Thursday, June 30, 2011

Classic Sports Thursday

In light of the tragic news in Raleigh where a bus driver was killed in a crash, let's remember who he was, and one of college basketball's most famous moments. Dereck Whittenburg's 30-foot heave was caught by Lorenzo Charles, whose dunk at the buzzer is one of the classic moments in sports history. Despite a long minors and European professional career, and only one NBA season, Lorenzo Charles was known for one dunk that gave North Carolina State a surprise victory over Houston's Phi Slamma Jamma (Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler the best known players of that group). Gary Bender with the call.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Peter Falk, R.I.P.

One more thing. There was always just one more thing with Peter Falk.

Twice he was nominated for Academy Awards for Supporting Actor (Murder, Inc. and Pocketful of Miracles). He could have continued as a supporting actor, he could have made a career of playing the heavy. He was nominated for two Emmys for guest-starring roles in early 60s television, wining one. He could have been a terrific television character actor. His first television series, a lawyer drama called The Trials of O'Brien, was cancelled after one season. He could have hopped from one series to another, ala McLean Stevenson and Robert Urich.

All of these things could have happened, but there was always one more thing.

There was Columbo. This will be his crowing achievement, one of the greatest television characters of all time, with plots that were worthy of his talent, and guest stars who were bigger than the featured stars of most series. The story is that Bing Crosby turned down the chance to play Columbo because it would interfere with his golf game. Bing Crosby would not have done justice to the role, not in the same way that Peter Falk did. It was so successful that, after the original series ended, he came back a few years later and launched another version, and it was a hit, too.

This would have been enough for some actors, but there was always one more thing. He didn't stop making movies. He made The In-Laws with Alan Arkin, and everyone who's seen it seems to have a favorite scene.

Now, a lot of TV stars are able to make a good movie or two - ask Helen Hunt. But there was one more thing.

He had a charming appearance in a very strange movie, Wim Wenders' wonderful Wings of Desire, playing himself as an angel  Yup. But it worked.

He played the grandpa in The Princess Bride. A lot of memorable scenes in that movie. Falk was content to stay in the background. But would there have been a story without him?

As I say, there always seemed to be one more thing with Peter Falk. Just when it would have been easy to remember him as he was, to look back in appreciation at what he had done, he came up with something new. And so, when it came out a year or so ago that he had Alzheimer's, it was a bitter pill: not just because of the personal tragedy, but because this time there wouldn't be one more thing, he wouldn't come back to add another memorable moment to his terrific career.

And so when Peter Falk died last week, it was the end. But, of course, it was also the beginning. Because when you look back at what Peter Falk did, the guest apperances and the movies and Columbo and the rest, you realize that as long as that work exists, as long as you can bring it up on your TV or DVD or laptop, there will always be, after all, one more thing.  

Monday, June 27, 2011

More on remembering Nick Charles

I was watching the Braves game on FSN last night, and studio host Fred Hickman spent at least five minutes of the show on a tribute to his long-time broadcast partner.

This from his Twitter: "I will sorely miss my friend and Brother Nick Charles. Please pray for his family."

This was Fred's public letter from March.
No Twitter posts from Katie (his daughter) yet, but here's her account (and noted the appropriateness of the boxing tweets on her Twitter). She is a former track star and the cruelest irony of this might come next April if the former cheerleader who became a cross-country runner at Kennesaw State applies in time for a race she has duly qualified -- having run a fast enough time in the Snickers Albany (GA) Marathon to qualify for the holy grail of marathons.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Trouble for Christian charities with more false marriage

Our little parochial school's baseball and softball teams played games on a field at a denomination-run orphanage, what is now the local chapter of the Connie Maxwell Children's Home, named for the daughter of a Greenwood family who bequeathed the original home in memory of their seven-year old daughter, a victim of scarlet fever in the 1880's).

This story reminds me of the dangerous consequences of Friday night's dastardly passage of a “redefinition of marriage” in New York that changes marriage to the “any two” where it's no longer “I Now Pronounce You Husband and Wife” to “I Now Pronounce You Spouses” as new marriage certificate applications will now state specifically “Spouse A” and “Spouse B”. “Husband” and “Wife”, “Bride” and “Groom”, and “Man” and “Woman” are now banned, replaced by the A/B designation as art of the new “definition of marriage” to advance the Gill Agenda.

As the advancement of the Gill Agenda has now come, in the words of Albert Mohler, has come to the point one out of every nine Americans are now in states where false “marriage” is legalised, the Catholic and Protestant charities such as Catholic Charities, Connie Maxwell Children's Home, and other faith-based charities such as Mercy Ministries are now being punished where Christians are no longer permitted to run their own adoption agencies, foster homes, or help the weakest because their reliance on the Bible violates new standards of “the family” as defined in “civil union” and new “definition of marriage” laws passed in the past decade. Massachusetts, Illinois, Iowa, District of Columbia, and now New York are among areas where Catholic Charities and Protestant organisations the equivalent of Connie Maxwell are now banned from their work of adoption because they only allow adoptions to heterosexual married couples, and ban unmarried couples (“shacking up”) and same-sex “couples” from adoptions, which violate the New World Order that gives sexual deviants special rights, something Public Laws 111-84 and 111-321 have rewarded.

Freedom of Religion, long a basic freedom of this nation, is rapidly in the past fifty years of humanism being eroded. False marriage laws ban churches and religious organisations from doing the charity work of the past. With the one out of nine standard, churches are no longer being permitted to organise their charities as state and federal authorities impose new standards based on the requests of sexual deviants over all others that conflict with Biblical teachings. Churches are now being forced to exit as freedom of religion is replaced by the rights of deviants. No wonder pop culture, sexual deviants in Hollywood, the teachings of modern textbooks, and other pieces of the indoctrination has given us a world where the church is now replaced by the government, and sexual deviants are superior to Christians where they can impose their standards on everyone, while Christians are not even allowed participation in the square.

Nick Charles, R.I.P.

The long battle ended Saturday for Nick Charles, who was finallly claimed by The Big C. Story here. I wrote about him earlier this year here. Not really much to add, except that I always enjoyed his work, liked him as far as I could know him through the small screen, liked him that much more as I read about him, and take solace in the thought that finally his pain and suffering is over. Safe journeys.

UPDATE: One reason I didn't write more: Joe Posnanski, who would make any such effort appear even more feeble.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Classic Sports Thursday

Baseball fans recognize Jon Miller as the longtime voice (until this season) of ESPN's Sunday night telecasts, as well as the play-by-play man for the Baltimore Orioles (formerly), and the San Francisco Giants (currently). As baseball announcers go, he's one of the best.

But how many knew that at one time, Jon Miller was the voice of American soccer? I sure didn't, until I came across this footage* of Miller broadcasting the North American Soccer League (NASL) game of the week for TVS in 1978.

*Not that you can actually go directly to it. TVS's online archives don't give you a share link, so you have to go here, page down to "Soccer," and select one of the NASL games.  This one, in case you're really interested, was San Jose vs. Los Angeles.

A few observations:
  1. Jon Miller had a lot more hair back then.  And a little less face.  But then don't we all?
  2. If you watch the video, you'll notice Miller consistently refers to the upcoming match as a "ball game." Any soccer fan will tell you that this is akin to calling the Mona Lisa a "chick." But in their efforts to sell Americans on this foreign sport, I'm sure Miller was told to make it as American-sounding as possible.
  3. But Paul Gardner, I always thought, was a very good commentator.
  4. The American brand of soccer at that time was quite different from the rest of the world. The offside rule, for example. Today's MLS plays by the international rules, which I think is for the best.
  5. On the other hand, they've got a pretty good crowd there, no? We have to remember that back in the late 70s, when Pele and Beckenbauer and Chinaglia led the way, soccer was a pretty hot sport in this country. It didn't last, though - the roots weren't that deep. For all that, I think the sport in America is probably stronger than ever.
  6. The 70s really were a bad time, weren't they? 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summertime notes

This is to That? Professional wrestling is to wrestling what “popular music” singing is to singing. They are all kayfabe and fake!

A Kick to the Groin and Knocking Down Explicit Programming. Chuck Norris is tired of what is called television today in "Sex, Media, and a Sign of the Times".

Political Correctness in the Workplace. Mike Adams reports on a Cisco worker fired for his statements. Wonder how the Left believes – us only, they can't speak.

Is This Education Today? Pat Buchanan reports on how dumbed down education is today when important facts are ignored – but we talk self-esteem, mandate praise of deviants, and punish Christians. Colour of skin and being a sexual deviant are now praised, real people are oppressed.

Unions' Bill of Rights. The National Labour Relations Board is now a division of the unions. New policies are being imposed in an attempt to create a rise in unionism, in addition to trying to close a newly constructed Charleston (SC) plant for Boeing, and moving those jobs to Seattle. The intent is to create more unionism, and eventually, fewer jobs as those jobs move to the BRIC.

El matrimonio del líder de La Gran Amistad Señor Chang. Congratulations to Serena and Michael! That midweek lunchtime wedding news struck a few of us by surprise. M. et Mme. LaRoche.

Red? The Golf Channel's broadcast of the final round in Congressional's Northern Ireland Invitational, another chapter in the Domination of Europe (USA, Who's Your Daddy?) was a warning that they intentionally omitted “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. Red Skelton warned that censorship of the Pledge was prominent after “Under God” was added . . . and he was prophetic about it!

Thankfully It's Over! A local version of British network Channel 4's Skins was finally canned after advertisers revolted. The excessive raunch of the series, regardless of country, was too much here.

Rude Violence. While the Lowcountry cheered over Rich Peverley's Stanley Cup win, over in Vancouver, they were burning the city to the ground after the whipping (a Congratulations Bruins sign with a Stanley Cup is on Fenway). Diane Medved reflected.

Smoke Wants The Extension! The 1971 Six Hours course (includes the “Back Straight” not used in the full course; the extension was not ready in time for that race when Watkins Glen was rebuilt after the 1970 United States Grand Prix) is used by Sprint Cup cars and not the full course. Jimmie Johnson ran the full course a few years ago when he raced the Six Hours. Tony Stewart took his first voyage on the extension in the Mobil 1 Car Swap, and he made it clear after laps in his car and in a McLaren that afternoon. He wants the extension!

Turn Out The Lights Stateside, Have to Be in Canada for Lights to Flag Action! The next three Formula One races won't be televised, as we know it, to Americans. Our neighbours to the north in Canada will get lights to flag action as the European Grand Prix in Valencia's lights appear at 8 AM (EDT), and the same will be the case for the 8 AM lights both July 10 at the Santander Grand Prix of Great Britain (New Silverstone Wing past Club as the start-finish line with a right-handed sweep at Abbey, not past Woodcote headed towards Copse as familiar for nearly sixty years) and July 24 at the Großer Preis Santander von Deutschland. For Americans, they will be lunchtime tape-delays where anyone who reads the F1-posted blogs will know the results before they even air. Might be better to read who won and not watch the races Stateside! (gasp) (The Blundell and Brundle Show (BBC) will air on TSN at 7:55 AM with a short pre-race in Canada.) The 7:30 AM (EDT) wake-up calls (30-minute pre-race show from W. T. Harris Boulevard) will continue at the Eni Magyar Nagydíj in August.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Classic Sports Thursday

College baseball's major showcase returns to Omaha with a new home at Toronto Dominion Ameritrade Park in the Nebraska city's downtown.

Last year: As I'm driving home from Mass in C Major, and come home to watch Whit Merrifield close out Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium's last NCAA Championship game with an 11th-inning hit to score Scott Wingo. The current Royals prospect (ironic, considering their AAA club moved to the suburbs with a new smaller stadium as their own field was too large thanks to college baseball's 24,000-seat capacity) scored the just-drafted by the Dodgers infielder who will close his college career with the new park.

From a perspective inside.

Radio call by Andy Demetra.

As new traditions begin, let's look at what might be the greatest way to end a playoff. 1996, Louisiana State down one to Miami (FL), runner on third, two out, bottom of the ninth. The way that game ended is a title decider that hasn't seen seen at the professional level.

The joys of the minors

We wish to congratulate Rich on becoming the first Stingrays player to win the Stanley Cup. He played with us in 2005 and was one of the top players in the league that season. As a Bostonian, I grew up watching the Bruins and to see where Richie is and where the team is, it’s incredible. When the Bruins acquired Rich at the trade deadline a few months back, they were hoping he could help them win a Stanley Cup and I believe he has been one of their best players throughout the playoffs. He has played many key roles and scored some big goals. It is a special time for Stingrays fans and the city of Boston."

Rob Concannon, President of the ECHL (Charleston) South Carolina Stingrays. Former players are now sponsoring the current Washington Capitals' AA affiliate, as one is the General Sales Manager for an auto dealership who is now an official sponsor, and another is the team's official oral surgeon (who even has a stingray on his medical practice's logo). Rich Peverley was an undrafted player who signed with Charleston in 2004 and earned an AHL contract in Milwaukee a year later. That led to an NHL call-up, and now the Stanley Cup. I was there for a few of his rookie games in the ECHL, and I can't believe now I've seen a Stanley Cup Champion.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Opera Wednesday

It had to happen. Spoleto is just a 75-minute drive cruising my trusty truck on Interstate 26 to Charleston, and that trip has allowed me three times to attend operas -- all of which have come from composers, let alone operas, whose works I've never seen live in person. In 2001 (twice) it was Puccini's Manon Lescault and Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, while in 2009 it was Charpentier's Louise. It would be again the same old song in 2011, written with a choice of three operas I could attend. One was another (just how many performances is too much in a year) of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, while the second was another opera from the father of Spoleto, Menotti's The Medium (considering I've seen two other Menotti operas in the past, it wouldn't fit Spoleto custom; one led to lore that is known between a Mississippi Squirrel and myself).

So, in the ten-year anniversary of my first opera attended at Spoleto, I kept the "new car smell" and this time, it was the American debut of Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho's story (debuted March 1, 2010 in France) of distinguished French scientist Émilie du Chastelet (actual spelling; the more recognised spelling Châtelet, replacing the s by a circumflex over the a, was instituted by one of her lovers) simply designated Émilie, at Memminger Auditorium. Elizabeth Futral is the scientist (only role in this opera), with Neal Wilkinson as set designer, Austin Switser on video, Mariamme Weems directing, and John Kennedy as conductor. The set and video were an issue, as I'll explain later.

The setting of the opera takes place in her home in 1749, while trying to write letters to her lover, François-Marie Aroue, known by his pen name Voltaire. She had an affair with French poet Jean François de Saint-Lambert and was pregnant with her fourth child, and this opera is based on her letter to a friend that she may not survive this fourth child, and she was fearful of her life. The Neal Wilkinson set had me wondering why was the voice of Miss Futral being blocked by numerous signs, some of them transparent through the videos. While some were scientific and mathematical, in reference to her fields, some pictures shown on those pieces were highly objectionable and in violation of obscenity codes to the point Reuben Greenberg should have been called. It ruined the projection of her voice from my seat.

Interesting, the language dabbled frequently from French to some English and Latin in the duration of the short monodrama (no intermission). It was clear from the voice that the passionate scientific research of the scientist was clear, and she referenced a major work she was writing at the time, the French translation of Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (also called simply Principia), that was published shortly before her death. Flames frequented the opera videos, paying homage to her study of fire. The work was about her fears of death, would she finish the French translation of Principia, and the video screens made it look as if the flames burned her, as she walked into oblivion with the haunting piece closing the opera. And yes, even the scientist herself loved the harpischord and sang opera herself.

If the obscene photos and obtuse obstruction of the singer's voice were removed, it would have been better suited, especially with the theme of the opera. But this dark opera has me wondering what her last moments were as she feared for her death, as it reflected on that fateful letter she wrote to a friend.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Don't leave it to "The Beaver"

First things first: Mel Gibson delivers a brilliant performance in The Beaver, Jodie Foster's movie about a man's breakup and redemption. It may well have been his best performance since Gallipoli, and were it not for his current state of disgrace, there would surely be an Oscar nomination in his future. Perhaps even that won't be enough to keep him from a nomination, since there are few things Hollywood likes more than a good comeback story; but I still think it's a longshot. Nonetheless, his portrait of a tortured man hanging on to sanity, filled with loathing for others and himself, had to have given us an insight into the man that one seldom gets from an actor. He wasn't playing a role so much as he was using his own experience to interpret the role. If his own life is anything like this (and I think it is), I have the greatest compassion for him.

There was also a lot to like from the script, which led us down one road, toward the seemingly inevitable feel-good conclusion, and then took us in a completely different direction. Hitchcock, who was a master at mixing light humor with dark terror, often showed us that the most effective horror comes from the inoccuous - and what could be more inoccuous than a motley beaver hand-puppet?

Indeed, as The Beaver opens, we are presented with the portrait of a man - Walter Black - on the verge of self-destruction. He is deeply depressed (although, unless I missed it, we are never told exactly if there was a single episode that tipped him over the edge, only that depression appears to run in the family), unable to find help from any form of treatment (amusingly shown in a montage with voiceover), and his wife (Jodie Foster) has packed up their two kids and left him. Alone and drunk, on the verge of suicide, he discovers the puppet - who, the next thing he knows, has taken over his therapy. And wouldn't you know, the Beaver seems to be the only one who can actually penetrate the fog and reach Black where it counts. (One might wonder if the fact that Gibson voices the Beaver with no attempt at ventriloquism is meant to suggest that the answers have been inside him all the time, blocked by a lack of self-confidence, but the script misses the opportunity to go there. Not the only opportunity it misses.)

So far, so good. Black returns to his family a new man, charming younger son Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart) and giving his wife a cautious optimism. Only older son Porter (Anton Yelchin) remains antagonistic - but Porter has his own problems,* and it's clear that he's already well along on the same road to mental illness that his father and grandfather have already trod. Perhaps we're supposed to feel some sympathy for Porter, but I didn't - I kept thinking someone should have sat down with him a long time ago and laid down the line.

*Starting perhaps with his name? A wimpy name like Porter is perhaps the strongest evidence of how disengaged Walter must have been in this marriage.

And here we start to get into the greatest problem with The Beaver: Jodie Foster herself. Foster has shown some skill in past as a director, and her two Academy Awards are testimony to her talent, but in this role she's completely out of her element. Foster's Meredith is far too much a co-dependent, unable to reach either her husband or her two children, who desperately need parenting and aren't getting it. Foster's great strength as an actress is just that: her strength. And a weak character like this is not for her, not at all. It would not be hard to understand how Walter could come to feel that only the Beaver cares for him; I could not imagine that Meredith ever could have given Walter what he needed. Foster can, and should, play a stronger character - but more about this shortly.

I don't generally like to give away the ending of a movie, but in this case I feel I have to in order to prove my point. [PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD] Near the end, we find out that the Beaver has taken over Walter, convincing him that only he has Walter's best interests at heart, that his family has betrayed him, that everyone else has betrayed him, that he must listen only to the Beaver. (A point of view for which I had some sympathy, by the way.) We now see that Walter, in addition to being depressed, might also be schitzophrenic.* He no longer has control over the Beaver, who now controls him.

*A bit which Anthony Hopkins, Foster's Silence of the Lambs mate, did much better in a much better movie, Magic.

When Walter, sensing this, tries to call Meredith on the phone, the Beaver forces him to hang up, and proceeds to beat Walter up (in a scene that's much more horrifying and less silly than it sounds). Now, we're presented the opportunity for Foster to shine, perhaps directly confronting the Beaver (something she has been loathe to do, always talking to Walter instead), willing to do anything to save the man she loves, even if it puts her own life in danger. 

But no. The plot drums up the lame excuse that Meredith has to stay with an ill younger son, and sends the older son to check on his father. To his horror, Porter discovers that Walter, realizing that he must escape the Beaver in order to survive, has cut his own arm off to rid himself of the puppet.

This was the point at which the film finally lost me. And this is the reason why The Beaver ultimately fails.

In her best roles, I've always thought Jodie Foster had something of Barbara Stanwyck in her. Stanwyck was a tough broad (and I say that with admiration), who didn't take anything from anyone. As the heavy, she could put the fear of God into you; as the heroine, you knew she'd fight to the death for what was right I(and thank your lucky stars that she was on your side). Now, imagine Stanwyck in this role, going to Walter and confronting the Beaver, treating it as if it were alive (as, in a way, it is), screaming "Give me back my husband, damn you!" She wouldn't have been afraid to fight the Beaver, and Walter too, if that were needed. And my money would have been on her. It would have been a ferocious, terrifying scene. And it would have guaranteed Stanwyck an Oscar nomination.

Foster, I think, could have pulled this scene off. Maybe this sudden toughness would have seemed too much out of character. Perhaps, given Gibson's personal history of confrontational relationships, there was some discomfort about the possibility of a physical confrontation between Foster and the puppet, which surely would have meant Foster vs. Gibson. Maybe she and the writer thought such a confrontation smacked too much of a stereotypical thrillier, ala Fatal Attraction. On the other hand, maybe they should have tried doing a drama cum thriller, rather than a comedy-drama.

Alas, we're only allowed to review the movie at hand, not the movie as it might (should?) have been. And that's why The Beaver winds up a failure: a noble one, perhaps, an ambitious one, full of promise (I haven't even mentioned the excellent performance of Jennifer Lawrence as Porter's girlfriend, who shines in a somewhat tortured subplot). But a failure nonetheless. It's best not even to discuss the film's end, which is either a too-pat happily-ever-after finish, or a hopefull, this-is-the-ending-that-might-be that was executed with too much subtlety.

In the last analysis, Jodie Foster the director was let down by Kyle Killen, the writer, and - perhaps more importantly - by Jodie Foster, the actress. For when Mel Gibson, whose strength has always been in action movies, shines as the most sensitive actor in your drama, you know you're in trouble. 

Debating the debate, or "Yes, John King really was that bad"

I suppose it says something about my hopeless situation as a political junkie that I chose to watch the Republican presidential debate over the sixth game of the Stanley Cup Final last night.* Yes, as much as I've liked to think that I've moved on since my days as a true political operative, it appears that politics is much like malaria - once it's in the bloodstream, it's very difficult to get rid of it.

*I watched the first debate in April as well, the one in South Carolina, but at least I had an excuse that time - we'd just gotten back from a trip to Greenville ourselves, so (we said) it would be fun to see how much of the city we could recognize in the shots Fox provided. Not having visited New Hampshire for almost twenty years, I have no such excuse for my behavior this time.

At any rate, the best way to watch this debate was in conjunction with the Twitter stream being provided by National Review. That way one could be reassured that John King really was as bad an emcee as it appeared, that the "This and That" segment was pure idiocy, and that Pawlenty did not look good when given the chance to attack Romney vis his "ObamneyCare" crack.

Michele Bachmann looked good, very good. I've taken some good-natured ribbing over the years for my support of her, dating back to when I was a candidate for the state legislature back in 1998 and was impressed with her then, but last night I thought she justified those years of support. I still think she can be a little strident at times, but I think her occasional lack of smoothness might be working to her advantage. I had to laugh at the "pundits" who wondered how she'd do in the unscripted format of a debate - as someone mentioned, her biggest gaffs have come when she's gone off script during prepared remarks. When she's working without a net, as she did last night, is when she's at her best.

Mitt Romney looks and sounds like a casting director's idea of a president, and that can be taken any number of ways. Is he my first choice? No. But he's not my last choice either. His line about how any of the seven on stage would do better than Obama - brilliant. But, to paraphrase William F. Buckley Jr., you might be able to say the same thing about the first 50 names you run across in the phone book.

There's a lot to like with Rick Santorum. I've been critical of him in the past, and that's what makes it difficult, but how many times do we run across this situation, where we run into someone we've already decided we're not going to like, but find ourselves agreeing with him in spite of ourselves? Too often, at least in my case, for it to be a surprise. I still have my doubts, and I don't think he's going to make it, but I like the cut of his jib.

Ah, Newt. As you know, I've been a booster of his since before the last election. And, to the extent that things haven't worked out as I've forseen, I think (with all due modesty) he would have been better off following my advice. But, as is his wont, he made a couple of brilliant observations last night, particularly on the inanity of the false "either-or" choice the media so often wants to foist on everyone. And in those moments, he reminds me of why I supported him in the first place. And why he can be so damn frustrating at the same time.

Herman Cain was a disappointment. Were the expectations for him too high after the first debate?  Same for Pawlenty - while I'm glad the debate wasn't turned into an internecine bloodbath, he really did flub that "confrontation" with Romney. Ron Paul was everything you expected - always interesting, frequently off the deep end, occasionally penetrating, with ideas that are deserving of consideration. Dismiss him if you will, but not what he says.

I would like to see Rick Perry get in, just to spice things up. I still want to hear from Jon Huntsman, to find out of the Democrat talk about him being "the candidate we fear most" is just a diabolical smokescreen. And I dearly hope Paul Ryan takes the plunge - if the Ryan plan is going to be the big issue in the campaign, who better to defend it than its creator?

But for the talk from the pessimists (and boy, aren't they tiresome?) who wring their hands in despair about the supposed weakness of this group of candidates, I still say that I could unhesitatingly support any one of them next year. If anything, that tells you how high the stakes have become.   

Flag Day

Friday, June 10, 2011

Retro TV Friday

Over at the TV blog, I have an in-depth interview with David Von Pein, one of the best of the online archivers of the original television coverage of the JFK assassination. David's archives make my own modest collection look puny by comparison. In the coming days I'll be sharing plenty of fascinating footage both here and there.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Classic Sports Thursday

I've had occasion recently to spend some time rooting around the online archives of the Indianapolis 500, reading articles, watching videos, and listening to audio. By far Johnson's Indy 500 is the best site on the net for historical data - it even tells you who's sung "Back Home Again in Indiana" over the years.

It's not the only site on the web, however, which means that anyone can spend hours - even weeks - surfing through different sites, pouring through clips on YouTube and stories from Google Archives, seeing hours bleed away from your life, hours that you'll never get back - but you likely won't care about that.*

*Such is the life of a cultural archaeologist - or an anal nerd.

For some reason, the 1964 500 has always carried a greater-than-others interest for me. Perhaps it's because it's the first 500 I can actually remember - sort of.  I'd just turned four, and my sole recollection of the event is seeing pictures from the race in the paper the next day.* And there were plenty of pictures, of perhaps the worst, and certainly one of the most graphic, crashes in the history of the 500.

*Back in those days, the race was still run on Memorial Day, unless it fell on a Sunday. In 1964 Memorial Day was Saturday, which meant the Sunday sports section was full of details.

At the end of the second lap, a car driven by rookie Indy driver Dave MacDonald spun coming off the fourth turn and crashed into the inner wall, exploding immediately. The flaming wreck then spun back across the track, clipping several cars and casting an enormous black cloud of smoke across the front stretch, before being hit by the car of longtime Indy favorite Eddie Sachs, which in turn also exploded. Sachs was killed more or less immediately (not from burns, as many thought at the time, but apparently from the sheer impact of the collision), while MacDonald died a couple of hours later, primarily from the fire's damage to his lungs.

Here's video of the crash - I'm linking to it rather than putting it right on the site because some of you might find it a bit graphic. The spectacular burst of flame and smoke came from the massive quantities of gasoline used by both cars - there were no limits to fuel capacity back then, and most cars used gas rather than methanol, which is used today. In addition, the magnesium used to construct the framework of many of the cars was highly flammable, contributing to the overall mess. The race was stopped for an hour and 45 minutes; the first time in Indy history that a race had been stopped because of a crash. A.J. Foyt won, driving a front-engine roadster - the last time a winner would do so. The next year Jim Clark would win in his F1 rear-engine Lotus, and after that nothing would be the same.

As far as I can tell, this is the only crash in Indy history to kill multiple drivers, and one of the last fatal accidents in the race itself (most fatalities since then have happened in practice.) It was the cap to a brutal week in motor sports; the legendary NASCAR driver Fireball Roberts had suffered horrific burns in an accident the week before, from which he would die in July.

In listening to the live radio broadcast of the race, one thing above all is apparent - that racing is dangerous, and that the drivers both know and accept the danger as the price of doing something they love. Implicit in that is a deep respect for the power of a race car, and the risk of being a racing driver. There's no doubt that racing has become safer in the years since; the last F1 driver to die was Senna over 20 years ago, and Earnhardt died at Daytona over 10 years ago.

And this safety is great, but I do wonder whether or not drivers still have the same respect for the sport they had in the past. Especially in NASCAR, the "Have at it" mentality holds firm, so much so that Judie refers to it as "Wrestling on Wheels." Pushing someone out of the way is commonplace, and while "wrecks" are common, major injuries are few and far between - it's the egos that seem to be more fragile.

Is this good? It reminds me of one of the unintended consequences of the mandatory helmet in hockey. Back when helmets were rare, players policed themselves, aware that a stray stick could do serious damage. That's not to say that stick fights weren't common; hockey was a brutal sport even then. But there was a measure of self-discipline to it, one that disappeared as helmets became more prevalent. Watch some footage from a recent game compared to one from 50 years ago and see how much lower the players carried their sticks back then.

The same goes for racing. Perhaps if the drivers remembered how dangerous racing was and is - how these cars are still guided missiles - we might see a little more discipline on the track. Our desire to make life safer and safer, to cut down on the risk involved, isn't limited to sports - as Harry Reasoner once said, no matter how much you try to eliminate risk in life you can't achieve immortality. But maybe, just maybe, if racing were a little more dangerous, a little less protected, the drivers themselves might be a little more responsible. The way it stands now, as commentator David Hobbs often says, one day it will surely end in tears.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Opera Wednesday

The Ballad of Baby Doe was composed in 1956 by Douglas Moore. It was one of the first great American operas, and as Wikipedia mentions, one of the few to enter the standard opera repertory. At that, it's not performed often enough; Baby Doe is one of my poster children for my campaign to question whether we need to continue commissioning new operas (which are seldom performed beyond their world premieres) when there's so much underperformed (or forgotten) opera already out there.*

*For example, does the Minnesota Opera really need to create a program to produce a newly commissioned opera each year, when works by Floyd, Menotti, Barber and Moore are still out there? Of course, to their credit they did produce Herrmann's Wuthering Heights this season, but I see that as the exception that proves the rule.

Baby Doe was one of the great roles for Beverly Sills, one that brought fame to both her and the opera. In this rare TV clip from 1962, part Opera Wednesday and part Retro TV Friday, we see the composer, Douglas Moore, discussing his opera, followed by a performance of its best-known aria, "The Willow Song," by Beverly Sills herself.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

This Just In

Winnipeg, MB (June 2, 2011) – Officials at True North Enterprises announced that the city of Atlanta, in the state of Georgia in the United States of America, has been purchased by True North Enterprises, and has announced their plans for the city.

Officials announced the city and its landmarks will be purchased, and the city will be burned by True North officials, and spread with salt to ensure a barren land devoid of development. True North's plans are to move all businesses in the city that is being purchased to be moved to the Province of Manitoba as part of the plans to move destroy the entire city into a waste dump. Atlanta will be burned to the ground and become a giant landfill for Manitoba and all regions nearby.

“We are very pleased to revitalise Winnipeg with the major purchase, and we are extremely excited about this conversion by moving Atlanta's premiere companies, Delta, Coca-Cola, UPS, and Home Depot, to Winnipeg. By acquiring an entire city, our new loot will allow us to increase the stature of our city at the expense of a rotten city that deserves to be burned to the ground. As part of the plans, Canadian rock group Nickelback will perform at concerts in Winnipeg that will celebrate each part of burning Atlanta to the ground in order to convert it into the wasteland we envision,” said officials at True North during the press conference. True North officials plan to implode all buildings, bury them, and as plans continue, begin converting a once-proud city into a landfill for everyone to use.

Manitoba officials, ecstatic over the announcement, will prepare the new headquarters immediately and are anticipating the huge number of refugees from Atlanta as they prepare for their new life in Winnipeg and surrounding areas.

The state of Georgia is now preparing plans to move its capital to another area in light of the announcement.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Opera Wednesday

Today's Opera Wednesday celebrates the 66th birthday of Frederica von Stade.

“Non so più” from Le Nozze di Figaro, 1980, Opera Garnier (Paris), Georg Solti, conductor.

Two excerpts (including "Enfin, je suis ici") from Act III of Massenet's Cendrillon, 1979, Ottawa, ON.

Dominic Argento's Aspern Papers, "On the stroke of midnight".

Outrage fatigue?

Over at, Steve Rushin says he's got outrage fatigue. Good question - especially on the internet, outrage seems to be the default position for most writers. And yet for anyone who has a moral compass, a sense of right and wrong, or even just common sense, there's the inclination to "draw the line" when it comes to behavior. 

My first inclination was to say that Rushin paints with too broad a brush, that some things deserve outrage (the Tressel case is really more about sports: it's corruption, moral deception, taxpayer fraud) - but maybe that's the point. Ronald Reagan (it is said) always cultivated his anger, letting it show only on occasion, when he knew it would make the greatest impact. (Not that I'm copying Reagan, but that's something I do as well.) So do we just learn to be more discerning, to avoid hype, to have some perspective?  
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