Monthly Archives: April 2008

It ended badly

On 30 April, 1975, the last troops and refugees were evacuated from Saigon, and the hideous failure known as the Vietnam War officially ended. I was a sophomore in high school. I remember this picture being circulated all over the news: people rushing (many in vain) to get out of Saigon before it fell to the North Vietnamese army.

Aircraft carriers were docked on the shore to accept all the refugees being flown in every hour. They didn’t have enough room on the carriers for all the people, so they ditched the choppers in the ocean.

My uncle Fred was a Marine and saw active duty over there. I remember my mother baking cookies to send to him. Earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. He could never talk about it. I can only imagine his nightmares…

If you want to see a truly disturbing, realistic account of what Vietnam did to men, rent The Deer Hunter. It was no slouch film: it won Best Picture at the Oscars the following year. But prepare to be shaken up. As I mentioned in a post awhile back, I had trouble sleeping for several nights after seeing it at the theater. The horror those guys experienced is something the more fortunate of us (the lucky ones who stayed stateside) can never hope to grasp.

American death toll: 50,000. The degree to which livelihoods and families were obliterated in one way or another: unfathomable.

When you have time, this story is amazing.

And they leapt to their feet…

…for the “King of the High Cs.”

Last night I was recording some Romantic era stuff for my music history class, and ran across “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s opera, Turandot.

Pavarotti. Like Elvis, Madonna and Prince, he’s known worldwide by simply one name. I know there are opera singers out there who think it’s passé to like Pavarotti, but I don’t care. OK, so maybe he was a total brat sometimes, but he was also funny and silly, and I never saw an interview where he didn’t win over the journalist, the crew, and anyone else watching.

I read the tell-all book by his former manager, Herb Breslin. The King and I was a bit harsh on Big Luciano, but I’m sure it had at least some truth to it. I mean, you can’t be that adored the world over and not be a spoiled-rotten baby some of the time. [I think I still have the book if you want to borrow it…or maybe I gave it to Kay to read on the plane. Can’t remember.]

But back to The Voice.

He was one of the few singers who would barely move his face and still reduce you to tears. Quite possibly the most beautiful operatic aria I have ever heard has got to be his rendition of “Nessun dorma.”

If you’d like to see it, here it is. If you’re not an opera fan, it’s ok. You don’t need to be. The only thing you need to enjoy this video is a soul.

The story of the aria is this: The prince has solved all three riddles in order to win the hand of the princess in marriage. She fears the prince — he’s sort of a cad. He tells her that if she can guess his real name by tomorrow morning, he’ll go away and call off the marriage. But he knows that his identity is secret, and that nobody, even if they stay up all night, will guess it. Therefore, he sings “Nessun dorma” (None shall sleep).

He ends the aria with the powerful declaration, “Vincero!” (“I will win!”). I heard he had the same attitude when pancreatic cancer was tearing his insides apart. He lived a full life — the cancer finally won in 2007 when he was 71 — but still, he was taken away too soon.

The most amazing thing about this performance is that he was 62 years old when he did it. Incredible.

Give yourself three and a half minutes of beauty today. Watch and weep.

History of Me, Part II

How about a couple of funny pictures?

We were living in Waukegan, Illinois when I started school in 1964. This is my first grade picture. Notice how my mother did my hair to look like hers. She definitely won in that category:

(Click for larger view)

We moved to suburban Milwaukee in 1968. That’s when I discovered boys. I discovered I could outrun them, outpitch them, and basically school them in dancing to and singing along with the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Temptations, Donny Osmond, and Bobby Sherman.

It was my Tomboy Phase. I was cocky and cool. I owned everybody.

Then I discovered boys — again. It was all downhill from there. I decided that if the boys were going to chase me for any other reason than to pound me to the ground because I had the football, I was going to have to girly up. So, by 6th grade, I was all sissified. (Click picture for larger view.)

Stop laughing. I mean it. And you know who you are.

Mondays bite.

Fink out.

Schmenglish III

As many of you know, I think a lot about grammar. Not in a militant way (well, ok maybe a little); rather, I’m just a little picky when it comes to mistakes that are easy to make when speaking and writing English.

Therefore, I have taken it upon myself to be a grammatical Johnny Appleseed, trekking about the countryside, planting saplings of nutritious…ah, nevermind.

Here are more niggling (I like that word) issues:

Begging the question. Sometimes, people say that something “begs the question” when they really mean it “raises the question.” Begging the question is an example of circular reasoning:

1) Murder is wrong. Abortion is murder. Therefore, abortion is wrong.

2) God exists. The bible says so, so that proves it.

[I’m not stating an opinion on #1, and I do happen to believe that #2 is true. Just sayin’.]

I’ve read many journalists (who should know better) whose work misuses the phrase “begs the question.” Consider this byline in a news story: Obama’s success in the primaries begs the question: Who will be his running mate? I think the writer wanted to say that the running mate issue is a question begging to be answered — but it’s not “begging the question.” Sadly, I believe the phrase has been misused and overused to the point of becoming an accepted part of the lexicon. Silly writers anyway.

Mute versus moot. A person who cannot speak is mute. A point or argument that no longer matters is moot.

The drink produced by forcing very hot water through finely ground coffee is called espresso.

If you want to sterilize your female dog or cat, you hire a veterinarian to spay her. After the surgery, you can say your dog has been spayed. “Spaded” means you’ve shoveled up the garden.

Five feet, two inches describes my height. Rhymes with sight, light, might, right. Heighth ain’t a word.

This –> * <– is an asterisk. Isk. Isk. Isk. Not asterix or asterick.

It’s nuclear. Think of putting the words “new” and “clear” together. I think George Bush either says it wrong on purpose because he thinks it’s funny to make his handlers and speech-writers perspire, or he’s too dumb to know the difference. I hope it’s “A.”

I think that’s enough for today. I feel like spending the rest of my Sunday in a lackadaisical fashion. (Not laxadaisical.)

Grammar Fink

On being nibbled to death by ducks

They are going to kill me. Swear.

Boston University and Barnes & Noble (partners in extortion), I must admit, have happened on an idea that is positively, consummately, hilariously brilliant.

Ladies and gentlemen…the “Coursepack.”

What is a Coursepack, you ask? Well let’s see if I can get this right. A Coursepack is a bunch of Xerox-copied pages from various textbooks, compiled into a stack, and offered as reading material for my doctoral classes. Nifty, eh? Not so fast, pard.

Behold Exhibit A:

Right. They have some 18-year-old library droid pull books off the shelves in Boston and stand at a copier for 5 hours, and charge me $106.75 for the privilege (and this is the cheapest one yet – once I paid something like $190). But what do I get for my money?

Exhibit B:

The Coursepack. They did go to the trouble to punch holes in the sides so you can provide your own 3-ring binder. How thoughtful.
Exhibit C: Reduced in size and copied sideways so you have to turn the book to read it. Some pages are right-side-up, some aren’t. Brilliant.
Exhibit D: A substantial amount of information, to be sure.

Is this not the most incredibly profitable idea ever? Pardon me while I go get my credit card.


PS – I want one of these.