Friday, June 29, 2007

I'm Really Trying, Honest!

Given the recent uptick in popular discussion of opera, owing in large part to the success over in the UK of amateur Paul Potts on Britain's Got Talent, I've been giving more thought myself to opera, spurred on in part by this discussion over at Mazurland (although originally initiated by my own viewing of Mr. Potts' original performance, so nyah, Mazurs, I saw it first! I'm a hipper internet junkie!).

Over the years, I've tried, usually in vain, to "get into" opera. After all, I have a PhD, so I'm supposed to be all cultured and stuff, right? And I really like other forms of classical music, both instrumental and "vocal" (or whatever the proper general term is for classical music with sung lyrics). My favorite piece of classical music is, in fact, Beethoven's 9th Symphony, and many of the best parts of that are, indeed, lyrical (moreover, I actually know the lyrics found in the fourth movement in their original German and have been known, from time to time, to sing them, poorly). And yet, my attempts to enjoy actual opera have been met with disappointment and lack of interest, time after time.

I think I have discovered a primary reason for this. It is rooted in this recently realized fact about myself: I am a musical misogynist. That is to say, I just don't particularly care for music sung by women. This is not to say that I think women are inferior in the musical arts to men, or that there are no personal exceptions to this "rule", but when one peruses my collection of music, very few female artists are present, and I am certainly in no rush to correct the imbalance. I am not entirely sure why I do not care for the vocal talents of women, but I believe it has something to do with a particular vocal range that I find unpleasant (and often unintelligible) to my ears, and this range is largely the domain of female songstresses (it IS a distinct range, however, as I enjoy songs sung in both lower (usually by men) and higher (typically by women) pitches -- although timbre plays a part too). Owing to my lack of musical erudition, I can't put a label on this range, but I'm sure it corresponds to a contiguous set of singing "types" a la soprano, tenor, etc. (not to imply that those two are the "types" to which I refer -- just explaining what I mean by "types" here -- I might as well be a chimpanzee for all my technical knowledge of music).

This relates to my thwarted attempts to gain an appreciation of opera thus: Much, if not most, of the opera I have picked up (too dumb to name any names, sorry) contains both male and female parts, and I often become distracted, bored, or turned off when the women start singing. For instance, I actually do enjoy Orff's opera (well, cantata, according to Wikipedia, but close enough for my philistine tastes) Carmina Burana, but several of the songs therein contain solo parts sung by women, and I have noticed that I tend to skip those tracks.

I think my hope of recovery lies in collecting arias (or whatever they're called) sung by men of note and gaining an appreciation of those particular works, before moving on to complete operas, and just sucking it up when the women sing. To that end, I leave with this clip, provided in the above-linked comment thread and by which I was greatly impressed, of Roberto Alagna performing La Donna e Mobile from Verdi's Rigoletto:

P.S. Elephants Yea indeed.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Fever Is Rising

So I gathered these Rasmussen data (see, I can properly use a plural word!), plotted them (above), and noted the general trends. The suprising thing I noticed, particularly after spending so much time over here, is that Romney has only outpaced McCain for the last four weeks or so, and even then, it has been a pretty much equal combo of McCain's campaign tanking and Romney's campaign taking off, rather than it being the result of either one's skill (or lack thereof). Moreover, it looks as though Fred! is having a fairly equal effect across the board in terms of lowering everyone else's numbers -- there's no obvious downward trend for one candidate over any of the others since he entered the race (unless you count McCain, but I think his failing campaign owes nothing to Thompson's success).

But it's good to see FDT doing so well.

If I get more time, I'll run some statistical correlation analysis on the data, and maybe get a feel for whose campaigns seem most inversely (or directly!) related to one another.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Big Your Piano, Be A Man

I was sitting around the other day working on my laptop, when I realized that I was dangerously close to using up all my hard drive space. I wonder to myself how I can help things here, and, lo and behold, I receive today an email, whose text I reproduce below:

Chicks always laugh at me and even guys did in the WC toilets!
Well now I smile :) at them because I took megadlk for 6 months
and now my disk is much bigger than NATION average piano size. :p

I bought that music disk from this store

Of course, I think to myself, "Wow, as big as an average piano! That's a huge disk! That's, like, mega giga BYTES!"

The sender of this kind and timely missive is listed as one "Royce K. Phelps". Now I fear that the greatest of the Ultimate Fighting Champions has at last hooked up with someone from the camp of that nutjob who protests soldier funerals with "GOD HATES FAGS" placards to produce some sort of strange hybrid Ultimate Protesting Nutjob. If true, we are all screwed, people. Head for the hills!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Oh... Wow.

The title expresses my entire initial reaction to this article (best reproduced with dropped jaw and completely stunned look on one's face). In a nutshell, a Episcopal priestess (yes, I know they're called "priests" even when they have a cha-cha instead of a hoo-hoo-dilly, but I like the pagan overtones "priestess" implies when applied to the Episcopal church) became a Muslim. Not weird enough. Said Episcopal priestess also claims to retain her Christianity. Getting weirder, but not there yet. Said Episcopal priestess's Episcopal bishop affirms her Christianity and claims she is still in good standing in Episcopal church even after becoming a Muslim. Bingo! Weirdness achieved!

Certain key snippets that go a long way in explaining things:
She does not believe Jesus and God are the same, but rather that God is more than Jesus.

She believes Jesus is the son of God insofar as all humans are the children of God, and that Jesus is divine, just as all humans are divine — because God dwells in all humans.

That's some mighty fine theologizin', lady!
She began praying with the Al-Islam Center, a Sunni group that is predominantly African-American.

There were moments when practicing Islam seemed like coming home.

In Seattle's Episcopal circles, Redding had mixed largely with white people (Ms. Redding is of at least some African-American heritage, based on her picture in the article -- ed.). "To walk into Al-Islam and be reminded that there are more people of color in the world than white people, that in itself is a relief," she said.

Oh, so you're a racist. Thanks for clearing that up.

But surely you're responsible all on your own for this conversion, without any outside misleading, right?
Ironically, it was at St. Mark's that she first became drawn to Islam.

In fall 2005, a local Muslim leader gave a talk at the cathedral, then prayed before those attending. Redding was moved. As he dropped to his knees and stretched forward against the floor, it seemed to her that his whole body was involved in surrendering to God.

Then in the spring, at a St. Mark's interfaith class, another Muslim leader taught a chanted prayer and led a meditation on opening one's heart.

Oh. Thanks a lot, St. Marks. Buncha jerks. Given the current state of the Episcopal church, though, I wouldn't go so far as to call it "ironic". But as a trained priestess, surely she would have had ample defense against this wonky sort of theology, right?
Despite those difficulties, she graduated from Brown University, earned master's degrees from two seminaries and received her Ph.D. in New Testament from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. She felt called to the priesthood and was ordained in 1984.

Oh, you mean this Union Theological Seminary?

Not that I have a dog in that particular fight (apart from a general desire to see true, Bible-believeing Christianity thrive and spread throughout the world), but I am beginning to think that there are Great Powers, both physical and spiritual, at work in doing everything they can to bring about the complete renunciation of Christian First Principles on the part of the Episcopal church in America. First this guy. Then this guy. Now this woman. &Kappa&upsilon&rho&iota&epsilon &epsilon&lambda&epsilon&eta&sigma&omicron&nu!

(HT to Mark Steyn, who also points out a FOUR YEAR OLD Scrappleface headline written as satire, "Episcopal Church Appoints First Openly-Muslim Bishop")

Friday, June 08, 2007

Just a Note

Scroll below to see my latest post, "Family Values, Guerilla Style", which purports to be a review of the new film Knocked Up, and of which I'm pretty proud. Here, I just wanted to repeat and define a phrase I invented therein: "Shock and Guffaw -- the presentation of surprising and extremely offensive material to elicit great laughter". Examples: "hair gel" and "beans and franks" from There's Something About Mary, or the entire premised to The Ringer.

You read it here first. (I will not google the phrase, for fear of having been scooped. Please at least pretend you read it here first).

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Family Values, Guerilla Style

So over the last weekend, I went and saw the new film Knocked Up, written and directed by Judd Apatow, who also did The 40 Year Old Virgin as well as the brilliant-but-cancelled television series Undeclared and Freaks and Geeks, the latter of which I admittedly never saw. Much in the tradition laid out plainly by Virgin, the bulk of the laughs was derived from crude and dumb gross-out humor, but there were laughs, which I suppose is what is important. Not kid-friendly by even the most remote stretch of the imagination, but it could be an amusing date if you and your S.O. like that sort of humor (including very graphic depiction of the titular forthcoming child actually crowning -- they either filmed a real birth or had some amazing SFX wizards on hand -- but of course it was used for shock-and-guffaw, if I may coin a pun).

But here's what I find very interesting: based on the two films I've seen of his, and even to a lesser degree his prematurely terminated College Coming-of-Age show Undeclared, I have a suspicion that, apart from his apparent fixation on the frequent consumption of marijuana for strictly recreational purposes, Mr. Apatow really likes traditional "family" values, and attempts to interject them into mainstream "crude" discourse by subtly promoting them in his films.

Evidence: I began suspecting this with The 40 Year Old Virgin. Not to spoil the plot, but it centers around a nerdy but responsible man-child portrayed by Steve Carrell, who at the age of 40 has not, you guessed it, been intimate with a woman (a shocking twist you never would have suspected!). To cut to the chase, despite enormous pressure from his "friends" (and society) who make it their life's work to terminate said status, our protagonist actually and willfully abstains from consummating his relationship with the the love interest until after they are married at the very end of the movie, in a nice traditional ceremony and everything! (followed up by the greatest non-sequitur song & dance number ever). The film also deftly engages the question of fornicatin' teenagers, with Steve Carrell's character's decision to abstain partly influenced by his love interest's teenage daughter's objections to her mother's potential intimacy on the typical grounds of "Why can't I have sex with my boyfriend and you can?" Chalk one up for parental responsibility and delayed gratification!

Now to Knocked Up. Obviously, with a title like that, one can expect the film to focus quite a bit on sex, which, of course, it does. Seth Rogen (one of the no-good "friends" in the previous film) and Katherine Heigl play the expectant parents, whose child-to-be was the product of poor communication and a drunken one-night stand. It's important to note that Ms. Heigl's character is an up-an-coming on-screen talent with E!, whereas Mr. Rogen's character is a jobless illegal immigrant stoner from Canada whose present ambition is to create a website that documents the exact time in movies at which female celebrities bare skin. What's that got to do with Family Values, you say? Well, it takes potentially real-life scenarios (pregnancy from a one-night stand; irresponsible losers and upwardly-mobile career-minded women) and forces them at that point to make the right decision when the wrong decision would be all-too-easy in this modern world.

I was mildly surprised to see that the film didn't completely white-wash the abortion issue. Mr. Rogen's father, played by Harold Ramis, beams with pride at his loser son being a father, proclaiming fatherhood to be unequivocally the greatest thing that had ever happened to him. Ms. Heigl's mother, on the other hand, echoes the sentiments of some of Rogen's stoner friends, that she should "get it taken care of" -- i.e., abort. That's a very interesting euphemism, in that it takes on the passive voice, absolving one of personal responsibility, and completely abstracts itself from any reality that abortion might represent. And considering that that particular advice comes from two of the least sympathetic characters in the film (the less-than-flatteringly-portrayed future grandmother and the loserest-of-all of Rogen's loser friends), the option to abort seems to be the choice largely of "bad" people. Also worth noting is that another of Rogen's friends (in my mind the most sympathetic of the bunch in his loserish vulnerability) seems mortally offended at the mere suggestion of abortion -- a viewpoint rarely portrayed whenever the issue is dealt with in Hollywood, and never by anyone not already a caricature of the evangelical right. Finally, the fact that the decision not to "get it taken care of" comes so immediately and with such great defiance on the parts both Rogen and Heigl really indicates that the "choice", as if there were one at all, is obvious (as opposed to the typical Hollywood approach of the woman being seen as courageous when she exercises her right to infanticide, or when she actually lives up to the reponsibility of being a parent -- is it ever possible for a pregnant woman not to be portrayed heroically?).

Similarly, the decision on the part of the players to go through the thing together is not presented as an anguishing one (although the predicable make-up-break-up cycle is, of course, ever-present), but the immediately obvious choice to both father and mother. I find this particularly refreshing considering Heigl's upwardly-mobile status as an on-air personality, for whom forming a relationship with a worthless slob and bearing his child would spell nothing but disaster for her career. Rogen does experience some back-sliding, reaching the point of getting stoned during an earthquake and saving his bong over the mother of his child, but that's as much an analysis of human nature as it is a corny gag. And he is ultimately shamed by his own behavior, at which point he gives up his celebrity-skin dreams, gets a real job in a real cubicle, moves out of his friends' house, rents a place of his own, and even sets up a nursery there for his impending child (having been rejected by Heigl as a result of his previously described antics). It is especially startling to see the protagonist "do right" not as a way to fix the mess he caused or to win the woman he loves, but simply because it is the right thing to do, which is at least how I interpreted it here. And of course it should come as no surprise that, in the end, as Heigl is giving birth, Rogen exhibits impressive maturity in tying up all the loose ends (domineering sister-in-law, unavailable OB/GYN, evil attending physician, obnoxious friends, etc.) and ultimately takes Heigl and baby home with him (forthcoming marriage is implied, I believe).

So there you have it. Enough traditional family values to make a good ol' Baptist boy like me weep with joy, injected into a film whose intended audience likely holds contrary views, and presented in such a way as to suggest that the alternative is absurd. With enough dirty jokes and T&A to keep them from ever realizing they've been instructed.

Plus Paul Ruud, who my wife had a crush on back in his "Clueless" days, once again gleefully makes an ass out of himself. Hooray for me moving up a notch in my wife's book!

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