Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Getting sentimental….compliments of Sinatra and Mark Steyn

Never thought I'd fall but now I hear the call
I'm getting sentimental over you….
Things you say and do just thrill me through and through
I'm getting sentimental over you….
As you well know, Side’s most prominent characteristic, aside from the flat spot at the top of his head, is a somewhat dogged, cantankerous attitude about a whole lot of things.  It’s why certain Town Councilors of your referred to us…to our face….as “Mr. Grumpy.”  So be it; a merit badge of sorts.

But there are other less prominent aspects you probably aren’t aware of; hopefully you will be after we publish this little missive.

For one thing, we have become increasingly aware of a sentimental streak that lurks inside us.  It can pop up at the strangest times.  We suspect that advancing age has a way of expanding and refining this trait.

Next, we consider ourselves patriotic in way that term used to mean.  It was once a completely inoffensive term, but the grand cultural revolution of the last 20 years or so has rendered it somewhat passe’, offensive, and even an embarrassment in many settings.
We well remember the frequent parades of our younger days – Memorial Day, Independence Day, and even the annual Firemen’s Parade.  I can remember decorating the spokes on our bikes with red, white, and blue crepe paper so we could ride in the bike section in those parades….and proudly so.

We still choke up at all sorts of events that evoke a sense of patriotism and National pride.  Precision military flyovers at major events; watching the Marine Corps Silent Drill Team; seeing our grandson in his West Point Cadet finery; and occasions that honor our heroes….living and dead…such as the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Both Side and Mrs. Side are devoted fans of Frank Sinatra.  We recall becoming so in our High School years, when the jukebox at our favorite “luncheonette” had a number of Sinatra tunes available for a nickel each.  Somewhere during that phase, I had my first serious “crush,” and I loved playing Frank’s “You Make Me Feel So Young,” ironic as that sounds for a teenager.  Would you believe that to this day I can pretty much recall all the words of that song?

Somewhere in this time frame, I became aware of a radio personality called William B. Williams at WNEW in New York City.  He had a fabulous radio voice, and his show was all Sinatra, and he knew Frank’s library like the back of his hand.  He coined the term “Chairman of the Board” to honor Sinatra, and he was instrumental in reconstructing his fan base.  It was glorious to listen to that show.

In the mid-60’s (best we can recall) and subsequent years, after the Sides were wed, Sinatra began his comeback on TV in a series of well-done specials and a brief series of his own, and the name “Old Blue Eyes” came into being and stuck to him.  We became devoted fans and collected most all of his best LP Records.  Today, we have most in digital form, including on a USB drive so we can listed to them in our vehicles.

It just so happens that we recently read a book called “Why Sinatra Matters,” which is semi-biographical quick read by Pete Hamill.  Frank was born 27 years before Side, but he grew up no more than 10 miles from where we did in New Jersey, just across the river from Manhattan.  As I read it, I was amazed by how many details of his early growing up were similar to those I heard about from my parents; the culture, the political machines, just the feel of life in that area.

Along the way in this long journey, Side became a devoted fan of “The Great American Songbook.”  Tunes like “Call Me Irresponsible,” and lesser known standards like “The Folks Who Live On The Hill” and “A Blossom Fell,” both of which Diana Krall interprets superbly.

This decades long love for this music made me regret that I had never learned to play the piano that sat in our living room in my growing up years.  It also got me to read about the composers and lyricists of the golden sonwriting age, and to this day I long to be able to write just one song that is as “smart,” creative, stunningly beautiful, and eminently singable.  So many of them pop up as “earworms” for me fairly regularly.

Last of the interests we want to tell you about today is our appreciation of Mark Steyn.  He is an author, radio and TV personality, and wouldn’t you just know it, a scholar of the American Song Book.  He is witty, urbane, articulate, funny, and does it all with one of those marvelous british accents.

He also has a web page, and sends out weekly missives on things that interest him enough to expound on.  And there in lies the item that unites all of the foregoing into what we hope is a coherent wrap up that you will enjoy.

A few days ago, we received this e-blast from Mr. Steyn.  As you can see, it centers around “The House I Live In,” especially as sung by Sinatra.  The words “What is American to me?” are repeated throughout the song.

The entire message is very long, so we are going to edit it down.  At the very least, we hope you take the time to view the two items referenced below.  Each is a Sinatra performance, the first in his early, young days, the second in his more mature, more perfected performing days.

The House I Live In
Steyn's Song of the Week

by Earl Robinson and Lewis Allan
July 5, 2020
On our Independence Day edition of The Mark Steyn Show you'll hear "America the Beautiful", "My Country, 'Tis of Thee", "You're a Grand Old Flag", and other songs that celebrate love of country. Which is just as well, because, on this strangest of Fourths, patriotic songs seem to have joined other once universal phenomena, such as freedom of speech, in the suddenly partisan category. And don't get the lefties started on being "proud to be an American"...
So I thought, in the interests of forming a more perfect union this weekend, I'd rustle up a patriotic song by a man of the left - even though it became most closely identified with a man, at least in his latter decades, of the right. Frank Sinatra sang all the familiar patriotic songs at some point or other over the years but without, it seems to me, really connecting with them: His versions of "America The Beautiful", for example, are perfectly fine, but without finding a way, as he does with his best recordings, to take the material to the next level. His attempts to bend the notes on "amber waves of grain" suggest a man trying to find a way to make the line come alive for him and not quite succeeding. Yet there is one song about America that Sinatra prized above all others: He sang it on screen, on stage, to at least three presidents, and to the Statue of Liberty. And he sang it for not quite half-a-century - for 49 years and some months, all the way to the end. In fact, it's the last track of the last studio album of Frank Sinatra's 55-year recording career. And through all those decades it begins, always, with a question:
What is America to me?
A name, a map, a flag I see
A certain word - democracy!
What is America to me?
The story begins with Frank on stage - not at the Paramount or any other theatre, but at a high-school auditorium in the Bronx. It's 1944, and George Evans, Sinatra's press agent, has been trying to promote his client as more than just a pop singer. The Hearst papers in particular have got it in for Frank, and Evans figures the way to counter that is to present Sinatra as something beyond mere showbiz. So he calls up a friend who happens to be a school principal and books Frank to give a talk to the l'il tykes on juvenile delinquency. Today, celebrity activists are a dime a dozen - Leonardo di Caprio on the environment, George Clooney on everything - but not seventy-five years ago. Sinatra thinks it's a dumb idea and that he's not qualified to give lectures to high-school students. But he goes along to the Bronx, and the story winds up on the front page of The Daily News, with a big picture of Frank talking to the pupils. So Evans puts together some more schoolhouse appearances across the country, and it gradually begins to dawn on Sinatra that there's a real rapport between him and these kids.
Editor’s Note:  We’re going to cut it short here because the total piece is astonishingly long.  Those who want to take in the full measure of the treatment can go here to access it:
Here’s the first item to watch.  Sinatra is 30 years old; the piece is loaded with images and words politically incorrect for this day and age.  Enjoy.
And now the second one, with Sinatra in the latter phases of his career, nearly 60, with a voice richer with age and experience:
This one can evoke in us the sentiments described in the narrative above.
The closing paragraphs of the Steyn piece read as follows:
For that movie of many, many years ago, the first arrangement was by Axel Stordahl, of course. At Capitol in 1957, he asked Nelson Riddle for a new chart. And for a 1976 bicentennial gala at the Jefferson Memorial Don Costa remodeled "The House" for the version that would stay with Frank all the way to the Sands in Atlantic City. But, through all those various versions, one thing never changed:
The church, the school, the club house, the million lights I see
But especially the people...
At that point the orchestra would swell with a musical quotation from "America The Beautiful", and then back to Sinatra:
...yes, especially the people, that's America to me!
I think he meant that. He liked purple-mountain majesties and fruited plains as much as the next chap, but he was never in doubt as to his response to that question he posed at the beginning:
What is America to me?
Across 49 years, his answer stayed the same: Frank Sinatra believed a great nation was its people.
Today the people tear down their own history and vandalize their national inheritance to the approval and enthusiasm of the media, the political class and the corporations. "The house I live in" is falling to the ground.
We read those closing words from Steyn with sadness.  We know that this song would never be played anywhere with public reach in this age.  It would trigger and oppress and otherwise stimulate all sorts of bizarre anti-social behavior.  Anything but what it was meant to do.

And if Side was playing it, we’d be ridiculed, denigrated, and worse; dismissed as a senile old doofus who would be better off dead.
Soon enough; soon enough, we suppose.

Victor Davis Hanson on University Obsolescence

We don't know how many of you are familiar with the work and writing of Victor Davis Hanson, who is widely published nationally, and has a sterling resume in research and teaching positions.  He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Foundation at Stanford University.

He is what we think of as a "scholar," a man with deep knowledge of the subjects he addresses, and the related historical evolutions.  He is a rigorous thinker with an analytical mind, and the ability to communicate his thoughts with impact and clarity.  We are, frankly, jealous as can be of his intellectual abilities.

We offer this piece with our strongest recommendation.  We particularly recommend you think about Brunswick's own Bowdoin College as you read it.  Especially as it relates to guaranteeing student loans and paying their fair share of property taxes.  We expect a rapid increase in public examination of the role our colleges and universities are playing in the cultural chaos now being visited upon us, and the utter lack of critical thinking it reveals.  It is clear to those who read and study on such matters that academia is at the very heart of the radical activism taking place everywhere, and the consequences for public and private property and the safety and futures of us all.


Universities Sowing the Seeds of Their Own Obsolescence

The media blitz during these last several weeks revealed a generation that is poorly educated and yet petulant and self-assured without justification.


July 2, 2020

(emphasis added)

When mobs tore down a statue of Ulysses S. Grant and defaced a monument to African-American veterans of the Civil War, many people wondered whether the protesters had ever learned anything in high school or college.

Did any of these iconoclasts know the difference between Grant and Robert E. Lee? Could they recognize the name “Gettysburg”? Could they even identify the decade in which the Civil War was fought?

Universities are certainly teaching our youth to be confident, loud, and self-righteous. But the media blitz during these last several weeks of protests, riots, and looting also revealed a generation that is poorly educated and yet petulant and self-assured without justification.

Many of the young people on the televised front lines of the protests are in their 20s. But most appear juvenile, at least in comparison to their grandparents — survivors of the Great Depression and World War II.

How can so many so sheltered and prolonged adolescents claim to be all-knowing?

Ask questions like these, and the answers ultimately lead back to the university.

Millions of those who graduate from college or drop out do so in arrears. There is some $1.5 trillion in aggregate student debt in the U.S. Such burdens sometimes delay marriage. They discourage child-rearing. They make home ownership hard — along with all the other experiences we associate with the transition to adulthood.

The universities, some with multibillion-dollar endowments, will accept no moral responsibility. They are not overly worried that many of their indebted graduates discover their majors don’t translate into well-paid jobs or guarantee employers that grads can write, speak, or think cogently.

One unintended consequence of the chaotic response to the COVID-19 epidemic and the violence that followed the police killing of George Floyd is a growing re-examination of the circumstances that birthed the mass protests.

There would be far less college debt if higher education, rather than the federal government, guaranteed its own students’ loans. If universities backed loans with their endowments and infrastructure, college presidents could be slashing costs. They would ensure that graduates were more likely to get good-paying jobs thanks to rigorous coursework and faculty accountability.

Taxpayers who are hectored about their supposed racism, homophobia, and sexism don’t enjoy such finger-wagging from loud, sheltered, 20-something moralists.

Perhaps taxpayers will no longer have to subsidize the abuse if higher education is deemed to be a politicized institution and thus its endowment income ruled to be fully taxable.

If socialism has become a campus creed, maybe Ivy League schools can be hit with an annual “wealth tax” on their massive endowments in order to redistribute revenue to poorer colleges.

It is hard to square the circle of angry graduates having no jobs with their unaccountable professors who so poorly trained students while enjoying lifelong tenure. Why does academia guarantee lifetime employment to those who cannot guarantee that a graduate gets a decent job?

The epidemic and lockdown required distance learning, but at full price. The idea that universities can still charge regular rates when students are forced to stay home is not just an unsustainable practice, but veritable suicide. If one can supposedly learn well enough from downloads, Zoom talks, and Skype lectures, then why pay $50,000 or more for that service from your basement?

Universities are renaming buildings and encouraging statue removal and cancel culture. But they assume they will always have a red line to the frenzied trajectory of the mob they helped birth. If the slaveholder and the robber baron from the distant past deserve no statue, no eponymous hallway or plaza, then why should the names Yale and Stanford be exempt from the frenzied name-changing and iconoclasm? Are they seen as billion-dollar brands, akin to Windex or Coke, that stamp their investor students as elite “winners”?

The current chaos has posed existential questions of fairness and transparency that the university cannot answer because to do so would reveal utter hypocrisy.

Instead, the university’s defense has been to virtue-signal left-wing social activism to hide or protect its traditional self-interested mode of profitable business for everyone — staff, faculty, administration, contractors — except the students who borrow to pay for a lot of it.

How strange that higher education’s monotonous embrace of virtue signaling, political proselytizing, and loud social-justice activism is now sowing the seeds of its own obsolescence and replacement.

If being “woke” means that the broke and unemployed are graduating to ignorantly smashing statues, denying free speech to others, and institutionalizing cancel culture, then the public would rather pass on what spawned all of that in the first place.

Taxpayers do not yet know what to replace the university with — wholly online courses and lectures, apolitical new campuses, or broad-based vocational education — only that a once hallowed institution is becoming McCarthyite, malignant, and, in the end, just a bad deal.

“No one is above the law”– except Pelosi and the rest

On Tuesday, 7 July, the Portland Press Herald ran a Maine Voices column of ours, as shown in this screen capture.

The entire item can be found here:

Please be sure to read the comments at the very bottom of the web page.  They always add insight to the public’s views on the subject at hand.

Should you choose not to read the entire column, here are the closing paragraphs, or as we sometimes say, “the takeaways.”
The facts are irrefutable. When senators and representatives say “no one is above the law,” they are lying unashamedly, and even worse, blatantly disrespecting us as they do. They seem convinced we are too dumb to know any better, and too wobbly to challenge them if we did.
For those who remind us that “we are a nation of laws,” notice they never mention that some of those laws protect them from charges of lying, and that all laws are selectively applied. So the platitude, while a lovely thought, embodies no hazard for them, and scarce comfort for us.