Monday, February 25, 2019

Why the Patriots matter - a social commentary

I added "a social commentary" to the title, because this isn't really about football. For anyone reading here who is in the unfortunate circumstance that everything in life doesn't come second to watching NFL football, the New England Patriots are a team that since 2002 have been in nine, that is, half of the Super Bowls, including the last three, and have won six of them. The coach, Bill Belichick, and Tom Brady, the quarterback, for the entire time, are the sole links that run the arc of their success. Each is considered the GOAT ("greatest of all time), at least of the modern era, by at least a plurality, if not a majority of present fans, and that includes many who absolutely despise them, and also professionals (you can google). As Brady ages, Belichick, whose job does not concern physical prowess, has lately been considered by many to be the more important of the two. Despite my admiration of Brady and belief that he deserves his moniker, which has led some of my less sensitive friends to deem me "Mrs. Brady," I tend to agree. Though Rodgers came into his own considerably later to be considered for it, I think Peyton Manning, who slightly preceded Brady and Drew Brees, who came slightly afterward, could have filled the QB slot at New England with the same results (I think, but no way to know), but Belicek is probably not replaceable.

But, that's not what this post is about. I think there is a larger - non-football - aspect to the Pats which is worth mentioning. Hence, Why the Pats matter -

"No days off": Hard work matters - There are a number of things that epitomize the Pats' philosophy. One of them is hard work. It may be the predominant factor. After the Super Bowl victory against the Falcons, where the Patriots scored 25 unanswered points to win in the fourth quarter, they celebrated in the traditional parade. Belichick came up with the weirdest celebratory chant I ever heard, so off the charts, it made me laugh. "No days off." It was weird, but it was why they win. Many teammates have testified as to how hard Brady studies, even while everyone else is playing on a bus, for example. He says he has no hobbies. Just football. Belichick's work ethic, always looking for an edge, is also legendary. How many of the GOAT's, whether Brady or Manning, Larry Bird (I leave out Jordan to make a point), Mikaela Schiffrin (I just felt like mentioning the 23 year old phenom, even if most people never heard of her - probably the greatest skiier of all time), Wayne Gretzky, etc., are known for the phenomenal work ethic rather than their superior athleticism. He's not always right, of course, but so often Belichick seems to out-think, out-play, out-coach his rivals, as in this year's Super Bowl, that even his most bitter critics acknowledge his supremacy.

"Do your job" - "Do your job" was a Belichick slogan even before "No days off." Probably more popular as I've heard players on any number of teams echo it, not to mention the media and people in other fields. What does it mean? I think it means you are responsible for your team, but focus on doing what you are supposed to do and it will all turn out okay. Personal responsibility and focus. Hope parents are listening.

"Thinking matters" - Why are teams scared of the Pats even when they make it to the Super Bowl after not playing so well most of their season. Two big reasons. One, they know that, especially with the defense, game by game, Belichick and his coaching team are working on improving the game little by little. The Detroit Lions, the pitiful Detroit Lions beat the tar out the Pats' defense early in the season, making their defense look sloooow. The really pitiful Jaguars scored 31 against them. But, somehow bit by bit, especially in the playoffs, they improved to the point that they may have the best defense in the league at that moment, holding one of the most explosive teams in history to 3 points. 3 points!. And that includes Chicago and Baltimore. What do they do? One, they find a way to bend without breaking. They do it so often that it can't be an accident. They give up the whole field, but keep the team out of the end zone. Don't know how they do it. It's also understood that they will find a way to take away your strength. And they do that over and over again. How do they do it. Belichick is really smart. And obviously, he can teach too. The NFL coaches all mimic one another. But, they can't seem to mimic him.

Leadership matters - I've been talking a lot about Belichick's method and brains, but I don't take a thing from Brady. He says he has no interests except his family and football, so it is hard to say how smart he is, but, when you watch him on the field, he sure seems smart. Like the other great QBs of his era, Manning and Brees, he is legendary for his single-minded focus to study the other teams and know the defenses better than anyone else. His ability to remain utterly calm when behind or in the last seconds, his remonstrance to his team, let's go and we've been in worse positions - his ability to know when he should go down (well, maybe because he knows he is not Rodgers or Wilson and isn't going to extend the play), is, in my mind, his leadership spell over his teammates. He knows he is going to win and they believe in him. I believe in you too, Tom. (this may be why my friends call me Mrs. Brady).

People actually like it when you treat the press with contempt - How do you read Belichick's standoffishness with the press, if not contempt? The NFL makes him talk to them, but even the authoritarian-minded Goodell doesn't try to tell them how to talk to the press (to a point). Belichick knows he isn't going to be asked intelligent questions and often doesn't act like he is doing anything but biding time, unless he's being interviewed by a friend, like Willie Mcginest. This is especially true if they are making inquiries into what happened in past games. You might enjoy this compilation of his greatest hits. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yRQnZWbl6k. My personal favorites were his pretty simple reaction when someone asked him if he was re-evaluating Tom Brady and when a reporter sort of inquired into his game plan with Kansas City. "We're onto Cincinnati" is classic too. When you see him with someone he likes or respects, he's a different guy entirely. Even during press talks, he can crack a joke. And, I imagine, if the press upped its game, he'd be a lot more forthcoming. But, most people seem to love the way he handles the press. I do.

Winning and decency beats hate - I'm not going to give another defense here of the INSANE rantings of those who hate the Pats or call them cheaters (like my otherwise intelligent friend, Don) or explain again why in the television age, rooting for the local team doesn't even make sense. The Pats answer the hate by chalking up victory after victory. It makes the haters sound like whiners. But, if I really did think the Pats were cheaters (they cheat less than most teams - in fact, year after year, they are at or very near the top of the least penalized teams in football going back way more than a decade - even in non-game fines they are in the middle). And Brady continues to be one of the most gracious players in football, preferring to give everyone else credit and never seeming to have a bad word for anyone, no matter how hard they criticize him. I don't know what he says privately (I hope he gets it off the chest, at least to his wife and his bearded boychik, Edelman), but, in public, haters gonna hate - the Pats just going to win and be charitable about it. Even Belichick is exceedingly charitable when asked about other teams and players (so long as you do not compare a defensive player to Lawrence Taylor).

Fundamentals - One thing that other commentators note is that the Pats seem to have a knack for taking castoffs or nobodies (e.g., Malcolm Butler, Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Edelman, Amendola, Dion Lewis, James White, ) the offensive and defensive line just about every year) and making them into stars. I'm sure there are a number of reasons why, but I think one of the main reasons is fundamentals. As I said, year after year, with very little exception, the Pats get fewer penalties than most (sometimes all) other teams. The same is true of least fumbles. The same is true of interceptions (Brady having the third lowest career TD/interception ratio and tied for second in lowest interception ratio - ironically with Kaepernick.) Want to guess which was the least sacked team this year (tied, with Colts, actually), the least fumbles and was tied for second for least penalties?

It's never too late. At least for the Pats - The Pats morph over time. They've been explosive. They've had Randy Moss snag 23 TDs in a season and early on Corey Dillon rushed for over 1600 one year, but the last few years, they beat you with a bend but don't break defense and grinding offense. All this year and for some years before, they were not particularly explosive over the course of a game. What is most amazing about this team is the longevity of their greatness with only Brady and Belichick for the entire time. But, the most amazing thing I've seen them do (other than beat teams in the Super Bowl that seem for the length of the season, better than them) was the victory over the Falcons when they were down by 18 at the half and by 25 points in the third quarter. They went into the fourth quarter down 19 (which would both be SB records). Apparently, all over the country, Brady and Pat haters were still worried that they might win. Why? What team can come back from that far - score three tds and hold the other team, like that with all the pressure the SB entails.  Well, based on the people I watched the game with, it was because of Brady. Not that they liked him. Not that they could even stand him. But, they were sure he would find a way to come back (him - not the other players). And he did come back and tied it up to send it in overtime, where they scored a touchdown to win. He set several records in the game, including most completions, most yards, not to mention doing it as the oldest QB to play. Not that he did it alone. James White was particularly outstanding as a running back and especially as a receiver, setting a record for most catches.

It might be a good idea to take care of your body - Shortest section. Tom Brady. TB12. 41 years old. Other athletes are taking the hint.

It's not personal. It's football. One of the things I love about football is that it is a meritocracy. The Pats are not the only team who gets trade or release players once they can no longer contribute as much or they want to be paid according to their services. But, the Pats do it better than anyone else, and they usually seem to be right. Otherwise, players like Dion Lewis, Amendola and Butler would be eating up the league. How does Belichick know? He just does. Or maybe it's Spidey-Sense. I'm going to hate it if someday that's what happens with Brady. It might. It happened with Manning and Montana and they up there.

Not being greedy can help.  I hate greedy people. I remember saying around the time of the O.J. trial that I'd rather go to lunch with him than a greedy person. If I could just put out of my mind that he viciously slaughtered two innocent people (I don't think people know or remember that Nicole, his ex, was almost decapitated) I think I meant it. Kind of like when I say, if Hitler made really good pizza and it was cheap and convenient, I'd probably go there - I'm not sure if I really would. Probably not. No, I wouldn't. But, it is kind of funny to say. In any event, how much is the Pats' success due to the fact that Brady doesn't insist on getting paid like a top QB? I don't know, but it has to help free up a lot of money for other players. Another reason he's the GOAT.

What's so bad about sex trafficking? Okay, okay, I didn't say they were perfect or angels. Jumping the gun here and pre-judging guilt of Mr. Kraft, I'll apologize if it turns out to be a Bob Kraft look-alike. They say he visited twice in 24 hours. I have to admit, I'm impressed. But, the girls are oppressed. Sex trafficking is really bad and many Americans, sadly, are very complicit in it by using low-cost prostitutes, who are too often without a choice. However, I will say that many people seem very ignorant of it. I generally don't think prostitutes or their customers should be made criminals. But, it's not something I'd recommend to anyone either. But, sex traffickers, or those who go to parlors where they know they girls have no choice - they can hang. If that includes Mr. Kraft, screw him too. Really, I don't like to curse on this blog (unlike my real life), but, going to make an exception for sex traffickers. Fuck you. Die, scumbags. Now, for the real question - why is a billionaire going to low-end prostitutes instead of having more than one girlfriend (he has a 39 year old, we are told) or going to very high-end call girls, rather than a brothel in a strip mall? I don't know that either. It's weird - like with Hugh Grant.

The big finale. The Pats are unique. They are great. Belichick and Brady are especially so. They matter a lot.

I know upon reading this, some of my friends - if they could easily comment - would just say - "They cheat," or "Cheaters." Why am I so nice to them anyway?

Thursday, January 31, 2019

I'm not listening!!! Some comments on the social war between the old and young.

I was going to try to leap into this topic without one of my lengthy preliminary statements. After a few tries, I remember that I’m just not good at it.

I’ve written here recently on topics like identity politics and “civil rights” (8/28/17), the Kavanaugh debacle (10/2/18), the Metoo movement (11/2/18 and 6/12/18), over-sensitivity, the lack of sense of humor, self-victimization and apologies (6/12/18). I don’t want to repeat myself too much, so my approach here will be a little different. My perspective is, not surprisingly, that of a middle-class, middle-age guy raised on Long Island. I’m not sure if being white also figures in, but I think most people assume it does (I’m not sure that most middle-aged, middle-class black and Hispanic men and women don’t agree with me – I don’t know). And I was also raised in a Jewish family and was raised around a lot of Jews. That may figure in too, but I don’t think so because I seem to be on the same page with my Christian raised peers too. That is, almost everyone I know, roughly my age (up to their 80s), feels pretty much the same. To my surprise, the one exception I can think of, the gentleman I usually refer to herein as Eddie or my favorite liberal, actually also agrees on some of these things although I doubt he would express it to other true believers. And though it is a fairly small sample, it is enough that I expect it is probably a large majority of people in the same peer group.

The things people tell me, the things you read about on these topics, just make me and many others shake my head and wonder where we are headed. Just as a few examples from I believe the last six months - the Yale couple who urged students not to lose their head over seeing Halloween costumes that might offend them, but to discuss rather than overreact caused some students to threaten to leave the school unless the couple was terminated (because, I guess, any discussion would mean disagreement was unacceptable?); the astronaut who apologized for quoting Winston Churchill because he must now be seen as only a racist; Tom Brokaw, who had to apologize for having the opinion that Hispanic immigrants should try to assimilate (because it is a bad idea that immigrants assimilate?), the woman who gave free yoga lessons at the U. of Ottawa having her classes canceled because yoga, long practiced in our country, was deemed “cultural appropriation” (cultural appropriation being as dumb a theory as actual racial hatred, in my hallowed opinioned – every culture is an amalgamation of many other cultures and cultural exchange should be encouraged), the Duke professor who had to step down as director of graduate students for urging Chinese students to speak English on campus (even though she was defended by some outraged Chinese students who said she was anything but a racist; I think she was incorrect in thinking that important, but the reaction was ridiculous); the Kentucky students who were libeled and slandered in the media after being harassed by racist members of a black religious group (“Black Hebrew Israelites”?); Oxford U. staff being warned that avoiding eye contact may be deemed racist, that they shouldn’t ask someone where they are from (I ask all the time – it seems to me people love to be respectfully asked about it) or joke about an accent; the poor snook who was fired in (I think Australia) because he said the newest British princess, a former actress, was “not bad,” even though his female co-workers weren’t sanctioned for calling her hot; even the actor Kevin Hart fired from hosting the Oscars because earlier in his career, he made jokes about gays (still common on television shows and in movies) and now admits he’s changed his mind.

You can dismiss these as just a few anecdotes in billions of interactions of people every day, but they are just examples of what I think is going on everywhere. The stories are endless. Maybe it’s not many, but when every young police officer I’ve spoken to has told me that they and their fellow officers try to avoid arresting a black person because of the chance of being called a racist, too many teachers have told me horror stories about how they aren’t allowed to teach their class for fear of litigation by a student they are told they cannot discipline (b/c they are either black or handicapped) or that they are not permitted to use distinctions like boy or girl (and I’ve yet to discuss it with even a liberal who thinks that makes sense), been told by too many people – and that includes women – that their offices have become insane over harassment/discrimination issues, for me to think that the world isn’t rank with this stuff. Feel free to believe it’s not happening.

So, the following is just a discussion of some of the things people in my peer group are thinking and saying to each other:

Intent matters

Nowadays, when someone is offended, it seems to not matter a lick to cultural warriors on the left whether the offender meant to offend anyone or was actually being racist, misogynist, etc. And, there are many in business and professions, terrified about being labeled and they or their company losing money or their jobs, apologizing to beat the band. One absolutely crazy example is the New York Times’ Crossword Puzzle editor who apologized publicly for using the word “beaner.” The clue was about baseball pitchers who pitched at batters’ heads – “Pitch to the head, informally.” A well-known metaphor for head is a bean. There was nothing ethnic at all about it. Not remotely. Didn’t matter, as a Times’ spokesperson stated wrote - “Tuesday’s Crossword puzzle included an entry that was offensive and hurtful. It is simply not acceptable in The New York Times Crossword and we apologize for including it.”
Despite the fact that neither the editor, Will Shortz, or his co-worker had ever heard of a racial slur for Hispanics being “beaner” (nor I), he apologized. 
My family and friends either groan or laugh when I make my stupid joke when someone refers to a “black” car or shirt by saying, “You mean African-American shirt, don’t you?” You can think its racist if you like, but the point of the joke is that sensitivity to racial matters shouldn’t include benign references that sound like something racist, or could be racist in another context. Do you know how many people cringe when the mere word “black” is used when a black person is present, or who look around to make sure there isn’t?
What the hell is wrong with a non-apology apology?
While we are on apologies, they matter. So do fake ones. It seems to me that many apologies publicly made these days are false. It is really about power, that is, the offended group forcing the innocent offender to not just apologize, but to prove they are sincerely apologizing and accede the offended party’s views.
Cam Newton, an NFL QB of whom I’m not a fan (though he is an amazing athlete) apologized last year for making a joke when a female reporter asked him about a wide receiver’s “routes” (i.e., for those who don’t know, the path they run). He heard it from everyone – and, it was a dumb joke, as there have been women reporting on football since at least he was a little kid if not longer. Nevertheless, he was making a joke based on the fact that most women don’t play league football where a receiver would be running routes. He didn’t mean to insult her, however stupid it might be. If you want to see someone really angry lie through his teeth, watch the video of his apology.
I’ve had this discussion many times with people. Apologizing when you don’t mean it because you don’t feel you’ve done anything wrong is an insult to the person you are apologizing too. It actually is okay to give a non-apology apology though – I’m sorry if I’ve upset you, or, I know you feel that way or it makes me sad that you are upset, etc., because that is genuine. I call bologna on this absurd notion that non-apology apologies are wrong when they are actually truthful.
What’s wrong with non-apology apologies? I’ll tell you, they are only wrong if there is no discussion allowed, if the truth doesn’t matter and it’s about power. And, in the cultural wars, that is really what it is about.
What happened to color blind?
I was alive during the ‘60s and ‘70s, when Civil Rights actually meant civil rights and was about justice and equality under the law. I wrote on this subject in Killing the dream - again (8/28/17), concerning how modern so-called civil rights advocates have flipped around MLK’s dream that one day we would judge each other by the content of character rather than skin-color. So, I’ll keep this short, but read these advocates to try to understand their point of view. It is about color. One well known author, Michael Eric Dyson, has even gone so far as to state, and not just metaphorically, that blacks need a country where there are only blacks, in order to heal their wounds and I guess feel better. Not only is that racist, but insults them, stereotypes them and smacks of apartheid. Yet no doubt he and other advocates of victimization and separationism, like Ta-Nehisi Coates are the leaders.
White people listening to black people witness their anger (even if they are millionaires) is not the answer. White people acknowledging their privilege isn’t either. I quote Supreme Court Justice John Roberts a lot – “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race, is to stop discrimination on the basis of race.” I’m not sure that he will stay with that, given political realities concerning the court and his role on it, but even if he took it back, I’d agree.
The idea that there is one set of rules for people of this color or this gender (or whatever identity distinction) and another for others is self-defeating. Those who consider themselves victims based on their identity will never stop feeling like one until they adopt the same principle – morals and ethics should be color-blind.
I certainly don’t apply this only to blacks. It seems like everyone and his brother wants to be an oppressed minority these days (except, generally speaking, the Irish – don’t ask me why). If you can say a word, you aren’t privileged because of your social status to own the use of it, and expect others to use it. If you can tell a joke because you are Jewish, black, Christian, etc., so can others.
The dumbest social warrior position
Which leads me to the dumbest of social warrior positions – cultural appropriation. There are no black lines around cultures, communities and social movements. One culture taking ideas from another – and vice versa, is how the world works. It is how it always worked. It is how languages change and split, it is how we improve and learn things. We should want other cultures to appropriate what we do in terms of the enlightenment principles. We should want other cultures to share our values and even our arts and technology. And we do. No ethnic group owns something like yoga or karate or football (either kind). Is it cultural appropriation when other countries play baseball or football? Of course not.
We do have intellectual property laws, and it is best when they are obeyed. But, not everything is covered. The bottom line is, it’s good when ideas are spread, particularly good ones.
What do those complaining about the professor teaching yoga want? – that only Indians should be allowed to teach yoga? Only the Chinese can make Chinese food or only Hispanics can be Zorro for Halloween. That’s a recipe for stagnation, not growth. Give credit where it is due, if you know. That’s important to me. But, the idea that one culture or community owns something because they are a minority – is regoddamdiculous. And, yeah, I stole that from John Wayne, who I believe was an Anglo-Saxon by heritage. And I heard my friend, Mike, an Italian, quote him first. So what? Personal friend appropriation?
The great irony of it is – the natural counterpart to not appropriating from other cultures, is to stereotype people. So, if I shouldn’t teach yoga because I am not Indian (and not because I am incapable of doing yoga, though that appears true), should I assume that Indians all do yoga. I’m sure I would be castigated for stereotyping. 
The answer to every dispute isn’t to destroy someone’s life
You’re fired. You’re suspended. You can’t play. That’s the result lately when someone says or does something that social warriors don’t like.
The idea that someone who disagrees with you or says something you don’t like should have their life ruined is way too common. It’s almost the “go to” position these days.  A teacher tells her class there’s no Santa. Not, Ms. Smith, go tell your class that that’s just your opinion and to ask their parents – she’s fired. Fired. A principal, trying to follow the stupid rules about not making the winter break just for Christians says, no candy-canes, because the J represents Jesus. They didn’t say, Principal Smith, it’s okay, just tell everyone candy canes are just easy to hang up and its okay to use them, or, thank her for trying to be inclusive – they suspended her. I don’t know what happened to her after that. Rob Gronkowski, a player I usually like just got in hot water for making a sexual innuendo to a woman reporter that he’s made before about his favorite number. I don’t think the NFL will – but there are calls for him not being able to play. If he thinks it is okay to tell a sex joke and they don’t think so – why should he be suspended? Could the NFL do it? Of course, we know they can just because it’s “bad” for football. But, it’s ridiculous. The list of people fired or suspended for opinions that others don’t like is just disturbing. Don’t start me on the guy from Google again.
Try to know the difference between being stumbled over and kicked
I love saying to my favorite liberal, “Congratulations, your team destroyed American’s sense of humor.” It’s not just that kids are so sensitive and so attuned to racial justice that ethnic humor is dead – many examples, go google – but almost any comedian who makes fun of anyone other than straight white males is going to get the boot – sometimes literally. A number of well-known comedians have complained about it or stopped performing on college campuses.
I went to Gettysburg with some friends. When the guide was starting up I asked him to go slow because my friend in the back was Italian. My friend didn’t get insulted. He came back with - and my friend’s Jewish – don’t count on much of a tip. I didn’t get upset either (how could I?) We just all laughed.
When I was growing up we told ethnic jokes all the time. Maybe it is not why everyone laughs, but I did because what was said was outrageous or a ridiculous stereotype. I think it is why most people laugh. Not so much anymore. When people send me jokes now, I ask them if that is on their work phone, because their employer will be happy to look through it if they want to get rid of him.
Back when I was young, we had Don Rickles saying outrageous things on stage to minorities. I really don’t think they were offended. They knew the difference. One of my favorite expressions is . . . even a dog knows the difference between being stumbled over and kicked. I am not sure if someone would that routine could succeed anymore. Certainly not a white male. Could you even make the movie Blazing Saddles anymore? It was filled with jokes that now would be criticized as horrifically racist.
Sex, flirting, dating, sexual references, liking someone, smiling – isn’t all harassment
I wrote too recently about this too go into a rant, but I recently had a conversation with a young woman (mid-late 20s) that shocked me and everyone I related our conversation to. I know her family (none readers) and she’s a nice girl, someone I think is very intelligent and certainly raised well. But, she has made it clear before that she doesn’t think women are treated fairly at work. I agree to some extent. We were discussing Kavanaugh and metoo type things and she expressed the opinion that no one should be confirmed as a judge (probably other offices) if they have even been accused of harassment. She suggested that I would never put myself in a position where someone could even accuse me of sexual harassment. I immediately said it wasn’t true, that many of my peers discussed with each other, including myself, after metoo took off, what consensual sexual behavior or flirting or joking we engaged in when young could be made out to be harassment now or remembered as such by the women now, years later. And we all knew, that no matter how we squawked it was consensual, mutual, etc., few would believe us or care. I related a couple examples to her. In one of the examples I mentioned that the woman involved, who had a lot of leeway at her job, told me that she had invited me to work there (without even mentioning it to our boss), my first full-time job, because she had a crush on me (and a few times over the years, we spontaneously we kissed). The young woman’s response to that was that I should have reported her for hiring me for that reason. I was stunned. So were the other adults at the table. So is everyone I tell it to. I asked her then, why would I report someone who got me my job? Her response was that it was inappropriate. Again, this doesn’t come from a maniac or someone with a lot of problems, but a nice, normal person who has been raised in a certain mindset foreign to the way that older people were raised. And, it is not just different – it’s worse. What I didn’t tell her was that it would have been pretty hard to report it to my boss – he was sleeping with her.  
I still think metoo is important, but it has jumped the shark. The handful of actual monsters, exaggerated because they are celebrities, pales in comparison with the effect on millions of people. Women knowing they can speak up about harassment or worse is something I’ve been preaching for a long time. But, the excesses of it are not mere occasional happenstance. People are afraid at work, people are chilled at work from having relationships or kidding around. What almost everyone I know says about the metoo movement – that we feel sorry for young people who have to work in that environment.
You can’t treat women the same as men at work if there is a fear of being fired
Something else that came out of that same conversation was her expression that women should be treated the same as men at work, including socially. Well, I agree as far as things like equal pay for equal work, promotions, career opportunities. But, not everything. First, clearly, men can’t say the same things to women that they can say to each other, for fear of being accused of harassment. Moreover, if they can’t ask someone out on a date at work (or they are limited to one rejection, as this young woman told me was the policy at Facebook), how can they ask them out to dinner as they would a man?  Do they have to say magic words, “as friends?” And what are their concerns as to what might be misinterpreted by a woman that would not be by a man?  What means one thing to a women does not seem the same to a man and vice versa. If you don’t believe that, I think you are kidding yourself.
What’s happened, I’m advised by reading articles and also what men have told me, is that as a result of the excesses of metoo, many men do not want to socialize with women they work with outside of work, and many men don’t want to hire women. It’s a shame, but I get it. People want to avoid trouble. Is that wrong? Who among us would not advise this to our friend in our personal lives? If they are having trouble with or were fearful of someone, or some group, wouldn’t we say, - avoid entanglement with them?
I’m not listening!!!
Do you remember the scene in The Princess Bride with Miracle Max (Billy Crystal) and his wife (Carol Kane), where Max is running away from her yelling “I’m not listening!!!!”? If not -
The point of much of politics, litigation, even arguments between regular folks, is to try to get the third party – the electorate, the judge, friends and family - not to listen to the other side. The reason that it is so important is that it often is much more persuasive than facts or reason. Once people are primed to believe one side and not even listen to the other, the primer has effectively won the argument, even if it is crazy.
This has been accomplished in many ways. Right now, many young people, indoctrinated through school or family (as I was) have a number of strategies where argument or debate becomes almost impossible. Young people, who are more open to new ideas, but also more gullible than older people (a broad generalization, obviously), have accepted that –
- claim ideas they don’t like are violent and therefore can be stopped by force.
- similarly, claim ideas they don’t like are hate speech and therefore not protected by the first amendment!
- the creation of safety zones in colleges where young people are spared the pain of hearing others’ views.
-screeching! I’m not sure exactly what to call it, but screeching will do. I’m only seen this in videos, which sometimes go viral. Usually, these are women, hearing what they don’t want to hear at a public gathering, who then begin screeching with a high pitched and hysterical tone, sometimes accompanied by frenzied arm movement, as if they are terrified or going out of their minds with anguish. The only way to stop the uncomfortable screeching is to stop speaking. It can actually be quite effective, as people often shy away from or avoid people they think are crazed or hysterical. I actually dated someone (for a short while), who employed this technique. It didn’t work, but we weren’t in a public meeting. I even recognized one screecher from a video who came a few years later to be a screecher at the Kavanaugh hearing. I wondered if she hired out for it or if she just went where she wanted.  
- drowning out speakers with noise or even violence. This has become popular where right-wing speakers speak.
Who’s left standing like a statue?
In the last few years it has also become popular to demand the removal of statues that offend people, usually based on the claim that they were racist. I’m actually not opposed to their removal by popular demand by those we’ve elected or who they’ve appointed to make these decisions. Statues don’t have to be forever. I’m sure few Americans were concerned either when in revolutions, statues of Lenin and Saddam, for example, were torn down. We are not in a civil war, and self-help here is plain wrong. No vandalism, please. Thank you.
I was in Richmond, Va. a while go, and looking at all the confederate statues thinking, this is weird. Why are they celebrating the people who were defending slavery? I know, it’s about honor and heritage, which I heard a bit when I lived down there. I do get it, but, I can absolutely understand being offended by it. Imagine if you went to Germany and there were statues of Hitler, Goebbels and Goering throughout Berlin? I know it would make me uncomfortable.
That being said, where do we end it? For some people, anything someone said that was discriminatory, any act whatsoever, no matter how far in the past, no matter how they changed or how common the behavior was.
Yes, George Washington participated in slavery. I understand why that upsets some people because he knew it was an abomination, although he was born and raised in the system. Some people in his station (and other founders) rejected it, made amends for it by freeing their slaves and even seeing to their support. But, given the times he lived in, does it cancel out his greatness and importance to us? Abraham Lincoln, by today’s standards, was a virulent racist. So was Teddy Roosevelt. Jefferson’s behavior was repugnant. Do we tear down Mt. Rushmore? Some people want Christopher Columbus forgotten, which given his times, when slavery existed almost everywhere and had since historical times at the least (and we can be sure well before), is just ridiculous. There are people who want to take down Gandhi’s statues because he made some regrettable statements. Gandhi! Imagine. Who’s left? Thoreau, who inspired Gandhi was looked down on women, in general. Jesus accepted slavery. Read your New Testament. Einstein made racist statements (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/albert-einstein-travel-diaries-reveal-racist-and-xenophobic-views/) before decrying racism. Martin Luther King, Jr. used the dreaded “N” word and treated a woman, his wife, poorly, routinely cheating on her.

Time does matter.

One of the other things that seems to be a principle among the young is that no amount of time or apology seems to be sufficient. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat, opposed gay marriage and worked against it in the late '90s and early '00s with her dad. She has obviously changed her mind as has a majority of our nation. She's apologized (which she shouldn't have to - but leave that aside). Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton opposed gay marriage. Are they going to be shunted aside now? I doubt that, but, leave that aside too. That was at least 15 years ago. The governor of Virginia, a Democrat, may (I think he did) have been in blackface or posed as a klansman, for Halloween back in 1984. Obviously, he is not a racist. He'll be, like yours truly, 60 this year. He was probaby 25 at the time he did it. Even if it is now an emotional crime to pose on Halloween as something evil or shocking or wrong, which is also nuts, do we no longer give a pass to people who do things when they are young. Assume, for arguments sake, that this was wrong of him. And he was a mean racist. 35 years is not enough time to say, that was then, this is now. 

*

Sure, I could go on, but I usually use the 8th page of a single-spaced Word doc. as an arbitrary end line for the benefit of my beloved readers. 
I will just finish by saying, that I think people just like me were making the same type of complaints I am making here about stuff that we think is just fine, even desirable now, when I was a kid. And perhaps, 50 years from now, my great-grandchild will be thanking this generation too, for this way of thinking. I don't think so. I think Fonzie jumped the shark and that way of thinking is heading towards re-education classes. Already, professionals are being forced to take political classes evincing the principals that they are almost inherently racist and misogynist. What's next. We will see - has become one of my most off-repeated statement.

Wish you could comment anonymously. Feel free to email me a comment at dheisenberg@gmail.com and I will publish it under whatever name you like.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Holiday Spectacular 2018


It’s the 13th  (pretty sure) Holiday Spectacular!!!! As usual, I am just going to start winging it and see what comes out.

Let start with POLITICS!!  NO. No politics. Too poisonous this year. I just can’t. Instead . . .

Tee shirts?
If I had an ounce of entrepreneurial ability I would market uninspirational tee shirts this year. You heard me. U N I N S P I R A T I O N A L.  And I’m calling them - Uninspirational Tee Shirts. Get it? Here is my first batch. Picture these on a tee shirt. 

[Front] F’ inspiration. . . 

[Back] I’m tired.

[Front] I DO ONE THING AT A TIME . . .
[Back] I DO IT WRONG, AND THEN I MOVE ONTO THE NEXT

[Front] THERE’S NO “I” IN TEAM. . .
[Back] BUT THERE ARE TWO IN “I QUIT.” 

[Front] I CAME, I SAW. . .
[Back] GOOD ENOUGH.

[Front] NEVER PUT OFF FOR TOMORROW . . .
[Back] WHAT YOU CAN PUT OFF INDEFINITELY  

[Front] WHOEVER SAID I’M NOT GETTING OLDER, I’M GETTING BETTER . . .
[Back] WAS PROBABLY 22.

[Front] I’M NOT LAZY. . .
[Back] I GENUINELY DON’T WANT TO DO ANYTHING

Sports:

You know what would be a good tourist attraction? A “Mt. Rushmore” for athletes. What four athletes would belong on the American Sports “Mt. Rushmore”? I think they should have to be dead to qualify and obviously be iconic in some way, not just great.  Here’s who I come up with – 

  Muhammad Ali
  Jim Thorpe
  Babe Ruth
  Jesse Owens.

A lot of guys and gals are deserving - Chamberlain, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Jack Dempsey, Knute Rockne, Jackie Robinson, Johnny Unitas, Vince Lombardi, Leo Durocher, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, to name just a few.  I’ve said my choices. Thorpe and Ruth are probably easiest. Thorpe was possibly the greatest all-around athlete in our history and Ruth, still a home run champ. at least emotionally speaking, regardless of what the record book says and perhaps the most iconic athlete of all. Owens, if nothing else, for the ’36 Olympics. Ali may not have been the greatest boxer of all time compared to other boxers in other great eras – it’s debatable, obviously. But arguably, he was still “the greatest,” for numerous reasons, including entertainment value and worldwide appeal. At one point he may have been the most recognizable person on earth.

Try commenting and giving your opinion (though, of course, I’m right). Maybe it will work. If not, so what else is new.

Politics

Okay, maybe just a little politics. Sccccrrrrreeeeeeeeeeech. No politics. But, a little political history to celebrate our crazy year will be okay.

I did read this in a history book and it reminded me so much of present times I copied it down (really dictated it on my phone at a library and then emailed it to my laptop; it is the 21st century) from the The Rise of Andrew Jackson: Myth, Manipulation, and the Making of Modern Politics by David and Jeanne Heidler P. 240. fn. 9.
“Adams supporters could have wish it had been so easy to wrangle 13 states, each with unique electoral and demographic complexities, into a winning coalition. Jackson simply saw the complexities as corruption and believed an administration founded on it would continue its double-dealing unless checked by the forces of virtue. Indeed, opposing such a creation had to proceed from higher motives than disappointment and resentment. Defaming the perpetrators of such fraud was a righteous application, not a scurrilous enterprise. Andrew Jackson, as he himself saw it, had a duty to vilify the Adams presidency out of principle, regardless of its policies, and with complete disregard for its principal figure’s reputation for spotless rectitude. Jackson's mission justified the actions of it is supporters. Kentucky Senator Richard M. Johnson swore that Old Hickory's men would oppose Adams and Clay even ‘if they act as pure as the angels that stand at the right hand of the throne of God.’ Even Thomas Hart Benton, who never believed the corrupt bargain accusation, endorsed obstructionism as justifiable to secure Jackson's victory in 1828.”
Sound familiar? It almost sounds like . . . nope, not going there. Back to Xmas.
Ah, Christmas music:

For a few years, at least, I have been reworking my list of favorite Xmas songs. Every year it is much the same, but a little different.

1. Baby, it's cold outside. Last year this classic by Frank Loesser of Guys and Dolls fame was no. 4, but I’m making it No. 1 just because the idiot patrol that is slowly taking over the country has deemed it a date rape song. For the nth time – he wrote the song for his wife. HIS WIFE, YOU MORONS! They used to sing it at their annual Xmas party. She was furious when he sold it to the movies. “What’s in this drink?” doesn’t mean he drugged her drink, you idiots! Apparently, numerous radio station at where numerous idiots (or, to be fair, moral cowards) work, have stopped playing it. Fight back a little, will you? Take a look at this. It’s from the movie Loesser finally sold his love song to – Neptune’s Daughter.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRGZULIkfwE.
Esther Williams tries to avoid Ricardo Montalban, and sure, Ricardo is a little bit wolfish, but she hardly looks coerced, and one withering look from her gets his hand off her arm (which of them was scared?), and in the counter-couple Red Skelton and Betty Garrett (who, btw, later played Edna on Laverne and Shirley), she’s the wolf and he’s the mouse. Date rape, my ass. Try not to ruin everything. 
Though, for once, it looks like the good guys are winning. I just read that the Dean Martin version (I love Dean, but the Mercer and Whiting version is best, followed by Leon Redbone and Zoey Deschanel (yes, the zany actress) just made the top 10 digital sales chart for the first time. Please be true. Go normal people!
2. Game of Bells. This probably should be the real number one. I love the harmony of this French trio, L.E.J.  It's based on the theme from Game of Thrones (of which I’ve never seen a single second, but I checked the theme), and should be a classic. I’m not hearing it out there though, but once. Magnifique.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtk3kyHlmfo.
3. 
Cool Yule. This was number 6 last year, but it has grown on me. Actually written by the actor, Tonight Show host, song writer, comedian, Steve Allen.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxTSxQcCWLI. The Louis Armstrong hit is still the only one I listen to.
4. Hallelujah. The Leonard Cohen hit that I only heard for the first time recently. He died soon after I discovered it although I'm almost positive there is no direct causation between the two events. I can’t find anything else he did that I like. Who cares? I like this. Is it really a Xmas song? But it is played at Xmas so maybe it is. An acappella group, Pentatonix, also does a good version.   
5. 
All I want for Xmas is youThe Vince Vaughn and the Vandals one hit wonder. Formerly, my number one, and I still love it. No, it’s not the Maria Carey song and it was first.
6. 
Let it SnowI love Dean Martin. Who doesn’t? It bothers me that other artists have made covers of it. Some songs permit no covers. Quoting myself from last year – “The lyrics were written by the immortal Sammy Cahn, who was nominated for 32 major awards (I counted myself - mostly Oscars, and he won a bunch), while he and one of his writing partners, Jule Styne, were in the desert.” 
7. 
Joy to the World. Whitney Houston. A friend who sometimes reads this blog called me the other day just to say he was listening to her on the radio and no one compared to her. I agreed. Not even Mariah can compare.
8.  
Snoopy and the Red Baron byThe Royal Guardsman. Still no. 8. I can’t help feeling good when I hear this song.
9.  As with last year, I call a tie for three Trans-Siberian Orchestra songs -  Christmas Eve, Siberian Sleigh Ride and Carol of the Bells.
10.   Linus and Lucy (from a Charlie Brown Christmas – I think of it as a Christmas song)
11.   Frosty the Snow Man (Jimmy Durante ONLY)
12.   Home for the Holidays (Perry Como, although there are other good versions)
13.   Christmas (Maria Carey). Yep, at this point I like this better than that other song. You know which one.
14.   Put one foot in front of the other (Fred Astaire), from the iconic animated movie.
15.   Ave Maria (Andrea Bocelli). I don't care what other opera singers think. Most people like him better. We hate opera, like him.
16.   It’s the most wonderful time of the year (Andy Williams)
17.   Winter Wonderland (Eurythmics)
18. Santa Claus is Coming to Town. I love the Bruce Springsteen version. 
19. Frosty – Only sung by the immortal Jimmy Durante. All other versions are just a stupid song about a dancing snowball.
20. Christmas time is here – Daniela Andrade. Daniela is hypnotic. A narcotic. I love to take naps to her voice. A sweetheart (although, she could be a psycho and just playing a sweetheart to the camera). Amazing. And I have to admit, that little dog really is frigging cute, just like she says.     
Honorable mentions: I’m a little sick of Mariah’s All I want for Christmas is you. But, it has to at leasst rate an honorable mention. John Lennon’s So this is Christmas is growing on me again. It may be on the list next year. There are, of course, many others. Suggest them in the comments that Google won't let you make.

Politics :  No, no politics. I can’t. I just can’t.
But, we can talk about Russia, just not about . . .  you know.   When I think about Russia, I think about snow (and, of course, onion domes, but ignore that for now), and if I think about snow, I think about Xmas, so we can go there for the Holiday Spectacular.

A true story of Russian Collusion on The Night Before Christmas (Shhhhh!! Don't tell Mueller)
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away a Russian (or Ukrainian, depending on which you prefer) writer by the name of Nikolai Gogol, a disciple of the great Pushkin, and one of their most influential writers, wrote a short story called The Night before Christmas, usually translated in English as Christmas Eve. Though Gogol was famous as a realist, this was a fantasy, involving a very pathetic Satan, a witch, the witch's son, who was the heroic blacksmith Vakula (variously spelled), Vakula's beloved, being the comically spoiled and bitchy beauty, Oksana, Potemkin and Catherine the Great, not mention her shoes. I’ve decided against retelling it, because – well, okay, real fast then: The devil and the witch (Vakula’s mom) are up to mischief, stealing the moon and some stars, and the devil, coming on to the witch-mom back at her house, has to quickly hide in one of Vakula’s coal sacks when her many suitors start showing up at her home. Then, Vakula, stung from being rejected by Oksana (whose father is also hiding in one of the sack), picks up the sacks and goes out with them on his back, carrying all the suitors, including the devil, the mayor, the sexton and Oksana's father among them. Well, since he has vowed to Oksana get her the Czarina’s shoes (for she taunted him that is the only way she would marry him), he needs the devil’s help, and he learns from an old Cossack that the devil is on his back. The devil thinks he has things in hand, but Vakula easily overpowers him (some devil) and forces him to help and off they fly. He collects the shoes, comes back and finds he already has won Oksana's heart with his dedication to her and blah, blah, blah.

That all might not seem so special to you, raised on the much greater A Christmas Carol and The Night Before Christmas (almost certainly written, not by Clement Moore, but by Major Henry Livingston, no matter what almost everyone, including the all-knowing internet says – see one of my very first and favorite posts – “Read this on the Night Before Christmas” – 9/26/06) and, of course, the best movie ever made, the 1947 (and only the 1947) Miracle on 34th Street. But, in 19th century Russia, Gogol was almost as big a deal as Google is here and now (there’s some typical Russian exaggeration in there – but he was a big deal).

What has this to do with collusion, you ask? Nothing. Patience.
The short story had a powerful effect on other artists. In the 1870s, there was a libretto written by one Polonsky based upon the short story floating around unused, as the composer it was prepared for and his patroness, who paid for it, had both untimely croaked. The Russian Musical Society offered a prize for the best opera written based upon the libretto, to be anonymously entered in a contest to be judged by a committee of respected musical jurymen. Among the jury was the composer, Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. He writes in his autobiography, A Musical Life: “The submitted operas were distributed to us for examination at our leisure. Two of them proved to show merit. But when the committee met at the Grand Duke’s place, it was openly said that one of the operas was Tchaikovsky’s. How this became known before the seals of the envelopes had been broken I don’t remember; but the prize was awarded to him unanimously. True, his opera undoubtedly was the best submitted, so that no harm came from the improper management of the competition, but still it was not in lawful order. . . . ”
I found this quite amusing, because when I read what he wrote, having the advantage on R-K of having read Tchaikovsky’s little brother’s biography of his famous sibling, I knew how they knew it was Tchaikovsky's. It was more than just "not in lawful order." Tchaikovsky not only made it obvious, but lest their be any doubt about it, he also told the judges. Tchaikovsky, you see, one of my (perhaps most everyone’s?) favorite composers, was a bit of a nutcase if there ever was one. At first, he didn’t even want to participate for fear of losing. He made sure that anyone he feared had a shot at beating him – Anton Rubinstein, Balakirev or Rimsky-Korsakov (the only one of the three who really would also stand the test of time) wasn’t competing.  Once he knew they would not be, he worked like a demon for three months, a more concentrated effort than ever before, to make certain he had Vakula the Smith completed by the deadline of August 1, 1874. The trouble was, he had the deadline wrong. It wasn’t due until August 1, 1875 – he was a year early. So, he had to sit on his hands for a year, something, with his nerves, he wasn’t very good at. On top of this, despite his growing success, he was feeling a bit of a failure at this particular time due to the lack of success of another opera. This Vakula was his baby. He loved it. I don’t know why – I’ve listened to it and bleh. So, either because he wanted to tip the scales, or, because he was an idiot, he wrote to the directors of the opera house to see if they would put on the opera in advance of the decision, despite it being a secret entry in the contest, and despite the fact that he no right to use the libretto outside of the contest. I’ll let him tell it himself from a letter to one of the opera house directors, naturally, in translation, in which his insecure, self-centered, hurt-puppy little soul leaks out:
“I have learnt to-day that you and the Grand Duke are much displeased at my efforts to get my opera performed independently of the decision of the jury. I very much regret that my strictly private communication to you and Kondratiev should have been brought before the notice of the Grand Duke, who may now think I am unwilling to submit to the terms of the competition. The matter can be very simply explained. I had erroneously supposed that August 1st (13th), 1874, was the last day upon which the compositions could be sent in to the jury, and I hurried over the completion of my work. Only on my return to Moscow did I discover my mistake, and that I must wait more than a year for the decision of the judges. In my impatience to have my work performed (which is far more to me than any money) I inquired, in reply to a letter of Kondratiev’s—whether it might not be possible to get my work brought out independently of the prize competition. I asked him to talk it over with you and give me a reply. Now I see that I have made a stupid mistake, because I have no rights over the libretto of the opera. You need only have told Kondratiev to write and say I was a fool, instead of imputing to me some ulterior motive which I have never had. I beg you to put aside all such suspicions, and to reassure the Grand Duke, who is very much annoyed, so Rubinstein tells me.”
All a mistake, huh? No ulterior motives, huh? Don’t buy it. For one thing, “so Rubinstein tells me?” Rubinstein would either be Anton or Nicholas, who were brothers, leading musicians both very important to Tchaikovsky career. Most likely it was Nicholas, Tchaikovsky's mentor, who was on the jury! So, I guess he would know. And Eduard Napravnik, to whom the above letter was written, was also on the jury. So, mystery solved. But, it gets worse. Tchaikovsky was either an idiot, or unscrupulous. As related by one of the jury, Laroche, though Tchaikovsky's "anonymous" score was copied out in a handwriting unknown to the jury “the motto, which was identical with the writing in the parcel, was in Tchaikovsky’s own hand. “Ars longa vita brevis’ ran the motto, and the characteristic features of the writing were well known to us all, so that from the beginning there was not the least room for doubt that Tchaikovsky was the composer of the score. But even if he had not had the naïveté to write this inscription with his own hand, the style of the work would have proclaimed his authorship. As the Grand Duke remarked laughingly, during the sitting of the jury; ‘Secret de la comédie.’”
So, maybe Rimsky-Korsakov forgot all of the above when he says he doesn’t remember how it was all known. It doesn’t sound likely. Maybe he was just protecting someone he had come to like after a rocky start. R-K’s was a “member” of the “Mighty Handful” aka “The Five” aka “The Invincibles,” a loosely connected group of musicians following Mily Balakirev dedicated to a purely Russian  music (that is, mostly free of French and German influence) and who eschewed formal training, a group with whom Tchaikovsky had a love/hate relationship.* But, in time he came to have a good relationship with some of them and no doubt R-K came closest to Tchaikovsky in technical ability and probably benefitted most from the relationship.
*Fully aware that of the few people who will actually read this, fewer still will give  a goddam, but Russian music in the 19th century is musically and historically intriguing to me, and I plan to write here someday at least a little more about this dynamic group and Tchaikovsky. So, hold on to your babushkas, baby. The Mighty Five are coming and they aren't Marvel Super Heroes.
But, there’s worse. What I love most about his statement in R-K’s biography is that it smacks of an innocence that really wasn’t there. It’s possible that he couldn’t remember how they came to know Tchaikovsky was competing originally, but eventually, it was beyond an open secret. R-K was talking with Tchaikovsky himself about it. Tchaikovsky had written him in September, 1875 a letter which was not a little obsequious – “How small, poor self-satisfied and naïve I feel in comparison with you! I am a mere artisan in composition, but you will be an artist, in the fullest sense of the word. I hope you will not take these remarks as flattery. I am really convinced that with your immense gifts—and the ideal conscientiousness with which you approach your work—you will produce music that must far surpass all which so far has been composed in Russia.” Of course, it was the most cloying bologna. That last bit was pretty much how Tchaikovsky felt about himself on his good days. Yes, he felt that R-K had talent, but also that he had wasted most of his career with the amateurs of the Mighty Handful and had only recently learned the importance of musical technique. To be fair, that was also largely R-K’s assessment too, and though the Five produced some brilliant work, particularly Mussorgsky, Borodin and R-K, there’s some truth to it. Writing about 2 ½ years later to a confidant, Tchaikovsky was more honest – “At present he [R-K] appears to be passing through a crisis, and it is hard to predict how it will end. Either he will turn out a great master, or be lost in contrapuntal intricacies.” But, to return to Tchaikovsky’s letter in 1875 to R-K, he finally came to the point, after his excessive flattery:
“I should very much like to know how the decision upon the merits of the (opera) scores will go. I hope you may be a member of the committee. The fear of being rejected—that is to say, not only losing the prize, but with it all possibility of seeing my Vakoula performed—worries me very much.”
I hope you may be a member? Please. He is flat out asking what’s it going to be? When R-K replied the next month, he wasn’t as duplicitous – “I do not doubt for a moment that your opera will carry off the prize. To my mind, the operas sent in bear witness to a very poor state of things as regards music here. . . . Except your work, I do not consider there is one fit to receive the prize, or to be performed in public.”
No, it wasn’t quite fixed and it Tchaikovsky’s work may have been the only one worth a ruble, but we will never know. There is a reason we contest entries or tests are judged anonymously. The jury may have been dazzled by knowing who he was, and what he was capable of, rather than by the work itself. In my opinion, it’s not so good. And history has passed the same verdict. In fact, as you will see, R-K really didn’t think so either.  
Of course, R-K did turn out a master. Music is subjective. Maybe some prefer him to Tchaikovsky, though I doubt he quite is as popular today as Pyotr Ilyich. But, his Scheherazade and Flight of the Bumblebee are quite often played today and there are many other wonderful (and also ordinary) pieces by him. Unfortunately for 19th century Russian composers, we just don’t like their opera much in modern America – but we love many of their other works. But, for one thing he wanted to write, he had to wait for his friend Tchaikovsky to die. Fortunately for R-K, the great man died prematurely of Cholera. And that led to . . .                                                                                
“The desire seized me to write an opera. With the death of Tchaikovsky, the subject of Christmas Eve, so attractive also to me, had been released, as it were. Despite many of its musical pages, I had always considered Tchaikovsky’s opera weak, and Polonsky’s libretto good for nothing. During Tchaikovsky’s lifetime I should have been unable to take this subject without causing the man himself a heartache. Now I was free in that respect, too, in addition to having always been entitled to it morally.”
So, he did, and added all kinds of mythological elements to the story he thought should go in which, in retrospect, he realized just confused the audience. But, though nothing he wrote for me compares to Tchaikovsky’s best, other than the bumblebee thingee (and let's face it - though considered difficult to play, the long version is less than four minutes long), I do prefer the music in his Christmas Eve to anything in Tchaikovsky’s Vakula. Actually, I really like it. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0vFOax7ZeU).
A much more modern and personal Christmas Tale.
I don't care where it began, Xmas was captured by the North. I can’t imagine living in the South and celebrating it in Florida or sunny California in 70 degree heat. I like it when it snows at Xmas time even if it makes most people I know not so happy.
Anyway, another long time ago during the holiday season, my evalovin’ gf and I took a trip further north, into evergreen, white-capped Vermont. It was long enough ago that there wasn’t (Thank God) gps on her phone for her to torment me with. Like most trips of a few hundred, or even a few thousand miles, it is really just a few roads, and you can figure it out, as we have many times (although, if I so much have to think or stop for even three seconds, or god-forbid make one wrong turn after 100 right ones, she tells everyone I was lost – you have no idea my travails).
We passed through Massachusetts on our way and I decided to stop for coffee. When we are leaving she sweetly asked, “Can I drive?” A voice told me, It’s a trap. She is trying to trick you. Of course she was. You see, she is a very angry driver. The kind who curses (not just me while I’m driving, but...) every other person on the road with a ferocity usually reserved for times of war or when your computer freezes just before you save an hour’s worth of work.
“You can drive,” I say, “if you promise!!! (I emphasized this word, as if it was going to make a difference) not to fight with any drivers. “Okay,” she says just as sweetly, “I promise.” Thirty seconds later I am yelling at her – “Jeeesus Christ, you didn’t even make it out of the parking lot!!!” She can’t help it. She hates other drivers with the white-hot heat of the molten goop at the core of the sun.
We arrived at our inn, a bnb, in a sleepy Vermont town, which I tried to explain to my goddess, had no nightlife. You are here to relax, walk around, go visit local towns during the days, browse in stores, have dinner, sit by the fire at the inn and go to bed. Get up for breakfast . . . .
And we did. It was really nice. The inn was quite old. It was situated next to a cemetery, which might creep some people out.  But I found it beautiful and fun to walk through in the snow. One afternoon we took a long walk through it and continued down the road. A big black furry dog approached us – a lab. He was very friendly and wanted to walk with us. Later our hostess explained to us his story. He belonged to a neighbor, but had free rein to come and go as he pleased, and was pretty much the mayor of the neighborhood. He just liked to walk with people, occasionally fetch a stick or be petted. He also liked to roll in the abundant snow, which was quite entertaining and picturesque. I don't think I've seen other dogs do that. We were sorry to see him go when we approached the house, but I guess he had other things to do.
As we approached the Inn, we noticed a sign at the edge of the parking lot. It said “Circa 1800.” My beloved, who I sometimes refer to in these hallowed pages as the New Ms. Malaprop asked innocently, “So, I guess the Circa family used to own this?” “Yes,” I answered, “and there were exactly 1800 of them.” This is probably why we work. I often need her help to use a computer and on most domestic issues, and she's not real big on history or the English language.
Our hostess was one of a pair of twins, the other who also lived in the area. This was the old family home and she was slowly renovating it. She was also slowly inventorying the library, which I found fascinating and would have volunteered to help with. Actually, I think I may have. I think I also had the feeling that I could have done it in a long weekend, but she seemed to feel it was a year long job. 

We went out to dinner on Saturday night. A little pub. It was there that the Christmas miracle happened, there that she passed off to me the little homily that changed my life - 

                              "Jesus was born. He lived and he died. And when he was re-erected, he said that he  
                              would protect us – in times of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.”

And the veil fell from my eyes and I could see the light. Clint Eastwood was Jesus and he had a gun. That's the kind of stuff even Gogol couldn't make up.

Happy Holidays.


About Me

My photo
I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .