This is a seamless blend of excellent singing, vibrant orchestral accompaniment, graceful ballet and inventive staging – and an over-the-top finale. ... There are only three singers onstage during the three acts. All were in excellent form. Tenor Colin Ainsworth is Orpheus incarnate, his high, lyric voice doing justice to the difficult vocal role. His magnetic stage presence was the ideal embodiment of a romantic lead.
Central to any staging of the Orpheus myth - especially Gluck's 1774 version, created for the greatest tenor in Paris - is a character who must literally sing his way in and out of Hell. Happily, Opera Atelier has a firm foundation for its production in Colin Ainsworth. This young Canadian tenor proved himself entirely equal to the taxing role of Orpheus: in the aria Amour viens rendre à mon âme - a fiendishly difficult vocal marathon - he displayed a rock-solid technique, excellent diction, and a virile tone.
I hate ballet and I enjoyed all the dancing, and all the other ornamentation. But if I ever saw a one-man show, this show was Colin Ainsworth's. It is fair to say he was superbly supported but this show was his to make or break. And did he ever make it! "Authentic" or not, appropriately costumed or not, this production was utterly wonderful. Gluck's music was a revelation to me too - you can hear the early classic in so much of it, and enjoy its wonderful drama. Next year's program, featuring lead baritones and bass baritones, looks as if it may not feature Colin Ainsworth. I will miss him, but I have a lot of trust in those who run Opera Atelier to guarantee that we will be entranced and entertained by both the coming productions, as we were by this year's. By the way - I, a long complainer about excessive standing ovations in Toronto theatre, joined in a standing ovation, and the numerous curtain calls, entirely directed on my part at Ainsworth's indefatigable and superb performance. I hope we can keep him performing regularly in Toronto! Thanks yet again to Opera Atelier. Go and be surprised!
Eissalon Venezia 1,2 km (Ice cream) Meierei auf der Hauptallee 2,8 km (Main Street Dairy) Liliputbahn 3,9 km (Lilliput Street - hey Jonathan Swift!) Bowlinghalle 4,3 km (Bowling Alley) Wein & Co 11,6 km (Wine & Co.) Cafe Drechsler 12 km (Drechsler Coffee) Rosalila Villa 12,8 km (Roasalila Villa) Burger King 14,4 km (The Burger King!) Pornokino 16 km (The Porno Film Place) BP-Tanke 16,3 km (The BP Gas Station) Eissalon Garda 18,3 km (Garda Ice Cream) Museumsquartier 20,6 km (The Museum area of town) Centimeter 22,4 km (Beats me) Liechtensteinmuseum 22,9 km (Liechtenstein Museum - no idea) Badeschiff 26,3 km (Bathing Ship?) Bootsvermietung 30 km (Boat rental) Lusthaus 33,1 km (Fun House) Palmenhaus (Plant (palm) House)
I also have a curmudgeonly comment about theatre in general: I hate, hate, HATE it when theatre or opera companies "update" already great works by changing dialogue to include references to the current political situation. Last night some of the characters were referencing the Bloc Quebecois and Belinda Stronach. Oh, please! If your audience is so moronic that they will be lost upon hearing a reference to Emperor Franz Josef I, then I would suggest your future as a theatre company is limited. And of course, if you hear a reference you don't get, you could always...oh, I don't know...go home and LOOK IT UP! You know, learn something.
Lehar/Leon/Stein wrote a musical play about a fictional place called Pontevedro and its embassy misplaced in Paris! Even the jokes in the original script would have required the audience to map back to Austria/Hungary; though it is clear it is a story of Austro-Hungarian rubes loose in Paris, in the operetta they are Pontevedran. Turning them into pseudo-Canadians demeans the audience and the original authors. And it makes much of the dialogue senseless.
It's an insult to everyone engaged. I agree with the curmudgeon.
Wednesday night's production of "The Merry Widow" by Toronto Operetta Theatre was not quite as enjoyable for me as it apparently was for Richard Ouzounian. Much of what I enjoyed was exactly what he praises in the review linked to - Lehar's music, some of the comedy - , but there were elements of frustration as well. His general praise for the singing went too far for me.
The way she sings "Vilja," turning a folk tale into a saga of personal longing, is sheer magic.
I think I understood about three words of the lyrics in 'Vilja', which is hardly conducive to being caught up in what can be a magical song. And I thought diction was a general problem in all the singing, with the exceptions of Keith O'Brien as Njegus, Stuart Howe as Rosillon, Louisa Cowie as Olga (for the few lines she got), and, often, Theodore Baerg as Danilo. Keith O'Brien's 'Quite Parisian' was perhaps the highlight of the show. Much of the rest of the time I, and the two people I went with, were struggling to figure out what was being said in any of the songs. This simply does not help in an operetta.
Oddly, Elizabeth Beeler's diction was excellent in 'Love Unspoken', which is of course a perfect place for it to arrive. Another piece of Lehar magic.
If I were scoring with stars, I would give three out of four, rather than Ouzounian's four.
The real problem may be that I was spoiled by a production not so long ago exhibiting NONE of these weaknesses, and also characterized by the sort of exuberance that can show up in student productions, and is much harder for a professional company to achieve.
But they worked their way through changeable weather through Texas and Oklahoma and the like (there are still a few stragglers coming through there) but they are now being seen in Illinois, with some spotted in Chicago!
I read some of his journalism, and two of his books, and one of them was a piece of magic I stumbled across at just the right time - October 1964.
It is a brilliant re-creation for me of the most magical major league baseball season I can recall - this was partly because I was 15, and playing the game, and partly because I had an accidental attachment to the St. Louis Cardinals, born of the remarkable fact of electromagnetics that KMOX from St. Louis could carry at night clearly to my bedroom radio in the Ottawa Valley, and partly because the Cardinals were so completely out of the pennant race at mid-season.
And in the end the World Series was played against the Yankees. And that Series was very exciting and won by the good guys.
It was the year of Bob Gibson, brilliant black fastball pitcher, of Barney Schultz, improbable knuckleball pitcher, and of Harry Carey before he went to Chicago.
This would not mean much to someone who had not paid attention that year, but Halberstam had done his homework, and made it all come back in wave after wave of delightful nostalgia. And he discovered a lot of what that year meant for the sport and for America.
Had this been the only book he wrote, I would still feel the world is a smaller place for this loss. But he did so much more, well documented today all over the blogosphere.
They knew in the last election they should have been embarrassed. It seems to me personally that this Sarko-Sego choice is not just the right one among their candidates of the day, but one that looks pretty good. Sarko gave a short speech - my guess is he assumes he has a good shot at a good piece of Bayrou's vote, and pretty much all of LePen's (is there an emoticon for vomiting about Dieudonne?), so she had a lot more work to do. She gave an interesting speech, as I said before demonizing Sarkozy to a degree, but also trying to reach out from the left to the middle, talking about renewal. Curiously, and maybe not so, Sarkozy basically promised to keep everyone who is on social welfare in the same state. I would say 'weird country' if I did not live in this silly one, full of many of the same tensions, and intellectual dishonesties.
Paul Mills breaks my heart as he comments that Stan was a reluctant flyer, very conscious of the risks. but sacrificing his concern to the need to respond to his amazing growing popularity. Utterly heartbreaking. Back to see if anyone can find Sego.
I've seen Sarko's speech (slick, appealing for mutual respect as he will have to court LePen's vote - and he is right - one of the commentators is already speaking from his Socialist position to attack this possibility) and the TV5 people are baffled trying to find Sego. No doubt she will speak soon. Meanwhile the third episode of 'Mayday' is about the flight that took the life of Stan Rogers at 33. This will help emphasize the cost, but all casualties are casualties to their loved ones - some just have a farther reach.
TV5 (God bless them) are running the election results from France. As polled for a while, it will be Sarko-Sego in the next round. Christopher Hitches appears to have been far too pessimistic about the French, as LePen scored, according the current 'Estimation', under 12%. (It is only the current 'estimationn' and we have seen those go wrong.) But meanwhile, Discovery Channel is having a 'Mayday' festival. As a quondam major air traveller, I am not sure why I enjoy this show. I think because I know that engineering involves difficult trade-offs involving risk and reliability, and flight decisions are in the end engineering decisions. I have just finished watching parts of the episode on the terrible Tenerife crash in 1977. The current episode is the Air France miracle of 2005 in Toronto (it was a disaster for the airplane but not so much for the passengers, while the Tenerife crash was the worst in terms of lives lost in aviation history, and nobody had even really got much off the ground.) But there is one reason I rather like the shows; they show how hard people work to understand what happened in the disaster, and change the risk-reward balance to something more important. It gives me a lot of comfort, and the comfort comes largely from knowing I live in a society where there is accountability and some concern about where that risk-reward line lies. Meanwhile back in Fraqnce, Sarko's supporters apparently just sang 'La Marseillaise'. I get the feeling that we are not in the active phase of this political report.
Manufacturing an agenda takes some work. Toronto does get smoggy at times but has NEVER looked like the picture. And of course, smogginess is not the same issue as global warming. Cheap and dumb. And Kate McMillan shows how totally dumb they are.
Everyone lives in mortal fear of travel(l)ing Canadians, who go bonkers when accused of being American.
Of course Americans can parade Canadian flags when they travel abroad. Few are smart enough to purchase MEC products (the logo is particularly amusing to see in France). And of course, they could say "hoose" and "aboot" if they knew how to do it. Sadly I do not know how to avoid doing it! I always feel honoured to be mistaken for someone from a country with some moral responsibility. Though Canada is currently fighting its way back into such status right now.
But a brand must go beyond a promise. To me, a brand is a cause - a guiding light. For fulfilling expectations, certainly, as well as dealing with the ill-defined and unexpected. It's what tells your employees how to act when circumstances (and customers) go awry, or well beyond a training course. My first real experience with that was a personal one.
It is a great story; go read it. It is what investing in a brand is about.
Norm turned me on some time ago to a) Sophie Hannah's poems, and b) Sophie Hannah's taste in poems. I finally bit a bullet and ordered some of Sophie Hannah's work. It is SO much fun! I am not sure she will like the comparison, but the last time I hit a new poet who gave me so much a) fun, b) wit, and c) Englishness, it was John Betjeman. She gives me the same exhiliration he did 30 years ago.
Here is a very nice piece of work (which I may have to take down if it is identified as violating copyright) - it is utterly the spirit of how she writes (and keeps me giggling).
Now and Then
'Now that I'm fifty-seven,' My mother used to say, 'Why should I waste a minute? Why should I waste a day
Doing the things I ought to Simply because I should? Now that I'm fifty-seven I'm done with that for good.'
But now and then I'd catch her Trapped in some thankless chore Just as she might have been at Fifty-three or fifty-four
And I would want to say to her (And have to bite my tongue) That if you mean to learn a skill It's well worth starting young
And so, to make sure I'm in time For fifty, I've begun To do exactly as I please Now that I'm thirty-one.
P.S. I am also reading her first thriller, and its premiss is brilliant; a mother arrives home and decides that the baby in the cot is NOT her child. I am expecting a great ride ahead.
I expressed some disgust about this yesterday, but now Damian Penny points very sensibly to what I think are some very smart comments from Megan McArdle, avoiding the easy second-guessing that seems to be increasing in the media. Her words
The overwhelming majority of murders that take place on campus (or anywhere else) are not a prelude to a mass killing. Should we really act as if they were, because it might prevent the 0.001% that are? Shutting down campus is not free; if nothing else, it absorbs a huge number of police resources that could otherwise be used to track down the killer in the vast majority of cases where the killer is still at loose, armed, dangerous, and not planning to kill himself. In this particular case, shutting down campus would have been the right answer. But in 99.999% of cases, it would have been the wrong answer, and would have placed the public at greater risk, as well as producing mass hysteria on campus. Castigating the administrators for getting it wrong, or rushing to enact legislation that ensures administrators do the wrong thing in most cases, is bad decision-making. Not that this will prevent us from doing just that.
False positives are a real problem, but not for reporters looking only backwards.
I flip back and forth - both primarily covering the VT shootings. CBC tends to the pontifical; Henry Champ keeps ruminating fatuously on the Second Amendment. There is a weird readiness to assume that if you make gun ownership illegal, people will not get guns. That this is false is obvious from life in Toronto in the last few years. CTV, meanwhile, does something radical. It has Bev Thomson on the campus! And interviewing sensible people, actually related to the events. Some of the stories are horridly sad; we will learn more and we will come to hear stories of sacrifice and courage like this one. The contrast could not be greater. Disband the CBC. It has no value. UPDATE: It appears Henry Champ is in Blacksburg. Hard to tell, since all he does is pronounce his received opinions.
UPDATE: To be fair, CTV is now into the omnisicience game and it is sickening. So now let me say disband the CRTC and its protection of inferior Canadian broadcasters!
This may be the only Western culture in which the phrase "creative destruction" is fully paradoxical. All of us balk for a moment at the phrase, but the French, I think, must just shake their heads and say, "no, it's creative or it's destructive." This is a culture that approaches perfection, and for a world like this all of the things that make other Western economies go, innovation, responsiveness, competition and innovations, these, in France, are wrong. These contradict the the French style of life.
Rondi described one tortured effort of our national government media to spin the VA Tech story its way. This morning we have even more remarkable comments. Somehow it appears obvious that the campus should have been cleared and closed after the initial shootings. Hindsight is a nice tool, but it should not be misused; the self-satisfaction with which this judgment is delivered turns my stomach; people did have to make a decision, the one they made was entirely justifiable, and tragically wrong. But do not pretend you would have known better. And Henry Champ is baffled. Apparently there are Americans who suggest that if students and faculty were not forbidden to carry weapons on campus, this tragedy might have been averted before the murder of over 30 people. How can he be so dense? It is completely obvious that had students and faculty in general been packing guns, this murderer would not have got very far. Again, I will say I am not a gun person, have never touched one, and have concerns about the effects of their being readily available. But it is totally obvious that events like yesterday's shooting could not possibly happen in the same way had the victim population been able to defend itself. Where is Henry Champ's brain? Lost in this silly little country and its idiotic orthodoxies somewhere.
I am just finishing a lovely book, Eva Menasse's 'Vienna', about which I will post much more later, which I discovered via Oliver Kamm. The next books lined up are from Sophie Hannah, recommended by Norm (I will not explain the connection). I can say she has me laughing, and some lines tell me she knows this Norm guy:
I may never run fast, or tower Over Wimbledon's top seeds, Or hit sixes like David Gower But I have found a bath in Leeds.
(One should know I have a VERY soft spot for Leeds, nothing to do with Norm.) Another line exposing the Norm connection:
Imagine that the man who never writes Walks on the planet Mars in cricket whites
I've not really followed the Duke lacrosse 'case', but today's National Post pointed me to a remarkable blog I had not known about (another valuable obsessive at work), and that blog pointed me to this column, which I think says it all. What is stunning is the reluctance of many of the other manifestly guilty parties in this charade to say something similar. Al Sharpton, interviewed by Chris Wallace last Sunday, put on a particularly shameful performance, likening this to the O. J. Simpson case; of course, from him I would have little to expect. Jemele Hill's final two paragraphs are particularly telling.
There will be a lot of finger-pointing in the coming days and weeks about whose fault all of this was. The media will analyze each other. Civil-rights leaders who claim to be against all injustice will stay silent. Hopefully, you will be able to regain a fraction of the life you once had.
I'm glad the story of your innocence and the Rutgers situation unfolded the same week. If anyone felt a sense of victory over Imus' rebuke, they should look at what happened to you and know it will be a long time before we can truly celebrate.
One other recommendation - the News-Observer is running an excellent series on exactly how shocking this case is. The articles are appalling and stunning, and apparently include new revelations.
Jon Stewart shows appropriate concern for the 'real victims' here.
All of this is so unfair that Mr. Wolfowitz could be forgiven for concluding that bank officials insisted he play a role in raising Ms. Riza's pay precisely so they could use it against him later. Even if that isn't true, it's clear that his enemies--especially Europeans who want the bank presidency to go to one of their own--are now using this to force him out of the bank. They especially dislike his anticorruption campaign, as do his opponents in the staff union and such elites of the global poverty industry as Nancy Birdsall of the Center for Global Development. They prefer the status quo that holds them accountable only for how much money they lend, not how much they actually help the poor.
We're about to head into another round of hand-wringing, demanding future stronger gun controls, because of the shootings today at Virginia Tech. I have never had my hand in my life on a gun, and fully recognize the dangers of there being one in the ready grasp of people, because of the possibility of them being used in a moment's anger. But widespread carrying of guns would clearly inhibit events like this, as well as the favourite similar event that gets cited in Canada, Jean-Marc Lepine's murder of 14 women engineering students many years ago. Amazingly it gets dragged out each year as 'proof' that we need restrictions on carrying of guns. Had every student at that University been carrying a gun, Lepine is unlikely to have killed more than one or two of his targets; and the same is true today. Again, I think there are arguments for gun control, but these events are most certainly not among them. My condolences to all the friends and loved ones of the innocents who lost their lives today.
I always read whatever reviews are available when I am heading to see a theatrical production. There are hints of things to watch for, and some indication of what some other person thought (I do not regard reviewers as privileged in terms of knowledge, simply as other people with their own perspectives). Reviewers too have each of them an agenda that becomes not too hard to spot over time. My loyal readers know how little I often find myself thinking of the reviews I have read; one good example is my response to Canadian Stage's "Hair", which I thought to be quite mediocre, but in NO way justifying the reviews it got. So it was with only mild apprehension that I went with friends to see Soulpepper's production of Ibsen's "John Gabriel Borkman", which has received uniformly harsh reviews, particularly for the use of puppets , to allow an eight-character play to be performed by three actors. Reviews had asserted that this conceit meant that intensity was lost, that key dialogue wound up looking silly, that the depth of emotion could not be expressed, that the humour would be totally missing. One thing is I love Ibsen; when SillyWife and I visited the Ibsen museum in Oslo last summer, what I thought was most characteristic was being told of him and his wife reading his dialogues in the evenings and laughing. This seemed so right, and so Norwegian, from what I get of a little experience of my mother's Norwegian background (though a lot of the knock-on effects). And what happened? I thought the puppets were quite useful. The actors could push themselves into a scene, and pull back by way of the puppets as called on. This seemed to fit Ibsen perfectly. They could toss a puppet off the stage once it was no longer needed, and that felt right as it was done as well. I thought the emotion got expressed quite enough for Ibsen - this is NOT "Love Story", it is Ibsen. And the humour seemed to me to be wonderfully accentuated by the way the actors could take over a role or pass it on to the puppet. I did get the feeling through the show that I was laughing more than anyone else, but Ibsen is funny, often while at his most depressing. And I would not expect a non-Scandinavian to find it funny. But the performers had me enjoying the dialogue very much, and responding as I think one ought to have. The second act was less satisfying. After an early explosion involving five puppets and three performers, the young son goes off to live his life (Ibsen as a youth?), while the rest of the bunch then later for the rest of the second act seem to become less interesting. We all fought to stay awake. But I say enjoy the first act! As long as this runs. And I must say the John Gabriel Borkman puppet looks really good. Major hunk for his puppet age, and time in jail.
We have known for a long time that June Callwood was fighting a terminal cancer and she succumbed this morning. For some small sense of who she was, a natural place to look is the CBC site. As one would expect, they over-emphasize the social activism at the expense of the sheer intelligence and humour, and great journalistic skills. Her other fine qualities got her into trouble with accusations of being a racist, largely, as she put it, for treating a black person the way she would have treated anyone else. She described 'feminism' as the belief that everyone should be treated fairly. She was a Toronto fixture for years. They way she treated these last years, knowing full well how limited her remaining time was, seemed very classy to me. I will miss her.
Our Canadian Stage Season for this year has ended now, and we went to see the final show, "The Rocky Horror Show", rather than simply give the tickets away. Overall, we are happy with the choice. Let me start before getting into my own reactions that a good part of the audience rose in a standing ovation, and that as we walked back to our parking lot, the others around us were chattering happily and enthusiastically. This show was very well received by its audience. For me it had problems. It is an amusing show, if very much of its time. But my overall feeling as I watched it is one that I find so frequently now at Canadian Stage productions, that really excellent performing talent has been assembled to perform a task far below the level at which these performers can produce. As the show began there was a sense of fun as 'usherettes' circulated in the audience in odd outfits. But as the show opened, and I expected to hear and enjoy the fine opening song from the movie, "Science Fiction", my heart sank. It was almost impossible to understand a single word in the lyrics. It became clear later from other work from the singer, Alison Somerville, that her singing was fine; there was just something awfully wrong with the sound system. The rather random ability to make out lyrics at some times and not at others persisted through the whole show, and it was independent of who was singing. It was clear every performer had a great voice and fine diction, but that somehow their voices could just get lost. OK - I know I am a fanatic on this - I hate musicals where I cannot understand the lyrics. And I hated this. It was not fair to the audience and it was particularly unfair to the performers. Now Canadian Stage's musical history is not extensive but I get the feeling they need to look for help when they take this form on. It seems odd to me in a way - I thought one of the best things I ever saw from Canadian Stage was "The House of Martin Guerre", which was an extremely well-done musical. Where did they lose it? What did I really like? Wow - the performers! I had never heard of Adam Brazier, but can certainly see why he is a star. Across the board, though, I thought the cast did what they had to do. I had seen reviews not too impressed by Mairi Babb and Ron Pederson, but I thought they were fine; the supporting roles, in a way, were even better manned - Alison Somerville as Magenta, had a great voice, and a superb outfit. Gerard Everard as Rocky was a lovely antidote to the movie's Rocky. (Whom did he play in CanStage's "Hair"? I do not recall.) Steven Gallagher was a delightful Riff-Raff, Eddie Glen just fine in his Meat Loaf role, as well as Dr. von Scott. Christine Rossi sounded fine as Columbia (when the sound allowed us to hear what she was singing). And I will say again that Brazier was not Tim Curry, he created a new role that I thought was worth creating. In the end, the show is largely vacuous, and not in my view really worth re-doing, but it was fun to watch people watch it. Particularly entertaining was seeing parents of my generation (or a little younger) introducing their children, mostly teenage daughters, to the show. This behaviour struck me as very odd, but both generations seemed to be enjoying the process. I particularly enjoyed the use of John Neville as the on-film narrator. And I must give Martin Bragg (CanStage's artistic producer) credit for appearing in a late slice of film in which the Neville narrator mumbles with disgust as he walks off-screen, "I am so fucking out of here". The problem with that moment is that part of me sympathizes totally with that character. Surely there has to be a a better way to use all this stunning talent? But then the audience might not be so great, and the show might not have been extended for weeks, as this one has been. I think in terms of what the goals were, it has been a success. I hope that it proves a stepping-stone for many of its participants to shows I would rather watch.
The area of Toronto I inhabit was apparently originally settled by Irish bricklayers in the early part of the century, so my house was built in 1923, around the same time as the church just down the street - St. Brigid's Church, and attached elementary school. The neighbourhood is now largely still inhabited by later waves of immigrants, the Portuguese and Italian, and as a result St. Brigid's has an entertaining Good Friday procession each year. It is by no means the largest one in Toronto, but it does get the attention of my neighbourhod. I was privileged to be here this year for the show. In various shots here you can see Jesus, accompanied by some Romans (not in sandals in this year's very cold weather), carrying the cross. You can see him dead lying in a sort of coffin-like carriaqe. You can see his head triumphant. You can see Mary feeling upset. It is a deficiency of atheism that we have not thought of good show like this to put on.
OK I am being imprecise, but as I go through my old photo library I stumble onto lovely suprises. One was this picture of my cat Oliver, as a kitten; as records show he was born in April 1986, this shot is surely from more than twenty years ago, where he is lecturing the much larger neighbour dog on proper respect for a cat. It's 21 years later now and this is a more typical pose for him; the vet has had him marked as suffering from severe kidney degradation for three years now. Beats me. Worse than that, I had been feeding him the tainted cat food for a good while in the recent past. He won't quit. Now I had been recalling a great Ogden Nash couplet about the problem with a kitten (my recollection was "eventually it becomes a cat") but a web search for this quote produces a stunning variety of options, none quite what I recall. I am a big fan of the Web and it has its limitations.
Maybe it's silly to waste time on this film that I expect I will never see, but this review had me laughing, and is a worthy antidote to the more muscular views of the film. I especially liked:
Fact: Sparta was about as romantic as North Korea. Give or take a little egalitarianism, Sparta WAS North Korea. Spartan laws did everything they could to break down the family. Sparta was more anti-nuclear family than any Hollywood liberal could ever be.
Athens, the true hero of the war against Persia, gets dissed time and again in this movie. You won't hear a word in 300 about Salamis, the real decisive battle of the war - because it was Athens, not Sparta, that destroyed the Persian fleet at Salamis. The Spartans wanted to run away from the Persian fleet and wall themselves off in the Peloponnese
Sparta understood only one kind of fighting: land battle, the hoplite shield-wall - a Big Ten offense from the old school, "three yards and a cloud of dust." In any shield-wall vs. shield wall battle, the bigger offensive line will break the opposing team's wall, leaving them open to massed spear thrusts. Once the opposition's wall was broken, the citizen-soldiers would scatter to fight another day - a totally sensible reaction, since the alternative was annihilation. In battles like that, psycho varsity offensive-line types like the ones Sparta bred did just fine. But vary the conditions of battle in any way, and they were as helpless as Woody Hayes' Ohio State teams were against a team that could stop the run.
So it was actually fairly easy to stymie the Spartans: just put them in a situation where they had to think for themselves. Imagine a Spartan army up against a Mongol scouting force. Even if the Spartans outnumbered the Mongols by, say, 4-1, I'd have no hesitation betting on the Mongols. They were truly tough, not artificially hardened by sick PE games but by life in the saddle, on the steppes. And they were smart enough to realize that smarts count on the battlefield, that negotiation and alliance-building, scouting and propaganda are all important aspects of war. Only amateurs are dumb enough to think that being dumb, mean and inflexible like the Spartans is the route to military success.
I have not seen '300' but I have sure read a lot about it. I am blessed that I was not born a Spartan, and I suspect also blessed at not being born into the Persian Empire. Of all I have read on '300' this review from Jack Kelly seems to me the most sensible and balanced.
I'd contest this assertion from him:
Christianity is a religion which preaches (and often practices) turning the other cheek. But the Christianization of Europe got its jump start at the Milvian bridge, and was preserved from Islamic conquest at Tours, Lepanto and Vienna.
Well, I would not contest what he says, but the broader context. Christianity did spread through the Roman Empire as an oppressed religion, and surely that was its jump start, and so far as I understand without major violence. This is entirely unlike Islam. And note why the Christian 'empire' in the end had the battles listed in his quotation.
His closing paragraph makes a lot of sense as well:
It is the soldier, not the priest, who protects freedom of religion; the soldier, not the journalist, who protects freedom of speech. History teaches that a society that does not value its warriors will be destroyed by a society that does.
It's not a lesson I like, but it is much like Orwell's great reminder of what keeps us civilized as well:
Those who "abjure" violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.
(I was going to cite the 'rough men' quotation I have often seen, but apparently that is not from Orwell! Man, the Web is great.)
I occasionally find myself in awkward discussions where people want to know what I "do" about the "spiritual" or what I think about "spirituality". I have never understood what these people are talking about, and still do not. I am a pretty solidly materialist atheist so the categories being discussed do not correspond to anything in my world. But once a year I experience what I suspect they are on about, and today is that day this year. No, it's not because it is Easter, though that is a nice coincidence this year - it is the start of The Masters. When the CBS theme music starts, I imagine I feel roughly what a religious person might feel when being transcended. If I am right, I can see why they are excited about their experiences. And I am entirely happy that something material fills the role for me. The flowers, the sound of the birds (and heck yes we have cardinals here but the Augusta cardinals sound larger than life), and in the end, the golfers, make such a world.
A monster raccoon just sniffed all over my back deck. What is impressive is that the motion-triggered light came on. I suspect this means I should retire very soon. Curling on TV starts in an hour. By the way, on my morning run at the lake today, I saw a loon. This is NOT common around here - maybe once every four or five years. Still lovely to see, as I no longer go to Ontario's cottage country, which is where you see them par excellence.
Watching the Junos, enjoying Tragically Hip, but wondering about much of what has been made of Nelly Furtado. There was a phase in my life when I was watching Latino video shows (honestly, to learn Spanish to a degree), and her work with Juanes was incredible. I have a minimal notion what she does today. And I doubt I will care again. (Except for the odd role in a TV series - she was good in the CSI:X she was in.) But what I find odd from many is this nostalgia for "I'm Like a Bird". Were stupider lyrics ever written? Whoever wrote it never bothered to watch birds seriously. They DO know where they are going. Only someone very inattentive could think otherwise. But it sounds slick. Just as Nelly Furtado knew where she was going. And she continues to work her way there.
UPDATE: They have her performing now. The diction is unbelievably bad. This is no Karen Carpenter. I invite commenters to tell me why I should bother listening to her again.
UPDATE 2: Dear God, please bring back Frank Sinatra. Don't get me wrong, I know this is not my generation, but hey, lots of younger generation people produce something worth listening to. This 'Maneater' stuff was not there.
I had the delightful fortune again to ride in an Air Canada Embraer jet returning home a couple of weeks ago (especially compared to the Canadair tinbox that took me to Tulsa) and so had a wide choice of movies to watch on the flight. I picked "The History Boys", which I had barely missed seeing live in London, and then had wondered about. Alan Bennett has long been someone I will pay some attention to, and grew up recognizing from 'Beyond the Fringe'. What a curious movie (and before that, curious play, no doubt)! I loved it, was moved very much by much of it, but also confused about whether Bennett wanted more than just creating a picture of a time. Which would be fine. But it certainly veers about with some degree of political incorrectness. What I found most convincing was the canniness and wile with which the boys, as a group, managed Hector's aadvances. They seemed much more resilient that the people we are permitted to imagine today. And somehow more real to me. Beyond that, and not unrelated, it is about what education is. And what history is. This play takes a delicate touch, and Bennett balances somewhere in the middle of it all, creating no real villains, and no real heroes (Hector's behaviour is by no means presented as innocent). A lovely, delicate piece of work, brilliantly acted.
... that makes this post so interesting, but rather the comment stream that follows from a pretty erudite, entertaining, frustrated, and some times compassionate crew, largely teachers. As an ex-teacher, I felt the whole range of responses from being appalled by the student, to feeling sorry for him. A highlight of the comment stream are the often wonderful poetic renditions of the original letter.