Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Is There a Lifetime Movie in This?

From last Sunday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette comes a story of a multifaceted legal conflict, which has all the makings of a soap-opera-ish TV movie of the sort one can see on cable's Lifetime network. (One of the disputants even has the name "Battle." How Dickensian!)

The article begins with a dispute between the publishers of Pittsburgh's rival newspapers:

Attorneys for Tribune-Review publisher Richard M. Scaife have filed court papers demanding the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette return documents related to the divorce of Mr. Scaife and his wife, Margaret Ritchie Battle Scaife.

In response, the Post-Gazette, arguing that no court has the right to force a newspaper to surrender documents lawfully in its possession, has posted those documents on its Web site, with some personal, financial and third-party information removed.

"Mr. Scaife has asked the court to do something unprecedented: stop a newspaper from writing about documents that were publicly available and highly newsworthy," said David M. Shribman, executive editor of the Post-Gazette.

"That effort is newsworthy in and of itself. As we will advise the court, such a prior restraint would be a clear violation of the First Amendment and of press prerogatives and freedoms that all newspapers cherish. In the meantime, we have posted the most significant of those documents on our Web site and will continue to evaluate whether additional postings should be made."
The juicy details are left until later in the article and exhibit the sizzling passions one expects from television melodrama:
Mr. Scaife's attorneys say the Post-Gazette article describes "at length various highly confidential and personal matters contained in the record, none of which have any news value nor are legitimate subjects of public scrutiny."

But the Post-Gazette countered that the story is newsworthy, given the Scaifes' high profile in the community and the large amounts of money involved, particularly the enormous monthly support payments. The newspaper argues that Mr. and Mrs. Scaife have already put their divorce in the public domain with arrests for trespassing and assault, accusations of dognapping, and derogatory yard signs.
Dognapping? Derogatory yard signs? Those alone might raise eyebrows, but check out the dispute about assets and alimony:
Mrs. Scaife, 60, contends that the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, one of a half-dozen local Tribune-Review Publishing newspapers owned by Mr. Scaife, 75, should be considered a hobby or personal cause rather than a business investment because the paper has lost $20 million to $30 million annually since it began publishing in 1992.

The IRS defines a hobby or not-for-profit activity as an activity not pursued for profit. "An activity is usually considered a business if it makes a profit during at least three of the last five tax years, including the current year," according to the IRS.

Mr. Scaife's lawyers say those losses should be counted against Mr. Scaife's aggregate monthly income in determining support payments. That would put his 2005 yearly income at $17 million.

Mrs. Scaife's attorneys say that, discounting the Pittsburgh paper's losses, his real income in 2005 was $45 million.

If he treated the Tribune-Review like his other investments, "the Tribune-Review would have been gone long ago," Mrs. Scaife's lawyers stated in the documents.

"In fact, if his real investments performed like the Tribune-Review, [Mr. Scaife] would be penniless instead of a billionaire, and attempting to collect support from his wife," her attorneys said.

The divorce documents show that Mr. Scaife has subsidized the Pittsburgh paper -- one of the few Tribune-Review Publishing properties not showing a profit -- for more than $140 million. Attorneys for Mrs. Scaife say the figure is actually $244 million.

A court hearing officer has ordered Mr. Scaife to pay his estranged wife $725,000 per month in preliminary temporary support and Mr. Scaife's lawyers have sought to have the payments reduced.
Taxpayers, take note: If you lose money on your business, it becomes a hobby. Think about it -- publishing as philately, real estate as recreation, capitalism as camping.

Monday, September 24, 2007

No Gays in Iran, Prez Sez

Here, courtesy of the Arizona Daily Star, are some excerpts from the remarks of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Columbia University today, when asked about gays and women.

MR. COATSWORTH: Let me just -- let me pursue this a bit further. It is difficult to have a scientific discussion if there isn't at least some basis -- some empirical basis, some agreement about what the facts are. So, calling for research into the facts when the facts are so well-established represents for many a challenging of the facts themselves and a denial that something terrible occurred in Europe in those years.


Let me move on to -- (pause).

Mr. President, another student asks, Iranian women are now denied basic human rights, and your government has imposed draconian punishments, including execution on Iranian citizens who are homosexuals. Why are you doing those things?

PRESIDENT AHMADINEJAD: Those in Iran are genuine true freedoms. The Iranian people are free. Women in Iran enjoy the highest levels of freedoms. We have two deputy vice -- well, two vice presidents that are female at the highest levels of speciality; specialized (roles ?) in our parliament and our government and our universities, they are present in our biotechnological fields and our technological fields. There are hundreds of women scientists that are active in the political realm as well.

It's not -- it's wrong for some governments, when they disagree with another government, to sort of -- try to spread lies that distort the full truth. Our nation is free. It has the highest level of participation in elections. In Iran, 80 percent -- 90 percent of the people turn out for votes during the elections, half of which -- over half of which are women, so how can we say that women are not free? Is that the entire truth?

But as for the executions, I'd like to raise two questions. If someone comes and establishes a network for illicit drug trafficking that affects the (use ?) in Iran, Turkey, Europe, the United States by introducing these illicit drugs and destroys them, would you ever reward them? People who lead the lives -- cause the deterioration of the lives of hundreds of millions of youth around the world, including in Iran, can we have any sympathy to them? Don't you have capital punishment in the United States? You do, too. (Applause.)

In Iran, too, there's capital punishment for illicit drug traffickers, for people who violate the rights of people.

If somebody takes up a gun, goes into a house, kills a group of people there, and then tries to take ransom, how would you confront them in Iran with -- in the United States? Would you reward them? Can a physician allow microbes, symbolically speaking, to spread across a nation? We have laws. People who violate the public rights of the people by using guns, killing people, creating insecurity, sell drugs, distribute drugs at a high level are sentenced to execution in Iran, and some of these punishments -- very few are carried in the public eye, before the public eye. It's a law based on democratic principles. You use injections and microbes to kill these people, and they are executed or they're hung, but the end result is killing.

MR. COATSWORTH: (Off mike) -- and drug smugglers. The question was about sexual preference and women. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT AHMADINEJAD: In Iran, we don't have homosexuals like in your country. (Laughter.) We don't have that in our country. (Booing.) In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don't know who's told you that we have it. (Laughter.)

But as for women, maybe you think that being a woman is a crime. It's not a crime to be a woman. Women are the best creatures created by God. They represent the kindness, the beauty that God instills in them. Women are respected in Iran. In Iran, every family who's given a girl is given -- in every Iranian family who has a girl, they're 10 times happier than having a son. Women are respected more than men are. They are exempt from many responsibilities. Many of the legal responsibilities rest on the shoulders of men in our society because of the respect culturally given to women, to the future mothers. In Iranian culture, men and sons and girls constantly kiss the hands of their mothers as a sign of respect, a respect for women, and we are proud of this culture.
And here, courtesy of a blog called "Hot Air," is a photo of two (non-existent?) gay Iranian teenagers moments before they were executed:

Here is another image, taken moments later, found on another website:

Perhaps the Iranian president was mistranslated. Rather than saying "we don't have homosexuals," he actually said, "we are trying to eliminate homosexuals."

That would be so much closer to the truth.

Better Late Than Never

City Councilor Dave Norris has announced his intention to vote against a proposed $300,000 appropriation to install so-called "anti-crime" cameras in downtown Charlottesville.

On his blog, Norris points to a British study highlighted on that states that these cameras, ubiquitous in London and other UK cities, are virtually useless.

I could have told you that.

In fact, I did -- more than two-and-a-half years ago, in a blogpost entitled, "Ubiquitous TV Cameras Don't Reduce Crime, UK Study Says," and published on February 24, 2005.

That post quoted an AP story that reported:

Video cameras have blossomed in Britain since the 1990s. An estimated 4.2 million cameras now observe the country's 60 million people going about their everyday business, from getting on a bus to lining up at the bank to driving around London. It's widely estimated that the average Briton is scrutinized by 300 cameras a day.

For the Home Office-funded study, academics from the University of Leicester studied 14 closed-circuit TV systems in a variety of settings, including town centers, parking lots, hospitals and residential areas. Only the parking lot scheme was shown to cause a fall in crime.

Previous studies of the effectiveness of closed-circuit TV systems have come to similar conclusions.
Those "similar conclusions" are echoed in the London Evening Standard article found by Waldo Jaquith and linked from
London has 10,000 crime-fighting CCTV cameras which cost £200 million, figures show today.

But an analysis of the publicly funded spy network, which is owned and controlled by local authorities and Transport for London, has cast doubt on its ability to help solve crime.

A comparison of the number of cameras in each London borough with the proportion of crimes solved there found that police are no more likely to catch offenders in areas with hundreds of cameras than in those with hardly any.

In fact, four out of five of the boroughs with the most cameras have a record of solving crime that is below average.

The figures were obtained by the Liberal Democrats on the London Assembly using the Freedom of Information Act.
(Politicians and bureaucrats hate it, but we citizens have got to love FOIA.)

Let's hope the other four city councilors follow the lead of Dave Norris and vote against this boondoggle before it's too late.

Now if only we could get rid of that useless transit center on the downtown mall and return the money to the taxpayers ...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Marcia, Marcia , Marcia!

Half a century ago, ad-man Stan Freberg caught heat from the censors for his send-up of radio and TV soap operas, with a novelty record called "John and Marsha." The dialogue in "John and Marsha" consisted of only two words ("John" and "Marsha"). But that genius Freberg directed his actors -- he might have been one of them -- to say those words of dialogue with such torrid inflection that he angered the bluenoses of the 1950s, who actually got the record banned from several radio stations around the country.

That, of course, led to increased sales of the single and subsequent album, but that's a story for another day.

What would Freberg make of this tasty tidbit from ABC News? Would he redo his recording with new actors and new dialogue, calling it "Jan and Marcia"? Read on:

The book publisher for Maureen McCormick, who played Marcia Brady on the 1970s sitcom "The Brady Bunch," is shooting down rumors that she had a lesbian on-set affair with co-star Eve Plumb, who played her younger sister Jan.

The story of the alleged lesbian affair started circulating the Internet Friday, and was picked up by at least one newspaper on Saturday.

The reported source of the story was McCormick herself in her new tell-all book, "Here's the Story," slated to come out next year.

But the book's publisher said, though there are plenty of other revelations in the book, a lesbian affair is not one of them.

Once again, the headline ("Lesbian Bradys? Publisher Denies Report") sets us up for a sensational story about torrid lesbianism in Hollywood, only to be shot down with truthiness.

To much of Middle America, the idea of the Brady sisters coupled in lesbian incest would be akin to finding out that Lawrence Welk and Myron Floren had a Hoover/Tolson-style relationship.

Yet the tabloids press on.

If only Stan Freberg were still as active as he was in the '50s and '60s. I can hear it now:

"Um… Marcia…"
(-Snif-) "Jan!"
"Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!"

So that's the way they all became the ... oh, you know the rest.

The Rest Is Silence?

Marcel Marceau has died at age 84.

I can't help but imagine that his last words must have been these:

" _____________ "

Monday, September 17, 2007

Constitution Day 2007

I was planning on saying something here to commemorate Constitution Day, since September 17 marks the anniversary of the end of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and the beginning of the ratification process that culminated in 1789. (Is it really 220 years? Time flies when you're creating a liberal republic.)

Stumped about what, precisely, to write on this occasion, I found a way to cheat: As I was pondering, a news release from Virginia State Senate candidate Arin Sime arrived in my email box. Since it's not plagiarism if one gives full credit, I decided to republish the Sime campaign's statement here, in full. It reflects much of what I would have said, in any case.


September 17th, 24th District — Arin Sime, Libertarian State Senate candidate for the 24th District, notes that today is Constitution Day. Constitution Day marks the day in 1787 that the U.S. Constitutional Convention signed the U.S. Constitution.

“As a Libertarian, I believe very strongly in taking the Constitution and the Bill of Rights literally, rather than picking and choosing from it,” said Mr. Sime. “Our federal government has vastly exceeded the bounds placed upon it by the Constitution and Bill of Rights, especially the Tenth Amendment*. This affects us not only as individual citizens, but also through its impact upon the operation of the Virginia General Assembly. There are many laws and regulations at the federal level that infringe on the ability of states and localities to govern themselves, including No Child Left Behind, Real ID, and the National Animal Identification System.”

* No Child Left Behind tries to impose national standards on all public schools. Mr. Sime stated that "Education is best left up to parents, not the government; however, where government is involved, the involvement should occur in the most decentralized way possible. No Child Left Behind ties the hands of local governments to run their own schools."

* According to Mr. Sime, "Real ID imposes requirements for biometric identification on state drivers’ licenses that will not do anything realistically to prevent terrorism or illegal immigration. Most importantly, this law poses significant risks to privacy and civil liberties, and is a “back door” national ID card. It is also estimated that it will cost states hundreds of millions of dollars to implement, and Virginia does not have that kind of money to waste."

* The National Animal Identification System was initially proposed as a mandatory program by the federal government, but is now being implemented at the state level as a “voluntary” program. Mr. Sime noted that "NAIS will still impose undue burdens upon small farmers who already face too much regulation from the federal and state government."

“The fact of the matter is that Virginia does not need any more expensive mandates from the federal government. We have enough problems stopping new tax increases and reining in our out of control spending in Virginia without the federal government trying to force us to spend more. On Constitution Day, we should remember that the U.S. Constitution is not a grant of rights to the people by government, but rather a document that defines and strictly limits the power of the federal government. I believe the Virginia General Assembly should take a public stand against these intrusive federal laws, and tell the federal government that it’s time to stop ignoring the 10th Amendment.”

Arin Sime resides in Crozet with his wife and two children and is a small business owner. More information about the campaign is available at

* The Tenth Amendment: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."


I don't know if any other General Assembly candidates chose to mark Constitution Day with a statement or celebration; I'd be happy to find out if they did and what they said about it.

George ♥ Rudy?

Is the nomination of former federal judge Michael B. Mukasey to be the new U.S. Attorney General an implicit endorsement of the presidential candidacy of Rudy Giuliani by George Bush?

Much has already been made of the fact that Bush passed over "insiders" who were close to his circle or formerly part of his administration (such as former Solicitor General Ted Olson) in order to choose the largely unknown Mukasey. As the Washington Post reports today:

Mukasey would be the latest in a string of key Bush appointments that come from outside Texas or the president's inner circle and seem less ideological than some of his previous appointments.
Less is made of Mukasey's longstanding ties to Rudolph Giuliani. One has to scroll down far into the AP article on the nomination to find this:
Mukasey, a partner at New York-based law firm Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, is also a close friend to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Republican. He is stepping down as an adviser to Giuliani's presidential campaign, on which he served as part of an advisory committee on judicial nominations.
Even that revelation is incomplete. Writing in the New York Sun, Joseph Goldstein notes this background:

For decades, Judge Mukasey has been a close friend of Mayor Giuliani. He worked beneath Mr. Giuliani both at Patterson Belknap and at the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan. It was Mr. Mukasey who swore in Mayor-elect Giuliani in 1994 and 1998. Along with Mr. Olson, Judge Mukasey currently advises the Giuliani campaign on judicial matters. Judge Mukasey's son, Marc, is a partner in the New York office of Mr. Giuliani's law firm, Bracewell & Giuliani LLP.

Given his close ties to Mr. Giuliani, Judge Mukasey has faced teasing from friends who have told him not to get too comfortable back at his firm given the prospect of a Giuliani presidency, a source said.

Given the wide range of qualified, potential Attorney General nominees -- including some lawyers who might be advising John McCain, Mitt Romney, or Ron Paul -- is Bush's choice of Mukasey meant to send a signal to GOP activists about the president's preference for the top of the ticket in 2008?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Dep't of Apologies: Canada Unit

An interesting email apology was sent to its readers last week from Maclean's, Canada's pre-eminent news magazine:

We regret that a quote from our leading newsletter article was placed into the subject line of this week's Storyline. For any readers who were offended, we sincerely apologize.
For what was this September 14 statement so regretful? An earlier email, with links to the magazine's cover story, with this subject line:
'Why don't you go f*@! yourself'
That headline was linked to a story with the subhead, "The best bits of Brian Mulroney's memoirs," which began:
In contrast to the unplugged Brian Mulroney of Peter C. Newman’s Secret Mulroney Tapes, the guy in the former prime minister’s Memoirs 1939-1993 is, well, prime ministerial. Or at least as prime ministerial as he can be. With some not particularly close reading between the lines — or via quotations from others, judiciously strewn about by the author — readers can see what Mulroney really thinks about some of the personalities and events of a tumultuous time in Canadian politics.

On his first run for the PC leadership in 1976: The suggestion that he become a candidate left him “shocked.” But Mulroney quickly warmed to the idea, to the extent that losing to Joe Clark was a nightmare: “I began to drink quite heavily with friends over lunch and dinner, and these sessions frequently degenerated into baleful expressions of recrimination and regret. I profanely attacked some people who had let me down.”
This eventually leads to the money quote:
On cutting loose near the end of the 1984 election campaign: “I slid open one of the windows and motioned to one of the fellows carrying an anti-Mulroney sign. I smiled with a show of molars that would have made Jimmy Carter proud. ‘Why don’t you go fuck yourself,’ I said, and closed the window.”
While one might find the full, cheeky quotation offensive in (or out of?) context, I fail to see why the bowdlerized headline -- with cartoonish punctuation marks replacing the letters in the allegedly offending word -- requires an apology from Maclean's. It's not like Mulroney dropped the f-bomb on the magazine's cover.

Still, it makes me more curious to read the former PM's memoirs.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

MUHS 150th Anniversary Mass

While it has been nearly two months since the occasion, I have to say that "better late than never" applies in this case.

On July 21, 2007, Marquette University High School in Milwaukee celebrated its 150th anniversary with a full day of events, including a "Great Homecoming" on the school's campus and a buffet dinner with entertainment (including fireworks!) at Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin on Lake Michigan.

The centerpiece of the celebration was a festive Mass at the Al McGuire Center on the campus of Marquette University (which evolved from the same series of educational institutions as MUHS did). Over 50 priests concelebrated, many of them Marquette High alumni and others former and current faculty members. Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan was present and Father Warren Sazama, S.J. (known as "Saz" to generations of students), the president of MUHS, was the principal celebrant and homilist. A chalice purported to have belonged to Father Jacques Marquette, who explored the upper Mississippi and was among the first Europeans to set foot on the land that is now the city of Milwaukee, was used during the ceremony.

From my vantage point on the bleachers to the left of the dais that supported the altar, ambo, and clergy, I was able to videotape a good portion of the Mass. After some minor editing, I was able to post the video (in seven segments) to YouTube a few days ago (where it has already had some viewers) and now here today.

In this first segment, a choir composed of current students and alumni rehearses a few songs and checks out the sound system before the start of the Mass. The singers and musicians were directed by Mrs. Susan Sajdak.

In the second segment, the chair of Marquette High's board of directors, Janine Geske, offers some words of welcome. Geske is a former justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and now teaches at Marquette University Law School.

The third segment is the procession, with a gathering song by James J. Chepponis, "Go Up to the Altar of God."

The fourth segment consists of the Liturgy of the Word (except for the homily). This includes a reading from Genesis 18, a responsorial psalm by Jeffrey Roscoe ("Thank God for He Is Good") based on Psalm 118, a reading from the first chapter of the letter to the Colossians, the familiar "Celtic Alleluia" by Fintan O'Carroll and Christopher Walker as the gospel acclamation, and a gospel reading from chapter 10 of Luke.

In his homily, Father Sazama spoke briefly about the beginnings of Marquette High School but focused more on the school's mission and the successes it has seen in alumni who have served the larger community in various roles. He said, in part:

We’re celebrating 150 years of Jesuit secondary education here in Milwaukee. It’s been a wonderful 150 years! We have so much to be grateful for and to celebrate. With humble beginnings back in 1857 with 2 Jesuits from St. Louis – Fr. Stanislaus Lalumiere, SJ and a Jesuit scholastic (seminarian) Mr. Cornelius O’Brien – starting St. Aloysius Academy on 3rd and Michigan – a rag tag operation in a leaky former rectory with only 50 students, which continued to grow over time to the outstanding Catholic, Jesuit – still urban – college prep school it is today.

I’m proud to say that MUHS has stayed consistently true to its Jesuit, Catholic Mission over these 150 years and is committed to do so for the next 150 years! We can humbly and gratefully say that God has worked through Marquette High to educate people in the service of Christ's Mission here on earth.

What is Marquette High's Mission? Succinctly put, it is to form Christ-like leaders for the world: people of conscience and integrity, people of faith, people passionately in love with Jesus Christ and on fire with the Holy Spirit, people committed to developing their God-given talents to serve others and make the world a better place, people who work for peace and justice in our world and make the world a more humane, Christ-like place where people share the goods of the earth as God’s sons and daughters as God intended, people who are loving, religious, open to growth, seeking excellence for the Greater Honor and Glory of God (AMDG), and committed to justice, in the words of our former Jesuit Superior General, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, Christ-like Persons for Others.
After relating the day's celebration to the story of Martha and Mary in the gospel reading, and mentioning a few distinguished alumni, Saz concluded:
We are a much more diverse school now than ever before with our student body including a wide-ranging socio-economic diversity as well as a much richer ethnic and racial mix with 21% of our students being racial minorities. Our retreat programs are stronger now than ever with the introduction of the eye-opening sophomore retreat in the early '70s, the powerful Kairos Retreat in 1989 that over 90% of our seniors elect to take, and the wonderful freshman retreat that the seniors give to the freshman being introduced in 1992. Our service programs have expanded from the Senior Shared Life Project on which our seniors do service work in the community for two weeks in the spring which started in 1973, to our Junior Christian Discipleship classes tutoring at St. Rose Catholic Urban Academy and forming wonderful bonds with the students there, and the overseas service trips such as Somos Amigos trips to the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Mexico, and the new trips to Africa starting soon as well.

So we have an awful lot to celebrate and be grateful for! We have a great history, tradition, and Mission. God is with us, and may God continue to bless us by using us as His instrument here on earth in service of Christ's Mission. May we all – students, alumni, parents, teachers, administrators, support staff – live this Mission to be Christ-like Persons for Others working to make the world a better place for all of God's children. Let us stay faithful to our Mission for the Greater Honor and Glory of God (AMDG)!

The fifth segment is the offertory procession, featuring an arrangement of "For the Beauty of the Earth" sung by the choir. (Note a rather shaky close-up of Father Marquette's chalice.)

Skipping over the Eucharistic Prayer, the sixth segment shows the distribution of communion and features "Envia Tu Espiritu" by Bob Hurd; "O Taste and See," by Marty Haugen; and a post-communion meditation song commissioned especially for the Mass, "Prayer for Generosity," by Gwyneth Walker.

The final segment consists of the recessional and song of sending forth, "Sing, O Sing," by one of the original St. Louis Jesuits (and MUHS alumnus, Class of 1966), Dan Schutte.

Celebrations like this, sadly, take place only once every several decades. Their spirit, however, lives on day by day.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

'Forsan et Haec Olim Meminisse Juvabit"

"Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit" -- so began former Virginia First Lady Roxane Gilmore as she reminisced about her old friend, Joe Bishop, at a life celebration in his honor at Jefferson Hall on the grounds of the University of Virginia on September 2. (That's Aeneas consoling his comrades on their journey from Troy, saying "Perhaps it will be a joy later to remember these things.")

That epigram served well as a theme for the memorial service, which was sponsored by local Republican party activists and hosted by the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society, two institutions that were integral to Joe Bishop's life.

I captured most of the hour-long ceremony on video, in five segments.

The first segment includes an introduction by Albemarle GOP Chair Keith Drake, an invocation from former Charlottesville City Council member Rob Schilling, remarks by Jefferson Society president Assaf Sternberg, and a tribute by Charlottesville GOP Committee Chair Buddy Weber.

The second segment features separate comments by the former Virginia First Lady and by former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore.

The third segment is divided into two parts (to accommodate length restrictions on YouTube). In it, Susan Bishop offers her own recollections of her brother -- as a boy, a teenager, a college student, and an adult.

In this final segment, three clarinetists from the UVa Pep Band -- Joe played clarinet in the Pep Band during his college years -- lead the assembled friends and colleagues in a rendition of the "Good Ol' Song," and Keith Drake offers some closing remarks. (Believe me, the music sounded much better and less distorted in person than it does on tape.)

As Keith notes in his closing, Joe provided in his will that his large collection of books would be left to the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library to be sold in its major fundraising event, the annual library book sale. No doubt many treasures will be found during next June's sale.

Update: I have belatedly learned that "Haec Olim Meminisse Juvabit" is the motto of the Jefferson Society, hence its particular poignancy at the memorial service for Joe Bishop within the walls of Jefferson Hall. As explained in the Wikipedia entry for the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society:
The Greek letters of the Hall are Φ Π Θ - Phi Pi Theta - which are the initials of the Society's Greek motto: φιλοι, πατρις, θεος (philoi, patris, theos, or "friendship, fatherland, divinity"). After Phi Beta Kappa the Society is the second oldest continually existing Greek-lettered organization in the country. The Hall's Latin motto, taken from Book 1, line 203 of Virgil's Aeneid, is Haec olim meminisse iuvabit, roughly translated "In the future, it will be pleasing to remember these things."
My thanks to a Jefferson Society member and contemporary of Joe from their years together at UVa for pointing this out.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Too Funny to Pass Up

When I was much younger, I used to stay up late at night, bouncing from page to page in the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary or a young people's encyclopedia. (There were neither hyperlinks nor remote controls in those days, so I had to hold a book in my hand, sometimes with a flashlight in the other while under the sheets, and turn the pages with my fingers.)

Nowadays, my late-night wandering eye is serviced by YouTube. If I don't pay attention, hours can go by before I realize I have been watching video after video after video, sometimes linked together most tenuously. That's how I found this video from Showtime (below) after looking at a number of bootleg videos of Broadway shows, which -- out of respect for copyright -- I will not post here no matter how good they are. How I got from point A to point L is a mystery.

This send-up of public access TV programs is so funny that I simply could not pass it up. Having spent my share of hours in public access studios, I have a special appreciation for the technical jokes. But the conversation -- apparently improvised -- is what really makes this clip hilarious.

Please enjoy "Good Morning Agrestic: Too Soon to Be Gay?"

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Lower East Side Story

In an article published earlier this week, the Jewish Daily Forward notes the 50th anniversary of the opening of West Side Story on Broadway by pointing out that the four co-creators -- Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, and Stephen Sondheim -- all had something special in common. (That's right, they're all Jewish.)

The key paragraph is here:

What might the cultural historian make of the ethnic homogeneity of the creative team behind “West Side Story”? Is its achievement not only central to the evolution of a supremely American genre but also an illuminating artifact of Jewish values? Did Robbins, Bernstein, Sondheim and Laurents happen to have in common not only the experience of circumcision but also the sort of attitudes that are a distinctive — or at least authentic — expression of one minority group in particular?
Others of us might approach that question differently -- not by reference to the religious or ethnic backgrounds of the four, but to the fact that all four are (or were) gay.

The Forward article never mentions this salient fact. How can the reporter miss it, when it can be found so readily in the lyrics of "I Feel Pretty"?

Gay-rights pioneer Frank Kameny (whose lifetime of service was recently accorded the rare honor of having some memorabilia, which he created and preserved, put on display in the Smithsonian) comments on the Forward's web site:
While Stephen Whitfield writes at length and cogently about the implications of the fact that Robbins, Laurents, Bernstein, and Sondheim, who created West Side Story, were all Jewish, he ignores the surely equally relevant fact (perhaps more relevant to the opus itself) that all four were gay.

An article exploring and enlarging upon the implications of that, in the cultural milieu of the 1950s, and its impact upon the Story -- or perhaps the interaction of both: that they were Jewish AND gay -- might be well worth reading.
While popular culture might joke about the contributions of gays (and Jews) to the Broadway stage -- think Family Guy or Monty Python's Spamalot -- there are others who would rather have the role played by gay men (in particular, but lesbians have had a large role to play as well) forgotten. A dozen years ago, the literary and film critic Bruce Bawer wrote in The Advocate:
...there's no part of the cultural landscape without a gay element. Even if gays constitute as much as fifteen percent of the population, the gay contribution to Western art, architecture, music, and literature far exceeds what it should be statistically. If you accept the right-wing claim that only one in a hundred people is gay, then the gay contribution is truly extraordinary. Think about it: A group comprising one percent of the population producing Erasmus, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Marlowe, Bacon, Hölderlin, Hans Christian Andersen, Tchaikovsky, Proust ... the list goes on and on to include three of the four major nineteenth-century American novelists, one (perhaps both) of the two great nineteenth-century American poets, and two of the three most noted mid-twentieth-century American dramatists.
In this essay, which was reprinted in the 1996 anthology Beyond Queer, Bawer continues:
The immensity of the debt that Western civilization owes to gay and lesbian genius is pretty ironic, given that homosexuality is often described as a threat to Western civilization by those strangest of allies, the culturally philistine religious right and neo-conservative intellectuals. Especially ironic is the case of Allan Bloom the late author of The Closing of the American Mind. That 1987 best-seller, which defended the traditional literary canon against multiculturalism, became the neocon bible, a key text in the so-called culture wars. As those wars wore on the neocons began to mimic the rhetoric of the religious right, bizarrely linking the decline of American art, culture, and higher education to a deterioration of "family values," which in turn was blamed mostly on increasing acceptance of gays. Gays, then, were Western civilization's worst enemies — and Bloom its most ardent defender.

Yet what few readers knew was the Bloom (who died in 1992) was gay. His allies knew but that didn't keep them from bashing gays in print. Years ago, at a social occasion, a leading neocon was overheard saying to an associate, "Isn't it a shame about Allan Bloom?" He meant, of course, "Isn't it a shame that he's gay?" In fact the real shame was that neocons saw no moral difficulty in celebrating Bloom while vilifying gays generally — and that Bloom, for his part, never publicly confronted them with the fact that Western civilization, far from being threatened by homosexuality, is to a staggeringly disproportionate degree the creation of gay men and women.

"Do you want to protect your children from gay influence?" I imagine him writing. "Very well. Destroy the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, silence Messiah and Swan Lake, and burn Moby Dick and The Portrait of a Lady. Gay culture is all around you — and it belongs to everybody."
The Forward article reminds me of the old joke about how various newspapers would report the impending end of the world: The Washington Post headline reads, "World to End Tomorrow; Minorities, Women Hit Hardest"; the Wall Street Journal says, "World to End Tomorrow; Markets Close Early"; the Weekly World News reports, "World to End Tomorrow; Lizard-like Space Aliens to Blame"; the New York Post says, "World to End; Paris, LiLo React on Page Six"; etc.

That is to say, we all have our parochial way of looking at things, but that doesn't mean we can't acknowledge other facts that have relevance for the bigger picture.

That Robbins, Laurents, Bernstein, and Sondheim are both gay and Jewish has meaning for the creative process, for the history of the Broadway musical, and for American popular culture in general.