Friday, July 31, 2009

Old Style Promotions!

By Bobby Chang

As we know, Mitchell has frequently run across old television and old advertising. In light of Sunday's (and Tuesday's) concerts where I am singing, I decided to take the clock back 45 years in advertising and see how the concert could be promoted with an ad that should have a theme that some of you may think you'd know.

P. S. I am in the choir in question, and shall sing both shows in the choir.

Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! -- Sunday at the University of South Carolina School of Music Recital Hall on Assembly Street next to the Koger Center! See Lillian "The Quack" Quackenbush" and Jennifer "The Keystone Leader" Adam conduct soprano "The Misssissippi Squirrel," Serena Hill, tenor David "The Duck" Quackenbush, bass Michael "The Man of" LaRoche, pianist Rosemarie "The Ivory Lady" Suniga, and a group of college students and other great choral singers in selections from Haydn's Die Jahreszeiten. You'll hear a choir of all ages, all types, singing a another great masterpiece of Haydn. Lots of fun and serious songs will be there! These are the songs of real music that last for ages, unlike the pop-rock junk that can't last much. Be there 4 PM at the School of Music Hall Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! Where the great ones run, run, run!

Also a show Tuesday at 7:30 PM.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

This Just In

By Steve Harris

Selig Announces "Designated Juicer"
Rule Designed to Rid Sport of Annoying Positive Drug Tests

NEW YORK, NY (July 30) -- In the wake of yet another scandalous revelation involving a star player testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, Major League Baseball announced today perhaps its most sweeping move yet to deal with the situation.

Called the "Designated Juicer" rule, or DJ for short, the plan - which is dependent upon approval of the Major League Baseball Players Association - would allow each team to designate one star player who would be exempt from the game's drug-testing policy, allowing them to "juice" without disrupting the action on the field and in the clubhouse.

"This proposal shows the determination of Major League Baseball to rid the sport of the scourge of positive drug tests," Commissioner Bud Selig told a packed press conference at MLB headquarters. "The gossip, the rumors, the whispering about which big star will be the next one caught - this just serves as a distraction from the product we put on the field, and our fans are getting tired of it. Therefore, with the introduction of the "Designated Juicer," baseball will return the focus of the fans to where it belongs, while at the same time injecting an exciting new element into the National Pastime."

Selig explained to the stunned reporters that the new rule would not only improve the product on the field, it would also make the game more fan-friendly. "What's the biggest complaint we hear?" Selig asked rhetorically. "That steroids give a team a competitive advantage. But limiting each team to one DJ will spread the talent around, allowing even such hopeless franchises as the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Washington Nationals a chance to land that clutch hitter or ace starter, and enabling their fans to once again look forward to opening day with the anticipation that their team will be involved in a pennant race."

ESPN analyst Peter Gammons said the new rule would create the biggest impact in baseball since the introduction of free agency. "We've seen how teams in other sports have to juggle rosters because of things like salary caps, but believe me the DJ will be even more significant," Gammons said. "Suppose you're the Red Sox with Ortiz and Ramirez, or the A's when they had McGwire and Canseco, or the Yankees with Clemens and Giambi. In a situation like that you have to ask yourself - which one are you going to keep? You have to unload one of them, and that means a bargain price for teams looking to fill their DJ spot. This is going to create a real challenge for GMs out there - I don't evny them making those tough choices."

The punishment for teams violating the new policy was not announced, but according to Selig it will be harsh. "Our new drug czar, Pete Rose, will have free reign with regards to disciplinary moves," Selig said. "He won't pull any punches or play any favorites, and you can bet on that."

"This is the dawn of a new era in baseball," Selig said in conclusion. "The DJ will allow fans to continue cheering for their favorite players without fear of disappointment. We'll be removing the cynicism that has plagued the game in recent years, and introduce brand new generations of young people to the joys of baseball and the miracles of judiciously applied pharmaceuticals. I'm confident that our fans will react very positively to the new rule. You might call it drug peace on our time."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Opera Wednesday

By Paul Drew

The title role of Benjamin Britten's 1945 opera Peter Grimes was created by (and likely for) Peter Pears, but from the late 60s on it was the province of the great Canadian tenor Jon Vickers. It was said that Britten himself was not particularly happy with Vickers' rough, almost brutish portrayal of Grimes (in contrast to Pears' more vulnerable interpretation), but for an entire generation of operagoers Vickers was Grimes.

Britten was quoted as describing Grimes as "a subject very close to my heart—the struggle of the individual against the masses. The more vicious the society, the more vicious the individual." It was and continues to be a story dramatically open to interpretation: was Grimes responsible for the deaths of his apprentices? Was he sexually molesting them? Or was he an innocent, persecuted by closed-minded villagers? Is Grimes victim or villain? Whether one prefers Pears or Vickers, the opera remains relentlessly intense - from the first bars through the famous, haunting "sea interludes," one knows that this will not end well.

From 1981, here is Jon Vickers in Grimes' final scene. Note the crisp enunciation of the English lyrics - a trademark of Britten's operas.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wish I'd Written That

By Bobby Chang

Remember Tom and Jerry? Well, I found Jerry's cousin in my house. Not as cute as Jerry. He is now gone FOREVER (RIP Jerry's cousin) and surprisingly I don't feel bad at all. Just in case he has any family members that want to come visit, be afraid, be very afraid, cause Momma is prepared!!!"

-- Heather Payne, formerly of Point of Grace, on being a mouse trap at the home, beating mice to submission if they attempt to destroy the House of Payne.

"And the ING Magyar Nagydíj is . . . GO!"

-- We didn't hear that, but who would say that?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Weekend Reflections

By Bobby Chang

Is this church? I've frequently taken shots at what has been called secularised "sacred" music, which its movement has been led by Sony, EMI, Warner, Kona, Oregon Catholic Press, and GIA. This from Flagstaff, Arizona, is a sad example of the secularised music that is used in churches today, and is gladly cheered by a younger generation which would ignore a Cunningham, Hanna, Cuttino, or Rattry in favour of what they witness on MTV today. The lack of theology and sound doctrine in these Life Enhancement Centres calling themselves "Community Churches" is concerning.

Choral Practice Laughs. Next Sunday and Tuesday I am participating in volunteer and student choir in a production of excerpts from Die Jahreszeiten. This is starting to be an exciting challenge, but an interesting sense of humour came out of a break. I said that in preparations, we had "three red lights" up (now four red lights are up), and two of the college girls said they only see green lights. I told them that traffic lights only have yellow and red lights, and there are no green lights. The traffic lights, I told them, came from the ING Magyar Nagydíj (Sunday, 3 PM EDT, Fox), and I have shown the traffic lights from that programme (a GIF animation).

Fox Tells Obama No. Fox has too much invested with Daniel Synder and two of his entities (Dick Clark Productions and the Washington Redskins) where they decided it wasn't worth it to air on the broadcast network the President's press conference to glorify his plan to socialise the health care system to promote rationing and restrictions and instead air live without interruption the next round of So You Think You Can Dance, a Dick Clark Productions programme. With the socialised medicine plans, could Caroline have had her surgery to repair her blown knee that quickly? And for Michelle (a college friend who needed surgery two years ago to remove a cancerous tumour growing in her spine), would she have had the surgery, or would they have let her die with a rare symptom? Glorifying this totalitarian Communist leader's plans to turn this nation into a Soviet-style system is wrong. Furthermore, I do not want my taxpayer money going to a socialised medicine that supports death, but not life. Supporting the killing of children through eugenics, "abortion," and other forms of population control with my money is abusive. Then supporting killing people they do not feel are in the best interest of living is the second strike. But the third strike is Oregon-style rules where they will not support medicine or treatments to cure a problem, but funding medicine to kill people shows the ultimate goal -- the Oath of Hippocrates is being violated, and mandating the violation of the Oath shows which side of the ball they lie -- on the side that violates the sanctity of human life, but it doesn't matter today since Sanctity of Human Life Day is no longer celebrated, and there is a plan by Washington to endure Mexico City Policy of Reagan will be permanently repealed by the Obama Policy of funding abortion by law.

DISCLAIMER: In the interest of full disclosure, Mr. Chang holds shares in health-care provider CVS Caremark, Inc.

Defence Bill Shenanigans. Putting a "hate crimes" bill in the Defence Authorisation Bill for this country is another plot by liberals who have used the bill that authorises funds for our military to weaken this country. Two years ago, the Pelosi Administration inserted a 40% minimum wage hike over two years that helped bring down this economy, and weaken it against Communist tinpot dictators and other nations. Now, knowing the "success" of this failure that affects 31 states -- most of them that opposed the President -- they want to impose their values by a "hate crimes" bill that would make speaking out for Biblical values and against sexual deviancy a crime. "Hate crimes" is a way to restrict speech by giving special rights to sexual deviants and punishing clergy and others (Carrie Prejean most notably) for speaking out against sin.

Bush Derangement Syndrome. Does anyone see another Bush Derangement Syndrome in the Sotomaior Confirmation Case? This is the judge who sided against the then-Texas Governor in 1995 and in favour of players to end the MLBPA strike. She ended the strike. Gov. Bush was then part of the Texas Rangers ownership group, and the owner's box was recently named in his honour at Ameriquest Field, which also alternates as the home of the Big XII (10 teams) Baseball Tournament. If, as expected, she puts everything on feelings, it would show how far we've fallen as feelings replace facts everywhere.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Opera Wednesday

By Mitchell Hadley

I've written in the past of my admiration both for Birgit Nilsson and Richard Strauss. Here's another two-fer, from the 1972 Met gala for the retiring General Manager, the famed Rudolf Bing. Nilsson sings the famed final scene from Strauss' magnificent Salome. I'm sure you'll agree that the audience's response at the end is justified.

Monday, July 20, 2009

To the Moon!

By Judith Hadley

In honor of the anniversary of the moon landing, here's The Chairman of the Board singing one of my favorite songs, the way only he can sing it.

Of a Man on the Moon

By Mitchell Hadley

One of the marks of a good writer is, I think, knowing when to shut up and let someone else's words do the talking for you. So today I was all set to share my memories of 40 years ago, and then I find that someone has already beaten me to the punch!

So go read Fr. Zuhlsdorf's account of that day when the unthinkable became a reality, when man first set foot on the moon. Like him, I was nine years old that summer (go ahead, do the math - I'll wait); I may not have ridden the bare-backed horses nor taken a dip in the swimming hole, and the ball team of my youth was the major league Twins, but we built the same models and dreamt the same dreams of traveling to planets far away. Like him, I sat transfixed that night in front of the television, watching the same picture, and I stood outside and looked at the same moon.

It is, I know, hard for many of you to believe - that there was a time when space travel was not taken for granted, when man on the moon was not a fact of life. In the same way that I have always lived with television and air travel, you cannot fathom a time when the moon landing was not already a part of history. And yet there was that time. The astronauts were heroes to us all then, and - even 40 years later - you can still get a thrill from meeting someone who actually set foot on that distant surface.

I could say more - but why bother, when someone else has done it so much better? Read Fr. Z, and share the experience of that nine-year-old boy on that night when, millions of miles away, a man took a step into history and brought all mankind with him.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Socialised Medicine Hazards

By Bobby Chang

In the discussion of the President's plan for socialised medicine through "health care reform," which would turn the nation fully into being run by Europe after courts began declaring years ago that European laws override American laws, and now with the idea of European-style socialism with tax rates over 50%, a message I received from a friend, Caroline Lewis-Jones, a dancer, and also warnings from doctors about athletic injuries reminded me of why we cannot have socialised medicine, and how its plan to have government bureaucrats determine what types of medical treatment are possible, the long waits, and restrictions on medical care (including an emphasis on killing through “abortion,” including mandates on training doctors to kill, and “euthanasia”) are extremely dangerous for the health of the person. The proposals of socialised medicine and restrictions on specialists would virtually prohibit medical research (except for baby-killing), new medicines and vaccines (could you imagine Jonas Salk producing the polio vaccine with government-run health care banning research on new medicines; speaking of polio, Bill Cullen's polio was why he sat at desks on many of his game shows; you could see how it compromised him when he hosted the syndicated 1970's version of Pyramid; also he was already seated in position in many game shows where he was a guest panelist), and experimental surgery that is used only in this country where innovation has long been rewarded.
As I read the report from Mrs. Lewis-Jones, whom I have supported her efforts against cancer and a local hospice (she lost her mother two weeks after I lost my father), the report mentioned she had a severe knee injury, as she tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), and will have surgery Monday for repairs. It will likely take months (probably into next summer) to heal the severe injury (a friend at church had an ACL tear that took months to heal from playing sports with the kids), with Mrs. Lewis-Jones' rehabilitation probably taking longer because of her nature as a professional dancer.

The nature of her treatment reminded me of the rationing of medical care services and medicine under "single-payer" socialised medicine, which is the model plan of this Administration. Imagine if it was under the new ObamaCare, and she is told to visit a general practitioner, and not a specialist who works with knees, which is what she needs for her injury, as the specialist works with dancers and athletes. The general practicioner makes a diagnosis but tells her to wait in the mandatory waiting line for the knee specialist. The waiting line for her severe injury takes her a minimum of two months, and then she is told to wait six to eight months for surgery, as her ACL injury line is long from high-school athletes who have blown their knees from ACL tears, who cannot wait. Meanwhile, she is out a minimum of two years from her livelihood and occupation because of government waiting lines that could mean waiting a total of six months, then eight months for surgery, and the rehabilitation which will take a year.

Is this the type of medical care we need when someone has a severe knee injury such as an ACL tear, and requires two years from calling the doctor to being cleared again, when currently the injury can be detected quickly, surgery immediate, and rehabilitation is much faster, and she can be ready within this time next year? As a friend of Mrs. Lewis-Jones (we saw each other at the South Carolina Philharmonic concert in January that I thought was not suited for Wien), I cannot imagine her losing her occupation for two years because rationed health care ensures she cannot be treated for her severe knee injury.

As we go into next week, please keep Mrs. Lewis-Jones in your prayers as she goes under the knife of the doctor to repair the torn ACL.

This injury makes me appreciate the specialists who will tend to these injuries with special care designed for dancers and athletes. These are the types of doctors socialised medicine would eliminate, and ruin careers of friends such as her career.

Oh, by the way. It is a sad state of affairs when many do not know what is Santander after watching last week's Großer Santander Preis von Deutschland. After reading the Max Mosley controversy at the Nürburgring, I hope many of you will know what is Santander. Some in the Northeast may have something from them – I own shares of Santander.) Do not use any search engine – Google, Yahoo!, Bing, et al, in answering the question – What is Santander?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite, R.I.P.

By Mitchell

That's the way it was.

The lasting image of Walter Cronkite is probably that of his announcement of John F. Kennedy's death. Never mind that NBC was the news leader of the day, that half the nation was watching the Huntley-Brinkley Report; never mind that Cronkite was on the air only because he was preparing for that night's evening news, and that he was spelled for long stretches by Harry Reasoner and Charles Collingwood. The fact remains that when Kennedy died, it was Cronkite on the air, and that CBS's announcement was by far the most dramatic, the most memorable of the three networks. As JFK passed into history, so did Walter Cronkite, and he remained a dominant figure for the rest of his life.

(Here in Minneapolis, we have an additional memory of Cronkite, for he had been offered the lead newscaster job at CBS' local affiliate. He declined, went to the network, and the rest was history.)

Newsmen in those days were titans: Edward R. Murrow was the gold standard at CBS, Chet and David revolutionized the nightly news at NBC. ABC, always the poor sister, nonetheless could boast John Cameron Swayze, and later John Daly. Cronkite himself was not always the giant we remember, for memories do play tricks on us. In addition to being a poor second to Huntley-Brinkley during the JFK assassination, ratings for CBS' coverage of the Republican convention in 1964 were so dismal that Cronkite was replaced by for the Democratic convention

But all this is to split hairs, for Cronkite had what it took to deliver the news: presence, authority, gravitas. By the late 60s Huntley-Brinkley had started to fade, and Roone Arledge had not yet assumed control of the news at ABC. Cronkite became the number one man, and there he stayed. When we watched man land on the moon, we saw Cronkite and Wally Schirra shed a tear or two. When we saw the resignation of Nixon, the fall of Saigon, the shootings of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, it was Cronkite who told us. Books, audio and video tapes, you name it - the history of those decades was essentially narriated by Walter Cronkite.

Was there ever a more influential newscaster than Cronkite? He was, the polls said, the "most trusted man in America." When he turned against the Vietnam War, Lyndon Johnson was said to have lamented that losing Cronkite meant losing the public. As Watergate eroded public confidence in government, journalists became the new source of public trust, none more so than Walter Cronkite. Whether or not any newscaster should have that kind of influence over popular opinion is a moot point, a discussion for another day. Cronkite had it, and used it, and we remember him for it. He truly was a fixture; anyone who wanted to tell the story of America in those years would turn to Cronkite, and his voice was a familiar feature on documentaries voice was the voice of history for a generation, in documentaries, and his closing line - "And that's the way it is"- was ingrained in the vernacular.

There was talk that he was eased out of the anchor chair by CBS management, who were anxious to hang on to the hotshot young heir apparent, Dan Rather. So Cronkite left, increasingly turning up on news retrospectives and as host of the Vienna New Year's Day concert on PBS, and it truly was the end of an era. I won't pretend that I was Walter Cronkite's biggest fan, but I will say this: Rather's role in that "Memogate" scam against George W. Bush during the waining days of the 2004 campaign made one absolutely pine for Cronkite's dignity. Who knows whether or not he would ever have done such a thing, but you can be sure if he had, it would have been done with style.

And so with Walter Cronkite's death today we can truly say that the giants of television news are gone, replaced by pygmies and pretenders. Those of us who believe a liberal bias exists in the news media will point out that it is not new, that it existed in Cronkite's day, that he would on occasion display it himself. It wasn't the same, though. When Keith Olbermann foams at the mouth, we cheer him or curse him, or simply turn the sound down and ignore him.

Keith Olbermann isn't Walter Cronkite though, and never will be. (And how that must torture him.) But then, neither is Brian Williams, or Charles Gibson, or what's-her-name that now sits in Uncle Walter's chair. The fact is, in an era when there are no shared experiences, when hardly anyone watches network news, when the news is all style and no substance, there probably never will be another Cronkite.

That's just the way it is.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Opera Wednesday

By Mitchell

You'll recall that last year I ventured the thought that the best live opera I'd seen in the Twin Cities was the Skylark Opera's production of Ned Rorem's Our Town. Our Town has been performed as a straight play and as a musical, but I think it also lends itself quite well to the operatic treatment.

Rorem's opera is modern but still melodic, and in orchestration and structure (heavily on recitative and light on individual arias; think Menotti or Adams) it makes for a striking, moody, bittersweet presentation of a story that is itself striking, moody and bittersweet.

Here is a clip of the duet between Emily and George. I'm not sure of the source, and I don't recall if the orchestration in this scene really is for piano alone or if this is a scaled-down production (it could probably be more properly thought of as a chamber opera anyway), but this should give you a good flavor for the whole opera.

Be My Guest

By Mitchell

One of the many downsides to the modern late-night talk show is that we've seen the virtual disappearance of the guest host. Younger viewers may not believe this, but there was a time when, while the host was on vacation, a guest host came in and took over the show. The substitute might only be on for a night or two while the regular host was enjoying a long weekend, or it could be an entire week - or even two, in some cases.

Johnny Carson was famous for having guest hosts, particularly since he took so much time off, but when Steve Allen hosted Tonight he had Ernie Kovacs as the permanent Monday-Tuesday guest host; Ernie even had his own cast and format. Joey Bishop parlayed his guesting gig into a show of his own (after its cancellation, he returned to the Carson stable); Joan Rivers, who became Carson's permanent guest host, bolted to Fox for her own star turn (unlike Bishop, she and Carson never reconciled). Carson would have guest hosts for a week or two at a time; some, like Jerry Lewis and Don Rickles, were regulars, but he also had more unlikely stars such as Woody Allen sit in for him for a week, and Beverly Sills became the first female to command the host's seat.

Maybe today's hosts feel threatened by the presence of a substitute who might wind up being funnier than they are (remember how "Larry Sanders" was constantly looking over his shoulder at Jon Stewart); perhaps it's just a matter of pure economics (it's easier and cheaper to show reruns than it is to hire a guest host). For whatever reason, the guest host - once a staple of talk shows - has almost completely vanished. In recent years only Letterman has had them, and then it's mostly been due to illnesses that made showing an extended series of reruns impractical.

I think we've lost something by not having guest hosts anymore; there was a variety and a different perspective that viewers got by having someone else in the host's chair. Some were better than others, but all of them were different, and that kept things interesting. Take, for example, the Tonight show's schdule for the week of February 5-9, 1968. The singer/actor/activist Harry Belafonte was the guest host for that week, and just take a look at this lineup:

Monday: Senator and Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy, Bill Cosby, Lena Horne, and actress Melina Mercouri and her husband, movie producer Jules Dasin.

Tuesday: Zero Mostel, Diahann Carool, Petula Clark, folk singers Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and ski expert Ken White.

Wednesday: Sidney Poitier, Dionne Warwick, George London and Marianne Moore.

Thursday: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Paul Newman, and Nipsey Russell.

Friday: Robert Goulet, Aretha Franklin, and Thomas Hoving (director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art).

You might not recognize all of those names, but trust me - these were very big names of the time, and to have even a few of them on during the course of one week would be something. Having all of them on the week's lineup would have been fantastic. And to think that this was for a guest host! I'm sure Belafonte must have had something to do with choosing the lineup - there was at least one big-name African-American guest each night, he probably knew or had worked with many of them personally, and guests such as King and Kennedy certainly would have reflected his own political philosophy. There's no doubt, though, that Tonight's booking crew really gave Harry a tremendous week's worth.

It's a reminder that talk shows weren't always about mindless entertainment - many of these guests had no songs to sing, nor jokes to tell. They were there to converse and to share their ideas, and I can imagine they did it with more dignity than today's newsmakers do when they appear with Letterman or Leno or O'Brian.

I'm not trying to suggest that shows were better then, or that guests were more interesting, or that television was simply better. (Well, in fact, that is what I'm suggesting - but that's another story, as I like to say, for another day.) My point here is just that times change, and we get used to it - but what a time that week must have been!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different (Again)

By Mitchell

AM America" was the precursor to ABC's "Good Morning America," a two-hour morning news program to compete with NBC's "Today" show. It wasn't very successful, running for less than a year in 1975 before being replaced by GMA. As proof positive of this, there is only one known clip from the show - but what a clip:

(Stay tuned - this is a preview of an extended piece about the short history of "AM America," which I'm hoping will be my next contribution to TVParty!.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Enemy of My Enemy...

By Drew

There's a story told about Lyndon Johnson that may or may not be true, but if it's not true it should be. During the 1968 campaign, Richard Nixon was harshly critical of LBJ's Attorney General, the ultra-liberal (and that's putting it kindly) Ramsay Clark, whose appointment Johnson himself came deeply to regret. Anyway, Johnson supposedly said something to the effect that while he hadn't ever had much time for that SOB Nixon, whenever Nixon criticized Ramsey Clark Johnson felt like standing up and cheering.

I feel that way about Alec Baldwin. I've never thought much of him, but when he says thinks like this about the pompous jackass Jack Cafferty, the "Man of the People" at CNN, it makes me want to throw my arms around him in gratitude. Seems that Cafferty has been poo-poohing the idea of Baldwin running for the U.S. Senate. "After decrying the notion of 'actors and comedians' running for public office, Cafferty stated, 'Baldwin's credentials are questionable... but Franken is no slouch. He's Harvard educated.'"

Of course, we've come to expect this level of buffoonery from Cafferty. Baldwin fired back though, and if he never does anything else for the rest of his life, I'll admire him for it. (Along with his Hulu commercials.) Said Baldwin in response, "I would like to make a deal with Cafferty. Jack, you don't tell people that a career in the performing arts disqualifies them from seeking elected office, and I won't say publicly that your being convicted of leaving the scene of an accident in which you struck a cyclist and then ran two red lights while you were pursued by the police and were subsequently ordered to serve 70 hours of community service back in May of 2003 disqualifies you from posing as a 'Man of the People' on a major cable news network."

Baldwin, if I were a drinking man I'd buy you a drink.

Wish I'd Written That

By Mitchell

Vince wore a watch. A thick, heavy, expensive watch. If he were ever kidnapped, he could turn that watch over to his captors and walk free, and they'd probably give him twenty dollars for cab fare home.

Rupert Holmes, Where the Truth Lies

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Summer Camp You Can Trust

By Mitchell

It's the time of the year when a lot of kids are off at camp for a couple of weeks. We hear a lot about how camping can build character, instill a sense of camaraderie, and form lasting relationships. (Unless you're going to Kamp Krusty.) It's also true, however, that many camps don't always deliver what they promise, and the values about which they boast are sometimes just a lot of empty words. So rather than the traditional types of camping experience from groups such as the Scouts and the Y, I'd like you to consider an organization I've recently learned about.

Some friends of ours were the beneficiaries of a recent visit by young adults from Catholic HEART Workcamp. If you're not familiar with their mission (and I'll admit I'd never heard of them before they visited Bob and Carol), here's what their website has to say:

Catholic HEART Workcamp is based in Orlando, FL. The Founders/Directors are Steve and Lisa Walker who love young people and God. After 17 years as Parish Youth Ministers in Pittsburgh, Houston and Orlando, the Walkers have devoted themselves to the development and management of the Catholic HEART Workcamp on a full time basis. They not only are experienced Youth Ministers but National Speakers and Workcamp veterans. The first Workcamp was established in 1993 and has increased in size every year. The Workcamps were established to offer quality service projects and evangelical programs for Catholic young people and their leaders. Whenever possible, Catholic HEART Workcamp works hand in hand with the host city diocese. Catholic HEART Workcamp continues to faithfully and enthusiastically serve the Roman Catholic Church in obedience to the Magisterium and strict faithfulness to the Church teachings. Each Workcamp is equipped with 10 summer staff members, adult associate staff members, a nurse, Priest, and camp Manager.

The young people who visited our friends worked for the better part of a week on painting the exterior of their house and garage, and all the trim work. They arrived for work each morning after having attended Mass, and took a break during the day to have a group discussion that often centered around their faith and values, and their hopes for the future.

Now, Bob and Carol have had a fair share to do with youth groups over the years, and are not easily swayed. However, they could not say enough about these young people and the work they did. (I should add here that our friends are not Catholic.) "We always hear about the problems kids are causing," Carol told us, "but these are the kinds of kids we don't hear enough about. And we should." Their devotion to their faith, and the willingness to put it into action in the community, made a profound impact on them. They literally could not stop talking about it. (As we can attest.)

Read about the kids who join Catholic HEART Workcamp: "Any students who will be entering the 8th Grade in the fall of 2009 who are serious about serving others. High school students as well as high school graduates and college students. We require one adult sponsor (21 years and older) for every five young people. Some camps you can bring young people entering 7th grade in the fall of 2009. Next Level camps are open to those entering the 10th grade and older. To see a list of these and all of the camps click here. Please bring at least one adult male and one adult female if you are bringing both female and male young people."

I wish I'd heard about this organization sooner so I could have plugged them earlier in the year, but it's never too late to start making your plans for next summer. Please do check out their website and see for yourself the good things that this organization is doing in our communities.

Talk is cheap nowadays, and a lot of organizations throw around buzzwords like "values," "learning opportunities," and "transformative experiences." But when you're considering a summer camp experience for your own kids or for those of family or friends, check out an organization that walks the walk and talks the talk, that truly believes in faith-based values and isn't embarrassed by its Christian roots, and where you don't have to be concerned about what kind of propaganda the counselors might be passing along. Consider Catholic HEART Workcamp - you'll be glad you did, and so will your kids.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

New Article on TVParty

By Mitchell

My latest article is now available at TVParty, entitled "Who Knew?" It tells the story of two episodes from two classic television shows of the 60s, The Outer Limits and The Avengers. The point? Well, this excerpt pretty much sums it up:

What is extraordinary about these episodes is that they both dealt with political assassination – and they each aired on their respective television networks in their respective countries less than two months before JFK’s murder.

Is truth really stranger than fiction? Check it out here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Opera Wednesday

Written by Mitchell

A while back, Terry Teachout posted a meme that, as I recall, had something to do with books that had made an immediate and lasting impact on you after you'd read them. Now, I think it's an automatic reflex that the mind starts working every time you read about that kind of list, and it didn't take me long to realize that I might have a very difficult time coming up with ten or so titles that would fit the description. It's not that I haven't read a lot of books, nor is it the case that I'd classify most of those books as forgettable.

It's just that the bar is set pretty high on this. We're not necessarily talking about favorite or best-loved books. There are many books that pack a wallop when you've just turned the final page and closed the covers; it's the rare book that lasts beyond that, causing your mind to return to it again and again. For me, a writer as well as reader, it might involve characters so memorable that I start speculating on how I'd write the continuation of their story. It could be a line or two that sticks in the mind, a line that you find yourself pulling out and using frequently. Or it could be one scene that haunts you, burns itself into your memory like a photographic negative. Whatever the case, I think a list of such books, like a list of one's closest friends, is probably quite short.*

*My own list wound up being short enough; eight titles. Maybe someday we'll discuss them all, but of course that isn't what today's piece is really about.

The point of this, in a piece titled "Opera Wednesday," is to set up the video clip we're about to look at. One of the books that made my list is Psalm at Journey's End, Erik Fosnes Hansen's remarkable novel about the members of the famed band on the ill-fated maiden voyage of the Titanic. Although the characters' names and their personal stories are fictionalized, Hansen's melancholy tale tells of the passion, the triumph and tragedy of the Titanic better than any recent movie could hope to.

The moment of truth comes on the novel's last page. Folklore has long supposed that Nearer, My God, to Thee was the piece which the band played as the ship went down. Walter Lord's definitive A Night to Remember rejected that tradition in favor of the Episcopal hymn Autumn. Lord based his assessment on the eyewitness testimony of wireless operator Harold Bride, who was on the ship until the very end. However, in Lord's follow-up The Night Lives On, he addressed speculation that the piece to which Bride had been referring was actually Songe d'Automne, a popular song of the time. Lord acknowledges the plausibility, indeed the probability, that this was in fact the final piece, but he concedes that we will probably never know for sure. Other historians have other opinions, the point being that such conjecture has long been part of the lore of the Titanic, and probably always will be.

Hansen, too, has his own theory, only his is far different, and adds to the poignancy of the ship's last moments. Recalling a memory from his childhood, bandleader Jason Coward asks the other musicians to join him in Handel's Largo.

The Largo is the popular name for the aria "Ombra mai fù" from Handel's opera Serse. Not only is it the most famous aria from this seldom-performed opera, it comes right at the beginning - a real rarety. Imagine Bobby Darin starting every concert by singing "Mack the Knife" (which he did, incidentelly). Or, since we're discussing Handel, suppose he started Messiah with the "Hallelujia Chorus." Nothing like leading with your strength.

"Ombra mai fù" is a wonderfully evocative piece (although if you look at the lyrics, you'll find that it's a song about the shade provided by a tree), and coming as it does at the end of this very sad book, telling such a sad story, it makes a powerful impact. The following is not taken from Serse; even though it comes at the beginning, you still have to get through the opening credits and the overture. There are plenty of concert versions to choose from, sung by mezzos, baritones, countertenors. I'll give you this filmed performance by Jennifer Larmore - I know, there's no apparent reason for it to have been shot in a shipyard, but in our context it seems quite appropriate.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Controversy? You're Kidding!

By Mitchell

You might have thought we could get through the July 4 weekend without politics rearing its ugly head. Much like the Grim Reaper in Death Takes a Holiday, you might have supposed that the politicos would let us get through one weekend - OK, make that three measly days - without barraging us with unsavory headlines.

You might have thought that, and if you had, you would have been wrong.

Politics, served up with an ironic twist, was all over the place over the weekend. We should have known better, should have known that the good times wouldn't last forever. But over the weekend our senses were assaulted by headlines that set tongues wagging, bloggers furiously pounding the keays, and pundits speculating as to what the future holds for one of the most important institutions in the world.

That would, of course, be Formula One.

In our last episode, you may remember that peace appeared to have broken out, as FIA president Max Mosley apparently offered to step down from the governing body at the end of his term this fall, thus causing the Formula One Teams Association to return to the fold, ending the threat of a breakaway championship. Max, as you know, is seen by many as the ultimate survivor, having dodged the bullet last year when that Nazi sex-tape surfaced. Fortunately, we all know that this story was a fluke, an aberration, one that would die down and soon be forgotten.


The man in the headlines now is Bernie Ecclestone, the F1 major domo. In an interview last week with The Guardian, Bernie had a good word for Hitler, stood up for Saddam, and questioned the wisdom of democracy (quotes courtesy F1B):

On Hitler: “In a lot of ways, terrible to say this I suppose, but apart from the fact that Hitler got taken away and persuaded to do things that I have no idea whether he wanted to do or not, he was in the way that he could command a lot of people, able to get things done. . .In the end he got lost, so he wasn’t a very good dictator because either he had all these things and knew what was going on and insisted, or he just went along with it . . . so either way he wasn’t a dictator.”

On Saddam: “Politicians are too worried about elections,” he said. “We did a terrible thing when we supported the idea of getting rid of Saddam Hussein. He was the only one who could control that country. It was the same [with the Taleban]. We move into countries and we have no idea of the culture. The Americans probably thought Bosnia was a town in Miami. There are people starving in Africa and we sit back and do nothing but we get involved in things we should leave alone.”

On democracy in general: [Ecclestone] also rounded on democracy, claiming that “it hasn’t done a lot of good for many countries — including this one [Britain]”.

Curious, as more than one pundit pointed out, that Bernie would use a Nazi analogy, considering the previous flap with Max.

Of course, Ecclestone has backed off his remarks, somewhat. Today he clarified that what he had meant to say was something along the lines of, "The trouble with politicians and democracy is they all the time have to compromise, they can't do what they want to do because there is somebody in opposition. It certainly takes a lot longer to do something. I regret that it didn't come out like that, upsetting people is the last thing I wanted to do, obviously."

Well, OK. But then he went on to criticize the World Jewish Congress for calling on him to resign. "I think the people who are saying that haven't got the power to say these things," Ecclestone said in a telephone interview, then adding "It's a pity they didn't sort the banks out ... (if) they have a lot of influence everywhere."

Now, I wonder if there will be any pushback from that last remark. After all, it sounds as if Bernie is just feeding into another stereotype, doesn't it? Judie asked me if I thought Bernie realized what he was saying. My response was that if this was an accurate quote, and not taken out of context, I feel fairly certain he knew exactly what he was saying, almost as if he were taunting them. I'll say this for the man, he's got balls. (Problem is, F1 doesn't need them. Baseball, football, basketball, golf. . .)

As if this weren't ironic enough, the next F1 Grand Prix is coming up Sunday in - you guessed it - Germany.

All this goes to show once again why F1 remains my favorite sport. It's just about the only place in the world where you can get sports, politics, soap opera, sex, you name it - all in one place. The competition on the track regularly seems to take a back seat to what goes on in the board room. Go ahead, check out any of the F1 blogs I've listed on the sidebar - you'll read about engine controversies, conflicts of interest, teams making threats, drivers making threats, everyone making threats - you have to page through tons of material to actually find something about the race. Add a healthy does of irony, and I ask you: what more could anyone want?

And Now For Something Completely Different

By Drew

For absolutely no good reason whatsoever, here's the Cowboy Junkies' ultra-cool cover of the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane."

Friday, July 3, 2009

Betting on Nathan's - What's Next?

By Bobby

A few years ago, I could not believe the hype over ESPN broadcasting the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island, as their sixth year of live coverage, which they recently renewed 2012, starts Saturday (Noon ET, 12:40 contest; play-by-play Paul Page, analyst Richard Shea, on-field reporter Rob Stone). Now I've seen how badly the obsession with this king of gluttony has become when oddsmakers are putting odds on the ten-minute match of 20 eaters.

The oddsmakers are now setting odds on not just the winner, but things on eating such as who will reach 15, 30, and 45 first, how many will be eaten by the 20 contestants overall, who will win, and if it will reach overtime.

As someone who has opposed sports betting because of how it destroys the integrity of the game, and remembers the Tulane point-shaving scandal of the 1980's, it concerns me that in this increasing rise of gambling through the rise in the past 20 years of state “education” lotteries “for the children” under the Zell Miller model, sports betting in Nevada, Montana, Oregon, and Delaware, and the increasing number of casino advertising at sports stadia. I ask how can Pete Rose be banned from the Professional Baseball Hall of Fame and even professional baseball for gambling when teams (including the Reds) are now advertising casinos and state lotteries at the ballpark, encouraging people to bet at the casinos, and potentially betting on sporting events? Now we're seeing people are betting on hot dog eating contests, awards shows, game shows (Idols, Strictly Come Dancing), and even “professional wrestling”.

I can't even picture my thought of that contest. Of course, the trouble with Page is that he calls contests that last from three and seven hundred seventy-eight thousandths to seven and a half seconds. Saturday's glutton festival is a ten-minute contest.

Just how bad has America become when a hot-dog eating contest is able to garner more ratings than a baseball game on Independence Day? Forget about it, I'm running the Peachtree XL instead in Atlanta!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Karl Malden, R.I.P.

By Mitchell

Karl Malden was responsible, albeit one step removed, from one of my favorite sayings. I have often been heard, at work and elsewhere, to declare that "A good excuse is like an American Express card - don't leave home without it."

Perhaps Malden didn't write that memorable line forAmerican Express, but he was the one who said it - and after that it belonged to him, no matter who said it. There was a presence about him (the profile, the nose, the hat, the commanding voice) that served him well even when he wasn't hawking travelers' checks: in A Streetcar Named Desire, for which he won his Oscar; for On the Waterfront, with his gritty portrayal of a priest who understood exactly what social justice means; or in Patton, for which I think he should have won an Oscar, playing the difficult role of General Omar Bradley to perfection - a hero in his own right, Bradley had to be played as second banana to Patton without losing his dignity or stature. Not every actor could pull that off, but Malden could and did.

He was known to millions for his role in the cop show The Streets of San Francisco, where he mentored the star-to-be Michael Douglas, who in those days was better known for being Kirk's son. He went on to become president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a role he fulfilled honorably for many years.

Karl Malden died today at 97, a life well lived. He was never in the stratosphere of superstars, just a hard-working actor who did his job often and well, and never left it at home.

Sanford Reminds Me of Hart, King David

By Bobby

As I looked at Mark Sanford's sexcapade scandal, I was reminded that this was reminiscent of King David's infidelity (Bathsheba) that put him in trouble and resulted in more scandal that led to the deaths of children in the family and even his son turning on him later. But the Governor's scandal had me thinking of Donna Rice, the woman behind the scandal involving Democrat Senator Gary Hart (Colorado) in 1987, who was on the Monkey Business when the scandal erupted.

Now I must disclose that I actively help Donna Rice in her fight against Internet pornography, and not only did I hear her speak of the issue, she and I are graduates of the same university. Mrs. Hughes is now head of Web Wise Kids.

Opera Wednesday

By Drew

Although Carmen is Bizet's best-known opera, his best-known opera aria - indeed, one of the most famous in all opera - might be "Au fond du Temple Saint," from the seldom-performed Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers).

I recall that during a Met Opera quiz a couple of years ago, one of the panelists suggested The Pearl Fishers was due for a revival in the operatic repertory. Indeed, Nathan Gunn starred in a wonderful production of it last year at the Lyric in Chicago, and it opens the Minnesota Opera's season this fall. However, although the opera iteslf isn't regularly seen, "Au fond du Temple Saint" is a staple of concert performances.

I'm not quite sure why The Pearl Fishers isn't performed more often, but after having heard it one possibility comes to mind: it requires really, really good singers. The most famous recording of "Au fond du Temple Saint" features two all-time greats, Jussi Björling and Robert Merrill; unfortunately, there's no video of it, which can be a problem if you're planning to do a video post. (Seldom-performed operas seldom have videos, unfortunately.) Nevertheless, if you want to hear it (and you really should), you can listen to it here.

For those of you in a more visual mood, here is a concert performance by Roberto Alagna and Bryn Terfel. After listening to it, I think you'll understand why "Au fond du Temple Saint" is considered one of the greatest arias of all time.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...