Thursday, January 31, 2008

Another Cyber Screed

Well, the angry folks are at it again. Today I received another email in very black, bold fonts about how much Bill and Hillary will get when they retire, if she becomes president. When she retires she will get all this money for having been president, PLUS her senate retirement pension. And Bill will get his governor AND president pension,too. AND they'll just have ALL this MONEY from us tax payers. It goes on and on speculating just how awful it will be if we let this happen by electing Hillary.
I am asked to pass this on to warn people about how these unworthy folks will be RICH when they retire. I have no idea how much of this nonsense is based on facts, but it really seems to be a very hot issue for whoever got it started on the internet.
Now the person who sent me this has more money than God, even though she's never been a senator or a president of anything. She's extremely conservative and I was confused by her sending me this message, as if the Clintons' making money is a bad thing. I have always thought that being rich is a good thing for conservatives.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

How to Read With Feeling

One of my favorite bits that Steve Allen used to do on his TV program was to read letters to the editor using the underlying feelings the writer expressed. He said that people went to the trouble of writing these letters because they felt very strongly about the issue and wanted the public to become aware of it.
We have a weekend feature in our local paper titled "Sound Off". Unlike regular letters to the editor, these are very short, only a sentence or two, and unsigned. I always read them - not aloud, but in my head - in the proper manner. The issues mostly have to do with the lazy local law enforcement personnel, slovenly neighbors, people on welfare buying Ben and Jerry ice cream (paid for with YOUR taxes!), unfair high school coaches, and the occasional praise for some organization or individual signed off with "Keep up the good work!"
There are many exclamation points and all capital letter words. No specific person or institution is ever named;viz., "A certain supermarket had better teach their (sic) employees some manners." "Why is that police car in one of our towns always in front of the donut shop?" "I am sick and TIRED of reading about a certain high school on the sports pages of your paper, there are others which also have good teams." These sorts of entries lead to a lot of guessing games, since we are a small county. I mean, you know which town has the donut shop after all.
And now we also have the cyberspace writers who have the advantage of being able to use 78pt., colored, boldface fonts in those emails that get passed along. These days they are about 1.)Barack Obama having an AFRICAN MUSLIM father and a WHITE ATHEIST mother and how he went to one of those MUSLIM SCHOOLS, or 2.) The ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS are going to take all our TAX MONEY and get FREE MEDICAL care, or 3.)We are losing our CHRISTIAN values and we need to get PRAYER back in the SCHOOLS. A few people who are friends (with whom I never talk politics or religion) actually forward this stuff to me. I read it with all the emotion it deserves and delete it forthwith.
I know if Steverino were stil with us, he would do the same.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Waiting for Al

So Ted and Caroline have endorsed Obama. I'm still undecided about the front runners in the endless Democratic race. Actually, either Hillary or Barack would make a fine president. I just don't know if either of them is electable. President Huckabee? Is this some kind of a joke? Just what this country needs: to become the only world power theocracy.
I am still hoping that Al Gore, who won in 2000, will step up and claim the throne - er - the office of president. He's won an Oscar, a Nobel Peace Prize and a presidential election. AND he was very funny on SNL last year. What more do we need? He's not bad looking and he has the kind of wife that even Republicans like, smiling help meet who gazes adoringly at him. So what if her name is Tipper?
Come on, Al. Give us a break.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What's the Deal?

Looking over the Oscar nominations for best picture, I wonder why so many of them have such violent elements. Is there something in the zeitgeist which leads us to enjoy watching people getting beaten to a pulp? I have not seen "No Country for Old Men" because having read the reviews I know that it features a serial killer whose method of dispatching his victims consists of beating them to death. What ever happened to good old gun play?
I've already commented on that sort of thing in "There Will Be Blood". I don't mean the odd punch to the gut, but a bloody, vicious, bone crushing of the body and the face, inflicted with such tremendous anger and force that one expects to be splashed with blood just sitting in the audience. Why are these people so angry? Why are the filmmakers subjecting us to this kind of terrifying fury?
I have this picture of some screen writer, a mild mannered nerdy sort, sitting at his computer and releasing his inner brute through his writing; a director who loves his Mum enthusiastically grabbing the script and plunging into the project with both fists. But my fantasy writer and director were the kind of kids who were regularly picked on in school and are now getting to enact their revenge by proxy.
Is that it?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Movie Alert

Well, John and I, victims of super hype as it turned out, went to see "There Will Be Blood", the latest and much touted film from Paul Thomas Anderson (son of Cleveland's beloved Ghoulardi). I have been a fan of young Anderson's movies: "Boogie Nights", "Magnolia" and "Punch Drunk Love", the last of which converted me from an Adam Sandler hater to almost liking him. I think Anderson is the most inventive and original cinematic storyteller since - oh, maybe Preston Sturges, who's been dead for over 50 years. "There Will Be Blood" has received almost universal raves, and Daniel Day Lewis has been considered a shoo-in for all the many awards coming up.
Well, I'm here to tell ya, I think that a lot of people have been blinded by expectations. I was really looking forward to seeing this film and it didn't take long to see the light. It is probably one of the most overwrought pieces of film writing since "The Perils of Pauline" in terms of everything being bigger than life, especially the way the characters are both written and acted.
Daniel Day Lewis is channeling John Huston, and not very well. (Close your eyes and you're in "Chinatown"). Where did he get that accent? John thought it was more Sean Connery. Not only that, but he was ACTING. If you ever saw the old Jon Lovitz sketch about ACTING on SNL you'll know what I mean. As in, over the top.
There's a stereotypical evangelist prone to hysterics AND histrionics who gets regularly beaten up in a most violent way. There's a kid who you know is headed for some sort of disaster. Spoiler alert: He is deafened by a sudden gusher explosion, no surprise because he's leaning over the hole, but for some reason he also forgets how to talk and has to learn sign language.
I tried to look at this as some sort of conflict between the spiritual and the material, but it's so trite and naive that it just becomes tiresome. Anderson also has featured, in almost all his movies, bitterness between father and son, which makes me sad, because we all really liked Ghoulardi a lot around here and hate to think that he was such a rotten daddy that his son has to keep working out his angst in film after film. Wouldn't therapy be cheaper? He's still a fine film maker, just no this time.
I saw a couple of smart people walk out, but as I've said before, I'm too cheap. There's a lot of interesting stuff about how they dug oil wells in the late 19th century. People get smeared with oil a lot.The cinematography is fine.
But save yer money.
Stay home and read.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What Would Jesus Say?

It occurs to me that the word "Christian" does not mean what is used to mean. There was a time when it was used to describe not being Jewish, or Buddhist or Muslim or any other religion not based on the New Testament part of the Bible. Christians were called Catholic, Episcopal,Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian or whatever their particular interpretation of the Bible or split from Rome led them to call themselves.(At least as the Catholic Church saw it.) To a Jewish person, these folks were all Gentiles - or goyim, if you spoke Yiddish.
The first time I became of aware of this use of "Christian," I was at an outdoor folk festival and was approached by a young woman with one of those Pat Robertson smiles. "Are you a Christian?" she asked, out of the blue. "Uh, well,I used to be a Catholic," I replied, which caused her to shudder and quickly move on. Ye gods, I thought, if Catholic was not Christian, what was? After all, the nuns had told me for 12 years that we were Number One, the only TRUE church. What was that girl's problem?
Then several years ago I was a bit disconcerted when, after telling a new friend that an old friend had recently died, the new friend asked me if the deceased was a Christian. I wasn't sure how to answer that. First of all, that's the last thing I would be interested in knowing about someone who had just died, and I was not sure what she had in mind. I told her that my friend was a good person who had worked hard and well in the community and had given much of herself to make life better for others. She then asked, "But was she a Christian?" I told her I was sorry but my friend of 35 some years had never discussed religion much, but I thought she had said she was brought up Episcopalian. I guess I still hadn't answered the question to her satisfaction so the subject was dropped. By the way, the new friend is now an old friend and she's a good person, too. We don't discuss religion, either.
The endless political season has only reinforced the "Christian" label,and we are told that some Christians are better than others, apparently, because they say so. And it seems that if you have a personal relationship with Jesus (whatever that means), you can do pretty much anything, like wreck the country and bomb evil-doers and point fingers at those who aren't Christian enough. I can't imagine that Jesus had this sort of thing in mind as he went about teaching people to try their best to be good people no matter what they called themselves. Same with the Buddha and Mo hammed.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Random Thoughts About Random Birds

This is about a phenomenon which I am certain is not experienced by only me. It involves bird sightings and the results of same. The birds involved are rare for these parts.
Many years ago,I was driving aimlessly on a nearby country road, which at the time only had a few houses on it and those were farm houses. Suddenly above a cornfield on a hill appeared a golden eagle. He was magnificent and I slowed down to get a better look, since he was about to land in the field. Unfortunately another car stopped and a young man jumped out and started chasing the great bird, which promptly soared off. I was ready to smack that idiot guy for scaring it off. At any rate I did get to see that beautiful misplaced bird which was probably blown off course over Lake Erie thirty miles to the north. Now every time I drive on that road, which is frequently, I hope the eagle, or his grandbird, will show up. The area is now replete with McMansions, so any self respecting bird would never find another corn field there. But I always look.
The same kind of thing thing happened not too far from there a few years later, pre-suburban sprawl. This time it was a huge pileated wood pecker which landed on the branch of a tree just as I drove by. It was much bigger than the average red-headed woodpecker but by the time I stopped to get a better look it had flown away. So even though that was at least 15 years or so ago. I always look for that bird when I drive by that spot. It, too, has become over developed with the same enormous houses replacing what had been a tree lined road.
The third rare bird sighted was a snowy egret standing in a pond on Rte. 62, on the way to Wilmot where I go once a month to the Wilderness Center to the storytellers' meeting. I checked with the naturalist at the center and he said that it was a white heron, which is not that rare in Ohio. However, I always look for that white heron every time I drive by that pond and I have never seen it again. But as with the others, I always look.
Another time, on the same road to the Wilderness Center, just southeast of Canton, I saw a white peacock perched on a fence in the middle of nowhere. I have never seen him again, but I always look for him, which is the point of this rambling piece.
These sightings have become a sort of touchstone when I am on the road. I cannot not look for those long ago seen creatures. Am I nuts, or what? Is this something that other people do? Doesn't have to be birds, just something out of the ordinary which you hope you will see again. But nothing awful.
By the way, the land of the golden eagle is now an alpaca farm. They belong to a McMansion and roam about the former cornfield.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Cleveland Christmas Experience

I forgot to mention when I wrote about the Boar's Head Feast at the cathedral that another part of that day in Cleveland involves driving by the Christmas Story House to see the leg lamp in the window. A wealthy young man from California saw on the web that the very house used in the best Christmas movie ever made was for sale. He snapped it up and has made tours of it a very popular experience for everyone in the country, apparently.
It's in a very dingy part of Cleveland, overlooking the valley of steel mills, in a working class neighborhood of wooden houses packed closely together on a narrow street. The entrepreneur has remodeled the interior to match the movie sets. (Only the exterior was used in the movie, as was the Christmas parade in Public Square downtown. Sadly, the Higbee's department store window containing the longed for Red Ryder BB gun no longer exists as a department store.)This enterprising young man has bought up a few of the other houses on the street and turned them into a museum (complete with the actual pink bunny suit) and a gift shop - where you can buy a leg lamp like the one in the window of THE house.
I drove by it last year when I was on one of my trips to the West Side Market, where I like to shop. If you go there during the day, especially from Thanksgiving on, the streets in and around the area are packed with parked cars from all over the country. There are lines 4 and 5 abreast winding around the block. This year, a local Chinese restaurant has been incorporated into the experience where you can order roast duck and be regaled with Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra-ras. I don't know if that includes a head whacking of the duck, though.
We just like to drive by after the Boar's Head thing when all the crowds are gone and gaze at the lighted lamp in the window. Last year, we got out of the car and a couple of people were standing there quoting lines from the movie - "A major award!" "Fra-gee-lay," as they admired the lamp.
Since "A Christmas Story" has now become the number one family flick for the holiday season, surpassing "It's a Wonderful Life", there will probably be droves of folks coming by for years to come. They could do worse.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Music and Bugs

This morning on Weekend Edition Sunday on NPR, there was a discussion of music in cartoons of the 40s and 50s, particularly the Warner Brothers ones. One of the points made is that today's children are not exposed to classical music as casually as we geezers were in our childhood. The Cleveland Orchestra has had two concerts playing the Bugs Bunny cartoons synchronizing live music with projections of the actual films.That has brought a whole new audience to the concert hall. Other orchestras around the country are doing the same thing. For many people Bugs and Elmer introduced them to the classical repertory painlessly.
There were those great cartoons, of course, but also mentioned was the variety of radio programs featuring that kind of music. Many of these programs were quite popular: "The Firestone Hour", "The Bell Telephone Hour." You could also hear the New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony every week during the year. Since I grew up with music loving parents, I was exposed to this music regularly and took it for granted.
Some of these programs later moved to television and you could watch Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony (Can you imagine today's NBC, home of "The Apprentice" having its own symphony?) or watch and listen to Leonard Bernstein explain it all to you on those Sunday afternoon specials.Those things created audiences for live performances, too.
Then there was the Met every Saturday afternoon from October to May. My father would pick up a 2 pound bag of Planter's Peanuts in the shell in the morning and feast on them while listening to Lily Pons and Jussi Bjoerling, among others. Since he accompanied the peanuts with a bit of Bourbon, he usually missed the final act, but that was his Saturday pleasure.
Some modern parents, having heard that classical music, especially Mozart, is supposed to make their infants intelligent, have dutifully started playing his music while the baby is still in the fetal stage. Unfortunately, most of these people don't listen to or even like this kind of music themselves so that's the only chance the kid has to hear it, and probably wouldn't even recognize it in the unmuffled by amniotic fluid and fat cells after they're born.
What a world, what a world, as Margaret Hamilton laments in "The Wizard of Oz."