Friday, December 21, 2007

Have Yourself a Black-and-White Christmas

With the Cranky Reviewer™ being on a semi-permanent hiatus, I decided to go ahead and make my own recommendations this year for some holiday-specific films that have become part of my own holiday tradition. Also, this is a chance for Woundup readers to realize that I don't always use this platform to grouse and complain. It only seems that way.

We have a box. It's about two-thirds the size of a document archive box. It holds our holiday collection of videos and DVDs that we watch every year, and we continually add to it. Eventually I hope to either copy our video cassettes to DVD or replace them with DVD copies, but that may take time. Anyway, I want to focus on some of my favorites today, and they all have one thing in common: they were all shot in black-and-white.

I'm not a fan of colorization. I think it's okay to want to see one once in a while just to remind ourselves that life before the 50's did have color. My mother seems to remember living life in color, so I guess that's historically accurate. But I enjoy black-and-white films precisely because they lend themselves to a historical view of the world. As an amateur historian of sorts, I appreciate that quality. The stories around which these films were built are of the variety that transcend the medium and allow the viewer to escape into a world of our choosing. So, having introduced the topic thus, let me regale you with

Uncle Woody's Black-and-White Holiday Picks

The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)
This is actually a sequel to "Going My Way," the film in which Bing Crosby created the role of Father Timothy O'Malley, and for which he won his Best Actor Oscar. I haven't actually seen "Going My Way," but I can now since it appears on a double-header DVD with "Holiday Inn" (which see below). "St. Mary's" pits the good Father against Sister Benedict, who runs the church's parish school. Sister Benedict is played brilliantly by Ingrid Bergman, and Crosby is his affable best as Father O'Malley.

Plot-wise the film is completely predictable, but of the feel-good variety that I always appreciate. O'Malley and Benedict clash over the fate of the school. O'Malley has been asked to make a recommendation as to whether to close the school, while Sister Benedict fiercely defends the school at the same time she dreams of moving into a nice, modern building being constructed next door.

This isn't really a Christmas movie, per se, but Christmas factors heavily in the story. The kicker here is a wonderful — schmaltzy, even — version of the Nativity staged by the school's kindergartners and first-graders, with humorous results.

Holiday Inn (1942)
Here's one I've only just seen for the first time ever this year. It's a typical story of entertainers behind the scenes and stars Crosby with Fred Astaire. They compete for the art and for the girl. As with "St. Mary's," it's not truly a Christmas film. "Holiday Inn" derives its name from the idea that the inn is only open on holidays throughout the year, including Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays (back when they were celebrated separately), Valentine's Day, and July 4th. Irving Berlin provides his usual snappy numbers for each holiday, and provides plenty of fodder for Bing and Fred to ply their trade.

One note: stories about entertainers always crack me up when it comes to their relationships with the opposite sex. Astaire's character in particular falls "in love" with whichever girl makes the best dance partner, even if it's at the expense of Crosby's love life. This is typical Hollywood faire for the period, and makes for some entertaining moments.

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Arguably the king of holiday movies. I say arguably, because I believe Mrs. Woody would indeed argue the point with me. Her all-time fave is "Miracle on 34th Street" (coming up next!), and I certainly respect her opinion on that. For me, however, the combination of Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, and Frank Capra is nearly unbeatable. This story has been told so many times in so many ways over the ensuing years. None of them, however, really holds a flame next to Capra's masterpiece. Stewart is simply perfect as the small-town do-gooder George Bailey who finds himself trapped in a provincial existence. At his moment of greatest crisis his guardian angel intervenes with spectacular result.

This movie never, and I mean never fails to choke me up in the end. I've seen this I don't know how many times over the years, and I can honestly say I have nearly memorized every line of dialogue in the film. Yet every year we reach the part where George's brother says, "To my big brother George, the richest man in town!" and I find myself holding back the tears. And I never cry. Well, rarely, anyway.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
I should make Mrs. Woody write this review, really. This is the movie that begins our holiday season every year. We watch this movie on Thanksgiving evening, so it ties in not only with Christmas, but with the Macy's Holiday Parade which we watch in the morning. Given that this is Mrs. Woody's personal favorite, I also enjoy it, and certainly don't mind recommending it. The overarching plot revolves around one man's claim to being the real Santa Clause, and being subjected to a hearing that could result in his being committed to a mental institution. Underneath it all is a story of unconditional love and the true spirit of Christmas. It also features a very precocious Natalie Wood years before she became a stunning bombshell of an actress.

Taken altogether, "Miracle" is another one of those films that can catch me off-guard and find me holding back a tear or two.

The Bishop's Wife (1947)
Cary Grant, David Niven, and Loretta Young. Not to mention several cameos by some of the best character actors in the business, including Elsa Lanchester, James Gleason, and Monty Woolley. This film has also been remade a number of times, most notably by Whitney Houston several years ago, but again the original is the gold-medal standard. I enjoy this film for three reasons. Grant (another angel character) is at the top of his game in this film. His chemistry with the innocent and unsuspecting Young as the wife of an Episcopalian Bishop is marvellous, but his more adversarial relationship with Niven's Bishop character is even better. The results are often funny, frequently poignant, and altogether wonderful. The second thing I enjoy about this film is the underlying current of faith and hope. Man finds himself feeling short-changed in life, until faith creeps in and reminds him that life can be wonderful and fulfilling if only we let it. Finally, the Christmas sermon that Grant writes on behalf of his harried Bishop is terrific. It's a gentle reminder that the best gift of Christmas has always been and will always be the Babe of Bethlehem.

So that's it. These are the films that I watch around this time of year, for what it's worth. There are others that I have yet to watch, like "Christmas in Connecticut," for example. Or "A Christmas Wish" which stars both Jimmy Durante and a squirrel. So next year's list may have to be modified. You may also notice that I don't list any of the "A Christmas Carol" versions in black-and-white. I think we only have one home-taped version (the 1938 version, if memory serves). However, Patrick Stewart's interpretation of the classic is by far my favorite. Stewart put together a strong ensemble for his televised version in 1997, and I watch it every year. We first heard about his annual readings of the Dickens story and found a CD audio version that we listened to on a trip several years ago. When his televised version came out we watched it and fell in love with it. Hence I have no black-and-white "Carols" on my list.

Feel free to tell me what your personal Christmas favorites are, whether color or black-and-white. I don't dare go into my entire list; there isn't enough room without your having to scroll down for all eternity. Whatever you do, take the time to enjoy some good entertainment this holiday season. Attend a concert. Go to Midnight Mass, if that's your tradition. Tomorrow night Mrs. Woody and I take the Woodyettes to see a live version of "The Nutcracker."

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Traditional Trouble

I have voiced my disagreements with the Archbishop of Canterbury in the past, in particular for his voiced support of something I called "designer scriptures." I also believe he has personally done little to understand or even attempt to assuage the problems of the Episcopalian church in this country, and that has led to its current internal struggles to remain a cohesive body of believers.

For all that, the Telegraph in London began its report of an interview held with the Anglican prelate with this misleading headline:
Archbishop says nativity 'a legend'
It's the kind of headline that is designed to get readers' blood boiling, and mine went pretty quickly into a full roil until I read the actual article. In the interview, Dr. Williams actually does a decent job of separating scriptural fact from the traditional views held of the Nativity by millions of Christians world-wide. (Note: there's a link to the actual transcript in the article, and it's worth a read.)

The article leads off with the concept of the Three Wise Men. Traditionally, the Wise Men (always three as depicted through the centuries) were kings or magi who travelled from eastern countries to bring their gifts of incense, myrrh and gold to the baby Jesus. Scripturally there are problems with this romanticized view, and Dr. Williams was pointing out those inconsistencies. Firstly, the scriptures say nothing about the number of wise men who sought out the infant. The number three merely corresponds with the three gifts mentioned in scripture. The wise men depicted as kings were likely the invention of artists who wanted to aggrandize the birth of the Savior, thus introducing artistic license into the story of the Nativity.

It is also a misconception to depict the Kings surrounding the infant. Jesus was, by the time the wise men arrived, already a toddler. If memory serves, the family did not remain long in Bethlehem. They had probably relocated to Nazareth by the time of the visit from the wise men, and then moved hastily to Egypt after Joseph was divinely informed that Herod wanted to kill all the male children who were around the Savior's age.

Unfortunately, when your statements are summarized by a reporter, that reporter's world-view is the baseline assumption. For that reason we see this line in a later paragraph:
The Archbishop went on to dispel other details of the Christmas story.
No, I'm afraid the Archbishop did no such thing. What he did, precisely, was attempt to dispel the traditions surrounding the story and remind people that the scriptural record is scant on detail.

For example, even without our latter-day revelation indicating that the Savior was in fact born in April, it has always seemed highly unlikely to me that this story took place in the winter. I could never understand what shepherds were doing out in those fields in freezing conditions (does it even snow in that part of the Holy Land? I have no clue!) to begin with. The story makes much more sense when it plays out in the springtime. The winterization of Christmas was the result of deciding to celebrate this event during the old pagan Winter Festival celebrations, when bored pagans around the world found time to break the winter monotony. Roman officials decided to keep the festival going after adopting Christianity, but changed the theme so as not to anger the Church. A wise move, but one destined to confuse large portions of believers for centuries to come.

True believers, however, with or without the traditions that have long embellished this story, understand the true significance of the Savior's birth. The Redeemer of the world and Only Begotten of the Father was born in the humblest of circumstances. His earthly life and ministry would reflect that humility. His atonement and ultimate sacrifice would also be lowly; dying much the same way as countless common criminals of that day died. We see the baby in a stable, and aspire to live as He did. We are grateful, more than we can ever express, that He chose to come and live among us so that we might some day return and live with Him.

I don't agree with everything the Archbishop says or teaches, but I believe that he defended the original Nativity quite nicely. It is not a legend, it's just a victim of embellishment by well-meaning, if misguided, people.

Merry Christmas, traditional or otherwise!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Homeschoolers For [TBD]

Interesting lead-in from Drudge today: "HUCKABEE DRAWS SUPPORT OF HOME-SCHOOL FAMILIES..." — with one of his dead-end links back to the Report. It's frustrating when Drudge does that, but hardly insurmountable to someone with any sort of Googling skills. I believe the article he meant to link was this one from the Des Moines Register.

I think the article overstates the support Huckabee is getting from homeschoolers as being somehow indicative of how homeschoolers as a national group may vote in the primaries. As I've mentioned before, homeschoolers as a group are about the least organized bunch of people I know, and I just can't get excited about the fact that Huckabee has seemingly overwhelming support from evangelical homeschoolers in Iowa. If the Constitution included a clause stating that homeschoolers must be able to organize more than an occasional field trip to a local museum once a month, we would fail the constitutional test. We're nice people, but our group mentality doesn't extend too far outside our immediate families. This is part of the reason why we don't appreciate public school. A very small part, but there you have it.

But back to Huck. A large part of the evangelical fervor over Rev. Huck is an endorsement coming from no less a personage than Michael Farris, one of the founders of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). As an evangelical Christian himself, Mr. Farris carries a lot of editorial weight with those who hold similar beliefs. This is fine, and I certainly don't begrudge these fine people their choice of candidate. I just don't happen to agree with them, and I particularly don't agree with Mr. Farris' evaluation of Huckabee the Candidate.

Let me first say that Huckabee may very well be as sincerely Christian as he claims to be. Certainly he's put in the study (even if his claim to a "theological degree" may be somewhat overstated) and has the license to preach, so to speak. Clearly his political positions reflect a certain evangelical flavor and coloring, to the point of being downright alarming to non-evangelicals across the country. I have no doubt that he truly believes himself to be the only logical choice for Christians in this coming election.

Except that he's not. Not for this Christian, at any rate.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the recent revelations about Huckabee's time as Governor of Arkansas are hardly worthy of an unqualified statement of support from most conservative points of view. His tax record alone gives serious pause, as do the most recent allegations that significant political supporters (read: financiers) were given high level positions in his administration.

Michael Farris tries to make the case that support for Huckabee will somehow protect homeschoolers from Democrat Candidate-Presumed Hillary Clinton. Even if it were true that Huckabee's position on homeschooling were the best of any candidate in the field (I've not heard about this issue from any other candidate), I'm still not convinced that Huckabee has what it takes to defeat Clinton in the general election. In fact, whoever the nominee is in 2008, they will likely turn the attack machinery of the DNC fully on the Republican and I believe Huckabee would be shredded in short order. Even if he somehow survives the attacks, modern politics is all about perception, and any perceived weakness in his campaign at a general level would guarantee a Democrat win in November.

Further to Farris' point, homeschool isn't truly a national issue anyway. Political control of education is felt far more at the state level than the national level. If you've paid any attention to this blog lately, you'll know how I feel about the national record in education policy. The NEA — not the Bush administration — runs education policy in this country, and the effects have been devastating. For homeschoolers, however, the greater fight for control over their right to educate their children at home remains with state and local boards of public instruction. Federal policy is about money and who gets it. They could care less whether we're teaching our kids at home; they have bigger fish to fry. At a state level, however, where federal money is converted into wasteful local education budgets, homeschoolers are a continual sore-spot. We thrive against all the commonly accepted educational formulae. Our kids excel in many academic arenas, and it couldn't gall professional educators more.

It is not Hillary that homeschoolers fear in 2008. It is any state or local education official who continues to harangue homeschoolers for being outlaws that we fear most. Huckabee, whatever his other virtues may be, will not have any control over that fight, nor will any future President of the United States.

I suspect that a large portion of the support Huckabee is garnering from Iowa homeschoolers is loyalty from a large contingent of evangelicals who have similar beliefs to his. They're just certain that the rest of the country is "out to get him." This circling of the wagons is not a surprising reaction to what we have learned about Huckabee. Still, it worries me that they end up supporting the man for the wrong reasons, and aren't taking a harder look at someone who ought to be appear to be "too good to be true."

If you want to draw an allegory with Mitt Romney and LDS support, go ahead. As I've mentioned before, I'm not firmly on the Romney bandwagon at this point. I'm not on anyone's bandwagon yet simply because I'm waiting for all these insipid non-debates to dry up before I try to form an opinion. I mean, really, has any single debate of this season changed your opinion of any candidate for the better? Me, neither.

So don't get too excited about your support from homeschoolers, Mike. They're good people, their hearts are in the right place, and they even make terrific campaign volunteers. But unless they can miraculously organize a national coalition of evangelical homeschoolers to act as a lobby, their message will be limited in scope.

Kinda like mine.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Why Huckabee Can't Win

Mike Huckabee wants so badly to be right. Unfortunately, his reflexes as an evangelical preacher are overpowering his political instincts and he's picking on the wrong target.

Waiting until the run-up to the Iowa and New Hampshire votes, Huckabee has unleashed attacks — ranging from subtle to "in yo' face, Dude" — against one particular religion. It happens to be a religion that he can ill afford to alienate. There are nearly six million of us in this country, and we're not likely to vote for anyone who considers us to be "fringe" voters.

Of course, this is not to say that all six million of us will vote intelligently, either. We do have Democrats in the church, after all.

Beyond that, there's the problem of not whether, but how candidates alienate voters. Democratic candidates go out of their way to alienate Republicans (and vice versa) simply based on political alignment. In other words, for as long as Democrats insist on foisting such things as abortion and gay "rights" on us, I will never vote Democrat. Just as Democrats will never vote Republican for as long as we insist on protecting our borders or standing up to school-yard bullies. Such is the natural order of things.

However, when candidates step out of that political arena and directly attack a voter's personal (by which I mean "none of your business" personal) beliefs, they cross a heavily drawn line and there can be no redemption in the mind of that voter. This is Huckabee's sin, and he is now politically irredeemable. Oh, he may have the rabid support of a cluster of Southern Baptists on this attack, but the fallout will be considerable. Given the revelations of his record as Governor of Arkansas ("The Clinton State"), coupled with his deep, abiding bias against the LDS church, he will find that sympathy for his message drops precipitously as we get closer to voting our consciences.

Huckabee chose this particular issue because he perceives it to be Romney's Achilles heel. Ironically, he either forgets (or chooses to ignore) the fact that there are probably just as many people who would not want a preacher of any kind in the White House as there are anti-Mormon voters out there. It's an attack that only serves to make the ex-Governor seem petulant; like a child on the playground that hurls insults at the kids that won't let him play. Childish in the extreme.

The other problem is his intended target. Trying to get Mormons to acknowledge that our faith is in any way inferior to anyone else's has never worked (except in some personal cases) in the 177 years of this church's existence. You can label us anything you like. You can accuse us. You can insult us. You can even drive us from state to state and issue extermination orders against us. But you will never stifle our faith, or impede our growth by so doing. Been there, done that, lost the tee-shirt.

Sorry, Mr. Huckabee. This is not your election to win.

P.S. If I turn out to be wrong, and Huckabee somehow mounts a successful primary-to-nomination run, I will not move to Canada. I will instead vote independent. Not for the Democrat, mind you, but I would for the first time in my personal history be sorely tempted to dilute any vote that Huckabee might otherwise receive. I'm all for eating crow in this case, but I prefer to choose how it's cooked and served.

P.P.S. I also realize that even though there are six million Latter-day Saints living in the United States, only a fraction of that number are eligible to vote. So what? If a candidate cares that little for even one million potential voters, especially for those of his own party, what does that say about the candidate?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

No Privacy Zone

The fight over exactly how to regulate an out of control technology is only going to get uglier, if this report I found on Drudge is any indication.

The tragedy, of course, is that this sort of thing was so very preventable. A young 13 year old girl makes a virtual "friend" and develops an emotional relationship. A month later she is told that this virtual friend wants nothing to do with her, and is accused of being (among other things) fat, a slut, and finally a bad person that the world would be better off without. This last message has not been retrieved by police.

Worse yet, "Josh" was created by a woman who lived down the street and was typed by the woman, her daughter, and "another person." The woman wanted to "gain Megan's confidence" to see what, exactly, Megan was saying about her own child.

Thus the internet becomes less a social networking device, and more a legalized form of psychological warfare that, in this case, utterly destroyed the targeted family. The girl is now dead, and her parents have separated. Legal actions are threatened and the community is moving to institute child endangerment and harrassment protection for internet related problems.

As a long-time user of the internet and its wealth of knowledge and information, I have seen both sides of the "social networking" aspects of this extremely public arena. Mrs. Woody and I found each other online after separating from my first wife, but that's not the whole story. Mrs. Woody and I had known each other as teenagers (waaaaay before the internet was even a twinkle in Al Gore's eye). We had gone our separate ways since graduation, and it certainly wasn't the internet that convinced me that Mrs. Woody was the only woman for me. I knew who she was as a teenager, and she had always been someone I would have considered for eternal companionship even in my addled teenage years. No, in this case the internet merely expedited something that might have happened anyway.

But the internet definitely helped dissolve my first marriage. My ex and I discovered the addictive nature of "social networking" and the problems it can cause. Granted it was only one aspect of our divorce, but a significant one. The dark side of the internet.

Since Mrs. Woody and I have both had online experience and seen the seamier effects of this technology in the lives of others, we have declared the internet a "No Privacy Zone" in our home. In other words, for as long as the girls are living in this house, and young enough to be considered under our "control," (a term any parent knows to be ephemeral at best) they will not have the luxury of having entirely private relationships on the internet. Even the ones they do develop will be subject to the same rules of safety and etiquette that we would expect from any relationships they may form in the physical world. In other words, if any friendship — real or virtual — leads to any clandestine behaviors, there will be consequences.

Being homeschoolers, we have a couple of advantages. Firstly, we know what our kids are up to at school. There is no guess-work involved; the girls have wonderful friends through Church and our homeschool group, and we know the families of these friends. When they get together with these friends, we have confidence that they are reasonably safe. We give them more leeway as they prove their trustworthiness, and reel them back in whenever trust becomes an issue.

The second advantage is our ability to detect changes in personality. When Jelly started becoming just a bit moodier, we were able to determine that she's beginning to feel the effects of those wonderful hormones that all kids will experience. Since her life is an open book to us, we were able to see that change and determine how best to deal with it. (Mostly I sit on my bed in a fetal position and whimper a lot. Mrs. Woody handles it better.)

The hardest part of Megan's story is that her Mom and Dad were actually aware of this virtual friend. They had even counselled her on some of the meaner things that were said. Megan, however, appears to have had some emotional issues, and a depressed person can easily make the jump from reasonable to extreme with only minor provocations. Her access to the virtual world needed more controls, although it is easy to second-guess someone else's decisions.

I am not one to try to find a legal solution for every problem. Especially when, as a parent, I have the ability to shape and mold my children. This is not the responsibility of the world or even my local community. That responsibility is solely my own and Mrs. Woody's. We cannot and do not abdicate that responsibility to anyone else. Not the church. Not a public school. They can assist me, but it is not their responsibility. I don't let my girls do things just because "everyone else is doing it." If millions of kids are into social networking without parental control, that becomes the poorest of reasons to let my children do it.

Criminal, one might say.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

"Leonard Bernstein Conducts 'West Side Story'"

This is an album I really, really want to like. I always have high expectations when composers conduct their own work. Copland conducts anything by Copland is always a winner. I enjoy understanding how the composer feels about a piece, especially if I have favorite recordings by other conductors, or have perhaps performed the piece myself. I always wonder how something like "A German Requiem" would have sounded on a recording by Brahms himself. So when Leonard Bernstein finally decided to conduct more than just an excerpt or two from his monumental "West Side Story" score, I was thrilled.

With all due respect to the gracious lady who posted a review in Amazon, I have serious problems with this recording.

Not orchestrally, of course. Bernstein's interpretation of his own score is nothing short of brilliant, and he brings the full weight of the score to bear in this recording. I bought the cassette version when it came out twenty years ago, and the only technical flaw it had was some uneven mixing that meant a goodly portion of the "Rumble" section sounded like it was being fought behind closed doors. Otherwise, Bernstein does his usual sterling job of putting his studio musicians through their paces.

The serious problems I have with the recording are the voices Bernstein employed to portray the principles. Understanding the long-standing relationships Bernstein had formed over the years with many vocal luminaries, it wasn't terribly surprising that he would pick A-listers like José Carreras and Kiri Te Kanawa to portray Tony and Maria. Riff is voiced by Kurt Ollman, an able baritone with a rich voice but completely wooden acting skills in the incidental dialogues. The only vocal bright spots on this recording are the other Jets, and Anita. Anita is voiced by Metropolitan Opera mezzo Tatiana Troyanos. Troyanos tragically died of liver cancer several years after this recording, but she gives Anita the full passion and fire that the role requires.

Please understand that this says nothing against the performers themselves. This is a critique of the decision to use these particular voices in a recording that deals with street-tough kids in 50's New York. Try as he might, Ollman just can't do the tough routine well enough to bring Riff to life. Te Kanawa, with her full-throated mezzo, can't keep it light enough to give the mind the impression of a young 16 or 17 year old Puerto Rican girl who finds her first real love. Carreras, a wonderful lyric tenor, is out of his element as tough-kid-with-good-heart Tony. He does a pretty admirable job of applying American diction to the role, but the jazzier syncopations of "Who Knows?," for example, elude him. There's no denying the power of his upper register in the duets with Te Kanawa, but the effect is one of an operatic reading of what is essentially a gritty stage musical.

(There is a video of the making of this recording. It aired, I think, on PBS. Probably during pledge drives. In it, you can see the trouble that Carreras had with the timing of the music. I had similar experiences trying to teach a young Tony we were working with in a church production that I had the privilege of conducting. Bernstein's music is tough on the inexperienced. One thing stands out in my memory, though. Bernstein himself had the principles over to his apartment to discuss the project, and he made a statement to the effect that after more than thirty years, the music was "still fresh." Granted, this was the composer saying this, but he himself hadn't really looked at the music since the show ran on stage. He was right, too. Musically, "West Side Story" is still just as fresh and powerful as it was back in the day.)

There are likeable things about this effort. "Officer Krupke" is solid, primarily because he used theatrical voices for the Jets. Troyanos worked as Anita because she was able to use her skills successfully and abandon the somewhat stiffer rules of operatic singing to give Anita her passion. "America" has Troyanos at her best, with a good backup crew of young theatrical voices assisting. In spite of my misgivings about their casting, Carreras and Te Kanawa do a beautiful job in the pivotal "One Heart, One Hand" duet. It's not good theater, but it's beautiful to hear.

All of this carping is probably because I'm a theater guy. I know (and respect) the differences between opera and musicals. I did a turn as Papageno in a junior college production of "The Magic Flute," and I probably did no real justice to that baritone role; I'm a second tenor, not a baritone ("Dammit, Jim!"), and probably wouldn't have captured the role at all if not for my comic instincts. I can say with a total lack of modesty that I shine in musical comedies. That's where I belong. I would never lend my voice to a recording of, say, Die Fledermaus, because I don't have the chops for it.

It's the same when performing in a foreign language. Listening to Carreras' American diction is probably what Europeans experience when Americans talk or sing in French or Italian. We can do a credible job, but it probably sounds just a little funny to them. That's more forgiveable in opera, where technique and timbre are king. If you have a solid high "C," then you're the bomb. Pretenders are roundly booed out of the theater.

I guess this was really a case of reality not meeting expectation. With all the talented Broadway voices in New York, I can't imagine that Lenny couldn't have found just the right mix of characterizations for this historical recording. Perhaps that was the point, after all. Perhaps he really just wanted to have a recording of his own music with voices that he knew and loved. If that's the case, then he certainly accomplished that.

I want to enjoy this recording, but it's not good theater.

Monday, November 05, 2007

News That Won't Affect This Family

Hollywood writers have gone on strike. Shows that rely on topical writing to handle current events are shuttering up for the duration and going into reruns.

This, to me, is a little like Pakistan using lawyers for aggression training. Whom do I support?

I'm not a huge fan of strikes. I'll grant that they may be necessary on occasion, but both sides always come off sounding like whiney, petulant kids who can't ever discuss their disagreements in any sort of rational way. As an observer of union/management negotiations over the years, I can tell you that both sides always — repeat: always — come to the table with huge chips on their shoulders. They're really just begging the other guy to knock that chip off so they can run to the media and cry foul. This always ratchets the rhetoric up another notch, and the "S" word begins to surface almost immediately.

If political campaigns are guilty of mud-slinging, contract negotiations look like Normandy on June 7.

For the most part, I usually can take one side or the other in a contract dispute. If a union is getting hammered with layoffs, oppressive cost increases in benefits, or lousy working conditions, then more power to 'em. If the union is just being a strike-happy pool of pond scum, then all power to the CEO, dude.

But this is Hollywood. Writers are striking so they can get bigger cuts of increasingly obscene profits from an industry that has shown itself capable of single-handedly ripping apart the moral fabric of the nation. So, I repeat: whom do I support?

Reruns aren't likely to hold viewers' attentions for very long. Even my vaunted CSI-type programs get old if I've seen them once too often. I never watch late-night programming anymore; I grew up several years ago and I can live quite nicely without, thank you. Daytime programming has always been a mockery of American intelligence. Unless you belong to the "I Heart Oprah" club, you're looking for reruns on TVLand if you're tuning in before 5:00 in the afternoon.

So what's a poor, average schlub like me to do in response to this slap in my consumer face? Turn off the TV in protest, probably.

I wonder who these people in my house are?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

But It's Not On the Test

Tom Chapin scores big with this one. Titled "Not On the Test," it appeared on National Public Radio on January 1, 2007. If you'd like to listen, click here. (A fellow named John Forster helped write it. Not sure who gets the lyric credit, but I'm willing to settle on a collaboration.)

Now, so far as I'm concerned, the entire federal public education effort has become nothing more than a "pay as you go" set of failed policies. Any policy that requires standardized performance in order to win those all-important federal dollars is really just begging schools to teach to the tests. Rather than ensure that children are advancing at an even pace, it has instead the effect of discouraging true educational innovation. It supports bureaucratic nightmares at the local level, and shores up an increasingly ineffective money-feeding union.

This is the good news. Business as usual.

There are, however, a few glimmers of hard truth in Chapin's song. A few key phrases:
Remember your teachers. Their jobs are at stake.
Proponents of the merit-based pay schedule for teachers need to take note: Merit is ephemeral. It's darned difficult to establish success criteria for teachers. It's altogether too easy to say "students must perform to a certain level on standardized tests." It fails to take into consideration that every kid is different, they all learn at a different pace, and no one — not the feds, not the NEA, not the psychometricians — is smart enough to come up with a one-size-fits-all test. There are too many intangibles at play and no safe way of determining how well a teacher is performing. I'm not saying that a simple seniority system is the right answer, either. I just wish the one-size-fits-all crowd would shut the heck up.

The School Board is faced with no child left behind
With rules but no funding, they're caught in a bind.
So music and art and the things you love best
Are not in your school 'cause they're not on the test.
Hey, I would be the first to admit that if it weren't for music and performing arts, I wouldn't have graduated high school. That, and the fact that the dean couldn't stand one more semester of my smug little face. Still...

Whatever I have become in life is due to three things: a loving family, a burning testimony that took several years to develop, and the performing arts. The family and the testimony are self-explanatory. The performing arts, however, defined who I was, both internally and to society. I was an actor. I was a singer. I was reasonably talented. And I was driven.

I wanted to learn about the music I was singing. I had a strong desire to understand motivation in my stage blocking. I was motivated to study music and acting where math, history and science utterly failed to capture my imagination. Had you taken my teenage self and plopped me down in today's schools, I would have created a "Dropout Farm" no matter where I lived. Yet look what I have achieved today: a stable twenty-plus year career, skills as a programmer and web designer, and a reputation for being a better-than-average teacher. Not bad for someone who lived on the performing arts in high school.

And, finally:
Debate is a skill that is useful to know,
Unless you're in Congress or talk radio,
Where shouting and spouting and spewing are blessed
'Cause rational discourse was not on the test.
Score! This is the payoff line in this little gem.

Take a good, hard look at the state of discourse in politics today. Go ahead. I'll just hum to myself for a bit while I wait.

Can you describe it? Probably sounded pretty harsh out there, didn't it? Did you happen to hear any actual debating while you were at it? No? Me, neither. So, let's talk about what happens out there. I remember debate class as a kid. I've watched a few debates in the past few years. Those aren't debates. Those are sound-bite political statements designed to encapsulate "everything you need to know" about a candidate in two minutes or less. Well, if this is everything I need to know, I shudder to consider what I'm missing. You cannot give substantive answers in two minutes. Two minutes is barely enough time to misspeak and accuse your opponent of inappropriate relations with livestock. This creates cardiac arrest in your hired spin doctors and gives the MSM all the ammunition they need to create your entire (incorrect) platform from that two-minute gaffe.

[Side note on a related topic: Has anyone ever though of creating Fantasy Politics? You could have your own front-runners, keep stats, dummy up your own sound-bite debates, and probably do a better job of predicting the actual winners than the pollsters. Just a thought.]

No, folks, the reasons for the popularity of Assault Debating are the same reasons why professional wrestling exists: the entertainment value. The current crop of voters in the desirable demographic were all raised on Phil Donahue, Ricky Lake, and (heaven help us) Jerry Springer. Assault politics is the only flavor they know and understand.

Conservatives, by the way, are not immune. Michelle Malkin has, if anything, gotten angrier over the last two years. She's spending so much time in full-court press that she tends to do fewer well-constructed thought pieces. Assault Politics sucks you in. It's a disease.

So listen to Tom's song, and give it a worthy chuckle. Then hold your hat over your heart and mourn the loss of a truly classical education.

Proof Positive that Ralph Nader is an Area 51 Alien

We gotcher proof right here.

If, like me, you appreciate ol' Ralphie as the fringe vote-grabber that he has become in years past, the article will probably tickle your funny bone. I find it hilarious that a consumer advocate would simply sue an entire political organization simply because he claims they hold a monopoly on potential voters.

I'm having a fit of the giggles over this one.

Is Ralph saying that he stands a better chance of grabbing votes from Democrats than Republicans? Or does he not want our votes? The question — largely rhetorical — is moot anyway. Nader runs for visibility. No one, including scientific polls of migrant farm workers who think "Nader" is mispronounced Spanish, ever expects Ralph to win more than a relative handful of votes. Personally, I think Ralph lends a certain entertainment value to every general election. Nader, not Dave Barry, is the true comic relief of any election cycle simply because he wants people to take him seriously, even as he knows that he'll never be elected to Municipal Dog Catcher.

Help yerself, Ralphie boy. Nothing spells "common sense" like pandering to a litigious society.

Can I sue Nader for physical distress? My side hurts.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

NEA - National Education Axis

When labor unions were first formed over a hundred years ago, it felt like a good thing. Finally common workers would have some guarantees for favorable working conditions, reliable wages, and protection from greedy, profiteering bosses.

Flash forward to 2007 and you now find that unions themselves are just as greedy of profiteering and unfair labor practices as the bosses they continually declaim.

I have had direct dealings with several unions throughout my career. I work in aerospace, for example, which means that I have co-workers who are members of the powerful IAW. Whenever they strike (and it's only happened a couple of times during my career) it hurts. The company inevitably loses money and it takes us a good couple of years to recover, generally speaking. Since I am an office "professional" (this adjective always makes me chuckle) I am not constrained by a union, although they have tried. The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) has threatened more than once to make salaried guys like me become part of a union of which I want no part. It's one of very few things — being asked to do something unethical being another one — that would make me seriously consider resigning from the company and trying my luck elsewhere. Fortunately, their reach hasn't extended to our facility as yet.

Bad as some unions can be, however, none hold a candle to the growing evil which has become the National Education Association. I say this because no other organization in the country has so successfully foisted a socialist agenda on an unsuspecting populace by hiding themselves behind our children.

Now, I may caveat this by stating that, if you are dedicated to public education and enjoy having your kids go through that experience, then the NEA may not seem so bad.

On the other hand, from a homeschooler's perspective the NEA is a living incarnation of the devil himself. If liberals find G. W. Bush to be the most evil man in America, homeschoolers point to the NEA and see Soviet-era policies and power-mongering run amok.

The NEA is, above all else, a lobby. They hold the ears of extremely influential legislators both nationally and (through their state affiliates) locally. Their coffers are deep, and they use that money as effectively as any political boss of the 30's might have. When they speak on matters of educational policy their voices are heard; altogether too frequently to the detriment of public education in this country.

As Exhibit A I present to you the NEA's latest "official" resolution regarding homeschooling in the United States of America. If you can stomach the intense marketing, you can visit the page on which this resolution is linked, or you can click straight to the PDF file. A word of warning, though: it's a big file. Resolution B-75 begins on page 45 of the document.
B-75. Home Schooling

The National Education Association believes that home schooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience. When home schooling occurs, students enrolled must meet all state curricular requirements, including the taking and passing of assessments to ensure adequate academic progress. Home schooling should be limited to the children of the immediate family, with all expenses being borne by the parents/guardians. Instruction should be by persons who are licensed by the appropriate state education licensure agency, and a curriculum approved by the state department of education should be used.

The Association also believes that home-schooled students should not participate in any extracurricular activities in the public schools.

The Association further believes that local public school systems should have the authority to determine grade placement and/or credits earned toward graduation for students entering or re-entering the public school setting from a home school setting. (1988, 2006)
They fire a warning shot over our bow with their very first sentence: parents, who know our children better than their teachers ever will, are incapable of providing our children with a "comprehensive education experience." Here are a few choice assumptions this resolution goes on to make:
  • Children must be "enrolled" in homeschool

  • Children must be subject to "state curricular requirements," most of which have become bloated over time far beyond their ability to actually teach anything meaningful

  • Children must be assessed (presumably by The State) to "ensure" adequate academic progress

  • Homeschools must be limited to the immediate family

  • Homeschool parents will bear all costs (i.e., no vouchers, even if available in your area!)

  • Only State Licensed persons may teach homeschooled children, and

  • Only State Approved curricula should be used

It also goes without saying that, even though homeschooling parents support public education through taxes, their wild kids should never be allowed to mix with kids who suffer through the public education experience.

I actually have no beef with their last statement about grade placement as it only stands to reason. If your kids are coming into a public experience from a home experience, they're either embarrassingly advanced compared to the public schoolers, or have failed in their home experience and can only benefit from the public schools.

As for the rest, read on:

1. My children are "enrolled" in our homeschool only by virtue of our having filed an appropriate form with our state superintendant of public instruction. Period. They do not audit our home to make sure that our two Woodyettes are actually attending. Nor are they welcome to. In short, the State of California is not welcome in this house without a warrant. I have nothing to hide, but I see no reason for the state to intrude on our privacy, either.

2. State curricular requirements are laughably and hopelessly complex. Nowhere else in the world will you find a more convoluted set of requirements for the teaching of relatively simple principles than in the United States. Mrs. Woody used to work for a major educational publisher and assisted with the development of instructional materials as part of her job. After leaving the company to become a stay-at-home mom she would occasionally do some freelance work for her old company as a means of supplementing our income. What she discovered was that individual states can take an already hopelessly complicated curriculum and, if it were at all possible, make it even worse. I do NOT want my kids subjected to this nonsense!

3. State licensing of instructors and educators has brought us a veritable pantheon of child molesters, autocrats, emotional and physical abusers, and other honorable professionals. Need I say more? I realize that this represents only a fraction of those who consider themselves to be professional educators. But if any of that fraction come in contact with my sweet daughters, I shudder to think of the consequences.

4. I thought we were done with the whole segregation issue of the 60's and 70's. Apparently not. Now we find we don't want our pure-bred, publicly educated children mixing it up with those dirty, nasty little homeschoolers. If it weren't for the fact that we hold school in our own homes, I suppose our kids would be packed off on the first available bus for some concentration camp in the Nevada desert. Still, that has to be a better option than sending them to some school where they have such recreational activities as random locker searches, metal detectors, begging for bathroom key privileges, and detention. That would certainly be my idea of a good time! Bottom line: if you don't want my kids using public education programs or facilities, then you obviously don't want my tax money, either.

Resolution B-75 is laughable not only for what it is, but also for what it isn't: a thoughtful, comprehensive understanding of the homeschool paradigm and how these two very different worlds might possibly work together for the common good. I'd like to say they've made a start, but Resolution B-75 isn't it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Saying What Needs to be Said

Say what you will about Mitt Romney, vote for or against him, but he's actually said something that makes me sit up and take notice.

A few days ago, this 30-second spot appeared on Mitt's web site. I found it primarily because Drudge linked it for a few days, and one or more news wires gleefully picked up on Romney's "Republicans need to clean their own house" theme. It didn't last long, and few (if any) bloggers picked up on the meme. In the meantime, it appears that Romney is taking this one on the road..

If Romney accomplishes nothing else in this campaign, up to and including garnering a nomination or even a VP shot on a ticket, I hope he drives and hammers this message across the country.

I say this as one who is firmly in the "undecided" camp for this election. Romney has the right messages, but I'm still not sure whether he has the chops to go the distance in '08. If he doesn't, but does well going into the primaries, then I suspect he could be a much more viable candidate in 2012 when the other big-name contenders will have serious age issues to contend with.

Still, I'd like to focus on this idea of Republicans being scolded about not acting like Republicans these days. Although his message is short, he chides Republicans for "acting like Democrats" in critical areas, and he certainly doesn't mean this in a good way. He criticizes the Bush administration's handling of the Katrina response and clean-up, for example. "It didn't look like Republicans were in charge," is how he put it. He's starting to trumpet a theme of cutting back on spending in Washington. At one point he commented, "We have been overspending even when we had the lead in Congress and in the Senate." In several sessions of over-spending Congresses, this is saying something.

This criticism of Republican spending habits is a particular comfort to me. I have not given money to the Republicans for many, many election cycles now. I even snap at the RNC professional beggars who call right around primary time to remind me that "we can't win without your money." One year I actually wrote a letter to the party chairman. My message has always been, "I will send you morons money when you do a better job with the money you already have."

I used to think (back in my innocent days) that Republicans spent more money on campaigns to get elected so they could do things like cut taxes and reduce spending. This is obviously not true, and Republicans are just as guilty of pork spending as their colleagues across the aisle. This is one case where Republicans ought NOT to be like Republicans of old, they just need to reinvent themselves.

Where do we even begin with the ethical/moral compass under which politicians today operate? Where, in their heavily compartmented minds, do they assume that their dirty laundry is going to remain a secret? And how do they possibly believe that, just because they happen to be a Republican, we voting Republicans are not going to rake them over the coals for it? Here's a tip, guys: if it was morally reprehensible for Bill Clinton to cigar his intern, it's just as morally reprehensible for you to play footie with some dude in an airport bathroom. Period. There can be no double standard here. If you can't keep your vices to yourself, don't expect us to forgive you (politically, anyway) just because you stand in front of a camera and get teary-eyed about it. If you get caught with your hand in the till, expect us to call for a) your resignation, and b) jail time. Loudly. Whatever good you may have done for the country can be instantly wiped away when you fail to act with integrity. It's just that simple.

So, Mr. Romney, keep hammering on that message. I really don't think this country can be told enough that they need to hold their representatives accountable for acting stupidly. It's what we do. It's how we maintain a republican form of government.

Even Democrats have to agree with that.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Variation on a Theme - But Not a Good One

Nigerians have apparently joined the US Marine Corps, gone to Iraq, and taken their money repatriation schemes with them.

From the beginning I have found the Nigerian repatriation letters to be nothing more than a curiosity. They were instructive for their numerous grammatical errors, indicative of someone with only rudimentary ("I have been a Legal solicitor for years many") knowledge of the English language. Most of the authors come across as people who were given English lessons by missionaries, found one of those computers that IBM dropped in the veldt ten years ago, and are parlaying their new skills into money-making schemes.

Since then, of course, the scheme has moved from Nigeria to any number of third world nations. They used to address me by my name, although they've since gotten lazy and don't do that anymore. The amount of money cited varies from $750,000 to well over $11 million. Had I bothered to follow a couple of these to their logical conclusions, I would either be rich or (according to the Secret Service) chopped up into fish bait by now.

I don't even give these things a second glance nowadays, but this one made it past my spam filters into my regular mailbox, and I read through it just to see how they're handling things now. I would have sent it straight into Spam Hell had it not been for the subject line: "A BUSINESS PROPOSAL FROM IRAQ." That started my blood boiling before I even glanced at the preview window.

Dear Friend,

Good day and compliments, i know this letter will definitely come to you as a huge surprise, but I implore you to take the time to go through it carefully as the decision you make will go off a long way to determine my future and continued existence. Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Capt.Jeffery Simpsons, a US Marine Capt. serving in the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment which Patrols the Anbar province, Iraq.

I am desperately in need of assistance and I have summoned up courage to contact you. I am presently in Iraq and I found your contact particulars in an address journal. I am seeking your assistance to evacuate the sum of $1,570,000 (One million Five Hundred and Seventy Thousand US dollars) to the States or any safe country of your choice, as far as I can be assured that it will be safe in your care until I complete my service here. This is no stolen money and there are no dangers involved.

Some money in various currencies was discovered and concealed in barrels with piles of weapons and ammunition at a location near one of Saddam Hussein's old Presidential Palaces during a rescue operation and it was agreed by all party present that the money be shared amongst us. This might appear as an illegal thing to do but I tell you what? No compensation can make up for the risks we have taken with our lives in this hell hole. The above figure was given to me as my share and to conceal this kind of money became a problem for me, so with the help of a German contact working with the UN here(his office enjoys some immunity)I was able to get the package out t a safe location entirely out of trouble spot. He does not know the real contents of the package as he believes that it belongs to an American who died in an air raid, and before giving up trusted me to hand over the package to his close relative.

I have now found a secured way of getting the package out of Iraq for you to pick up. I do not know for how long I will remain here as I have been lucky to have survived 2 suicide bomb attacks by Pure Divine intervention. This and other reasons put into consideration have prompted me to reach out for help. If it might be of interest to you then Endeavour to contact me and we would work out the necessary formalities but i pray that you are discreet about this mutually benefiting relationship.
Contact me via my private box:( so that I can furnish you with more details.

Capt.Jeffery Simpsons,
United States Marine Corps. IRAQ.
So there we have it. These schemes always target the gullible; so much is obvious. This attempt, however, plays on a highly emotional issue for many, many people. On a more cynical note, it could also be an attempt to play up to spreading liberal notions that US servicemen are uneducated exploiters, and use this to point out just how crooked our soldiers really are.

Either way, this is reprehensible in the extreme. The more bald attempts to play to our sympathies ("No compensation can make up for the risks we have taken with our lives in this hell hole." "...I have been lucky to have survived 2 suicide bomb attacks...") are downright criminal in their intent.

Parts of it, of course, are unintentionally funny. "Capt. Simpsons," a United States Marine, not only created a UK hotmail address, but failed to spell his own name properly when signing up for the account, apparently. Not to mention the obvious grammatical errors and misused British spellings ("mutually benefiting relationship" and "Endeavour" come to mind), along with the seemingly random Capitalizations.

No, Captain Simpsons either doesn't exist, or doesn't know that his name is being used in this manner. Either way, it's just another pavestone on this individual's path to a very dark afterlife.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I'm Still Not Ready

To pay attention to the election, that is.

Is it just me, or does anyone else get the feeling that if it weren't for a few blogospheric zealots, no one else in this country would care about the fact that we're electing a president next year?

Truthfully, given all the inane banter back and forth between candidates so far this year, none of what I've seen so far comes as any kind of surprise. People are sitting pretty much where I expected them to way back months ago. Hillary is still trying to shed her husband's White House image in her own campaign; Romney is still the scrappin' up-and-comer for the GOP; while Giuliani tries in vain to convince grass-roots Republicans that just because he stood tall during 9/11, we should trust him when he says he isn't basically just a liberal in a conservative suit. Fred! is still teasing everyone about running (or not!), while John Edwards just keeps making himself less and less relevant to anything approaching today's realities.

Democrats have already shown that they refuse to grow up and have meaningful debates on hard issues unless they're talking to a video snowman. Republicans got tired of being jeered at by the Democrats and are now looking to do the same. I'm thinking Rove in white-face with a hat and a muffler. I'm sure he'll ask the hard questions.

Meanwhile, people I never heard of and don't care to find out about are already dropping out of the race. They get the luxury of sitting on the sidelines now, and saying "I told you so!" every time one of the survivors trips up. Which will happen more and more now that the MSM has a smaller field of victims for the smear campaigns they're already ratcheting up.

In short, I don't want this election to bother me until, say, January. Then I'll go read a few blogs, watch a debate or two (I'm sure the snowman stuff will still be on YouTube), and maybe even read a news clipping or two.

Then I'll go vote in a primary election that won't make one shred of difference about the ticket that I'll eventually be forced to vote for next November.

That's politics in the good ol' U. S. of A. I'm going to bed now.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Terror Alerts... More or Less

Breaking news from across the pond. A tip of the hat to my step-Dad, ZeeMeister, who sent me this from somewhere in western Texas. He won't identify his source, other than to claim that he "asked hard questions" and "confirmed the woman," whatever that means.
The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent terrorist threats and have raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved." Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross." Londoners have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies all but ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to a "Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was during the great fire of 1666.

Also, the French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide." The only two higher levels in France are "Surrender" and "Collaborate." The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France's white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country's military capability.

It's not only the English and French that are on a heightened level of alert. Italy has increased the alert level from "Shout Loudly and Excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides." The Germans also increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbor" and "Lose."

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual, and the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels .

The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.
Now, Woody stands next to no one in admiration for all of our allies — real and/or imagined — but you gotta admit: politically-speaking, these attitudes sound awfully familiar...

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Outsourcing For Fun and (Especially) Profit

(Via many sources, but particularly Michelle Malkin)

The latest in data mismanagement is epitomized by the outsourcing of DMV-related information to a company that has a facility in Mexico. The Superior Court in Orange County contracted with Cal Coast Data Entry, Inc, which has a facility in Nogales. Apparently, information from traffic tickets is encrypted and transmitted to the Mexican facility where it is entered into Court databases.

This story bothers me on numerous levels. First, there's our ever-tender relations with our southern neighbor. Mexico loves our tourist dollars, generically speaking, but considers us (following the European Model) to be arrogant pigs, politically speaking. They dislike our economic effects on the peso, our attempts to kill their drug pipelines, and our unreasonable desire to build fences along the border. Of course they'll protect our data.

Accountability becomes tricky. We have little legal recourse should there be criminal negligence or fraudulent use of that data. To whom do we appeal? The World Court? Well, our history with that august body has been every bit as sketchy as our relationships with Mexican politicos. I can't see them getting too fussed about someone misusing a few hundred thousand of our driver's licenses.

Secondly, I wonder what about recent data protection fiascos the Superior Court hasn't learned. A major aerospace company loses control of personal data on thousands of employees — not once, but twice — and has to pay big bucks for credit protection for the affected employees; not to mention the cost of new mandatory training for all employees. In one case the data was proven not to have been used illicitly, but the damage to internal controls was already done and the costs already incurred for correcting the situation.

I'm also a little sensitive about living in the jurisdiction of the Orange County Superior Court and having my own personal data transcribed by a foreign country. Any foreign country. Something about that scenario just doesn't feel right. This coming from a life-long capitalist who has never minded outsourcing certain things to foreign countries in the name of competitive pricing and reasonable trade. However, I have to admit feeling a bit queasy about having personally sensitive data being handled by other nations.

Perhaps it would help if, instead of harping about "infotainment" and feeling generally picked upon, Court officials would instead move to reassure us as to exactly what safeguards are in place so that we might feel better about this situation. Granted that certain things need to remain confidential, helping us understand how our data is protected shouldn't be among them. (Please don't use the word "Microsoft.")

'Fess up, folks. There's another election just around the corner.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Books, Newspapers, and Blogs

So I'm back from vacation, and looking over my poor ol' blog. Thing looks dehydrated; sort of like my lawn, but not quite as desolate. The comments have predictably dried up over the last couple of weeks because there's been nothing talked about here that would set off another flame war (like I've ever really had one of those).

Thus the Woundup looks stagnant. Unused. Somehow lacking. It doesn't have that hectic look of multiple posts in an hour, especially within minutes of the latest John Kerry gaffe ("We have 60 votes!"). It has the feel of an old English manor that's been boarded up because its lord can't keep up the utility costs and has draped sheets over all the furniture.

[/Lileksian Moment]

Upon my return to "civilization" (I am, after all, a red-state boy living in a blue-state world), I hastened my way through the news feeds to see what on earth the mind-shattering news of the day would be. The winner?

Harry Potter.

Killings in Iraq? Sure. Political shenanigans in Congress? Check. Unrest in Sandusky, Ohio? Thanks, Dave Barry. But the number one news item so far as my pitiable research can determine is HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS IS OR ISN'T BEING LEAKED THREE DAYS PRIOR TO ITS OFFICIAL RELEASE DATE, WHICH IS (DID WE MENTION?) ONLY THREE DAYS AWAY!

Well, gee, thanks for that. I'd allowed myself to forget that we had pre-ordered our copy back a few months ago and that we will likely be waiting by our front door, breathlessly listening for some noise that sounds like a box from® being dropped on our front porch as if we were with the Resistance and the wireless was just announcing the landing of the Marines at Normandy.

Or not.

Truth is, we've been feverishly reading Book Six out loud throughout our vacation and into this week, in the vain hope of finishing it before Book Seven turns up. We will, of course, cease to live on Saturday and will be cloistered in our living room as Daddy cranks up his multiple voices (and bags of throat lozenges) to read Book Seven from cover to cover, resisting all the while the urge to TURN TO THE LAST BLAMED CHAPTER AND FIND OUT WHO, FOR PETE'S SAKE, DIED. I mean, the entire time I was reading Book Six two years ago, it killed me not to be able to sneak a peek at the last chapter for fear that Mrs. Woody would decapitate me, or at least censure me severely. When we got to the scene where [WARNING: SPOILER ALERT IF YOU'RE ONE OF THREE ESTIMATED PEOPLE WHO HAVEN'T YET READ BOOK SIX] Snape sends Dumbledore to his own portrait on the Headmaster's wall, I knew about it three sentences before anyone else in my family! And what's more, I was proud of that.

Anyway, Mrs. Woody really wants to finish Book Six one more time before we embark on Harry's last adventure. She hasn't read that one since it first came out, and her memory of certain key features of the book is decidedly rusty. I myself had finished it just a week or so prior to our vacation, but volunteered to read it out loud as Mrs. Woody really, really likes it when I do. However, she may have to finish it on her own if she wants it done before Saturday, as reading it out loud takes considerably more time than simply reading it to yourself.

So, given my confessed love of the Potter series, I was heartened to learn that the publishing industry — the book portion, anyway — seem rather optimistic about life post-Harry.

I say this because (and it's a disease that runs deep in my extended family) I love a good book. Always have, always will. When no other form of entertainment can capture my imagination, a good book will always come to the rescue. I just read "The Da Vinci Code" again for, what, the fifth time in the past several months. Not because I believe one word of it, but rather because it's a well-crafted yarn and I simply enjoy it. Same with "Red Storm Rising" by Clancy. It's wordy, but it's plausible, and I enjoy reading it. I have been this way since my own Dad first gave me a copy of "Tom Sawyer" to read one year on vacation. While growing up I even enjoyed reading books that had holes in the spines where my little brother (a real corker in those days) shot them full of BBs, which, we understand now, is a crime worthy of death in the form of listening to one of Joe Biden's plagiarized speeches.

This got me to thinking about the similarities and, especially, the differences between the various forms of media that I peruse on a regular basis. Books are my drop-dead faves. I enjoy reading them. I enjoy owning them. It gives me no small comfort to be surrounded by them in my home. I imagine myself as the Lord of my own manor, sitting in my expansive library and selecting from one of the ancient masters to satisfy my thirst for knowledge. (Clancy satisfies a thirst for knowledge?? Hardly; but, hey, it's my metaphor.)

Compare this with modern newspapers. Years ago I bought a coffee-table book that contained over 100 years of Los Angeles Times front pages. They offered fascinating snapshots in time, weaving the history of the City of the Angels with earth-shattering events that have shaped the course of modern history. For many, many years that was precisely how I viewed newspapers. Snapshots in time. Living history.

Not anymore. Nowadays, a newspaper in my house is destined for one thing, and one thing only: packing material. Otherwise, it's destined for the recycling bin. Assuming, of course, it makes it into my house at all. The modern newspaper has become a shill for whatever political philosophies its editors find most endearing, and they have tried to create their own version of the Bully Pulpit to ram those views down our collective throats. I don't like that, and I refuse now to have them in my house. Yes, I occasionally miss locally significant news or events that way. But on balance, I find that I no longer care. I'm getting along quite nicely without them cluttering my home.

Then there are blogs. Or, really, any electronic medium that carries news stories to my curious mind. Oddly enough, those same papers that I just figuratively trashed contribute to my amassed base of knowledge every time I browse through the news readers and aggregators scattered throughout the web. Often times, of course, I am merely incensed by what those liberal fish-wrappers are spouting. But they can occasionally enlighten, when they put their minds to the task. For the rest, I rely on the judgement of people I have found throughout the Blogosphere whose opinions I have come to trust and who seem to do a fine job of filtering whatever blather the traditional media crank out.

But such knowledge is fleeting, even temporary, compared with books. Books are tangible, generally permanent containers of someone's perceived wisdom. And while some might argue that newspapers can also be permanent, who, really, keeps a library of them to be perused years down the road? Libraries? Newspapermen? Probably. Ordinary citizens like me? Not a chance.

So I celebrate the arrival of Harry Potter's final book. It will not, as some industry "insiders" seem to fear, be the last book I ever purchase. Shucks, industry insiders who harbor those kinds of fears have never met my brother. He alone will send certain publishers into retirement with very comfortable pensions.

When I retire, on the other hand, I'll probably do so with a chair, a comfortable quiet moment with my sweetheart, and a good book.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


(H/T: Dave Barry)

Here's the scenario:

A mom in Connecticut asks her kid where all that lunch money is going that she's been giving him for the past few months. Shuffling of the feet, downcast look of abject guilt, then a defensive posture.

"My teacher took it."

This is filed under Dave Barry's "Public Educator of the Week So Far" file:
A public school teacher has been suspended with pay while Hartford school officials investigate allegations that she took cash to excuse students from detention.


One parent who made a complaint said that the teacher took $30 or $40 from her son.

"She was always getting $2 or $3 for him not to serve detention," Raynette Little told the Hartford Courant.
So which reaction makes more sense to you?

[Mother's apparent reaction]: "The teacher took how much money??"

[Woody's probable reaction]: "You've been in detention how many times??"

I mean, okay, the fact that this teacher was probably bending some obscure school district regulation is, on the surface, disturbing. I personally lost gobs of money in high school by throwing it away on things like cafeteria "food" and getting "shaken down" by seniors who'd been shaving for twenty years already. But here we have a kid who (depending on how you work the math) has been in detention anywhere from 10 to 20 times, and his mom wonders where the money has gone.

I'm not altogether certain that a questionable public education employee is the real issue in this particular case.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Bottom-Dwelling Teachers

Reason number 27 why we homeschool.

Imagine this scenario: You're a kid in the sixth grade. School is probably not your favorite place, and you certainly weren't counting on receiving any awards as the school year winds down. Mostly you're just dreaming about what kind of fun you can have this summer, and hoping against hope that Mom and Dad won't enroll you in summer school this year.

Then comes the "awards ceremony." You know, one of those deals where other kids — not you — are called up in front of everyone to receive awards for "Perfect Attendance," "Most Improved in 5th Grade," or "Only Kid to Actually Complete a Science Fair Project." You clap politely, if half-heartedly, for the winners. Please let this assembly be over soon, you think to yourself.

Suddenly you hear your name. You wonder why two of your teachers are grinning. Sandwiched between them, the teachers give you two awards. Not awards for some outstanding achievement, but awards designed to destroy what self esteem you've managed to build up over the course of the year. The awards are "Most Likely Not To Have Children" and "Sir Clowns-a-Lot." You also realize that not only are the teachers laughing at you, but so are the rest of the kids, especially those snotty ones who received the "Perfect Attendance" awards.

If you feel the pain and the humiliation, then you understand how this kid must have felt.

I was never one of those kids who got school awards. In fact, the only awards I can actually remember receiving were from my senior year in high school, and they were performing arts awards. I suffered plenty of humiliation as a squirt, but none of it came from teachers. Oh, they may have kept me after class on occasion, or even embarrassed me by pointing out that I was the only one who didn't seem to get whatever math concept we were studying at that moment, but it was never done maliciously.

This kid's teachers probably thought this was all in good fun. Let's tease this kid whom we will never again see, just to let him know there's "no hard feelings." Well, ha, ha. What a great joke.

Now, of course, we're only hearing one side of the story. The local school administrators are doing their best Watergate impression, although they did indicate that apologies were forthcoming (but not so far). Perhaps this child is one of those challenges that make teaching a chore rather than a noble calling. Maybe he was continually being sent to the principal's office for various infractions.

The larger question remains, however. No matter what challenges this kid may have presented in class, does any of it justify the humiliation that these teachers put this kid through — humiliation that will follow him for at least the entire next school year if he stays in his local system — just so they can have the last word?

My daughter works as a teacher's aide in Maryland. She gets assigned the really challenging kids; the incorrigible ones that always seem to come from homes where the parents are as bad as, if not worse than, the kids. The kids she deals with have no respect for authority, no intention of ever doing any actual school work, and she spends the entire year caught inbetween the forces of school policy and parental demands. As bad as these kids can be, they are always dealt with privately. They are never humiliated in front of other kids unless the kid initiates the humiliation.

No, there's no excuse for what these idiots in Indianapolis have done. They need to be permanently removed from the teaching pool before they find some other kid to destroy.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Attention, Arnold Schwarzenegger

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you probably know of my predeliction for vehicles that have a more streamlined appearance. I despise the "box" look, both for its aesthetics as well as for its counter-intuitive aerodynamics. If I want to drive a box I'll buy an old Jeep, put mud flaps on it and drive around the high desert. Since I despise the high desert as much or more than I despise boxy cars, you can imagine how likely that is. I've already excoriated Scion for their pathetic-looking cracker-boxes-on-wheels. I considered it my duty to common sensibilities.

This disturbing trend toward "military chic" in vehicles today was never more evident than when I saw this jaw-dropper on the freeway yesterday. This from Mercedes-Benz, whose love affair with Chrysler is coming to an inevitable end. The model I saw was black, and looked (by Mercedes standards) downright cheap.

You had to have been there, probably. The moment I saw this... this thing rolling along in the carpool lane, my jaw hung limp for a moment or two. Then my brain re-engaged and my very first thought was, "Gee. Looks like a Matchbox car that said, 'I wish, I wish, I wish I could grow up to be a Hummer!'"

Yeah, a Hummer worth around $85,000, thank you very much. I didn't pay that much for my first house.

So, this being Orange County and all, I expect to see quite a few more of these things. The northern section of the county is renowned for two things: the worst drivers in the state of California, and the HUGE vehicles they insist on driving. Vehicles containing multiple area codes. Vehicles that make John Edwards' carbon-wasting mansion look like a bungalow on the beach. Vehicles capable of carrying BOTH Ted Kennedy and Al Gore. And now they can have the ultra-chic Mercedes brand emblazoned on their machines of doom. (Interesting corollary: The fewer children Orange County families have, the larger the vehicle they will be driving.)

Schwarzenegger must be choking on his cigars just looking at them. I wouldn't be surprised to learn he's already put in an order for five of them.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Wherein Congress Seemingly Takes My Advice

Or not. Hard to tell, with Congress. I pleaded with them to kill their silly attempt at immigration "reform," and they appear to have heard me. They're still hemming and hawing about resurrecting it, but, unlike Lazarus, some corpses should stay dead.

Like many on the right, I'm most concerned with the fence, or lack thereof. Some 370 miles completed, at last count. But McCain himself said there likely wouldn't be any more fence built just because this bill becomes law. Putting it in a bill is one thing. Paying for it is entirely different. One of the more charming problems with the bill as written (and amended ad nauseum) is that all of this bureaucratic paper-shuffling to issue visas and ID cards, and verify compliance on the part of people who previously had shown no inclination to abide by existing laws costs money. Lots of money. All of it, just like our extremely popular war, coming out of taxpayer pockets. With so many competing priorities, it's little wonder that building an actual fence will have a difficult time getting any. Money, that is.

So I repeat: Go back and create legislation that makes sense, then come talk to us about it. Don't try ramrodding it down our collective throats and expect us to be happy about it.

One of the common whines we've heard since this bill took its well-earned nose-dive last week is that Congress and the President don't understand the vitriol. Why are we so dead-set against this bill?

Here's where politicians earn their reputation for living in selective seclusion. When a senator wants opinion on a topic, that senator doesn't pick up a phone and say, "I think I'll call Woody over in Orange county. I wonder what he thinks about all this?" No, that senator is more likely to say, "I wonder how much grief La Raza will give me if I don't support open borders?" You show me the last time Congress paid attention to one of those opinion polls that get input from actual voters, and I'll show you the exception to the rule.

Whether or not the Immigration Reform bill is dead, one thing is certain: the next incarnation won't — given the current makeup of this Congress — be much better, if at all. There's just too much fear of alienating powerful interests that tend to keep politicians in power for us to expect any real improvement.

So it's back to our respective corners. Congress and the President will hash out their next hackneyed agreement over in their corner, while we sharpen our poisoned pens keyboards in ours.

I suspect this one may go fifteen rounds.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Kill [the] Bill

McCain-Kennedy deserves the longest, slowest political death possible. As if the entire conversation held in this nation for the last year and a half never took place, the Senate "crafts" legislation that effectively widens the holes in our national sieve. Expect the next 12 million "immigrants" just as soon as the coyotes can scalp them the $2,000 each (or whatever the black market supports these days).

Hey, I'm no legal expert. I leave analysis of this stuff to people much smarter than I am. But I can and do have opinions as a regular voter, and here are mine for whatever they're worth (certainly not $2,000):

1. Like many other pundits and analysts, I'm not at all opposed to allowing many of the current immigrants to remain in the United States. For one thing, many of them have long since proven their desire and ability to be productive members of our society. Sure, there are those elements who make me want to rent a few hundred busses so we can haul their sorry hind-quarters out of the country, but there are more than a few legal life-long citizens that I wish would join them, too.

That said, there's also the tremendous expense (and you know who gets to foot the bill!) and extreme logistical nightmare involved in deportation of that many people. Taken altogether, I say keep the good guys, deport the bad guys, and make sure we can tell the difference. But this leads me to...

2. Border security. I don't know how or why the MSM continues to tout "stronger" border security in their reporting of this fiasco. This is the same tired old ambiguous reference to a "fence" that we've been hearing about for months now. Yet border patrol agents have been telling anyone who would listen (apparently this doesn't include the administration) that fences alone are wholly inadequate to the task. A much larger border patrol presence is also required, as are other measures that make falsifying indentification (among other things) a tougher thing to do.

Here's what I think really happened: I think McCain and his buddies probably thought that one solid bi-partisan piece of compromise was just what the voters really wanted in this run-up to an election year. They probably counted on being hailed as conquering heroes across the country for tackling a problem in a fashion that made Republicans, Democrats, and even the President all very happy.

The problem, of course, is that none of those happy faces are seen outside of Capitol Hill.

It used to be easier, they sigh to themselves. Once upon a time, people would cheer bi-partisanship as a triumph of the American political system. Not anymore, though. With the advent of instantaneous information and data analysis being freely shared among common, ordinary voters like ourselves, politicians find their sheen being stripped thin far more rapidly than ever before in our history. They used to be able to take advantage of the time lag to get things pushed through to the president's desk before anyone really understood what was happening.

But the Internet proves itself to be a sort of instant opinion poll on steroids. We can amass public opinion so quickly now, that politicians are beginning to understand that they ignore that opinion at their peril. Want to know why John McCain is so cranky these days? He just asked if he could take his girl out in Dad's car tonight, and got told "No!" in no uncertain terms. He's having a temper tantrum, and it's likely to cost him the nomination.

So kill the bill. Please. It's useless legislation, filled with all the requisite loopholes and amendments that will ensure its impotence for generations to come. Put it out of our misery, and go draw up something that will work.

Otherwise, quit wasting our time.

Monday, May 14, 2007

But Does He Have a Strong Downbeat?

Who says being President of the United States is all about wearing serious suits, destroying smallish countries and making determined faces during speeches?

One of my favorite escapist movies is "Dave," where Kevin Kline plays an impersonator who gets roped into a scheme to portray the President permanently. Dave, being a fun-loving guy (for a liberal), becomes the sort of playful president everyone wishes our Chief Executives would be in real life, culminating in his throwing out the first pitch at a ball game. Go, Chief! Way to go! Such antics ensure that the President isn't doing something dangerous, like cutting taxes.

No one expects George W. to be a "fun" president, even if he is from "y'all by gosh" Texas.

So imagine my shock to hear this item from PlaybillArts being read on our local classical radio station while I was doing errands this afternoon:
JoAnn Falletta was conducting a 400-piece orchestra in The Stars and Stripes Forever yesterday in Jamestown, Virginia when she noticed someone standing behind her gesturing for a turn on the podium.

It was George W. Bush — "smiling at me kind of devilishly," as she told the Associated Press.

So she gave him a turn, and he conducted the Sousa march for about two minutes — rather successfully, by all reports.
As I listened in shock (He took the baton? From JoAnn Falletta??), it reminded me that most of us, even Presidents of the United States, must have unfulfilled ambitions or fantasies in life. While Bill Clinton may have had little trouble indulging in his, George W. hasn't had a lot of fun on his watch. If it isn't those pesky Islamist fundamentalists stirring up trouble over thar in Whatchycallit... Iraq, then it's most certainly that shrill little filly who keeps slammin' that gavel down in the Capitol.

So, what with one thing and another, I can readily imagine Dubya walking past the podium during his exit music and thinking to himself, "Hey. I'm Prezdent of the U-Nited States. If'n I wanna conduct me an orchestra, there ain't no better time."

(This blog imagines that, had it been Al Sharpton, he wouldn't have bothered unless the orchestra were playing "Jump Down, Turn Around.")

Call me a conservative shill if you must, but I think it would have been très cool to have been there. By some accounts, it was very cool for some of the participants. UPI picks up another angle on the story (courtesy
"I wish you could have seen the expressions of everyone in the symphony, especially some of the young people," said Falletta. "As soon as the music ended, they were all on their cell phones telling their parents they had been conducted by the president of the United States."
I can just bet. Of course, this also brings up three very significant questions in the mind of this blog:

1. These kids had cell phones on stage?

2. Were they all set on Manner Mode?

3. Didn't the Secret Service sweep for just that sort of thing before the performance?

Egregious breaches in Homeland Security aside, I'm betting this was one of those unforgettable moments in the lives of those youngsters.

By all accounts, Dubya not only kept the beat but managed to cue the proper sections at the right times. Of course, as many times as he must have heard "Stars and Stripes Forever" by now, I shouldn't really be surprised. He's probably memorized the movements of every conductor who ever performed it for some inspection or state dinner or something over the years.

Knowing of my lefty friends' need for Bush Outrage, there was a reported bit of scandal attached to the incident. PlaybillArts ends with this tantalizing bit of gossip:
Shortly before the march was over, he turned to the maestro, kissed the top of her head, stepped off the podium and left.
One can only imagine what Laura must have felt.

As If We Needed Another Reason...

Murfreesboro, Tennessee gives us reason number... number... oh, heck, we've long since lost count. (H/T: Michelle Malkin)

We homeschool precisely so our children aren't subjected to this kind of rank stupitidy from public education "professionals."
Staff members of an elementary school staged a fictitious gun attack on students during a class trip, telling them it was not a drill as the children cried and hid under tables. The mock attack Thursday night was intended as a learning experience and lasted five minutes during the weeklong trip to a state park, said Scales Elementary School Assistant Principal Don Bartch, who led the trip.
As a kid I was one of those impressionable youths who listened to the evening news with ever-increasing trepidation. The world was clearly involved in disaster after disaster, and worst of all was the violence in our own neighborhoods. At the time we lived uncomfortably close to Los Angeles where race riots were the order of the day. Political assassinations were in vogue. My nightmares always involved people with guns (one reason, perhaps, why I've never owned one myself), and I can remember more than one night where Mom had to comfort me back to sleep. I think you get the gist of my objection with this criminal act.
During the last night of the trip, staff members convinced the 69 students that there was a gunman on the loose. They were told to lie on the floor or hide underneath tables and stay quiet. A teacher, disguised in a hooded sweat shirt, even pulled on [the] locked door. After the lights went out, about 20 kids started to cry, 11-year-old Shay Naylor said. "I was like, 'Oh My God,' " she said. "At first I thought I was going to die. We flipped out."
I've said it before, but it bears repeating: This kind of thoughtless approach to teaching is nothing short of criminal child abuse. Well intentioned? Maybe. Even if, however, I were to give these "educators" the benefit of this very considerable doubt, they should still be, at an absolute minimum, fired. Goodbye — thanks for service rendered and all that — but get out.

In a perfect world, though, this Don Bartch character would be tried for inflicting emotional distress on the children. I can only imagine how I personally would have reacted as a child, being on a school trip without my parents there to protect me (like I'd trust my teachers and assistant principal?) and then be told that a gunman was "on the loose." Absolutely criminal on the part of these people.

Nearly-as-criminal understatement of the article:
Principal Catherine Stephens declined to say whether the staff members involved would face disciplinary action, but said the situation "involved poor judgment."
Ya think?

Says Michelle:
No wonder homeschooling is so popular.
You know it, sister.