Thursday, October 21, 2010


My friend Elizabeth tipped me off to this blog post on bullying from Dan Pierce of "Single Dad Laughing." It's long, but it's heartfelt. I invite you to read it and then come back here...

This post illustrates a chronic problem endemic to the bullying epidemic: abdication of responsibility. Parents aren't parenting. Teachers aren't teaching. Leaders aren't leading. Simply saying to a bully -- as Dan's teacher once did -- "John, that's enough," is not discipline. It is telling a child, "That's enough for now." The adult is not drawing a line on what is acceptable behavior but simply postponing the matter until later.

Now, if that teacher had said, "John, we don't make fun of people's weight, and if you do, young man, you will be spending time after school writing a five-hundred word essay on bulimia," perhaps that would've adjusted his attitude. Or maybe he would have seen Dan as the new teachers' pet. Dan, however, would've known he had an ally.

As Mr. Pierce points out, many people will say "I never knew," when they're close to a bullying tragedy like the death of the Rutgers student or the four students who took their lives in Mentor, Ohio. Of course you didn't. The bullied built themselves a castle with a moat and drawbridge, and they wouldn't let you in.

The bullied realize everybody around them fails them, torments them, or burns them through false friendship. They don't go to their parents, because those parents have told them to be strong. They don't even trust GOD, because they can't understand why they're suffering under a loving GOD. I found this paragraph from Mr. Pierce's memoir telling:
"In ninth grade, the girls started getting involved. The popular, "hot" girls started doing things like asking me out, then laughing in my face before I could answer. They would invite me to come to parties or hang-outs and then laugh some more when they saw that I had hopes that their invitations were sincere. It only took a few of these moments before I believed that any desire, by any girl, to hang out with me would always be a joke."
Up go the stone walls and the heavy wooden gate. Yet the turrets have no archers, nobody to defend against the attackers who pound at the door, and somehow the combatants keep getting in. When the castle is compromised and nobody is there to defend the king, his majesty might decide it is better to die by his own sword than to be humiliated by the enemy. Abdication is not an option, even though everybody around them did.

It's time to pick the scepter back up. Parents, it means you talk to your children, using some of the suggestions Dan Pierce mentions in his post. You have a relationship with your children's teachers, which means you attend those parent conferences religiously. Don't be disappointed if your children say, "Nothing much," when you ask what they did at school. This is more a matter of fatigue than repression; would you gladly tell the kids what you did at work all day?

But above all, dearest readers, you must draw lines. Tell a child who starts heckling, "We don't do that to other people. Would you want somebody doing that to you?" We don't need more laws. We don't need more counselors. What we need are people willing to stand in the gap.

Reel To Reel: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Greed is still good unless you're holding a mortgage.

Going Rate: Worth matinee price.
Starring: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Mild Language

(I'm a little late to the screen on this one. I'm catching up on some movies that have been on my list but unworkable into my schedule until now.)

I recently heard Rush Limbaugh railing about the Obama Adminstration's "assault on free market capitalism." You could argue the takeover of General Motors was a huge broadside, along with forcing people to buy their own health insurance, among other things. You can argue for or against the government's course, but you can't deny this: there wouldn't be an assault on free markets if they hadn't assaulted us first. I'm talking about allowing people who had no business owning a home to take out mortgages. Then financial gurus inconceivably package those loans into investments. Now we're all paying for it, and I can't understand the lunacy that got us here.

Gordon Gekko can't, either. Michael Douglas returns to his Oscar-winning role a little grayer and poorer but not bereft of insider market knowledge. After getting out of prison for high financial crimes and misdemeanors, he is pedaling a book, "Is Greed Good?" I dunno, Mr. Gekko, is it? As he works the lecture and autograph circuit, he finds his estranged daughter being courted by up-and-coming investment banker Jake Moore (LeBeouf). Moore has a fixation on cold fusion as the next big score, and he's relentless at digging up millions to fund research. Winnie Gekko (Carey Mulligan) wants nothing to do with her father, whom she blames for a family meltdown while he was locked up. She's writing for a Huffington Post-like blog, as if she were doing penance for Dad's sins.

Moore is working for a firm that's running out of cash and time. Rumors are hitting it hard, leading to a disaster that jumps from the business section to the front page. As he tries to build a relationship with his future father-in-law, Moore turns to Gordon Gekko to sleuth out what's really going on. We don't see Gekko exerting any serious effort, but he doesn't have to. He's Gordon Gekko, fercryinoutloud. It doesn't take long for him to find an icy corporate kingpin, Bretton James (Brolin), is at the heart of the problem and up to some very dirty dealings, if only somebody could unmask him. At the same time, we sense G.G. wants to get back in the game.

That would be enough to power this sequel, but director Oliver Stone and company throw in the financial meltdown as a principal character, as if we all need to be reminded that the economy is stinking right now. He runs wild with CGI illustrations of plunging markets against cityscapes and tangled streams of stock tickers to pick up film's meandering pace. The original Wall Street moved at the speed of an action picture, even in its soliloquies on money. Some of those lines ("Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.") are classics. I don't see anything like it here.

Yet if you're a fan of the old Gordon Gekko, complete with that brick cell phone, hang in there. You will not have forked over your $9.25 in vain. The film that begat this one was a parable about money and power, but this one is more of a financial procedural, a money mystery with romantic and familial sidebars. The original Wall Street loved money; its offspring makes us choose between love and money.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

How To Manage A Rescue In 33 Steps

Chile's emotional, uplifting, and nearly flawless rescue of 33 trapped miners will surely be studied for years as a model in crisis management. Watching each miner rise from the depths made for incredible reality television, impossible to turn away from.

Yet before those glorious moments, hundreds of people were constantly caring for them, sending food and goodies -- including personal music players -- down a tube to keep the trapped miners healthy, happy, and sane. Knowing someone dearly loves you in the darkest hours is powerful motivation. Knowing an entire nation is behind you amplifies that all the more over the course of two dark months underground.

Chile went all out for the rescue. I balk at using the term "party atmosphere" in describing a dangerous rescue operation, where any number of things could have gone wrong, but how else do you describe an event where people gathered to watch the miners on a big-screen television, shouting and singing as each miner emerged from the rescue capsule? I can't find the words to describe the love and tears of joy pouring from the relatives who embraced the ones they could have lost. The emotion spread far and wide. On our KOLD Facebook page, one person said she cried every time a miner came up.

"They have experienced a new life, a rebirth," said Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, who was at the rescue site in hardhat and work coat to greet each miner. "We aren't the same that we were before the collapse on August 5. Today Chile is a country much more unified, stronger and much more respected and loved in the entire world."

No kidding. The rescuers did everything right, or as right as they could. They didn't skimp or turn the process into a finger-pointing political squabble, at least not to the rest of the world. They made the process incredibly transparent, with cameras everywhere they could reasonably place them. What we saw were 33 trapped miners knowing they were going to make it and a nation that was going to make it happen.

A miracle? Perhaps. But you also have to remember Romans 8:28.

Monday, October 11, 2010

It Is A Truth, Universally Acknowledged...

...that a gentleman who loves historic dance might one day aspire to lead others in it. Thus, a young naval officer is invited to teach and call one of his favourite dances at the Pride & Prejudice Ball as presented by We Make History.

From the memoirs of Lt. Christopher of His Majesty's Navy.

Colour daguerreotypes provided courtesy of A Gracious Gentleman to be named forthwith!

The first few dances have put me in the most elegant of moods. The assembled ladies and gentlemen are beautiful, as always in their Regency attire. The music of Mad Robin is perfect. We have danced “Sellingers' Round,” “Christchurch Bells,” and “Jamaica,” among other dances, to the guide and teaching of Madame Tussant.

And now my big moment is arriving.

“We have a special guest caller,” our host announces. “Formally of Lord Nelson's fleet, the HMS Victory, Lt. Christopher!”

I cautiously step forward and take my place in front. I call for the gathered to arrange themselves in groups of three couples each. “Make sure that you leave plenty of room between your sets because you will be using the outside of your set as well as the inside.”

“The name of the dance?” our host prompts.

“'Come, Let Us Be Merry!'” It is my favourite 18th Century dance, one I know by heart, which is why I chose it.

“We have a first couple, a second couple, and a third couple!” I announce, making things clear for the uninitiated. Now I must demonstrate the moves.

I ask a gentleman in the first set nearest me if I may displace him for a moment. He graciously agrees and I walk through the first two moves with his partner, turning my lady twice, each of us bowing to the second couple in the set after each turn.

“Now, you try it!”

I figure our novices need to walk this through. It is not an easy step to master, and even I have trouble with it after five years on the floor. When I am satisfied that at least most people are understanding it, I move on.

“Now, the first couple will cast off to the middle of the set, then cast off again to the end of the set,” I say as I walk the moves through with my demonstration partner. “Now here is where you have a choice. You will lead your lady up through the middle, but you may do it in one of three ways. The first way harkens back to the minuet... “

I lead the lady up the set, our inside hands joined high, stepping in and out in three-quarter time. “One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three.”

We return to the end of the set. “Or, you can also try a hesitation chasse.” I demonstrate it again, holding both my partner's hands as we face each other and slowly slide up the middle to waltz time.

“And if you are feeling really adventurous,” I caution, “there is also a third way. You may waltz up the set,” I say before proceeding with a waltzing twirl with my partner up the middle.

“If you are ever in any doubt about which option to use, let the lady decide.”

Not many moves are left: just a cast off to the middle again, and then six hands round halfway in an in-and-out step, ending with the couples all doing a two-hand turn to end progressed and proper.

“And we have a new top couple!” I announce. “Remember, if you are ever lost, simply right your ship and carry on, as my captain would say. Are there any questions?”

Now, the test. Have I taught it well enough? Can I call it well enough?

“If our players are ready,” I signal. Mad Robin begins.

“First couple turn and honour!” I call.

Throughout the hall, first couples are turning and honouring as well as they can. Some understand which way they have to turn. A few are lost but quickly recover. I have barely any time to keep track of any one set, for at least two dozen sets are dancing at the same time and I must call again...

“First couple turn and honour again!”

My focus is on the sets closest to me because they're the closest to me. I move around, half dancing with them, half anxious to make sure I can spot a set that may be having trouble. Yet if they are, what am I to do? I dare not stop and correct people. I do not want to single people out or embarrass anybody, above all things, and besides, I must now say...

“First couple cast off to the middle... and the bottom!”

If some sets are getting behind, I can not see it. A light din of conversation is rising from the crowd. Is is confusion or laughter? I am not sure. I begin walking between sets, looking for signs of trouble even though I know I have limited time and abilities for correction before all must...

“Lead up the middle!”

Some people are not bothering with the first method. The minuet is not for them. Or they simply lead up without synchronization to the three-quarter time. Their goal is to arrive safely, as is the goal with those in fear, when the journey is anything but the reward.

“Cast off to the middle!”

They do so, as far as I can tell.

“Six hands round halfway!”

I try to coax people back into the rhythm. “One, two, three! One, two, three!”

And then the last move. “Two hand turn!”

I so relieved to have gotten through the first iteration of the dance I almost forget to begin again. “First couple turn!” I call in shorthand. That's not completely what our dancers need to do, but experience and advice in my working life has taught me to shorten commands during a live performance for the benefit of all. I hope the dancers know what I mean.

I go through another cycle of the dance, and another after that. Some sets are speeding up, decoupling with the phrasing of the music, much as what happens during the Virginia Reel, so that they're ahead three or four bars when other sets are behind or with the time. What have I done? What haven't I done? Yet I look around and nobody appears to be giving up. People are still dancing and smiling. I think I can hear some laughter somewhere. Standing among the sets I cannot see everyone. I can see our designated caller dancing for a change, but what is our host thinking? He seems to be enjoying himself. He gave me this opportunity. Am I living up to his expectations or will I go down with the ship?

I am concerned but carrying on.

I continue calling while walking amongst the sets looking for signs of trouble. Mad Robin's beautiful music and my multi-tasked attention cause me to forget a step or two, but the dancers, bless them, keep right on, improvising where need be. Hopefully, nobody is giving up or dropping out. That would break my heart.

A few more rounds and I realize I need to bring things to a proper close. I hold one finger up to our players, signaling one more time through the music. They do so.

“And honours all!” I call, reminding them to bow and curtsy. I hear applause.

“Thank you!” I say in a stew of gratitude and relief. I had done it.

Many are complimentary, including our dancing mistress for the evening who only had one slight piece of advice: let people know it's a waltz. It is valuable information for next time.

I know there will be a next time when our host pats me on the back. “A good first time at bat,” he says, smiling. I hoped to hit a home run, but I will settle for a double, or at least a base hit.

I also wished the person in the stands who inspired me to step up to the plate had seen it. My dancing friend Madame Noire had been in the powder room during my debut as dancing master.

“I know you did fine!” she reassures me. Still, I wanted her to see it.

“I'll just have to call another one,” I say. I will, at another ball, in another era. This is but just the first step. I pray there will be may more to come.

For now, it is time for me to dance again...

More pictures and recollections of this evening here!

Friday, October 8, 2010

All The Right Moves

Here we are, the night before the Pride and Prejudice Ball, and it is time to go out with the proverbial big finish.

My Dearest Dancing Friends, I have oft wondered what it might be like -- to borrow the vernacular -- "mash up" an 18th Century dance with modern music.

Perhaps it might look something like this compilation assembled by a fan of period films:

Stuff Louie Puroll Says

Pinal County Deputy Louie Puroll's feisty news conference yesterday -- where he defended his version of the shooting incident that injured him in April in the Arizona desert -- had all the ingredients of great live television: a compelling character, great dialogue, and an intriguing storyline.

Puroll was a soundbite machine, ranting off more quotes than we could fit into 120 seconds of evening news time. He reminded me of the popular Twitter feed by Justin Halpern with the name I can't mention on a family-friendly website, the one that's now a CBS sitcom starring William Shatner.

Some of the money bites:

"No Sir, I didn't have any anxiety. I didn't need a test. I was there. I did not shoot myself."

"I'm a range deputy. I'm trusted to keep myself busy. I don't have a corporal, or a sergeant or a lieutenant looking over my shoulder every five minutes."

"As I was bringing my rifle up, it flashed in my mind, this is where I'm supposed to holler out, 'stop, police,' that's when his muzzle flashed and that bullet struck me. So I decided it was not the time to strike up a conversation."

"I shot that man, I saw him fall down. He didn't stay there. I can tell you this: he's the first man I shot that didn't stay there."

"I never at any point lawyered up and refused to answer questions. I have answered every single question asked of me by every single investigator involved in this. Anyone who says I lawyered up is a damn liar."

"I had an M-16, a pistol, and a badge. If you need more than that you need to pack your stuff and go home."

"You know how much paperwork's involved if I generate a story?"

"Real life is not a made-for-TV movie."

"Alright, pay close attention cause you're not going to believe this, Until this shooting happened and I got home that night and was watching the news, I'd never heard of 10-70. I do not watch the local news. I don't read the newspapers and I don't care about politics."

"It's not that ordinary, but it's not that far out of the ordinary. I could tell you stories that would make this seem like eating lunch at the Dairy Queen."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Ball In Bath

Miss Jane Austen was quite fond of Bath, England, which greatly influenced her writing. Why not hold a ball there? And this one is a beautiful example:

And we shall do our best to create such merriment at the Pride & Prejudice Ball!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

From England To Italy

Dearest Friends of the Dance, as the Pride & Prejudice Ball draws even nearer, I direct your attention away from England for the moment to Italy, where some friends of the Regency staged a ball a few months prior and did capture the spirit of Jane Austen's time spot on:

And so did our Italian friends here:

My goodness, they do enjoy a lengthy dance. But note the laughter and grace all around!

Your humble servant is especially enamored with those gentlemen wearing the military uniforms. I am still trying to acquire more accurate Regency attire: a task not easy in this day and age, which is ironic given the popularity of Miss Austen's work!

Sinners And Soldiers

The Supreme Court just heard arguments in a case that sorely tests free-speech rights. Snyder v. Phelps pits a family who lost their Marine Corps son to the war in Iraq against Westboro Baptist Church, a fringe congregation in Kansas that protests military funerals and sees the deaths of American troops as GOD's punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.

The father of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder wanted his son buried with dignity. What he got was protesters standing outside the memorial with signs saying "Thank God for Dead Soldiers." It didn't matter that Cpl. Snyder was straight. For Westboro Baptist, the truth never gets in the way of a good temper tantrum.

I wonder what Westboro pastor Fred Phelps teaches about separating the sinner from the sin. According to the model GOD and JESUS set for us, we are to love the sinner but hate the sin (1 Timothy 1:15-16, Luke 19:10, Romans 5:8). This doesn't mean we give sinners a pass; it means we help them repent. We pray for them. We encourage them to change. Sometimes we punish them. Sometimes we cut them out of their lives until they straighten out.

Nowhere in the BIBLE does it command us to make innocents pay for the sins of others. Sin often has collateral damages -- which is the straw the Westboro followers are grabbing at -- but GOD doesn't punish innocents (Hebrews 6:10).

I don't like it when Christians play snobbish games, calling some followers real and others fake according to how religious they are. Yet I hesitate to call the followers of Westboro real Christians when they distort GOD's Word so flagrantly and hurtfully. Their sense of decency is warped. They continue to protest military funerals and it doesn't bother them a shred. I can't understand how they can thrive on so much anger and not be deeply miserable inside. I'm sure they justify it in their own minds as doing the LORD's work. Rationalization is such a deceptively powerful tool; it lets us get away with anything.

The Supreme Court, however, can't rationalize their way out of this. It has to draw the line somewhere. Previous rulings have stated the time, manner, and place of free speech can be regulated, if not the content of the speech itself. Still, it agonizingly ruled in favor of Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt when he ran an obscene parody ad mocking evangelist Jerry Falwell. Sometimes the law isn't equipped to handle obscenity. That's the trade-off of having a First Amendment: it protects the speech we love as much as the speech we hate.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Child's Play

My Dearest Dancing Friends, here is a beautiful diversion I learned in Nashville a few months ago: Childgrove, as performed by this group of lively colonials:

Here is another rendition for our Renaissance friends:

And as for our Regency friends, well, we shall just have to wait for the Pride & Prejudice Ball!

Monday, October 4, 2010

March Of Times

Dearest Dancing Friends, every festive ball -- such as the forthcoming Pride & Prejudice Ball -- cannot truly begin without a grand march.

Here is a grand one indeed from a ball in Vancouver:

Note the range of fashion: from Renaissance to Regency, although I have some clothing suggestions for the gentleman who insisted on wearing shorts with long stockings, but that is another post. The lines of two become lines of four, and then eight, and then after that the math becomes a bit too much for the ballroom floor.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Cross And Cast

Dearest Dancing Friends, the Pride & Prejudice Ball approaches!

So let us celebrate all week with a selection of English dances done right... or at least with heart.

We start with this selection from a ball in Toronto this past April.