Rest in Peace, Alex Trebek

Alex Trebek, the long-time host of Jeopardy!, passed away at 80 after a long fight against pancreatic cancer.

Trebek seemed to have the perfect attitude for a high-brow quiz trivia show that was also hugely popular with audiences:  one of almost passive-aggressive superiority, a certain smugness that was just elusive enough a viewer couldn’t accuse him of it based on a transcript of what was said.  Trebek routinely mocked—but can it really be called mocking?—guests who flubbed questions he believed to be easy.  But he also possessed a Canadian niceness that made him easy-going, albeit curt, with contestants.

None of that is meant to speak ill of Alex Trebek, or to make light of his passing.  Everyone reading this post knows exactly what I’m talking about—Trebek’s ability to get in a subtle jab at a player $1000 in the red, while then glad-handing with them after the return from the commercial break.  Saturday Night Live picked up on it in its playful Celebrity Jeopardy! send-ups, which featured the hyper-masculine (and also recently deceased) Sean Connery goading on a flustered Trebek. 

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My Musical Philosophy in Song: “Delilah”

On Sunday (my first day back playing piano in church!—everyone else was in their cars listening over a short-range broadcast)—I posted a video to my Facebook artist page of Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson singing Tom Jones’s 1968 classic “Delilah”:

I’ve received a handful queries about my statement that “this video sums up my entire musical philosophy.”  Naturally, there’s a bit of cheek in that statement.  My short answer is similar to the jazz musician’s (Louis Armstrong? Dizzy Gillespie?) when a lady asked him how to swing:  “if you have to ask, you’ll never know.”  The video should speak for itself:

But I began digging into this video a bit more.  What is this bizarre game show?  When was it aired?  How did Bruce Dickinson end up singing “Delilah”?  It reminds me another video that “sums up my entire musical philosophy”—Jack Black’s appearance on American Idol singing Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose”:

Fortunately, there are some scant details out there.  The show was Last Chance Lotter with Patrick Kielty, an Irish game show that ran for ten episodes in 1997.  The gimmick was that the show took losers from other game shows, gave them a lottery ticket, and anyone who had a ticket worth ten pounds or more could compete in the main game.  Some of the money won would go into a pot for one random audience member to win.

I haven’t quite worked out how the musical numbers figured in, but the musical guest would essentially sing a song to add even more cash to the pot by spinning a wheel (that was transparently rigged—the audience knew the wheel was controlled, from what I can gather).  That’s why Bruce Dickinson was on the show, and his performance of “Delilah” is one of the most spectacular musical renditions I’ve ever heard:  mariachi horns, bouncing bassists, leopard-print suits, and Dickinson’s soaring vocals.

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Lazy Sunday XXVI: Small Town Life

I’ve been awash in local boosterism lately.  As a Jeffersonian at heart (especially now that I’m a freehold yeoman farmer, what with my single fig tree, twenty yards of grapevines, and drooping pecan trees), small town, rural living appeals to me at a deep level.  I am, like most Americans, infected with the bug of urgent nationalism, as it seems that every major problem is a national issue (due, in no small part, to two centuries of centralization and the breakdown of federalism), but I increasingly seek to think and act locally.  That’s where the most immediate and substantial changes to our lives occur.

The slow summer news cycle has seen me engaging in a bit more navel-gazing this summer, and thinking more about the things that matter in life:  our towns and communities; good books and music; friends and family.  Cultural issues are, potentially, political; as the late Andrew Breitbart often said, politics is downstream from culture.  Books, music, and movies matter, and the local level is the best place to see culture in action.

All of that armchair philosophizing aside, this week’s Lazy Sunday looks back at some posts about small town life, both in Lamar and Aiken.  Enjoy!

  • Hump Day Hoax” – This post is one of this blog’s most popular, in part because I shared the link to it in the comments section on a major right-wing news website.  It’s a somewhat unfortunate example of small town politicking gone wrong.  The mayor of my little adopted hometown, Lamar, is a very sweet lady, and she seems genuinely interested in improving our town, but she scuttled those endearing efforts when she ran straight to Newsweek claiming that her vehicle had been vandalized as part of a hate crime.  It turns out the mysterious, sticky yellow substance on her car… was pollen.Initially, I thought she was opportunistically trying to gain some grace on the cheap, as the Jussie Smollett hoax was then-current in the news.  After talking it over with some folks, I’m thinking now it’s more of an example of a deep paranoia among some black Americans who are, essentially, brainwashed from birth into believing they are the constant targets of hate crimes from vindictive whites.  Coupled with—sadly—a certain degree of stupidity—how can you have lived in the South for decades and not know what pollen looks like?!—it makes for an embarrassing mix.
  • Egg Scramble Scrambled” – Every April, Lamar hosts a big festival, the Egg Scramble, that attracts around 6000 people to town.  Keep in mind, Lamar’s population sits just south of 1000, so that many people at once creates a huge influx of cash into the local economy.  It’s a big deal.  I was out of town for the Scramble this year, but I was looking up news about it when I discovered it had been ended early due to a fight.It was only later that I learned there was gang activity (my initial thought in the post was that some hooligans just got out of hand, and the police shut the down the event to avoid any future roughhousing), with shots fired.  It doesn’t appear anyone was hurt, but, boy, did this story get buried fast.  It was only from talking to neighbors that I got a more complete picture.

    I am, perhaps, not acquitting my adopted home town well.  It really is a lovely—and very cheap—place to live.  I suppose I’ll have to write a more favorable account of Lamar life soon to make up for these two negative portrayals.

  • 250th Day Update” – This post is a bit of a stretch for this week’s theme, but it includes a hodge-podge of updates that, in one way or another, connect to small town life:  high school football games, local festivals, relaxing holidays, and the like.  Those little things are what make life colorful, and enjoyable—and they’re the things that truly matter.  Read the update for more.
  • Aiken Amblings” – A late-night SubscribeStar Saturday post, this subscriber-exclusive post details my visit to Aiken’s Makin’, Aiken’s long-running crafts festival.  It’s probably the best example of local boosterism I’ve ever experienced personally, and I am surely a booster for it.  It also didn’t devolve into gangland violence, so that’s a plus.  For just $1, you can read the full account—and all of the other great pieces on my SubscribeStar page!

That’s it for this Lazy Sunday.  I’m hoping to check out Yemassee‘s Shrimp Festival later this month (September 19-21), schedule-permitting.  As the days shorten and the weather slowly cools, it’s time to get out to some local festivals in some small, rural towns.

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

Lazy Sunday XXI: Travel

I don’t really like to travel, mainly because I prefer sitting on my own toilet and watching my own TV.  If you’ve seen one trendy downtown district, you’ve seen them all, and going to cool places overseas is expensive, time-consuming, disruptive, and dangerous.  Yes, I would liked to have visited London thirteen years ago (when my family took a ten-day trip all around Ireland), but now that it’s part of the Islamic caliphate, I’ll pass.  Same with Paris.  The United States is a big country, with plenty to see and do domestically.

That said, I keep the road hot, and enjoy the occasional excursion to points of interest near and far.  With my recent trip to Wilmington—and with summer rapidly drawing to a close—I thought I’d dedicate this belated Lazy Sunday to posts about travel.

  • Gig Day II” – This post is super short, but it briefly chronicles my trip to The Juggling Gypsy Cafe a year ago.  At that point, I was living in a hotel because my old apartment had flooded.  Because of the flooding, the power supply for my Casio keyboard was kaput (though it miraculously began working again a couple of weeks later), and I had to borrow an incredible Korg SV-1 from a pianist friend.  I’d spent the day laying sod at school, a grueling, physically-demanding job.  Conditions were far less than ideal for a late night gig in a distant city, but it went pretty well.
  • Put Your Money Where Your Poll Is” – This piece analyzes a 2018 Gallup poll, in which 16% of Americans said they wanted to leave the United States permanently.  The findings showed that young, Democratic-leaning women tended to be the least grateful to live in this great country, as Ilhan Omar and Squad have demonstrated.  I posed the question then:  “So, young radical feminists, why don’t you put your money where your poll is?  I’d wager less than 1% of those who indicated they want to leave will actually do so.”  If you don’t like it—by which I don’t mean, “If you love the country, but you want to fix some things,” but rather, “If you fundamentally hate what our country is and stands for”—then get the hell out.
  • Mid-Atlantic Musings” – This SubscribeStar-exclusive post details my trip to New Jersey, Coney Island, and the New York City Aquarium.  It also features hilarious of a video of an otter spinning head-over-tail in circles for minutes on end, one of Nature’s many bizarre pranks.  But you’ve gotsta be a subscriber—for just $1 a month or more!—to read it.
  • Wilmington Wanderings” – Another SubscribeStar-exclusive post, this one covers my trip two days ago to Wilmington for another gig at the Juggling Gypsy.  It’s a detailed account of my encounters with a friendly transgender bartender/photographer, as well as the seedy nightlife of aging hipsters.  It’s well worth a $1 subscription (heck, you can even cancel immediately after reading it!).

That’s it for this week.  Here’s to the last week of summer vacation!

–TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

SubscribeStar Saturday: Wilmington Wanderings

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.

In yesterday’s post, I alluded to a gig in Wilmington, North Carolina, at the Juggling Gypsy Cafe.  It’s an artist-friendly venue that has the vibe of such places:  a shabby, dimly-lit interior, populated with colorful, post-ironic types (some young, some clinging to youth on the wrong side of 35), the walls plastered with flyers for obscure bands and pages from old comic books.  It’s the kind of place I used to play frequently in my twenties, when I still had the energy and drive to play for peanuts at 10:30 PM on a Wednesday night.

It was a fun trip there and back.  I met a transgender photographer working as a bartender.  I talked to a really passionate carpenter.  An old dude had personal conversations with me during my second set.  But if you want to hear the whole story, you’ve gotta subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more!

Check out my music at www.tjcookmusic.com.

To read the rest of this post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.

Lazy Sunday XIX: Music

While I’m all about politics here at The Portly Politico, I also possess the tender heart of a sensitive warrior-poetMusic is a major part of my personal and professional lives (if you want to learn more, check out my website, or listen to and buy some tracks on my Bandcamp page), so it’s not surprising that I’ve written about it from time to time on this blog.

In that spirit, here are some scribblings about music:

  • The Bull on the Roof” –  I wrote this piece on my phone while watching my nearly-four-year old niece play.  It was about a charming symphonic composition I heard while driving to visit family.  The titular work is from a French composer, but draws from popular Brazilian music of the early twentieth century.
  • Ocarina of Time Soundtrack Review” – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a classic entry in the storied video game franchise.  But no LoZ game is complete without a signature soundtrack from famed Nintendo composer Koji Kondo.  This piece is really a review of a review about the game and its legendary soundtrack.
  • Right-Wing Rockers” – This post was inspired by some reading into the right-wing-ish politics of some major rockers from the classic rock era—and, no, not just Motor City Madman Ted Nugent.  It even includes a recording of an Iggy Pop song about being a conservative!
  • TBT: Music is for Everyone” – This post dates back to the TPP 2.0 era of 2016.  I posted about President Trump’s amazing entrance to the strains of Queen’s “We Are the Champions” at the Republican National Convention, and a “bitter progressive” snarkily posted in response about how it was ironic that Trump was entering to a song sung by a gay man.  Yeesh.  Trump has never been against same-sex marriage, for one thing; more importantly, you can appreciate music and other forms of art even if you don’t endorse every lifestyle choice of the artist.  That should go without saying, but this is the world we live in now.
  • TBT: Conservatives and Country Music” – I really like classic rock; I’m not a big fan of country.  This post goes all the way back to the TPP 1.0 era of 2009, so it’s an interesting look at what I thought about these topics a decade ago.  The piece was an early look at the cultural divide to come:  how even genres of music have become implicitly politicized to signal support for or against one ideology or another.  I bemoaned the fact that progressives got rock ‘n’ roll, and we got stuck with country.

Happy Sunday!

–TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

Hustlin’: Minecraft Camp 2019

The June slump has hit, as people are less interested in news and politics and going outside.  It’s been a gorgeous few days here in South Carolina.  I left the house Wednesday morning and it was cold.

For non-Southerners, allow me to explain:  here in the Deep South, our only true season is summer, which runs from late March through Thanksgiving.  I’ve seen people mow their lawns a week before Christmas.  If we’re lucky we get a mild summer.  After an oppressively muggy May, a morning in the low 60s is a blessed reprieve here in the Palmetto State.

But talking about the weather is probably why my numbers are down, so I’ll move on to another non-politics-related topic:  my penchant for hustlin’.  Readers know that I have a few gigs running at any time, including private music lessons, adjunct teaching, my History of Conservative Thought summer course, and playing shows.  I also paint classrooms and do sweaty manly maintenance work at my little school when I’m not molding minds.  And while it doesn’t pay anything yet, I’m hoping to get a few bucks for my writing.

But perhaps my favorite side gig is an annual tradition:  my school’s annual Minecraft Camp.  A former school administrator started the camp, and I’ve carried it on for some years now.

For the uninitiated, Minecraft is basically LEGOs in video game form.  The genius creation of programmer Markus Persson, the game places players in a massive sandbox world, with the objective being… anything!  There are no timers (other than a day and night cycle), no goals, and no ending.  Players generate a theoretically endless world from scratch, and proceed to build—craft—their way to civilization (or endless PVP battles).

Players can activate Creative Mode, which allows for endless flights of fancy, with access to every block and resource in the game, or they can play in Survival, which is exactly what it sounds like:  players hide from (or fight) monsters at night, hunt for or grow food, and have to keep their health up.

Minecraft has enjoyed ubiquity since its release in 2011—it’s the best-selling video game of all time—and when we started Minecraft Camp back in the day (I think it was summer 2013 or 2014, but I’m not sure), it was HUGE.  The game has inspired probably tens of thousands of mods, from simple additions like extra monsters or types of blocks, to total conversions that completely rebuild the game’s mechanics.

With the rise of Fortnite a year ago, the game seemed to wane in popularity, but it’s apparently enjoying a resurgence:  our camp was up to twelve Crafters from a low of about four or five last year.  It gets absolutely chaotic at times—like during our final camp PVP battle, and a hectic boss fight against a gigantic, camper-created Creeper named “Creeperzilla,” that saw kids shouting nearly at the top of their lungs with unabashed glee—but it’s also beautiful to see the creativity of young children.  I am constantly amazed to see what they create.

And, let’s face it, there are worse ways to make an extra buck than playing video games with a group of creative eight-to-thirteen-year olds.  It definitely beats raking up old pine straw and spraying Roundup on cracks in the parking lot.

You can check out our camp’s blog here:  https://tbcsminecraft.wordpress.com/

Lazy Sunday XII: Space

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Long-time readers will know that I have a love of and fascination with space.  One of the first calls I ever made to a talk-radio show was back in 2009 to the now-defunct Keven Cohen Show.  The occasion was the fortieth anniversary of the moon landing, and the question was, in the midst of the Great Recession, should the government invest in space exploration and going to the moon (and beyond)?  In my clumsy call, I argued that, yes, it should.

As I noted earlier this week, I lack a strong technical foundation in these matters.  I assume that any practice problems of exploration, colonization, and exploitation of space are, ultimately, technical in nature, and will eventually get figured out.  My interest is more philosophical and political in nature:  what are the possibilities of space?  What benefits could expansion into space offer?

But, really, I’m just a childlike nerd who wants to walk on the moon.  If I’m being totally honest, that’s my primary motivation:  I want to visit the moon.  I also relish the idea of humans partaking in bold space adventures.  Is it any wonder one of my favorite movies of all time is Guardians of the Galaxy?

And I’m not alone.  According to (yet another) Rasmussen poll, 43% of American voters would take a trip to the moon and back given the chance.  That total includes 56% of men, but just 31% of women, so I suppose all those single moms posting on Facebook about loving their children “to the moon and back” is a sentimental expression, not a concrete pledge.

Here’s hoping that the eggheads at NASA and in the private sector take note of all the Americans eager to engage in some lunar tourism.  Market forces are far more likely to incentivize galactic expansion than government programs, so maybe offering affordable round-trip flights to the moon could one day turn a profit.  Who knows?

What I do know is that this Sunday I’m happy to share my various posts on space.  I hope you “love them to the moon and back”:

  • America Should Expand into Space” – this post was the topic of Thursday’s “TBT” feature.  As such, I’ll refrain from lengthy pontificating about it.  Essentially, it looks at the geopolitical reasons for expansion into space.  Short version:  don’t let the Chinese build a death laser on the moon!
  • Breaking: President Trump Creates Space Force” & “Why the Hate for Space Force?” – back in June 2019, President Trump announced the creation of “Space Force” as a separate branch of the armed services.  It’s a bold, visionary idea—and a damn good one.  As “America Should Expand into Space” suggests, space is the next frontier, not just for settlement, but for war.

    I also lament in the latter of these twin pieces that Americans no longer look boldly to the future in space as a new frontier, but instead remain firmly earthbound with various toys and gadgets.

  • To the Moon!” – this brief essay explores the metaphysical and cultural benefits of lunar colonization.  In it, I summarize the ideas of an oddball writer, James D. Heiser.  Heiser is a bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America and a founding member of the Mars Society.

    He wrote a book,  Civilization and the New Frontier:  Reflections on Virtue and the Settlement of a New World, about the colonization of Mars.  In Civilization and the New Frontier, Heiser argues that the strenuous nature of such an endeavor would require and cultivate virtue, thereby reinvigorating our civilization.

    It’s an intriguing idea, and one that rings true:  anything worth doing is (usually) difficult.  The sacrifice that such a mission would require is self-evident, and would require men and women of great virtue and courage to achieve.

  • To the Moon!, Part II: Back to the Moon” – this post discussed NASA’s acceleration of its timetable for another manned mission to the moon.  The goal is to return by 2024, rather than 2028.  It would be the first manned mission to the moon since 1972—a sobering, depressing duration.  When I was a kid, we were told we’d see a manned mission to Mars by the year 2000.  So much for that.

As the preamble to this list demonstrated, there is hunger for holidays on the moon.  I, too, want to ride the mighty moon worm!  Sure, there are huge technical problems to overcome—but those can be overcome.  Let’s worry less about queer studies outreach Islamic countries.  Our destiny is among the stars!

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

Slammed Holy Saturday: Captain Marvel

It’s been a busy Easter Weekend, so I’m late posting what is going to be a very short post tonight.  I’ve been uncling busily with my little niece, playing “my little device,” as she calls my Nintendo 3DS XL.  Before that, we had some early Easter celebrating, as well as taking in Captain Marvel, the latest installment in the expansive Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Earlier in the morning, we watched a helicopter drop plastic eggs onto a football field, which was pretty cool.

As far as Captain Marvel goes, it was a good flick, despite star Brie Larson’s desire that men not go see it.  The title character is definitely a one-dimensional Mary Sue in the vein of Rey from the new Star Wars trilogy, just with a surlier attitude.  She goes from being pretty powerful to limitlessly powerful within a very short period of time, and is suddenly repelling high-tech space missiles and flying through entire spaceships.

Other than that—and a slightly dragging third act—it was enjoyable, and sets up the final MCU film, Avengers: Endgame, with some interesting questions.  The “grrrrrl power” stuff was a bit on-the-nose, but you know it’s going to be going into it.  Getting some of the backstory on Nick Fury is fun, and it really fleshes out his character in the “early days” of the current MCU.  That and the mid-90s nostalgia—the movie takes place in 1995—are the best parts.

So, the SJW politics weren’t quite as a ridiculous as I’d been led to believe; it certainly wasn’t as overwrought and insufferable as Star Wars: The Last Jedi (especially Rose—shudder).  It’s a fun movie, although I’m concerned that they’ve introduced this god-like, intergalactic, personality-less heroine at the last minute to be Endgame‘s third-wave feminist deus ex machina.

Of course, these are the insignificant complaints of doughy nerdiness.  What Marvel does with its stable of characters doesn’t matter too much, although it is annoying to see characters become stand-ins for the writers’ politics.  As readers know, I prefer to keep politics out of art except in the most subtle, clever of ways.  The best of these superhero movies keep the politics to a minimum, and instead focus on unifying virtues like justice, honor, and courage.

There was plenty of that in Captain Marvel amid the “you go girlism” and pseudo-sci-fi wackiness.  It’s worth seeing if you’re invested in the characters; let’s just hope Marvel isn’t selling out to trendy political fashions in the denouement of its storied, lengthy franchise’s main story arc.