Friday, January 30, 2009

Human Beings Weren't Designed To Have Litters

I wondered why the California woman who gave birth to octuplets wants to remain anonymous. Now we know. She has six other children. The AP reports she had fertility treatment, likely thinking she'd have one more child, not eight:
[The woman's mother, Angela] Suleman said her daughter had embryos implanted last year, and after finding out she was pregnant with multiple babies was given the option by doctors of selectively reducing the number of embryos. The woman declined.
Props to the blessed mother for making the moral move.

I have no issue with a family of 14 kids. I know several families overflowing with children who are happy, well-adjusted, intelligent, self-sufficient, and servants of God. From what the AP tells us about this family and the "big house" waiting for them, they may very well thrive. However, if they end up on the public dole, that's a problem.

Whenever we hear of massive multiple births, all of the media attention is on how it's such a miracle -- which it is. But we forget what happens after the children come home from the hospital and the huge burden the parents will face in terms of time and money. Not all parents are equipped to handle it. We shouldn't have to subsidize those who can't.

This is why God didn't design people to have litters. God didn't want to give us more than we can handle, as 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NKJV) explains:
"No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it."
But we do that to ourselves with fertility drugs. I know it's a burden to be barren, but there's no getting around the risks.

Key Digit Or M For Previous Menu

TVSpy's ShopTalk tipped me off to this KRON-TV news report from 1981 -- long before the Internet boom -- showing the future of newspapers on computers. It's interesting viewing for people who remember the Compu$erve days.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

New FCC: Don't Play "Fairness"

Ask a radio or TV station general manager who once dealt with the Fairness Doctrine, and you'll hear very little good about it. The title sounds noble, but it's content regulation and far from constitutional. That's why the FCC canned it in the 1980's.

Some Democrats have thought about reviving it to get back at right-wing talk show hosts. Fortunately, new FCC commissioner Robert McDowell is not about to help them with their revenge fantasies.

And, he warns, passing a new Fairness Doctrine could end up deregulating broadcasting even further, according to Multichannel News:
"Actually, in a string of media cases stretching back over more than 20 years, various judges on the D.C. Circuit - both Democratic and Republican appointees - have suggested that it is time for the Supreme Court to rethink the concept of spectrum scarcity as a justification for limiting broadcasters' First Amendment rights. A revived Doctrine would provide a big, bright bulls-eye for those who wish to make that happen. That development would have implications far beyond the Doctrine itself. Much of our content regulation of broadcasters - including most of the FCC's existing localism rules and the regulations requiring three hours a week of children's programming - rest on the spectrum scarcity rationale. If that rationale is invalidated, serious legal challenges to all those other content rules may follow."
In other words, many regulations we have now are based on an outdated concept: that we only have so many available TV channels. That's not the case anymore with the Internet and cable. McDowell says if we throw up an unconstitutional regulation, we lose others as broadcasters challenge them.

I'm surprised commercial over-the-air broadcasters haven't already challenged the FCC's rule requiring them to air three hours a week of educational programming. Apparently the FCC didn't believe in PBS, Nickelodeon, Discovery, or Noggin when they made that rule. In Arizona, during football season, it means a messed-up Saturday schedule where kids programming ends up in some weird places -- like just before the early news -- because there's nowhere else to put it. "Animal Adventures" isn't a bad lead-in, but I'd prefer Russ Mitchell at the CBS News desk.

Broadcasters have gone along with this rule and others to be good citizens, but it's time they stopped. Cable stations don't have to live under FCC rules, even though they're right next to the broadcast stations on the dial. How's this for a Fairness Doctrine: it is simply ridiculous for our nation's television companies to be operating under two sets of regulations, especially when many of them are outdated and unconstitutional. Kudos to our new FCC head for having a few grains of sense about this. Let's hope he harvests some more.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Failure Is Not An Option

I don't listen to Rush Limbaugh anymore. I did in college, but back then, he took more deserved swipes at left-wing excess. Now he's just become an annoyance.

As many of you know, he recently said that he hopes President Obama "fails." The broader quote, in context, is a bit more subtle but still disheartening:
My hope, and please understand me when I say this. I disagree fervently with the people on our side of the aisle who have caved and who say, "Well, I hope he succeeds. We've got to give him a chance." Why? They didn't give Bush a chance in 2000. Before he was inaugurated the search-and-destroy mission had begun. I'm not talking about search-and-destroy, but I've been listening to Barack Obama for a year-and-a-half. I know what his politics are. I know what his plans are, as he has stated them. I don't want them to succeed.

If I wanted Obama to succeed, I'd be happy the Republicans have laid down. And I would be encouraging Republicans to lay down and support him. Look, what he's talking about is the absorption of as much of the private sector by the US government as possible, from the banking business, to the mortgage industry, the automobile business, to health care. I do not want the government in charge of all of these things. I don't want this to work. So I'm thinking of replying to the guy, "Okay, I'll send you a response, but I don't need 400 words, I need four: I hope he fails." (interruption) What are you laughing at? See, here's the point. Everybody thinks it's outrageous to say. Look, even my staff, "Oh, you can't do that." Why not? Why is it any different, what's new, what is unfair about my saying I hope liberalism fails? Liberalism is our problem. Liberalism is what's gotten us dangerously close to the precipice here. Why do I want more of it? I don't care what the Drive-By story is. I would be honored if the Drive-By Media headlined me all day long: "Limbaugh: I Hope Obama Fails." Somebody's gotta say it.
True, people didn't give President Bush a chance in 2000 because they were still bitter from the hanging-chad, Supreme Court-decided election. Do you really think people would have given Al Gore a chance if the gavel had banged the other way? Hard feelings abounded all over the place.

I remember when President Clinton ran into trouble in the opening months of his presidency. Legendary conservative Barry Goldwater said people ought to give him a chance. If Barry Goldwater could say that about Bill Clinton, he's probably saying it in Paradise about Barack Obama.

Saying you want liberalism to fail is one thing. But saying you want a president to fail because of his alleged -- but not proven -- liberalism smacks of partisan holy war. Our country is in too big a mess to want any leader to fail. President Obama can pass his stimulus package without GOP votes. But he met with Republicans anyway. He is not going to play tough-luck politics, and yes, I know about his "we won" remark.

Rush himself once said people voted the Republicans into congressional power in 1994 because the "Contract With America" gave people something to vote for. Barack Obama did that too. And like it or not, the GOP and conservatives need to figure that out before they grumble and curse themselves -- or others -- into irrelevancy.

UPDATE: Rush is now pitching his version of a bi-partisan stimulus plan which includes both tax cuts and spending, just like President Obama's version, but in different proportions.

Also, see Jon Swift's clever analysis of Rush's remarks.

Back To The Switch

This is surprising: The House killed a bill that would have delayed the nation's switch to digital television until June.

And as somebody who works in TV, I'm glad. Here's why.

First, four months of delay means four more months telling people that the switch is still coming after we've built up February 17 as the big day. We've had more than a year to prepare. Actually, more than three years. Let's get it done.

Second, running our analog transmitter four more months at KOLD is going to cost us thousands of dollars for electricity we don't want to spend. We need that money in this economy.

Third, America's TV stations shouldn't have to pay for government -- or "gub-mint" as they say in Arizona -- inability to get enough DTV coupons out. It's clear the "gub-mint" didn't budget enough. And the "gub-mint" is the entity forcing us to make this switch in the first place.

When TV transitioned to color in the 1960's, the "gub-mint" didn't set a deadline for all stations to switch. It didn't force people to buy color TV's. When the FCC added UHF frequencies to TV, it didn't force stations to move up the dial or make people buy converter boxes -- although it did force new TV's to include a UHF dial (how many of you remember old TV's with two channel knobs?)

But the "gub-mint" is forcing this switch to reclaim frequencies, we're told, for new wireless services -- which can include cell phones, police radios, and broadband Internet devices. My question is why providers of those services can't work with the spectrum they already have. If they need more, why not just lop off another chunk of the UHF band? The FCC has already taken channels 70-83 away. The DTV transition already calls for taking another block.

And here's the biggest problem of all. People who are buying coverter boxes and outdoor antennas to get digital TV still aren't getting all the channels! Many times, the problem isn't the signal but the antenna people are using.

But we can't go back now. Thanks, "gub-mint."

More answers to your DTV questions
PC World's FAQ on DTV

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Memo

TO: Extreme Wingnut Individuals & Groups
FROM: Your Fellow Americans
SUBJECT: Our President

To whom it may concern:

Please be advised that any anticipated legal action in regards to President Barack H. Obama's legitimacy to hold office on the grounds of a mistake in the Constitutional oath on Tuesday, January 20th is now groundless.

Please note this fact in addition to previous court findings affirming Mr. Obama's citizenship.

Please further note this fact in contrast to erroneous and/or unsubstantiated reports concerning his faith.

We appreciate your cooperation in not wasting any more precious court time.

The American People

P.S. -- Feel free to use the forthcoming Presidential job creation packages to obtain a life.

I'd Rather Be In Washington

Inauguration Day was another one of those times when I wish I could be at the site of a history-making story instead of watching it through the fishbowl of monitors, wires and websites in the newsroom. Two million people on the Capitol Mall will tell their families and friends they were there. I watched it on television, like most Americans. I'm not ashamed to admit it was an emotional moment.

President Obama's inauguration address mentions "we" a lot, as in We The People, not just We The Obama Administration.
"For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate."
"What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task."
Limited government, hard work, personal responsibility, faith, courage. Sounds like conservative values to me. Flaming leftist, he's not. And thanks, Mr. President, for giving a nod to the sentiments of Ben Franklin...
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.
...and George Washington...
The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people: “Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it).”
So it's all about us. President Obama can drive this nation, but we must be the engine. People can complain about this ceremony looking like a coronation -- especially with a presidential banner hanging from the trumpets blown during the ceremony -- but it's our coronation too. We are all being inaugurated, asked to take our oaths as Americans once more and live up to the values that define who we're supposed to be, values that originally came to us from Heaven.
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
Just before our new president spoke those words, I watched as a CBS reporter interviewed a woman in the massive throng of crowds. She also quoted from Scripture, Psalm 118 to be exact:
“This is the day the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
All around her, that's what people did. As Tucsonan Ed Garcia observed while standing in the crowd:
Grown men crying like children, women waving Obama flags in one hand and American flags in the other and children dressed head to toe in Obama clothes. Everyone, young, old, Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic, African-American, Native-American, but all AMERICANS, standing shoulder to shoulder, braving freezing temperatures, focused on the steps of the United States Capitol. We are witnessing history. We are here. We ARE a part of history.
I wish I could've been standing there too, taking that oath with my heart, if not with my hand.

Monday, January 19, 2009

For Queen And Country

As taken from the journal of Viscount Christopher Francis of Surrey, England on a diplomatic mission to Her Majesty's Ball, as presented by We Make History.

Images used with all thanks and courtesies to Sir Michael.

17th January, The Year Of Our Lord 1709 --

I give praise to GOD for many wonderful things, among them the opportunities to dance with Her Majesty's loyal subjects and friends from afar. As such, I consulted my tailor for a suitable outfit that would capture the elegance and joy of the evening in one fitting. Verily, I say, she succeeded beyond all measure of reasonable expectation, as evidenced in the journey to the ballroom. Another carriage pulled alongside, and its passenger, a roguish sort, did notice my dressings and cocked hat. He conferred to me a low, common, and yet complimentary greeting.

When I passed through the great door of the hall, the Royal Court artist did immediately take note of my peach-coloured satin jacket and breeches trimmed with lace and the festive ribbons protruding from my knees. I dare say I caused a minor stir, for not five minutes after my arrival I found myself suddenly standing before Her Majesty The Queen, in her trademark polonaise of gold and crimson, her smile as wide as the James River.

"Your Majesty!" I saluted, and with great haste I swept off my three-cornered hat, fell back on one foot and bowed deeply to her, labouring to hold my balance and give proper reverence to a beloved and merry Monarch. She, as always, graciously welcomed me.

To her side, a lady bustled with excitement over my choice of attire. "You look so awesome!" she said to me with giddy expectations. I did return the compliment and made affectionate note of her gown, a joyous overflowing stew of yellow and blue.

"I am the court jester," she explained to me. I detected a slight jingle in her steps, so as they say, she truly had arrived with bells on. Foremost on her mind, however, beyond her admiration of style, was her insistence that I give her at least four dances.

"My lady," I explained to her, "I have promised many dances to many ladies!"

I say I did not bear false witness for one moment, for I have a reputation within the Kingdom of seeking out as many different ladies as possible. I consider it my mission, for Queen And Country. Yet I did not turn her down, confident that I would somehow find a way to satisfy her longings. This ball would be an intimate affair, with a small but select group of ladies and gentlemen, including a courier for Royal Court of Spain, a noblewoman of Portugal, Le Comte and La Comtesse of France, and a young masqued boy rumoured to be the Scarlet Pimpernel.

I greeted His Lordship, who gave great praise to my dressings. As we conversed, one of our players observed in jest to our Master of Ceremonies, that this may be the only time he has been outdone in fashion.

I blushed. Outdo His Lordship? Oh, Heavens, no! The mere thought is unfathomable! Still, the Royal Court artists and others did insist on pictures, and at my request, I posed with several ladies of the realm.

Beauty, though, extends deep beyond any fabric, shall we not agree? Thus I was humbled when a newcomer to Her Majesty's Realm, a lady of integrity and purpose, consulted me for advice on the performance of courtly dances, both for herself and her three young and beautiful daughters.

Eager to hone my aspirations as a dancing master, I gave them my most sincere advice to absorb themselves in the joy of each figure and to move with grace, happiness, and humility. I showed them a simple yet elegant curtsy for those times of reverence.

"Uplift your partners," I said to the family. "Give your partner honour in every step."

I demonstrated a graceful turn with one of the young ladies. "Look right into your partner's eyes," I said. "Enjoy the music and your company."

The lady echoed my instructions. "Dignity and respect," she repeated to the young ones.

His Lordship assembled us and presented Her Majesty, The Queen, after which he regaled us with a story from his recent travels to the colonies. An Indian chief, he said, had seen an omen -- a vision of a cardinal swooping down and plucking the feathers from an eagle. A curious vision, indeed. Perhaps the matter was concerning another realm, a conflict far away, or maybe some allusion to a great diversion involving a ball wrapped in leather.

We had little time to ponder it as the grand promenade began. Seeing the Royal Court Jester unaccompanied when so many had escorts, my heart nudged me forward to act with kindness. We took hands and joined the stately parade. As is custom, it wound about and around, ending in a circle where His Lordship called out the various guests of the Realm.

I entertained her again for the first dance, a lively circle entitled "Noel." The gentlemen and ladies skipped around in turn as a chorus, away from and back to each other, then circling some more or or turning their partners as verses.

I note the gentlemen in their enthusiasm would often skip a great distance, leaving the ladies more steps than they expected to catch up with their partners, but all was well as everyone found each other in the end.

The call went out for "Christ Church Bells," one of my favourites, and I spared no moments bowing to a new lady.

"Do you have any objection to being head couple?" I inquired of her. She did not, as we formed a new set. Although I laboured to dissuade any unease in the lady, I must admit I missed one step as our dancing mistress explained it, leaving me standing about awkwardly and producing a moment of humourous confusion.

"I am sorry," I said, noting the chuckles around me and the ladies who had missed not a step.

My gracious partner faulted me not. The focus of my distraction, I should note, was a lady diagonal from me as I subtly encouraged her to look at my countenance, if not my eyes, as we turned each other around. Indeed, making eye contact is a point of joyous manner I labour for others to learn.

My lessons of grace were not lost on the lady newcomer, whom I chose as my next partner.

"As long as it is not confusing," she said, worried for her skill.

"Do not worry," I said. "I shall make it as unconfusing as possible."

To my great delight, she danced with an elegant and courtly flourish, holding my hand high in those figures where we turned each other. Even through the unfamiliar steps, she remained determined to enjoy the time on the floor and dance on, speaking to me often with inspiring words of encouragement in the proper accent of my homeland.

"Dear sir, dear sir, how are you?"

To be truthful, I should tell you that both of us had moments where we were found ourselves lost, either in the dance or in the figures.

"Thank you, my lady," I praised with a bow upon the conclusion of the number, adding a compliment to her steadfastness and poise.

For many years I have not considered myself worthy enough to dance with Her Majesty, but on this night, I summoned my courage and asked. Of course, the gracious Monarch that she is, she accepted, and together we enjoyed Sellinger's Round. I found opportunity to demonstrate my fancy steps, skipping and hopping with precision and air of a learned gentlemen. One must dance his best for the Queen!

Our players and our dancing mistress proceeded through a list of old favourites: "Soldier's Joy," "The Queen's Jig," and "Jack's Maggot," where I took great delight in dancing with Le Comtesse even though we found the "hey for three" a most challenging figure. The serpentine movements sometimes bewildered us, and we would have surely tried the patience our dancing masters. So I found myself quite honoured and surprised when La Comtesse remarked that she was glad to dance "with someone who knows what he is doing!"

I took advantage of a pause in the celebration for a moment of improvisation, as our players performed a slow-tempo song. Spotting our Court Jester, and knowing of her persistence if I did not engage her in another dance, I bowed to her and took her hand. We invented a minuet on the spot, although I admit I did most of the stepping while she followed along. She thanked me once more.

"The Spaniard" is a lively dance that involves much skipping and hopping. So is our beloved Cookie Dance, where short sets left plenty of opportunities for the lords and ladies to leap about.

But where was our jester? I spotted her to the side, unengaged and quite lonely as another dance was about to begin.

With nary a thought, I dashed all the way across the hall to her. "My lady, I will not have you sitting here alone! Will you dance with me?"

She accepted, of course, and we enjoyed "Haste To The Wedding," just the way a dancing master of Williamsburg taught it to me: turning right and left, circling left and right, passing my partner back to back, clapping twice, turning my partner, back-to-back with my neighbor, clapping twice, turning my neighbor and starting once more.

It is inevitable that when one is consumed by pleasure, the clock should accelerate. The time for the last waltz arrived, much as many us did not wish the evening to end.

"I thought it went until midnight," the Court Jester puzzled.

"Unfortunately, it does not," I lamented to her, "even though I could dance all night."

I invited her to share the waltz with me. Yet this time, instead of a simple two-step, I had the longing and passion to dance another improvised minuet or progression step. My gracious Jester indulged my request.

"Forward," I called softly to her, stepping with a slight dip in three-quarter time, inside hands clasped and raised above us. "Around," I directed, leading her daintily in another direction so that we could resume our forward step without colliding with the other couples. Thus the arrangement continued, I leading her all the way.

Occasionally we would turn to vary the figures -- "Left hand round," "Right hand round," -- before stepping onward gracefully. She was not sure at times what I had planned for her, but the Jester followed my every step, even if I played the fool. Just as I taught the others, I felt she honoured me as I honoured her, and when the waltz concluded, I fell into a low bow.

"God Bless You!" I whispered to her.

The warmth and beauty of the evening lingered within me long after the carriage ride home, as I lie in rest, and as I gave Praise to GOD at Church the following day. Even out of my stockings and breeches and cocked hat, I still found myself saying, "My Lady!" and bowing here and there. Dignity and respect -- and an unquenchable love for all things elegant and courtly.

More of Her Majesty's celebration here.

TO COME: Soldier's Joy!

Pleasures Of The Dance, A Life & Timelines Special Presentation In Five Parts:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Saturday, January 17, 2009

From The Elegant To The Overjoyed

My dearest readers, a proper 18th Century ball would be remiss without at least one opportunity to dance -- or at least observe -- a minuet. It is beauty and precision, presented in symmetrical form between two partners.

The minuet takes many forms, and many days of practice to master. But I say to you, my friends, one needs only a graceful step and a sense of three-quarter time to obtain the basic feel. From there, we may sharpen the dull points.

What say you, ladies and gentlemen?

I say we watch this example from the New York Baroque Dance Company:

And observe the first part of this demonstration, from regal parts unknown:

In a proper ball, the fancy dances and all minuets will come first. Because of the limited number of people who can properly perform such art, they are limited in duration so that everyone may take the floor for the simpler set dances. In Her Majesty's realm, we wish for as many people to dance as much as possible, so you shall see no minuets here. However, do not be surprised to see your humble servant improvising a minuet with a young lady during a pause in the festivities.

You will hear dancing masters emphasize poise and precision. They will remind you to point your toes or hold your hands in a courtly manner. You will practice your bows and curtsies. But dearest readers, if you learn no other lesson, learn to enjoy every moment of every dance. Immerse yourself in its pleasure and let all cares drift away from you like parchment in the wind. Smile graciously to your dancing companions. Honour them with every step. Uplift their spirits. For we are in this world far too briefly, and we must not miss those opportunities to engage in diversions which leave us feeling truly and wonderfully blessed.

So come, let us be merry! The time for minuets has passed. I suggest something rousing! Madame Noire, I bow to you once again as I share another of your suggested clips to illustrate what I seek.

Thank you, dearest readers. I shall see you on the ballroom floor.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Make A Grand Entrance

Dearest readers, I gather you have chosen your jabot and coat or picked the perfect polonaise. Her Majesty's Ball is just a turn of a day away -- and if you're reading this in archive, rest assured that some regal ball is never far away!

I have shown you the joys of an 18th Century Ball at its height. Yet I must apologize, for I have not shown you how one begins.

The first dance is always a grand march, where you and your partner -- or an unescorted partner who you have graciously asked to dance -- parade around the room.

Here is an example of a proper procession, courtesy of our Library of Congress. I do admit this group dates, shall we say, a hundred years ahead of us. Yet their skill outweighs any chronological abnormalities.

Anxious newcomers, fret you not. I reassure you the procession at most balls is not as complex. Come, let us move back one hundred years for a march closer to our time and pace and grace, as presented by the dancers of the 2nd Annual Jane Austen Ball in Rochester.

Well done, ladies and gentlemen. Let us also tip our cocked hats to the dancing mistress at front, directing the couples. However, even with generous assistance, those unfamiliar with the march sometimes forget its patterns. Good ladies and gentlemen, in addition to your knowledge of the figures and ample supply of grace, you must possess a generous stock of good nature and humour. Our next clip shall illustrate.

Shakespeare could have written many comedies of errors borne of the ballroom floor. I myself could have starred in a few. But dearest friends, 'tis better to have danced and blown it than never danced at all!

And, aye, I have not finished yet.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Here We Go Round

Powdered your wig yet? Oh, no matter. My week-long tribute to 18th Century dance in preparation for Her Majesty's Ball continues with some spin.

I declare set dances most enjoyable, dearest readers, but the circles give me great pleasure as well. I do not have the opportunity to caper as many of them as I would like because they tend to be a little more challenging to learn. Like a song, they have choruses and verses, meaning one repeats the steps in the chorus but the verses change.

I give you a lively dance known as "Gathering Peascods," as performed by some talented students in eight-person sets. Do note though, this dance can accommodate many more.

Here is a breakdown of the steps.

I learned this dance on the fly at last year's Arizona Renaissance Fair in Apache Junction with some help from a beautiful, encouraging and enthusiastic partner!

Now let us watch a quadrille -- a dance for four-couple sets. It is the precursor of what we now know as square dancing, but without the caller. Notice how these dancers glide right through a number, the name of which I know not. Whatever it is, they perform it beautifully.

My dearest readers, note in both these fine examples how the figures flow into one another nearly seamlessly. A main goal -- and I admit this is a continuing effort for myself -- is to make sure one uses all of the music, moving exactly to the beat and not tarrying about or hastily stepping to catch up.

However, as you can see from the above dances, often the ladies and gentlemen find themselves waiting a few bars by design as their partners perform some fancy figures. So lads, what shall we do while the ladies caper? Clap for them in encouragement -- and encourage your fellow gentlemen to do the same so you do not find yourself in an isolated state of bliss. Perhaps you might add a well-timed "Huzzah!" for merry measure.

Keep your clocked stockings on. More shall follow!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hole In The Wall, Warmth In My Heart

Continuing our look at 18th Century dance in advance of Her Majesty's Ball, we come to a number called "Hole In The Wall." This is an easy dance to learn, but to truly enjoy it, you must savor those figures where you step to your partner in the middle of the set and join your eyes as you exchange places. The look you give to your dancing companion means everything. It should be more than a passing glance. Fill your countenance with happiness, and honour your partner with the warmth of your expression. Gaze straight into the other's eyes and let your soul shine through.

This clip from Becoming Jane should illustrate the point, and again, I bow to Madame Noire for suggesting it.

Ahhhhhhh... do you not want to put on your breeches, silk jacket and buckled shoes?

But what if your partner is new to the joy of the dance and still needs a few pointers on the figures? Never fear, good ladies and gentlemen! In these modern days, a caller often leads you through. But even in the absence of one, a skilled dancing master can teach on the floor using a mixture of simple vocal instructions and hand gestures. Watch how a gentleman of the Covent Garden Minuet company leads a couple through "Hole In The Wall."

Remember, if you can walk, you can dance! Huzzah!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hoopskirts = Racism???

The leader of Alabama's NAACP wants the Azalea Trail Maids of Mobile to stay home from the presidential inauguration because they wear hoopskirts dating back to the Old South, which reminds him of slavery.

As WSFA-TV in Montgomery reports:
"These are not just regular costumes. These are the costumes that remind someone of the plantation in Gone with the Wind," Edward Vaughn said in a phone interview.
So let me make sure I understand this: it is impossible to separate the respectful, beautiful, and inspirational aspects of our history from the ugly and unjust parts.

Along this line of reasoning, I should never wear my 18th Century formal attire because the gentlemen of that era owned slaves, servants, and subjugated women. I also should never wear Captain Burgundy's outfit because privateers killed people and looted ships. The Puritan clothes must go too, I guess, and we all know about... ahem... them. And I haven't even mentioned my Confederate Army uniform.

My re-enactor friends, the people I thank God for bringing into my life, are not unreconstructed Southerners, chauvinistic scoundrels or "Bible thumpers," for lack of a better term. We are people who love God, love our families, and love submerging ourselves in the pages of history so that the future generations may learn the kinds of things they're not getting in school. We love the fashion and manners of bygone eras. The ladies and gentlemen I know are beautiful, both inside and outside, brave, and strong. We are not a snobby bunch; indeed, we want to draw people in, sharing the love of God through living history and uplifting and inspiring as many as we can.

Why do I re-enact? Because it uplifts me. Because it uplifts others. Because it brought me back to God.

Somebody please tell Mr. Vaughn that.

UPDATE: Mr. Vaughn has apologized, partially.

Nights Of Grace

As I anticipate Her Majesty's Ball, here's the flavor of that which brings me unparalleled joy. I bow to Madame Noire for directing me towards these clips of 18th century dancing taken from movies -- albeit with a modern soundtrack.

Practice your honours!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Reel To Reel DVD: The Duchess

Oh, my dearest lady, what horrible burdens you suffer!

How It Rates: ***1/2
Starring: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes
Rated: PG-13 (and a strong one, at that)
Red Flags: Several Scenes Of Sexuality (including sexual assault!), Partial Nudity

I will freely admit my love of 18th Century culture, so at least you know I'm coming into this film with a bias towards the beauty of the era: its magnificent polonaise dresses, elaborate jackets, lace ruffled shirts, silk clocked stockings, glistening jewelry, powdered wigs, ponytails with ribbons and, of course, three-cornered hats.

So it's all the more ironic and saddening in a time where ladies and gentlemen exchange bows and curtsies and manners are de rigeur to see aristocrats treating noble ladies as little more than devices to advance their goals. Such is the life of Georgianna Spencer, the Duchess of Devonshire (Knightley) in 1700's England. She is excited to be married off to the Duke (Fiennes) until she finds herself trapped in a loveless relationship to a philandering spouse. He cares more about his dogs and wants only two things from her: a male heir and obedience.

The marriage is in trouble from the consummation forward, and it doesn't get better as she bears him three daughters -- whom she's caring for in addition to an illegitimate child from one of the Duke's flings. Her Grace is no wilting flower, though, and she quickly becomes popular in social circles. It doesn't hurt that she wears the finest of fashion and is a regular gambler. (The film doesn't mention Georgianna's gaming debts, which were quite substantial.) She also has a sharp mind for politics, which attracts the attention of the growing Whig party, angling for control of Parliament.

The Duchess also finds a friend and soul mate in Lady Bess, who has left home after being beaten by her husband -- which, sadly, was legal in 1700's England if you used a small enough stick. Georgianna invites her to live with her and the Duke at their magnificent home. Given his lustful eyes, it's not a hard sell. You can guess what happens. Worse, Georgianna can't force Bess from the home, leading to a lot of awkward meals.

Looking for love, our beleaguered Duchess has been eyeing and assisting Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper), a Whig politician who longs to be prime minister. She longs to be with him, but the Duke rejects her "deal" of letting them share passion in the same way the Duke has had with Bess. She can't even leave him, either, or risk never seeing her children again -- the same dilemma Lady Bess once faced. Worst of all, Georgianna's mother (Charlotte Rampling) refuses to stand up for her own daughter, concerned more about scandal and status than the happiness of her child. You wonder how she could take the side of this cad people constantly refer to as "Your Grace."

The Duchess is a about a woman who has a glorious burden, doing everything that is expected of her as an aristocrat and seeking love and admiration. But the only love she's getting is from her many admirers and her children, neither of whom are aware or can do anything to help her escape the prison of her life. It is beautifully costumed and wigged. Knightly wears a hairpiece at least two feet tall in one scene, making me wonder how women of that era could hold their heads up high under such a burden, in addition to all those other burdens.

The late lamented Princess Diana is a direct descendant of the Spencer family. She too had the burden of a philandering husband and the white-hot spotlight. History not only repeats, it passes down its genes.

UPDATE: Please see the comments, as Lady Elizabeth provides some excellent perspective on 18th century women and marriage, and why they accepted loveless arrangements. She also linked me to a highly informative digest of 18th Century life in England from the University Of Michigan.

More on Her Grace here.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Reel To Reel: Gran Torino

Go ahead, make me care about your racist tush.

How It Rates: ****
Starring: Clint Eastwood
Rated: R
Red Flags: Graphic Gang Language and Profanities, Strong Violence

Gran Torino is not a Dirty Harry movie, yet it answers the question of what happened when Dirty Harry retired. Perhaps he became a bitter old man like Walter Kowalski, Clint Eastwood's snarling bigot carrying the baggage of his Korean War service while surrounded by Asian neighbors in a run-down Detroit neighborhood.

Mr. Kowalski -- don't call him "Walt" -- has just lost his wife, leaving him with little to do except guzzle beer, mow the lawn, and wash his prized Ford Gran Torino -- yes, the same model of car from Starsky & Hutch. Walter used to build them when he worked at Ford. Now he complains about his son owning a "rice burner" and his granddaughter wanting to get her mitts on the car. Any attempts to rescue him from his lone-wolf lifestyle are dismissed with a caustically profane retort that could have come from Dirty Harry's mouth. But even Harry didn't have a mouth as dirty as Walter, who casually drops every ethnic slur I've ever heard except the n-word.

Somewhere in that grizzled body, though, lies a heart. He ends up defending Thao (Bee Vang) and Sue (Ahney Her), Hmong teenagers living next store who are struggling with the neighborhood gangbangers. At first, Walter's concerned for his yardwork. But when he is invited next door during a family get-together, he finds common threads.

Thao is an introverted, laconic boy who isn't manning up like his family wishes. The gangbangers entice him into stealing the old man's hot ride, but he blows it, and Thao's family forces him to work for Walter to make amends. Walter decides to mentor Thao and help him get a job. Here's where the film takes off as a gritty variant on the father-son relationship fable, as Walter's foul-mouthed life lessons take root. We watch as Thao learns to talk like a bigot to fit in with Detroit's politically incorrect white folks. It's a priceless bit of black comedy.

The gangbangers don't give up easily. They keep coming back to torment both Walter and his Thao's family, leading to the inevitable showdown where the old man must also confront his past.

This is Clint Eastwood's best acting and directing job since Million Dollar Baby, but beyond Dirty Harry, I remember how much I loved his performance in Unforgiven, which shares similar themes of guilt and redemption. That film won Eastwood Oscars for Best Actor and Best Picture. He has every reason to repeat here. Walter is a rotten geezer, but we root for him as we come to understand and identify with him. The film absorbs us into his perspective, and although we cringe at his racism, we find some old-school wisdom. He's out for himself, but he has a clearly defined sense of justice.

In one memorable scene, Walter and his garbage mouth save Sue from some thugs who have filthy, jaw-dropping disrespect for women. People who know me know I have very low tolerance for those who show discourtesy and boorishness to the ladies. Walter Kowalski, you just went ahead and made my day.

Friday, January 9, 2009

No Comment


I'm not going to talk about her.

I'm not going to criticize her book or trash her sit-down with Matt Laurer on NBC.

I'm not going to complain about how the Peacock got bullied into it.

I'm not going to talk about how she epitomizes everything that's wrong with partisan politics.

It's because she, like Madonna and Rosie, knows the game. She plays it beautifully. And the rest of the media gets suckered in.

She sells books. A lot of them.

We complain.

But we can't stop talking about her.

And then she sells more books.

Somewhere, there's a point.

Wonder what it could be....

Friday, January 2, 2009

Our Absolutely Speculative & Facetious 2009 Predictions

Because we're tired of watching bowl games, because there's little news going on this time of year besides the first-baby and first-homicide stories, because we're bored, and because everybody else is doing it, here's our no-money-back guarantee list of things that will happen in the new year... or should.

* WWE Smackdown stages a show at the U.S. Senate, as Democrats try to block Roland Burris from taking a seat and Republicans fight to keep Al Franken from taking another one. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich arrives with a folding chair. Caroline Kennedy sneaks in the back door.

* Pay-per-view sales from the above fracas cover the Wall Street bailout.

* President Barack Obama (enough use of this "-elect" already) releases his master plan for turning around the economy, which includes forcing Ford, GM, and Chrysler to bring back the "shag van." Banks are forced to demand the first born of each household as mortgage collateral. David Lee Roth is forced to rejoin Van Halen.

* In case his recovery package fails, President Obama readies a super-secret contingency plan to declare himself eligible for the NBA draft. Yes, he can.

* Both UPI and Amy Winehouse will amazingly survive another year.

* Cash-strapped University of Arizona decides to sell naming rights. Effective May 1st, the campus officially becomes "Jim Click University."

* The download-battered recorded music industry will demand a bailout. Congress will refuse, citing the irreversible damage imposed by Jessica Simpson and New Kids On The Block.

* Former head coach Lute Olson un-retires at the end of the Wildcat basketball season, citing the need to protect Arizona hoops from being overshadowed by Mike Stoops' boys.

* Wildcat football fans demand Stoops' ouster after he fails to get the team to the Rose Bowl. Dick Tomey phones in consolation: "Told ya so!"

* Wall Street money managers invent a new derivative investment tied to the number of times Sen. Caroline Kennedy utters the words "you know" during a floor speech.

* Al-Qaida decides it's in the wrong business to achieve goals of world domination -- opens up chain of payday loan stores.

* Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Iraq with a security detail of 50 armed guards, two tanks, 10 sharpshooters, air support and Bill on a leash.

* Saran Palin retires from the Alaska governor's office and opens up Saraburger fast-food restaurant chain featuring the Ultimate Mooseburger. "Tasty? You betcha!"

* Former VP Dick Cheney somehow resurrects Enron.

* Plans for the George W. Bush Presidential Library call for a site in Crawford, Texas next to the Beer Barn.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Reel To Reel: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

The curious case of deja vu.

How It Rates: **1/2
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Mild Language, Two Sexually Suggestive Scenes

You've already seen this movie. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button borrows from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, but it borrows even more from Forrest Gump. Was screenwriter Eric Roth -- who penned both films -- in a nostalgic mood?

I counted at least a half-dozen references to Forrest Gump, in dialogue, structure or otherwise. Both films draw generously from Southern culture. Both films feature a symbol of life's continuity and unpredictability: in Forrest, it's a feather; in Button, it's a hummingbird. Each film devotes a key scene to the title character learning to walk. Roth even recycles Forrest's most memorable line: "I need to pee."

Perhaps Roth needed more material than he could find in Fitzgerald's narrative, the story of a man who ages backwards. Benjamin (Pitt) is born a shriveled infant to a mother who dies after delivery and a father who abandons him on the steps of a retirement home. A compassionate caregiver named Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) raises the man-boy to little old man until he leaves home as a tugboat crewman for Captain Mike (Jared Harris), Button's answer to Forrest's Lt. Dan.

We hear Button's story as his granddaughter reads his diary to his one true love Daisy (Blanchett, playing the Jenny role from Forrest). Daisy lies dying in a New Orleans hospital as Hurricane Katrina blows in, a setting likely derived from Pitt's post-K New Orleans activism more than anything else. Benjamin watches as his friends grow older and die as he grows younger. Button may set some record for the number of funeral scenes in one picture, yet Brad Pitt's character walks past death with more of a shrug than a charming perspective like his protoge Forrest.

That's the film's main problem. It does too much wandering through the life of its title character without providing a unique perspective on the human condition from a person living it in reverse. Forrest did its job brilliantly and warmly and with generous dashes of humor. Button is way too heavy and about 15 minutes too long (my Royal Father puts the figure at 30 minutes).

Still, the movie still knows how to pull heartstrings, and it pulls them in the right places. Forrest did too, just a heckuva lot better.

2009 -- A New Beginning

I resolve this year to do a better job getting my occasionally crabby side under control. That's tough in a newsroom under deadline pressure. I'm asking for God's guidance and help.

All of you have your own resolutions (or, you resolved to stop making them). But I ask that we as a nation add a few collective promises to the list.

* We resolve to give the new administration a chance before dumping on it like the Los Reales landfill.

* We resolve to see partisanship for the cancer that it is and prevent it from infecting any more of our government.

* We resolve to stop putting our money into exotic investments we don't understand, even if they promise to make us stinking rich.

* We resolve to keep our money in banks that set tougher standards for loans.

* We resolve not to let our possessions run our lives.

* We resolve to understand all our texting, Twitter tweets, IM's and e-mail will never replace the impact of a face-to-face conversation.

* We resolve to wear, not throw, our shoes.