Monday, August 29, 2011

And Now, The Next Windstorm...

Coming home from work this evening, I heard Jeffrey Kuhner of The Washington Times -- filling in for Michael Savage -- rip into "the media" for its Hurricane Irene coverage, griping about how it turned out to be tropical storm instead of a hurricane. And it gets better: he then accuses "the media" of overhyping the storm to "prop up" President Obama. Somehow, I knew the president was going to get blamed here.

And, no surprise, Rush Limbaugh gets his word in, calling it a "national embarrassment:"
It was a rainstorm and there was a lot of flooding and there were deaths associated with it, but the hype, folks, I'll tell you what this was. It was a lesson, if you pay any attention to this, the hype, the desire for chaos, I mean literally, the media desire for chaos was a great learning tool, this was a great illustration of how all of the rest of the media in news, in sports, has templates and narratives and exaggerates beyond reality, creating fear so as to create interest.
And yes, you guessed it, he finds a way to chide the president:
The media, the government are out there peddling fear when facts and calm would make for much better investments and would result in much more credibility for these people reporting this stuff. I'm gonna tell you something, Hurricane Obama -- whatever Irene's gonna cost us, it pales in comparison to the hurricane of the Obama administration.
As Nikki Finke would say, "Oh barf."

Elected officials, emergency workers and evacuees will tell you the same thing when a hurricane is barreling down on their communities. You hope and pray for the best, but you prepare for the worst. As I write this, cities in Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Jersey are all dealing with massive flooding. More than 30 people have lost their lives, and that number could go higher. Imagine the death toll had the media listened to talk radio and told us to shrug off the storm.

Meteorology is not an exact science, even though our forecasting and computer models are better than they were three decades ago. The people at the National Hurricane Center freely admit this. That's why the "forecast cone," as it's called, stretches for hundreds of miles on either side of a hurricane's predicted path. All weekend long, the NHC repeatedly warned us not to take this storm lightly. A Category 1 Hurricane and a strong tropical storm aren't that much different, and they're both destructive. Let us also remember these kinds of systems rarely hit so far north. A lot of folks aren't used to preparing for them. They need to know what's coming.

People also confuse the concept of "Continuing Coverage" with hype. Media outlets provide this kind of coverage on major events simply because a large number of people want to know just what in tarnation is going on now, not at the top and bottom of the hour. If your network doesn't provide it, somebody else will, or viewers will go to the Internet and get it there. Even in national emergencies, news is still competitive.

Consider this: Would you rather be in a relief shelter or a pine box? Would you rather be griping about your loused-up weekend at the beach or swept away by the tide? In life-or-death situations, I would rather be over-warned than under-prepared. I would be grateful that my house was still standing than shocked because nobody told me it could be blown away.

Talk radio show hosts never miss a chance to blame the media for everything they can because that is what brings in the ears and the ad dollars. Far be it from them to ever be thankful that the storm wasn't as bad as feared... or thank GOD that it wasn't. Irene weakening from a major hurricane to a tropical storm before it hit New York City isn't the fault of forecasters or media or hype. I prefer to see it as proof that GOD answers prayers and is watching over us in the middle of a spiritual battle. My words to the media haters out there ironically echo the words of Darth Vader: "I find your lack of faith disturbing."

How about this: let's just give all the talk show hosts and partisan gawkers their own conservative weather channel. They can gab for hours about how the media and the NHC is getting it wrong and how every major tropical system is overhyped by "the media" and the forecasters -- who all believe in bogus global climate change anyway -- and how we shouldn't change our plans or evacuate because it's just gonna be a really long rainstorm.

And oh yeah, it's all President Obama's fault.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Snapshots From The Highlands

Featuring the photos of Mr. M. Cynecki

And now, some photographic memories from this year's Highland Ball, presented as always by We Make History. I've written so many words on so many balls that I think I'll just let the pictures do most of the talking.

Madame Noire with her Highland bodyguard... and dancing partner.

A duel? No, just two gentlemen united in the Cause.

Escorting Madame in the Grand Promenade. We could march all the way to London, even if the Bonnie Prince couldn't.

This is what it looks like when I approach a lass and ask for a dance.

The start of the jigging contest, or in my case, the Highland Fling contest. We started in a circle...

...and then broke free.

I have to have stamina to survive, even though my spirit is limitless.

Oh how I flung. But the prize belonged to the lasses this night... a showdown between neighboring clans.

Careful with those high kicks, most honourable lass! I speak from experience.

For more recollections of the evening, see the official Highland Ball page.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Fling It!

I can't finish this weeklong Highland Ball tribute without paying homage to that most famous of Scottish dances, the Highland Fling.

Here is the traditional caper from the Dunedin Dancers:

Now, a modern interpretation from some creative Lasses who mashed it up with Queen and Survivor:

And here's some children trying it:

That's probably the closest to my version of the fling, which I shall attempt once more -- and preferably more than once -- tomorrow night!

Dance On, Lads and and Lasses!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Those Eastern Scots Are An Especially Happy Lot, Aye?

Somewhere in Eastern Europe, here you see some Scots and not-so-Scots enjoying one of my favourite Scottish dances, the "Gay Gordons."

Here's another version of it from a wedding:

Some of you know it better as the "Carolina Twirl" after it got to the states and got changed a bit:

Naturally, I'm hoping to dance this at the Highland Ball.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

It's All Fun And Games Until Somebody Steps On The Sword

As I continue our dance countdown to the Highland Ball, the legend of the Sword Dance is that you can show off as much as you want, but if you step on the sword, you will die on the battlefield.

This young Highlander has no problem with facing death:

That's hard enough when you're doing it solo, but imagine having dancing with three other brave Scots, like the Gordon Highlanders in this clip from the movie Waterloo:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dancing In The Streets

The Highland Ball is one of my favourite balls, not just because of the colourful kilts, but also because we dance it in a beautiful ballroom on the Northern Arizona University campus.

But you don't always need a ballroom, or even lights, as this group demonstrates.

According to the YouTube description:
Aurora Scottish Dance and Music hold an impromptu late night ceilidh on the main road through the village of Imbsheim in the Alsace region of France after the formal part of the International Folk Dance Festival had finished on 24th August 2011. In addition to audience and performers from the festival, the Mayor of Imbsheim also joined in with the dancing.

Monday, August 15, 2011

You Don't Need To Light Anything

The Fourth of July is so last month, but the Scots have a dance for it: the Firecracker Reel.

I'm not sure how it got that name, and Google doesn't provide any answers. Maybe you can?

In the meantime, enjoy it from Plateau Scottish Dancers:

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Chase That Goose

Dearest Dancing Friends, can it be true? The Highland Ball is nearly here! And as is tradition, your humble dancing servant is devoting a week to Scottish capering.

First up, a lively dance from the Dunedin Dancers of Edinburgh (which is pronounced "Ed-in-burro," not "Ed-in-burg," like the city in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas). While I'm used to chasing squirrels in my dancing days, these folks are on a "Wild Goose Chase."

Next, the "Diamond Jublilee:"

And finally, a popular one, the "Reel of the 51st:"

You have to love that great circle at the end -- keeping in time on a slipping step is not easy. Been there. Danced that.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Reel To Reel: Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes

Monkey see, monkey do.

Going Rate: Worth full price admission
Starring: Andy Serkis (motion-capture), James Franco, John Lithgow
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Intense action sequences, mild profanity

No apes were harmed in the making of this picture. In fact, no apes were used in the making of this picture, which alone makes Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes a landmark achievement. You will hear this film compared to Avatar, and that is not a stretch. Motion-capture CGI is now at the level where human actors can be seamlessly replaced by monkeys in an ironic form of reverse evolution theory.

But actors still gotta act, and that's where Rise rises. Its primate stars are nuanced, sympathetic characters, not one-dimensional dirty apes, and nowhere is that more clear than in the performance of Andy Sirkis as Ceasar, a chimp saved from death who grows into the leader of a revolution. As Gollum in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, he's already familiar with seeing other faces pasted over his own, but it's still his expressions and characterization that comes through.

Ceasar is the house pet and test subject of scientist Will Rodman (Franco), who's working on a cure for Alzheimer's Disease. Rodman has developed a virus that not only halts the illness but also regenerates brain tissue. His research nearly collapses when a test chimp gets out of control, but Rodman is relentless because he has another objective: saving the life of his Alzheimer's-afflicted father (Lithgow).

Rodman watches Cesar develop into super-chimp, smart and getting smarter, and it encourages him to try the experimental drug on his father. Dad comes out of his disease like he's awakened from a nightmare, and Ceasar happily swings through the trees. All would be well if it weren't for nature taking its course and both the chimp and the treatment getting out of hand.

Rise is unmistakeably a parable about tampering with the workings of the brain, but its real target is our heart as we watch Ceasar struggle with his feelings. Is he a pet or a really hairy person? Is he a normal chimp or something else? Ceasar can communicate with signs, but it's his eyes that do most of the talking. If Andy Serkis doesn't get some kind of award nomination for his mastery of expressions, I'll be tempted to beat my chest like King Kong. Oh yes, there's a gorilla in this picture, along with a circus orangutan, and Cesar talks to the latter like Tarzan when it's subtitled for us. I wonder if the filmmakers intended that allusion or if it's just a nifty coincidence.

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes deserves a sequel not just because it's a good picture. It's a good picture that actually left me wanting more, instead of being just another shallow summer blockbuster. Right now this film is exceeding expectations at the cash register, and that's always a promising sign, not that Hollywood needs one to sequelize anything.

Hearts Of Heroes

My only desire for the evening was that I might honor a lady with a dance, but GOD had other plans.

“Every time I come here I'm wearing a tricorn,” I tell my other Sons of the American Revolution compatriots as we approached the entrance to the Desert Diamond Casino. I was referring to previous judging stints on Lucky Break, an anachronistic and offbeat but appreciated touch.

Tonight nobody will question of our Continental Army uniforms as we gather for the annual Purple Heart Ball. Our usual color-guard duties are assigned to a military unit, but our hosts want us to add historic color to the event. General George Washington, after all, created the honor.

The event sold out well in advance, so I know we'll have a great turnout. A military band plays smooth jazz to a front room filling up with people mingling and seeking the bar. The commander in charge summons us over for a run-through of what we're supposed to do during the presentation of the colors.

Every event is unique in its layout and staging. We have no one set way to carry in the flags and post them, so the standard for the standards morphs to the needs of the occasion. When we carry no flags at all, the process takes on a new wrinkle. This evening's plan calls for us to march in after the flags for the various armed forces and post ourselves on either side of the stage. Three of us will stand on one side of the stage without guns. Another compatriot and your humble servant will stand on the other side, with guns, ready to salute with our arms – a “present arms” – at the proper time when the color guard marches in with the national and state flags. The National Anthem will follow, then an invocation, and then we march out in reverse of the way we entered the room.

“Salute with your flat hands?” a compatriot asks.


The palm is facing outward, European style, instead of perpendicular to the forehead. That is certain.

The rest of plan is clouded in uncertainty as I hear it, especially in the din of the music. I'd like to walk through it at least once to visualize where I should stand, where I should look, what I should do. At least a hundred pairs of eyes are going to be on us, and I have only one shot at it. The real Continental Soldier would know what to do. My re-enacted persona can only get as close as possible and try not to blow it.

Another detail has yet to be determined: do we take our tricorns off during the Invocation?

“They're leaving their hats on,” someone says, referring to the color guard.

“Then we leave them on.”

I'm not comfortable with it. I put GOD first, and that means uncovering during prayer in respect. If some people uncover and others don't, it's not a uniform standard, and any ceremonial maneuver requires uniformity. I think of everybody else who will be uncovering, though, and that should include us. We need a definite answer, and our fearless leader sets out to get one.

For now, we'll go on with the other part of our mission: greeting the guests and interacting with them, the Purple Heart honorees. They flow in wearing suits or dress uniforms, or suits with their VFW-style hats. I spot a Marine decorated with three rows of medals. Sailors in pressed whites help escort a few old soldiers to their tables. Ladies in their cocktail dresses amass and chatter. I offer more than a few courtly bows to them as they pass by, and my compatriots soon imitate the gesture.

“They always like it, even if you don't do it exactly right,” one fellow Continental notes.

Cell-phone cameras emerge from purses and shoot off photos of us standing at attention with our muskets shouldered next to admiring guests, images soon to work their way onto Facebook. I spot a lady in a ball gown tantalizingly close to an 18th Century polonaise, and for three seconds I am back in 1776.

I approach a couple admiring the silent auction table. “Good evening, Good Sir!” I greet with a slight British accent. I bow to his wife. “Good evening, My Lady! So glad to see you here tonight.”

“I love your uniform!” the wife returns.

“You are well-dressed yourselves,” I return.

“Are you here to protect us?”

“Against a few redcoats or rogue Hessians.”

“Hello, Christopher,” sounds a voice behind me.

I turn to see Mike, Coach Mike, one of the guys I sit across from every Friday morning at Prayer Breakfast. He's wearing a Purple Heart ribbon. Neither of us knew the other would be here.

“Hello!” I greet, stunned. “I bet you've never seen me like this!”

“I've seen the hat,” he replied.

I quickly run into a few other guys from the Friday morning breakfast club, people I knew but didn't know like this, not in connection to the military – and their wives, whom I bow to.

We still don't know if we're supposed to uncover or not for the Invocation. Another compatriot goes to get an answer from somebody else. Meanwhile, it becomes clear we're not going to get a walk-through. I'm nervous.

“We'll make this work,” I say to the others and to myself.

Minutes before the start of the event, we finally get our answer: yes, we'll uncover.

The first members of the military march in and we follow. A fellow compatriot softly coaches me on how to shoulder the musket for consistency. I follow the others to the center of the room, where we're supposed to split and take the sides of the stage, only I won't know where to split until the others split first, so I must be ready to turn on a dime. Ceremonial marching requires both precision and style. Turning a corner means halting and snapping to a new direction instead of turning while walking. I snap-turn at least three times until I reach the desired position. It looks good. All is well.

The color guard from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base marches in with tight precision.
“Present arms,” my fellow compatriot whispers. I'm glad somebody's calling orders, because nobody else is. I'm trained to take commands, not anticipate or give them.

The National Anthem brings all to their feet and my musket out in front of me, held high and parallel, dividing my face in half.

Another whisper from my compatriot, and he nudges me to the steps of the stage, where we take our positions for the Invocation. There's no set-up before the prayer, so I hastily uncover and give Thanks. The march-out proceeds according to plan, and relief washes over me. It's time to eat.

Our hosts are spreading us out so we can mingle with as many tables as possible. I end up at Table 8, a sparsely-populated location in a corner of the banquet hall. A gentleman and a couple are already there sipping iced tea. I bow and greet and take my place, removing my tricorn as per protocol. Moments later, a group of four sailors joins us. Another sailor at a table next to us sees us, and I displace myself to make room for all of them to sit together.

I find out that sailor is a naturalized American citizen from Panama.

“I studied your history for my tests,” he says in his accented English. “It is very interesting, the battles.”

I wager he knows more military history than I can get my hands around.

“You've probably heard of the Battle of Cowpens,” I say. “It's the one where the militia draws the British in, and the Continentals are over the hill waiting for them. It's in the movie The Patriot.”

He probably knows – he just can't remember it.

On my right side is a woman with a soldier son. She wears a button with his picture, and I know what it could mean.

“Where is he serving?” I ask.

“Afghanistan,” she replies. She tells me his journey from student to combat duty, passing up a baseball scholarship for the sandbox before his death at the hands of a makeshift bomb, or “IED” as they call it officially.

“We were invited here,” she says, telling how she has been trying to honor his memory.

“We honor by doing,” I reassure her.

Salads come and go, followed by the steaks and regulation rubber chicken. It's good for banquet food, but that's not the point. An empty table for sits in the center of the room, in memory of those soldiers still missing. Remember, we're told.
As the feasting winds down, the emcee introduces a 14-minute clip from an upcoming documentary on Purple Heart veterans. The rest will come soon on television somewhere in Arizona. The segment begins with a mine worker who went to war and came home to fight another one for equality. But its second subject stops me cold.

Before me are photos of Coach Mike, as he goes off to Vietnam as a sharpshooter... and then comes home to an ungrateful nation. An interview clip shows him recalling the time, and the pain is all over his face. Either he doesn't need to say any more, or he doesn't want to. Instead, the narration advances to his present life on the basketball court and his feelings about a current generation who have never known the full brunt of war. To his admiration, they are still able to commit to serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, without a draft.

I never knew any of this. All I knew was a man who coached basketball and shared his struggles at the Friday morning breakfast table. I knew he hunted “the bird of peace,” as he joked. I didn't know where that aim came from. He had told me not to be afraid of reporting what really went on in the world as part of my job, as much as it might get under peoples' skins. Now I knew where the attitude came from.

I had just shared with the soldier mom how I never knew that much about Grandfather Francis' role in World War II, how he worked with the team that monitored the Enigma machine, and how much he took to the grave with him. I never really saw him as a serviceman until the day we laid him to rest with a 21-gun salute. Now, here I was learning another soldier's story – only this time, the soldier was still alive, and sitting one table next to me.

Our emcee made more presentations, going through a list of families who had lost a loved one to war. The mother next to me was on that list, receiving a purple heart memento in trible to her fallen son...

...whose first name I heard for the first time...

...and it happened to be Christopher.

Now, everything was clear. GOD wanted me at this banquet and ball, not merely for appearance or to honor others but to see and hear what I heard. GOD had two messages for me this evening. HE wanted me to remember why I put on Revolutionary War outfit, if I ever had any doubt. And HE wanted me to continue doing it. Sometimes GOD warns us, but all the time HE guides us, and if we are willing to see it, HE encourages us.

The big band Memories burst out the Glenn Miller standard “In The Mood,” and the ball portion of the evening commenced. It seemed almost out of place after such an emotionally draining prelude, but our hosts reassured us our fallen soldiers would want it that way.

“We're leaving you without adult supervision,” a fellow compatriot called to me as he left for the evening.

For the next two hours I went in search of a lady who might afford me a dance. I found no unattached fair ones, or anybody with that longing look. But that wasn't the point.