Sunday, December 30, 2007

"News" they can use

A commenter called james c, over at Vanishing American, writes: "Since getting access to US media via the internet, i noticed there is a journalism style which i can only describe as 'sob-story hand-wringing'. It must be taught in journalism schools. No one could write like that naturally. VA, do you know what i mean?"

I'm sure VA knows what he means, as do I. It's become like one of those form letters you get from corporations when you write to them about a problem -- the words are already there in a computer macro, with just a few words filled in to "personalize" it. The "sob-story hand-wringing" immigration story seems to have been written by some Central Politburo of Political Correctness and distributed to the media to adapt as they see fit. Only, some of us see it as unfit as the product of a supposedly free press.


It's easy to find examples, but the Phoenix-area East Valley Tribune seems to be vying with The New York Times for the Olympic Gold Medal in one-sided, slanted reporting. If this is in fact what they teach in journalism school nowadays, you could hardly offer the class a better model than this.
Bad. Bad. Bad. That’s how Mesa business owner Ramon Quintana describes the crisis facing Hispanic-oriented companies as people in the Latino community lose their jobs and flee the area for friendlier frontiers. The problem comes from a mix of fear of recent immigration arrests and the pending crackdown on employers who hire illegal residents. Hispanic-oriented businesses are paying the price.
Crisis. Flee the area for friendlier frontiers. Fear. Crackdown. ¡Ay caramba!¡Fascismo! The United States is beginning to rediscover that it has borders, and they do not include all Mexico.
At the height of the Christmas shopping season, some businesses reported less than half the revenue they had last Christmas. Those who remain are struggling to pay the rent, both on their homes and businesses. “Everybody is complaining,” Quintana said. And the situation is only going to get worse, he said.
Worse for whom, amigo? For you and your clientele, contemptuous of American law, indulging in the kind of border jumping that would get you jailed if you tried it in Mexico? But maybe a lot better for those of us who are citizens of this country, who will no longer watch ever larger portions of our cities become Tijuana because of criminals like you.
The windows at U-Care Thrift Store are still plastered with “Happy Holidays” and “Peace on Earth Good Will to All,” a merry message compared with the story on the other side of the glass. Neighbors say the owner fled about a month ago, leaving rows of clothing racks and a store full of merchandise behind. ... U-Care Thrift Store is the third shop on the corner of Main Street and Stapley Drive to close. Quik Cash payday loans and a former party store are already empty.

Those probably won’t be the last to close on that corner, Quintana said. Other vendors tell him they worry about making the rent.
Señor Quintana? You and "other vendors" thought you'd game the system here, come to El Norte for the freebies that American taxpayers are required by their political overlords to grant you.


But that's changing. You sponged off our country for years. Well, the game's about up, amigo. You lose, and you deserve to lose.

Oh, and you, East Valley Tribune: Bad. Bad. Bad.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Losing our country (music)

This is "country"?

I can't say I was really shocked. A dozen or more years ago, when Billy Ray Cyrus did that "Achy Breaky Heart" thing, I knew country music had entered the dark world of MTV.

But I had no idea how far into the depths country has sunk till I watched the re-run of the CMA Awards program (originally broadcast in November) the day before yesterday.

In its mass market commercial form, at least, country music has almost nothing to do with the tradition. If it follows any model, it's 1970s rock and 1980s heavy metal. Here and there, deep in the mix, you can just make out a pedal steel guitar or fiddle; otherwise, you'd be hard pressed to figure out it has any antecedents beyond Megadeth and Styx.

Country (or, if you prefer, country-and-western) has had an identity crisis for quite a while. The
family farms and whistle-stop, three-street towns and that nurtured the genre have departed the landscape. Memories of cattle ranching have been replaced by memories of movies about cattle ranching. The 1980 John Travolta film Urban Cowboy entertainingly satirized artificial western culture preserved in a manipulated, money-driven time warp.

But at least the ersatz cowboys in those days had a faded image of the real thing. If the 2007 Country Music Association awards are any indication, even that has dissipated. What's left is a shell into which Nashville producers pour dated power pop.

Big & Rich. This is "country"?

As I viewed the CMA awards show, I couldn't stop a cliché thought spinning through my brain: what would Patsy Cline or Hank Williams or Hank Snow think if they saw this? I didn't want to imagine it, as act after act did the shuck and jive -- the whole treatment, choreographed and posturing. The arena-rock lighting and in-your-face stage paraphernalia (which included, for one group, a wall of video monitors) contributed to the glitzy atmosphere.

I'm not saying this because I dislike rock music; I grew up with it and rock was on my life's soundtrack for years (although I'm not a fan of the showbiz screeching variety that was so much in evidence in these "country" performances). I'll admit that Miranda Lambert, previously unknown to me, was thrilling enough singing "Gunpowder and Lead," but it wasn't recognizable as country. And the Eagles-together-again showed what honest country rock could be and once was.

But mainly the performers offered only crass and empty bombast. True, it was just another symptom of the lost art of melody in pop music, but until recently I retained some fondness for modern country because it seemed the last refuge of heart and romanticism in contemporary songwriting. You can almost kiss that goodbye.

The absolute dregs were a duo called Big & Rich ("We Like It Loud"). Said one of these oafs in his introduction, "We send this song out to the King of Bling, the late great Porter Wagoner." I don't know anything about Wagoner, other than that he was of an earlier generation of country musicians, but somehow I don't think he'd appreciate being called "The King of Bling."

The clothing fashions of your 2007 country stars are all over the place, except what you used to see. Admittedly, the former styles of country performers, especially the men, were pretty silly, but at least those embroidered shirts and rhinestone jackets proclaimed that the wearers weren't any damned city slickers. Has that ever changed. Now a lot of the guys are so-o-o cool, if you didn't know they were soi-disant country performers you'd figure they were straight out of Manhattan's SoHo (or London's Soho). The women were carefully made up and drop-dead alluring, but sure not about to hop any fences in those gowns. I can't imagine how Miz Lambert did her stage moves without breaking the stiletto heals of her boots -- they must have been made of steel and welded on.

"Country" lass Miranda Lambert

Well, enough. Traditional country music may no longer dominate the charts, but it won't die, either. After "Achy Breaky Heart," the Dixie Chicks came along with their modern-retro Wide Open Spaces, and while their subsequent albums haven't been up to that exalted standard and their taste hasn't always been impeccable, they have continued to produce some fine work in the older style. The extraordinarily talented Martina McBride took a detour from wasting her voice in its prime on commercial tripe to do a wonderful compilation of classic country, Timeless. Patty Loveless continues to prove that electrified arrangements can coexist beautifully with her Appalachian roots.

Even in this terrible CMA awards program, George Strait and Alison Krauss contributed a touch of humanity (albeit neither with very good songs), and Sugarland's effective singer and her partner, who played an amplified acoustic guitar, gave us a relatively quiet and strong ballad.

There is still hope for real country music. Like a plant sprouting through a crack in the sidewalk, it will come through. Let's hope there will still be anyone around who can appreciate it.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Peace in the end

Whatever you believe about the theological meaning of the Christmas holiday, it is spiritually symbolic that it comes around the time of the winter solstice, which was instinctively felt to have a deep significance even before Jesus appeared on earth. It was the longest night, a time that encouraged introspection, when more sensitive souls often felt an equivalent bleakness within.

And just when, to our most untutored and unphilosophical emotions, the darkness seemed to be closing in, a miraculous reversal began. The tide of light again started to climb the shores of our lives.


Once again we find ourselves in that season when a mystery tugs at our hearts, reminding us that however much we may fear the dark in our souls, it will never gain a complete victory over the light, a light that shines forever because it is not of this world.

I wish you all a merry Christmas or whatever you celebrate, even if it is only a voiceless whisper that impels you, against all your selfish resistance, toward love.


Go ask your neighbours to come and sing songs,
You know they've wanted to all along.
I've seen them smile for their friends,
All in the end.

Come on Mary, Mary or you, John,

To which religion do you belong?

You are our lovers, you are our friends,

Peace in the end.

-- Sandy Denny
"Peace in the End"


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Yurt telling me

Model home, Washington suburb

"Builders Are Catering to Area's Increasing Immigrant Population"
Washington Post, December 19

The immigration marching band leaders at The Post can scarcely contain their glee. Just as the housing industry is about to go under for the unforeseeable future, new saviors have arisen: immigrants who want to recreate their countries of origin on U.S. soil. The main headline to the story gives it away: "Homes with a bit of homeland." Homeland, you see, is … well, not here. Practically anywhere but here (as long as the immigrants are from a culture as different as possible from that dreary old white-bread, pitchfork-leaning indigenous America).

Of course, the immigrant residents-for-commerce won't be having any of those tiresome colonial or craftsman revival homes. The Post says:
As the Washington region's population of foreign-born residents tops 1 million, the influx is changing the way homes and subdivisions are built. Custom home builders are planning prayer rooms for Indian families and using feng shui, the Chinese art of home design, for Asian customers. They're fielding requests for white brick and mortar, rather than bricks made from Virginia clay, from customers who want to evoke the sun-baked dwellings of their Middle Eastern homelands. …

Foreign-born residents make up a growing share of U.S. homeowners at all income levels, but particularly first-time buyers, according to Zhu Xiao Di, a senior research analyst at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. Locally, foreign-born residents make up about 16 percent of recent home buyers in Maryland, 15 percent in Virginia and 12 percent in the District, according to the center's analysis of U.S. Census data.
Yurt Meadows development
"For the little bit o' Mongolia in all of us"

Our rulers — for we primal Americans are no longer citizens, just embarrassing old relatives to be pushed out of the way to make room for new "Americans" — continue their nonstop campaign to turn the United States into part of Latin America.
Nationally, former U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary Henry G. Cisneros is spearheading a movement to design homes and communities that will appeal to the Latino consumer, the fastest-growing segment of the population.

Last year, he edited a book on the subject, "Casa y Comunidad," for the National Association of Home Builders. The book advocates residential construction that meets the Latino community's needs, adding space for in-law suites for elderly parents and larger kitchens with roomier pantries and gas stoves. ("Only a gas oven works well for tortillas," the book says.)

Don't look for much tranquility in these new "vibrant" suburbs.

[A developer] learned that about 50 percent of likely buyers for their New Bristow Village community in Prince William County would be Latino families and other foreign-born residents, so they introduced a model with a den that could be converted into a bedroom for grandparents and a connected living and dining room that would give more space for large family parties.

How long do you think it will take before these tortilla-friendly domiciles are each housing four families, 17 kids, 10 grandparents, 12 low-rider cars, five motorcycles and seven pit bulls?

No day goes by when I don't see or read something that has me shaking my head and asking: Why do our rulers (corporations, mainstream media, academia, the federal judiciary, and the rest of the usual culprits) want so much to marginalize our indigenous population? Non-immigrant Americans are becoming a feeble minority quicker than you can toss another tortilla on the gas stove.

Monday, December 17, 2007

1968 and all that

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Tom Brokaw, hosting the two-hour History Channel program "1968," remembers the year. So do I. He remembers it as a TV reporter doing a stand-up at Haight and Ashbury Streets in San Francisco, reporting on the hippie subculture (shown in an old tape). I lived in Berkeley then but often spent time in the Haight, which contrary to the impression Brokaw gave in the History Channel documentary, was well past its love-in prime and had become a magnet for copycat freaks, hard dopers, and lost, runaway teenagers.

I'm so leery of TV documentaries about anything having to do with the sociology or politics of the post-World War II era that I rarely give them my time. A couple of promos for "1968" caught my attention because they included clips of Pat Buchanan and Dorothy Rabinowitz, the excellent TV columnist for The Wall Street Journal. Balance, maybe? And whatever the sins of the NBC network he worked for, I'd found Brokaw at least tolerable as the anchor for the evening news.

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It could hardly be expected that Brokaw and I would have the same perspective on the "year that
everything changed," as the show's subtitle called it. He was in an opposite "space" (as the slang of that year would have put it) from me, I being part of the counterculture — you didn't get more countercultural than being a young Berkeley freak — and Brokaw no doubt a supporter of antidisestablishmentarianism. (I've done it! I've actually managed to use that word legitimately in a sentence for the first time!)

Any hopes I'd harbored for a responsible look at 1968, which I agree was an important and symbolic one, were disappointed when I watched the program. Essentially it was the Official History of the time defined by liberal baby boomers, plus a few lessons — class, put down your iPods for a minute and pay attention! — directed at any Gen X or Y or Z viewers who tuned in (jolly few, I suspect).

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Brokaw and the show's writers and producers obviously had no idea that the counterculture was anything other than a few rock bands and, above all, political demonstrators against the Vietnam War. (I won't try to explain here what else it was, except to say that it involved a whole constellation of values and visions that weren't necessarily political, nor could they be summarized as sex-and-drugs-and-rock-and-roll.)

So we got a lot of footage of Vietnam battles and casualties, student protests, etc. The visual style was very MTV, quick impressionistic cuts, slowing only for interviews with famous names that were considered generational representatives. Arlo Guthrie, for instance, who is still apparently up there in Vermont or wherever on his commune, looking the way a parodist in the '60s would have pictured a hippie 40 years later.

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Naturally many tear-stained minutes were devoted to the assassinations of Saint Bobby and Saint Martin. There was a dry eye in my house. Robert Kennedy, had he lived, would surely have become just another underachieving, drug-addled spouter of empty rhetoric like his late brother, or a quisling like his brother Ted.

Martin Luther King, on the other hand, still impresses in some ways: I hadn't heard that organ-pipe voice and stately speaking rhythm for a while, and it was powerful. Moreover, although he was hardly a saint, King was on balance a good role model for American blacks, far better than anyone equally well known now. So yes, his murder was a genuine tragedy that left a vacuum in black culture later to be abysmally filled by Black Power and, eventually, rap and hip-hop.

But "1968" was the Liberal Establishment's take on history, so the raised fists of Black Power segued right into the story line as part of Civil Rights. Then — what was really egregious — we got clips of the protesters marching for the Jena 6, a bunch of thugs who beat a white boy nearly to death in a hate crime this year. One typical quick cut showed a little girl with her hand raised in the Black Power salute.

The lesson (all liberal history is a lesson, there's no such thing as quote objective unquote history) was that any black protest — and, by extension, any ethnic group protest — is part of a continuum with the 1960s Civil Rights movement, the Spirit of MLK moving upon the waters.

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Brokaw has acquired a stern Old Testament visage, his years of reading a teleprompter without stumbling having anointed him, in his own estimation, a Deep Thinker. Looking like the preacher about to pronounce "ashes to ashes, dust to dust," he interviewed a born-again liberal with the incredible name of Tom Turnipseed, a South Carolina lawyer who turned from segregationist to Civil Rights cheerleader. When Turnipseed quoted — making sure, with legalistic precision, to emphasize he was quoting — a segregationist from the ancient past who used the word "nigger," the N word was bleeped out on the soundtrack. So the word couldn't even be used to exemplify the bigotry in some quarters during the year supposedly being examined.

That's the liberal mentality for you: people can't be trusted to make their own judgments and draw their own conclusions. They are racists to the bone, ready to run amok unless the information they receive is carefully filtered by their betters in the media. If ordinary Americans even heard the N word in a quotation from the past, they might reach for their rifles and check out Barack Obama's travel schedule. The media must censor the past, preach to the present, and draw the future for the audience.

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"1968" also drew explicit parallels between the Vietnam War and Iraq. I don't disagree that there are similarities. What I disagree with is using airtime supposedly intended to cast light on the past to editorialize about the present. Good historians aren't without opinions, but they try to understand the period they study on its own terms, not as just a prelude.

Oh, yes, about Pat Buchanan and Dorothy Rabinowitz. Pat got a fair amount of talking-head time, but only to reminisce about 1968 in general terms and about his role in the Nixon campaign. If he made any conservative-sounding political statements, they were swept up with the rest of the outtakes from the editing room floor. Rabinowitz was allowed to say that the '60s generation was the most irresponsible and self-centered ever, then her 10 seconds were up. I don't entirely agree with her, but she should have been allowed to make her case.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Jobsworths and prime ministers

There's the little picture and a big picture … but only one subject, really.

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Crime photo

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Terms of surrender

The subject is the passing of sovereignty from individuals who give limited power to governments, to governments (from the petty functionary to the top job) who act as rulers, not servants, of the people.

There's nothing new about tyranny, of course. It has been the most common form of government in history. We have dozens of names for them — Emperor, Monarch, Caliph, Supreme Leader, etc. — but they all represent the idea of ultimate power residing in one brain pan, whether of a saint or a paranoid sadist.

But today, in Western countries once held up as ideals of individual liberty and self-rule, we increasingly live under a soft tyranny that permeates our lives. It can be writ small or large, and it comes in many varieties, but whatever the format everyone experiences it so often that it comes to be expected, even normal. You could call it a secular priesthood of officials who believe they have been appointed to rule the state's population, not represent it.

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The two examples here are both from the U.K., but this isn't essentially another "Britain self-destructs" posting. The soft tyranny may be more advanced in Britain, but it exists in these United States as well. Frankly, it's easier to find cases written up in British print journalism, which is not yet almost totally neutered like ours. The Daily Mail is perhaps the most consistent scourge of political correctness and devolved politicians. I forgive the Daily Mail for keeping itself afloat with gossip stories about celebrities and other lowbrow features because of its glorious urge to embarrass the quasi-Socialist establishment.

The top photo illustrates a story about a council worker (that's British for municipal leaf raker) who refused to allow a family to photograph their daughter in a public park they presumably paid tax money to keep up.
The couple tried reasoning with the warden and explained that Rebecca was their daughter. But he refused to budge so they were forced to pack up their camera and headed home with their day ruined. "It beggars belief," said Mr Brook, 35, an off-licence manager from Oldham, Greater Manchester.

"The fact that a mummy and daddy can't take a picture of their own daughter is ridiculous. I could understand if it was in a swimming pool packed with other children or somewhere like that, but she was well wrapped up and as far as I could see we were the only people in the park." …

A council spokesman said: "We are committed to ensuring that all our parks are safe and welcoming places for all visitors. To ensure this happens staff are instructed to be observant and aware of the activities of park users and consider whether they are appropriate."

The U.K. may not be able to stop illegal immigrants coming into the country at will and settling down, but it apparently has a whole army of what are called "jobsworths" in Brit slang to harass easy targets, like middle-class people not bothering anyone. (A jobsworth is a low-placed officeholder or employee who enforces trivial rules in violation of common sense; it comes from the phrase "it's more than my job's worth to let you off.")

Incidentally, I notice that this family lives in Oldham, near Manchester. It made headlines a few years back for violence between the indigenes and the large Muslim population. The story makes no reference to the ethnicity of the
"man in a high-visibility jacket" who told the family they couldn't photograph their daughter, and no assumptions are warranted, but I wonder. I also wonder if the same thing would have happened if it had been a Pakistani family.

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The second photo is of the prime minister, Gordon Brown, signing an EU treaty today that is equivalent to the constitution that was rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005, and has never been put to a vote in the U.K.

The Daily Mirror reports:
Buried in the Treaty's small print is a ruling that gives new rights to EU leaders to overturn decisions made by Britain's Immigration and Asylum Tribunal. Thousands of failed asylum seekers will now be able to take their cases to the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg where the final say will be handed to unselected bureaucrats in Brussels. …

Almost 170,000 deportation cases are already brought before the Immigration Tribunal every year, with each case usually lasting around two years. Giving failed asylum seekers powers to take their cases to Europe will cost the taxpayer millions of extra pounds as each case now already costs an average of £18,000.
No revolutionary cadre has taken over the broadcasting and power stations. No red flag flies over the House of Commons. But as of today, the U.K. cannot even refuse an asylum claimant unless Big Brussels agrees (fat chance that it will turn away many asylum seekers). In practical terms, things won't be much different — the country is awash in immigrants, legal and that other kind — but the nullification of Britain's ability to select its own occupiers is now enshrined in law. Britain belongs to anybody who can fetch up on its soil.

It's hardly necessary to note that this nationicide was done without any agreement by the ruled.

No wonder the Kingdom is buckling sociologically, as well as politically, with
endemic drunkenness, yobbery, and crime. Once-free men and women are now vassals to their government. That doesn't excuse bad behavior, but you have to expect it to some extent when people lose their self-respect. No longer being able to make your wishes known in anything but newspaper polls, and having no choice about who can add their presence permanently to your crowded island, is a lot to take aboard.

The EU president said, "The world needs a stronger Europe." He didn't need to add: and weaker citizens.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Words without songs — II

"Darby's latest effort at poetry aims at the stars, but bounces off the aluminum siding." — Seattle Fish Wrap

"Mesmerizing, if you ignore the words" — The Complete Skeptic's Guide to Literary Pretense

"A none-too-eagerly awaited preview of his forthcoming collection, Wrinkled Fingers" — Robert G. Loophole, Aerolam Chair of Contemporary Poetry, Johnstown University


The Bardo of Skin and Paper

We looked behind the sofa to classify our fate
But found only dusty ideals and push pins to declare.
A chariot we borrowed from Zeus took us here and there
Among the tangled skies that sank beneath our weight.

You asked the Greek policeman, “Can these ancient words be true?”
Yes, you asked the Greek policeman, “Can these ancient words be true?”
He said, “Suicide gives better odds, but careful love might do.”

We thought our Elvis statue was showing signs of wear
And called a discreet repair man, but he wasn't in.
We found him behind his house, looking alarmingly thin,
Trimming the garden hedges, followed by his hair.

I sold my Coptic prayer rug when I had to make ends meet.
Well, I sold my Coptic prayer rung when I had to make ends meet.
The merchant said, “Enjoy your ends, but prayer is far more sweet.”

We sorted the ginkgo leaves while plotting a minor crime
Beneath portraits of your noble ancestors framed in lemon peels.
Our souls seeped into the valley, down where the moonlight congeals
And sacred marmots sip from the river that dreams our time.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

The Republican Party's Day of the Dead

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Republican presidential candidates
and supporters, Coral Gables, Florida

Republibots competed with one another to bend the knee to Hispanics and pro-Invasion interests in a Spanish-language debate in Florida yesterday. Winners in the fawning contest were Giuliani and McCain, with Huckabee coming up fast on the inside for a third place finish. The Washington Times gives this account:
Sen. John McCain and former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani stood alone among the Republican presidential candidates in last night's Spanish-language debate in calling for some illegal aliens to be granted a path to citizenship. …

He and Mr. McCain said that after the border is secure, the illegal alien population can be addressed, with some being allowed to stay."The people who want to come forward should be allowed to come forward," Mr. Giuliani said.
Got that? "The people" — illegals — "who want to come forward" — be rewarded with citizenship for their violation of American law — "should be allowed to come forward." That is, only los illegals who want their reward should have it granted; those who do not want a tainted citizenship should not. What could be fairer? Somewhere among the 20 to 30 million there are a few who might have an attack of conscience and refuse the goods.
Asked specifically about citizen children being separated from illegal alien parents after work-site raids, none of the three candidates to whom the question was addressed answered it.

Mr. Romney, of Massachusetts, and Mr. Thompson, of Tennessee, spoke about birthright citizenship for those born here, while Mr. McCain, of Arizona, blamed the separations on Congress' failure to pass a bill.

I take this to mean that Romney and Thompson implied that birthright citizenship of reconquista babies is a fact of life, or at least that they weren't going to let mere principle get in the way of wooing Hispanics.
"The message of our failure is they want the border secured first, and we must secure the border first, and then we move on to all of these other issues," he said. "Once we secure the borders, I'm convinced the American people will proceed with issues like this in a humanitarian and compassionate fashion."

Mr. McCain said his fellow Republicans' harsh tone on immigration has cost his party support among Hispanic voters.

Got that? McCain, who made a tentative stab recently to mend his ways on immigration, was emboldened for recidivism by his amigos in the audience. We must secure the borders before we unsecure them. And, of course, the only issue is winning the support of Hispanic voters. The rest of the American people? Oh, please, they're just a bunch of dummies. We'll come up with a way to buy their votes too.

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While he may not have overtly cast his lot with finagling amnesty, Huckabee made perhaps the evening's stupidest single comment (among those reported): "'It's a terrible thing when a person who is here legally, but speaks with an accent, is racially profiled by the public,' he said." Absolutely pathetic, trying to curry favor by telling the ethnic group at this whistle stop they are victims, persecuted, racially profiled, not affirmatively acted for enough. Vote for him or it's the gas chamber for sure.
Not taking part in the debate was Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, who boycotted the event in protest of the Spanish-language format. He said the debate only would further the "balkanization" of the U.S. and said it didn't make sense to debate in Spanish when the citizenship test requires a demonstration of English ability.
Bless his heart. Someone actually taking a stand for the United States as a historical and cultural continuity, not just a permeable membrane.

The candidates — and I include the decent Ron Paul — shouldn't have demeaned themselves by participating in this act of Hispandering. But in a way, I'm glad it happened. I now know, without a sliver of doubt, the names of several men who should never be elected president of the United States. They are the candidates whose constituency is the dead. The dead America.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Tommy Cooper

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Mention English comedy to Americans and they're likely to think of Monty Python. Old-movie buffs might recall the "Ealing comedies" like The Lavender Hill Mob and Passport to Pimlico.

But there was another sub-genre that rarely made it to these shores. It didn't travel well, partly because it was very much to the English working class taste of the time: unsubtle, flagrantly acted, full of outrageous (often double entendre) puns. It's derived from the English music hall tradition, which Yanks couldn't relate to. Kenneth Williams and his madcap sidekicks Sid James and Charles Hawtrey raised the style to at least a low art form in the long-running
Carry On series (Carry On Doctor, Carry On Nurse, Carry on Up the Khyber, etc.).

The Carry On films I've managed to see have been a guilty pleasure, although they're hard to come by in the United States. And I have another name for you: Tommy Cooper.

If you're (a) American or (b) under the age of 40 anywhere, that may mean nothing to you at all. It's understandable. He died in 1984, before many British TV shows (by which he was best known) were shown in the U.S. His brand of comedy came out of a gentler, less "edgy" (how I've come to loathe that word), less "ironic" time, and I suppose many young people would think he's corny. At least until they find themselves laughing till tears gather in their eyes.

How come I know about Tommy Cooper, being a Yank? Because I saw him on British TV: on my first visit, buckets of years ago now, and much more recently in a tribute program (er, "programme") on the BBC. (Once in a while, the Beeb does something to its credit.) It was narrated by Anthony Hopkins, no less, and he did a pretty fair imitation of Cooper's way with a joke.

That way is very hard to describe, because it was so (seemingly) effortless, Zen-like. There are people who know how to "do" comedy or tell jokes; Tommy Cooper simply was funny, the way some people are serious or curious. It was his nature.

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Explaining his visual humor is nigh impossible. The fez he habitually wore, the duck-foot shoes … no, sorry, can't be conveyed in words. So I'll just give you the following selection of his lines. They may not crack you up the way they do me, either because you're more sophisticated than I am, or because they're not that great without his inimitable delivery. But I'll take a chance if you will:

I went to buy some camouflage trousers the other day but I couldn't find any.

Police arrested two kids yesterday, one was drinking battery acid, the other was eating fireworks. They charged one but let the other one go off.

A man walked into the doctor's, he said, 'I've hurt my arm in several places.' The doctor said, 'Well, don't go there any more.'

Went down to the corner shop. Bought four corners.

I went to the doctor the other day, and he said, 'Go to Bournemouth, it's great for flu.' So I went, and I got it.

I went to the doctor with a jelly stuck in one ear and custard in the other. The doctor asked, 'What seems to be the problem?' I said, 'You have to speak up, I'm a trifle deaf.'

Now, most dentist's chairs go up and down, don't they? The one I was in went back and forwards. I thought, ' This is unusual.' And the dentist said to me, 'Mr Cooper, get out of the filing cabinet.'

I went into a butcher's and I said, 'I'll have a pound of sausages.' He said, 'I'm very sorry, sir, we only sell kilos in here.' I said, 'Okay then, I'll have a pound of kilos.'

So I knocked on the door at this bed & breakfast and a lady stuck her head out of the window and asked: 'What do you want?' I said, 'I want to stay here.' She said, 'Well stay there' and shut the window.

I had a meal last night. I ordered everything in French, surprised everybody. It was a Chinese restaurant. I said to this Chinese waiter, 'Look, this chicken I got here is cold.' He said, 'It should be, it's been dead two weeks.'

I said, 'Not only that.' I said, I said ... I said it twice, I said, 'He's got one leg shorter than the other.' He said, 'What do you wanna do with it, eat it or dance with it?'
I said, 'Forget the chicken, give me a lobster,' and he brought me this lobster. I said, 'Just a minute, he's only got one claw.' He said, 'Well he's been in a fight.' I said, 'Well give me the winner.'

A man goes to the psychiatrist and the psychiatrist says: 'What's the problem?' The man says, 'I think I'm becoming a kleptomaniac.' The psychiatrist says, 'Here, take these tablets and if you're no better in a week, bring me a colour TV.'

[Drum roll … ]
Tommy Cooper: And now, ladies and gentlemen, the moment you've all been waiting for.

Audience: [Applause]

Tommy Cooper: Good night!

[Cymbal crash]

Good night, Tommy.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Of turkeys and dragons

Mark Pritchard, a member of Parliament in Britain, has a way with words. Unfortunately, not a very good way. He managed to come up with this metaphor: "Taking Christ out of Christmas is like serving the Christmas turkey without the stuffing."

He also said that it is "time for the dragon of political correctness to be slain."

His remarks came in a debate about whether there is widespread "Christianophobia" in the U.K.

While I am in favor of re-stuffing the turkey, so to speak, and slaying the aforementioned dragon, Mr. Pritchard — as well as Community Cohesion Minister Parmjit Dhanda — are barking up the wrong Christmas tree. (My own strained metaphor.)

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Mr. Dhanda's reported contribution to the debate includes, "
I fully recognise the full historical and cultural significance [of Christianity] in our country. We should all be aware of that and celebrate that."

Talking about "Christianophobia" is a lame attempt to score points using the same tactics as people who decry Islamophobia and homophobia. That is, claiming persecution by others who disagree with, or find distasteful, one's own religion or sexual orientation. It is probably true that Britain is largely a post-Christian country, but that isn't the same as persecution.

He can't find greeting cards with references to Christ or Advent? That may be regrettable, but it is very unlikely to be caused by any Christophobia. It is because there isn't much of a market for them. If there were, someone would produce and sell them.

Mr. Pritchard also says — I'd like to think this was just his little joke about subservience to minorities, but I don't get the impression he is that subtle — that Christians should get "full minority rights."

The trouble with this kind of argument is that it issues from the mouth of that dragon he wants slain. You Muslims think you're victims of prejudice? We Christians will show you what being victimized is! What next, a hate crime law for speaking against Christianity?

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As for Mr. Dhanda's remark, it may not be worth fussing too much over — just a feel-good formula you might expect from someone whose Stalinist title is
Community Cohesion Minister.

But it grates a little, too. "Historical and cultural significance" is just too wet a description of the religion that produced English mystics like
Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton, the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, Julian of Norwich, and Margery Kempe — not to mention numerous clergy, religious scholars, saints and martyrs. Christians believe their religion is a guide to the ultimate mysteries of human life and the spirit. Mr. Dhanda makes it sound like a tattered but comfortable pair of slippers. Or an old wheeze that should get a pat on the back because "the religion had had a 'significant impact' in securing people's rights and freedoms" — a dubious proposition and one that suggests Christianity's importance was political.

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If Christianity is under attack in Britain, it's mainly from its own leaders, like the crack-brained Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who finds his sacred duty in criticizing American foreign policy and who is probably an atheist in all but name.

If Mr. Pritchard is serious about speaking up for Christianity, he might question whether a politicized A. of C. is living up to his responsibilities. But then, they're both politicians.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Visit Zimbabwe, where your dollar goes farther

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(Tip of the hat: Mangan's)

Continuing our series about Zimbabwe tourism, here's another reason to head for Zimbabwe.

Unlike in so many other countries, the U.S. dollar exchange rate is very favorable. Check this out:

The Zimbabwe dollar has crashed in recent days to a new all-time low of Z$4 million to the U.S. dollar as foreign exchange dealers on the country's bustling parallel currency market react to central bank warnings that new banknotes are soon to be issued.

Although the currency often experienced steep declines, the latest drop exceeded its predecessors in steepness and magnitude with the currency depreciating several fold in less than a week fueled by hyperinflation conservatively estimated at 15,000%.

Think on it! The instant you step off the plane and change money you will be a millionaire — or, if you fancy trying your hand at black market dealing, a billionaire! Experience the thrill of buying a newspaper for $4 million or spending a night in Harare's best hotel for $8 million.

President-for-All-Time Robert Mugabe's far-seeing administration is at the top of its game in taking advantage of the world's most favorable exchange rate for tourism promotion. He's got himself a cracker of a Minister of Environment and Tourism, Francis Nhema. Mr. Nhema sees great tourism potential in Zimbabwe, Land of Contrasts, although he admits that getting off to a good start is suffering from ignition trouble because of prejudicial news reports.

It is a fact that tourism in Zimbabwe, like any other economic sector, has been going through torrid times. Yes, one cannot separate this from politics, but I would not say that it is Zimbabwe's politics that has contributed heavily to the decline of tourist arrivals. Rather, it has been international politics and other factors at play.
Particularly promising is the "Look East Policy."
My ministry, working in conjunction with the Ministry of Transport and Communications and supported by the tourism industry, was instrumental in the introduction of direct flights to China by Air Zimbabwe. This followed the opening of our Tourist Office in Beijing and the signing of the ADS agreement with China in 2004.
The only problem with the Chinese sightseeing trade is that many Chinese, unaccustomed to the local cuisine (e.g., Thousand Year Ostrich Egg with mango-batwing purée) have experienced upset stomachs, popularly known as "Mugabe's Revenge." As a consequence, Chinese visitors now often pack their own meals to bring along for their stay. Mr. Nhema is not unduly concerned:
It is natural for people when they travel to strange and exotic lands that they carry some of their own food. But can one really carry food to last them for the whole duration of their visit especially if it is a long haul destination? And, by the way, tourist class on airlines only permit 20kg.
Zim isn't, perhaps, a first vacation choice for everyone. But for those who seek adventure combined with the experience of spending billions per day, it could be the answer. Especially if, as rumor has it, a currency devaluation is announced next week.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

"Mohammed teddy bear" teacher gets the lash — from me

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Crowd thanks Gillian Gibbons
for teaching their children.

My sympathy for Gillian Gibbons, the teacher from England sentenced
in Sudan to jail for naming her class teddy bear "Mohammed," has suffered a power outage. I have no time for dhimmitude and not much for gross stupidity.

"Thousands of people wielding clubs and knives marched through Khartoum after Friday prayers denouncing what they termed the lenient sentencing of a British teacher for insulting Islam and calling for her to be shot," the Telegraph reported. "'Those who insult the Prophet of Islam should be punished with bullets,' the crowd shouted after Gibbons, 54, was jailed for 15 days on charges stemming from naming a teddy bear Mohammed. Authorities in Britain and Sudan refused to reveal where Mrs Gibbons … was serving her sentence for fear of rioting there. "

Think Mrs. Gibbons and her kin took offense? No, no. Just a little misunderstanding. Her own doing, really, for not being sensitive enough.

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In another story, the Telegraph says:
The British teacher jailed in Sudan for naming a teddy bear Mohammed has said that she wished she could stay in the country. … Despite street protests against her by hundreds of angry demonstrators, some waving swords, Mrs Gibbons expressed gratitude for her treatment.

"I've been given so many apples that I feel I could set up my own stall. The guards are constantly asking if I have everything I need," she said.

Mrs. Gibbons, I am glad to hear they have comforted you with apples. But you do not have everything you need, including one of the most important: self-respect and dignity. And a carload of righteous anger. I can understand that, although you are under house arrest and supposedly being treated well, this may not be the time to fully express outrage. But you do not have to fawn over your captors and go out of your way to assure the world that the threat to your very life that has arisen over the name of a toy bear has no connection with Islamic fanaticism.

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In a telephone call to her son John in Liverpool, Mrs Gibbons said: "I don't want any resentment towards Muslim people."
Count yourself lucky, madam, that the British Foreign Secretary, the British ambassador, and two members of Parliament are trying to get you off the hook. How do you think it would have gone for you otherwise — if, say, you were from some obscure African country, or Sudan itself?

dhimmitude from another British teacher in Khartoum:
Colleagues I chatted to this week agreed that the whole affair has more to do with Sudan than it does with Islam. “I have a lot of friends who are Muslim, and I did understand the Islamic culture before coming here, but I was not prepared for this,” one woman teacher told me.

She thought many Sudanese just have no idea about the rest of the world. “They tell you what to do, and they don’t listen to the views of anyone else,” she said.

For me, the past few days have really driven home that just having a general appreciation of Islam is not always enough to avoid causing offence.

Well, colleagues, if you weren't so busy abasing yourselves to your Muslim overlords, you might have noticed something not too long ago about crowds in London — you've heard of it? — calling for infidels to be beheaded for publishing cartoons of Big Mo. Nothing to do with Islam, of course; says more about London. Let this teddy bear flap be a learning experience for you. Don't fail to dial up your general appreciation of Islam to the "Full Servitude" mark.

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What would a person in the British diplomatic service a hundred years ago, dealing with international treaties and other state enterprises of great pith and moment, have thought if he could have looked forward in time to see future diplomats in a frenzy trying (while facing an "uphill struggle") to rescue an Englishwoman from imprisonment caused by a row over a teddy bear?

These newspaper articles also demonstrate that the English have given up their own spelling gaol in favor of the American jail. If you needed one more sign of weakness, there it is.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Jacques Barzun is 100

Jacques Barzun was born a century ago today: November 30, 1907.

If you haven't read him, I recommend that you do. He's written more than a dozen books, but his magnum opus is
From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present. It was published when he was 92.

Barzun, primarily a social historian, is the archetype of a humanist sch
olar: interested in ideas but dubious about theories and ideologies that purport to explain everything; a cosmopolitan who dislikes cant and political correctness; possessor of an enormous store of facts who wants to find meaning in them. Reading From Dawn to Decadence, you get the impression that you could bring up any year within that half-millennium and he could, if you wanted, talk for an hour about what was going down at the time — in literature, arts, politics, religion — everywhere in Europe (and the United States, if it existed at that point).

He's very readable, too, which you can't say about that many people in the academic world today (Barzun spent most of his teaching career at Columbia University). No jargon, but also no pretentious writing that shouts, "Hey, sailor, how you like my metaphor in your face, big boy?" His style is fitting: he uses the right words to say what he wants to say, with just the right shadings. That may sound easy, but as someone who writes for a living, I promise you it isn't.
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A hundred years is a long time to live. It's strange to think about. He's written a book covering a 500 year period, and he's lived through almost one-fifth of that time! He can remember how things looked, how people dressed and talked, in the 1920s and '30s, which you and I (unless you're very old) can know only second-hand. I'm not sure, but I expect he's met some of the "historical" figures of the 20th century.

I met Jacques Barzun — well, sort of. It was about 1986, in Santa Fe, and he was giving a public talk at St. John's College, the "Great Books" school for trust-fund kids. (I wasn't a student there; I worked as a radio announcer at the time.)

Most of what he said has drained from my conscious memory, although I recall being impressed, but two incidents have stuck with me.

I'm one of those who like to sit near the front of the hall at concerts and lectures, and I happened to take a seat in the first row at his talk. I must have been a sorry sight: though a minor local celebrity because of being on the radio, I was very poor and probably looked it; I definitely remember that I was wearing sandals. At one point Barzun paused during his talk, glanced around for a moment, and happened to make eye contact with me. I was ready to be uncomfortable at looking a proper slob while in his immaculately suited presence, but he gave me a warm smile. I really appreciated the gesture.
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Here's the other thing I remember. During the question period, a young man in the audience who had a serious speech impediment — I tried but couldn't understand much of what he was saying — went on and on with what was presumably a very complicated question. There was also something aggressive, even a little hostile in his tone. Look, I have every sympathy with anyone who's been ill-used by genetics, and think I can understand the anger they feel, but for heaven's sake, Barzun wasn't the cause of the young man's predicament. Anyway, I felt bad on Barzun's behalf: how was he to deal with a couple of minutes' worth of near-unintelligible grunting and gurgling? (I suspect that the questioner was hoping that Barzun would be at a loss, so he could show the world how badly he was treated because of his speech defect.)

To my surprise, Barzun proved himself to be a better, or more patient, listener than I had been. He repeated the questions (there actually had been three or four) clearly, as if for the benefit of anyone in the audience who might have been too far away to have heard them, so as not to embarrass the questioner. And sailed right into an equally clear discussion in reply.

He is a gentleman.

Happy birthday, Professor Barzun. You've lived through what was, on the whole, a pretty rotten hundred years for the world, but you've used your time to make it better and more interesting. We owe you.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Is Paris burning? Oui, encore

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"Rampaging youths threw Molotov cocktails and set fire to cars in a troubled neighborhood outside Paris on Monday, the second night of street violence after two local teens were killed in a crash with a police patrol car," says the AP.

It seems appropriate at the moment that the phrase déjà vu is French. The difference this time is that the euphemistically described jeunes are using live ammunition. On police and even journalists.
"Police officers were targeted with hunting weapons; a certain number of them were wounded by lead shot," said Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie. "This is totally unacceptable," she said, adding there were six serious injuries, "people who notably were struck in the face and close to the eyes."
Otherwise, the story might as well have been hauled up from the deep freeze where it was stored after the riots of a couple of years ago. "Youths, many of them Arab and black children of immigrants [how many were of some other description?], again appeared to be lashing out at police and other targets seen to represent a French establishment they feel has left them behind." "Two teens killed." "The depressed projects that ring Paris." "Tensions between France's largely white police force and the ethnic minorities trapped in poor neighborhoods with high unemployment."

Although the AP story predictably milks sympathy for the rioters, and does everything possible to leave religion and ethnicity out of it, let's be honest: these young Muslims are not terrorists, and they are trapped in high-rise slums. The indigenous French people have no use for them. The French, being French, have no use for almost anyone of any other nationality. But if forced to make a choice, they might prefer even Americans in their urban no-go zones than North Africans. You can call it prejudice, or you can call it people who feel they have a right to choose who their neighbors will be and what kind of country they will live in. Either way the situation is the same, and won't change because one-worlders lecture the French about how they need to pour a deal more resources into outreach to the banlieus.

Probably, the government will announce new programs, initiatives, and so on to encourage assimilation. But that's just kicking the can down the road, postponing the day of judgment.

The first time a flic is killed by a weapon wielded by one of the jeunes, the civil war will begin — quietly, under the surface at first, but in earnest. The police and military will believe they know what they need to do, and eventually will do it. Guaranteed.

There is only one way to stop that happening, and I wish that President Sarkozy and his acolytes would have the foresight and political courage to sign onto it. Here is what Sarkozy should say (only he should say it in French):

"My friends, Frenchmen of all races and religions, it is evident that past mistakes are now playing out in a much magnified form. Our predecessors in government heedlessly created policies that seemed right and just at the time, but are now seen to have been disastrous for the social fabric of our society.

"Where French citizenship is concerned, we know now that indigenous French and immigrants from Africa simply do not mix, any more than oil and water. I do not blame either side for this; it's human nature, which I'm afraid our ancestors understood better than today's intellectuals. But, without declaring any group of people wrong, we cannot keep on a suicidal course just to avoid admitting that a mistake has landed us in a situation where areas in hundreds of French cities and towns are reminiscent of no-man's-lands in '14–'18.

"I therefore call on our lawmakers to enact legislation to ensure the peaceful, orderly, and compensated emigration of our African population to homelands that are more agreeable to them, where no French people will look down on them, where they can live under shari'a law if that is their wish. There are of course many difficult details to work out, but the principle is clear: we will become once again the France of traditional ethnicity, while giving a helping hand to others who are currently so alienated, as they are repatriated to lands that are culturally amenable to them.

"Once this process — and I repeat, it is to be a peaceful process with due compensation for any property or business lost in the transition — is completed, we are going to tear down these goddamned suburban hellholes and turn them into green zones and low-density developments.

"Thank you."

Not nice? No, it isn't. But the civil war, when it comes, will be a lot not nicer. The French should spare themselves the worst.

UPDATE 11/28: Since the news media are so coy about reporting the ethnicity of the rioters, false assumptions are possible. Steve Sailer has found a UPI story that suggests the insurgents are mainly black, sub-Saharan Africans rather than North African Muslims. If so, it doesn't affect my point that France should divest itself from its incompatible population elements.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

The world is deep

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Gustav Mahler's Symphony no. 3 is very likely the most philosophical piece of orchestral music ever composed — certainly nothing like it on such a scale (an hour and a half in length, calling for a gargantuan ensemble including a vocal soloist, chorus, and unusual instruments) has been attempted before or since.

That in itself is would have been no guarantee of immortality, and the symphony might have been a crackpot folly if it were not, like almost all Mahler's music, the product of genius. Even without knowing a scrap of what the composer had in mind, listening to a performance of the Mahler Third is an overwhelming experience. The themes, instrumental colors, rhythms, moods combine to captivate a listener's senses. But there is no doubt that Mahler was probing the meaning of life and the universe, influenced by Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, whose "Midnight Song" from
Also Sprach Zarathustra he used in the symphony's fourth movement.

Explaining and illustrating the philosophical content of the Mahler Third in a video sounds quixotic, boring, or impossible. But the documentary What the Universe Tells Me is none of those things; it accomplishes its purpose brilliantly, a work of controlled imagination that enthralls as it elucidates.

Mahler originally titled the six movements "Pan Awakes: Summer Comes Marching In," "What the Flowers in the Meadow Tell Me," "What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me," "What Humanity Tells Me," "What the Angels Tell Me," and "What Love Tells Me." Before the premiere performance he scrapped the titles, perhaps fearing that the audience would picture the themes too literally and miss the variety and subtlety of the music. The video narration takes its cues from the original titles, though, and tries to understand what Mahler implied.

The narration — by the actress Stockard Channing plus specialists, both musicological and philosophical — is closely bound into excerpts from a well played performance of the symphony by the Manhattan School of Music Orchestra, expertly conducted by Glen Cortese. The sound recording is clear and wide-ranging, the location a beautiful neo-Gothic church.

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Gustav Mahler

At the cost of being overly schematic, the course of the symphony can be described as a journey from the creation via a blind but imperative "Will" (as Schopenhauer put it), through the stages of a kind of spiritual evolution that includes both sweet and angst-filled intervals, to a final, paradoxical knowledge of ultimate joy won by passing through despair. A mezzo-soprano (here, Mignon Dunn, previously unknown to me but very much up to her part) singing the Nietzsche lyrics and a solo played on a posthorn (literally, a somewhat primitive instrument played by postmen in Mahler's youth) provide some of the work's misterioso effects. The long, slow final movement could well have been called "What Love Tells Me": it streams from another world of ineffable glory.

The performance selections aren't just little snippets, but long enough to convey the flavor of the part of the symphony under consideration. Visuals, mainly from nature, and commentary are very skillfully integrated with the music. The scholars who offer their thoughts (and who expand on them at greater length in the special features bundled with the documentary) provide interpretive insights without any of the agit-prop that would have been in the mix had this been produced by the BBC or PBS. Commenters include Henry-Louis de la Grange, author of the immense biography of Mahler, the star baritone Thomas Hampson, thoughtful musical scholars Morten Solvik and Peter Franklin, and an eloquent (and pretty) theologian, Catherine Keller.

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Even if you think you know Mahler's Third Symphony well, I can almost promise you that What the Universe Tells Me will deepen your appreciation. It's available for rental as a single disc from Netflix, although I didn't realize until I read the reviews on that it's actually from a two-disc set that includes the complete performance on the second disc.

One of the incidental pleasures for me was seeing the young instrumentalists — mostly under 30, by their looks — playing their hearts out for Mahler. They will carry his vision to generations yet unborn, provided Western civilization survives its current troubles.

Midnight Song
(Friedrich Nietzche)

Oh, man, give heed!
What does deep midnight say?
I slept!
From a deep dream I have waked.
The world is deep,
And deeper than the day had thought!
Deep is its pain!
Joy deeper still than its heartbreak!
Pain speaks: Vanish!
But all joy seeks eternity,
Seeks deep, deep eternity.

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