Sunday, May 29, 2016

Bonnie is coming -- time to get some notes through!

Bonnie is ready to strike more fear to this waterlogged area after the Joaquim-related flooding that much of our Midlands has still not fully recovered (ask my fitness buddies the Marshas).  As I write this, I have a few random thoughts headed.

Not Suited For Prime Time Advertising.  The promos ABC is running for the post-Carlisle edition of To Tell The Truth, the first since the show's signature figure died in 2007, is very inappropriate. One promo has the panelists (including Betty White, who has now appeared in 21st century versions of Password and To Tell The Truth) asking which of the three taught a popular actor how to perform an inappropriate for broadcast routine in movies.

Why Game Show Revivals Are Not Reboots.  Mitchell has asked on It's About TV about bad television "reboots" when they are retellings that, if it was sci-fi related, would be appropriate because of the imagining of how we see the future in 30 years then and now are different.  (See the 1987 Mission: Impossible which had sci-fi influences, especially with Phelps' disc player, and even the command center.  That makes me ask if Peter Lenkov took a 25-year old proposed spinoff "Son of MacGyver" that never sold and toyed with it for a reboot that could be that plan that never got off the ground.) What was asked to those surveyed for Family Feud in 1976 is not the same type of question you expect in 2016 since he plays with CBS properties sold to Paramount by government mandate, and Paramount television properties returned to CBS following what was effectively an NFL-forced split after Super Bowl XXXVIII).  What type of deals we see on Let's Make a Deal in 2016 are not the same we would have seen in 1970.  And some pricing games on The Price Is Right in 2016 would not have made sense in 1985.  Yet two of the three most popular shows on television today are revivals of old game shows.  Think about it.

Missing Barney.  This Memorial Weekend of motorsport is the first since the death of Barney Hall in January.  Yet for two of the three voices that call the races, he was an influence.  Fans have found MRN audio to mix with the videos from classic races (note the 1980 National 500 in Charlotte -- are these the graphics we could see on NBC for the Rebel 500, which has a 1980's theme this year?), and note who is working with Barney in each broadcast.  Can you identify the voices that worked with him?

And just to take the radio influence one further, the track announcer for the thrilling Freedom 100 Indy Lights finish was none other than Bob Jenkins, one of two primary track announcers at Indianapolis.  Dave Calabro is the other.  The large crowd was able to listen to the track announcer, naturally.

The Trilogy to the Pens.  Pittsburgh did beat Washington in the Trilogy, with the rubber match ending up with the Capitals' prospect goaltender Vitek Vanecek (who effectively had to play the semifinal all alone after the more experienced goaltender was injured in the previous round) being peppered with three goals in the first five minutes of Game Seven of the ECHL Eastern Conference finals to let Wheeling, WV (Pittsburgh) beat Charleston, SC (Washington) in Game Seven and the final.  Earlier Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Pittsburgh) lost to Hershey (Washington), and of course Pittsburgh beat Washington.

Why Some States Celebrated Memorial Day on May 10 Instead?  This one's simple.  The federal Memorial Day was originally started for Union war dead in the Civil War.  Naturally, of course, some states were not in the nation as a result of secession.  Most of these states celebrate it on May 10. That's why the NASCAR Rebel 500 (now held in September) originally started as a Confederate Memorial Day event.

And With the Poor "Academic Teaching" of Today's Schools.  The hatred of this country, whether it is apologising to Japan for Hiroshima (remember they bombed Pearl Harbor -- note how the USS Arizona memorial is seen in Five-0's open, with it next to the USS Missouri), or defacing a Vietnam War memorial plaque in California, is part of the revisionism in teachings.  We ignore our heroes while the "new narrative" promotes sexual perversion month and why they are teaching this generation to advance all sorts of fake "genders" to confuse people.  We have lost our moral compass thanks to elites, and the majority is not allowed to speak.  Ask the over 75% in most states who marriage laws were treated as trash by judges representing only a few cities, most of which are not in the states in question.  Go figure.  It's Book of Judges egos.  But God's Word is "hate speech" under Shepard-Byrd, which is the standard of academia now.  Huh?

Friday, May 27, 2016

Flashback Friday: Five movies to set your motor running (plus one for the road)

Sunday is probably the premiere day of the year for auto racing fans. No, scratch that - it is the premiere day, Christmas, New Year's and your birthday all rolled up into one. It starts Sunday morning with the world's most glamorous and prestigious race, the Grand Prix of Monaco (6:30 am CT, NBC), run through the streets of Monte Carlo before all kinds of royalty and celebrity. It continues with America's most famous race, the Indianapolis 500 (10:00 am CT, ABC), somewhat tarnished to be sure, but newly on the upswing as it approaches its 100th running. And for a nightcap there's NASCAR's longest race, the Coca-Cola 600 (4:00 pm, FOX), which starts in the late afternoon and ends under the lights.

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

LeMans (1971)
Steve McQueen, lots of cars

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

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

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

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

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

Bobby Deerfield (1977)
Al Pacino, Marthe Keller

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

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

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

The Big Wheel (1949)
Mickey Rooney, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus: Since I wrote this piece back in 2008, there emerged a movie that surely would have earned a spot on this list: Senna, the remarkable 2010 documentary on the life and death of the great Ayrton Senna, directed by Asif Kapadia.

The movie uses no voiceover narration, preferring instead to allow the participants themselves, along with announcers in various race footage, to tell the story of the young man from Brazil who rises through the ranks to become world Formula One champion. And Senna's story is not an easy one: his fierce rivalry with teammate and nemesis Alain Prost, his battles with F1 officials, and his role as a icon to his Brazilian countrymen - the one person in a poor and corrupt country in which they can take pride.

Kapadia succeeds in creating a deepening sense of foreboding; of course, the threat of death is never far removed from the world of motor sports, and as we approach the fateful 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, we see Senna, in an unreliable and difficult-to-control McLaren, being told by his close friend Sid Watkins, the F1 medical director, that the two of them should just chuck it and go fishing. I can't, Senna tells him, although there is no reason why he can't: multiple world championships, more money than he could possibly need, and already a status as one of, if not the, greatest grand prix champions of all time. Wisely, the film doesn't dwell on Senna's fatal accident, coming one day after the death in practice of fellow driver Roland Ratzenberger and two days after Rubens Barrichello had barely escaped being killed in practice. The crash is shown only once, but it is enough. It is, as The Sun's critic Alex Zane says, "fascinating and profoundly moving."

Originally posted May 22, 2008

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Black Noon closure

It may be 52 years later, and two years after a well-celebrated return to the Brickyard of the child of another driver killed at the Indianapolis 500, but according to Angela Savage, she is inviting (and they have accepted) Sherry MacDonald, widow of Dave MacDonald, killed in Black Noon at the 1964 Indianapolis 500, who has never returned to the Brickyard since then (though Eddie Sachs, Jr has returned to the track in the past), and their son Rich to the Brickyard for this year's Centennial 500.

Angela and Rich have been seen together at various motor racing events representing their fathers, most notably at the NASCAR race in Las Vegas.

(PHOTO:  Angela Savage and Rich MacDonald at the USRRC Hall of Fame in California in the spring.  Both fathers were inducted, and this is a shot of the two children together.)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Wish I'd written that - some things never change

The most erroneous assumption is to the effect that the aim of public education is to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence, and so make them fit to discharge the duties of citizenship in an enlightened and independent manner. Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else.”

- H.L. Mencken (H/T to Ace of Spades)

Friday, May 20, 2016

Flashback Friday: You can't say that on TV!

The Restless Gun was a western that appeared on NBC from 1957-1959, starring John Payne (Miracle on 34th Street) as Vint Bonner, a retired gunfighter who roamed the West in search of adventure - and usually found it.

Nowadays, we're always hearing about how television drama is so much more "adult" and "sophisticated" than it was back in the so-called "Golden Age" (which was far from golden for many series, truth be told). However, it's still striking what kinds of things used to be freely discussed on TV. One wonders if television is as open today.

In the episode "Dragon For a Day," Vint encounters John Fletcher, a teenager whose missionary parents have been slaughtered by a band of Yaqui Indians. John vows to kill every Indian he sees, while Vint tries to convince him that this these Yaquis are renegades, despised even by other Yaquis. In this exchange, the grief-stricken John turns against the faith of his parents, wondering where God was while they were being murdered.

Vint: I don't rightly know.

John: I know. He wasn't anywhere. He never was anywhere. And He never will be anywhere. Because there ain't no such thing as God!

Vint: Now wait just a minute.

John: How could He let them die like that? Suffer like that? How could He?

Vint: John, He let His own Son die. Let him be tortured, crucified.

John: But that was to prove that He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. That was to prove something!

Vint: Maybe this was to prove something too.

John: Prove what?

Vint: (Long pause) It's said that God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform.

John: I can talk Bible talk with anybody. I was raised on it. And the Bible says "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." And I swear now before I die I'm going to kill one hundred Yaquis for my ma and one hundred Yaquis for my pa! On their graves I swear! So help me God, I'll do it!

Of course, John doesn't do it. In a conclusion that usually only happens on TV, the "good" Yaquis rescue John from the "bad" Yaquis, and John comes to realize that you can't judge an entire people based on the actions of only a few.

However, I remain struck by that conversation between John and Vint. Granted, Vint knows that he has to appeal to John in words the boy will find familiar. But still, the assumption here is that the words are just as familiar to Vint. Furthermore, while he wants to save John from a life of vengeance (and probably a short life at that), it seems just as important to Vint to preserve John's faith as well. In the long run, that may be the most important thing Vint can do.

I suppose many people today might find such dialogue too earnest, naive, stilted, even embarrassing. But it wasn't embarrassing back in the 50s, when programs like this were popular, just as it wasn't embarrassing back in the days of the Old West, when people really did think faith was important. I wonder if a screenwriter could write an conversation like that for mainstream television today without being laughted off the set?

Maybe we should be the ones who are embarrassed.

Originally published February 25, 2010.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Those Fantastic Foxes

The Premier League seasons has ended, and it's tempting to wonder what the world's most popular soccer league has up it's sleeve for next season. Leicester City, the miracle champions, weren't really the 5,000-to-1 shot that the bookies established; we know that the odds were simply set to get someone to put a longshot bet down on them. Had the oddsmakers really thought Leicester had a chance to win, they probably would have given them the obligatory 100-1 figure that usually typifies a team with no chance at a title. In reality, we'll probalby never know what the actual odds were - a million-to-one perhaps? - because you can't post odds on the occurrence of an impossibility.

Considering the millions of words from the thousands of stories written since the victory of those fantastic Foxes, it hardly seems as if there is anything more that could, or should, be added.  And yet, so astounding was their achievement, it almost compels one to say something, if only to provide further demonstration as to how inadequate words are when describing an event such as this.

Joe Posnanski's article shortly after Leicester clinched the title says it about as well as anybody can, when one is trying to describe an impossibility. As pundits struggled to come up with comparable examples of upset championships, their comparisons inevitably fell short. It wasn't like the Miracle on Ice victory of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, a team that had shown flashes of brilliance during the months leading up to the Olympics and displayed a work ethic that made them a difficult team to beat, particularly in a short tournament. Win seven games and you've got the gold medal, but try doing the same thing over the course of an entire season.

Others looked to the New York Mets of 1969, the Miracle Mets, who shockingly won the World Series after never having posted a wining season (or anything close to it) in the previous seven years of their existence. And yet that is ultimately found lacking as well; for in taking the title, Leicester had to overcome the so-called "Big Five" of the Premier League - Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool* and Manchester City, teams that had so dominated the league over the years that only one team outside of that group had ever won the championship in the league's 23-year history. During the 122 years the competition has been held, those five sides had, between them, won the top-flight championship 65 times. So the Mets comparison pales; imagine the Mets winning a league that contained not one but five New York Yankees teams, with a couple of Boston Red Sox thrown in for good measure. Yes, the Big Five may have had down seasons, but the point is that Leicester did not.

*Although Liverpool has yet to win a title since the formation of the Premier League in 1992, they took the championship 18 times before that.

European soccer's system of promotion and relegation makes the accomplishment that much more impossible; Leicester spent almost all of last year in last place before going on an improbably run of seven victories in their final nine matches to escape relegation; nonetheless, they were the consensus favorite to be one of the three teams relegated this year. Their new manager, Claudio Ranieri, a journeyman coach who had never won a major title, was favored to be the first manager sacked. At the beginning of this season, Ranieri's goal was simply to stay in the Premier League. Had he even mused about the possibility of winning the championship, he probably would have been locked up.

It's not as if Leicester bought themselves a championship, either. The payroll for the entire team was roughly equal to the salary of one of the big team's star players, and with no salary cap in European soccer, most teams are able to buy up promising players on the off chance they might turn out to be stars.Their roster was comprised mostly of players unwanted by other teams and picked up for relatively low prices. Some were late bloomers, others had simply gone unnoticed by bigger sides, most of them had never been given much of a chance.

It's safe to say, therefore, that one of last year's worst teams came into this season competing in a league that was basically rigged against them, set up so that only a member of the Big Five could win. There are no odds on that happening. You can't bet on the impossible.

Soccer fans are a loyal lot, living and dying with sides they have grown up supporting since birth, in many cases being the latest in a long line of family members rooting for their club. During the course of this season Leicester became almost everyone's "Second Team," and as their own side's title chances faded away, they threw their support behind the underdog Foxes to win it all. When defending champion Chelsea, coming off an extremely disappointing season, defeated second place Tottenham Hotspur to clinch the title for Leicester, it came after several of Chelsea's players admitted they wanted to defeat Tottenham in order to give the championship to Leicester. It's probably safe to say that there has never been a more popular team, either in England or anywhere else, to win a championship. Not only was it an impossible story on its own, it gave those fans hope that their own team might somehow rise from sporting poverty to greatness someday.

Leicester's own supporters, the ones who had stuck with them through thin and thin, were overcome with emotion, and it was common to see tears running down their cheeks as they watched their team raise the Premier League trophy at the final home match of the year, after having had Andrea Bocelli, no less, serenade them during a pre-game ceremony. No team in the Premier League had had such a rabid fan base during the season; in home games where Leicester scored, it wasn't uncommon for the stadium to shake from the commotion created by the cheering fans, so much so that it would register on the nearby university's Richter scale.

And so the impossible happened, and it's difficult to say whether or not anything like it will ever happen again - can ever happen again, for that matter. The story of Leicester City's Premier League win has passed into folklore, to be handed down from generation to generation. Songs will be sung about the heroic Foxes, ballads of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez and Kasper Schmeichel and Shinji Okazaki and Wes Morgan and all the rest, and Claudio Raineri will never have to buy himself a drink again. Books will be written, movies will be made, and everyone will say that they remember when. Even if it were to happen again, if Aston Villa or Newcastle were to recover from relegation and take the crown in two or three years, or if someone else were to come along in a decade or two and duplicate the achievement, it would merely be just that, an imitation of the original, in the same way that an art student might sit in a museum and copy a Monet. By definition, the impossible can never happen more than once.

Watching the joyous celebrations carrying on long into the night, someone was moved to remark that it was a shame people don't show that kind of emotion for more important things, but I think that misses the point. Yes, in the long run the winning of a championship in sports is relatively unimportant, but it's precisely for that reason that people can afford to let themselves go. It's a cruel world out there, one that can dash the hopes and dreams of a person with a figurative snap of the fingers, and sometimes we just need a little something to give us a life, a jolt of morning caffeine or a rush of sugar in the afternoon. Sports, at its best, is like that, a treat that one allows oneself. Unrestrained, undiluted, unadulterated joy is a rare thing, something that almost never happens in "real" life, and something that one can rarely afford to hope for outside of the spiritual realm. It's risky to open oneself to that kind of passion, and perhaps only when we know the stakes are relatively low can we allow ourselves that kind of vulnerability.

Perhaps that's something we ought to remember more often, and learn from it, for if there was anything truly important about Leicester's victory, anything to change the course of a person's life, it was the demonstration that anything truly is possible,

Even the impossible.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Opera Wednesday: JFK, the opera

It seems an unlikely proposition, an opera called JFK, and even after one ascertained that it was not a musical version of the Oliver Stone movie, that it was in fact set in Fort Worth, Texas on the last night of John F. Kennedy's life, it was still a bit hard to envision. But now it can be told, that the world premiere of JFK by the Fort Worth Opera justifies every risk taken, every doubt overcome.

From the outset of this modern composition, a mixture of the melodic and the atonal which was occasionally harsh and jarring but never crossed the line into Schoenbergian territory, the listener knows things will not end well. It's not just because we know the ending, either - as Jacqueline Kennedy (a suburb Daniela Mack) stands before a window staring into the Fort Worth night while her husband soaks his ailing back in the bathtub, as midnight passes into the beginning of John Kennedy's last day on earth, there is a sense of grim oppressiveness combined with a wistfulness, a looking back that becomes almost a valedictory on a life that was better than some but often fell short.

Jackie is burdened with Jack's excruciating back pain, for which she routinely gives him shots of morphine; torn by the death a little over three months before of infant son Patrick after just two days of life; haunted also by the additional memories of a miscarriage in 1957 and the birth of a stillborn daughter, Arabella, in 1956. So powerful are the nightmares caused by these memories, she occasionally has to resort to morphine herself in order to achieve a dreamless sleep.

For John (baritone Matthew Worth), too, there is unease under the dashing surface. His medical problems, certainly (including the adrenal disorder Addison’s disease, ulcers, colitis, and allergies), but also the memory of a favorite sister, Rosemary, who underwent a lobotomy in 1941, and the knowledge that his father favors older brother Joe, the Kennedy destined for politics until his death in World War II. In JFK's dreams he is taken first to the moon with Rosemary (the Sea of Serenity), where he is harangued by a belligerent Khrushchev and his Red Army minions; then to Cape Cod, where the memories of the moonlight cause him to relive his initial meeting and subsequent courtship of Jackie, and finally a comedic confrontation with Lyndon Johnson and his posse of rhinestone-laden camp followers, with Jack constantly having to caution LBJ not to withdraw his "Jumbo."

All the while, the Kennedys are ministered to by two outsiders: a chambermaid (Talise Trevigne) and Secret Service agent (Sean Panikkar) who simultaneously serve two additional roles: first, that of  Clara Harris and Henry Rathbone, the couple who shared the box with Abraham and Mary Lincoln the night of his assassination; and second, as The Spinner and The Alloter, two of the three Greek Fates. The Spinner, it is explained, unspools the metaphorical thread of life, while The Alloter measures out the length of that thread. The third Fate, The Cutter, is the one who cuts the thread at the end of life. The Cutter is unseen in the opera; he awaits in Dallas.

In Act Two, as John speaks before a crowd gathered outside the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth, Jackie is brought face-to-face with her future self, Jackie Onassis (Katharine Goeldner), who helps the young Jackie dress in her iconic pink suit and hat. Together with the maid, the three women sing a poignant trio as Mrs. Onassis assures Mrs. Kennedy that her husband will love her "every day" of the rest of his life, not adding that this life has only hours to go. It, along with the love duet sung by the young Jack and Jackie, are the show-stoppers of the opera, the two pieces that triggered spontaneous and long applause from the audience.

While Jackie leaves with the luggage, Jack slips into his familiar grey suit and, musing on how much his wife has sacrificed for him and how unworthy he is, he sings of how lucky a man he is, before he joins her for the short trip to Dallas. If there is any truth to the theory that the two Kennedys were growing closer, that fatherhood combined with the tragic death of Patrick had caused JFK to strive to become a better husband, it likely came about in much this way.

The opera is far from perfect, as is the case with most premieres. The scene with LBJ, for example, is very broad, to the point that the audience is encouraged to laugh perhaps more heartily than the material justifies. Johnson was, clearly, a larger-than-life character; the attempts by men in Kennedy's administration to marginalize him, and the dual insecurity of the two men (LBJ by his desire to be loved, JFK by Johnson's suggestion that the younger man is too inexperienced to be president) deserves a bit more gravitas than is given.

The triple roles played by Ms. Trevigne and Mr. Panikkar are also overly complicated. Without the pre-opera talk from the director, it would have been virtually impossible to link the two to the characters of Harris and Rathbone, and the tangential connections made to Lincoln's assassination are not only tenuous but unnecessary, cluttering up an already-crowded storyline. For those of us accustomed to stories of angels assuming human form on earth, the idea of the Fates assuming the identities of a heretofore unknown maid and Secret Service agent are plausible enough; adding another layer is not.

The use of the Fates, though, I found to be highly effective, for in the end the story of John F. Kennedy is a tragedy of its own. The assassination itself is never depicted on stage; instead, the Fates, having sent their charges to meet their destiny, watch on a television set while a grainy copy of the Zapruder film plays on the set's backdrop. The fateful moment, when the gunshots of Lee Harvey Oswald - The Cutter - fatally strike the president's head, is hidden from the audience by a piece of furniture; the reaction of the Fates as they see the unseen drama on TV, tell the story eloquently.

Thaddeus Strassberger's set design is by turns garish, sinister and intimate, and the occasional use of rear projection images, especially during the Jack/Jackie duet, is striking. And we can't really end without a shout-out to the Fort Worth Symphony, conducted by Steve Osgood. The musicians performed a new and often challenging piece of music quite capably, and the long ovation that greeted them prior to the start of the final act was fully justified.

David Little and Royce Vavrek, responsible for the music and libretto respectively, blend the ongoing narrative and the numerous flashbacks well, though it's likely that continued performances will result in a more polished presentation. Musically, the opera reminded me a great deal of John Adams' Nixon in China, in that it combines lovely melodies with harder, bolder modern sounds. In addition, both operas eschew for the most part the classical structure of arias and duets, instead choosing to present the dialogue in what essentially amounts to an extended recitative.

Ultimately, whether or not you agreed with John Kennedy's politics, whether or not you saw Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis as one of the world's most glamorous women (and the sympathetic portraits given here would encourage you to do both), this is really about of a young couple who rose to the top but never had the opportunity to enjoy the quiet moments that life presents in the subsequent years, when all is said and done and days are spent reminiscing while sitting in rocking chairs enjoying the late summer sun. The sinister sense of foreboding presented at the beginning is fully delivered by the end. That we're unable to prevent it from happening has frustrated artists to no end over the years (see: King, Stephen, for example), but that very inevitability, augmented as it is by our knowledge of the assassination's aftermath, is what compounds the tragedy.

One of the objectives of JFK, Little and Vavrek explained, is to remind us that the iconic figures of American history are also mortals, human beings with human lives. Flawed though it may be, their effort presents this in a very moving, powerful way. The story of John F. Kennedy is, as I said, a tragedy, and there is no better vehicle to present tragedy than that of opera. If it failed in every other respect - and, believe me, it doesn't - it would have earned its place in the opera world from that alone.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Flashback Friday: The Penn State aftermath: the policy that protected Sandusky is still there

The Penn State scandal's roots began in the late 1980's, when Joe Paterno protected women's basketball coach Rene Portland and her “straight-edge” policy on the team – "no drugs, no alcohol, no sexually deviant behaviour allowed," resulting in complaints by sexual deviants about her program. Around the time, a generation after Stonewall was being infiltrated by the agenda of sexual deviants, and one book boasted of how the sexual deviancy activists would win this country away from the "hate groups" of Christians.

In response, sexual deviant activists, both students and faculty, protested, and successfully the Faculty Senate at the university passed a series of policies where "sexual orientation" was added to the nondiscrimination clause at the school. As we've learned about sexual deviancy activists, legalising pedophilia is part of their cause, and protecting evil adults at the expense of children is their agenda. When college professors such as Ed Madden (a sexual deviant in my time at South Carolina) consistently push for such pro-sex offender policies, they disregard the price that generations will pay for future scandals that will erupt from such protection. Sexual deviancy special rights activists care about normalising pedophilia and other wicked sexual deviant behaviour at the expense of children.

The pedophiles took charge of Penn State after punishing Joe Paterno for protecting Rene Portland. And once that policy took place, Jerry Sandusky was scot-free because he had official school policy protecting him. When Mr. Paterno or others attempted to report the charges, they were stonewalled by the policy that protected Mr. Sandusky. Could anyone go after a child molester if official policy protected the molester?
The blood of this scandal is clearly on the hands of the Faculty Senate and the sexual deviancy activists that bullied the school into adding the policies that protected the molester. These policies are everywhere in many schools, governments, and corporations.

When a “pride” festival comes in with parades, celebrities, and other exhibits in an attempt to push their agenda down people's thoughts through textbooks. Under this Administration, a federal speech code has made speaking out against sexual deviancy a federal hate crime (Shepard-Byrd), and now there are some in Congress what want the same policy that created this scandal in protecting sexual deviants in policy to become federal law (“ENDA”). Furthermore, the the change of the military from a fighting force to defend this country from evil into a sexual deviancy indoctrination force was made complete by Public Law 111-321, where speaking for God's Word is a crime, and "soldiers" are now participating in full uniform in these sexual deviancy parades. Proud of what? Now the mayor of Boston is even vowing to ban the Cathy family's quick-service chicken sandwich restaurants from the area, which even offends the local CBS affiliate because they advertise heavily on national advertising during SEC on CBS broadcasts weekly, because of their pro-Bible stance.

The $60 million fine is necessary, but the unprecedented postseason ban for four years (which would affect this crop of freshmen just signed by the new administration, whom, if they are successful, will become this generation's 1980 United States Olympic Team) without fixing the problem that caused this mess is senseless. The sexual deviancy activists are working hard to ensure the policy that created this scandal (“sexual orientation” protection) stays – its removal is mandatory for the healing from the scandal to begin, and is crucial in preventing further similar scandals, since legal protections of pedophiles via official policy would be eliminated. And the beasts of ENDA and special rights activists will fight to the end to ensure pedophilia is a federally protected class, while Christians are punished.

Why is nobody looking at the policy that created this mess in the first place?

Andrew Dionne has this on the course list at Penn State, and how it helped the corrupt culture.

Originally published July 23, 2012

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Sons of Katie Elder in hockey?

Now think about this.  The Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Washington Capitals, 4-2, in the second round of the NHL playoffs earlier this week.

Now their farm systems are playing against each other.  The AHL second round features the Capitals' Hershey Bears playing the Penguins' farm team in Wilkes-Barre / Scranton.  The ECHL Eastern Conference Final features the Capitals' (Charleston) South Carolina Stingrays playing the Penguins' Wheeling Nailers.

Hershey leads, 3-2, as of this writing and Friday will be Game 1 of the ECHL Caps-Pens system. What a tangled web!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Now it can be told

Last summer, we announced a certain participant's entry to The Chase Grid with this introduction:

Now that we know the person associated with the theme has won, you wondered how Donald Trump was associated with Сергей Прокофьев. Consider the licences that the BBC paid to Mark Burnett, and even to Donald Trump, and see this introduction (from 2013, courtesy FremantleMedia/RTL Group), you will see where the reference comes!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Game changer

We can now officially make it evident the game changing moment of the 2016 Presidential Chase season was the murder of a woman in San Francisco's Pier 14 by an illegal alien who should have been deported after numerous incidents, but was kept in the city by a mayor and the "sanctuary city" policies of the liberal core.  Once Mr. Trump took that issue and ran with it, it seemed that was his core and people ran with it.  The second major point was easily the 30 years of Donald Trump's name recognition from the USFL, major combat sport events, golf tournaments (2015 Women's Open Championship the best known example), his real estate, and of course, The Apprentice, he had well known recognition the opposition did not have. Furthermore, as you would expect with a hockey fight, which always leads to momentum on the home side if the fighter took a decisive win, every Bernie Sanders supporter who started the twerk and bleep protests against Mr. Trump only allowed Mr. Trump to gain momentum.

So it's evident that the major turning point was the Steinle murder on Pier 14.  That was Trump's moment.

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