Thursday, March 2, 2023

Celestial Soft Porn

NPR evidently ran this story last night on "All Things Considered," which I almost never listen to; but it tracked me down anyway on my tablet.  A planetary conjunction involving Venus and Jupiter is happening, and in the great tradition of cheesy, cringey science journalism, NPR packaged it thusly:

"They've been coming in closer and closer for a little nighttime kiss," says Jackie Faherty, who's an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History.

Of course in space the planets aren't really going to smooch. "They are actually 400 million miles apart," Faherty says. That's more than four times the distance than we are from the sun.

And since the Earth's orbit is actually between those of Jupiter and Venus, we are in the position of Lucky Pierre, is that cool or what?  The writer, Michaeleen Doucleff, didn't have to come up with the "kiss" metaphor on her own: an actual astronomer provided it.  Doucleff got creative herself, noting that tonight, Thursday, "The two planets will still seem quite close, continuing their celestial dance. But soon, they'll go back to arms length."  Awww, can't this marriage be saved?  It seems tragic that they're going to break up.  Relationships just don't get the same commitment nowadays that they used to.  Think of the children!  Isn't it bad enough that the moon is going to leave the Earth in six hundred million years?

This sort of hyperbole is evidently irresistible, not only to science journalists ("celestial date") but to scientists themselves.  Another recent conjunction was described by an astronomer as "like teenagers at a high school dance: They’re getting closer and closer together.  It’s been a year of watching this, of them getting closer, and now they’re going to have a close slow dance."  I suppose it's better than the religious language that physicists keep falling into (the "God Particle," for instance), but for me it's a turnoff, and I always wonder if the disappointment other laymen feel when the stars fail to perform as promised prevents any interest -- let alone enthusiasm -- for science and nature that they might otherwise have acquired.

P.S. This story from USA Today washed up on the Internet after I thought I'd finished this post, and it's much better than the stories I linked before.  It manages to cover the Jupiter-Venus conjunction by providing factual information without tarting it up.  Ironic, isn't it, given USA Today's reputation as a lowbrow rag, while the more prestigious NPR and its astronomer sources evidently felt that the rubes wouldn't be interested if the event weren't cast as a romance?  It's even more ironic, since NPR's audience probably see themselves as devout believers in Science, Evidence, and Reason. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Sauce for the Goose

NPR, contrary to its custom, put a smile on my face this morning with this story.  The Southern Baptist Convention has expelled five Baptist churches for having female pastors, and Morning Edition's Leila Fadel spoke to Linda Barnes Popham, one of the deposed pastors.  Barnes Popham was indignant:

Why us? We've been - we consider ourselves very Southern Baptist. We would be more Southern Baptist than many of the other churches - like I said, conservative, evangelistic, mission-minded. Now, of course, there are many other emotions that the congregants share with each other. Yeah, we are not happy about their decision.

I would love to ask Barnes Popham just how "conservative," how "very Southern Baptist" she and her congregation really are.  The Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845 in a break with other US Baptists in support of slavery, a little detail this story not-so-strangely neglects to mention, and continued to uphold white supremacy until the 1990s.  Does she still support slavery, the Lost Cause, and Jim Crow?  If not, how can she call herself a conservative Southern Baptist?  Or is she really just another stealth woke [sarcasm alert] liberal working against the SBC from within?

Fadel was very sympathetic, though.

BARNES POPHAM: That Southern Baptists no longer adhere to the priesthood of the believers and no longer believe in the autonomy of the local church and that those in power in SBC life do not value churches who are truly doing the work of the gospel.

FADEL: Wow. Pastor Linda Barnes Popham of the Fern Creek Baptist Church, thank you so much for your time.

I have no sympathy whatsoever for these pastors, and it's a pleasure to see them hoist on their own petard.  I'm reminded of the late antigay crusader Anita Bryant (Cthulhu, I'm old) who wanted to become vice-president of the SBC in 1978. She was rejected, of course, on Biblical grounds, and she promptly griped about "Bible-beating literalists" who wouldn't let her do what she wanted to do.  This contemporary New York Times article doesn't mention the gender issue, but says that Bryant's lack of experience in church administration was also a factor.  But details, details: Who needs experience? The Holy Spirit would surely have guided her at the helm of the world's largest Baptist denomination. Conservatism for thee but not for me!

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Put Me In, Coach Al, Please!

National Public Radio continues to fulfill its God-given function of rousing me from my slothful bed each morning: it's a rare day when Morning Edition doesn't annoy me with smug centrism, tone-deaf commentary, or its hosts' obnoxious perkiness.

This past weekend, protestors disappointed NPR and the rest of the corporate media by not rioting in response to the release of the video of the police murder of Tyre Nichols. It was probably their worst frustration since the failure of a Republican Red Wave to materialize last November.  Nichols' funeral was scheduled for today, so perhaps in revenge, host A Martinez and reporter Lucas Finton discussed the funeral as if it were an upcoming sport event.  (NPR prefers predictions to actual reporting most of the time.)  I don't know how well the framing will come across in text, so here's a link to the audio.

MART├ŹNEZ: Lucas Finton has been following the Nichols case. He's a reporter for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. Lucas, I can pretty much guarantee it's going to be an emotional day. What do you expect to see at the funeral today?

LUCAS FINTON: I expect that we're going to see a range of emotions from joy to humor to that really profound sadness that we've seen over the last few weeks in Memphis. I think that that'll probably be seen throughout the chapel with family members, high-ranking officials and also friends and activists and community leaders as well.

MART├ŹNEZ: Now, we just heard from Al Sharpton a minute ago. You spoke with the Rev. Sharpton about his eulogy. What did he tell you?

FINTON: He really focused on the power of someone who's unfamiliar with an individual eulogizing that person and how that can really give the speaker power to really figure out what that person's death can mean for the future not just for the family, but also for police reform at a state, local and national level. And he focused on how there really needs to be some strong national reforms in order for police reform to stick.

And so on.  Later in the program Martinez got to move to a more comfortable topic, Tom Brady's latest retirement, but by then I was out of bed, listening to music on another station, and ready to face the day. Thank you for your service, NPR!

Monday, January 23, 2023

We Thought They'd Never End

Okay, it's time to kickstart this old popstand again.  Or something.

Lately I've been watching too many old "What's My Line?" shows on YouTube . It was a favorite of mine when I was young, and it's fascinating to see how it looks 60 and even 70 years later. Bennett Cerf just asked mystery guest Jack Jones if he sang "any of this rock 'n' roll, 'Downtown' sort of music" and then, to make clear what he meant, sort of hummed a bit of the tune. This was in 1965. 

Now, to me, "Downtown" doesn't qualify as rock 'n' roll: it's an old-fashioned pop song, recorded with a swing orchestra, and Petula Clark was no more a rock'n'roll singer than Rosemary Clooney. I know it's hard to adjust to "new" entertainment styles, but Cerf's reactionary take was pretty funny even so.

In the same vein, sometime last year I came across some establishment writer saying in the late 1960s said that Cher represented something new in music and entertainment.  This was in the days when she was still performing with Sonny Bono, doing a Bob-Hope style hippie impersonation.  I like Cher well enough, but she was always show-biz all the way, as shown by the TV variety show she later did -- first with Sonny, then by herself.  It's as old-school as Carol Burnett's (also available on YouTube).  Check out, for example, Cher shaking her booty with the Jackson Five; offering up a tribute to the Beatles with Tina Turner and the ahead-of-her-time punk rocker Kate Smith; and TRIGGER WARNING: dancing with the equally show-biz David Bowie. (That final clip still gives me nightmares sometimes.)

Watching these old clips gives me a historical perspective on the entertainment industry I grew up on.  Also on changes in social attitudes.  It still gives me a turn to see performers smoking cigarettes and cigars on the shows. The blatant sexism is interesting too: not only Bennett Cerf but another male panelist from the earliest days of "What's My Line?" (his name escapes me) who aggressively baited female contestants.  And then there are stars whom we now know were gay, like the very queeny (but toning it down for the public) Dr. Tom Dooley.  This segment is from 1959, and gives a glimpse of US propaganda about Vietnam at a time when our involvement was still low-key.