Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Friday, April 23, 2010

We, The Peeps

They’re such simple words. How could anyone mistake them? “We the People of the United States.”

Not We the Politicians. Not We the Media. Not We the Poor, or the Rich, or the White, or the Black, for that matter. Certainly, not We the Illegal Immigrants. Or We the Mexicans, Mauritanians, or Macedonians. Or We the Islamic Terrorists.

Maybe the words are just too simple. Maybe that’s why they can’t figure out who the Tea Party People are. The Liberal Media is scouting around for people in aluminum foil hats. They think Tea Partiers are scoundrels swathed in white sheets carrying iron cross flags.

It’s taken them a year – a full year – to realize we’re the mild-mannered, casually-dressed, everyday working people carrying home-made signs. We’re not here to overthrow the government. We’re here to rescue a government that’s been overthrown.

They still haven’t gotten that last message. They figure since they took over, by buying votes, that they’re legitimate. Their propaganda machine will bear witness to their victory and their loaded court system will exonerate them.

Every day this week, the Bergen Record has run articles pleading the case for New Jersey teachers. Today’s photo showed a snarling teacher next to a sign that reads, “Respect Teachers.” How did such an ironic photo get past The Record’s editors.

Meanwhile, I don’t recall seeing anything about The Hackensack Tea Party in the paper’s columns the next day. On page 8, they ran a brief story about the Tea Party in Washington. But nothing about the Tea Party going on in The Record’s own city.

The New Jersey papers were full of stories about the travails of the poor Morristown Tea Party, though.

Oh, Morristown had great attendance, though not quite as high as last year. These stories were all about who was the real “leader” of the Morristown Tea Party.

There are actually two Morristown Tea Parties, with slightly different names. The leader of the one group sued the leader of the other, as well as the former secretary of the group and another person.

Well, we won’t go into the nasty details, lest the leader should decide to sue this blog as well.

The point is, when the group was still one, whole, albeit ad hoc, organization, they were told that the most important people to consider were not the politicians, or the media, or even the people who organized the Morristown Tea Party.

The most important people were – The People.

The conservative people, not to put too fine a point on it, who’d been backed into the northwest corner of their tiny state. The reason these Tea Parties were so vital to New Jerseyans was that they’d all but given up on the notion that their voices were being heard.

The loss of the 2008 election proved them all too right. New Jersey’s conservatives have felt isolated. They didn’t know who else was out there who thought and felt and voted like them. Nobody’s listening to them.

The Tea Parties were their chance to make themselves heard. The rallies could give them hope in a hopeless state. Hopelessly corrupt. Hopelessly taxed. Hopelessly outnumbered. This was their last chance. With another wave of welfare-wallowing immigrants, they’d be finished.

Yes, it was important to target the politicians, particularly the Republicans, upon whom New Jersey conservatives placed their meager hopes. But in an already left-leaning state, left-leaning moderates hold the sway. Unless conservatives can stand up for their principles, they may as well move.

It was time for the conservatives to come out of the shadows, fighting. They had nothing to lose. The Tea Parties were about them and for them. The Tea Parties are about them and for them now.

Political sages say that we should abandon the rallies and focus on political campaigns. They claim that the rallies are a waste of time and money, that could be better spent getting candidates elected.

However, the rallies are the most visible asset of the Tea Party movement. Will the Media mock its participants? Certainly. They gnash their teeth daily over our activities. They sit at their terminals, trying to permeate the Tea Partiers’ armor of resolve.

They vow to attack us in the blogs, on the radio, in the chat rooms.

The so-called leaders of the movement quail at such threats. They would have us go underground, work in secret, out of the light of day, where, not being easily seen, we can’t be vilified, insulted, and lied to.

In short, they want us to go back to business as usual. To being The Sheeple, instead of The People.

One Tea Party leader said that if there wasn’t some forward-moving action for the people to take, they’d “moan and groan and go home.”

Very true. And no one is saying that after the Rallies the Tea Partiers should go back home to skulk.

The rallies are a good start, but we do need to elect responsible representatives. There are many avenues of campaigning that activists can travel, some tried-and-true, others high-tech, on the internet, on Facebook and especially You Tube.

Whatever the campaign workers do, the politicians must ultimately remember that this race is all about the people, not them. The rallies are the best reminder of that as we rebuild our country.

We’re just saying that as we rebuild the house, don’t destroy the foundation.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


All day yesterday, people were talking about not dating themselves, as in not making themselves sound old by referring to outdated movies or music.

A musician, scolded for dating himself, replied, “I’m lucky to be old enough to date myself, and I intend to go right on dating myself!”

I’d love to be able to say that I’m from the class of 1954, that I was born under President Ronald Reagan, that You’re A Grand Old Flag was at the Top of the Hit Parade, and that The Sound of Music was playing in the theaters when I was born.

But alas, it’s not so. Some Like It Hot was the top movie. The Sound of Music opened on Broadway, not at the box office. I prefer the No. 2 song of the year to the No. 1 song. No. 3 was kind of neat. Some of the others in the Top Ten I’ve never even heard.

Gunsmoke was the most-watched television show. Mary Ann Mobley was crowned Miss America. Charlton Heston took the Oscar for Best Actor in Ben-Hur. Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th states, respectively.

A book I never heard of or read – The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters (about a boy who travels with his father by wagon train to California) – won the Pulitzer for Fiction, and a play I never heard of or saw – “J.B.” by Archibald MacLeish - won the Pulitzer for Drama (a modern-day version of the biblical tale of Job).

When I was six months old, ala Jaimie McPheeters, we moved by station wagon to California. Once out there, my mother didn’t curse God but she certainly cursed her in-laws and the confoundedly constant, beautiful weather of Southern California.

Within two years, we returned to the East Coast, where my mother could once again enjoy the change of seasons. I grew up with the typical school-kid notions of the Sixties, that the world was this global village where everyone shared everything.

Only one teacher ever had the courage to teach the students the realities of life. No reality is more apparent than my birthday present this year – a triangle.

All through high school and college, the schools had a plentiful supply of percussion instruments. The first adult community band I joined, being so old, had every percussion instrument imaginable. The church band I next joined not only had every instrument, but usually of the best quality.

Then I got out into the real musical world.

We joined a band with a professional conductor. Now, my musical friends didn’t have to worry because they already had their personal instruments. As a percussionist, I suddenly found myself having to purchase assorted mallets I’d always taken for granted everywhere else.

Not only that, but I discovered possessing my own triangle was now de rigeur. There’s no such thing as “sharing” or “borrowing” in a professional percussion section. If you don’t have your own triangle, you’re out of luck.

A hard lesson, but one that young students of today should note. This is a do-it-yourself, do-it-for-yourself world. That’s the way the world should be. Self-reliance is the mandate, especially if you’re a percussionist.

You’ve got to make it on your own, on your own steam. People shouldn’t be doing everything for you. Your mother isn’t going to be there to cut your meat for you. Your father isn’t going to be there when you fall down roller-skating and scrape your knee.

The other percussionists aren’t going to lend you their triangles. Get used to it. Grow up.

Get your own triangle.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Obama, Unbound

“I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper.” [Introduction to Frankenstein]

The year of 1816 was known as The Year Without A Summer. The previous year, in April 1815, Mount Tambora, in Sumbawa, Indonesia, erupted. An estimated 92,000 people perished either directly or indirectly from the effects.

Average global temperatures decreased enough to cause significant agricultural problems around the world. In May 1816, an unusual frost killed off all the crops in the Northeastern United States and Canada. An incessant rain destroyed the harvests in England and northern Europe. Snowstorms occurred in June. Nearly a foot of snow fell in Quebec City.

A persistent dry fog was visible in the Northeastern U.S. In China, the cold weather killed trees, rice crops and even water buffalo, especially in northern China. Floods destroyed many remaining crops.

Mount Tambora’s eruption disrupted China’s monsoon season, resulting in overwhelming floods in the Yangtze Valley in 1816. In India the delayed summer monsoon caused late torrential rains that aggravated the spread of cholera from a region near the River Ganges in Bengal to as far as Moscow.

In the ensuing bitter winter of 1817, when the thermometer dropped to minus 26°F, New York's Upper Bay froze deeply enough for horse-drawn sleighs to be driven from Brooklyn to Governors Island.

The ruination of crops sent many Northeastern farmers westward, precipitating the great Westward Movement. The famine was said to have inspired the beginnings of the invention of the bicycle, the Mormon Church, and the introduction of mineral fertilizers.

In Switzerland, an ice dam formed below a glacier in 1818. The ice dam collapsed, catastrophically. Two years before, Mary Shelley and friends were visiting with poet Lord Byron at his home in Switzerland. The continually rainy weather forced them to stay indoors.

To amuse themselves, they held a writing contest. The result was “Frankenstein.”
Mount Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland has not had any effect, so far, on agriculture. But it’s wreaking havoc with airline travel. Iceland’s Mid-Atlantic volcanoes do not rest quietly.

The last eruption was in 2004, with Mount Grimsvotn – Iceland’s most active volcano.
In 1783, Grimsvotn produced the most effusive eruption in a millenia. Accompanied by enormous amounts of sulphur dioxide and fluoride gas, the eruption caused wide-spread crop damage, killed a large number of livestock and caused a severe famine on Iceland.

As a result, one fifth of Iceland's population was killed.

Some consequences of the eruption were felt in other parts of the world. Volcanic fog (the gas cloud from the eruption) drifted over Europe and parts of Asia, altering summer temperatures. This was the first eruption that led scientists to speculate that volcanoes can impact the world's climate.

Did Grimsvotn wake up Eyjafjallajokull, subsequently activating other Icelandic volcanoes? Scientists are worried.

A few years after Grimsvotn erupted in 1783, the newly-formed United States began the process of laying out its laws in a constitution. Various attempts at ending slavery failed.

The eruption of Mount Tambora inspired a generation of writers including Shelley, Byron, and Bronte, who saw the world through a haze of frost.

What will the eruptions of Grimsvotn and Eyjafjallajokull herald? Since 2004, we have witnessed a sudden frost upon America’s freedom of speech and a meltdown of our economy.

Air travel has been seriously disrupted, stranding travelers in foreign lands and crippling the already-struggling airline and tourism industries.

Like Dr. Frankenstein, Obama has fashioned a hideous monster of an economic strategy, trying to strike the spirit of prosperity into limp, lifeless limbs like Medicare and the Stimulus packages.

He has stolen the fire of capitalism and freedom to transmogrify them into a creation of his own fashioning, unearthly, unnatural, and uncontrollable. This monster he has unleashed onto an innocent, unsuspecting world.

Without the divine spark of genuine creation, will this monster, seemingly beneficent, turn on us, devouring our economy and ultimately destroying our great nation? Some recognized this creature for what it is; others have yet to recognize its dangerous nature.

Obama and his assistants have expended an enormous amount of time, and our money, convincing us of the horrors of not having health insurance. Yet, he has not a produced evidence of a single body. Habeas corpus.

He shrouded the creation of this fiend in secrecy. Congress released this thing – a 2,000-page bureaucratic monstrosity – only days before it was to be signed into law. We were assured we’d find out what it said later.

Too late for rectification.

Like Frankenstein’s monster, Obama repeatedly lays the blame for all our country’s financial woes on his predecessor, when history clearly points to the Democrat party and their visions of social justice and redistribution of wealth, a philosophy created shortly after Mary Shelley’s fictitious monster was born.

At the end of the novel, of a friend of Dr. Frankenstein's confronts the monster, who has tormented his creator literally to death.

“…you come here,” he charges, “to whine over the desolation that you have made. You throw a torch into a pile of buildings, and when they are consumed, you sit among the ruins and lament the fall.”

And in Obama’s case, to raise another fiend, Phoenix-like, out of the ashes.

Monday, April 19, 2010

'Let the Little People Owe'

What an age we live in! What an age, when we have to fear to use an ordinary word because filthy minds have perverted it. In this case, readers (just to assure you), the word I'm about to use - “blow” - is only in the sense of playing a horn, an instrument.

In this case, the following sentence is from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Frodo has fled the Shire, leaving a friend behind in his house to cover his escape. The bad guys break in and the friend runs for it to the nearest neighbor.

The hobbits sound the alarm, blowing horns and crying, “Awake! Awake! Awake! Fear! Fire! Foes! Awake!”

The bad guys – the Ringwraiths – hear the horns. But their prey has escaped with the Ring of Power and they have to ride off to hunt him down.

“Let the Little People blow. Sauron will deal with them later,” the Riders sneer.

The Tea Parties – of which there were hundreds on April 15th – sounded their horns. They did it peacefully, passionately, and publicly. The protests were really more like rallies than protests, though the Tea Partiers are angry.

Not being content to let The People have their say, Obama had to go on television, before his own choir naturally, to sneer that he was “amused” by the protests and that the People should be “thanking” him for what he claims are tax cuts.

Not to be outdone, former President Clinton took to the limelight to warn about the “dangers” of such demonstrations. Kooks are waiting in the wings to take advantage of such opportunities to wreak mayhem and chaos on an unsuspecting public.

In short, the Tea Parties must be ‘dealt with.’

I don’t know whose taxes have been cut, but mine sure haven’t been cut. I paid a whole lot more in capital gains than I did the previous year, and this was a bad year in the stock market. Imagine what the taxes would have been in a profitable year.

My older brother’s taxes certainly weren’t reduced and neither were my mother’s. All my friends – their taxes rose, also.

So I don’t owe Mr. “Owe-bama” any thanks. (Thank goodness.)

The only thing I owe is taxes.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Singing Statues

How can a leading lady compete with singing, tap-dancing statues? Warbling portraits? Sibilant siblings? Side-kicking sidekicks? Lyrical soprano mothers? Quarrelsome barbershop quartets? Grecian urns? The Statue of Liberty?

And a script that leaves out one of your only chances at getting in your comedy licks?

It’s enough to strain your voice and make you think you don’t have what it takes to make it to Broadway.

Still, if you’re a 13 year-old leading lady, you should take a bow just for having the guts to take on the role of Marian, the Librarian in "The Music Man Junior" - minus the key library scene, “Marian, the Librarian.”

A colleague’s daughter was perfoming in a junior high version of the classic Broadway musical. She was in the chorus. When he mentioned it, there was a wince in his voice. He’d be viewing it three times.

He needn’t have winced, though. School musicals have come a long way in just a generation, thanks to Grease, Disney’s High School Musical, music videos, karaoke, and the I-Pod.

This is a generation that loves to sing. They practice, and sing along, and even critique one another. They faithfully watch American Idol and Dancing with the Stars. This is one “musical” generation.

I’ve gone to a number of school musical productions in my town, and for friends whose kids were in shows, and I’ve never been disappointed. It’s fun watching these risings stars give it their all, and to their credit, the teachers did a terrific job training them in the choreography and musical numbers.

School musical productions have come so far that the drama department can now purchase pre-packaged musicals, completely with background CDs and scripts written just for the kids, shortened and sanitized (where necessary).

This was just about as good a production as I’ve ever seen. I had a hard time believing I was watching 13 year-olds. Only after I saw them up close in the hall did I realize just how young they were.

The young man who played Prof. Harold Hill’s sidekick, Marcellus, had such an adult voice, I wondered if he wasn’t a ringer, an adult brought in to play the role. But his parents were seated right behind me, his baby sister in their lap, gurgling and babbling.

The choreography was perfect, the backdrops beautifully painted (they were borrowed from the high school next door). The kids were endowed with energy, talent, and stage presence.

If there was anything wrong, it was with the pre-packaged CD and script. The traveling salesman/piano lesson’s tempo was much too fast even for grown-ups, much less junior high school singers. “Marian” and “Mrs. Paroo” wound up stumbling over the lyrics.

Subsequently, poor “Marian” was left with that tempo for her ensuing dialogue and it took her awhile to mentally bring the tempo down again as she was delivering her lines.

The other problem was the aforementioned elimination of the “Marian, the Librarian” scene in the script. Without it, the audience is left with a poor understanding of Marian and the predicament in which she finds herself and the actress is robbed of her opportunity to get some laughs reacting to the chaos that follows in Prof. Harold Hill’s wake.

No doubt, the scriptwriters deleted the scene due to the chromatic challenges of the song. Adult instrumentalists, when faced with this number, have to brace themselves for it. The editing was probably an act of mercy to young singers.

But it does leave the besieged “Marian” flat (no pun intended). In the film, the scene perfectly illustrates what she’s up against: a serious, reserved, quiet, sensible character cast adrift in a sea of merry mayhem.

The library scene is her stage, her chance to stand out in this three-ring circus of eccentric characters – a dancing statue (in this production – a brilliant innovation; we didn’t realize it was a kid in statue make-up as “Miser Madison” until he jumped down at the end to sing and dance with the rest of the cast) and warbling portraits, hayseeds and gossips, bickering politicians and businessmen – with Harold Hill as the ringmaster.

Without it, she’s hopelessly upstaged, which is what happened in this production. Where our young actress had any chance – in the bridge scene and the scene with the traveling salesman – she was wonderful, quite possibly the sweetest, most charming Marian in the history of the production of The Music Man.

I found her outside in the lobby after the play was over. She was off to one side by the doors, on the outer rim of the jumble of other cast members, thrilled and proud (and legitimately so) with their performance. “Marian” was standing in a draft.

I only saw her mother and a young friend with her. I wondered if she’d been congratulated for just having the courage to take on the thankless role of “Marian”? Obviously, she’d encountered the same singing problems other young leading ladies have had.

Looking into her eyes, which were red, I could see she was aware of her difficulties and that she hadn’t received as much applause as the other cast members. Her mother cringed when I complimented her.

Nevertheless, I assured her I had enjoyed her performance. Her little face brightened. As she smiled, the braces glinted on her teeth.

“Did you really like it?” she asked wistfully. I laughed lightly and assured her she was “Broadway-bound.” What the future will bring depends on how she develops her talent, how much encouragement she receives, and how much faith she keeps in her abilities, a hard task for any young performer.

For this night, after working so hard and enduring so much upstaging, she deserved that much hope.

There was a lesson in this musical, too, for those of us adult taxpayers headed for the school election polls this Tuesday.

When it comes to the school budget, I’m right up there with the other taxpayers, parents and non-parents alike, as well as our governor. The teachers have to face the realities of the recession just like the rest of us. Times are hard and they’re going to have to share in it.

However, while I have no financial sympathy for them – in fact, quite a bit of contempt – I feel a little less severe towards them regarding the job they’re doing.

Conservatively, they need to teach more of the basics and a little less politics. They also need to refrain from using our children (I use the word “our”, although I’m childless) as pawns in the budgetary wars.

Still, I can’t blame them entirely for the lack of progress students are showing. Our teachers are “Marian, the Librarian,” trying to teach in a three-ring circus world filled with music videos, I-Pods, cell phones, with cable television serving as the ringmaster.

In addition to all that, there are the usual distractions of adolescence, raging hormones, peer pressure, drugs, broken homes, and in poorer communities, poverty, violence, and ignorance. All that’s missing are the dancing statues.

They must stand in front of the Music Generation and try to teach with a ruler, a piece of chalk, and a book in their hands. Good luck with that!

When it comes to finances, wrangle away! But when it comes to discussing education itself, ask yourself what you’re doing as a parent. Are you serving as a good role model? Do you read yourself? Do you read to your younger children?

Do you take them to the library? The museum? Do you discuss world affairs and history with them? Do they see you doing work at home (that is, homework)? Reading the newspaper? Do you check their homework assignments each night?

Are you involved in continuing education? Do you take courses?

Or do you just come home each night and flop in front of the television, content to be merely entertained?

Good education begins much earlier than you realize. Children are little copy machines. They’ll copy everything you do when they’re small. Make sure they’re copying from a good source.

Your children are your legacy to the future, statues which you must mould and place upon a secure pedestal. If you want your little statues to stand up for themselves and stand on their own two feet, you've got to teach them to sing, dance, and “quote Shakespeare and all them other, high-falutin’ Greeks”.

Without falling off the pedestal.