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Modern Telephones and Ancient Arts

One of the unexpected habits we’ve acquired over the last couple of years is watching Youtube’s full-length videos of the Public Broadcasting System’s nightly “Newshour.” The program still has that ostentatiously high-brow and oh-so-soft-spoken public broadcasting tone that used to annoy us, but in these assertively low-brow days of splenetic talk radio show shrieking we now find it rather soothing, and we’ve also noticed that it has a high batting average for accuracy and does a pretty good job of giving all sides of whatever top story of the day they’re covering some unedited soundbites.
PBS also finds a few precious minutes in its daily “Newshour” for interesting and important stories that aren’t the hot topic of the day, which at long last brings us around to the subject of our daily missive. On Tuesday “Newshour” had a segment about the growing number of performing artists — from stand-up comedians to classical musicians — who are trying to keep their ¬†audiences from using their telephones during performances. Despite all that’s going on in the top stories of the day, we feel obliged to take a few minutes of our time to share their outrage.
Those newfangled telephones most people own these days have video cameras and digital audio recorders and “viral” videos and the latest baseball scores and answers to any questions that might pop into your head and pictures of some scant acquaintance’s private parts, and we’ve previously groused about how damned distracting and dumbing-down they can be. It’s a problem we’ve long noticed during dates and family gatherings and all sorts of civic events, so we can well sympathize with any old nightclub comic or concert hall virtuoso who looks out at an audience and sees people more engrossed by some glowing electronic rectangle and its “tweet” about a friend’s taco dinner than their carefully-crafted performances.
We’ve even noticed it here in Wichita, Kansas, and we’re sure the problem is worse is in America’s many bigger cities. Around here most of the performing arts we take in are either at the lowest dives in the roughest parts of the north and south ends, where the kids all seem to have those newfangled telephones but are more intent on drinking and digging the the sounds and perhaps getting lucky than whatever boring message some homebound friend had “texted” or “tweeted” them, or in the high-culture auditoria of downtown’s Century II, where the mostly genteel and graying audiences have their own old-fashioned reasons for savoring the performances they’ve paid for at a rather steep price for rather than looking at their glowing telephones.
Before every performance of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra or the Wichita Musical Theater — both of which are far better than you might expect, by the way — they always play a recording urging the audience to shut down those damnable newfangled telephone machines. The message was recorded by Samuel Ramey, an operatic bass singer from the small town of Colby, Kansas, who attended Wichita State University’s better-than-you’d-expect music and went on to a career that included bravura performances as La Scala and all the world’s great opera houses before returning to join his alma mater’s better-than-you’d-expect musical faculty, and although he’s best known for playing Lucifer in the great operas featuring that character his speaking voice sounds so much like what you’d you imagine God sounds like that you’d surely turn off your newfangled telephone.
Still, even here in our delightfully old-fashioned hometown we notice too many people more intent on documenting the moment rather than savoring it, everywhere from the lowest depths of Kirby’s Beer Store to the dizzying heights of Century II. There’s something timeless to be said for an idiosyncratic bar band in a north end dive or capable stand-up comic in a sleazy night club or a virtuoso musician in a concert hall, and there’s something to be listened to without the distractions of thpse damnable telephonic devices most people own nowadays.
While we’re at it, we’d also prefer that more people stop paying attention to the top stories of the day what’ else is on their newfangled telephones machines and start paying more attention to the wonderful and horrible things that are going on all around them.

— Bud Norman

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The Latest Twist in the Weiner Saga

Soap operas rarely have any appeal for us, but somehow we just can’t turn away from the tawdry tale of Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin. In the latest installment of their long-running saga the tabloid-worthy political power couple are once again splitsville, and fans are once again left wondering if this might be the series finale.
If you’ve been too enrapt by the Kardashians or the Real Housewives of somewhere or another to have been paying attention, Abedin is a longtime aide and confidant to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Weiner is a former Democratic New York congressman and mayoral candidate, and ever since their fateful meeting at a Democratic National Committee retreat on Martha’s Vineyard back in in ’01 they’ve been a well-publicized Democratic item. She’s Muslim and he’s Jewish, both have a certain exotic if slightly equine photogenic look about them, and given such hackneyed Hollywood plot twists of course the press couldn’t resist covering their courtship. By ’08 even such an elegant print publication as Vogue Magazine was quoting Abedin gushing that “He was smart, he was passionate. When he wanted to do something that he thought was the right thing to do, he would not give up. The kind of dedication and passion he had for helping people, I found very attractive and inspiring.” With slightly less fanfare than Tiny Tim got when he married Miss Vickie on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” the couple married in ’10, with former President and noted philanderer Bill Clinton officiating, and its been a most fascinating downward spiral for them ever since.
When Clinton became Secretary of State even the more polite press started to notice that her longtime aide and confidant was not only a Muslim but the daughter of a mother and father who were both alarmingly high-ranking members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the radical Islamist group that pretty much started the whole modern radical Islamist thing in Egypt way back in the 1920s, and when the administration of President Barack Obama started inviting Muslim Brotherhood members to the front rows of his famous Cairo speech and later siding with the Muslim Brotherhood’s coup of a flawed but American-friendly regime in Egypt during Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State the more impolite conservative press began to question her influence. Such rude sorts as ourselves went so far to liken her to the latest iteration of Alger Hiss, the commie who had high State Department security clearances during the Roosevelt administration, and to even make comic allusions to the persistent lesbian rumors. Her name kept popping up as a questioned witness during all the other unavoidable scandals that have attended Clinton’s political career, and the latest reports are that her Muslim Brotherhood mother authored some articles about women’s right that are not likely to pass muster with modern western feminism.
Meanwhile, Weiner was earning his own weird celebrity. As a Democratic congressman he had found a die-hard following of Democratic fans who loved his name-calling and schoolyard-taunting and “at least he fights” style of rhetoric against those darned Republicans, but at some point in ’11 even the most polite press were forced report that at the same time he’d also been “sexting” pictures of his underwear-clad private parts to various women who were unfortunately willing to go on the record about it. We suspect that Weiner’s impeccable Democratic credentials would have spared him ridicule on the late night comedy shows in most circumstances, but the guy’s name is “Weiner,” for crying out loud, and “sexting” was a hot topic, so even Weiner’s best friends on the late night comedy shows couldn’t resist making sport of him. It was enough to force his resignation from congress, which he announced with Abedin conspicuously not by his side, and to keep the melodrama going.
The pregnant Abedin continued her relationships with both Clinton and Weiner, and all the parties seem to heave weathered the scandal with reputations intact by modern standards, and in ’13 Weiner even announced his bid to become mayor of New York City. Fueled by his name-calling and schoolyard-taunting and “at least he fights” rhetoric against those darned Republicans, who are hardly a problem to anybody in New York City, he was rapidly gaining ground until the press was obliged to report that was still succumbing to the strange temptation to “sext” portraits of his underwear-clad private parts to various women who would go on the record about, which ended his mayoral campaign but not the strange saga of Weiner and Abedin.

Reportedly in the last few days there have been more “sexted” cell phone portraits of the inconveniently-named Weiner, and with the couple’s toddler son nearby, and this time around Abedin is apparently finally throwing in the towel. At this point we can hardly blame her, especially given her rather rigidly old-fashioned upbringing, and even the thrice-married-to-a-nude-model Reublican nominee was saying that “she will be far better off without him.” So it seems to have come along in recent years, but so it goes in this reality age, when everyone has a sex scandal and the Muslim Brotherhood’s second generation influence on a major party nominee hardly rates a mention.

–Bud Norman