APRIL 29, 2008 THE SPEAKER
I've added a new article with some ancient words from someone I'm calling Solomon Redner. In his dark vision, there is nothing new under the sun.
APRIL 26, 2008 HOTEL THEATRE
Here's a way for hotels to increase occupancy rates. They could convert some of their bedrooms into screening rooms.
A group of local people could rent the suite for a get-together, splitting the cost several ways, or a larger group could rent several adjacent suites and have a big party. In the kitchen they could prepare snacks, or they could order room service. On the big screen they could watch the big game or a couple of movies they've brought with them. At other times they could gather in the living room to chat. I don't think the hotel could be accused of charging admission to watch the game; rather, they're simply renting rooms that happen to have better amenities than most.
APRIL 15, 2008 MORE ADAMS MUSINGS
I have more thoughts about details of HBO's ongoing series John Adams.
In the first of the seven episodes, the title character gave a speech from the pulpit of a Boston church, after which everybody sang a patriotic hymn with these unusual words:
tyrants shake their iron rod
I recognized this as the then-famous tune "Chester" by William Billings. But many of the other historical details go by so fast, even in an 8½-hour miniseries, that it's hard to catch them all.
However, when I Googled the text later, I found it was the prologue to The Contrast, the first successful "piece" for the theater to be written by an American playwright. The author was Royall Tyler. And we met Tyler earlier in the miniseries as an unsuccessful suitor for Adams' daughter Nabby!
I'm not sure, but I suspect that Tyler is the one depicted here speaking the prologue. Seeing Adams in the box, he calls out, "Three cheers for our President! May he, like Samson, slay thousands of Frenchmen with the jawbone of a Jefferson!" Adams gives a shocked little gasp at this disrespectful reference to his rival. But then Tyler patriotically begins singing the national anthem, and the whole audience joins in the chorus.
It's not "The Star-Spangled Banner," which would not be written for another 15 years or so. Rather, it's "Hail, Columbia." This tune, originally composed for George Washington's inauguration, gained words during the Adams administration and was the unofficial anthem for most of the 19th century.
Notice the phrase "band of brothers." That was the title of another HBO series also co-produced by Tom Hanks, although the phrase originally comes from Shakespeare's Henry V.
Also note that "joined" and "find" apparently are supposed to rhyme. I've sometimes seen the former word in an old phonetic spelling as "jined," and I suspect that it was pronounced that way then.
APRIL 9, 2008 WHAT'S THAT ROUND THING?
As the National Hockey League playoffs begin, here's a little article reminiscing about radio's Earl Bugaile and my attempt to interview a Penguins coach.
APRIL 5, 2008 I AM MAN, THEREFORE I AM CLUELESS
Recently I wrote on a message board:
The board was discussing this article. A psychological study of college students has come to the (unsurprising) conclusion that women are better than men at interpreting non-verbal cues. Excerpts from the article:
One contributor to the board actually read the study and found it unconvincing. It ignores such signals such as gestures or voice pitch or physical proximity, merely asking its participants to evaluate photos. He notes that "37.1% of men and 31.9% of women identified certain photos and thought 'friendly' instead of 'interested.' When that large of a percentage in both genders is missing the cues, well, maybe there aren't any cues. The methodology is pretty tortured, too. There are so many variables that, if you did it with a whole different group of people, you'd probably arrive at a different conclusion."
My impression is that many psychological studies are similarly half-baked. They use an unrepresentative sample (easy-to-obtain college undergraduates) and simple tests (easy-to-arrange photo identification), then attempt to extrapolate the limited results into sweeping conclusions.
But regardless of the quality of the experimental data, we can always find anecdotal evidence to support the conclusion such as my contribution to the board, quoted above. Several others agreed with me. One wrote: "I'll give you that 'Amen' you're looking for, sir. I wouldn't know flirting if there was a Sprockets-esque announcement Now is the time when we flirt."
MARCH 30, 2008 VROOM? VROOM!
When I watch TV, I have "closed captioning" enabled. Since I don't keep the volume extremely high, the captions fill me in on occasional lines (whispered or spoken off-camera) that I would otherwise miss. This evening during the NCAA tournament, the captioning even explained the plot of a commercial.
A guy starts his car. We cut to isolated shots of miscellaneous other parked cars going vroom vroom. The guy says, "Wow." The announcer says, "The bloodlines are unmistakable," then points out that a Porsche Cayenne is a Porsche.
Fortunately I had closed captioning, which told me something like this:
THE STILLNESS OF THE NIGHT IS BROKEN BY THE ROAR OF THE PORSCHE CAYENNE.
ACROSS TOWN, THE PORSCHE BOXTER ANSWERS BY REVVING ITS ENGINE.
THE PORSCHE 911 ALSO REVS IN RESPONSE.
THE PORSCHE CAYMAN JOINS THE CHORUS.
MARCH 27, 2008 HISTORY REPEATS
On TV, I've been watching the HBO series John Adams, which begins with Adams' defense in court of the Redcoats involved in the 1770 Boston Massacre. I also recently saw a documentary about the 1970 shootings at Kent State University.
What I hadn't noticed until now was the strong similarity between these two events that occurred almost exactly two centuries apart. In each case, soldiers confronted by a mob fired their weapons, and the gunshots hit about a dozen civilians. Five died on March 5, 1770. Four died on May 4, 1970.
In each case, the crowd had been enraged by recent government actions. In 1770, the British government had levied taxes on American colonists, commandeered their homes to quarter troops, and otherwise oppressed the citizenry. Boston residents were especially angry. In 1970, the United States government had escalated the already-unpopular Vietnam war by sending troops into Cambodia. Kent State students were especially angry.
In each case, the irate citizens protested to the point of destroying government property. The authorities tried to maintain order by bringing in soldiers, but the crowd outnumbered them, taunted them, threw things at them. Tensions mounted. The soldiers, feeling threatened and nervous, finally fired on the civilians. It's still disputed whether anyone actually gave an order to open fire.
I've been to both locations.
In Boston, a historical marker is set into the pavement of what is now, rather incongruously, a traffic island in the middle of a busy street outside the Old State House.
In Kent, the shootings took place behind the gymnasium where I've since televised basketball.
Each tragedy stirred much resentment, in the colonies and on the campuses respectively, and the protesters finally achieved their goals a few years later. In 1776, British forces retreated from Massachusetts, and in 1973, American forces withdrew from Southeast Asia.
(More about John Adams here.)
MARCH 25, 2008 CORPORATE HYPE
What is "the most recognizable, relatable and welcoming brand in media"?
The company president, who plans to make that claim in New York tomorrow, says, "We can offer the advertising world amazing engagement and interaction with a very, very loyal, dedicated fan base."
MARCH 19, 2008 ELECTION REPORTING
Here in Pennsylvania, we have only five more weeks of campaigning to go before the Democratic presidential primary. I'm not involved in any way, but I was on the air exactly 40 years ago tonight when the returns came in for another much-anticipated election. The story: SLATE Wins!
MARCH 15, 2008 THE HOLY CITY
Nor can the musicians easily share audible cues. The organist sits close to the pipes; if she plays loudly, she can't hear the piano. And if she plays softly, the pianist can barely hear her. When I played the piano, I could detect when the organist changed from one chord to another, but repeated notes in the melody blended into each other. That meant that I couldn't hear the beats, only the measures.
A duet, therefore, is an act of faith. One musician begins playing to set the tempo, the other joins in, and occasionally one will be able to hear the other well enough to re-synchronize. Just before the end of "The Holy City," there's a fermata , and as we held that dramatic chord Gladys and I had no way of communicating when to break it off and proceed to the conclusion. She finally suggested that we count a fifth beat in that measure, and we were able to stay together, more or less.
Neither musician can actually hear the "mix," the balance between the two instruments. Both have to use their best judgment as to volume and take it on faith that their music sounds good to the people out in the congregation.
It was usually about this time of year that we performed "The Holy City." Here's a link to an approximation of our performance (but I didn't do the piano glissandos). The fermata comes at the five-minute mark.
Here's another link to a vocal performance. The words were written in 1892 by Frederick E. Weatherly (who would write "Danny Boy" 18 years later). If only the first verse and the last chorus are sung, it can be associated with the Christmas season, but the three verses actually allude to Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and chapter 21 of Revelation.
On another topic, I've received a couple of e-mails recently from people who have run across articles on this website.
At Eastern Michigan University, a Ph.D. in the Department of Psychology is gathering signatures for a resolution against the use of Facilitated Communication. He wrote, "You made your points well. I agree 100%."
And about my nearsightedness, a reader named Ray wrote, "I could totally identify with it. I love the super near vision and wouldn't want to change a thing."
MARCH 11, 2008 HOW 31 + 34 = 64
In Division I basketball at the turn of the century, selecting a field for a 64-team NCAA tournament was straightforward. Automatic invitations went to 30 conference champions and at-large bids to 34 others. But in 2001 the winner of the new Mountain West Conference became eligible, and now there were 31 champions.
In response, the women's tournament reduced its at-large contingent to 33, keeping the total unchanged at 64.
The men didn't go along with this logical move. Instead, they decided to continue issuing invitations to 34 at-large teams as well as the 31 champions, then use a special "play-in" procedure to trim the total back to 64. The one team that's trimmed turns out to be one of the champs, not one of the at-large invitees.
Here's how it works: The 64th and 65th best teams, usually the winners of small-conference tournaments, have to hurry to Dayton to play each other two days after Selection Sunday. The loser is out. The winner, now officially part of the 64-team field, is awarded one more game an inevitable loss to a #1 seed at a different venue three days later.
This allows a 65th school to brag about participating, and it makes money for the NCAA and others, but it's an awkward solution.
I can't understand what's so important about keeping the number of at-large teams at exactly 34. If the Tuesday game is a bad idea, why not eliminate it by cutting back to 33 at-large teams as the women have done? If it's a good idea, why not create one to three additional play-in games by increasing the at-large contingent to 35 teams or 36 or 37?
But no, 34 must be the number, no more, no less. Tradition, I suppose.
MARCH 6, 2008 I DREAM OF NIXON
For what it's worth, for this site I've written a short story, We Are Not Crooks.