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I’m not generally a fan of celebrities doing commercials, and have a lot of respect for the ones who won’t, like Bonnie Raitt and Neil Young. But I don’t mind Oprah doing commercials for Weight Watchers. It’s something she’s used herself, and if she finds their products and services helpful and wants to lend her star power to their promotion, fine. I don’t even mind her doing commercials for other stuff, should she chose to, because I suspect any money she receives would be used for great purposes, like supporting her Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa.

What I do mind is Oprah using the same set that she uses for journalistic interviews – that beautiful spot under the trees – to do fakey-fake interviews with weight loss clients for her Weight Watchers’ commercials. Maybe they’re different trees, but it sure looks like the same set she uses to conduct those profound interviews with transcendent spiritual, cultural and political figures like Maya Angelou and Marianne Williamson.

To do these commercials in the same style as her interviews feels like a betrayal of journalistic ethics, and diminishes the integrity of those interviews. And there was no reason to do the commercials that way! Her mere presence in the commercials would have been sufficient to get across the message that she digs the product. There was no need to bastardize her own work in the process. Way to besmirch your brand, Oprah!

Under the Trees with Iyanla – An Excerpt from Super Soul Sunday

Under the Trees with Kylei – Weight Watchers Commercial

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“All of us, we all have a responsibility. You have to get your news from news sources, not just one, ’cause they’re all biased, especially the cable channels: MSNBC – very liberal; Fox News – very conservative; The Animal Planet – always meerkats, never badgers.

“You know what bothers me is that every election year as well, you get the voter registration drives aimed at the young people – Rock the Vote, Think the Vote, Music the Vote…. Are we so lost we have to be sold our own democratic right?!…. We have to sexy up the vote for young people?

“Here’s what I would say to you: ‘If you don’t vote, you’re a moron.’ I know what you’ll say: ‘Not voting is a vote.’ No it isn’t. Not voting is just being stupid!

“Voting is not sexy. Voting is not hep. It is not fashionable. It’s not a movie, it’s not a video game. All the kids ain’t doin’ it. Frankly, voting is a pain in the ass! But here’s a word – look it up. It is your DUTY to vote!

“The foundation in this democracy is based on free people making free choices. So young people, if you can’t take your hand out of your bag of Cheetos long enough to fill out a form, then you can’t complain when we wind up with President Sanjaya.

“We have two patriotic candidates. They both love this country, they have different ideas about what to do with it. Learn about them, read about them, question them, listen to them. Then on Election Day, exercise your sacred right as an American and listen to yourself.”

– Craig Ferguson, The Craig Ferguson Show, 9/11/08

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“It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”
– Josef Stalin

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Best Campaign Season Song:

They Lost My Vote by my dear friends Ellen Bukstel and Nancy Wuerzburger
Watch it on the YouTube: They Lost My Vote
(I actually appear in this video very briefly!)

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Best Number to Call if You See Something Funky Happening at the Polls:

ELECTION PROTECTION HOTLINE
866/OUR-VOTE – that’s 866/687-8683

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Most Satisfying Campaign Violence:

David Alan Grier pulverizing an Obama-to-McCain vote-flipping electronic voting machine with a baseball bat – Chocolate News, 10/25/08

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Best Campaign Season Commercial:

Video collage of people ordering at the drive-thru, followed by: We know you have a voice. We hear it every day. Use it November 4th. VOTE. Have it your way ’08 – Burger King

or: Are We There Yet?

“New Rule: Stop saying we can’t impeach George Bush. We still have two months!” – Dennis Kucinich, DNC New Rules, Real Time with Bill Maher, 9/08

“Mo [Rocca] used to host a TV show called ‘Things I Hate About You’. I’m sure I’ve seen that program, only I believe it’s now called Countdown with Keith Olbermann.” – Dick Cheney, 2008 Radio and TV Correspondents Dinner

“We need to know the full extent of Senator Obama’s relationship with ACORN, who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.” – John McCain, Presidential Debate the Third, 10/15/08

“It reminds me a little bit of what Mary McCarthy once said about Lillian Hellman: ‘Every word out of her mouth is a lie including and and the.’” – Jonathan Alter of Newsweek on McCain’s lies about Obama, The Rachel Maddow Show, 9/10/08

“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

“Gov. Palin brought up Joe Biden’s quote [re offshore drilling] about us raping the ocean floors this evening. Does Gov. Palin support the ocean paying for its own rape kits?” – John Oliver to Senior McCain Advisor Douglas Holtz-Eakin on the Vice-Presidential Debate – The Daily Show, 10/06/08

“Keith, I’m going to be as restrained and measured as I possibly can about this, but this is the most mindless, ignorant, uninformed comment that we have seen from Gov. Palin so far, and there’s been a lot of competition for that prize.” – Richard Wolffe of Newsweek on Gov. Palin’s ridicule of scientific research using fruit flies during her first policy speech, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, 10/24/08

“There’s no doubt that what Sen. Edwards did shows a serious lack of judgment. But just because a married man cheats on his wife with a younger blonde he met in a bar doesn’t mean he’s not a patriot. Just ask John McCain.” – Bill Maher, Real Time with Bill Maher, 9/08

“This bailout does feel like trying to pull a car out of a ditch and finding out it’s out of gas. You’re making progress, but you’re still not going anywhere.” – Craig Crawford of CQPolitics.com, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, 10/03/08

“It’s a good idea to save your money. One day it might be worth something again!” – Alfred E. Neuman

“This campaign… began so long ago with the heralded arrival of a man known to Oprah Winfrey as ‘The One’. Being a friend and colleague of Barack, I just called him ‘that one’. He doesn’t mind at all, in fact he even has a pet name for me: George Bush.” – John McCain at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, 10/16/08

“I was thrilled to get this invitation and I feel right at home here, because it’s often been said that I have the politics of Alfred E. Smith and the ears of Alfred E. Neuman.” – Barack Obama at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, 10/16/08

“How come we choose from just two people for President, and fifty for Miss America?” – Alfred E. Neuman

“The reason why Absurdist plays take place in No Man’s Land with only two characters is primarily financial.” – Arther Adamov, Russian-born French dramatist

“In our time of lies and hate it seems appropriate to be reminded of the beauty of saying yes to the chaos of truth….” – Molly Bloom’s soliloquy from James Joyce’s Ulysses

I have, until now, refrained from commenting upon Republican Candidate for Spokes-Vice President Sarah Palin and her oh-so-many commentworthy characteristics. I do have my opinions about Palin, but so does everyone else – and as far as I could see, everything I’d been thinking was already being said by someone else.

But now I feel I must speak up, being uniquely qualified to comment upon one particular facet of this multi-faceted candidate: Sarah Palin as Flautist.

This is in my bailiwick.

By now you may have seen the video of Palin playing “The Homecoming” during the Talent portion of the 1984 Miss Alaska competion (Though her name wasn’t Palin then, she was Sarah Heath.)

In case you yourself are not a professional flautist or music journalist like me, please allow me to give you the benefit of my expertise in evaluating this performance.

The MC introduced Ms. Heath, saying the piece she was going to play was arranged by “Sarah’s favorite artist, James Galway”. Unfortunately, the Galway influence was in no way evident in her performance.

Palin’s posture was good, and her flute position was generally good as well, but not her finger position. Among other things, she makes the classic rookie mistake of moving her fingers way too much, and most especially, sticking her left pinkie way up in the air. Good flute technique dictates keeping your fingertips close to the keys at all times, and using the absolute minimum amount of movement required to play each note.

It’s easy to see Palin’s stage presence, self-possession and charm in this video, as she smiles unwaveringly despite her generally horrid playing. If you watched the video with the sound off, you would probably think she was feeling good about a very successful performance. Her ability to put the best face on things in this way has obviously served her quite well over the years.

But with the sound on… well, that’s another story. Her breathing is shaky and uneven – like many amateur flautists – making her phrasing short and choppy, and her tone shrill and unsteady. More experienced flautists learn how to breathe through the stage fright everyone gets, so it doesn’t affect our playing.

There’s no passion or genuine artistic expression in her playing; what we hear here is a pretty rote delivery of (approximately) what’s written in the sheet music. Worst of all is Palin’s pitch – really, really bad pitch.

In all fairness, I must say that the live house band accompanying her is also pretty bad, especially in the pitch department, and the whole lot get progressively more out of tune as the song wears on. Unfortunately they’re all off-pitch in divergent directions, resulting in a painfully dissonant ensemble, rather than the sweet, slightly chaotic disharmony of, say, Lisa Simpson’s school orchestra.

All in all, I’d have to place Palin’s performance on a level with an okay grade-schooler, or a not very good junior high student musician. That said, as far as I know, we haven’t had any decent musicians among our Presidential candidates for quite a while now. Ah, for the days when politicans valued the arts!

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“I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.”
– Pres. John F. Kennedy, honoring Robert Frost, October 1963

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The Campaign Gets Personal – Episode 1

RNC, Part 1: Be Careful What You Wish For

There are some spiritual and psychological schools of thought which suggest that what we wish for others is what we ourselves will manifest. This could even be considered the basis of The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So doing good unto others is ultimately enlightened self interest. And vice versa.

This came to mind as I watched the Republicans virtually cancel the first night of their National Convention, to avoid looking like a bunch of uncaring partiers should Hurricane Gustav turn out to do a lot of damage. And I could not help but remember a couple weeks earlier when Stuart Shepard of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family asked people to pray for “rain of Biblical proportions” the night of Sen. Obama’s big speech in an open air stadium. As it turned out, the weather for that event could not have been better if Hollywood itself had produced it.

But the Grand Old Partiers faced not one, but two major hurricanes happening during their convention, with more queuing up right behind. And with Gustav blowing right by New Orleans, this guaranteed pundits would be talking about Katrina a lot throughout several 24-hour news cycles… not to mention whether global warming is causing stronger, more devastating hurricanes.

I’m sure many of those at the RNC making pleas for donations to hurricane relief were very sincere in their concern, yet I found it impossible to view the curtailing of the first day’s convention program without a great deal of cynicism. Sorry y’all, nothing you do now is going to make up for what happened to New Orleans. If you really want to make amends, help rebuild New Orleans, restore the coastal wetlands that used to protect the Crescent City, and make the levees that are supposed to protect the city as strong as they should have been BEFORE Katrina was ever heard of – and no, the job is NOT done. Not even close. (Want to help? Visit my Help New Orleans Musicians pages.)

And what’s that? Hurricane Ike got huge again and is bearing down on Texas? Adopted home of Mr. Bush, not to mention quite a few evangelical groups, oil barons and a passel of Christians? I wonder if we’ll be hearing Pastor John Hagee of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio (isn’t that in Texas?) saying afterwards that Hurricane Ike was God’s punishment for all those folks, like he did after Katrina. After all, Hurricane Ike showed up and headed straight for Texas right on the heels of Pres. Eisenhower’s granddaughter Susan speaking at the DNC, and very publicly leaving the Republican Party – that couldn’t be a coincidence, could it?!

Having been through a number of hurricanes myself, I would never, ever wish that experience on anyone, not even my worst enemy. And one would hope that anyone who called themselves a Christian wouldn’t either. After all, wasn’t it Jesus who said: “Love your enemy”? I don’t want to jump to any premature conclusions, but it seems to me that some Christians aren’t practicing that precept quite as thoroughly as others. So I’m not saying the folks in Texas deserve to be walloped by Ike. I’m just saying: Be careful what you wish for. Or pray for.

Some commentators have concluded that all this shows that God supports Obama for President. But I say unto those praying for God to smite the Democrats: God has nothing to do with it. You brought this on yourself.

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RNC, Part 2: Best RNC Coverage

The Daily Show, intercutting Fred Thompson’s convention speech with Foghorn Leghorn, and Joe Lieberman’s with Droopy Dog. The resemblances are uncanny! Whoever came up with this totally rocks!

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RNC, Part 3: I was astonished to hear Heart’s “Barracuda” being played during the end-of-convention aerial balloon bombardment – for two reasons:

1. I knew Heart would never, ever give permission for this bunch to use their music.
2. The lyrics accompanying shots of the candidates and their voluminous families were not exactly flattering, and I couldn’t figure out why this music was even being used – didn’t anyone listen to the song before choosing it? In fact I found a lot of the music played during the RNC to be rather mystifying.

I immediately went to my computer and discovered that Palin’s sports nickname was Barracuda. And that Ann and Nancy Wilson had, before the convention, issued a cease and desist order to the Republicans to stop using their song – and after the RNC continued to use it, they released the following statement:

“Sarah Palin’s views and values in NO WAY represent us as American women. We ask that our song ‘Barracuda’ no longer be used to promote her image. The song ‘Barracuda’ was written in the late 70s as a scathing rant against the soulless, corporate nature of the music business, particularly for women. (The ‘barracuda’ represented the business.) While Heart did not and would not authorize the use of their song at the RNC, there’s irony in Republican strategists’ choice to make use of it there.”

and a few other choice words….

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RNC, Part 4: Oh, and one more thing: Hurricane Gustav provided just the excuse Bush and Cheney needed to stay away from the RNC. So Bush addressed the convention from the White House, making a clearly partisan political speech in support of a campaign candidate. Isn’t it against the law to use the White House for political campaigning? I’m not hearing any commentators talk about this, but I’m sure I saw something about it on The West Wing.

Best line of the Democratic National Convention, delivered by Barney Smith, a blue collar worker in a red and white checked shirt sporting a small blue Obama button, in front of 84,000 people at Invesco Field, and 38 million watching on TV. Appearing unaccustomed to public speaking, Smith spoke plainly about growing up in the heartland, following in his father’s footsteps – raising a family and working a good manufacturing job at an RCA plant – until his job was outsourced in 2004, and he got 90 days severance pay after working there for 31 years… followed by 13 months of unemployment:

“For most of my life I was a proud Republican – but not any more…. The Republicans talk about putting country first, but tell that to Marion, Indiana. They sent my job overseas. America can’t stand more of the same.

“We need a President who puts Barney Smith before Smith Barney!”

– Barney Smith, 28 August 2008 – Democratic Convention, Denver, Colorado

Or: The Green, Green Groceries of Home

So Wednesday night I’m chillin’, watching Countdown with Keith Olbermann, and, as per usual, Keith is talking about John McCain’s latest gaffe, and all of a sudden, he says: “In front of the cheese case at the King’s Supermarket at the Westgate Mall in Bethlehem, Pa, the Senator tried to clear up any confusion….” etc. etc. And I sit bolt upright, look at the screen, and sure enough, there’s McCain in the local supermarket right near my parents’ house!

This is the grocery store I drag my father to any time I need ice cream or potato chips or seltzer or whatever else I’m craving that my parents don’t tend to keep in the house. I know this store and the Westgate Mall pretty well. It’s barely a mall by today’s standards, just a little strip mall. The supermarket is not that super either, it just happens to be the closest one. When I go with my stepmom to do a real grocery shopping, we always hit the Wegmans that’s a lot bigger and much better, but a little farther away. Though it’s not exactly small, King’s is much more of a Bethlehem small-town grocery store, while Wegman’s is a megastore that makes its own sushi, espresso and focaccia inhouse – not the kind of store I grew up with, or ever expect to see when I visit Bethlehem, though it’s been open for several years now.

I still remember Schoenen’s, the little grocery store I went to with my mom a thousand times – a family business, much smaller and humbler – off the main streets in a little neighborhood on the way to my high school. I remember its little parking lot – maybe 20 spaces – along the side of the store, and the big church and associated church school across the street on two sides of the store. I never knew anyone who went to that church, and its little plaid-skirted students always looked very foreign to me; but my mom always ran into people she knew at Schoenen’s, and always chatted with them – sometimes a little longer than I would have liked. That’s probably why I remember the outside of the store better than the inside, because that’s usually where I was while she was chatting. She was friendly like that.

Schoenen’s is probably long gone now. Since my mom passed away, and my dad remarried and moved with the family to a new home or two, this King’s store has been my parents’ neighborhood grocery for many years. And seeing this little bit of home on the national news really got me. The same thing happens when I see the inevitable footage of Syracuse snow every winter on the news, or deco hotels I recognize from around town on old episodes of Miami Vice, and most especially when I see footage of New Orleans. I remember after Katrina seeing a particularly wrenching photo of the devastated St. Roch Market – I always used to drive crosstown to buy crawfish there – theirs was the best!

What is it about the places we’ve lived that even a glimpse of a grocery store there can so stir these feelings of yearning, longing and general tugging at the heart? I don’t have any brilliant or profound insights here, I’m just noticing how much these little sightings affect me, and wondering…. No doubt others have written voluminously on this subject, so maybe I’ll just read some of what’s already been written, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel here.

Anyway, back to Bethlehem: I’m sure anyone who watched the news at all this week saw McCain in front of the cheese, and I must admit there was a certain amount of snarkiness among the media towards the cheese. And I must also admit that I felt a certain amount of defensiveness on behalf of my hometown cheese. What did the cheese do? Did anyone ask the cheese if it wanted to be on the national news? I don’t think so! It was just an innocent bystander!

Days later, everyone in the media is still talking about McCain and the cheese, for example this from Olbermann last night:

“Rule #1: Always stay away from the cheese.”

I emailed my father to let my folks know about their grocery store’s fifteen minutes of fame, and he wrote back:

“Yes, I was at Weiss-Kings and the secret service arrested me because they heard me say I am voting for Al Obama. Could U send 25K for my bail? Otherwise everything is OK.”

My father has also determined that Obama is actually Irish: i.e. O’Bama.

While McCain has been touring a variety of food-related establishments this week, Obama has – well, if you’re breathing, you know where he’s been this week. But in all the coverage, I haven’t heard anyone mention how cute Obama looked in a yarmulke. (Is there a rhyme in there? Obama’s Yarmulke? Maybe Adam Sandler will write a song.) (Yeah, I know, cheesy).

So thanks Keith, for being the only commentator to be so specific about the location of the cheese, and making the campaign just a little more personal for me.
 

The Campaign Gets Personal – Episode 2

Here’s the first significant thing I’ve seen on Saturday Night Live in quite a while:

Tina Fey’s Bitch Manifesto – i.e. her commentary on Hillary Clinton during the Women’s News segment of Weekend Update, delivered while Tina hosted the show on February 23, 2008.

Here’s the heart of it:

Tina: Maybe what bothers me the most is that people say that Hillary is a bitch. Let me say something about that: Yeah! She is! And so am I! And so is this one! (indicating Amy Poehler)
Amy: Yeah, deal with it!
Tina: You know what? Bitches get stuff done. That’s why Catholic schools use nuns as teachers and not priests. Those nuns are mean old clans, and they sleep on cots, and they’re allowed to hit you. And at the end of the school year you hated those bitches. But you knew the capitol of Vermont. Well I’m saying: It’s not too late, Texas and Ohio, get on board! Bitch is the new Black!

You can see this shining moment again this Saturday, June 21, when the show is rebroadcast, or no doubt on YouTube. It was good to see Tina Fey on SNL again – the show’s writing has really deteriorated again since she departed for 30 Rock, leaving her Head Writer duties in less capable hands.

In case you’re not familiar with the original BITCH Manifesto, it’s a brilliant piece of feminist scholarship written by Joreen (aka Jo Freeman) in 1968.

Its central theme is that women are labelled negatively, and called names like Bitch when we are assertive, ambitious, strong, outspoken, persistent, and other qualities and actions which, when men exhibit them, are called assertive, strong, honest, brave etc. In the decades since The BITCH Manifesto was first published, this analysis has become widespread and commonly understood, but at the time it was revolutionary – and just the validation I needed to understand and feel better about myself as a generally strong, assertive, outspoken woman. I first read The BITCH Manifesto in the early 1970’s, and it had a HUGE impact on me. I have explained its thesis to others, and utilized its insight and analysis myself countless times since then.

So it was great to see Tina Fey applying this foundational feminist wisdom to the sexism we saw still alive (if not well) during Hillary Clinton’s very bitchy – I mean incredibly strong – presidential run.

And although Hillary was not my first choice among the Democratic candidates (and neither was Barack), since she left the race, I have really missed hearing a strong woman’s voice in the Presidential election campaign….

I find it comforting to remember that Hillary was by far not the first, and will surely not be the last woman to run for President. If you want to feel more encouraged that a woman WILL be President someday, here’s another great article by Jo Freeman: The Women Who Ran For President

Great Words from Great Wordsmiths

“I am the strings, and the Supreme is the musician.” - Carlos Santana

“What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner.” - Collette

“I have spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument, while the song I came to sing remains unsung.” - Rabindranath Tagore

“A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” - Maya Angelou
December 2017
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