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Alan Elsner: Half an Hour With Bach Puts Politics in Perspective

January 7th, 2010 admin No comments

Whenever I have a spare half hour, I head for the piano. Recently, I’ve faced a tough choice: the English Suites or French Suites? Classical music mavens of course know I’m referring to keyboard music written almost 400 years ago by J.S. Bach.

There’s nothing particularly English about the six English Suites. They got their name because of an unsubstantiated 19th century claim that they might have been composed for an English nobleman. The six French Suites got their name to distinguish them from the English ones.

Each suite is comprised of several movements based on dances from the Renaissance and Baroque eras. But their main attraction for me, apart from the lovely music, is that I can actually play them – mostly.

I’m not much of a pianist. On my best days, I’d class myself as “fair-to-middling amateur.” I can manage some of the Beethoven and Mozart sonatas and bits of Schubert, Schubert and Mendelssohn, even the odd Brahms Intermezzo. Most of Chopin and all of Liszt are beyond me. But if I really practice, I can play the English and French Suites and sound half reasonable.

When I was a kid, I had a childish fantasy of being able to play fiendishly difficult pieces in front of an admiring audience. Nowadays, I know I’m not going to get any better — but if I play regularly, I don’t seem to be getting any worse and that’s reward enough at this stage of the game.

The English Suites are the fancier of the two sets. They begin with flashy fast movements that allow me to show off to myself a bit. The French Suites are more intimate. I turn to them when I want to shut away the world.

Playing the piano isn’t like any other pursuit I know. You have to concentrate fully on the fingering, the passage you’re playing and one coming up next. Lose concentration and you mess up. Time passes quickly. A piece never sounds quite the same twice (at least not when I’m playing).

When I was a teenager, I could lose myself in a book or listen to music with total focus — but I lost the ability to concentrate with that kind of intensity years ago. Perhaps it’s the Internet, or the way we communicate nowadays or multi-tasking or just aging – but it’s just become harder to pay proper attention. Whatever I’m doing, there are always distractions and I’m always distracted.

Playing Bach comforts me in other ways as well. Reading the composer’s biography, I learned that he was employed for a while as court musician in the chapel of Duke Johann Ernst in Weimar. The Duke must have been an important man in his day – but who cares about him now? Later, Bach worked for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen, another bigwig in his day who is basically only remembered because he gave the great composer a job.

That helps put things into perspective. Today’s headlines involve politicians, financiers, CEOs, sports heroes, pop stars and all manner of minor league celebs – or wannabe celebs. When I tried to write a tag for the bottom of this piece and typed in the word “Bach,” the auto-prompt suggested Michelle Bachman, the Bachelorette and Samuel J. Wurzelbacher (aka Joe the Plumber). These are people we won’t remember very long — but Bach has lasted for centuries and he’ll certainly endure for centuries more.


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William Bradley: Doctor Who: The Long Goodbye

January 7th, 2010 admin No comments

“He will knock four times.”

And so, the finale for the great tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant, came round at last. It was the end of a long goodbye, which itself was part of a long goodbye.

For those who have not seen it, there are spoilers ahead.

After something of an uncertain start in “The End of Time, Part 1,” the finale in “The End of Time, Part 2,” over New Year’s weekend, was much more assured.

Before dealing with the Doctor’s death — yes, he regenerates, but he regards it as the death of a self, namely his, referring to his regenerated self as “a new man” — let’s deal first with the storyline.

“He will knock four times.”

The Narrator, played by former James Bond Timothy Dalton, it swiftly turned out, was far more, the head of the Time Lords. Time-locked by their fellow Time Lord, the Doctor, for their atrocities at the end of their epic war with the Daleks, they sought a way out, finding it by causing the sound of drums to be permanently implanted in the mind of the young child who would become the Master. That enabled them to track him through time and space, finding him on Earth, manipulating him to use his powers and the technology he’d seized from the foolish billionaire who’d had him resuscitated in a harebrained scheme for immortality.

In the meantime, the Master has captured the Doctor and Wilf (81-year old Bernard Cribbins plays the sky-gazing grandfather of former companion Donna Noble; his character shares a bond with the Doctor), only to have them escape in comic fashion to the Vinvocci ship there in orbit above Earth to salvage the tech stolen by the billionaire. The Master, who has turned everyone else on Earth (besides Donna, who is immune since she’s part-Time Lord from the relaunched Season 4 finale, and Wilf, who was inside a special chamber) into a replica of himself — even Barack Obama! — turns all the resources of Earth to searching for the Doctor but cannot find him, as he’s shut down all systems on the ship.

The Doctor and Wilf — who has again been visited by the vision of the Woman in White, urging him to take up arms — have another heartfelt conversation. Wilf, like the Doctor, certain that the Master will be the cause of the Doctor’s prophesied death, urges him to take the old revolver he kept from his 1940s service with the British paratroopers. But the Doctor, who hates guns, will have none of it. Even if it means his death. Besides, he has nearly gotten through to the Master at the beginning of the episode, when he said it would be his honor to travel the universe at his side. Isn’t it enough to see the universe rather than try to own it, he’d argued. And the Master had seemed very intrigued, till the drumming in his head took over again.

The tenth Doctor begins his finale with a lighthearted attitude.

Then the Master broadcasts that the Time Lords are returning, which prompts the Doctor to return to Earth in a fun action sequence. The Doctor, who now takes Wilf’s old revolver from the paras, pilots the alien ship while Wilf and one of the Vinvocci — in a big nod to Star Wars — man the guns to shoot down the torrent of missiles that the Master unleashes against them. As the ship roars over the English mansion in which the Master is about to greet the return of the Time Lords, the Doctor leaps out, revolver in hand, and crashes through the skylight. Yet he’s too physically stunned to fire, and the Time Lords are arriving. Wilf, meanwhile, prevails upon the Vinvocci to land the ship so he can help the Doctor, only to flee at the Doctor’s suggestion, though into an isolation chamber to the Doctor’s dismay.

Along with the arrival of the Time Lords through an event horizon reaching into the mansion there is, overhead, the arrival of the massive Time Lord planet Gallifrey itself, which will clearly rip the Earth apart. Not that the Time Lords care, as their plan is to ascend beyond the physical plane of existence, and to hell with the billions of people on Earth, not to mention the trillions elsewhere who will perish as the space-time continuum is destroyed.

At first, the Doctor is bound to shoot Dalton’s Time Lord President, who chides him as a murderer at last. Then he thinks to shoot the Master, for the link is in his head. As the Master sadly realizes. Then he spies the Woman in White, immediately recognizing her (for I think she’s his mother) and she looks toward the contraption that facilitated the Time Lords’ arrival. Which he then destroys with a shot.

The Master rules the Earth in “The Last of the Time Lords.”

Dalton’s President makes ready to kill the Doctor as he and his cohort begin to recede back into the Time Lock, but the Master, angry at having been manipulated through his life, and more than a little sympathetic to the Doctor, attacks him with energy bolts. The President falls, the Time Lords and Gallifrey fall back into the Time Lock, and the Master disappears.

The epic crisis has been weathered and overcome, and the show is only two-thirds through. Roll credits? Sadly, no.

Relieved to see that he has survived, contrary to his understanding of the prophecy seemingly linked to the four-fold drumbeat in the Master’s head, feeling increasingly confident, the Doctor looks around as the musical score swells and then plunges as he hears a quiet knocking sound. Four knocks. And again, four knocks.

It’s Wilf, knocking on the glass of the isolation chamber. He’d like the Doctor to let him out. But to do that, the Doctor must enter the chamber himself and let Wilf out, and in so doing take a massive dose of radiation.

Fond as he is of Wilf, the Doctor rages at first against this monstrous irony, and at Wilf, at first seeming to agree with Wilf that he should leave him to his fate inside that chamber he never should have entered in the first place. But he can’t, in the end, leave Wilf to die, so he enters it, freeing Wilf, taking what both believe will be a a highly lethal dose of radiation.

The original 1963 theme for Doctor Who.

When he emerges, the Doctor seems fine. But then his wounds of battle fade and, despite Wilf’s enthusiasm, it’s clear to the Doctor that the regeneration is beginning. He takes Wilf home in the Tardis and, telling him he will see him one more time, sets off on what he calls his “reward.”

And what is his reward? His reward is a reward for Doctor Who fans as well as the Doctor, for he is off on a sentimental journey, seeing important people in his life one last time before his regeneration into the eleventh incarnation.

He sees former companion Martha Jones and Mickey, who began as Rose Tyler’s feckless boyfriend and became much more. And Captain Jack Harkness, the intergalactic con man-turned-immortal, chief of the new Torchwood. (Torchwood, of course, being the arguably more adult spin-off of Doctor Who, name of the Torchwood Institute established by Queen Victoria to combat extraterrestrial menaces, and, originally in the real world, an anagram used to hide production of Doctor Who.) And Wilfred and his daughter, with Donna in the near distance. And the great granddaughter of Joan Redfern. And, finally, inevitably, Rose.

Martha, looking smashing if hard-edged in black leather, and Mickey are on the run, hunting and being hunted by a rogue Sontaran. They are also, surprise, married. And, unknown to them, about to be shot by that self-same Sontaran. Till the Doctor knocks him cold. Martha and Mickey see the Doctor, staring at them, perhaps disapproving. Then he goes.

In another nod to Star Wars, the Doctor finds longtime associate Captain Jack in a Whovian version of the Star Wars bar scene. Jack is drowning his sorrows, still recovering from the shattering events of Torchwood’s excellent “Children of Earth” miniseries. He gets a note from the Doctor, standing at the other end of the bar. The note contains the name of the man next to Jack, the young ensign from Who’s “Voyage of the Damned” Christmas special two years ago. Jack, ostensibly omnisexual but really a gay character, salutes the Doctor and chats the young fellow up.

The Doctor next arrives outside a large church. It’s Donna’s wedding day. He still can’t see her, as it might bring her memories flooding back and burn up her mind, but he can and does see Wilf and and his daughter, Donna’s mother. Wilf is, naturally, delighted. Even more so when the Doctor presents a lottery ticket for Donna’s wedding present, purchased with a loan from Donna’s late father.

Next the Doctor is in a book store where an author is signing copies of her book. Someone we haven’t met but who looks familiar named Verity Newman is signing copies of her book, A Journal of Impossible Things, based on a journal owned by her great grandmother, Joan Redfern. Joan was the nurse in 1913 England that the Doctor, living as a human to try to avoid a confrontation which can’t be avoided, fell in love with. (Verity Newman is named after Verity Lambert and Sydney Newman, the first producers of Doctor Who, back in 1963.) The journal of his dreams belonged to the man Joan knew as John Smith, and Verity has written a book based on it. The Doctor wants to know if Joan was happy in the end. She was.

The Doctor and Rose say goodbye at Bad Wolf Bay in the Season 2 finale.

Finally, the Doctor goes to London in January 2005. It’s right after the New Year and he’s watching, only watching, someone he’s not yet met at that point. It’s Rose, his former companion and lost love. He’s failing now, and standing in the shadows as she passes by, coughs and staggers a bit, drawing her attention. He tells her she’s going to have a great year ahead, for it’s the year she meets him, albeit in his earlier ninth Doctor incarnation, none of which he says. She’s fresh, bright, and charming, and clearly ready for the adventures she’s about to encounter. She disappears into her building with a final smile.

Is it all quite sentimental? Yes, highly so. And wonderful nonetheless.

And now it’s time. An Ood appears in the street before the Doctor, telling him that his people will sing him to his sleep. The Doctor enters the Tardis, which sails into space above the Earth. He cries out that he doesn’t want to go. He’s not going quietly, there’s no peaceful acceptance of the inevitable, or British stoicism. He’s angry, frightened even. There’s much more he wants to do. And the regeneration comes on.

It’s violent this time, perhaps because of the radiation he’s carried within. Actually, it’s like the quickening in Highlander, a light show with crackling energy pouring out of him, causing explosions. David Tennant’s face disappears in the flow of energy and becomes that of Matt Smith.

The eleventh Doctor has arrived. He’s younger, confused and excited all at once as he grasps what has happened to him and is happening now. The violence of his regeneration has shattered the Tardis’s systems. The little blue police box, that old-style phone booth that is so much bigger on the inside is hurtling downward toward the Earth, crashing.

The new Doctor is thrilled. He shouts out: “Geronimo!” Clearly the Doctor has a new catchphrase to replace the tenth Doctor’s “Allons-y.”

And the episode is done.

“Allons-y,” incidentally, is French for “Let’s go.” “Geronimo!” is something frequently shouted as one takes a great leap. It comes from the American paratrooper tradition, inspired seven decades ago by a Western film about the great Indian chief.

What to make of the farewell of the tenth Doctor, played with such verve and grace by David Tennant, probably the most popular of all the Doctors?

Well, it wasn’t brief. But for all its drawn out nature, it was in many ways so much the better. Tennant is so good in the part that it’s sad to see him go.

In a real sense, the tenth Doctor’s finale has been going on for more than a year, even longer than the ending(s) of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.

After taking over from the very fine Christopher Eccleston, who relaunched the series as the Doctor with writer/producer Russell T. Davies at the helm, Tennant had three full seasons (the Brits call them series), and another year of specials. The latter because he took to playing Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company, a filmed version of which also aired on the BBC during the holidays.

He could have had his finale with the end of his third season, in a three-episode arc with a conclusion aptly titled “Journey’s End.” All his companions joined together, in a frankly overly complex plot, to help him fight a threat to “reality itself.” And the Doctor was shot and nearly died/regenerated. Yet he continued on, this time alone — with latest companion Donna returned home with memory wiped to avoid her own demise — through five more special episodes.

In 2008’s Christmas special, “The Next Doctor,” he went to Victorian London at Christmas time, only to be caught up in a wild adventure involving another fellow who believes himself to be the Doctor. (And who was naturally teased as Tennant’s replacement.) An air of melancholy sets in amidst the picture perfect Christmas setting as we learn why this man has come to believe he is the Doctor. And again as the Doctor refuses, at first, to share a Christmas dinner, preferring his growing loneliness.

For Easter 2009, the Doctor, again traveling alone in the Tardis, had a rather madcap adventure involving a red London double-decker bus, a desert planet, and an aristocratic young cat burglar. A perfect companion for the Doctor, actually, in the form of Michelle Ryan (who clicked in a way she did not as American TV’s Bionic Woman). Yet, despite their chemistry and good teamwork, the Doctor turns down her request to “Show me the stars.” He’s lost too much with previous companions, and doesn’t want to risk having his heart broken again. And as this rather picaresque adventure ends, with Lady Christina driving off into the sky, an air of foreboding as a woman tells the Doctor, like the Ood two years earlier, that his “song is ending.” And then: “It is returning. It is returning through the dark. And then, Doctor … Oh, but then … He will knock four times.”

David Tennant is Catherine Tate’s English teacher, two years ago for Comic Relief.

November’s special, “The Waters of Mars,” found the increasingly melancholy Doctor on Mars on a very special day in history, that of the mysterious destruction of humanity’s first Mars base. He sees the onrushing doom, keeps saying he has to leave what is “a fixed point in time,” which he dare not change. But in the end, he snaps and goes back and saves people who were supposed to have died, a pair of “little people,” as now arrogantly he calls them, and one decidedly not, one of the most famous women in history, the Mars base commander, whose death inspires her granddaughter to pilot the first interstellar mission.

There is a cost, a terrible one, and a terrible lesson, and by the end the Ood are there on a snowy London street, with the Doctor saying he’s gone too far, wondering if it’s his time to die.

Then of course we’re to “The End of Time,” and the great misdirection move that is the return of John Simm as the Master. As a political writer, I loved Simm as the manic politician who tricks the voters into making him prime minister of Britain. His performance then was operatic, as it is here. If he hadn’t been made insane as a gambit by the leader of the Time Lords, he could have been a great ally of the Doctor’s, rather than his nemesis. Which is only part of the pathos of this ending.

“The End of Time, Part Two,” which got predictably high yet non-record ratings in Britain, set a record for BBC America getting a total of 1.47 million viewers over the three weekend airings on the channel. This is the largest audience ever for a show on BBC America, beating “The Waters of Mars,” which was shown just before Christmas.

So we know there is a large and, at least in America and probably elsewhere, growing audience for Doctor Who with David Tennant. But for the eleventh Doctor, played by relative unknown Matt Smith? We don’t know.

Here is the new Doctor.

His beginning seemed fine, if necessarily brief. He’s in his late twenties, to Tennant’s late thirties, and we know that his first companion is played by a 21-year old redhead who looks like a teen.

Of course, the Doctor can be any age, so long as he has the spirit and intellect of the thing.

New showrunner Steven Moffat has written some of new Who’s best episodes, winning three Hugo Awards in a row for such classics as “The Girl In the Fireplace” and “Blink.” His temperament is rather darker than that of Russell T. Davies, who re-launched Doctor Who with a certain splashy ebullience that sought to overcome lapses in logic with dash and energy. And usually worked well at that.

“Don’t blink!”

Davies will run the new season of Torchwood, after his own highly successful walk in the dark with the last year’s brilliant “Children of Earth” miniseries.

And Moffat is likely to embrace the verve as well as the vicious in his version of the show. The eleventh Doctor’s energetic new catchphrase “Geronimo!,” along with glimpses of him in preview footage as something of an action hero indicate that the show won’t be all intellect. And composer Murray Gold is staying on. He’s contributed much of new Who’s sense of splash-and-dash, as well the hearts-on-sleeves quality of much of show with the tenth Doctor.

The science part of the science fiction was never the strength of the Davies-helmed new Who. Tennant’s tenth Doctor sometimes waved off an expected wave of Star Trek-style technospeak either with a bit of inspired babbling or with a humorously dismissive “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey” non-explanation.

David Tennant’s farewell to Doctor Who.

Davies’ Doctor Who excelled not so much as accurate scifi as emotional storytelling within a science fiction frame.

With Tennant as his Doctor, he had someone with crackling energy, a lover of life who pursued his immense curiosity with the enthusiasm of a child. And an actor who also explored what it might be like to be a 900-year old being who travels constantly across time and space, exploring, winning and losing, his two hearts bursting and breaking along the way.

Someone who, himself homeless with the loss of Gallifrey, adopted Earth as his home away from home, revering humanity with all its pinnacles and pitfalls.

This is why this Doctor clings to this life, though he knows he will regenerate. This is why, to borrow from Dylan Thomas, he does not go gentle into that good night, and, instead, burns and raves at close of day as he rages against the dying of the light.

This Doctor’s journey has ended, and those of us who have watched it unfold, imperfect as it has been at times, are the better for it.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes … www.newwestnotes.com.


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Tiger’s Wife Hits the Slopes? Maybe, Maybe Not

January 3rd, 2010 admin No comments

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Skiing the French Alps or walking her dog … how did Elin Nordegren ring in the New Year?Option A — the current Mrs. Tiger Woods has been holed up in a French resort near Chamonix, says the London Sun, since last Sunday. She’s there with her sister …

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French Journalists, Guides Missing In Afghanistan

January 1st, 2010 admin No comments

PARIS — Two French journalists and their local guides have gone missing in Afghanistan, the French government said Thursday in what one Afghan official called a kidnapping.

The journalists for France-3 television went missing Wednesday while traveling in Kapisa province, where French soldiers are fighting Taliban and other insurgents as part of a NATO mission to help bring more stability to Afghanistan.

Halim Ayar, a spokesman for the Kapisa governor in Afghanistan, said the journalists, their driver and a guard were kidnapped while going to Kapisa from the Surobi district of Kabul province.

French officials stopped short of such claims.

“We have no news from them, but we don’t have any claim of responsibility either,” French Defense Minister Herve Morin told France-Info radio from Afghanistan, where he was visiting French troops for the start of the new year.

Morin said France’s only information so far was from indirect and unconfirmed witness accounts, and that “for the moment” it was not appropriate “to talk about a kidnapping.”

“We’ll know more in the hours or days ahead,” Morin added. He said some colleagues of the missing journalists said they had left to go speak with villagers.

France-3 declined to identify the journalists. Lionel de Coninck, who heads the program the journalists worked for, said the two had been in Afghanistan for the last month and were set to return in the coming days.

The team was working on a report about the reconstruction of a road linking the towns of Surobi and Tagab east of the capital Kabul, de Coninck said.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement Thursday that “no hypothesis can be excluded” about the cause of the disappearance, and a spokesman declined to comment further.

Kidnappings of journalists have risen over the last three years in Afghanistan. Media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders says nine were seized by insurgents or mafia groups in 2009 alone.

France has more than 3,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. In August 2008, 10 French soldiers were killed and 21 wounded in a Taliban ambush in the Uzbin Valley east of Kabul.

More on France


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Bill Lucey: Recalling a Few New Year’s Eve Traditions

January 1st, 2010 admin No comments

Ring out the grief that saps the mind.
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor;
Ring in redress of all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manner, purer laws.

– “New Year’s Eve” a poem written by Lord Tennyson, 1850

The year dismally known as the Great Recession is almost behind us; (or so they say); let’s hope 2010 is more prosperous, less stressful, with expectations less people lose their homes and more, many more, find new jobs after such a dreadful year.

As we prepare to ring in the New Year, here are a few historic facts we can mull over while waiting for the ball to come down on a wet frigid night at Times Square in New York.

• In medieval times, the beginning of the New Year was celebrated on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation or Lady Day until Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian Calendar in 1582, a system used to this day which configured the 365 days of the year to accommodate a seven-day week. It wasn’t until 1752, however, that England and America recognized this new system.

• The month of January gets its name from the Roman god “Janus,” or “Januarus,” a god said to have two heads and two sets of eyes, each facing the opposite direction., one looking back the other forward. From this, the New Year tradition of welcoming the future and saying goodbye to the past was conceived.

• The most popular song associated with New Year’s Eve “Auld Lang Syne” (which translates to “old long ago”), was originally an anonymous 15th century poem, when it first turned up in a book of Scottish poetry by George Bannatyne under the title “Auld Kyndness Forgot”. Another version was published in 1711, “Old Long Syne” (believed to be Francis Sempill), and in 1724, Allan Ramsay turned it into a song, Auld Lang Syne” in the “Tea Table Miscella”; before Scottish poet Robert Burns added two verses (3 and 4), which was then published 5 months after his death in 1796 in a collection entitled Scots Musical Museum.

• In 1837, Charles Dickens ruminating on the ringing in the New Year wrote in Sketches by Boz: “We measure man’s life by years, and it is a solemn knell that warns us we have passed another of the landmarks which stand between us the grave. Disguise it as we may, the reflection will force itself on our minds, that when the next bell announces the arrival of a new year, we may be insensible alike of the timely warning we have so often neglected, and all the warm feelings that within us now.”

• Beginning in 1886, members of the Valley Hunt Club decorated their carriages with flowers while parading through the streets of Pasadena, Calif., in celebration of the ripe orange crop, which was then followed by a polo match, a tug of war, or greased pig-catching competition.

• In 1901, after the Tournament of Roses Association created the idea of having a college football game, Michigan and Stanford squared off on the campus of Throop Polytechnic Institute on January 1, 1902. The Wolverines crushed the Cardinals 49-0. It was such a lop-sided game that polo was once again brought back the following year; and from 1904 through 1914, Roman style chariot races were held.
College football returned to stay beginning in 1916.

• The New Year’s Eve tradition of sipping champagne at the strike of midnight is thought to have originated with the French

• Another tradition holds that Wassail, a drink served on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, comes from an old Gaelic word meaning “good health.’

• Christmas and New Year’s eve prior to dawn of the 20th century were closely linked; so much so that in 19th century New York, legend has it that Santa Claus often arrived on New Year’s Eve and would leave by wishing Happy New Year, not Merry Christmas, according to Stephen Nissenbaum, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts and author of the book, “The Battle for Christmas.” “What’s happened over the past 175 or so years is that alcoholic public revelry once associated with the entire season (including Christmas Eve and Day) has become isolated from the rest of the season and is now limited to New Year’s Eve.” Nissenbaum said.

• December 31, 1906 Adolph Ochs, publisher of the New York Times, dropped an illuminated globe from the top of his new building, Times Tower in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. This public relations innovation marked the beginning of an annual ritual.

NOTE: The only time the ball didn’t drop from Times Square on New Year’s Eve (since 1907) were two years during World War II: 1942 and 1943 due to a wartime dim-out.

• December 31, 1929: Guy Lombardo, age 37, and his band, the Royal Canadians make their debut at the Roosevelt Hotel Grill in New York City, a two-tiered room with a second dance floor while reviving “Auld Lang Syne; and from that point on, it becomes America’s signature song on New Year’s Eve. The venue would become a mainstay until the Roosevelt closed in 1959; and Lombardo and the Royal Canadians moved to the Waldorf Astoria.

• December 31, 1948: CBS broadcast’s the first televised presentation of a New Year’s Eve celebration from Times Square.

• December 31, 1972: For the first time in television history, Guy Lombardo has competition on New Year’s Eve, when NBC and Dick Clark, the worlds oldest teenager, debut with New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with guests the Three Dog Night, Blood Sweat and Tears, Billy Preston, Al Green, and Helen Reddy.

• December 31, 1976: Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians perform on New Year’s eve for the final time; he died November 5, 1977 age 77 from kidney and heart failure.

December 31, 1995: The New Year’s Eve ball in Times Square for the first time goes high tech, when a laser lowers the ball, replacing the six man crew using a pulley.

Crossposted with The Morning Delivery.


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Ann Liguori: Hey Liguori, What’s the Story?: Sportscaster Ann Liguori’s pick for Athlete of the Decade

December 31st, 2009 admin No comments

Move Over Tiger – Roger Federer is my pick for Athlete of the Decade by Ann Liguori

My choice for top athlete of the decade is the legendary and classy Roger Federer.

Talk about dominating in sports — all of Federer’s fifteen major titles were won between 2003-2009 and he finished the decade claiming his first French Open title, giving him a career Grand Slam, and then a month later, won his sixth Wimbledon title for a total of 15 Grand Slam championships, earning more Grand Slam titles than any other male player in history. And he closed out the year ranked number one in the world – again!

For the entire decade, Federer was known for winning tennis tournaments, being a nice guy and giving back to fans. Being the top ranked player for most of the decade never distanced him from being ‘one of the guys.’ Players on the Tour will tell you how much they like and respect Roger Federer. And throughout his career, he has connected with the fans and makes himself available for media interviews. He is truly one of the nicest athletes on the planet and conducts himself with grace on and off the court.

A short review of his record 15 Grand Slam Championships are in order.

His first major title came at Wimbledon in 2003 where he lost only one set throughout the entire two weeks and beat Andy Roddick in the semis and then Mark Philippoussis to win his first of six championships on the grass at Wimbledon.

His second major title was won at the Australian Open in 2004 with a straight set win over Marat Safin. He beat Andy Roddick in the Wimbledon final that year and grabbed his first US Open championship with a win over Lleyton Hewitt. In 2005, Federer ‘repeated’ with Championships at both Wimbledon and the US Open, and in 2006 and 2007, the Swiss maestro won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.

The 2008 Wimbledon final turned out to be the tennis match of the decade and one of the greatest matches in history. Through two rain delays, wind and darkness, the two top players in the game dazzled with spectacular shots. Federer was only two points away from victory but Nadal was able to prevail, 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7 in a 4-hour, 48-minute marathon. Federer described the loss as his most devastating. A month later, Federer relinquished his number 1 ranking to Nadal, after being at the top for 237 weeks! But just when you thought that crushing Wimbledon defeat would deflate Federer for the rest of the year, he managed to win a fifth straight US Open title with wins over Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. And a year later at Roland Garros, Federer (who had beaten Nadal on clay in Madrid a week earlier), won his very first French Open Title! Nadal suffered a shocking defeat to Robin Soderling in the fourth round. Although Nadal was out, it was not easy for Federer. He was within five points of a fourth round, straight sets loss to Tommy Haas, before turning it around. In the semi-finals, he had to come from behind to beat the talented Juan Martin del Potro in five sets before beating Robin Soderling in straight sets for his 14th Grand Slam title. Federer called it the most satisfying win of his life and up there with his very first win at Wimbledon.

And then it was on to Wimbledon where he and Andy Roddick played the longest match in Wimbledon history in number of games played, the fifth and final set going 30 games! Federer outlasted Andy Roddick 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14, serving a career high 50 aces. With Pete Sampras watching, Federer won his sixth Wimbledon title and a record-breaking 15th Grand Slam Championship. Nadal withdrew before the tournament started with a knee injury.

Critics of Federer enjoying ‘Athlete of the Decade’ recognition will cite the fact that Nadal has beaten Federer in five of seven championship finals and holds a 13-7 edge over him. I disagree. Their intense rivalry is great for tennis and proves that in spite of such a talented player being a threat in the draw, any time he is healthy, Federer was still able to dominate the sport in this decade, beating a plethora of talented players along the way. And Nadal and Federer’s rivalry add to each player’s greatness.

But if Nadal can get healthy, he could carry the torch into the next decade, with some help from Juan Martin del Potro and Novak Djokovic. To date, Nadal has won six Grand Slam titles including the Australian Open in 2009, four French Open titles from 2005-2008, and Wimbledon 2008. The US Open is the only Grand Slam title that has eluded him. He got to the semifinal round there in 2008. At 23 years of age, Nadal is five years younger than Federer and if he can stay injury-free, he can continue to add major titles to his incredible resume. Unfortunately, his explosive, high-octane style of play contributes to knee injuries and other ailments.

And many of you will argue that Tiger’s stellar golf accomplishments in this decade make him your pick for Athlete of the Decade, choosing to overlook Tiger’s quadruple bogies off the course. As you know, the Associated Press named him Athlete of the Decade a few weeks ago. There is no doubt that Tiger dominated golf, winning 12 of his 14 major titles this decade. He won 64 tournaments over-all and 56 PGA Tour events. And there is no doubt that Tiger ruled golf like Roger did in tennis. Roger did it with a lot more class.

For more information on Ann, visit her web site at www.annliguori.com
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Mort Zuckerman: God Bless America

December 25th, 2009 admin No comments

The end of a year always provides an opportunity to think about the true joys of living in this wonderful country we call America.

One quality integral to the American sense of community is giving. It has traditionally been a key characteristic of our society — “the spirit of mutual helpfulness” that so impressed the young French visitor Alexis de Tocqueville early in the 19th century. Private philanthropy in the United States has long been far greater in proportion to either our population or our total economic output than philanthropy anywhere else in the world. Last year, the gifts of Americans across the whole range of income groups added up to approximately $308 billion or 2.2% of our annual gross domestic product.

Twenty-one individuals or couples have made philanthropic pledges in excess of $100 million, and we have observed the largest single pledge ever made — the $30 billion ($30,000,000,000!) to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation from Warren Buffett. The Sage of Omaha might have left his fortune to his family, but he pithily explained why he didn’t: He wanted to give his children “enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much they could do nothing.” Amen to that.

The urge to give and to be seen giving is almost as universal as our urge to acquire, something else de Tocqueville noted. Sometimes this urge goes overboard–witness the excesses of Wall Street. At the heart of American capitalism there seems to be an unwritten contract that those who acquire the most wealth will share it with those who have the least. We give to causes ranging from medical research to scholarships for disadvantaged minority students, from supporting opera houses to preserving our historic landmarks. And we do this not only for our citizens but also for those of other countries-witness the extraordinary work of Bill and Melinda Gates to wipe out malaria in Asia and Africa, and the millions of dollars raised here to halt the rampant AIDS epidemic in Africa.

We are blessed by our history. The early immigrants came mostly from countries with a strong, central government, a dominant church, and an energetic aristocracy. Central government assumed the responsibility for the public good, with its costs underwritten by taxes. America, by contrast, was a young, frontier society with no tradition of strong, central government, with no state religion and no established aristocracy. When American pioneers wanted to raise a church or a school or a hospital in their new communities, they had to build it themselves. One farmer couldn’t put up a barn by himself, so individual farmers called on friends and neighbors, and when they needed help, the favor was promptly returned. The party the farmer threw for his neighbors after the barn was completed lives on in the wonderfully American phrase “raising the roof.”

Other rich countries have a far higher proportion of hospitals, libraries, and universities-all funded by the state. This reduces the sense of community. The commonplace cry is “Why don’t they do something about it?” instead of “Why don’t we do something about it?” Many Europeans believe that simply paying taxes absolves them of any further responsibility to their fellow citizens. It is an attitude that is beginning to change somewhat, given the American successes-the “thousand points of light” that the elder President Bush commended. But European governments vary from the stingy to the downright mean in their attitude to philanthropy.

Of course, government has hardly been rendered redundant in the United States, but its role in relation to philanthropy is a positive one. Our government, irrespective of political control, encourages giving, with indirect subsidies and tax exemptions for cultural institutions and tax relief for individuals. This jibes with the American instinct for individualism. We don’t want government to make all moral or aesthetic judgments. But studies have shown that the tax relief Americans enjoy from giving doesn’t explain the impulse to give. Happily, that is something deeply ingrained in our national psyche.

It has to be admitted that this system works well for middle — and upper-income Americans who can take advantage of tax deductions and arts subsidies but functions less well for lower-income groups. That’s why our universities, hospitals, and art museums are among the world’s finest, while healthcare and preschool education for poor Americans are below European standards. Here, still, is a challenge to the American spirit we celebrate as we give thanks for our blessings.

Thomas Wolfe put what America is all about well:

“So then, to every man his chance… his shining golden opportunity… to live, to work, to be himself, and to become whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make him — this, seeker, is the promise of America.”

This is the very promise that binds into one society so many races, languages and national cultures. The vision of what we might become enables us to endure the injustices and inequalities of American society today. We do not feel embedded in the past or trapped by the present. We feel we have a future, not for the purpose of glorifying the state, but rather to realize our private ends in peace and freedom.

At this time of celebration of family and community, we can all sing ” America! America! God shed his grace on thee.”

More on Christmas


Mort Zuckerman: God Bless America

December 25th, 2009 admin No comments

The end of a year always provides an opportunity to think about the true joys of living in this wonderful country we call America.

One quality integral to the American sense of community is giving. It has traditionally been a key characteristic of our society — “the spirit of mutual helpfulness” that so impressed the young French visitor Alexis de Tocqueville early in the 19th century. Private philanthropy in the United States has long been far greater in proportion to either our population or our total economic output than philanthropy anywhere else in the world. Last year, the gifts of Americans across the whole range of income groups added up to approximately $308 billion or 2.2% of our annual gross domestic product.

Twenty-one individuals or couples have made philanthropic pledges in excess of $100 million, and we have observed the largest single pledge ever made — the $30 billion ($30,000,000,000!) to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation from Warren Buffett. The Sage of Omaha might have left his fortune to his family, but he pithily explained why he didn’t: He wanted to give his children “enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much they could do nothing.” Amen to that.

The urge to give and to be seen giving is almost as universal as our urge to acquire, something else de Tocqueville noted. Sometimes this urge goes overboard–witness the excesses of Wall Street. At the heart of American capitalism there seems to be an unwritten contract that those who acquire the most wealth will share it with those who have the least. We give to causes ranging from medical research to scholarships for disadvantaged minority students, from supporting opera houses to preserving our historic landmarks. And we do this not only for our citizens but also for those of other countries-witness the extraordinary work of Bill and Melinda Gates to wipe out malaria in Asia and Africa, and the millions of dollars raised here to halt the rampant AIDS epidemic in Africa.

We are blessed by our history. The early immigrants came mostly from countries with a strong, central government, a dominant church, and an energetic aristocracy. Central government assumed the responsibility for the public good, with its costs underwritten by taxes. America, by contrast, was a young, frontier society with no tradition of strong, central government, with no state religion and no established aristocracy. When American pioneers wanted to raise a church or a school or a hospital in their new communities, they had to build it themselves. One farmer couldn’t put up a barn by himself, so individual farmers called on friends and neighbors, and when they needed help, the favor was promptly returned. The party the farmer threw for his neighbors after the barn was completed lives on in the wonderfully American phrase “raising the roof.”

Other rich countries have a far higher proportion of hospitals, libraries, and universities-all funded by the state. This reduces the sense of community. The commonplace cry is “Why don’t they do something about it?” instead of “Why don’t we do something about it?” Many Europeans believe that simply paying taxes absolves them of any further responsibility to their fellow citizens. It is an attitude that is beginning to change somewhat, given the American successes-the “thousand points of light” that the elder President Bush commended. But European governments vary from the stingy to the downright mean in their attitude to philanthropy.

Of course, government has hardly been rendered redundant in the United States, but its role in relation to philanthropy is a positive one. Our government, irrespective of political control, encourages giving, with indirect subsidies and tax exemptions for cultural institutions and tax relief for individuals. This jibes with the American instinct for individualism. We don’t want government to make all moral or aesthetic judgments. But studies have shown that the tax relief Americans enjoy from giving doesn’t explain the impulse to give. Happily, that is something deeply ingrained in our national psyche.

It has to be admitted that this system works well for middle — and upper-income Americans who can take advantage of tax deductions and arts subsidies but functions less well for lower-income groups. That’s why our universities, hospitals, and art museums are among the world’s finest, while healthcare and preschool education for poor Americans are below European standards. Here, still, is a challenge to the American spirit we celebrate as we give thanks for our blessings.

Thomas Wolfe put what America is all about well:

“So then, to every man his chance… his shining golden opportunity… to live, to work, to be himself, and to become whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make him — this, seeker, is the promise of America.”

This is the very promise that binds into one society so many races, languages and national cultures. The vision of what we might become enables us to endure the injustices and inequalities of American society today. We do not feel embedded in the past or trapped by the present. We feel we have a future, not for the purpose of glorifying the state, but rather to realize our private ends in peace and freedom.

At this time of celebration of family and community, we can all sing ” America! America! God shed his grace on thee.”

More on Christmas


Mort Zuckerman: God Bless America

December 25th, 2009 admin No comments

The end of a year always provides an opportunity to think about the true joys of living in this wonderful country we call America.

One quality integral to the American sense of community is giving. It has traditionally been a key characteristic of our society — “the spirit of mutual helpfulness” that so impressed the young French visitor Alexis de Tocqueville early in the 19th century. Private philanthropy in the United States has long been far greater in proportion to either our population or our total economic output than philanthropy anywhere else in the world. Last year, the gifts of Americans across the whole range of income groups added up to approximately $308 billion or 2.2% of our annual gross domestic product.

Twenty-one individuals or couples have made philanthropic pledges in excess of $100 million, and we have observed the largest single pledge ever made — the $30 billion ($30,000,000,000!) to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation from Warren Buffett. The Sage of Omaha might have left his fortune to his family, but he pithily explained why he didn’t: He wanted to give his children “enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much they could do nothing.” Amen to that.

The urge to give and to be seen giving is almost as universal as our urge to acquire, something else de Tocqueville noted. Sometimes this urge goes overboard–witness the excesses of Wall Street. At the heart of American capitalism there seems to be an unwritten contract that those who acquire the most wealth will share it with those who have the least. We give to causes ranging from medical research to scholarships for disadvantaged minority students, from supporting opera houses to preserving our historic landmarks. And we do this not only for our citizens but also for those of other countries-witness the extraordinary work of Bill and Melinda Gates to wipe out malaria in Asia and Africa, and the millions of dollars raised here to halt the rampant AIDS epidemic in Africa.

We are blessed by our history. The early immigrants came mostly from countries with a strong, central government, a dominant church, and an energetic aristocracy. Central government assumed the responsibility for the public good, with its costs underwritten by taxes. America, by contrast, was a young, frontier society with no tradition of strong, central government, with no state religion and no established aristocracy. When American pioneers wanted to raise a church or a school or a hospital in their new communities, they had to build it themselves. One farmer couldn’t put up a barn by himself, so individual farmers called on friends and neighbors, and when they needed help, the favor was promptly returned. The party the farmer threw for his neighbors after the barn was completed lives on in the wonderfully American phrase “raising the roof.”

Other rich countries have a far higher proportion of hospitals, libraries, and universities-all funded by the state. This reduces the sense of community. The commonplace cry is “Why don’t they do something about it?” instead of “Why don’t we do something about it?” Many Europeans believe that simply paying taxes absolves them of any further responsibility to their fellow citizens. It is an attitude that is beginning to change somewhat, given the American successes-the “thousand points of light” that the elder President Bush commended. But European governments vary from the stingy to the downright mean in their attitude to philanthropy.

Of course, government has hardly been rendered redundant in the United States, but its role in relation to philanthropy is a positive one. Our government, irrespective of political control, encourages giving, with indirect subsidies and tax exemptions for cultural institutions and tax relief for individuals. This jibes with the American instinct for individualism. We don’t want government to make all moral or aesthetic judgments. But studies have shown that the tax relief Americans enjoy from giving doesn’t explain the impulse to give. Happily, that is something deeply ingrained in our national psyche.

It has to be admitted that this system works well for middle — and upper-income Americans who can take advantage of tax deductions and arts subsidies but functions less well for lower-income groups. That’s why our universities, hospitals, and art museums are among the world’s finest, while healthcare and preschool education for poor Americans are below European standards. Here, still, is a challenge to the American spirit we celebrate as we give thanks for our blessings.

Thomas Wolfe put what America is all about well:

“So then, to every man his chance… his shining golden opportunity… to live, to work, to be himself, and to become whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make him — this, seeker, is the promise of America.”

This is the very promise that binds into one society so many races, languages and national cultures. The vision of what we might become enables us to endure the injustices and inequalities of American society today. We do not feel embedded in the past or trapped by the present. We feel we have a future, not for the purpose of glorifying the state, but rather to realize our private ends in peace and freedom.

At this time of celebration of family and community, we can all sing ” America! America! God shed his grace on thee.”

More on Christmas


Karen Dalton-Beninato: Salutations: Seven New Orleans Images

December 25th, 2009 admin No comments

Happy Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Festivus and all the rest of it. Here in New Orleans the balconies are glowing and the holidays are nowhere near an end as the city barrels straight through to New Years Eve, Mardi Gras and the Superbowl (#whodat).

Dr. John’s Twitter salutation today was, “Mean what you say, but don’t say somethin mean. Have a blessed Solstice.”

I can’t think of a way to improve upon that sentiment, so here are our holiday snapshots. All the best to you and yours in 2010.

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Chicken Paw Gumbo Simmering in the Pot.

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A platter of WhoDat Cookies

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Snake and Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge with Eaux Yeah shirt

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Peace Y’All, the best of all holiday greetings

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A beribboned French Quarter balcony

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Today’s Christmas Eve Rainbow over New Orleans

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Leroy Jones playing holiday jazz at our NOMRF CC’s Concert Series.

Thank you to all who support this city and its irreplaceable culture all year long.

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