Lexington to make possible our ability to celebrate our freedom . So while we're all enjoying our hotdogs and baseball and parades and fireworks, let's say a prayer of thanks to God that there were then - and are still today - those who value freedom and their fellow man so, that they are willing to give their lives for the cause of liberty.

- Carl Sandburg

The little boat at anchor in black water sat murmuring to the tall black sky
A white sky bomb fizzed on a black line.
A rocket hissed it's red signature into the west.
Now a shower of Chinese fire alphabets,
A cry of flower pots broken in flames,
A long curve to a purple spray, three violet balloons---
Drips of seaweed tangled in gold, shimmering symbols of mixed numbers,
Tremulous arrangements of cream gold folds of a bride's wedding gown---
A few sky bombs spoke their pieces, then velvet dark.
The little boat at anchor in black water sat murmuring to the tall black sky.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set today a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Trial of the Century

Fifty-three years ago tomorrow, sometime in the early morning of July 4, 1954, in the Cleveland suburb of Bay Village, Marilyn Sheppard was murdered. Her husband, Dr. Samuel H. Sheppard, was charged with the crime, and convicted by a jury. Those are the plain facts, what we know for certain.

This we also know for certain: the Sam Sheppard murder trial was made for today’s media. It was perhaps the most sensational murder trial of the century to that point, with reporters from all over the country (radio, television, newspapers) converging on Cleveland for their frenzied coverage of the trial. (Greta and Nancy must curse that they weren't in the business back then.)

And what a trial it was, a spectacular affair lasting eight weeks and including all the elements today’s news networks would crave – sex, money, prestige. And then there was the added bonus, as the columnist Dorothy Kilgallen put it, that “it [was] equally possible for the rational mind to find him innocent or guilty.”

It happened so long ago, and yet the details seem strangely familiar. If one were to judge by the headlines screaming from the tabloids and being shouted from the cable news networks, we’re currently undergoing an epidemic of such killings. Every month or so we’re flashed the picture of a woman who’s either dead or missing. Invariably, the prime suspect – the only suspect – turns out to be the husband, boyfriend, or lover. As we had known from the start. And invariably, we’re left to wonder why this one thought he could get away with it, when the others couldn’t.

The Sheppard case fits the description to a T. Attractive wife, socially prominent husband, infidelity on his part, a bloody murder. The hubby pleads innocent, telling a intriguing, if implausible, story of a bushy-haired intruder, but we all know he's the one who did it. He’s hauled into court, put on trial, convicted (after five days of deliberation by the jury), sentenced to life in prison. Appeals follow, but they’re all doomed to failure. There’s even the involvement of a famed real-life detective novelist whose investigation claims to exonerate the prisoner (Erle Stanley Gardner, creater of Perry Mason, whose Court of Last Resort worked on Sheppard's behalf). The only thing missing, back in the 50s, was the Lifetime movie.

Perhaps the movie would have left out the final twist, though – the appearance of a soon-to-be world-famous defense attorney, the shocking revelation uncovered by a world-famous journalist (Kilgallen, who years later disclosed that the original trial judge told her, before the start of the trial, of his opinion that Sheppard was "guilty as hell"), a stunning success in appellate court when so many appeals through the years had been denied, a landmark Supreme Court decision followed by a new trial in 1966, and with it a new verdict – not guilty.

It was all there, and there’s no reason to think the Sheppard trial wouldn’t be just as big a sensation today as it was 53 years ago, even as it continues to fascinate us now.

It's always been assumed that the Sheppard case was the inspiration for The Fugitive (substituting Kimball's one-armed man for Sheppard's bushy-haired intruder), but Roy Huggins, the series’ creator, has always insisted the real basis was Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, with its story of the obsessed detective Javert and his endless pursuit of the fugitive Valjean.

The case has been the subject of numerous books and articles throughout the years, including one authored by that lawyer who was made famous by the trial: F. Lee Bailey. Sheppard himself wrote (or had ghostwritten) a book maintaining his innocence, but other books have insisted on his guilt. (It’s even been the focus of an episode of Nova, which certainly proves its importance, because we all know PBS doesn’t waste time on anything that isn’t important.)

And to this day, despite all the effort, we’re still not really sure what happened. The famed Supreme Court decision overturning Sheppard’s conviction made no judgment as to his guilt or innocence – simply ruling that the pretrial publicity, along with the bias of the trial judge, had made it impossible for Sheppard to receive a fair trial. (The case, Sheppard v. Maxwell, which defined the limits to which a free press could go in covering trials, is standard reading today in any Constitutional law class.)

In 1975 it was made into a three-hour TV movie on NBC, Guilty or Innocent: the Sam Sheppard Murder Case, starring George Peppard in an excellent performance as Sheppard, coming complete with a story in TV Guide on the casting of the movie. This was where I first became familiar with the story of Sam Sheppard. Rewatching the movie today, it still holds up: the semi-documentary feel, with black-and-white stills reenacting various aspects of the case, and with actors in the story directly addressing the camera, as if they were telling the viewer their character’s story.

The movie gets the period elements right: the dark paneling of the courtroom in 1954, the large globe lights hanging down from the ceiling, the heavy blinds in the windows, keeping out the musty sunlight. The grey suits, the big cars, the men’s hats, the flowered wallpaper, the blood red lipstick. Think Perry Mason, but darker, without Mason’s light of justice to pierce the darkness of death and uncertainty.

In the twelve years between Sheppard’s trials we see time change; the dark 50s paneling of the courtroom (the same one he was originally tried in according to the movie, although in reality it was across the hall from the original) now replaced by light-colored walls and modern lighting. Sheppard himself becomes grayer, thicker around the waste, even as the cars become longer and more sleek, and the clothes louder and more garish. Put more plainly, Sheppard enters prison two years after Korea; he emerges in the middle of Vietnam. Regardless of the merits of a script and cast, a movie set in a particular time and place is nothing if it doesn’t live within its period.

Sheppard emerges in this story as a sympathetic character, due in large part to the portrayal by George Peppard. (The movie is largely based on Jack Harrison Pollack's book Dr. Sam: An American Tragedy, in which Pollack leaves no doubt that he believes in Sheppard's innocence.) Peppard offers a subtle performance; you're meant to identify with him, but there's something about Peppard-as-Sheppard that leaves you slightly disconcerted, the inscrutible look in his eyes that leaves you asking yourself, "well, maybe. . ." It's painful watching Peppard, an actor I've always liked, show us Sheppard's slow descent into the dissolute lifestyle that ultimately claims his life in 1970.

William Windom co-stars as "Walt Addison," a journalist who serves as a kind of Greek chorus and is probably a composite of Pollack and Chicago Tribune writer Paul Holmes, whose Sheppard Murder Case was one of the first books to declare Sheppard's innocence. Most of the other names have been changed from the real-life characters, with the exception of Walter McGinn's assured performance as the cocky, assured young Lee Bailey. And while the movie is, as I say, sympathetic to Sheppard, leading one in the direction of his innocence, it ultimately allows the viewer to form his own opinion.

So if Sheppard didn't do it, who did? Bailey thought the killer was the jealous wife of a neighbor. (He felt only a woman could have inflicted the brutal injuries to Marilyn Sheppard in that particular manner; a man of Sam Sheppard's strength would have utterly obliterated her skull.) Others pointed to a handyman who had known access to the Sheppard household and was subsequently conviced of similar murders. In the 90s, Sheppard's son brought a civil suit against the state of Ohio for wrongful imprisionment, but lost. Jury deliberations revealed that many still thought Sheppard had done it.

And so we come to today. The jury is, so to speak, still out and probably always will be. Despite theories on both sides, it's likely that - barring some miracle - the court of public opinion will product a hung jury. (We've only touched a bare sliver of all the information about the case - this site provides a wealth of information and links.)

But there are some things we know. People will continue to die, murders will continue to be committed. Spouses and loved ones will always be prime suspects, and the guilty ones will continue to amaze us as to why they thought they could get away with it when nobody else could. And there's one more thing we know.

The media, like the poor, we will always have with us. And as long as this is the case, the circus will always be in town.

Beverly Sills, R.I.P.

By Drew

They were playing Franz Lehar's "Meine Lipeen sie kuessen so heiss" on the radio when I got up this morning. They never play vocal music in the morning on the classical station - too jarring to waking sensibilities - so it could only mean one thing. Beverly Sills had died.

As Mitchell mentioned yesterday, the story broke last week that she was gravely ill, and so this final news didn't really come as a surprise. The previous story had been a shock, however; she had seemed so vital on the Met broadcasts earlier this year, so alive, so - well, so Beverly Sills.

Her nickname was Bubbles, and it fit; no stuffy opera diva was she. She was a frequent guest of Johnny Carson's, starred in a TV special with Carol Burnett, appeared with the Muppets, was an ambassador for opera everywhere she went, at a time when opera was more a part of the mainstream culture. And her laugh, which was genuine and ready, was almost as satisfying as her voice.

Her greatest fame came not with the Met, but with the New York City Opera, in Douglas Moore's The Ballad of Baby Doe, Handel's Giulio Cesare, the bel canto operas of Donizetti. Her Met debut didn't occur until 1975, thanks in large part to Rudolf Bing's reverse operatinc xenophobia. But Beverly Sills showed she didn't need the Met to become a superstar.

It was, as I said, a time when opera was more mainstream, when variety shows such as Ed Sullivan's brought opera to the people, and the people to opera. Will we ever see that time again, when a Beverly Sills or Roberta Peters or Robert Merrill can become so thoroughly a part of popular culture? (Peters appeared on the Sullivan show more than any other entertainer, a record 65 times.) Someone suggested Renee Fleming. On stage, perhaps; she's certainly one of the best-known American singers in opera. But I think it unlikely that Renee Fleming, or anyone else for that matter, can assume one of the greatest roles in American opera, a role written for one woman alone: that of being Beverly Sills.

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