Monday, October 26, 2009

Guys and Noise

When I was a kid, I well remember being on longish drives (in kid terms: anything > 1/2 hr = long drive) and trying very hard not to make noise in the back seat. Or, perhaps more accurately, trying very hard for, maybe, the first five minutes. After that, we'd revert to normal Kid Noise Levels (called "kennels" by the cognoscenti). Had I been more of an entrepreneur in those days, I'd have gotten rich off of forming pools to determine when, exactly, Dad would turn his head slightly and yell, "What's that noise?!"

Dad was always hyper-sensitive to car noises on long trips, and with good reason. Our cars were notorious for breaking down for any number of reasons, including rusting while in use. On a trip to San Diego one year, we broke down and had to be towed (oh, the shame!) to a local service station. Remember "service stations?" Me, neither. Anyway, I was mortified for some reason. Dad was just purple in the face.

The funny thing is, Dad wasn't nearly that bad on local trips. He seems to have driven around town pretty much on automatic. Side mirrors could fall off the car while we were driving to Church, for example, and he'd barely register. He was probably more concerned that we (his family) were making him "late," which happened nearly every Sunday.

Anyway, I bring this up because of a story told by Jay Tea over at Wizbang, wherein he has to Google instructions on how to start a Prius so his bosses could leave on a road trip.

Turns out that the Prius starts in "electric mode" which means there's no engine noise to inform the driver that the car is ready to roll. You just hit the "Power" button, put it in gear and roll.

Make that reason number 2 why I will probably never get a Prius.

Reason number 1 is because I am constantly getting behind one of these gutless machines in the HOV lanes out here in California, and I have yet to find the Prius that can reach anywhere close to the speed limit. When Yugos having a 75 to 1 rust-to-viable-steel ratio are passing me in the slow lane, I get a tad upset with the green-hugging driver in front of me.

So I will not likely ever get a Prius. I'd always be afraid that some maniac in a mini-van right behind me is about to deploy his tactical road-obstacle removing laser any minute now.

Guys need noise. This explains everything from making motor noises in the bathtub (BBBBRRRRMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM) to the Space Shuttle. Even the APU's on that baby make noise when you "fire 'em up." And wait until the ARES rocket makes its debut this week. Noise, dude! Noise!!

As a young man, I always envied the teenagers down the street that had those cars that made Dad crazy. They were always doing something with "headers" (removing them, I think), and either losing or heavily modifying their mufflers so that their steet 'rods would have roughly the same decibel level as a 747 at full thrust. And nearly the same horsepower.

(I notice, however, that teenagers don't seem to bother with headers and mufflers anymore. They're too busy installing sound systems in their vehicles that are medically proven to cause sterility. This is probably a good thing because I'm not sure I want these idiots to reproduce.)

I guess this all means that I will, for now, remain among the traditionalists who demand a car noise when I turn on the ignition. Preferably the one that goes "BBBBBRRRRMMMMMMMMMMMM."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Obama's WMDs

I seem to remember that it was not so long ago — months, perhaps? — that liberal backlash against the Bush administration amounted to "where are the WMDs?" Entire blogs and news-gathering sites were devoted to the idea that the whole reason why we were in Iraq, those pesky weapons of mass destruction, were in fact a figment of Bush's overworked imagination. Obama himself campaigned on that very idea, did he not? Certainly the mainstream media (those husky water-carriers for the current president) loudly trumpeted the fact that Bush's intelligence may not only have been incomplete, but had by that time caused the deaths of thousands of American soldiers.

Now it appears that Obama may have his own "weapons of mass destruction" to worry about.

For months now we have listened to this man and his enablers in Congress proclaim to anyone who would listen (and, of course, to those of us who stopped listening a long time ago) that one of the reasons we need a public "option" (which isn't really an option, by the way) is because of the obscene, immoral, illegal, unconstitutional, and even really, really bad profits of the apparently money-bloated health insurance companies. In fact, to hear Pelosi and Reid spin it, these insurers are even more deadly and rapacious than the people who run TARP-bailed companies and dare to award themselves bonuses for their clever work of driving a company into the ground and then receiving government tax money to keep it alive.

So tell me why, please, it is that the Associated Press, of all anti-conservative news organizations that exist in the world today, is the one to report that, on a list of profit-mongerers in this country, health insurance providers are number 35 on the list?

Here's a thought: if the company that owns the Taco Bell brand is running higher profit margins than the health care insurance companies, why not target putting Taco Bell out of business so our fast-food-driven health problems will go away and hence drive our insurance premiums down as well?

On second thought, leave Taco Bell alone. Their food is arguably healthier than most fast-food joints, and our personal favorite at the moment here at Hacienda Woody. Go after Pizza Hut instead. They're expendable.

Also, while trying their level best to drive insurance carriers out of business, I have yet to hear what constructive devices the Democrats in Congress will employ to make sure that those thousands of people who ultimately lose their jobs in the insurance industry will be able to find employment elsewhere. Not to mention paying for all their health care while they are unemployed because they won't be able to afford even the public option.

So profits of the health insurers will, I predict, become Obama's weapons of mass destruction. He will use them to get us into a war that we on the right don't want to fight, all the while assuring us that "levelling the playing field" is the only way to provide coverage to "millions" of Americans who will die unless we ACT NOW. PREFERABLY BEFORE ANYONE HAS A CHANCE TO READ THE ACTUAL LEGISLATION. Then, if Obama follows the Bush defense, he will shrug and say "we acted in good faith based on the facts we had at the time."

Guess what, Mr. President? We aren't any more likely to believe you than you were to believe President Bush.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Inmates Running the Asylum

I defy anyone to give me a reasonable explanation as to why this behavior is in any way considered appropriate. This is something I expect of a marriage about to hit divorce court. If someone can come up with a solid procedural reason for changing the locks on a committee room, I'll shut up about the whole thing.

The only explanation I can come up with is that the only reason why the Democrats complained so bitterly about Gingrich's term as Speaker was because they were itching to prove that they could be every bit as corrupt and scandalous as the Republicans were proving to be.

Congratulations, Pelosi. You've succeeded. Your "transparent Congress" now officially needs a modesty shield.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


John Nolte, writing for Big Hollywood, talks about a press release from the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF) outlining "Play your Part America." This is a week-long blitz of TV programming on the four major networks (ironically including FOX in this case) designed to forward Obama's volunteerism and service social agenda.

Political manipulation of the entertainment industry is nothing new. Celebrities have, for decades, fronted for their favorite causes. Some, like Bob Hope, were classy enough to make a tradition out of serving others. As time has passed, however, many others have simply become shills for one cause or another; most notably those who shriekingly support the rights of animals over and above all other living creatures, including unborn children.

Nolte's piece, of course, takes note of the increasingly alarming ease with which Obama has made the media his all-too willing puppet in trumpeting his domestic and foreign agendas to the world. He is the first president, I believe, to have a completely integrated media strategy that relies on willing compliance from Hollywood. That's not to say that previous presidents have not had media strategies, of course. Even Bush, who more often than not wore a large red bullseye on his chest so far as the media were concerned, had strategies for making the Iraq war somewhat more palatable to the public while refusing to play into their hysterical reporting.

But Obama seems to be the first to have this integrated "organic" approach. A cooperative media is, in fact, a keystone to Obama's agenda because without their help he cannot hope to overcome the perceptions that so many of us have of a leader without experience or accomplishment trying to create a socialist utopia in this country. It's a truly disturbing trend.

Oddly enough, his media (and artistic: don't forget his rebranding of the NEA!) manipulations are not all that troubling to me. Not personally, anyway. I'm just not that big of a media consumer to worry about whether I'll be subjected to the latest Obama-ganda whenever I turn on the TV. I actually assume I'll be subjected to it, in fact, which makes it easier to simply be entertained, rather than indoctrinated.

My problem is that I'm pretty sure the government as a whole has absolutely no clue what "volunteerism" or "service" even are. Both activities are deeply personal in nature. You can have entire organizations performing service, such as Habitats for Humanity, but participation in such organizations should always be a personal decision borne of a desire to help others.

It is the desire that is lacking from Obama's perception of a nation full of volunteers providing service to others. The president's agenda is designed to "encourage" citizens to volunteer and provide service, preferably somewhat more than is provided today, to a growing number of those who are considered less fortunate. Unfortunately, insisting on having people volunteer often backfires.

For simplicity, let's assume that there are three basic types of volunteer:

1. The eager volunteer. This is the person who observes a need, feels a strong desire to assist, and does so. The only potential stumbling block for this person is the occasional reluctance of the recipient of this service. No reasonable person, however, would argue with the motives of the eager volunteer.

2. The impressive volunteer. This is the person who answers a call for volunteers, not because they just naturally like to help, but more because the service looks good on a resumé. Beware the impressive volunteer. Often their good intentions are somewhat marred by the sloppy or inept delivery of the service required, which may cause more harm than good. This is what has become of ACORN. They started with the right idea (giving them the benefit of the doubt here), but have become an enabler of thoroughly destructive behaviors.

3. The reluctant volunteer. Here is the person who has been ordered or requested to provide a service that they would not have otherwise provided. They will do so grudgingly, answering the call not because they want to, but because it seems to be expected of them. Akin to a petty criminal who has been ordered to "community service" in order to atone for some crime, these "volunteers" are, in fact, conscripts who will do the bare minimum required of them, and probably not do the best of jobs in the process.

Of course there are many variants of all three basic types. The problem with inducing people to volunteer, as Obama appears to be attempting, is that you more frequently get the impressive or reluctant volunteers to answer the call. The eager volunteers are already serving, happily, and probably expending whatever time they can to their current cause. The impressive volunteers will serve because it looks good to do so, but may not provide the intended results. That leaves the reluctant ones, who won't serve unless given a compelling reason ("we'll throw your fanny in jail unless...") to do so.

I don't know about you, but if I or my family needed service, I'm not altogether sure I'd want any but a truly eager volunteer to provide it. How on earth will Hollywood solve that particular problem?

Let me know if they do. Unless they've infiltrated NCIS next week, I probably won't be watching.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Let's Be Clear

The commissioner of an organization — an organization known primarily for its continual substance abuse problems; star athletes that have trouble staying out of jail; athletes who make more in one season than most of us will see in our lifetimes yet always seem to "need" more; athletes who, in fact, say a lot of outrageous things — is going to deny Rush Limbaugh the opportunity to become part-owner of a franchise because he says some things that make people uncomfortable.

Did I get that right?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Fair "My Fair Lady"

There are problems with tackling iconic roles in theater. Yul Brynner, for example, will always "own" the role of King Mongkut in "The King and I," as he did through the film version and two or three revivals. Ultimately he played the role over 4500 times.

Another iconic role is that of Professor Henry Higgins in "My Fair Lady." Rex Harrison, like Brynner, performed the role both on Broadway, on film, and in at least one revival.

(Interesting side note: I never saw Yul Brynner on stage in "The King and I," but heard that even through his revivals he did a marvelous job. The 1981 revival of "My Fair Lady" I did see, and was immediately struck by the fact that here was a man (Harrison) who, in my humble opinion, desperately needed to retire.)

I mention this because those who try to fill such roles often find themselves compared — unfairly, of course — to those icons who gave the role their imprimature. So when we had a chance to see the Downey Civic Light Opera version of "My Fair Lady" yesterday, I wondered how the actors would handle this extra burden.

In a word, they did well. Those who are familiar with the movie version well remember Audrey Hepburn's performance as Eliza Doolittle, along with Harrison as Higgins, Stanley Holloway as the dustman cum "moralist" Alfred P. Doolittle, and Wilfred Hyde-White as Col. Hugh Pickering. I was delighted to see that Downey's main protagonists, while using certain mannerisms created by the film stars, were more than able to find their own characterizations in this delightful, if extremely long show.

Joseph Culliton is nothing like Rex Harrison, thankfully. Whenever Harrison would become at all excitable (which happens more often than not in this Lerner and Leowe production), his voice would take on an edge that reminded me forcefully of fingernails on a chalkboard. Culliton's voice is a much smoother baritone, and, whereas Harrison was no singer and generally spoke through his music, Culliton did the music justice. In fact, this may be the first time I've ever heard anyone actually sing "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face." For the rest of his characterization, Culliton relied on the wit contained in the libretto. His delivery was appropriately deadpan as a depiction of the ultimate chauvinist.

His friend Pickering is played with great charm by Richard Gould, who has the good fortune to actually resemble Hyde-White somewhat. His portrayal of the benefactor in this attempt to create a lady of elegance from a girl who had only raw material to start with is compelling. He makes the perfect low-key foil to the mulish Higgins.

Charlotte Carpenter does a delightful job with Eliza. Her opening Cockney is, ironically enough, well articulated in the opening scenes, and she transitions into the proper English accents with sufficient aplomb. She also has the pipes to pull off the job. It is well known that Audrey Hepburn was no singer and had her songs dubbed. Carpenter needs no such assistance. She worked well through the standards of "I Could Have Danced All Night," "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" and "The Rain in Spain." In fact, the only criticism I had of the entire show was what seemed to be uneven miking of the principals. I'm not sure if this was because I was in the front row of the orchestra section, but even with mikes it was sometimes hard to hear the leads over the energetic pit orchestra (ably led by Eddy Clement).

George Champion has perhaps the toughest challenge of the neo-icons in this production. Stanley Holloway's performance as Alfred Doolittle is a classic, and his interpretation of a common dustman with uncommon morals has set a rather high standard for all who follow. Champion, however, gives Holloway a run for his money, even winkingly grabbing several of Holloway's signature moves and expressions along the way. He does the role credit, though, and marks himself as a true showman in the process.

One nice surprise was the performance of Jason Marquez as Freddy Eynsford-Hill. It is altogether too easy to make this one of the sappiest roles in all of theater, because the part is basically written as a lovesick tenor, and there is nothing worse in this world than a lovesick tenor. Marquez is something of a warbler, but he commanded the role of the star-struck would-be lover. His singing was never over-the-top, and he still managed to give Freddy that breathless quality of a man out of his mind over a beautiful woman.

Taken altogether it was a wonderful performance. They started a few minutes late, but the show clocks in at just over 3 hours, so you need to be committed to the show in order to truly enjoy it. There's plenty of good choreography and ensemble work, particularly among those who portrayed the long-suffering staff of Prof. Higgins' household. Their work through "Poor Professor Higgins" was simply fun to watch. Equally fun was the male quartet that accompanies Eliza in "Loverly." Throughout the show the cast and chorus showed tremendous energy and focus, and provided us with many memorable moments.

If you're anywhere in the area this weekend or next, give this one your consideration. I believe you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Olympic Fail? Or Just Olympic Loss?

One of the things that surprises me about reaction to Chicago's loss of the 2016 games (to Rio de Janeiro) is that so many people seemed to think it was ours to lose. For all the attention these games got from our Commander in Chief, his wife, and even Oprah Winfrey, you'd think this was a major international policy failure on our part.

Yet, perhaps because I'm not from Chicago and hold no special affection for the city, our loss to Rio is less bothersome to me than the possibility that very soon I may be facing jail time if ever I can't afford to buy health care insurance. In other words, is it just possible that our priorities are a little skewed here?

Worse yet, the recriminations (Bush's fault! No, wait! Obama's fault! No, wait...) change nothing. For heaven's sake, people. Get over it, find the lessons learned, and be better prepared for next time. Also, who ever said these games were in any way inevitable? Jesse Jackson? Since when did he become a bellwether of American domestic policy?

Things we know about hosting the Olympic Games:

1. They always cost more than we plan. The costs go way beyond just dollar figures, too. Reputations are made or broken because of the games, and I'm not just talking about the athletes. The bottom line — the one no one ever wants to discuss except for a few malcontents in the editorial sections of obscure newspapers — is that the taxpayers always get stiffed. Consider this: how many millions of dollars did Chicago spend on their losing bid? Enough, probably, to build a few low-cost housing units would be my guess.

2. The Olympic Games are political. Always have been, always will be. Heads of state of the various participating nations take it as a point of national pride to send their teams to the Games. Thus nationalism, even patriotism, is closely tied to the competition. The athletes may take center stage, but how many of the last several games we watched were distracted by numerous political stunts. Remember the allegations of under-aged gymnasts in China? How about the figure skating judging fiascos of several years ago that have pretty much ruined the sport now? And, of course, how could we ever forget the terrorism of the Munich Games?

3. Not that the athletes are saints themselves. How many doping scandals have we witnessed just in the last three summer events? We want, desperately, to hold our Olympic athletes up as icons, heroes, or even just all-around good people. To have them mock that adoration by doping themselves up for the sake of a disc of medal to hang around their necks is seen as a betrayal by the devotees of the Games. Likewise, we always hope we've learned our lessons about sending primas donna to the Games. The so-called "Dream Team" (ver. 2.0) of several Games ago was a classic case of why narcissists should never be allowed to compete. I got so fed up with the prancing and preening of certain high-powered multi-million dollar talent from the basketball venue that year that I will probably never watch an Olympic basketball game again. Ever.

All of these things make me wonder why on earth we even bother competing to host the Games anymore. Cronyism is rampant in the IOC, and you have to play their game (while appearing not to play their game) in order to have any chance at all of winning. Given the sheer number of Games that this country has hosted over the years, I am not surprised to see other nations be given the chance.

Rio is significant for the fact that these are the first Games to be hosted in a South American nation. Good for them. I wish them well as they struggle now to get their venues built, deal with security concerns, displace all kinds of people in order to have Olympic Villages ready for the athletes, and drive their country into near-bankruptcy in order to pay for it all.

Hey, Rio! Let us know if you need any money, won't you? Chicago apparently has some tax revenue to burn.