Wednesday, February 28, 2007

How Now Low Dow?



Wish I could take credit for the great headline, but it's by Slate's Daniel Gross.

The piece is about Tuesday's sharp plunge in the markets.

Read the article here.

Could this gain the same notoriety of the Variety headline in 1935, Sticks Nix Hick Pix?

Viva assonance!

Not my cup of tea, but...

I would never dream of going to a place like Robert's Steak House on West 45th Street in Manhattan, for any number of reasons. But I always enjoy good, funny writing. Frank Bruni's review carries the wonderful heading, "Where Only the Salad is Properly Dressed."

Havens for Italy's Abandoned Babies Go Hi-Tech

Every now and then we get a news story about live babies found abandoned, sometimes in disgusting places - dumpsters, public bathrooms. What’s most surprising is when these cases take place in states such as Washington, where there is a “safe haven” law.

This law permits a person -- usually a parent -- to abandon a newborn baby at certain places, such as hospitals, police stations or firehouses. The first state to enact the law was Texas, in 1999. As of 2006, all but 4 states had similar laws, bearing names such as Safe Place, Baby Moses Law, Safe Arms for Newborns, Safe Delivery, Safe Surrender.

In Washington state, the law states a baby up to 3 days old may be abandoned without penalty if given to an employee or volunteer at a fire station or hospital. With such a shield, it's hard to know why people continue to dump their infants anywhere other than the places specified. Ignorance? Sheer callousness? Who's to know.

This sort of thing goes back to Biblical times, when Pharoah ordered the drowning of every newborn Hebrew boy. The mother of Moses put him in a basket, nestled it in the reeds in the Nile. He was found and adopted, by no less than Pharoah's daughter.

The Middle Ages devised the “foundling wheel” which allowed women to deposit their offspring without being seen.

And now technology has transformed the foundling wheel in Italy. It's a sophisticated system to provide for the safety of abandoned newborns. In today’s New York Times, Elisabetta Povoledo writes:

“Now a Rome hospital, the Casilino Polyclinic, has introduced a technologically advanced version of the foundling wheel — not at all a wheel but very much like an A.T.M. booth. For the first time a new mother left her baby there on Saturday night, and on Monday the child, a boy about 3 months old, was doing well.”

"The baby was deposited in a small structure equipped with a heated cradle and lifesaving instruments, including a respirator.

"As in bygone days, it is possible for a woman to leave a baby without being seen, but the moment the child is abandoned an alarm goes off in the hospital’s emergency room, ensuring that the baby receives immediate first aid from a team of specialists."

Here’s the whole article: Updating an Old Way to Leave the Baby on the Doorstep.

I found this interesting: Povoledo says, "many common family names in Italy can be traced to a foundling past: Esposito (because children were sometimes “exposed” on the steps of a convent), Proietti (from the Latin proicio, to throw away) or Innocenti (as in innocent of their father’s sin)."

And back to Washington state: just last month, a baby was abandoned on the steps of a Mount Vernon church. Here’s the Seattle Post Intelligencer’s report.

Here are some links:

Safe Place for Newborns
(Their page on this topic has information on the history, enactment and effectiveness of safe haven laws.)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Great concert, Wenatchee!

What a pleasure to host another concert of the Wenatchee Valley Symphony. Maestro Marty Zyskowski conducted a great program. It opened with Sousa's Liberty Bell March, which was used as the opening them of Monty Python's Flying Circus. As I told the audience, that piece was written with the title of The Devil's Deputy. It didn't sit well with Sousa's band manager. The name change was a good idea!

After the opening, the Wenatchee High School Percussion section, clad in their purle and yellow uniforms, came onstage with their director Jim Kovach, to join in John Williams's music for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The scoring also called for a celeste and piano. This was the only piece keyboardist Jill had to be perform that night.

The orchestra made us feel nostalgic with The Sound of Music by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Mancini Memories with selections from Breakfast at Tiffany's and Hatari.

In researching Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld I discovered that the operetta was even funnier than I remembered - in fact, it's a complete send-up of the Greek legend. In this version, Eurydice is not in love with Orpheus. So much so she’s having an affair with someone else! She moans and complains and tries to get out of her relationship, which is fine with Orpheus, who's much more in love with his fiddle....but a character named Public Opinion will not stand for it. So Orpheus is forced to get rid of his wife's lover. But in the madcap attempt, Eurydice dies as an unintended event. Orpheus is quite all right with it, but Public Opinion is decidely not. Now Orpheus he has to go into Hades and get Eurydice back.

It's truly a madcap romp from Mount Olympus to Hades and back, and the operetta gave us lots of catchy melodies. Who among us isn't tempted to hum along to the Can-Can?

After intermission, the WVS gave an excellent performance of Dvorak's 9th Symphony, better known as the New World Symphony. As I told the audience, it was written in the late 1800s, when there wasn't a distinctly American form of classical music. New Yorker Jeanette Thurber did some pretty clever fundraising to start the National Conservatory to pursue this. Ironically, they hired a Czech to create this American sound! But what a sound. People who heard the spiritual "Going Home" would say, "oh, that's where Dvorak got that lovely theme." Fact is, the melody was written by Dvorak, and borrowed to create the spiritual! What a gorgeous melody. No wonder this is One Of The Most Beloved Symphonies Ever Written.

A lively encore of Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever closed another great concert.

Then, it was time for coffee and dessert.

And time to visit with listeners.

Above: That's our station manager Roger Johnson in the black suit, with listeners taking a look at our display with pictures of radio personalities, both national hosts and those at Northwest Public Radio.

Above: I spoke to longtime NWPR supporters and classical music fans Larry and Penny Tobiska.

We couldnt' have put on the reception without the help of volunteers. Thanks, guys!

Here are some of those terrific volunteers, with our Woman in Wenatchee, Rita Brown (with the name tag.)

For all the exuberant performances and humor in the music, though, there was a tinge of sadness around the edges of this evening. The concert was dedicated to a member of the symphony, violinist Angela Schuster Svendsen. The former Young Artist winner was killed in a car accident this month. Angela was 31.

I was also very sad to hear that conductor Marty Zyskowski's wife Char is struggling with cancer. I met Char last year and enjoyed chatting with her. She's a cheerful, sunny woman. This illness is very hard on her as well as for Marty. You are both in my thoughts and prayers.

Prayers and good thoughts also to my Northwest Public Radio colleague in Wenatchee, sales executive Kathy Allen, undergoing treatment for brain cancer. Kathy was previously with the Wenatchee Downtown Association before joining us in October last year, and is a well-known person in Wenatchee. She's mother of a toddler, and sister-in-law to a former NWPR employee, Kelly Allen (you may remember her show, Saturday Jazz.) An account has been set up for Kathy at People's Bank. If you'd like to make a donation, you can do so at any branch. It's really been heartbreaking to all of us at NWPR; needless to say, we're all rooting for you, Kathy.

And looking ahead now to the final concert of the Wenatchee Valley Symphony's 60th year: that will be on April 15th, with pianist Dr. Jody Graves. The birthday celebration begins with a silent auction at 6PM, and of course, there'll be cake! So, good folks of Wenatchee, turn out and help your great orchestra have a successful fundraiser. They get better every time I hear them, and with your support, they can continue to bloom and grow, bloom and grow, for-e........ver...... (Well, they were playing Edelweiss tonight! I get my inspiration where I can.)

News Bits and Pieces.

A headline in South Korea: Olympic skier Toby Dawson, adopted by an American couple at an orphanage in Seoul when he was three years old, has been reunited with his biological father. Dawson's adoption story received international attention when he won the bronze in Moguls At the Turin Olympics in 2006. That's when dozens of South Koreans came forward, claiming to be his biological parents (Don't they know about DNA testing?) The BBC reports Dawson has "mixed feelings" about meeting the bus driver who says Toby was stolen from him at a street fair.

Costco is tightening its money-back return policy on electronics, because the wholesaler (based in Issaquah, WA) was losing "tens of millions of dollars" in returns. Read the full story in the Seattle P-I.

Krispy Kreme is now making WHOLE WHEAT doughnuts! No word on what the glaze will contain. I saw this Associated Press story on the Washington Post.

Pizza burger, burger pizza. Pizza taco, taco pizza. More and more, restaurant chains are offering mashups of unhealthy food options, making them even unhealthier in the process. Health and nutrition advocates call these creations hybrid horribles. Here's the Los Angeles Times report.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Truly Regal.

I missed the Oscar show last night, while having a great time with the Wenatchee Valley Symphony (more on that coming, soon as I get a hold of some pictures from the evening.) Caught some news clips on TV this morning, and was happy to see a royal pair of wins, so to speak: Forest Whitaker for "The Last King of Scotland, and Helen Mirren for The Queen.

As stars go, Dame Helen is in a constellation all her own, as far as I'm concerned. It's somewhat strange that for her supreme acting, she hasn't been awarded an Oscar till now. I was absorbed in her brilliant, multi-dimensional performances, among them as Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison in the Prime Suspect series, as Ayn Rand in The Passion of Ayn Rand, and in Gosford Park, Calendar Girls, and lately, as queens Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II.

But there's so much to enjoy about Helen Mirren apart from her supreme craft. There's always a cheeky sense about her, of which I caught a glimpse on Oprah's day-after-the-Oscars show.

(image from from

See her black T-shirt in this photo? I couldn't make out everything on it, but did decipher these words in a close-up shot:

lah dee dah

As Meryl Streep sang out upon meeting Helen Mirren recently, "There's Nothing Like a Dame!"

Saturday, February 24, 2007

On the Road Again!

I'm off to Wenatchee tomorrow to emcee a concert of the Wenatchee Valley Symphony tomorrow. While the Oscars are being presented, Marty Zyskowski conducts a program of "Classics, Movies and More!" John Williams, Henry Mancini, Rodgers and Hammerstein - along with Dvorak's New World Symphony and the overture to Offenbach's "Orpheus in the Underworld."

It's a four-hour drive to Wenatchee, but I always look forward to getting out into our listener communities.

Northwest Public Radio is treating concert-goers to post-symphony dessert and coffee, so if you're able to join us at the Wenatchee High School auditorium starting at 7PM (Sunday), please stop by and say hello.

Sorority Fights Stereotypes, Boots Out Non-Conformists

The New York Times reports in Sunday's edition that the Delta Zeta sorority was so concerned about what DePauw students perceived about that house on the Indiana campus, it was moved to action.

Sam Dillon writes:

"Worried that a negative stereotype of the sorority was contributing to a decline in membership that had left its Greek-columned house here half empty, Delta Zeta’s national officers interviewed 35 DePauw members in November, quizzing them about their dedication to recruitment. They judged 23 of the women insufficiently committed and later told them to vacate the sorority house.

"The 23 members included every woman who was overweight. They also included the only black, Korean and Vietnamese members. The dozen students allowed to stay were slender and popular with fraternity men — conventionally pretty women the sorority hoped could attract new recruits. Six of the 12 were so infuriated they quit.

“Virtually everyone who didn’t fit a certain sorority member archetype was told to leave,” said Kate Holloway, a senior who withdrew from the chapter during its reorganization."

What on earth were they thinking, that being overweight or a racial minority amounts to a negative image?

Dillon writes:

"Asked for clarification, the sorority’s public relations representative e-mailed a statement saying its actions were aimed at the “enrichment of student life at DePauw.”

Well, can't wait to see how they explain that one.

Now that Delta Zeta's actions have caught national attention, that ought to take care of any "negative stereotype", then, eh?

Here's a link to the whole article.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Weather we should depend on the meteorologist.

All it takes a few warm, sunny February days, and people start thinking of spring. You see them buying seed packets and little potting trays.

Ah, the folly. Every year the false promise of spring dupes many of us into putting away the parka and snow shovel a few weeks too early.

Yesterday the Inland Northwest saw a resurgence of winter weather, with snow and rain across the region. Still, residents of the Palouse were not quite prepared for heavy snow that blanketed the area rapidly in the afternoon. I was sitting in a doctor’s office with my son between 3 and 4, when big snowflakes began swirling. By the time we were done with the appointment, my car was covered with nearly an inch of the stuff!

Last night, I received an e-mail on the subject, from a listener who works on the Washington State University campus in Pullman. It reads, in part:

“…I realize that we have listeners all over the area but I assume it originates here & we like to know what weather to expect. Like today, we received no warning of this, pardon the pun, ‘coldsnow’.”

This, in part, was my reply:

“ your complaint that I did not give any warning of snow in the afternoon, let me show you the 4AM National Weather Service forecast for the Palouse, which I used to prepare my announcement:

402 AM PST THU FEB 22 2007


As you can see, there was no indication that the area would be hit hardest with snow in the afternoon. In fact, I was out with my young child when the snow began coming down hard, caught unawares as many other people were.”

I forgot to tell the listener that the updated forecast issued at 6:30AM showed no change to the forecast; that only came at 3:30PM:

332 PM PST THU FEB 22 2007


But get this: a snow advisory for the Palouse, sent at – 7PM!!!

658 PM PST THU FEB 22 2007


At my house just east of Moscow, the snow was pretty much done by the time that advisory was issued. Then again, I don't know what conditions were in the areas to the north of the Palouse named in the advisory, and they may well have had to deal with snowfall until 10PM. More on my reply to the Pullman listener:

“Had the weather service revised its forecast at any point during my shift (which ends at 9AM), the information would most certainly have been announced. I take this responsibility seriously, but the reality is, I am not a meteorologist; I depend on forecasts from the National Weather Service for information to relay to listeners.”

I’ve worked at Northwest Public Radio for 14 years now, and the subject of HOW to deliver weather forecasts has been a big debate the whole time. Just take a look at the size of our coverage area, and that explains part of the problem. If we had unlimited time to discuss the weather vagaries from Puget Sound to the Blue Mountains, from British Columbia to the Camas Prairie of Idaho, that would be one thing: but in radio, we have so much to say and so little time in which to do it. Live and die by the clock!

That said, many's the afternoon I've taken my dogs on a long walk, following a whole morning announcing a forecast of partly sunny skies. I've ended those afternoons drenched, shivering...and absolutely mortified.

So, the meteorologists have some ways to go toward accuracy, though I'll say they do a good job most of the time. With all their fancy satellite images and moving maps, it's hard to remember they don't control the speed and direction of a jet stream!

That being said, I am always open to comments and suggestions. REALLY.

Meantime, you can follow this link to the latest weather forecast for your area on the Northwest Public Radio website.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Turning a La Scala Tradition on its Ear.

As I prepped for my shift this morning with the BBC World Service in the background, my ears perked up at the mention of La Scala. The host was saying the world's premiere opera house has all sorts of rules, such as: you can’t wear purple there (I wish he said why!), and no encores, except on special days.

Bear in mind, an encore in an Italian opera house is not the same as an encore in most places – that is, at the very end of the concert. Rather, their version of an encore (a French word) is called bis (the Italian word for again, as in biscotti, the twice-baked cookie.) The bis is done in the manner of an instant replay. The audience doesn’t want to wait for the very end of the opera (or even an act of the opera). So with prolonged applause, cheering and calls of “bis! bis!” the conductor picks up the aria again, and the singer pipes up - this time usually out of character. I’ve read that the bis has been requested at the end of a death scene, which entails the now-dead character resurrecting temporarily to appease audience demand, then reassuming the death pose when the opera action resumes. As I’ve noted in previous posts, ludicrousness is just one of the things that make me love opera so! But Toscanini hated the way these encores broke the flow of an opera and put a ban on the practice.

Anyway, back to this week’s breach of the 74-year old bis ban.

On Tuesday night’s performance of La Fille du Regiment by Donizetti, rising Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez stirred the La Scala crowd in the aria Ah mes amis that has NINE high C’s! Count them! The applause went on for four, five minutes. The conductor caved. Picked up the baton, Juan let ‘er rip – and Toscanini rolled in his grave.

The BBC talked to opera critic Michael White about the incident this morning. He’s always very entertaining. He said Juan Diego Florez has immense appeal. “He looks like Errol Flynn,” said White.

As a point of comparison, White mentioned another top-notch young tenor, the Mexican Rolando Villazon, every bit as accomplished as Diego Florez. But, White said, he's not likely to cause the same stir, because "he looks like Mr. Bean!”

You decide.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Three Cheers for...oh wait, how do we do this properly?

When I first saw today's Morning Edition rundown and came across the piece about plans to build a cheerleader hall of fame, my first response was to roll my eyes and mutter "oh, PLEASE.". When Bruce Bradberry came in for his shift, he scoffed considerably more.

Before I joined in, I caught myself and remembered discovering there's more to cheerleading than meets the eye. I was thinking about the TV series called "Faking It." It was on a few years ago, first on BBC America, then on TLC. Individuals are given one month to transform completely--punk musician morphs into classical conductor, burger flipper steps into the role of gourmet chef, web surfer turns wave surfer, and (my favorite) sheep shearer turns hairdresser. I found the stories instructive and thoroughly entertaining.

One TLC episode threw a bookish Harvard grad student into the dizzying (tempted to say "ditzying"?) world of cheerleaders for the Atlanta Falcons. Her initial attitude was not unlike Bruce's and mine this morning - that is, barely concealing disdain. Her lack of enthusiasm and interest for cheerleading was evident, and she put in the corresponding amount of effort into her task. Needless to say, she was then forced to hear her mentor's pronouncement of disappointment, and pleas to "try harder!" "I believe in you!"

To the best of my recollection, the young woman learned just how hard it is to jump around in unison with the other women who bounded across the field with the surefootedness of mountain goats, beaming broadly from ear to ear, all the while remembering every bit of the routine and executing it perfect time. I do remember her realization, with humility, how difficult it is to do even a short routine, and not look like a complete fool. All her preconceived notions of airheads, ditzes and so on - out the window. At the end, experienced judges had to observe 4 cheerleaders, and figure out which one was the fake - and the Harvard faker successfully slid under their radar. She looked truly proud of her accomplishments in her month of faking it.

So - even knowing that cheerleading is a lot harder than meets the eye, why do so many people still maintain a whiff of scorn? I suspect it's not the activity, it's the stereotype of the people it draws. Maybe it's because the women who participate (and it is, still, largely a female activity) are so perfectly ripped, bleached and tanned that we think that's all they do, work on looking great. Maybe it's the scandals, such as the Texas mom who hired a hit man to kill a junior high school cheerleader so her daughter could get a spot on the squad. Maybe it's because those of us who just can't get excited about sports don't see the point of it all. Any thoughts to share?

I'm still learning - walk a mile in another's shoes before passing judgement. (But can't I at least roll my eyes at the kind of shoes they're wearing before slipping them on?)

At any rate, there seems to be no shortage of interest in cheerleaders/ing in popular culture. In movies, there's "Bring It On" (2000) and "The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom" (1993), to name just a couple. And on TV, next month, a new reality series, Cheerleader Nation, returns for another season on Lifetime, billing itself a "real-life mother-daughter drama of blood, seat and tears." Rah rah rah.