Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Christmas Break and An American Tune

Sherman Oaks, California

This will be my last post for a week or two, so let me leave you with this story about a beautiful song that has thrived for more than four centuries.

Around the year 1599, German composer Hans Leo Hassler (pictured) wrote a romantic song about unrequited love entitled “Mein Gmuth Ist Mir Verwirret” (“My Feelings Confuse Me”). You can hear Hassler’s original melody line by listening to the third sound clip on this page.

The song must have been popular. Two generations later, in 1656, German pastor Paul Gerhardt, who believed in preaching Lutheran virtues through song, combined Hassler’s music with lyrics translated from a medieval poem about Jesus’ suffering on the cross. The resulting hymn, entitled “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden” (“Oh Head, Covered With Blood and Wounds”), is still in the The Lutheran Hymnal, at Number 172. All of the stanzas of Gerhardt’s version are re-created here.

The hymn was one of Johann Sebastian Bach’s favorites, and, in 1727, he incorporated its musical ideas repeatedly into his St. Matthew’s Passion. Click here to listen to the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir perform movements 39 through 41.

In the early 1970s, American singer-songwriter Paul Simon changed the arrangement and wrote contemporary lyrics. Renamed “American Tune,” the song was released on the 1973 solo album There Goes Rhymin’ Simon.

Art Garfunkel has stated that one of his regrets is that he and Simon broke up before they could record “American Tune.” The duo made up for lost time when they performed the song in 1981 in front of half a million people, few of whom knew that they were listening to the latest variation of a 400-year-old German lament.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Things Can Only Get Better (Until June 21st)

Sherman Oaks, California

After today, the days become longer.


Because darkness by 4:30 in the afternoon is something I can live without.


And So It Goes

Sherman Oaks, California

Linda Ellerbee Wikipedia entry obviously written by Linda Ellerbee.

And I'm guessing Bowzer is the one who's updating us about Bowzer.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Next First Lady of France?

Sherman Oaks, California

Why can’t U.S. politics be this fun?

Recently divorced French president Nicolas Sarkozy is stepping out with model and singer Carla Bruni (pictured). He is 52, and she is 39. Way to go, Nicky!

It gets better.

Bruni’s days as a model were well documented by cameras, especially the many days she forgot to wear clothes.

It gets better.

According to Bruni’s mother, a former concert pianist who lives in a castle in Italy, Sarkozy has already asked for Bruni’s hand in marriage, although the couple has been dating less than two months. She is considering the proposal, La Stampa reported, and he has asked for an answer by New Year’s Day.

Got that? Her mother lives in a castle.

It gets better.

Monogamy “bores me desperately,” Bruni told Le Figaro magazine. “I’m monogamous from time to time, but I prefer polygamy and polyandry,” she said. “Love lasts a long time but burning desire, two or three weeks.”

It gets better.

Sarkozy will soon be traveling to Rome to meet the Pope and other dignitaries, and Sarkozy may ask Bruni to accompany him.

In other words, a freshly divorced Roman Catholic politician will meet with the Pope and then hightail it back to the embassy to bang his bed-hopping, clothing-averse supermodel mistress.

If French politics is always this interesting, I’m moving to Montmartre.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Election Ads: "Morning In America"

Sherman Oaks, California

The most influential campaign commercial ever broadcast. Turn on a television during an election campaign, and you will see this spot's children and grand-children, right down to the golden halo effect.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Ten Days

Sherman Oaks, California

Ten days. Ten days! Ten Days!!

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

"Voyage of the Damned" Countdown

Sherman Oaks, California

It's already Thursday morning in London, which means there's only twelve days remaining until BBC1's Christmas Day airing of "Voyage of the Damned," the Doctor Who special. Clips from "VOTD," guest starring Kylie Minogue as a waitress on the Titanic, are included with other BBC Christmas specials in this official trailer.

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Edwin Maher: The State-Controlled Media Responds

Sherman Oaks, California

Apparently in response to the Los Angeles Times profile which I mentioned last week, China Daily, the English-language "newspaper" of the Chinese Communist Party, published a counter-profile of CCTV Channel 9 anchorman Edwin Maher.

They think Maher's a swell guy!

The bottom half of the article broaches the question of whether Maher is a propagandist. "You have to abide by the rules. If you don't like them, you get out," Maher said.

"But you can try within the parameters of the system and environment that the broadcasters operate to provide a better standard of news bulletin," he also said.

Please don't assume that this discussion of state control of news is representative of what is reported in the Chinese-language media. It is common for authoritarian regimes to allow greater freedom of expression in English-language media, because (1) it makes the regime seem more open-minded than it actually is and (2) most locals can't read English and those who can are usually invested in the regime.

(Flash of the Knife to ECS, Canada's second-most-talented expat. After Shatner, of course.)

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

How To Abdicate A Throne

Sherman Oaks, California

Yesterday was the 71st anniversary of King Edward VIII's abdication of the throne of the United Kingdom, about which I've blogged before. Under British law, an abdication occurs when the monarch signs an Instrument of Abdication (click here for a larger copy). Note that Edward signed his Instrument (which was witnessed by his three brothers) with the letter "R" meaning rex (king) and "I" meaning imperator (emperor).

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Election Ads: Rudy Giuliani, Family Man

Sherman Oaks, California

Is anybody in this commercial still talking to him?


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Keira Knightley Is Smoking

Sherman Oaks, California

Thank heaven for Europeans.

In May, the Motion Picture Association of America pandered to the intolerance of many U.S. parents by announcing that smoking by adult characters would become a factor in the trade organization's rating of movies.

“In the past, illegal teen smoking has been a factor in the rating of films,” the MPAA said in a statement. “Now, all smoking will be considered.”

“Three questions will have particular weight for our rating board when considering smoking in a film: Is the smoking pervasive? Does the film glamorize smoking? And, is there an historic or other mitigating context?” MPAA chairman Dan Glickman elaborated.

Consequently, I was thrilled to see that the predominantly European makers of the new film Atonement released a publicity still (pictured) of Keira Knightley lighting a cigarette.

Maybe the filmmakers did not know about the States' current hysteria over the use of cigarettes in marketing. Maybe they knew and didn't care. Maybe the release of the photo was a subtle protest of the smoking bans which have recently been enacted throughout Western Europe. Whatever the motivation, it's refreshing to be on the receiving end of true cultural diversity, to be reminded of a place and time when people made up their own minds about smoking.

I haven’t seen the film (which is rated R for “disturbing war images, language and some sexuality”), so I assume the scene in the still is fleeting and isolated, and the smoking occurs in a historical setting – side-stepping two of the MPAA’s restrictive factors.

But doesn't Keira Knightley glamorize anything she does?

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Actual Sign

Beverly Hills, California

"Please refrain from taking photographs of the pastry."

La Patisserie Artistique

Friday, December 07, 2007

Global Media Dominance

Knife Tricks: Now In Chinese!

Required Reading: New York's Gawker Article

Sherman Oaks, California

Turn off your cell phone, close the e–mail and don’t open another web window for the 15 minutes it will take you to savor all of Vanessa Grigoriadis’s New York magazine profile of Gawker Media Group.


That was good, wasn’t it? Magazine writing at its best. It’s a snapshot of a place and a time, and the grasping, terrified people who live there. You can mock the bloggers and blogwhores and dark lords, but you acted like that once, and you would do it all over if you ever again found something you wanted as badly as these young New Yorkers want to be professional writers.

And as much as I love a great piece of magazine journalism on its own merits, there’s another reason why I’m blogging about the article, and that’s because it was published on October 14th, almost two months ago, an epoch in internet time.

One of the destructive aspects of the blog culture is the acceleration of the Feiler Faster Thesis to the point where news is ingested within minutes.

As a consequence, I’ve become hesitant to blog about anything that wasn’t immediate. I have at times decided not to write about a story that broke in the morning because it was now late afternoon, and who wants to read about something five hours later?

The Blog Laws, as laid down by Gawker, were clear. Short posts. Added throughout the day. Stay on topic. Cleavage doesn’t hurt. And snark, lots of catty snark. The rules weren’t a secret, and anybody could play.

But I began to resent them. Why does every post have to be a punchy joke about a self-referential universe? How about 2,000 words on the King of Thailand instead? What if there’s three lengthy posts' worth of something to say about the Hong Kong legal system?

I think those topics are interesting, and it’s my effing blog, and that should be enough.

Now I have cultural permission to take my time. The permission was granted by Gawker.

Choire Sicha quit as the managing editor of Gawker on Friday – ages ago; is anybody still talking about that? – and he had his reasons.

“I just feel like, now that everyone sort of operates at the speed we do, who's actually going to do the stuff that takes some time or some reading?” he asked. “Everything has become knee-jerk like we are.”

What a wonderful phrase.

“The stuff that takes some time or some reading.”

Like Vanessa Grigoriadis' piece about Gawker.

Maybe the online culture is turning toward reporting and substance.

And maybe, one can hope, reflection and contemplation.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Edwin Maher: Sellout or Shill? You Decide!

Sherman Oaks, California

"How do you become that guy?" my friend Chris asked while we were watching television in Beijing. "How on earth does that happen?"

That guy is Edwin Maher, the anchor of the CCTV Channel 9 English-language news. Every weekday evening, Maher would read the news with a slow, punctilious delivery aimed at viewers who had learned English as a second language.

It was an odd sight, a vaguely patrician Western man, somewhere in his 50s, reading propaganda pieces dictated by the Chinese Communist Party. The broadcasts were simultaneously fascinating and boring (although not as boring as the newspaper China Daily, in which it is common for every paragraph of the lead article to end with the phrase "Hu Jintao said.").

My friend's question has been answered. John M. Glionna of the Los Angeles Times reported this morning that Edwin Maher made a career as a wacky weatherman in Australia. His wife of 33 years died in 2001 after a traumatic illness and, after taking time off, Maher jokingly offered himself to the Chinese government as a pronunciation coach. The Chinese accepted and, several months later, gave him the job of most visible foreigner in the People's Republic.

Although he is routinely dismissed as a mouthpiece for a repressive government, Maher brushed aside the criticisms. "If the reports aren't balanced, there's nothing I can do," he said.

Some of the producers at the CCTV Channel 9 news must chafe at their bit. At times, the program would broadcast a brief report, usually near the end, about a protest somewhere in the world -- never in China -- about a "parliamentary reform," the eupemism for democracy. It wasn't often, though.

Maher, for his part, is happy to have a front-row seat for the Chinese economic miracle. "I'm proud to be a part of that," he said. "People can see it differently. I don't care."

Which is the attitude needed in order to be that guy.

LINKS: A profile from The Australian. Maher's official page on the CCTV website.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Election Ads: "Daisy"

Sherman Oaks, California

Since the presidential election season is now unavoidably upon us, I will occasionally post historical campaign ads. To start, the following is arguably the most famous campaign ad in television history. Demagoguery's become more sophisticated since 1964.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

North Korean Executed For Making Phone Calls

Sherman Oaks, California

The North Korean regime executed a factory manager last month by firing squad for the offense of making international phone calls, the Daily Mail reported. This appears to be part of a crackdown on people who engage in unauthorized international communications, according to the AP (via Reason).

Meanwhile, Peter Hitchens went on the DPRK dog and pony show and made the best of it.

"Nothing in the modern world compares with North Korea," he writes, "though it gives us some clue about how life must have been under the pharaohs, in Imperial Japan before Hiroshima, or in the obliterated years -- conveniently erased from memory by blushing fellow travelers -- when Josef Stalin was revered as a human god."

He noted that it was rumored that the DPRK uses three different currencies, that North Koreans seem to share their southern cousins' fondness for drink and that many of the soldiers wore shabby uniforms and carried broken weapons.

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

"I Thought Europe Was A Country"

Sherman Oaks, California

Let's save ourselves a hassle and allow the Chinese to peacefully absorb us into their empire, because, with shock troops like this, we won't be winning the battle of wits.

(Flash of the Knife to WorldHum for the tip.)