Friday, May 30, 2008

Earle Hagen, R.I.P.

By Mitchell

Who’s Earle Hagen, you say? Well, even if you haven’t heard of Earle Hagen, it’s likely you’ve heard him, or at least heard what he wrote. Earle Hagen, who died this week at the age of 88, was a big band musician and an Oscar-nominated composer of film scores, but he’s probably best known for the whistling theme of The Andy Griffith Show.

It was his most famous theme, but by no means his only one. Think of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gomer Pyle, That Girl, Make Room For Daddy, I Spy. He wrote them all. And therein is the story.

Maybe we don’t all recall what the theme to That Girl sounded like, but we certainly remember that other single girl of the 60s and 70s, Mary Richards. And how else would we have known that Mary could turn the world on with her smile if we hadn’t heard it in the theme? Oh, we would have figured it out sooner or later, but to have it presented to you right there in the beginning set the tone for everything that was to follow. And it was reassuring – after just one episode, we had to agree that she was going to make it, after all.

There was a time – perhaps it still exists – when the theme song was more than the start of a TV show. The martial strains of Hogan’s Heroes, the exotic rhythms of I Spy, the ethereal otherworldliness of Star Trek, the swinging 60s hipness of The Saint, Dick Van Dyke’s trip over the ottoman – these didn’t just provide background music for the opening credits. They were part of the show itself, as familiar as any cast member. Hum a few bars of the theme to I Love Lucy – you’ll find someone who recognizes it. You felt comfortable with the idea of going to Cheers, because it was the place where everybody knew your name. Would you have been quite so certain that Joe Friday really meant business if it weren’t for those opening notes of the theme to Dragnet? And the whole premise of The Brady Bunch was given in its opening lyrics – who needed a pilot?

Alas, in our ever-present need to squeeze more and more commercial time into an hour of television, even the openings seem to be somehow diminished. For example, you might not remember the theme to The Fugitive, but it was a memorable opening nonetheless. In just a minute or so we found out that Dr. Richard Kimball had been tried, convicted, and sentenced to die for the murder of his wife. No need to worry, however, for we were assured that the good doctor was innocent, and a few seconds later we would see the train wreck that freed him on route to the death house. We also knew that there was a cop out there who was determined to bring Kimball back to justice, and that he would stop at nothing in pursuit of this goal. And it all had to be true, because William Conrad himself was the narrator, the same Bill Conrad who performed the same function (albeit slightly less seriously) on Rocky and Bullwinkle. What else did you need to know in order to enjoy the following hour?

It’s true that there are still recognizable TV themes today, but too many of them are little more than existing hit singles adapted for series use. I stand second to no one in my admiration for the work of The Who, for example, and frankly their music is the best think about the CSI franchise; but you can’t convince me that it serves the same purpose as the themes of the past. A great TV theme didn’t just appear for the opening credits and then disappear until the end of the episode – it remained present through the entire program, weaving its way through the action, a partner with the scriptwriter in telling you the story. And because the notes were familiar, you could trust the emotion they were producing in you. There was no subterfuge involved; you might as well have the actors themselves telling you what was happening, because the music was every bit as much a part of the cast as they were.

Now, of course, a show’s closing credits are gone altogether – squeezed into a narrow sidebar in order to give the network time to promote the rest of its garbage. And the opening credits – well, they’re functional, occasionally glitzy, certainly adept at giving you the names of the stars, if nothing else. And maybe there are still some good, original themes out there, ones that can tell you a story with their music and lyrics. But if we can’t depend on our scriptwriters to tell a good story anymore, should we expect anything more of our theme composers?

Eventually, even the opening titles will probably fade away, replaced by superimposed credits at the start of the episode, so we can squeeze in those extra 30 second commercials. And it will be a shame. Because we shouldn’t just look for the next great comedian or action star – we should be looking for the next Earle Hagen as well.

And that’s not just whistling in the dark.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

AP: La Scala to Do Opera Based on Gore's Book (expect boos!)

By Bobby

Now here's something a bit stupid, if you ask me. This "Oscar" and"Nobel" winner is now having his book and movie - based on a series of lies - turned into an opera. The lies of "An Inconvenient Truth" have already been turned into gospel and law thanks to a series of "save the planet" laws around the world, including the 2007 Pelosi Energy Act that makes many of the book's recommendations into federal laws that make no sense (imagine where the only cars we can drive are 40 MPG Smart cars that seat two). Now an opera - it's just as talentless as Jerry Springer: The Opera. Go figure.

Here comes the boos. An opera based on Gore's lies should be booed just like bad talent at La Scala itself.

MILAN, Italy (AP) - First it was the film and the book. Now the next stop for Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" is opera. La Scala officials say the Italian composer Giorgio Battistelli has been commissioned to produce an opera on the international multiformat hit for the 2011 season at the Milan opera house. The composer is currently artistic director of the Arena in Verona. La Scala also announced Thursday that Daniele Gatti will conduct next season's gala premiere of Verdi's "Don Carlo" on Dec. 7.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wish I'd Written That

By Drew

"For many of us, the [Iraq] war was supposed to be about U.S. national security and only about U.S. national security. It would be nice if we could make Iraq a better place, just as it would be nice if we could make Afghanistan a better place, but that was never a sufficient reason to go to war. The reason to go to war was to find and kill every last son of a bitch who had anything to do with 9/11. And that job was not the main focus in Iraq, and in any event is unfortunately not finished.

"One of the main reasons John McCain is facing such an tough job today is that we are now in the sixth year of a war that the president of his own party started by mistake. That's a major headwind when you're running for president; an error of that magnitude will exact a political price. Would anyone be surprised if voters say that they've had enough?"

Byron York, NRO

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Social Activism

By Bobby

Homosexual activists have been seizing control of the country, one asset at a time, especially in the forty years since the Stonewall riots. The increasing normalisation of the psychiatric disorder as a “legitimate” lifestyle has become a major concern, as activists have used their orders to declare gruesome activities such as sodomy a “constitutional right” and protection of their “lifestyle” as a “protected class” have concerned many because of the excessive costs of the sin, which include increasing costs in insurance to pay for this lifestyle, declaration of this as “normal,” and the prohibition of Christians from imposing Godly standards because they violate homosexual activists' agenda.

Now, they are successfully making inroads in the declaration of war on marriage through the Massachusetts, Vermont, and California court cases on marriage, the increase of pro-homosexual policies in corporations and communities (including “civil unions”), and the increase of homosexual activism on college campi through special activist organisations that would make activities of religious groups a violation of campus policies favouring the sinful lifestyle should be fair warning that we are fighting a war against activists who wish to impose their sinful lifestyles as noble and superior to what God envisioned.

About fifty miles from my home is Irmo High School in the said city. I applaud the principal for his decision to leave the school in the wake of being forced to legalise a homosexual activist club in school. The mandate to legalise such a club is clearly intentional by activists. If homosexual activists are to increase in number (homosexuals cannot procreate), they must push their agenda through many school clubs. Having a homosexual club at Irmo is intended to dumb down the school, and to push through deviancy standards through a school club, along with California-specification textbooks push the lifestyle, is intended to destroy a school from fundamentals of education to the latest rage in the promoting of the John Dewey values of “facts do not matter, it's how you feel that counts” through the promotion of psychiatric disorders as normal, when they are not.

If schools are now being bullied by homosexual activists to have clubs to promote the lifestyle and to push for the massive liberal agenda of the homosexual activists, something has fallen with the education system. It is not about teaching the latest in liberal social activist causes. It is about teaching the fundamentals of reading, writing, and arithmetic, and not about self-esteem or becoming liberal activists.

Friday, May 23, 2008

AnswErs: Finally

By Kristin

For thosE of you who havE not yEt read last wEEks post asking thE quEstion, "What is wrong with this paragraph", I havE coppiEd it below in hopEs of stumping nEw rEaders. For thosE patiEntly waiting, the answEr is waiting bElow. BasEd on the commEnts, I fEEl that rEadErs arE on the corrEct path. Good work all and thank you for indulging mE.

In the paragraph below there is something quite unusual. Set a timer for two minutes. Read the paragraph over and over and see if you can solve this mystery before your time is up.

A Most Unusual Paragraph
What is so unusual about this paragraph? You won't find too many paragraph similar to it. Look at it and study it. You may not find out what is unusual right away. Study it again. At first you may fail in your task. But if you stay with it, you will find a solution. Think. What is odd about it? Look and look again. Do you want a hint? Sorry. No hints for you today or tomorrow. You must do this without asking for hints. It's a most unusual paragraph, would you not say so? Buy why? That's what you must find out now. Good Luck!

Answer: There are no E's, the most common letter in the alphabet.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Five Movies to Set Your Motor Running

By Mitchell

Sunday is probably the premiere day of the year for auto racing fans. No, scratch that - it is the premiere day, Christmas, New Year's and your birthday all rolled up into one. It starts Sunday morning with the world's most glamorous and prestigious race, the Grand Prix of Monaco (6:30 am CT, SPEED), run through the streets of Monte Carlo before all kinds of royalty and celebrity. It continues with America's most famous race, the Indianapolis 500 (11:00 am CT, ABC), somewhat tarnished to be sure, but newly on the upswing as it approaches its 100th running. And for a nightcap there's NASCAR's longest race, the Coca-Cola 600 (4:00 pm, FOX), which starts in the late afternoon and ends under the lights.

With all that, it seemed like a good idea to take a look at Hollywood's treatment of the sport. Not surprisingly, there are movie conventions that find their way into almost every racing film. There are also reminders of why so many people become addicted to cars driven fast and lives lived even faster. Herewith, five films to check out if you need a warm-up for Sunday.

LeMans (1971)
Steve McQueen

In the late 60s, the famed 24-hour endurance race became a focal point for American racing. The Ford Motor Company put on an all-out blitz to break the European stranglehold on the race and become the first American manufacturer to win. The biggest names in American racing, drivers such as A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney, raced at LeMans, and Wide World of Sports presented live via satellite coverage of the beginning and end of the race.

It was in this climate that Steve McQueen’s LeMans appeared. McQueen played Michael Delaney, an American driver returning to the race that almost claimed his life in a fiery crash that did kill a fellow driver and friend. McQueen’s need to come to terms with the past, as well as the inevitable romantic entanglements of the present, provided the backdrop for this often moody story that does a pretty good job of describing the thoughts of a man whose profession forces him to confront death on a regular basis.

There was almost more action behind the scenes than on the screen. McQueen was already an avid race car driver, and LeMans was his dream project – so much so that he put his own money and prestige behind it as producer. He fought the director, John Sturgis, for control of the project – Sturgis wanted to focus on the love story, while McQueen wanted the race itself to be the star. The movie’s budget skyrocketed, much of the original action footage proved unusable, and one of McQueen’s financial partners threatened to shut down filming altogether. Eventually, McQueen was forced to give up his salary, percentage of profits, and future royalties in order to complete the film. Not surprisingly, the enterprise resulted in financial bankruptcy for McQueen.

Notwithstanding the problems, LeMans contains wonderful footage of the famed race. At a time when most people had seen LeMans only in newsreel footage or on television, the big screen provided a magnificent panorama of the sights, sounds and colors of one of the world’s greatest races.

Interesting note: there is no dialogue for the first half-hour. The engines say it all.

Bobby Deerfield (1977)
Al Pacino, Marthe Keller

As was the case with LeMans, Bobby Deerfield deals with an auto racer struggling to deal with a deadly crash. Like Steve McQueen’s Delaney, Al Pacino’s Deerfield must overcome the psychological impact of death; and like Delaney, Deerfield is drawn into a relationship with a woman dealing with her own demons. Think of it as Love Story with really fast cars.

That’s not really a fair assessment, however; although Bobby Deerfield disappointed many race fans who were expecting a movie in the mold of LeMans and were turned off by the movie’s incursion into soap opera, it eventually won praise as an incisive, underplayed character study. Pacino himself considered Deerfield to be one of his best performances from that era. While the race footage (from the 1976 Formula One season, featuring Mario Andretti, among others) isn’t perhaps up to the standards of LeMans or Grand Prix, it still packs a punch on the big screen.

While Bobby Deerfield may have failed to capture the drama on the track in the same way as LeMans had, it was a decidedly more peaceful filmmaking experience. There were no power struggles on the set, no creditors threatening to pull the plug, no tensions between the star and the director. Pacino and Keller created a credible chemistry on-screen, a chemistry they took off-screen as well.

The Big Wheel (1949)
Mickey Rooney

OK, so The Big Wheel isn’t going to win any prizes. The story is a typically clich├ęd sports melodrama, the story of Billy Coy (Rooney), the son of a race car driver who is killed in a fiery crash at the Indianapolis 500. (Do you notice a theme running through these movies? Racing movies are definitely not for the faint of heart.) Coy is determined to win the race that claimed his father’s life, and nothing is going to stop him – including a fire that engulfs his car in the climatic final scene.

Oh, and along the way there’s romance, conflict, and angst as well. “Restless! Reckless!” proclaims the DVD cover, and that’s about all you have to know. Rebel Without a Cause with really fast cars on a track that goes around and around.

This was one of Mickey Rooney’s first “adult” roles after his success with Andy Hardy, and while the plot isn’t anything to write home about and the special effects are pretty hokey (come on, that really isn’t Rooney behind the wheel of a burning car, is it?), this is still a movie to be included in the list. For one thing, it takes place at the Brickyard, and the racing footage goes a long way to capturing the look and feel of the Indianapolis 500 as it was back in the day, when the race was literally an all-day affair, a Memorial Day celebration that was equal parts sports spectacle and county fair. This is Indy as it really was – the wooden grandstands festooned with flags and bunting, the cars that were often little more than coffins on wheels, the skill and courage required by driver and mechanic alike to reach the finish line in one piece.

Anyone watching this movie who is only familiar with modern-day racing will be stunned – and educated – by how far the sport as come. It is more sophisticated, less primitive, not nearly as dangerous; but there’s also something more antiseptic about it, and that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Combine it with 1939's Indianapolis Speedway with Pat O'Brien and John Payne, and you'll get a pretty good sense of the rich history of the Indianapolis 500.

Winning (1969)
Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Robert Wagner

Winning is a throwback to another era, that of the all-around racer. Before the age of specialization, of corporate sponsorship of entire racing series, race car drivers were content to compete in anything that had four wheels. In Winning, Frank Capua (Newman) and his chief rival, Luther Erding (Wagner) battle in sports cars, stock cars and open-wheeled cars, with a climactic finish at the Indy 500.

There are no fiery crashes in Winning, although there is a spectacular pileup at the start of the 500 (the exciting race footage comes from the 1966 contest, which featured a 17-car melee on the first lap). The accident, in which there were no serious injuries, serves to shrink the field, making the one-on-one battle between Capua and Erding that much more intimate. Think Ben Hur, with really fast chariots and no horses.

There is a love story, of course – in this case a triangle involving the two drivers and Elora (Woodward), Capua’s wife, who finds Capua becoming more distant as he struggles to overcome a career slump. There’s also tension between Capua and his sponsor, who turns to Erding when Capua seems washed up. These hackneyed conventions are made more tolerable by the surprisingly affecting relationship between Capua and his stepson (played by Richard Thomas), who finds in Frank the father he never had, and works hard to bring Elora and Frank back together. In the end, it works.

This movie owes everything to Paul Newman. It was originally conceived as a television movie, but the participation of Newman and Woodward elevated it to the big screen. It elevated it in other ways as well; Newman has always been the kind of actor who could take a B concept movie and somehow make it more than the sum of its parts (see the otherwise routine Harper detective movies, for example). Newman, like McQueen and other racing buffs, had little time for the romantic elements of the plot; it was the fast driving that turned him on. Always a fan of racing, it was here that he learned to drive competitive cars, and his love of the sport translated into a second career as a professional racer.

Interesting note: Dave Grusin, who did the music for Bobby Deerfield, scored Winning as well.

Grand Prix (1966)
James Garner, Yves Montand, Toshiro Mifune

The tiffany of racing movies, Grand Prix has it all. Director John Frankenheimer spent the season on the Formula One circuit, and his innovative camera mountings on the cars presaged the in-car cameras that dominate televised racing today. Frankenheimer combined this with a multishot approach to editing that often turned the screen into a montage of multiple angles and storylines running simultaneously. The result was a visual masterpiece of breathtaking racing action in a widescreen setting, which won the film three Academy Awards for effects.

For Formula One fans, Grand Prix sounds an often nostalgic note, vividly capturing many of the old European circuits that used to run along treelined public roads, with spectators standing perilously close to the track. Many of these are no longer used in Formula One, replaced by modern, more compact circuits designed to keep both the fans and the drivers safer. Safe they may be, but they’re often also flat, dull, and without much in the way of character. In Cars at Speed, his magnificent book on the Grand Prix circuit, Robert Daley mentions that auto racing’s early appeal often laid in the fact that spectators could envision themselves on the same roads as the racers, an illusion shattered with the man-made circuits of today.

While the racing action dominates Grand Prix, there is a story as well, that of four drivers battling for the Formula One championship: Garner, the American banished from Lotus for reckless driving, seeking redemption with Mifune’s new Japanese team (Garner, like McQueen and Newman, would take up racing as a serious sideline) ; Montand, the aging Ferrari champion looking for one final title while struggling with an altered perception of his sport; Brian Bedford, Garner’s former teammate, dealing with the twin specters of a near-fatal accident and the legacy of his late brother, also a world champion; and Antonio Sabato as the young Italian driver who lives only for the moment, understanding that life on the edge is what makes the whole thing worthwhile. There are, naturally, romantic triangles and fiery crashes – but without them, where would a racing film be?

Even in the somewhat soapish subplot, Grand Prix manages to sound the right notes, allowing the characters the opportunity to talk about how they cope with a job that requires you to put your life on the line every moment. The common theme is that of fatalism: you choose what you do for a living, you find a way to rationalize what happens, you live with whatever consequences may develop. You’re conscious of the risk, but if you think about it too much (as Montand’s character does in the second half of the film), you become paralyzed by it and lose the edge that keeps you alive. Phil Hill, the former world champion who appears in a bit part in Grand Prix, once said that a race driver expects to die behind the wheel. But he had thought about it so much, it no longer had any meaning for him: “I don’t believe in the law of averages. A driver makes his own averages.”

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Quick Takes

By Mitchell

  • As you can tell if you've seen "This Week's Endorsement" at the bottom of the sidebar, we're pretty ambivalent about this year's election. But even we couldn't imagine the horror that lies behind the headline in this week's Onion: "Obama, Clinton, McCain Join Forces To Form Nightmare Ticket." The subheading reads, "Historic political trio inspiring millions to pray for it all to be over." I'll tell you, if that ever happens, you might as well just shoot me now.

  • I wish I could take credit for this, but Drew suggests I missed one in my recent piece about Barbara Walters' affair with former Senator Edward Brooke. He asks, "Do you suppose she referred to him as 'Senator Bwooke'?"

  • One of GSN's recent I've Got a Secret reruns featured an appearance by major league baseball players Warren Spahn, then coming to the end of his storied pitching career with the hapless New York Mets, and Doug Camilli, playing for the equally hapless Washington Senators. Spahn's secret was that during his 20+ season career he had faced both Doug Camilli and his father, Dolph (albeit separated by about twenty years). When asked by host Steve Allen about the Mets' prospects for the coming season (they had never, to this point, finished higher than last place), Spahn replied he thought they would be "amazin.'" Camilli, asked the same question about the Senators, gave the same answer. In fact, the Senators would climb to 8th place in the American League in 1965, while the Mets were destined for yet another last-place finish in the National. But what was amazin' about this was that it was the Senators' manager in 1965, Gil Hodges, who would later become manager of the "Miracle" Mets that won the 1969 World Series. If only they had known at the time...

  • Speaking of I've Got a Secret, you may remember my story a while back about the 1962 appearance by Neil Armstrong's parents, and host Garry Moore's question to them about how they would feel if their son became the first man on the moon. Well, courtesy of YouTube, here's a clip of their appearance on the show:

Monday, May 19, 2008

Last Week's Quiz Answers

By Mitchell

Congratulations to Badda for coming closest in Wednesday's 4th Grade quiz. (Yes, I know he was the only entrant, but kudos anyway on doing an excellent job.) In case you're curious, you can still bypass the rest of this piece and check out the quiz.

For the rest of you, here are the answers:

  1. The longest river in the world is the Nile.
  2. "Wood" and "Would" are homonyms.
  3. Besides the Atlantic and Pacific, there are two other oceans. One is the Indian.
  4. The other is the Arctic.
  5. Maine was not one of the thirteen original colonies.
  6. One gallon, two quarts and four pints equal two gallons.
  7. Above the equator is the Tropic of Cancer.
  8. Below is the Tropic of Capricorn.
  9. In no particular order, the other two types of rock are metamorphic
  10. And sedimentary.

On the original quiz on I've Got a Secret, Bess Myerson and Henry Morgan tied at 70% each, as did Badda when he took the test. How did you do? How would today's fourth graders do?

In case you're wondering, Sam Levenson does return later in the IGAS run with another quiz, and we'll bring it to you when it happens.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Who Would've Thunk It

By Judith

The 1-ton weight has fallen on the liberals.

This notice from the Associated Press appeared in the Sunday Star Tribune this morning.

"Sean Penn used his clout as head of the Cannes Film Festival jury to issue a presidential proclamation: See this documentary.

Penn's pick, added to the festival roster at his special request, is a low-budget documentary filmed by volunteers who went to Sri Lanka to help victims of the 2004 tsunami.

Introducing 'The Third Wave,' Penn called it provocative and encouraging.

'In lieu of the fact that governments don't seem to be able to help us, this gives you a textbook notion of how we can help ourselves,' Penn said."

My God, Sean Penn has become a conservative!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

What's Unusual About this Paragraph?

By Kristin

I traveled to the great city of Milwaukee this weekend to visit my parents. One of the items on the ajenda was to sort through the last few boxes and piles of my belongings left behind from my youth. The greatest part of this adventure in to the distant past is finding old school papers and pictures and talking about where they all came from. In a pile of old notebooks, I came across a piece of paper that based on the handwriting, came from early middle school. During the homeroom hour, we were given little riddles and puzzles to help "wake up our brains". I read it several times, as stumped now as I am sure is was then. Now, I will retype the riddle in hopes of passing on a question that will help "wake up" those who read it now. (I have since flipped over the paper, to find the answer on the back).



In the paragraph below there is something quite unusual. Set a timer for two minutes. Read the paragraph over and over and see if you can solve this mystery before your time is up.

A Most Unusual Paragraph

What is so unusual about this paragraph? You won't find too many paragraph similar to it. Look at it and study it. You may not find out what is unusual right away. Study it again. At first you may fail in your task. But if you stay with it, you will find a solution. Think. What is odd about it? Look and look again. Do you want a hint? Sorry. No hints for you today or tomorrow. You must do this without asking for hints. It's a most unusual paragraph, would you not say so? Buy why? That's what you must find out now. Good Luck!


I will be providing the andwer to this puzzle on Thursday, May 22. If you need a clue, don't ask me, ask yourself.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

This Changes Everything

By Bobby

In sports, they always discuss "game changing moments" that determine the outcome of a game. In politics, we are seeing "game changing moments" in the Presidential election that have spurred major changes in each contest.

On the Republican side, in December, shortly after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Michael Barone noted that this could affect how the election was conducted. As we learned, it was the "game changing moment" that gave McCain the victory on the pachydermal side of the electoral situation.

On the Democratic side, the jackass has not decided on a winner, but it seems we are seeing an ebb and flow, with one game-changing moment being Obama's competitiveness in the Iowa Cauci, and then another game-changer in the mud on Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright, who is associated with the ultra-liberal United Church of Christ. Will another game-changing moment strike on this side?

And on the national election front, the Democrats' undefeated streak continued through four House races, making it a clean +3 on the takeaway,and keeping seats. With 236 safe seats, all Democrats, and 199 leaning Democrat seats in the House, as boasted by the national Democratic committees, could this be a 290-seat romp?

Or could the next game-changing moment have come today by the California Supreme Court's ruling that Proposition 22, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman, was unconstitutional, with an amendment to the Golden State's constitution on the ballot in November up for a vote. Could this be the game-changing moment of the overall election?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Go Fourth

By Mitchell

Regular readers will remember that we're suckers for the grade-school quizzes that humorist (and former teacher) Sam Levenson would occasionally present on I've Got a Secret. In previous apperances Levenson had given the panel typical questions that fifth and sixth graders would be expected to answer; earlier this week, GSN replayed the May 24, 1965 show in which Levenson attempted to stump the panel (and, in all likelihood, most of the viewers) with a fourth grade quiz. Remember as you attempt these questions that these were written for fourth graders in 1965; do you think today's fourth graders could answer them?

Ready? Here we go:

1. Name the longest river in the world.

2. "Big" and "large" are called synonyms. "Hot" and "cold" are antonyms. What are "wood" and "would" called?

3 & 4. There are four oceans in the world. Name two of them besides the Atlantic and Pacific.

5. Which of the following was not one of the original 13 colonies: Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, or Georgia?

6. What do you get when you add one gallon, two quarts and four pints?

7 & 8. There are five major circles of latitude: the Arctic Circle, the Equator, the Antartic Circle, and two tropical circles. The answer to question #7 is the one is above the Equator, the Tropic of ________; the answer to question #8 is the one below, the Tropic of ________.

9 & 10. There are three classifications of rock. Igneous is one, name the other two.

As always, no Googling, no encyclopedias, no cheating. Answers later this week.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

New Features

The Editors

We've introduced some new features to the sidebar for the amusement of our loyal readers, since you aren't getting that much from our regular writers. Well, let's face it. Unlike some blogs, we don't put up eight new pieces a day. We don't even do eight a week. So there has to be some reason to give you to keep you coming back.

Our new features include "The Daily Almanac, " with the "Word of the Day" (makes sense for a site called Our Word, don't you think?), "This Day in History," "Today's Birthday," the "Article of the Day" and other interesting tidbits. We've also added some word and number puzzles to keep you entertained, including, of course, Sudoku (which any news site worth its weight had better have); and Mark Anderson's cartoon of the day for those times when the erstwhile editorial staff fails to show up for work (an increasingly common occurrence).

We hope you'll enjoy these new features and come back often to check them out - even if there's nothing new on the rest of the site. And if you love 'em, hate 'em, or want something more, feel free to comment.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Beginning of the 2012 Campaign

By Mitchell

As you might recall, back in February I wrote about why I thought McCain would lose in November. While that contention is still a matter of debate, there's no doubt that, win or lose, McCain has meant a great deal of apprehension for conservative Republicans, and caused a lot of soul-searching about the future of the party and the conservative movement.

In assuming McCain's eventual defeat, I turned to what history suggested the Republican party needed to do to rebuild itself. I followed what I thought was the most likely parallel, that of Goldwater's 1964 defeat, the GOP's 1966 recovery, and Nixon's 1968 triumph. A key component of that strategy involved

"one thing above all: a leader. Someone to speak for the party in the media, to energize the base and rally the troops, to campaign for Republicans nationwide and hold the administration’s feet to the fire."

I humbly suggested at the end of that piece that if the example of history were to be followed, one name presented itself as the logical answer: Newt Gingrich. (Read the entire piece to find how I arrived at that conclusion.)

Therefore, it was no surprise to me to see in this week's headline "GOP Leaders Warn Of Election Disaster" that the most prominent Republican mentioned was indeed Gingrich. He remains the one Republican who can command attention - and by that I don't mean merely that the media reports what he says. I mean that people actually pay attention to what he says.

Gingrich's warning to the GOP was in the form of this article in Human Events, in which he lays out the facts: Republicans losing special elections for longtime GOP-held seats, polls showing that Americans in overwhelming numbers believe the economy is headed in the wrong direction, and a botching of traditional Republican issues combined with a lack of new ideas and new direction from Republican leaders. Under these circumstances, Gingrich suggests, the GOP is headed for an election disaster in the House and Senate; he also points out that it is only McCain's personal popularity that currently keeps the White House from becoming a lost cause as well. Gingrich's conclusion, and it is a hard one with which one can argue, is that Republicans have but two choices: Real change or certain defeat.

In doing so Gingrich is following what I saw as some of the key components of a Republican recovery: support of the party's presidential candidate in the November election (as Nixon did with Goldwater in 1964), an agenda for the Republicans to follow in the midterm elections (the "Nine Acts of Real Change" that Gingrich offers in the Human Events article), and a call to action coupled with an optimistic note for the future. "Real change" requires an agent of that change, a leader to mobilize the troops behind a personal vision of the future. Every successful movement, whether social, political or military, succeeds or fails based on the presence and success of that leadership. Gingrich, I believe, is attempting to offer that leadership and will continue to do so through the post-November period and into the midterm elections, where the 2012 landscape will become far more clear.

A couple of caveats to consider: I never said that Gingrich was the only person who could pull the GOP together, merely that he was the most logical one. Additionally, there is no guarantee that the GOP will follow his suggestions - after all, there's a reason why they're known as the Stupid Party. Still, for a student of history, the drama is unfolding.

Friends, whether or not you realize it, the first shots of the 2012 election are being fired today; and as history suggested, it is Newt Gingrich who is firing them.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

True Confessions

By Mitchell

By now you've probably heard about Barbara Walters' admission of her 1970s affair with Senator Edward Brooke. You may even have heard more than you wanted to hear about it. And so the question that has to be asked is: who cares?

Not "who cares" in the sense that an adulterous affair with a United States Senator is something that can just be dismissed. Nor in the sense that it's old news, a story about a fading media celebrity and a politician long since disappeared from the scene.

No, in this case "who cares" has to mean: Babs, why do you consider yourself so important that you feel the need to discuss in the pages of a book the most intimate details of your private life?

Now, Walters could have kept her mouth shut entirely. After all, adultery - regardless of the prevaling moral climate - isn't something one should feel particularly proud of. And if you're not proud of it, if you even feel a little shame, why go blabbing about it to the public? Wait, I forgot - blabbing to the public is what Barbara Walters does for a living. Never mind.

Besides, what were the alternatives for Walters? If she felt she just had to share the details of an adulterous affair, she couldn't just say it was with "a U.S. Senator." That would have cast a net of suspicion on at least 100 men who'd have fit that description during the time in question, and you know there's someone out there who would have grabbed a copy of the World Almanac and gone through it trying to figure out who it was. You probably would have been able to make book on the odds in Vegas. It would have been just like the search for Deep Throat. (OK, maybe that isn't the best analogy, but you know what I mean.)

If not a U.S. Senator, then what about simply identifying him as "a prominent Washingtonian"? That would have retained for Walters the prestige of having attracted the attentions of a powerful man to her bed, while having widened the pool of suspects to the point where it might have been impossible for his identity to be discovered. There's still that possibility of mistaken identity though - Walters herself says that the affair ended to protect both of their careers from scandal, so you have to think she's aware of the pitfalls of a false ID.

Well, it seems as if Walters didn't really have any other choice then, did she? So let's assume that Walters just had to talk about it. Notwithstanding the damage it does to Brooke's reputation ("Man, I thought he'd have better taste than that"), think of the effect it might have on Brooke's family, his former wife (if she's still alive), his current wife (who knows if Brooke ever told her about it?), and all sorts of others. Brooke himself refuses comment, saying that he doesn't talk about his or other people's private lives, which goes to show that at least some people still have a touch of dignity about them.

In fact, this used to be the kind of thing that "gentlemen didn't discuss." (Whether or not that applies to women, Barbara Walters notwithstanding, is apparently debatable. Apparently that's one part of sexual equality that didn't make the jump.) There was not only a sense of shame to be considered, but propriety as well. It used to be that there were some things that simply weren't discussed in public, and naming names was one of them.

So in fact the only alternative that Barbara Walters had was to keep her mouth shut (or her pen capped, as it were). If she really felt it was necessary to mention an affair in order to explain some critical aspect of her life and how it had developed, then she could simply have said something about having made mistakes in the past, about having done things she shouldn't have done. Unless, of course, she doesn't see it as having been a mistake.

But the point here is to ask whatever happened to the idea that there are some things one doesn't discuss in public. The "true confessions" craze is everywhere, from the "kiss-and-tell" book to the "reality" TV show to the "dear diary" blogs. And again, one wonders if there is anything such as "dignity" left in today's culture? Do we have to make our lives an open book to others? Aren't there some things we can at least save for the Confessional? Whatever happened to the idea of interior privacy, of public decorum, of taking some secrets to the grave? Whatever became of keeping your mouth shut?

I don't know if I have all the answers to those questions, but I do have one: money. There's big money to be had for spilling your guts in public, though, and we all know that money talks. (At least bloggers - most of them, anyway - do their emoting for free, which makes their behavior all the more puzzling, but that's another story.)

Was it really necessary to identify Ed Brooke by name as her lover? Of course it was. You notice that the CNN story about Walters put it not in the news or political section, but in entertainment. For whatever Barbara Walters' credentials of the past, she surely can't be viewed any longer as a serious news reporter. It's all about entertainment, baby, about keeping them amused out there, titilated even. Sell the books, keep the ratings and the ad revenue up.

And so if it is all about the money, and we all know it is, then what these tell-alls really do is turn the storytellers into high-priced whores, selling their inner secrets for the almighty dollar, or fame, or - preferably - both.

If there is no shame any more, as the true confessions lifestyle would seem to indicate, then what other conclusion can we reach?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The More Things Change - Part 1,276

By Mitchell

"Despite the reverence, there is still criticism that the [National Hockey League] playoff system drags the season to an absurd length, and that this extension is a mere money-grubbing device of the owners. The charges are correct, but the fans couldn't care less. There are many who would watch hockey in July if they could. There is tension in a Stanley Cup game that no regular season contest can engender."

Truer words have seldom been written, as we sit here on May 7 waiting for the semifinals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to start. The regular season ended in early April. The playoffs still have possibly another five weeks or so to go.

However, the quote above was written not today, not even yesterday - but by Martin Kane in the April 25, 1966 edition of Sports Illustrated. At that point the Montreal Canadiens had defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in the semis, and were waiting for the winner of the Detroit-Chicago series to settle the whole thing.

That's right: forty years ago, people were complaining because the playoffs hadn't ended by the middle of April. Today, people are complaining because the playoffs haven't ended by the middle of May. We may not make it into July, but certainly the Stanley Cup won't be awarded until sometime in June.

Undoubtedly there are a lot of fans who still would be fine if the playoffs didn't end until July. Unfortunately for the NHL, hardly anyone else would even notice.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

They Said It

By Drew

"What I am opposed to is not the feeling of the pacifists, but their stupidity. My heart is with them, but my mind has contempt for them. I want peace but I know how to get it and they do not. You will notice that I sent a friend of mine, Colonel House, to Europe, who is as great a lover of peace as any man in the world, but I didn't send him on a peace mission yet. I sent him to take part in a conference on how the war was to be won, and he knows, as I know, that that is the way to get peace."

Woodrow Wilson

(Just in case you thought George Bush was the only headstrong president we've ever had in wartime. Wilson also held presidential powers that would have made Bush blanche, but that's another story.)

There's much truth in what Wilson says, though. In particular, I will never believe the hoary liberal quote about being unable to simultaneously prevent and prepare for war, for peace is more than merely the absence of war. Wilson's main flaw was his inability to differentiate between disagreement and opposition - from the earliest times he displayed something of a "you're either for me or against me" mentality, a trait that was exacerbated during his years as president.

Wilson's presidency provides a prime example of the arrogance of power and the delusion of idealism. Without the hubrus that regards disagreement over policy as a personal attack, Wilson might have avoided his place as a tragic figure in history, and his administration the contempt it often deserves. Wilson was what he was, however, and thus sealed both his fate and that of America: a changed conception of the presidency, a changed role for America in the world, and a century of warfare.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

What McCain Wants

By Mitchell

Today over at NRO, K-Lo discusses why it would make sense for McCain to choose Mitt Romney as his running mate. Now, anyone who's read The Corner during the political season knows about K-Lo's infatuation with Romney, but in this case there's a pretty sound logic to her thinking. (A logic that isn't always present, it might be noted.) However, there's something she writes that I'm just not sure about. It's this line, with which she concludes her thought:

McCain (I assume) wants to win.

I'm not so sure about that. As you'll recall from the story I wrote earlier this year (which we linked to this week), I have this feeling that McCain is motived more by a sense of personal animus and a desire to settle old scores than he is in actually winning the White House. Now, I don't mean that he actually wants to lose, or that he'd do something to intentionally throw the election. I just don't know that he's willing to do what needs to be done to win if that takes him away from his prime motivation: sticking it to his political enemies.

After all, everyone has known for at least two years that this was going to be an extremely difficult election for the Republicans to win, and that in fact defeat was quite likely. I think McCain saw this as his chance to take a few well-placed shots at his long-standing enemies, that it would give him a chance, as I put it in that February story, "to lord it over the other side." Like fellow Arizonan Barry Goldwater, it was this feeling that I think marked McCain's drive for the nomination. (Goldwater's, to be sure, was also about ideological purity; but don't you think there's a sort of purity present - or imagined - in McCain's "me vs. the world" mentality?)

And then, wonder of wonders, the Democratic battle descends into a nasty intra-party fight that threatens to tear the Dems in half. Suddenly, McCain discovers he might actually have a chance to win. I wonder if he was really ready for that? What does he do? I mean, if he really wants to win he has to run a much more cautious campaign; he has to try his best to avoid offending conservatives, keeping his temper in check, playing nice with others. He has to stop making the snide comments that he knows drive conservatives up the wall. Is that really what John McCain wants? I mean, where's the fun in that?

Again at NRO, Jay Nordlinger relates how many of his readers have emailed him to say something along the lines of how

The less McCain talks, the more I like him. And the more he talks, the more I dislike him. When he’s been on the sidelines for a while, I start to like him better. But when he gets in, and starts to talk: I think, ‘Oh, yeah — that’s how he is.’”

When Nordlinger suggested that the traditionally outrageous Democratic attacks will produce the traditional result - motivating previously doubtful Republicans to crawl over broken glass to vote for McCain - one replied that he'd crawl over broken glass all right, but he'd only have one bloody hand: " the other will be holding my nose."

McCain does seem to have that effect on people, doesn't he? And I think he gets kind of a charge out of it. That's why I wonder just how badly he wants the White House. He seems to have an almost palpable unease in engaging the Democrats compared to the vigor with which he attacks "fellow" Republicans. Look at how uncomfortable he was at the start of the Wright case, except when it came to criticizing Republicans who tried to make an issue of it. Every time you hear the shrill liberal rhetoric and start to think that maybe McCain isn't so bad after all, you listen to what McCain actually has to say, and within a few minutes you start to get that queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach, the one that asks you if you're really sure that supporting McCain is what you want to do.

It will be interesting to see McCain struggle with this over the next few months. Does he run a campaign to please himself, or does he try to win? When I ran for the state legislature ten years ago, I was confronted with a somewhat similar situation: the state party had targeted my district as a winnable one, but it meant I would have to moderate my conservative message somewhat to try and attract swing voters. This I dutifully did, with the result that I lost anyway, and deprived myself of the chance to take solace in the thought that I'd gone down swinging. I don't pretend to think that I would have won if only my handlers had just "let Hadley be Hadley" - I probably would have lost by an even greater margin. But at least I would have had the satisfaction of having lost by doing it "my way." That, I think, is the conundrum that McCain faces. He does have to live with himself in the end; what is it that he wants to accomplish?

So does John McCain want to win? Well, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, I suppose that depends on what the definition of "win" is.

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