Monday, December 31, 2007

Political update for December, 2008

Political Update for December, 2007

Iowa


Has anything happened since I last blogged on this? A little bit. Huckabee has made big strides in Iowa, a state with a population equal to about 1% of the country’s, but for flukish reasons, is given a supersized amount of attention in the presidential race.

I don’t mind Iowa’s caucus (what degree do you need to understand the difference between caucus and primary?) being first in the country. But with less than 3 million people in the entire state (less than the cities of L.A. and N.Y. and only a little bigger than its neighboring city, Chicago), the media way over covers it.

Iowa’s status as first caucus in the nation goes, of course, back to the beginning of the nation’s history. NOT! That’s the silly thing. Iowa’s unique position has existed only since 1972. That’s it. Only something like 125,000 Iowans participated last time.

Despite the media’s intense focus (and consequently, the candidates focus), it’s difficult to say that winning Iowa has a significant impact on a nomination. Of the nine Democratic races since 1972, eight have been opposed, that is, had more than one candidate (it was only Clinton in ’96). Of those eight, the winner of Iowa has been the Democratic nominee only four, i.e., half of the time. That’s not too impressive.

Of the eight Republican caucuses, five have been unopposed and out of those Iowa was right on the nominee three times, or just a little more than half the time.

So, between the two parties, Iowa’s record isn’t too impressive. I guess it means something, but certainly not that much. Losing there didn’t stop a lot of successful nominees and some candidates even skip it or don’t bother to campaign hard there. Both Giuliani, the national front runner, and McCain are not really making much of an effort in Iowa this time around. New Hampshire, home of the first primary has a little better record in its selections since 1952, when it began directly nominating candidates.

Still, no matter what I think, the candidates know they have to work Iowa, if for no other reason, because the media will give them time for doing so. But it hardly seems right to give it such coverage.

The first . . . .

If . . . .

Hillary wins -- she will be the first woman president.
Barak wins -- the first black, the first mixed race, and the first one with a non-Eurpean name
Richardson wins -- the first Hispanic.
McCain wins . . . the third prisoner of war (George Washington was the first in the . . French-Indian War; Andrew Jackson was second).
Giuliani wins -- the first Italian, and the second Catholic (Kennedy). He would also be the first mayor who had not later had a higher office.
Huckabee wins -- the first minister and the second Arkansas governor.
Thompson wins -- the tallest president ever; three inches taller than Lincoln.
Kucinich wins -- the shortest president ever. Just kidding. He’s five seven. Madison was five five. Kucinic just looks incredibly short next to his trophy wife. But he would be the first mayor since 1924.
Romney wins -- the first Mormon and the first born in Michigan.
Edwards wins -- the first one to get only one electoral vote in a previous election (which he got from a “faithless” elector in 2004; Aaron Burr almost pulled it off in 1800 in a different electoral system).
Dodd wins -- the second in a row born in Connecticut (which wouldn’t be as strange as him winning it in the first place – why is he running again?).
Biden wins -- the first born in Delaware and, like Giuliani, the first Catholic.

How bad do you need to lose?

Question. Chris Dodd polled just 11 % in his home state in his very best month, and only 5% last month. In Duncan Hunter’s best month he polled 3.5 % in his home state and only 3% this month. In Biden’s home state, he actually pulled off 19% in October, but that’s less than half of what Hillary polled there. Ron Paul polled only 5% last month in his home state, Texas. Need I go on Mr. Kucinich and Alan Keyes. I want to say it one more time – their home states.

Why are these guys bothering? Perhaps name recognition for the next time around. Good luck guys. Get off the stage, whisper that you are available for the vp slot and let the debates mean at least a little more.

Predictions

While acknowledging that I was too early for it to mean much, I made my predictions last year. Let’s see how I’m doing (you can check out my December 13, 2006 post for the full article).

For the Republican nomination I picked John McCain, who I rated THE BEST CHANCE TO WIN THE REPUBLICAN NOMINATION DESPITE GIULIANI'S GENERAL POPULARITY and I’ve stuck with my pick despite the fact that he has been trounced handily in most polls. However, it shouldn’t escape notice that in the match up polls, he has a better chance of beating Hillary than the poll leader, Giuliani, or anyone else. If Republicans want to have the next president, and not just vote for their personal favorites, they will pay attention to that (probably won’t).

I rated Giuliani THE BEST CHANCE OUT OF ANY REPUBLICAN EXCEPT MCCAIN and Romney a DON’T RULE HIM OUT. Huckabee I actually gave a long shot too if McCain and Giuliani self destructed (with a little self praise, that was well before he was doing so well in Iowa).

There is no telling who will be picked as a VP candidate this early, but I suggested that Huckabee, who has surged to the lead in Iowa, and, Duncan Hunter both have the conservative credentials to make a good choice. I also suggested that Michael Steele of Maryland (who lost a senate race last time) would be an excellent choice. We won’t know this until the convention.

Among the Democrats I picked Hillary and gave Obama the best chance to beat her. I didn’t believe anyone else had a real chance, but thought Bill Richardson might get the nod as VP.

So what do the candidates have to do to make me look even a little prophetic. Well, frankly, if Hillary wins, it won’t be that impressive as she has a wide lead throughout the country’s polls despite an effort by right wing media to suggest she is spiraling down. But a McCain win would be out of the blue right now. He is not going to do well in Iowa. But if he surprises in New Hampshire he has an excellent shot. Even a second place finish there will give him some momentum. I can’t brag about my VP selections really, unless Michael Steele is picked, as the rest of my suggestions (Huckabee, Hunter and Richardson) have been widely promoted as possibilities.

February 5th is the real date. 20 states, including New York and California have their primaries. We don’t know yet how this will play out and I can’t say I have a strong feeling one way or the other. We might have one or more candidates selected at the beginning of the election year. But it is also possible we will see one or more convention fights too. Frankly, I hope so. I have predicted that Edwards will drop out after the 2/5 super-primary, and I stick with that as well. I expect the Republican field will also greatly thin out, if not after New Hampshire.

To vote or not too vote – that is the question

Leaving aside predictions, I wonder if I will vote for president at all. It is not a stretch to imagine Giuliani or Romney against Clinton or Obama. That would leave me with little desire to go to the polls.

Is it wrong not to vote? No, not really; not when our two party system gives us a system where the candidates are so beholden to their base and the campaign funding they desperately need. I am still smarting over my last two votes, the first in which I reluctantly chose Gore and the second in which I reluctantly chose Bush over Kerry. No matter what I did, there was no good ending. It was lose-lose. Do we really need to do that?

What would keep me from voting for a Republican (other than McCain, who has already disappointed me somewhat)? The thought that they will have an opportunity to swing the Supreme Court bench even further right and that they will keep us stuck in Iraq to the last dollar of our treasury. What would keep me from voting for a Democrat? The thought that they will willy nilly remove our troops from Iraq without thought to the safety of our troops and the Iraqi population and that they will together with the Democratic congress embark on a socialistic and possibly financially ruinous program.

Like I said – there are no good choices.

End Notes

Has anyone else noticed that Michelle Obama is the best speaker on the stump today including all of the presidential candidates? If not for the fact that she is praising her own husband, she makes you want to vote for him. I heard her speak to a group in Iowa, and she held my attention for roughly a half hour. I can’t think of one candidate who can do the same. Unfortunately, I heard her husband speak last week, and do not want to vote for him, although I have even heard conservatives say they like him (but maybe because they think they can beat them). I also heard Bill Clinton speak and there are few better than him. She was.

Ron Paul has to be the most popular candidate ever who can’t get near 10%. Every call in show I listen to has callers who are going to, or, wish they could vote for him. It will not matter, but he might surprise everyone in Iowa with his strong finish. Still, without a strong organization, which he has little interest in, he cannot win.

What is the attraction? Many of those who like him do not know the degree to which he takes his strict construction approach to the constitution. It is his purity, sincerity and genuine humbleness that makes him so attractive.

Has anyone solved the mystery of how Alan Keyes got into the last Republican debate? I am betting he doesn’t get on the stage again. I know he’s a true believer, but there is a deep end out there somewhere waiting for him to fall in.

One legal note. I was troubled by a recent court of appeals case which held it okay for the government to do unscheduled complete searches of the homes of welfare recipients. While it is not unusual for courts to give greater leeway to administrative searches (e.g., a fire marshall seeking to find the cause of a fire can at least do any unimpeded first search) but this is ridiculous. Once they can use receipt of entitlements to justify going through your underwear draw, they are a step away from using your driver's license to go through your car.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Did you know II

Feel like a vacation from blogging until the New Year, but, I had so much fun with the original Do You Know -- that this one pretty much wrote itself.

So, did you know --

That the voice of the pet Raven on the Munsters was none other than cartoon voice master, Mel Blanc?

That Herman’s boss was, seen only in two episodes, was played by John Carradine?

That the Lily and Herman were the second couple on television ever to share a bed, and you never heard of the first (some comedy from the ‘40s – I forget)?

That Pat Priest was not the original Marilyn, but only started in the 14th episode. I must have seen, but cannot recall, the original “unattractive” Munster (played by Beverley Owen)?

That the Munsters lasted only two years? Hard to believe. So many great Munster memories. For some reason, my favorite Munster moment is when Herman goes to the marriage counselor, who takes one look at him and says something like "My god, man, why didn't you defend yourself?"

That in the pilot for the Munsters, Yvonne Decarlo’s (Lily’s) character was named Phoebe Munster, not Lily? Yvonne’s real name was Margaret Yvonne Middleton, De Carlo being her mom’s maiden name. It is frequently reported that she was named “the most beautiful girl in the world” in the ‘40s, but apparently, this was just the opinion of a producer who was signing her up. She was beautiful though. She actually names over 20 lovers in her autobiography, including Howard Hughes and a number of actors (e.g., Burt Lancaster, Robert Stack, etc.).

That Lily's tv competition, Morticia Addams, played by another beauty, Carolyn Jones, was nominated for an Oscar in 1958 for her supporting role in The Bachelor Party? Her tv husband, John Astin, took a shot at playing Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings, but couldn't make the cut. However, in 1968 he was nominated for an Oscar too for a short subject he produced and directed called Prelude. What are the odds that someone reading this blog would have seen it? John's adopted son, Sean (Patty Duke's biological son), of course, played Sam in The Lord of the Rings, and in my mind, may have been the best actor in that whole wonderful ten plus hour movie.

That unlike Yvonne De Carlo, another great beauty, Grace Kelly, did not kiss and tell? Unfortunately for her, her friends and biographers did after she died. She apparently went "through" (wink, wink) almost all her leading men, including Bing Crosby and Gary Cooper plus the Shah of Iran, Oleg Cassini, Hal Holden, not to mention, while she was married (according to a new biographer) Frank Sinatra and I think one of her own bridesmaids (whoa!). I have to admit, I wish this information was available for all movie stars on some website. Let’s face it, if this wasn’t what we really wanted to know, all those gossip mags wouldn’t be doing so well.

That like so many others, Bert Gervis, Jr. also took his mother’s maiden name for the screen and became Burt Ward a/k/a Robin, Batman’s sidekick? A child prodigy, he was a professional skater in his parents’ ice show at age 2, a high school chess champion, speed reader and athlete before he donned the tights. He grew to hate Adam West on the set of Batman the way many of the Star Trek ensemble grew to hate William Shatner. His frank biography (just read it) is loaded with great stories, like the time he trapped Adam West stark naked in a hotel hallway. Burt appeared at Harvard for a speech with the very valuable Robin costume from the show. One student stood up and, Riddler like, asked, “When is a costume not a costume? When it’s stolen”. Poof, they stole his costume, valued at a half mill. The students were only enjoying themselves and returned it. The reputed ringleader was then editor of the Harvard Lampoon, Conan O’Brien. My apocryphal story radar is up on this last one.

Speaking of Batman, that Madge Blake aka Aunt Harriet, was also offered the role of Aunt Bee on The Andy Griffith Show, but turned it down because of her contract with Leave it to Beaver at the time? She recommended her friend, Frances Bavier, who got the job. They are the same person in my untrained eyes.

That the Skipper, the professor and Mary Ann all had full names on the Gilligan’s Island – Skipper Jonas Grumby, Professor Roy Hinkley, Jr., and Mary Ann Summers. By the way, the answer to Mary Ann or Ginger? has always been Mary Ann for me. According to all reports, including the Professor (Russell Johnson)'s fun autobiography, Tina Louise was most difficult to work with.

That Chief Roaring Chicken from F-Troop, Edward Everett Horton, was also the narrator for Fractured Fairy Tales, a short segment on the Bullwinkle Show (you must remember these)? Deep voiced actor William Conrad, aka Matt Dillon (the original), Cannon, Nero Wolfe and the Fat Man (as in Jake and . . .), was the narrator for the main part of the show.

That Ray Walston (Uncle Martin in My Favorite Martian) later appeared on co-star, Bill Bixby’s show, The Hulk, in an episode entitled My Favorite Magician.

That Oscar winning actor, Ben Kingsley had his first role in the sixties on a BBC show called Orlando, where he sometimes played one of a group of teens who helped out the hero, who was sort of an early British version of MacGuyver? Maybe we never heard of it, but Orlando, and his amphicar (part car, part boat) was a big hit in the land of Shakespeare.

Speaking of Britain, that Hugh Laurie, the star of House, actually has a very thick British accent, and his raspy American accent is just great acting? He was born in Oxford, England, and educated at Cambridge where he was a rowing champ (his father was an Olympic gold medalist in the sport). I first noticed him playing a lowly henchman in the live action version of 101 Dalmatians and liked him enough to remember his name when I saw it on the cover of a book, The Gun Seller, which I bought. It’s a funny and fairly original book which I’ve given to a few people as presents. Try it. I think its coming out as a movie soon, too.

That Burt Reynolds turned down the lead roles in Terms of Endearment (pretty dumb), Die Hard (you idiot!) and Hans Solo (why haven’t you killed yourself)?

That Sally Struthers was the voice of Pebbles on the Flinstones’ shows in the 70s?

That Miyoshi Umeki was already a famous singer in Japan (where, ironically, she was known as Nancy), an Oscar winner for best supporting actress in 1957 (Sayanara) and a Tony nominee in 1958 (Flower Drum Song) before playing the wise and humble Mrs. Livingston on The Courtship of Eddie’s Father? Strangely, after the show ended in 1972 she never acted again before dying this past summer at age 78. Wonder why.

That Rock Hudson and Jim Nabors were not really married (nor even had a marriage ceremony)? It was just a joke by some legendary party throwers on an invitation that went awry. It destroyed their friendship, as they could no longer be seen together. Hudson’s sexual preference was still a secret at the time. Nabors has denied being gay in the past, but has remained silent in recent years about it (for god sakes, he’s in 70s; leave him alone).

That Will Ferrell became the highest paid Saturday Night Live member ever in 2001, the year before he left for the movie world? Before he became a film star in his own right, he had an almost overlooked turn in the Austin Powers movies as Mustafa, a luckless henchman who seems to die remarkably slowly (“I’m alive, only very badly burned” and has to tell the truth if asked a question 3 times). Sounds dumb, but he was hysterical.

That Robert Deniro was not a fledgling actor in Godfather II (1974), however much it boosted his career? Among a few other not-so-forgettable movies before that he played one of Ma Barker’s (Shelley Winters’) sons in Bloody Mama (1970) and a thug in 1973’s Mean Streets. I actually saw both of these when I was a kid and thought they were pretty good, although back then, he was just another actor to me.

Bloody Mama is not to be confused with Big Bad Mama (1974), starring a reasonably young Angie Dickinson (topless, woo hoo) and William Shatner. For some reason I link these two movies in my mind (maybe the word “Mama” in the title?)

To the contrary, that DeNiro’s competition for greatest actor of his generation, Al Pacino, was pretty much invented by the Godfather (I), as he was only in a few nothing productions before that? Within a decade though, he had starred in Serpico, Godfather II, Dog Day Afternoon, And Justice for All, and Author, Author, cementing his legend. My personal favorite, though, was his role as Big Boy, in Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy.

Proving that our civilization is at an end, DeNiro and Pacino are in negotiations to make the 1995 movie, Heat, in which they co-starred, into a video game. A video game! Oh, come on, guys. How much for your dignity?

That Val Kilmer, the third star of Heat, had a signature move in his early movies where he moves a coin or similar object over the back of his knuckles, including in Tombstone, where he played Dr. Holiday with such perfection, they should go back and give him a special Oscar for it?

Tombstone is a wonderful picture, worshipped by a country full of middle aged men. It probably deserves its own post. It was the vision of the original director/writer, Kevin Jarre. There is some interesting Did You Know stuff in it. Jarre, who wrote a very long epic screenplay, reasonably close to the historical record of the gunfight at the OK Corrall, was soon fired and Kurt Russell (who played Wyatt Earp) ended up being the de facto but unnamed director, even after an official new director was brought on lot. Jarre may have been a little nuts, as he made them all wear wool suits in the insane Arizona heat.

Robert Mitchum, was supposed to play the old man Clanton but hurt himself falling off a horse. So, they cut out his role and gave him the narration instead. Believe it or not (especially if you’ve seen this film) Richard Gere was originally slated to play Wyatt Earp and William Dafoe, Doc Holiday. No offense, guys, but no, no, no. Former western star Henry Ford was supposed to have a role, but had to back out too. But, two old timers hung in there. Harry Carey, Jr., who started his career in the 1940s, played the sheriff gunned down by Curley Bill, and Charlton Heston, who played rancher, Henry Hooker. The role of young, sensitive Billy Claiborne was played by an actual distant relative of Earp, who otherwise had almost no acting career. His real name – Wyatt Earp. He actually did a very good job in a small, but interesting part. You get the feeling there was more to his character’s story which was cut from Jarre’s much longer version. Just a guess.

A movie named Tombstone is a great place to end any blog.

Next week, back with some predictions for the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. Like most of the candidates for the nominations, I intend to go down in flames.

Monday, December 17, 2007

2007 Christmas Spectacular

It’s time for my second annual Christmas Spectacular.

Unfortunately, I note that as I start this post, I have no ideas for it other than to write something -- so I’m going to have to wing it. Looking at last year’s categories for reference, they included best holiday movies, best holiday books, best holiday images, best holiday songs and best deisenberg.blogspot.com posts for 2006.

So, thinking quickly, I’ve come up with a few new categories, including, my new favorite -- best comments on deisenberg.blogspot.com.

Best deisenberg.blogspot.com’s best posts of the year (it so embarrassing to have to give myself awards, but let’s face it, no one is giving this blog a Pulitzer):

10. The Great Paavo Nurmi (4/11/07)
9. The new and improved Miss Malaprop (4/26/07)
8. The Amazing Richard Burton (but not the one you are thinking of)(3/15/07)
7. Leo Szilard: Father of the Bomb (1/9/07)
6. How the Left Blew the Partial Birth Abortion Case (4/19/07)
5. The Nazi Invasion of Long Island (1/24/07)
4. The Manhattan Project for Education (10/15/07)
3. Will the real Tom Bombadil please stand up (7/17/07)
2. Would you have Father Abraham for your Father (5/22/07)
1. Toughness Personified: George Chuvalo (9/10/07)

Best personal annual holiday experiences (usually, anyway):

5. Egg nog.
4. All those lit up houses (actually, this year was awful around here).
3. Annual viewings of my favorite Xmas movie, Miracle on 34th Street. I tear up three times. First,when Kris speaks to the little Dutch orphan; second, when Doris writes on the bottom of Susan’s letter to Kris “I believe in you too”; and, third, when Fred and Doris see Kris’ cane in the house. Doesn’t matter how often I’ve seen it. If you don’t know what I’m talking about watch the damn movie, but, for the millionth time,ONLY the 1947 version.
2. Annual visit to Rockefeller Centre.
1. Christmas dinner.

Best comments on deisenberg.blogspot.com (don’t blame me for their spelling errors – I make enough of my own):

5. “I feel pretty was from West Side Story, not My Fair Lady.” (by Don – 3/7/07). Well, got me there, but I try not to think about my mistakes. It’s a blog. I just fix them.

4. “Oh lord, would you guys get a life. Who cares? Stick to the important topics in life: good cigars, professional wrestling, American history, natural science, sports, cars, and broads. Abortion rights!?! Please. As George Carlin famously said, “ever notice that the woman the pro-life rallies are too ugly to f—k.” (by Bear – 4/19/07) Perhaps I should add Bear’s home address.

3. Tie:

(a) “You have earned a seat in the conservative wing of the Republican party, old boy. Congratulations. You are almost a fascist. Surprised you are not a bigger fan of McCain and Giuliani, as you certainly support the heart of their political views.” (by Bear -- July 4, 2007)

(b) “Hey, What is this Soviet history. Libby NEVER was accused of, or did reveal anything about Plame. Richard Armitage did. Nor is it wrong to mention that which is known generally in the public domain (that someone drving into Langley everyday works for the CIA. Which he also did not do. This was a witch hunt in which a supposed crime was invented after the prosecutor knew that the crime which he was commissioned to investigate never took place.” (by Don -- 7/2/07).

2. “You are too liberal you pinko commie. John Paul Stevens [&] Ruth Bader Ginsburg” (also by, I have on good authority, the marauding Montanan, Don 11/5/07)

1. Tie:
(a) “De rigeur? Did he say “De Rigeur”? He did. He did say “De rigeur”! Well, a fine de rigeur to you as well. Hello, have a nice de rigeur. And a nice de rigeur right back atcha’. Snnnnxxxxkxxxx, ZZZzzzzzzz, Snxxxx, ZZZzzzzzz.”(Bear 11/05/07) Actually, Bear, we both spelled it wrong. I got to fix mine. Nyah, nyah.

(b) “re. lazy kids. Look whos talking person who has time to write child abuse articles. . . lil Max (p.s. u no who i am). like the grammar, blame the schools.” This 10/15/07 comment was apparently written by an insane maniac who goes by the name of “lil max” [excuse me while I lock my door].

Folks, we need some new comments. These guys are just brutal.

Best movies of the year:

5. Dan in Real Life
4. American Gangster
3. Grindhouse
2. Knocked Up
1. No Country for Old Men

Biggest movie disappointments:

3. Spider-Man III
2. Pirates of the Caribbean III
1. Everything else with III on the end.

Movie I’m happiest I didn’t see:

Evan Almighty

Movie I wish I saw:

3:10 to Yuma

New series I’m glad I watch on tv:

The Office (it’s new to me).

TV shows I’m glad I don’t have time too watch:

Virtually everything else.

Best Books of 2007:

2. Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson. This is not Bryson’s best book. I think Mother Tongue (also his first) was. But he is always fun and the pages fly. This one is a short but interesting synopsis of the one and only Shakespeare (despite what anyone tells you). Although, there are longer and more detailed biographies, he manages to summarize everything in perfect proportion to my interests.

1. The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy – 1943-1944 by Rick Atkinson. This is much better than his also excellent An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa (2003). He figured out what worked best in the first volume and went with it.

Prediction for second worst anticipated feeling for 2008:

Finding out who won the two major party nominations.

Prediction for worst anticipated feeling for 2008:

You guessed it. Finding out who actually won the presidential election.

Most ridiculous holiday news story:

Santa's in training in Australia were asked not to say "ho, ho, ho" because it might offend women and frighten children. Frankly, if women in Australia are actually so dumb that they can't tell the difference between being called a "ho" and Santa laughing "ho, ho, ho," I'm going there now. It might be my only hope.

New Years resolution:

To do a beter job profreeding this bolg.

Happy Holidays, folks.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Sing, Sing, Sing

A few years ago I attended a high school musical performance my daughter was in which included the Jazz hit “Sing, Sing, Sing.” I looked at the pamphlet they handed out and gritted my teeth. It was attributed to the great swing clarinetist, Benny Goodman. I like Goodman, but -- come on.

I was disappointed and had a difficult time concentrating on the concert. My neighbors did not seem to recognize the offense. I had discovered Sing, Sing, Sing as a kid on my father's jazz album, long before I learned its real composer just happened to be my all time favorite musician. S, S, S isn’t just any jazz piece. If you have not heard it, it is (here’s where I display my comprehensive lack of knowledge about music) a festival of rhythm and brass unlike anything else ever played, and not just in my evahumble opinion, as you will see. It's like (here's where I display my comprehensive lack of poetic ability) that perfect summer day when even the air smells good and you feel exhilarated.

But it wasn’t written by Benny Goodman, dammit -- no matter how often you see it attributed to him.

S, S, S is not only one of the greatest jazz songs ever written (in my and others subjective opinions -- the greatest), but oddly, I actually - just like in the climatic courtroom scene in Miracle on 34th Street - have some strange legal authority to support this position? No less a court than the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals (usually deemed the second or third most important court in the country) opined in a 1999 copyright infringement case like so:

“At the heart of the litigation before us on this appeal is a jazz tune popularized by the well-known swing clarinetist Benny Goodman. The song entitled "Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)" is one of the most recognizable from the height of the swing era in the 1930s. A 1999 poll of National Public Radio listeners named it one of the 100 most important musical works of the 20th century. . . For those familiar with the Benny Goodman version of it with its upbeat syncopation and counterpoint, "Sing, Sing, Sing" is as distinctive and recognizable as the opening four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony are to a classical music lover. . . . This song, a Louis Prima composition, was popularized by Benny Goodman and turned out to be one of his most famous and enduring. See Ross Firestone, Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life and Times of Benny Goodman 161 (1993). A recording of it was hailed as one of the best known records of the big band era. . . . EMI has earned over $4.7 million mostly from films and commercials during the 63 years it has licensed those rights.”

Of course, you will note the repeated use of Benny Goodman’s name and the one measly mention of Prima’s. But, the association of Louis Prima’s song with Benny Goodman is understandable. Prima wrote it in 1936. Goodman started playing it right away, possibly hearing it at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles. Although written reports sometimes give the impression that it was a one time sensation in a 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, that isn’t true. By then the song had been in four movies. Two years – FOUR movies! That’s insane. In 1937 Goodman had already made a popular recording of it, unusual for its great length -- almost three times the usual tune, and combining with it another piece known as Christopher Columbus (by Leon “Chu” Berry, a saxophonist who usually played with Cab Calloway and Fletcher Henderson’s bands). Nor was it arranged by Goodman, although he almost always get credit. That was the work of Jimmy Mundy, an arranger (originally Earl Hines’ saxophonist) who also worked for Count Basie, Harry James, Dizzy Gillespie, among others. Mundy was Black and Goodman was the Beatles of his time for young white audiences. Such is life. However, for some reason Prima almost always gets ignored or plays second fiddle.

The studio recording set the table for the ‘38 Carnegie Hall performance with much of the same all star band, including drumming sensation Gene Krupa, Harry James and Ziggy Elman on trumpet and Red Ballard on trombone, among a lot of other then jazz stars whose names are less familiar today. It may be the most famous single performance of a piece in musical history, and you have to give a large part of the credit to the music itself. From then on, it was as if it was Goodman’s song. Even the NPR top 100 list that the court of appeals referred to mentions that the song as written by Prima but performed by Goodman.

Prima, of course, made his own recording and played it at his own concerts. In fact, his own version sounds pretty much like Goodman’s greatest performance. I would bet most people wouldn’t know one from the other, although they are not by any means identical. Prima also has an outstanding version with lyrics, done in his own inimitable style , which you can find on his incredible Capitol Records collection.

But as one court opinion and a subjective top 100 list isn’t enough to appreciate just how special S, S, S is, consider this:

Aside from Goodman and Prima, the great composition has been covered by a multitude of musical artists, including, The Andrew Sisters, Anita O’Day, The Boston Pops, Buddy Rich & Max Roach, Chicago and the Gipsy Kings, Clark Terry, Gene Krupa (his own band) and Henry Mancini, just to name the ones with which I’m familiar. The actual list is a much longer. EMI list 80 versions for it. Although that's a lot, it's not even close to the record, but it is pretty amazing for a piece which many (most?) people have heard, but wouldn't necessarily recognize by its title.

Ironically, although celebrated by musicians and music lovers, it is in the visual media where it has had its greatest success. Sing, Sing, Sing has been featured in four, count ‘em, four Broadway hits: 1978’s Dancin’, 1999’s Fosse and also Swing, and 2000’s Contact. I am not sure how impressive that seems to you, so I will ask anyone who actually knows anything about Broadway to tell me if any other 20th or 21st century songs or instrumentals have been featured in that many shows? I don’t know any, but if so, it has to be a rarity.

But Broadway is just the entree. S, S, S’s frequent usage on television may also be unique. Even a long running Russian game show, which is actually played all over the world wherever there are Russians (“Что? Где? Когда,” if you want to check it out) has been playing it since the 1970s. It’s also the theme song for a Peruvian show, Cinescape, and also played on a Swedish tv show, Livshunger.

That’s just Europe. In America, its repeated use up to date, over 70 years after it was written and made famous, is probably unparalleled. Just in recent years it has been played on Everybody Loves Raymond, The Simpsons, The Sopranos, The Gilmore Girls, Malcolm in the Middle, Doctors (2007), Baseball (the Ken Burns documentary), 3rd Rock from the Sun and Carnivale. It was also used in a Chips Ahoy commercial and a tv movie, Tower of Terror. Again, maybe there are other pieces that have made it onto the small screen this often, but I don’t know what they are. Feel free to chip in.

But it is film makers that have really exploited S, S, S. This should blow your mind. If it doesn’t convince you of the imposing staying power of Prima’s greatest work, perhaps nothing will. It has been featured in the following movies:

Sing Banditry (as a violin piece) (’36)
After the Thin Man (’36)
Torture Money (’37)
Hollywood Hotel (’37)
The Benny Goodman Story (of course) (’55)
Jovenes y rebeldes (Mexican and under the name Canta, Canta, Canta - ‘61)
All that Jazz (‘79)
American Pop (‘81)
Star 80 (‘83)
Power (’86)
Big Business (’88)
New York Stories (’89)
Awakenings (’90)
The Butcher’s Wife (’91)
Swing Kids (’93)
Manhattan Murder Mystery (’93)
Casino (’95)
Deconstructing Harry (’97)
Dance With Me (’98)
The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (’98)
Fille sur la pont, la (’99)
Pollock (’00)
The Majestic (’01)
Hyper (’02)
Below (’02)
Gangs of New York (’02)
Bright Young Things (’03)
Swing Girls (Japanese – ’03)
and even a 2003 documentary, Hollywood’s Magical Island: Catalina. Since its birth, the only decade in which Hollywood ignored it was the forties. Then, again, after four movies in the thirties, how soon could it be used again?

Astonishing? Absolutely. Let’s take what I would say is S, S, S’s top competitor for the greatest instrumental piece of the last century – In the Mood, a piece that has been played at a zillion catered affairs, and which really gets people on the floor. So as not to be inconsistent – it was written by Joe Garland, not Glenn Miller, as many think. Despite its immense popularity, I could find only four movies and ten television shows which featured it. That’s outstanding, but it doesn’t compare to S, S, S. How about a more modern song like Rock Around the Clock? That’s a song that really sets the mood for the fifties and you’d think would be in many movies. It is - seven films that I could find. No comparison.

Let’s get out of the century and country and compare it with the opening strains of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, to which the court of appeals compared it - possibly the most recognizable music ever written. That actually is used in a lot of movies, almost as many as S, S, S, but half of them were in the 1930s and 1940s (lots of WWII flicks), and not at all between few 1946 and 1991, a huge gap. There may be other classical works, mostly by Beethoven, in that league. Even if there is (using the term “classical” loosely) and I don’t know that to be true, S, S, S seems to be the most frequently piece of the last century in film. I can’t check every song (actually the above is the extent of my checking) but I double dog dare you to find another 20th or 21st century song or instrumental that has been used more often by film or television. If there is, I’d like to know. Prima deserves a special Oscar.

I’ve tried here to explain the merit of a work of music to you, and, of course, this can’t be complete without you hearing it yourself. Unless you just hate any swing music (there’s always somebody), but don’t know this quintessential swing piece, go to itunes or wherever you get your music and download it. If you can’t be bothered, then just check out http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8729749476567875092 and you can listen to Prima's version with lyrics. Or to watch a part of Goodman's Carnegie Hall Performance you can go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9J5Zt2Obko.

Stay tuned, hep cats. More on the incomparable and under appreciated Louis Prima coming in the future.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Online Diary - The Home Sale, Part IV

So, it looks like my house is going into contract (but remember, this is me, so anything could go wrong). But that's not the funny part.

The buyers had an inspector come today to check out the house. It is a little disconcerting to see someone walking around your house taking notes when you can't figure out what he is even looking at.

I knew he would want to check out the downstairs bathroom, so I turned the water back on in there. We haven't used it in maybe a few years.

So, he flushes the toilet and . . . . . . . . . . . boom! It pretty much explodes sewage all over the bathroom. And, of course, when that happened, it caused a flood in the basement. Not too pretty and still cleaning.

This is analgous to running a red light on your road test, or, on a first date --forgetting where you parked your car or your date's name, or to bring money, or to wear two shoes that are actually the same color, or absent mindedly telling your date that you hate the color purple when everything she is wearing is purple (yes, this genius has actually done all of those, and I could go on).

The timing was, for me, nothing new, if fact, the story of my life. You can't make this stuff up.

Fortunately, to my shock, there was nothing else wrong with the house, so . . . stay tuned.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The real or imagined messiah

Well, it’s almost Christmas, so let me say, Jesus Christ!

Efforts to “find” a historical Jesus began to interest me about 15-20 years ago. John P. Meier, a Catholic Priest teaching at Catholic University in D.C., and the author of the three volumes “A Marginal Jew” makes two related suggestions as to why it was important to study this issue. He first proposed that it is because “the life unexamined is not worth living” (quoting Plato). Maybe, maybe not. As Woody Allen has illustrated in film, examining one’s life can be quite painful and ignorance much more blissful. I can think of some people I know who would be clueless at the idea of examining their lives, but whom are among the happiest people I know, and visa versa.

Meier also argues that no religious person can claim themselves educated without investigating the historical Jesus. Poppycock. That’s just the sort of illogical drivel he spends the bulk of his book knocking down. It’s hard to believe after these first two paragraphs that I’m actually very impressed with his work, but in my opinion he has written the most readable, thoroughly researched and comprehensive effort of recent Jesus scholarship. Still, there were many conclusions he made which I felt he couldn’t support, or which supported other theories. But I’m not here to examine his work, but to review some of the possibilities of an historical Jesus and state my humble opinion. I do this because of the many educated people I’ve met, who believe that it is well documented that there was an historical Jesus (who is usually reckoned to have been born around 6-4 B.C. and died around 29-33 A.D., give or take) and those who argue that there is no proof he existed. I have big problems with both perspectives.

My personal reason for looking at this is just because it interests me, as reading on the JFK assassination interests me too (I haven’t read the most recent mammoth work, but I already feel fairly convinced that Oswald acted alone). With Jesus, as with so many other figures, you have to first readily acknowledge that we will never know for sure, and it doesn't really matter in anyone's day to day lives. If a group of universally esteemed religious figures, historians and anthropologists from the Pope to Indiana Jones, suddenly found verifiable and confirming evidence that Jesus Christ was the one and only messiah, it wouldn’t matter anymore than it would if they found proof that the resurrection was a hoax, and the evangelists were just angry at Judas, who owed them a lot of shekels. Those who believe in Jesus will wave a dismissive hand and continue to believe, and those who don’t will smirk and say “Told you so”. But the overwhelming idea of Jesus, real or not, has been with us for nearly 2,000 years and cannot be extricated from our culture very easily.

As proof of this, crypts purportedly bearing the names Mary, Jesus (son of Joseph), Mary Magdalene and Jesus and the latter two's purported sons were discovered over a quarter century ago, but were revealed to the public only recently. The excitement of it lasted a mere news cycle, and despite the attempts of famous film maker, James Cameron, to publicize it, has not put a dent in the appreciation for Jesus among Christians, whether they are true believers or not. Why would it? We cannot know if it is a later hoax, or if the names were similar enough to come up by chance (unlikely in my view), etc. My analysis below doesn't consider the crypts because I believe it is still too early to weigh their significance, if any.

Lack of firm proof about an ancient figures' existence is not a strange circumstance, even going back a few hundred years. In fact, as far as I know, there is no literature concerning Buddha of which we have any record until at least a half millennium after his supposed life and death. Proof of the major figures in the Old Testament is similarly problematic. However Moses and Buddha, should they have existed, lived many hundreds of years before Jesus. The closer we get to now, the more likely there will be more evidence.

What evidence do we have of Jesus’ existence? Let’s break it up into smaller categories. First, evidence from people during the time Jesus was supposed to have lived; second, evidence from after his death by people who would have known him; third, evidence from people who would have some probability of knowing Jesus’ companions; and, fourth, evidence from people who were alive at the same time as Jesus’ companions, but did not likely know them.

Evidence from Jesus’ lifetime: This first category is easiest – there is none. Not the gospels (canonical or otherwise) or any other part of the New Testament appears to have been written during the life of Jesus. It would be strange if it had. Jesus, presuming he existed (and I do, by the way) was certainly not that well known, and his death and reported resurrection was the most important part of his claim to fame. There would have been little reason to write about him before that. Although there is certainly evidence of people existing who were in the gospel (e.g., Herod, Pilate), that is not proof of Jesus’ existence anymore than if I now write a fictional story about a 21st century messiah which includes George Bush and Howard Stern as characters.

Evidence after Jesus’ death from those who knew him during his life: The natural guess would be from the apostles, the dozen plus (one replaced Judas) who were in the inner circle. There are those who advocate, including the Catholic Church, that, at least the evangelists Matthew and John were the apostles of the same name. I don’t believe the likely evidence bears this out, as discussed below, so I tend to believe this category must also be empty, although by no means impossible. I should point out that most of the scholars I have read on this topic are religious people themselves, often Catholic, who separate history from their faith. I have no problem with a perspective that is based on faith provided it is also based on some attempt at evidence and not just “thou shalt believe”.

The third category, evidence from after his death but by people who knew Jesus’ companions is a little more helpful, although, at the same time, much more complicated. Because the four gospels, Mark, Matthew, Luke and John (no coverage of the apocryphal gospels here, which almost certainly all came later) come before Paul’s letters in the Bible, many people believe that they were written first. Most of the credible evidence seems to point to the contrary, although, as with everything in the Bible, there is always a different opinion, usually many. One of the most compelling considerations is that it would seem difficult to believe that Paul himself would not have mentioned the evangelists’ accounts in some fashion were they already written.

Paul, or St. Paul, certainly did not know Jesus. He supposedly had his epiphany while on the road to Damascus in order to persecute the late Jesus’ followers, the yet unnamed Christians, when he was temporarily struck blind by Jesus’ spirit (he literally saw the light), got a very stereotypical Jewish sounding guilt trip from his spirit (Oh, Paul, why do you persecute me?), and became a believer. Leaving aside the fact that some of Paul’s letters contained in the Bible are no longer deemed by some scholars to be his own work, he was, according to well authenticated letters (by convention), acquainted with at least James and Simon (aka Peter, the Rock) of Jesus' companions.

Some information about Paul derived from his own letters differs enough from information about the Paul of Acts of the Apostles such that more than one scholar (including one of my favorite classicists, Michael Grant) has concluded that the Paul (originally Saul) of Acts of the Apostles, was not the same person as the Paul who wrote what are now called Ephesians, Romans, etc. Even seeking evidence of Jesus from the earliest commentators we are confounded by riddles within riddles. It is not for nothing that history has been called “argument without end” by historian Pieter Geyl.

Since this is a blog, not a book, let’s presume for arguments sake that it’s the same Paul, which is the convention, in any event. His life was certainly chaotic; he was chased out of towns, stoned and jailed among other things and appears to have shied away from no argument, including with so esteemed a Christian as Simon Peter. It was possibly first from Paul (again, ignoring the order in the New Testament) that a larger audience of converts, and ultimately, we, learned of the Last Supper, the crucification, the resurrection and Jesus’ supposed descent from King David (which only one of the evangelists held to be the case). No doubt, Paul would have learned of these things from Jesus’ followers, as it seems unlikely that the Romans were talking about it amongst themselves. Thus, unless Paul was involved in some bizarre conspiracy to create a Jesus myth out of whole cloth or was the victim of such a conspiracy, both which seem incredible, and of which there is no evidence, his non-eyewitness testimony is among the best evidence we have for Jesus’ existence.

Paul died in the mid-60’s A.D., conventionally either 64 or 67 A.D., several years before the appearance, as many scholars believe, of the earliest of the four canonical gospels.

The order the gospels were written in is especially controversial. According to one theory cleaved to by some scholars (but far from all) Mark was the first of the three synoptic (or similar) evangelists -- Mark, Matthew and John. It cannot be known whether he is the same Mark who was a companion of Peter’s (after Jesus’ death), a companion of Paul’s, or both. The same can be said for Luke, who is believed to be the author of both the Gospel of Luke and Acts, both of which were dedicated to Theophilos (meaning friend/lover of God and possibly a metaphor) and who also may also have been Paul’s companion. The single name only shtick in the Bible makes it tough on historians.

As for Matthew, who other scholars believe to be the first evangelist, he may have been, in fact, the same Matthew the tax collector called by Jesus and made an apostle. I cannot subscribe to this opinion, as I believe that if it were true, his gospel would have been written and known before Paul’s letter’s, would have been given greater prominence among the gospels as being written by an actual witness, and would have given his work such credibility, that it would have made no sense for the other gospels, particularly Mark and Luke, to have differed from him in personal details about Jesus’ life. Given that, and my own review of the scholarship which tries to ascertain who borrowed from whom (all interesting, but highly speculative), I would hold with scholars who believe that Mark proceeded both Matthew and Luke, and, if the author of Matthew lived at the same time as Jesus, he was not an eyewitness to the events. Admittedly, my own opinion is heavily biased by writers who seem to me to be the most objective.

In any event, there is probably a rough consensus among modern scholars that Mark, Matthew and Luke were written between 70 and 90 A.D. (although I cannot hedge enough). It must also be noticed that many scholars do not presume that the evangelists knew Jesus’ companions at all, but only that there was a tradition or traditions about Jesus that they utilized. Sometimes, a source or group of traditions which underlie Matthew and Luke are referred to as Q, which is not meant to mean a specific person. No documentary proof of Q exists, however, and I have grave doubts about it.

The fourth category is those who may have been alive at the same time as Jesus’ companions, but did not know them. Among them, I would include John, whose gospel is not one of the synoptic (or fairly similar) gospels and was probably written somewhere between 90-110 A.D. ( again, a rough modern consensus), although there are arguments for as early as 50 A.D., which I personally doubt. People who hold for the earlier date believe it was written or at least taken from the testimony of the Apostle John, and the earliest of the four. This gospel stands out from the other three authors in that John deems Jesus as more than just the Messiah, but one with God, and, in some authors’ opinion, is the most Christian (some also say most anti-Semitic) of the four gospels.

I can’t see putting John in a category where the author would have likely known those who were Jesus’ companions or eyewitness, both because its late date and its many differences from the other three evangelists’ works, from which John takes little except the broadest information. The earliest papyrus fragment existing containing John's gospel is usually dated about 125 A.D., although this is, of course, problematic too. John 21, sometimes called the “appendix” to John, refers to the death of Peter (like Paul, likely also in the late 60’s A.D.), which leads to the more likely conclusion that, if written at the same time as the rest of John, it probably was not written before the other gospels. Then again, it is called the appendix for a reason, and may have been written later than the rest of John (the so-called “appendix” to the “appendix” also lists the evangelist’s death).

Certainly in the last category of those being alive at the same time as Jesus’ companions, but without knowing them, is Josephus, who wrote about the Jews under the Romans somewhere around 100 A.D. There are perhaps three references in Josephus’ two books to Jesus, however, the one sometimes said to be in The Jewish Wars appears almost beyond doubt to be a later addition by a Christian as it speaks of Jesus as one with God in glorious, religious, terms, very much differently from the first occurrence, and, more importantly, occurs only in a much later Russian version, not any of the original ones.

In Josephus' Jewish Antiquities, however, another reference is made to Jesus in passing while discussing the stoning of James, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.” At the least, this is evidence that this Jewish, but at the time he wrote, pro-Roman historian, seemingly without a dog in the fight, and who was writing within a long lifetime after the events of the passion would have occurred, believed Jesus to be an historical figure. The third reference, also in Antiquities is also of extremely doubtful authenticity. Of course, some scholars even believe that the shortest reference to Jesus was a later interpolation as well. I disagree.

Interestingly, Josephus writes in much greater depth about John the Baptist, which would seem to lead to the conclusion that he considered him to have been a far more important religious figure than Jesus. Both John and Jesus, presuming they were ever alive, were certainly dead years before Josephus was born around 37 A.D. Although it is possible that he knew some of Jesus’ companions, there is no mention of them, other than the one reference to Jesus’ brother, and that does not contain any eyewitness information. Josephus wrote at roughly the same time as the earliest gospels.

Some mention must be given to Tacitus as well. His Annals, a history of the Roman Empire during part of the first century A.D., were written near the end of his life, thus in the first part of the second century. He also mentions Jesus in passing (referring to Christians being persecuted by the Roman Emperor Nero, who reigned from 54 A.D. to 68 A.D.) as being executed by Pontius Pilate, but shows no sign of having even any second degree information. Born around 56 A.D., Tacitus may have known early Christians, but his opinion of them was so low (he described their religion as an “evil”) that it seems highly unlikely. It appears to me he is merely an historian (although one of the most important) as opposed to say, even a second degree source. Unfortunately, there are many lost books of the Annals, including one which would have very likely covered the time period of Jesus’ ministry and trial (probably around 29 A.D. – 31 A.D.). You never know what may turn up in an excavation someday, so there may be more from this source at a later date.

In all, there is far more evidence than is necessary for me to believe that Jesus was an historical person and that he was initially important to at least a small group of followers. There is no reason to doubt that the gospels and other biblical material such as Paul’s letters do not contain at least secondary historical information just because they also have religious import. Frankly, if we know absolutely nothing of Jesus except from that one phrase by Josephus concerning his brother, James, we would almost certainly assume it was history, not fiction.

Not believing Jesus to have been historical also leaves a pretty big problem. Where did his Christian followers come from and why would they create this story and religion at such great risk to their lives and well being?

Once again, let me give a great big, who knows? Certainly not me, but I do like to read about this stuff, and am always impressed by the level of scholarship in a very gray area. Next week’s -- Marvin the Martian: Historical Fact or Warner Bros.’ hoax?

Abidih, abideh . . . that’s all folks.

Postscript: While writing this blog I began to wonder if I might be the only one to find it interesting. I shouldn't have given it any thought. Just prior to hitting publish for this post, I went online to double check a documentary fact and was surprised to see any number of blogs covering it. Apparently, lots of people are interested. Good. I can only hope that my recitation is more objective than the few I perused.

About Me

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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 . . . .