Friday, March 30, 2018

"The Easter Gift"

From April 1, 1956, General Electric Theater presents "The Easter Gift," the story of a family coming together at Easter, starring Macdonald Carey. Pretty common for G.E. to show a program like this for a religious holiday.

This year, ABC's annual showing of The Ten Commandments is Saturday night rather than Sunday; I've always been curious as to why an Old Testament story is shown at Easter, but we'll let it go for now. NBC's showing "Jesus Christ Superstar" live this Sunday evening, and I have an opinion on that, but not having seen the musical in any format, it's probably a good idea that I don't share it. TCM has their traditional movie marathon over the week, including Ben-Hur, King of Kings, and Easter Parade. At any rate, at least television is doing something to acknowledge the day    TV  

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Reflections on impatience

ne of my most challenging character flaws is impatience.

I’ve been aware of the problem for decades and I’ve tried to control it, with varying degrees of success. Sometimes I can almost get through a day without an incident – but then I’ll head out to dinner at a restaurant, and be told there’s a 20 minute wait for a table in a dining room that is half-empty. This situation will end one of two ways: I will either suggest to the hostess that there appears to be plenty of tables available right now, or I will go eat somewhere else. Usually I do both.

Patience at that moment would be, as it always is, a virtue – but I would counter that in that particular circumstance it is also unnecessary.

Indeed, as I’ve gotten older I’ve started to reconsider my aversion to impatience, because when I feel it, it’s usually justified.

Example – I do not get impatient at the Department of Motor Vehicles, a destination so infamous for interminable waits that it’s often compared to a circle of Hell in Dante’s Inferno – and not one of the better ones.

But at the DMV location where I renew my license, there are more than 50 service windows, and more than 95% of them are open for business. Yes, it still took just over 90 minutes the last time I had to get new plates for my car. But it was obvious that an effort was being made to serve the public.

Contrast this with, say, a trip to Target, where there are 20 checkout lines spanning the entire front of the store, but cashiers at just three of them, all of which have lines. A rather obvious solution to this problem presents itself, but Target doesn’t feel a need to adequately staff its store to minimize customer wait times.

Thankfully they have since added an automated self-checkout option. Before that, I won’t tell you how often I’ve abandoned carts of merchandise because I refuse to stand behind four shoppers in aisle 3 while aisles 6 through 17 are unattended.

Southern California traffic has also tried the patience of millions of commuters. But when I’m on the 405, inching past LAX on my way to the Valley, I look around and see five lanes in both directions, and a plethora of surface streets as alternative routes. They did what they could. The city just got too big, and people there just like driving more than other forms of transportation.

Where I live in Southern Nevada, it’s another story. City planners had population projections decades ago, acres of empty land and time to prepare for future transportation capacity, and they didn’t do it.

Thus, my impatience is not a Pavlovian response to uncontrollable delays. It is borne instead from a belief that someone, at some point, decided my time was unworthy of value. This is not a sense of entitlement; it’s a belief that no one deserves to be treated this way.

I’m not unaware of the economic realities that prompt businesses to rely on skeleton staffing – they are convinced that cutting expenses to the bone, which includes personnel – is the only way to compete with online retail. But perhaps if they invested more in qualified, courteous, well-trained salespeople and cashiers, they could provide the kind of shopping experience that cannot be delivered through a computer. Someday someone will try this and it will actually work.

And memo to the banks: you don’t get to hide behind the economic argument: so stop figuring one teller is enough for most weekday afternoons.

The absolute worst places on earth (or at least in the United States) for impatient people are hospitals. Thank heaven I’ve been fairly healthy all my life. But when I’ve had to go with a relative, whether it’s the emergency room or a scheduled outpatient surgery or just waiting to be released, the time required for even the most basic actions can be interminable. These are “times three” places – meaning the span of time required to do something anywhere else will be tripled once you enter a hospital.

At the other end of the spectrum are places that hype expediency as one of their advantages, such as “fast food” restaurants and “express lanes” in supermarkets. I put these descriptions in quotes because they usually prove inaccurate.

A 12-item limit at the grocery store does nothing to offset chatty cashiers, customers who act like it’s the first time they’ve seen a debit card reader, price checks, and customers that request a pack of cigarettes, requiring a cashier to set out on a journey to the plexiglass safe at the other end of the store where these products are kept, unlock it, and then try to remember if the request was for Marlboro Red or Marlboro Gold.

And fast food? Try ordering a Quarter Pounder without pickles and see how long it takes. Unless you’re at In-n-Out Burger, the service will likely be substandard.

What makes such moments more tolerable is when I spot someone in line sporting an exasperated expression and nervous tics similar to my own, sighing audibly as the line continues to not move, who seems just seconds away from the kind of vocal outburst that, to date, I still manage to restrain in most situations. At some point our eyes will meet, we recognize a kindred spirit, and we feel a little less alone surrounded by all these idiots. And then we just keep waiting.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Opera Wednesday

Just in time for Easter, Eva-Marie Westbroek sings the Easter Hymm from Mascagni's Cavelleria Rusticana, in this production by the Royal Opera in London. A beautiful pieces of music.


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Regietheater activism

The Glow Lyric Theatre, formerly the Greenville Light Opera Works, has done it again.  In the days after Renée Fleming's recital that I attended last year, they pushed a musical that advanced the elites' agenda of sexual perversion, reminding me of why I had to move from my seat at the Fleming recital when a woman claimed she had a "wife" (which is not possible, per Section 20-1-10 and 20-1-15 of our Code of Laws).

Now, with the anger over numerous school shootings (which was poor PR for Death Wish Chicago!), they have done it again.  The company's production is "Armed," and I can see based on the supporters of this event, the agenda fits with regietheater activism:  Arm in Arm, Moms Demand Action, March for Our Lives, Safe Harbor, and Upstate International.  That fits with how liberal activism is taking over our theater, and infuriating theater attendees.  Who wants to support such dastardly propaganda for the Left?  I know I am not up for it.  It seems after the election of this President, leftist groups are now using the arts to force an attempt at overturning the election with a Hillary by Hook or by Crook tactic.

Just remember how the tactic works:
  1. Gain a liberal majority in the House and Senate.
  2. Ban opposition speech.
  3. Indict the President via impeachment trial in the House.  A simple majority puts it in the Senate, and if necessary use Section 4 of the 25th Amendment (which one legislator proposes).
  4. Use emotional appeal to get a 67-seat majority in the Senate and convict President Trump.
  5. Then indict President Pence while denying his choice for Vice President per the 25th Amendment.
  6. Same tactics in the Senate, convict Vice President Pence.
  7. Under the 1947 Presidential Succession Act, Nancy Pelosi is interim President.
  8. She then selects Hillary Clinton to be Vice President, and it easily clears the House and Senate.
  9. Pelosi then formally steps down to make Clinton President in this Coup d'état.
  10. President Clinton then gets to pick her own running mate and gets nearly 10 years of power as a "President for Life".
Beware of the activists!  That is their playbook.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Harry Angstrom redux?

Over a 41-year span, American novelist John Updike wrote a series of  stories featuring former high school basketball star Harry Angstrom – Rabbit, Run (1960), Rabbit Redux (1971), Rabbit is Rich (1981), and Rabbit at Rest (1990), which closes the series, but then truly concludes with the offspring in Rabbit Remembered (2001), the last before his death.  The stories, as you might expect, were set in the era of the 1960's and beyond.

As Casey-Werner and ABC planned the “series continuation” of Roseanne as a limited-run series, this revival seems to put the developers of the show and the viewer into those who remembered Mr. Updike's Harry Angstrom franchise.  Whereas the original show was Rabbit, Run, this series could be a mix of Rabbit Redux and Rabbit is Rich.  How many times does a viewer ever think when a television show airs its series finale after a nice long run what would happen the characters in the show?  When looking at what people would think, we have the influence of the Angstrom series, and also Cynthia Cidre's short-lived Dallas continuation earlier this decade on TNT that sadly died with Larry Hagman's death.  But unlike Cidre's Dallas, which featured minor characters such as the son of Kristin Shepard and of course the son of John Ross Ewing, Jr, that viewers did not see on television in the original era, and how the heirs to the empire wanted a hold of Ewing Oil, the Roseanne continuation now takes Roseanne as a grandmother, with the child actors of the show now being parents themselves.

The Grandmother Roseanne, with the issues that are reflective of Tim Allen's Last Man Standing, has taken much of its influence from both Cidre and Updike.  People think Hollywood has lost its creativity with too many reboots, retellings, and the rest.  But I ask if making a well-known character, with the same cast, now as a grandmother controlling her children and the confusion of modern-day leftist propaganda, with the grandchildren's parents played by the former child stars on the same show, would sell in an era where America is confused by elites.  As father knew best in the 1950's, what will Grandpa and Grandma Conner do in trying to teach discipline to an era that needs it now?  Think about it when we consider this short series.  Is this Roseanne a hybrid of Cynthia Cidre's Dallas and John Updike's Rabbit sequels with a touch of Tim Allen's Last Man Standing as we imagine the Conner family now, with Roseanne and Tom being grandparents?  Maybe this will appeal to those who remember the original series and want to see how crazy the children have become, and what the grandmother now has to deal with leftist propaganda in schools.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Opera Wednesday

From 1986, here's the great Marilyn Horne in one of her most famous roles, Isabella, singing the aria "Pensa alla Patria" from in Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algers). The production is by the Metropolitan Opera.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Socialism and CEO salaries

One of my Facebook “friends” is an actor whose name would be familiar to anyone in the baby boom generation who grew up in front of a television. He is a hardcore liberal, as are most of those in his profession, and many of his online posts are supportive of liberal causes and brimming with anger over the current state of the nation and its leadership.

Among his favorite outrage-generating topics is the income inequity that exists in the United States. Not long ago he posted a link to a study that showed how salaries for CEOs increased significantly over two decades, while wages for ‘average’ workers remained stagnant.

This is what passes for activism now – posting a meme that shows how much you care.

I’m sure he posted this from a good place – a sincere belief that the success of a company should be shared more equally among those employed there. But it doesn’t work that way. It never has and it never will.

Of course such a statistic sounds bad when you first hear it. But whoever said capitalism was about equal shares for everyone? If a CEO is making $20 million, it’s because the executives at that company, as well as its shareholders, believe he or she is worth it. And if those in the rank and file haven’t realized the same wage increases, it’s because people with their skill sets are easier to find.

Doesn’t sound fair? Is it fair that someone who can throw a football accurately makes $100 million, while a schoolteacher gets by on $50,000? The actor who posted that link was on a successful television series for five seasons, and has rarely been out of work since. He cashed some big paychecks over the last three decades, because the shows he appeared on received solid ratings, and his subsequent appearances in TV movies and theatrical productions were deemed big enough to help draw an audience, which helped to make the productions profitable.

Did he ask what the grip or the costume designer was making and why he was making more? They both worked on the same series. Would he agree to add his salary to that of the production sound mixer, and then divide them into equal shares?

Maybe he would. Maybe he is that selfless. But you couldn’t replicate that in every theater or every film production. People with unique talents make more money than people who don’t have them.

This is capitalism. It is a system that rewards some and penalizes others – mostly those who didn’t stay in school, or didn’t choose a career path with a greater likelihood of financial gain. And despite what those who share my actor friend’s politics believe, the opportunity to choose one’s career path and priorities is available to everyone – yes, everyone. Some start climbing that ladder a few rungs below others born into better circumstances, but desirable destinations remain accessible.

I’m a writer. I work for a marketing company writing stuff that I mostly don’t like. But it pays my bills and affords me a solid middle-class existence that includes a big TV and a reliable car and a few nice meals in restaurants. Most writers aren’t even this lucky. So I don’t waste time fretting over why my bank account doesn’t look like Stephen King’s or John Grisham’s. Because I’m also not in that much wider pool of wordsmiths writing for five cents a word – even less if they answer an ad on Craig’s List.

We’re all in the same business – some are better than others. And those that are better get paid more. Why is this unfair?

If you want to change corporate America so it’s “fair,” then someone else will have to decide how much the CEO is allowed to earn, as well as the Board of Directors, and the next level of executives down, and then further descending the corporate ladder to the newest entry level hires. Who is going to do it?

Once that authority is taken away from the company, the only other option is the government. And this is an increasingly popular concept among those who like to yell and march and wear funny hats. They live in a world where such systems have repeatedly risen and fallen, leaving misery in their wake, and yet they persist in believing the only way to help some people move up (regardless of their talents or merit) is to bring others down (regardless of the work and sacrifices they’ve made to rise).

Is that naïveté? Where does this stubborn devotion to impractical ideas originate? Is it enough for them that something just ‘sounds good’? That would certainly clarify their equally baffling belief that an entrepreneur who built a company didn’t actually build it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Opera Wednesday

ESPN is the new home of Formula One in the United States, and based on reports they plan to reduce coverage on television to just the race, eliminating qualifying and practice coverage from television in order to push over the top services, such as the one Liberty Media is attempting to push worldwide, in an attempt to believe online streaming, not television to the masses, is the trend, pushing what I have called television for elites.  While the coverage will be the Sky coverage from the UK, it will be jarring to see F1 coverage drastically reduced from FP2, Qualifying, a one-hour pre-race, the race, and a post-race show, to simply just the race.  US fans will be interested to see how David Croft's style compares to other well known US motorsport legend Mike Joy, multi-series commentator Rick Schweiger, and others.  I expect considerably fewer books, notes, and observations with this style.  Without a Steve Matchett, Steve Letarte, or Larry McReynolds style voice in the booth, how will it go when the lights go out in a few weeks' time?

That leads to my second thought of Formula One's chequered past, which begins the subject of today's Opera Wednesday.  Remember when it seemed every car in Formula One was sponsored by tobacco?  We saw Marlboro, Gitanes, Camel, Barclay, Rothmans, Lucky Strike, Gold Leaf, John Player, Mild Seven, Gauloises, West, Benson & Hedges, among the notable brands until the mid-2000's when tobacco slowly but surely became a prohibited sponsor in the sport for safety reasons.  This transitions into the winner's podiums in Formula One, where the tune that is played in the Winner's Circle as the drivers and team principal spray champagne but before the unilateral interviews begin is that of an opera featuring women who work in a tobacco plant, no less.  While Formula One has banned tobacco advertising, the music played before the winner's interview at a race is that of women working in a tobacco factory!

And of course, there is an opera that celebrates women in a tobacco factory from Georges Bizet.  Indeed we know the tune, and there inlies the subject of today's Opera Wednesday -- Carmen, and its established overture.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Throwback Thursday: On gratitude for the veteran

I'm not quite sure how I feel about this article, in which former Marine officer Stanton Coerr says it's time to stop thanking veterans for their military service:

We know that all of you appreciate what we do. We know that you support our military forces and that (more importantly) you love our country. We know how patriotic you are…several times a day, every day, you tell us.

But it is now time for all of us to move on. 

Coerr goes on to list three reasons why it's time:

1.  We're all volunteers.  "So everyone you thank for their service is there by choice. The military, in the words of P.J. O’Rourke, “gives people with military-style personalities a place to work.” It also gives the nation a place to focus as it balances its anger at a foreign war against its appreciation for those sent to fight it.

2.  Thanking Lets You Off the Hook.  "Every time I am thanked for my service, I stop myself from asking, 'And what about yours?' I do not want you to also serve the military, but I do want you to serve our country, your city, your town, the local school. What are you doing to help? Are you volunteering at the hospital? The soup kitchen? Are you helping that elementary-school teacher in the inner city, the one who is buying her students pencils from her own pocket because the school district cannot? Are you donating to the fire department down the street?

We are all of us Americans. Each serves in his or her own way. You don’t need to thank me—your service should be enough."

3.  You Are Thanking the Wrong People.  "Most of us who have gone overseas, even into a combat zone, have never heard a shot fired in anger. We volunteered, we went, we did our jobs, we came back. And that is pretty much it." [...]

"Take note: most of us are somewhat ashamed of our lack of combat. No matter what you did, someone in the highly competitive combat-arms military has done more. Go and read the interviews with the shy young men who have been awarded the Medal of Honor in the past few years (can you name even one?). Every one of them, to a man, says the exact same thing: I didn’t do anything unusual. I could have done more. All I can think about is the guys we lost that day. The guys around me were the real heroes. They would have done the same for me."

On the one hand, I see where he's coming from.  The "Thank You Military!" celebrations that go on have become so trite, so automatic and unthinking, that they may strike many as virtually meaningless.  There's more than a little bit of jingoistic, U-S-A! self-congratulation to it all, that it tends to rub the wrong way.  As one writer reminds us, not all heroes are soldiers and not all soldiers are heroes.  And don't even get me started on these parent-child surprise reunions that we get bombarded with at sporting events and on news programs.  Our thanks should not be a made-for-TV event.

In addition, most soldiers - at least the ones I've encountered, and most of the ones I've read about, are very modest people, and I've always thought that the endless parades, singling out, and so on probably embarrass them more than anything else.  It's hard enough getting used to civilian life again without constantly being reminded of it.

And yet...  while it's true that we do have a volunteer military, the fact remains these people are choosing to join in the defense of our country, to willingly put their lives on the line, for our benefit.  Yes, police and firefighters do the same thing - any call they go on could be a fatal one - and they should be thanked as well.  They probably aren't thanked often enough.  Does that mean we're wrong to thank a soldier?  To thank him or her from volunteering to take a job that they know could cost them their lives?

I appreciate the point he makes about how we all should do our part, but that's the very think that sets their service apart - they do this without asking for anything other than being treated fairly, by getting what the nation has agreed to provide them with in return for risking their lives, and for our leaders to be thoughtful about sending them into harm's way.  Otherwise, their service is unconditional.  I could understand if they expected more from the public than that, but they don't.  It's not part of the bargain, and that's one reason why it makes their service extraordinary.

I admit that there's much about what Coerr says that rubs me the wrong way, but I agree with him that our thanks ought to be heartfelt and sincere, that it should be thought out rather than automatic, that it works best in the small ways rather than the grandiose, look-at-me moments.  Sometimes the best thanks is a nod of the head - or, even more radically, actually providing the types of veterans' services that the military is entitled to.

Perhaps we still have a collective guilt complex from the Vietnam days and the horrid way in which veterans were treated, even though many of us were either not around then or had nothing to do with it.  We probably overdue it as a way of overcompensating for the past, and that's wrong.  But it's not wrong for a grateful nation to say thanks; there's something very decent about the kind of selfless service the military as a whole provides, and as long as we recognize it, as long as the military remains true to its mission and its values, gratitude is always in order.  As is graciousness in accepting it.

Originally published July 20, 2015

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Opera Wednesday

Here's something you may not have been aware of - I certainly didn't know it, or if I did, I'd forgotten it. These are excerpts from The Tell-Tale Heart, with music and libretto by Robert Butts, based on the story by Edgar Allen Poe. The performers in this video are Pamela Stein, Alexandra Altonjy and Iliya Roitman.

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