Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Lenten Wave #34

"Not only in faith, but also in works, God has given man freedom of the will." —St. Irenaeus

Monday, March 19, 2018

No, Our Life Choices Must Now Satisfy the Ideology of Others

Requiring equal gender representation in any field necessarily means removing some level of personal choice.
"Some level"?  Please, it's far better if the ultimate goal is every level. 

We Really are Living in 4th Century Rome

Apparently, celebrities are getting facials made from cloned baby foreskin cells

These are the people who want to tell me how to think and what words I may use.  Yeesh.

Lenten Wave #33

"Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries--stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region. Should you ever be athirst in the great American desert, try this experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical professor. Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded forever."  -Herman Melville

Saturday, March 17, 2018

An Obituary of Note

Makeshift memorials grow for surfing pastor Sumo Sato, as formal gatherings are being announced

Lenten Wave #31

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me. 
                                                                                                     - from The Lorica of St. Padraic

Fan Mail from a Philosopher

Debate is now largely impossible.
Most do not listen to arguments.
They listen for signals of shared affiliation.
If they get the right signals, they listen.
If they get the wrong signals, they object.
Argument without signaling is something they can't interpret at all.

Friday, March 16, 2018

I Mentioned It Was Barbaric

When entire countries lose an hour of sleep simultaneously, bad things happen.

Lenten Wave #30

...The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.  - from Ulysses, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Maria Tallchief

"If anything at all, perfection is not when there is nothing to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

I had never been in a penthouse before, let alone one on the upper east side of Manhattan.  I was a little in awe and remarkably aware of what a hillbilly I am, which made me a bit shy when speaking with the people gathered.  Also, as a large number of us were pressed into a concentrated space, I was trying not to tip over any of the japanned furnishings, crush my hand down on the whalebone carvings on the end tables, or lean against the antique harpsichord, which looked like a sneeze would reduce it to kindling.

This was complicated by my physical size as I'm 6'1" and 200 pounds, with an abnormal breadth of shoulder courtesy of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and the Scottish Coastal Rowing Club.  I found it best to be discreet and find a corner where I could stand, sip gently from the champagne I held in crystal stemware [that I was  afraid I'd crush if not careful] and observe my surroundings.

The occasion was a fund-raiser for a ballet society.  That meant the company was made up of squat men in expensive suits and tall women who were poised in casual elegance while wearing spectacular jewelry .  The men looked as clumsy as I felt, the women seemed to glide about the room without walking.  I reckoned, correctly it seems, that the men were mostly about money and the women mostly former ballerinas.  The one exception among the women was Margot Fonteyn who, despite being well into her sixties at this time, was dancing with Nureyev in some production of a fairy tale.  She was, of course, the guest of honor.

With me in the corner was another tall, graceful woman of about 60 years.  She, too, was observing the room and, although much more graceful than I, also seemed to be checking her motions.  I said something remarkably prosaic like, "It's close in here, isn't it?" and she responded, "I'm from the Midwest.  We have more room there, especially for parties."  Sensing a Midwestern compatriot, I was about to continue the conversation when a flamboyant munchkin, dressed all in black and sporting an overlong red scarf that imperiled the antiques even more than my shoulders, approached my corner-mate and, with an assault of air kisses, took her away from me.

It was a pity, although I didn't know it at the time, as I had been briefly in the company of America's greatest ballerina.

Elizabeth Maria Tall Chief, the name she was given at her birth in Oklahoma in 1925, was a member of the Osage Tribe.  Before anyone makes assumptions about limited educational opportunities, perpetual inebriation, and chronic poverty, the Osage of Oklahoma [rather like my own tribe, the Shawnee of Ohio] had assimilated into the majority culture so successfully that, after the discovery of oil in the Okie/Texas panhandle, they found themselves strongly embedded in the middle-class, with some tribe members even considered wealthy.  This meant that the common vexations of reservation life were avoided, mainly as they didn't live on a reservation.

Maria and her sister, Elizabeth, both showed a talent for dance at an early age, with Maria beginning to train by the age of three.  Recognizing that there were better dance instructors on the West Coast, not to mention the absence of a dust bowl, like a lot of Sooners of her generation, Tall Chief and her family moved to Los Angeles.  Once there, she happened, through a series of coincidences, to find herself in training with Ernest Belcher, one of Hollywood's great choreographers and the father of Marge Champion.  Although a London-trained ballet dancer, Belcher created the school that produced Shirley Temple, Cyd Charisse, and Fred Astaire.  With Tall Chief, he saw an opportunity to train someone for proper dance on a proper stage.

While she was taught a variety of dance forms at Belcher's, including tap, it was in the classical arts that she excelled.  Somewhat ostracized by her classmates due to her native background and appearance, when the family's oil money permitted them a move to Beverly Hills, Maria altered her last name to the less tribal "Tallchief"; it would be under this spelling that she would become famous.

An aside: During this era in Hollywood it was customary for those with strong ethnic names to Anglicize them.  For example, Bernie Schwartz became "Tony Curtis".  In ballet, it was often the practice for dancers to "Russo-ize" their names.  At one point, it was suggested that Tallchief change her name to Maria Tallchevsky.  She declined.

Tallchief would dance and dance, with Belcher eventually suggesting her to the pre-eminent West Coast ballet instructor, Bronislava Nijinska, for whom she was prepared to audition for the famous Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.  While she made some appearances in performances in California, and even danced in a movie or two, it was obvious that, for anyone serious about dance, she would have to move to New York City.  Shortly afterwards, in 1947, she was named the first prima ballerina of the New York City Ballet, a position she would hold for the next dozen years.

She was considerably aided in her art when she when George Balanchine, the artistic director of the NYCB and regarded as the "father of American ballet" saw her dance and realized that he had found his muse.  As his style required a broad sense of dance matched with a robust athleticism, Tallchief was the perfect medium for his artistic vision, often due to her eclectic training in Los Angeles.  While Tallchief and Balanchine would marry briefly, their artistic union would be of greater duration and effect, as Tallchief would dance as lead not only for the NYCB, but would tour Europe to popular acclaim, displaying to the world that America could also produce high art, albeit matched with the energy and enthusiasm of a young country in the American Century.  The high point of this stage of her career came when she danced the lead for the Paris Opera Ballet.

Of course, part of her appeal was that she was considered "exotic", and not just in New York.  The French press lauded her with headlines such as, "Peau Rouge danse a l'Opera" ["Redskin dances at the Opera"] and "La Fille du grand chef Indien danse a l'Opera" ["The daughter of the great Indian chief dances at the Opera"].  Something tells me that last one would have amused her father, the Beverly Hills-based oil company executive.  While a 21st century artist would have collapsed into a safe space after feeling micro-aggressed by such regard [think of what the Cleveland Indians' logo does to people who aren't from Cleveland and aren't, like my family, even Indian], Tallchief seems to have taken it in stride, appreciative of the recognition that she and her ballet company were receiving on the world stage.

In 1954, Balanchine re-worked an obscure, relatively un-popular ballet based on a children's tale and, with Tallchief dancing in the lead, transformed it into a classic that is still strongly associated with its particular season of the year.  Tallchief's performance as the "Sugar Plum Fairy" helped make The Nutcracker into the NYCB's most popular production, an annual treat for anyone visiting the city around Christmas, and the company's biggest money-maker by far.

After leaving the NYCB as prima in 1960, Tallchief would dance for a variety of ballet companies throughout the world in a remarkable breadth of performances.  She would become the world's highest paid dancer by the mid-1960's and, when Rudolph Nureyev defected from the Soviet Union and was to make his free world debut on television, he requested that his partner be Tallchief.  Such was her fame and her reputation.

Like any wise athlete who knows that the time to withdraw is before one's body begins its inevitable surrender of physicality, Tallchief retired from dancing in 1965, at the age of forty.  However, as those of us who are old enough know, when physicality surrenders, sagacity comes to the fore.  Using her reputation and considerable experience, Tallchief would serve as the soul of the Chicago Lyric Opera Ballet and as the founder of the Chicago City Ballet, passing on her knowledge to subsequent generations of eager dancers for the remaining 40+ years of her life.

There is no history of American dance, either in print or on film, that does not feature Tallchief, and there are few awards that she had not been presented.  Among the most prominent would be the National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement award.

At the age of 88, surrounded by family, Maria Tallchief surrendered her mortality.  As she once wrote in a reminiscence about her career, "Above all, I wanted to be appreciated as a prima ballerina who happened to be a Native American, never as someone who was an American Indian ballerina."  Nevertheless, she was and is the pride of the Osage and all assimilated Indians in the United States who know that, once we have touched a nation's common culture and brought to it our own style, we become an indelible part of it.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

I'm Not Sure This is News

Today’s men are not nearly as strong as their dads were, researchers say

I mean, have you seen some of them?

Lenten Wave #29

“Give me a spirit that on this life's rough sea
Loves to have his sails filled with a lusty wind,
Even till his sail-yards tremble, his masts crack,
And his rapt ship run on her side so low
That she drinks water, and her keel ploughs air” – George Chapman

From Plato to Today, Little has Changed

The Ignoble Lie: How the new aristocracy masks its privilege
We are in uncharted territory. Liberalism coexisted with Christianity for its entire history, with Christianity moderating the harder edges of the regnant political philosophy, supporting forms and practices that demanded from elites the recognition of their elevated status, and hence, corresponding responsibilities and duties to those less fortunate. The thoroughgoing disdain and dismissiveness of today’s elites toward the working class is a reflection of our newfound “enlightenment,” just as is the belief among the lower class that only a strong and equally disdainful leader can constrain the elites. Liberalism has achieved its goal of emptying the public square of the old gods, leaving it a harsh space of contestation among unequals who no longer see any commonality. Whether that square can be filled again with newly rendered stories of old telling us of a common origin and destination, or whether it must simply be dominated by whoever proves the strongest, is the test of our age.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Okay, Okay. Back to Work.

The act of editing is so dull and uninspiring that I'm renaming it "Stephen Hawking's Spirituality".  Too many syllables?

As with Most Academics, The Genius Had a Less Developed Understanding of God Than Does a 7-Year-Old

Stephen Hawking explored the universe: Were the mysteries of his heart newsworthy?

A Small Burst Bubble

Not to wreck any journalist's day, especially as they're hyperventilating about the "children's march on Washington", but it's not particularly tricky to convince high school students to skip school.

After the day is over, along with their usefulness to cynical adults, they will be re-deposited in a system that provides little to nothing in the way of true education.  Does the name Cindy Sheehan ring a bell?

Lenten Wave #28

“The wise man in the storm prays to God, not for safety from danger, but deliverance from fear” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Almost Not a Parody

Harvard Now Offering Four-Year Degree In Feeling Oppressed